As he awoke, Jack realized his head was bouncing relentlessly against the unyielding truck bed. Obviously Vicente’s threat was being carried out and he was on his way to the capital. The combination of bad shocks, worse roads, and the thought of what lay ahead, equaled a headache Jack would have sworn couldn’t have gotten any worse.
Obviously he was wrong.
A couple of years ago, he had convinced Frank to stand next to a burro and get his picture taken when they had a few hours off down time in Greece. The crotchety little creature had proven to have keen timing and a wicked temper and Frank had ended up with a matching set of hoof-shaped bruises on his ass. He’d bitched about it for days.
Right now Jack could completely sympathize with just how Frank had felt as his head sent another surge of pain pounding behind his temple and eyes. That little jackass could have learned a thing or two from these truck shocks.
It took every ounce of determination he had to fight to sit up.
Taking in his new viewpoint Jack could barely stifle a groan. ‘And that was so not worth the effort.’
He found himself sitting uncomfortably on the floor of the truck surrounded by polished boots and starched military uniforms. Well, at least the pants part of the uniform. He had to look up to take in the entire military ensemble complete with hostile faces and stylish accessorized weapons.
‘So not worth the effort.’
He was still sporting the latest in Marquis de Sade designer wear on his wrists, although thankfully the manacles had been removed from his ankles. What all the well dressed captives were wearing this season. But now he found that a short chain had been attached from the handcuffs to a heavy metal ring bolted to the bed of the truck forcing him to either kneel painfully with his weight pressing his infected toes into the rough wood of the floorboard, or lie on his side which brought new levels of agony to his swollen elbow. Talk about the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Shit, Vicente wasn’t taking any chances that he was going to escape. Like he was going anywhere anyway with a squad of trained soldiers surrounding him and looking like he was some sort of vermin they would take perverse delight in grinding into the dirt.
God, he hated being watched, his every move being scrutinized as if he were back in basic under the critical eye of the drill sergeant who was just looking for an excuse to bellow, ‘Drop and give me fifty, O’Neill.’ The drop part wouldn’t be a problem right at the moment, but as for the fifty…
Not a snowball’s chance in hell or Nicaragua which at the moment seemed to be running neck and neck with the real thing.
As the truck drove on, the driver apparently hitting every pothole in the pitiful excuse for a road, Jack found it prudent to clench his jaw before the bouncing truck caused him to chew off his tongue.
Not that he wasn’t already clenching his teeth against the pain in his elbow, wrists, and well, his entire body. Whether by chance or cruel design on Vicente’s part the handcuffs chafed against the open, oozing burns around his wrists.
Jack quickly discovered that the chain leashing him to the floor was a perfect conductor for surging pain, transferring every bump, every jolt, from the road, up his arm, and radiating throughout his body. No matter how he tried to brace himself, the result was the same, the Jack O’Neill impersonation of a runaway golf ball. Except he wasn’t holding his breath on the running away part. And right at the moment he just didn’t have the strength to yell ‘fore’ as he was sliced and bounced helplessly along the green and out of bounds.
What hurt even worse than the physical pain was the fact that he knew he was providing entertainment for the bored troops on the monotonous, long journey. He did his best to keep the moans at bay, but he knew he was doing a rotten job at concealing just how bad it hurt to have the dislocated joints repeatedly jerked as the undercarriage of the truck clambered awkwardly over the ruts.
He did his best to ignore the laughter directed at him every time the truck hit a particularly deep rut and he was bounced wildly, the chain tethering him to the floor the only thing keeping him grounded.
During a relatively smooth stretch of road the gravity of his situation and the few options he had available seeped unbidden into his thoughts, eroding any chance he had to relax, no matter how briefly. There was little comfort in either. ‘Great place to find yourself in, Jack. Classic Catch 22. Wishing the trip was over, but knowing that’s when it is the real fun and games will start.’
‘Your best bet would be to piss off one of these guys and hope he’d do you a favor and put a bullet right between your eyes.’
‘But I guess that makes you the worse kind of a quitter, O’Neill. Frank’d be majorly pissed if he found out you took the easy way out. He’d kick your sorry ass all over base, not that you wouldn’t deserve it.’
‘But Frank, buddy, I know it’d be easier on you if you knew I was dead. You’d go nuts knowing I was locked up in some fucking political prison. You’d scuttle your own career trying to salvage an impossible situation and probably get yourself killed in the process. You know it, but you’re just too damn stubborn to ever admit it. I bet your tearing yourself up because you couldn’t spring me from that damn jail. There just wasn’t anything you could do. Farmers against soldiers is suicide. There never was a chance. But I know it’s eating you alive.’
Jack’s eyes closed as a sudden thought made his eyes sting with unshed tears. ‘I would be the same way if the positions were reversed, buddy, and it was you. I’d do anything to make sure you didn’t get stuck in a place like that. Guess that’s what it means to be best friends. At least it does between us, huh Frank.’
Jack suddenly became aware that several of the guards were elbowing their neighbors, laughing at his unconcealed emotions and grief playing across his face.
Pride slammed the door to the emotions he had unwittingly allowed to show. Now Jack’s face hardened as he hid all his thoughts and feelings behind an unreadable mask. He’d be damned if he’d give these bastards a reason to laugh at him. He may be on his way out, but for now he was still a Special Ops officer in the United States Air Force and until they put him in the ground he’d make sure they remembered it.
Even if he couldn’t officially ever admit it.