When the dogs had grown bored with chasing each other and after a short nap under a shade tree, Deeks and Gunny led them out of the park, heading back toward the recycling center to grab a few sheets of cardboard to build a shelter they would need later that night. They had spent a good portion of their time on the park bench talking about simpler times and the lives they left behind. When Deeks made any type of suggestion about the future or how Gunny could change the path he was on, the older man quickly changed the subject, keeping the topic light and as generic as possible.
They were only a few blocks from the park, cutting through a side street that would shorten their time out on the hot concrete, when something out of the ordinary caught their gaze. When both of the dogs snapped to a halt at their feet, they began to pay closer attention to the disheveled man who was ambling toward them. After a moment or two, Gunny let out a sigh and called out to the man in question.
“Tiny?” The dark-skinned man was far from being truly tiny, standing at well over six feet and as thick as an oak tree.
The muscled man staggered against the department store wall, his large frame drooping closer and closer to the ground. When he looked up at the man’s voice, his face was flushed and a splotchy red color. “Gunny? That you?”
The closer Gunny and Deeks came, the more they could discern of the man’s current state. He appeared to be unsteady on his feet and his hands were trembling to the point of looking painful. Gunny was reaching up to help steady the big man when he lost his fight with gravity and plummeted into the Marine. Deeks reached out to help ease them both to the ground; Gunny managing to slip from underneath to keep himself from getting pinned under the bulkier man’s frame.
When they rolled him over, his face had taken on a more dazed expression, his eyes swimming around in their sockets and his lips curling up in a lopsided grin. Gunny knelt beside Tiny’s head, tapping his cheeks lightly with his hand.
“Tiny? Come on, snap out of it.” When the man on the ground looked up at him with glassy eyes, Gunny knew that it was far more than simple alcohol floating through the man’s system. “Crap man… come on Tiny… what’d you take?”
His response was slow and slurred. “The… good… stuff.“
Deeks looked over and exchanged a concerned look with his friend as the man on the ground started to close his eyes. “Just… really… good… stuff.”
“Don’t let him pass out… if he goes under, he might not wake up.” The signs that the man was on the verge of drug overdose wasn’t lost on Deeks, his years of undercover work on the streets teaching him far more than he ever wanted to know.
Gunny pulled on Tiny’s shoulder, rolling him onto his left side. “Keep him on his side… he’ll choke if he vomits.” It was basic first aid resuscitation, but the prospect of the man emptying the contents of his stomach onto the ground and, even possibly, on them, suddenly made Deeks wish he was someplace else; preferably with a striking brunette with mismatched eyes.
“We need some help.” Deeks was tempted to run off and send out a message to OPS so Eric could call an ambulance, but before he could make a move, Gunny was heaving the big man up into a fireman’s carry, grunting with the effort it took to get him off the ground. “Come on… the VA is three blocks away.”
Deeks helped him get Tiny up all the way onto his shoulder, impressed with the old war horse’s strength. “You’re going to carry him?”
“We don’t have time to hunt down a phone and wait on an ambulance.” Gunny started to carry his burden toward the end of the street, Short Round leading Monty to the sidewalk as if he knew where they were going. “And I’m not leaving a man to die on the street… no way, no how.”
When they emerged from the alley, several pedestrians gave them a wide berth, barely acknowledging their presence nor offering any form of help to the ghastly trio and their dogs. They made it to the intersection and when Deeks looked up, he could see the large sign for the hospital down the street and he wondered if even Gunny would have the stamina to carry his load that far. Before he could think of an alternative, the Marine was charging across the street against the signal, carefully weaving between still moving vehicles and the sounds of screeching tires and honking horns. Several crass comments were thrown their way, none too polite or kind, but his eyes were fixed on some point in the direction of their goal.
Deeks walked close beside them, hoping to be there in case Gunny’s legs gave out and he needed some help. As they hustled along, Tiny began to moan from his position across Gunny’s back.
“I… don’t… feel… so… good.”
The older man let out a dry chuckle. “Well, if you’re going to puke… do it now.”
As they made it closer to the hospital, Deeks leaned over and spoke softly into Tiny’s ear, hopeful that maybe he could glean something before the man passed out. “Where’d you get the stuff Tiny? Who gave it to you?”
“Good… stuff… “ Tiny was barely conscious.
“Yeah… yeah, I got that part, but who did you get the good stuff from.”
Tiny grunted as he bounced on Gunny’s shoulder, his eyes drifting closed as his face went slack. Deeks thought he was out but he began to mumble under his breath and the detective had to lean in closer than he wanted to hear what he was saying.
“An angel gave it to me… my angel.”
Deeks thought he must have heard him wrong or the drugs were really doing a number on the man. “What?”
Tiny let out a frustrated huff of air. “Man, I told you… the angel gave them to me… he always does… takes good care of me… makes the nightmares go away.”
Gunny’s legs were burning and he was getting winded, but he had no plans to stop, not when they were so close. They had one more street to cross and the traffic was heavy enough to make him pause on the sidewalk to wait for a gap that he could shoot out into. Just as he was counting the seconds between a white moving van and a small hybrid car, someone moved past him and into the street. When he looked up, Deeks was standing in the middle of the lane, his hands up in the air. There was the sound of rubber on asphalt as a dark Mercedes skidded to a stop, mere feet from slamming into his friend’s legs. The Marine looked up when he heard two car doors opening, preparing for whatever confrontation was about to occur between the car’s occupants and the three homeless men. Before he could think of a way to make a quick exit, Deeks was approaching the men; one tall, muscular black man and a shorter Caucasian with short cut hair, who had exited the car stopped in the middle of the street.
“Guys… please… our friend needs help… we just need to get him to the hospital up the street.” Deeks let his concern edge into his words, hoping that the men would understand and act accordingly.
To Gunny’s surprise, the big man hurried over and tugged Tiny off of his tired back. “Here, let me take him… you look worn out.”
Gunny hated to admit it, but even though he would always be a Marine, he wasn’t as lean or fit as he used to me. “Thanks… he’s ODing on something… need to get him some help.”
When he looked over, Deeks and the car’s driver were hurrying over to lend a hand. They each grabbed Tiny under his arms and helped the black man carry him over to the waiting Beamer. There were several irate drivers giving them all the one fingered salute, but the good Samaritans paid them no heed as they opened up the back seat and tugged Tiny’s large frame into the back seat.
The smaller man was already jumping behind the steering wheel, directing Deeks into the seat beside him. Gunny backed away toward the sidewalk where the dogs were patiently waiting. “I’ll get the animals and be right behind you.” He watched the car ease back into traffic, cutting across to the median and making a very illegal ‘U’ turn to cut across the oncoming traffic. The winded man thought to himself that whoever was driving must have taken a Defensive Driving Course somewhere in his past. He headed toward the crosswalk and pressed the crosswalk button, Short Round and Monty waiting along with him.
When they rounded the corner at the end of the street, Callen turned to Deeks in the passenger seat. “I’m not going to tell Kensi how I almost ran you over when you jumped off the sidewalk in front of my car.”
Deeks gave the senior agent a crooked grin. “Please don’t… I’m usually in enough trouble with her as it is; I don’t need to add any more to the list of offenses.”
Sam piped up from the back seat. “Speaking of offenses… I hope this guy’s smell washes out.”
Tiny let out a soft groan from where the big agent had him propped up against the door. “Angel… angel… makes all the bad thoughts go away…“
Callen accelerated to pass a slow moving pick-up truck, his eyes searching for the entrance to the hospital that he and his partner had just left a few minutes earlier. “What’s he mumbling about back there?”
“Something about an ‘angel’.” Sam held the big man steady, keeping him from face planting against the back of Deeks’ seat.
When Callen looked over with a confused expression on his face, Deeks explained. “Says that’s who gave him the drugs… his angel.”
At the mention of that word, Callen’s eyes cut up to the rear view mirror and his gaze locked with those of his partner. Deeks caught the silent conversation occurring between them and his mind caught on that something had just been discovered. “Does that mean anything?”
Callen glanced at the detective. “We just interviewed some of the staff at the hospital. One of the duty nurses got real anxious when we started poking around the pharmacy’s drug sign out logs.”
Deeks turned his head to where Sam was looking back at him. “Yeah, he tried to play it cool, but by the end, poor kid got so nervous, looked like he was about to wet himself.”
The detective shot a confused look over to his team leader. “And how does that connect to where Tiny got his drugs?”
Callen’s focus was now on driving up to the hospital’s main doors. “That was the kid’s name… Angel.”
Gunny walked as fast as he could down the sidewalk, the two dogs close behind him as they made their way toward the hospital. The man’s mind was a fury of thoughts, worrying about Tiny and his condition but also a little shocked at the two strangers who had seemed eager to come to their aid. Most people wouldn’t have even stopped, but these two men had gone out of their way to lend aid to three homeless bums. It was little instances like those that helped to restore the jaded Marine’s faith in mankind.
He was lost in his thoughts when he approached an alleyway that ran up beside the building next to the hospital. As he stepped across the curb, Short Round let out a sharp bark and then suddenly there was a large black Escalade careening across the highway and onto the small street right in front of Gunny. He was just able to take a step back when the passenger side doors opened and two rough and angry men stepped out and circled on him quickly.
The Marine did not hesitate and punched the closest one in his left eye socket but when he turned to face the other one, something solid struck him across the side of his head, sending a shower of lightning through his skull. Over the thrum of his own heartbeat in his ears, he heard someone calling out in an oddly familiar voice that he couldn’t place. “Quick! Quick! Get him in the back!”
There was movement as someone grabbed his left arm and jerked him sideways, then there was a growl and a man’s scream. “Arggghhh… dammit!”
Short Round had his jaws wrapped around the lower calf of the big man with the club in his hands, the fur along the dog’s back tensed up and his ears were pulled back along his head. Monty was beside his canine companion, tugging on the man’s other leg and they almost succeeding in pulling him to the ground. The man’s leg came up and down, catching the scruffy mutt on his left shoulder and sending him spinning out of the way. Before the dog could reenter the fight, the club came down across Short Round’s back causing the animal to release his grip in the man’s leg just long enough for him to scamper into the passenger seat and start to close the door. Through the gap, Gunny quickly shouted out a quick command in German to the lunging animal.
The struggling men either didn’t hear him as they were too busy wrestling with the ornery Marine or trying to escape his dog, because they seemed to pay his shout no attention as the door finally slammed shut. If they had known what that command meant and what it could mean for them, they might have made a change in their plans.
“That dog almost tore my leg off!” The passenger complained to the driver who was busy backing out into traffic.
“Shut it! We got what we came for. Now, quit your whining and help Tony tie up our guest of honor.”
Moving between the seats, the bitten man managed to squeeze his large frame into the back seat where Gunny was struggling to clear the cobwebs from his head long enough to put up some more resistance. He was elbowing Tony in the face when a fist the size of Texas slammed into his already dizzy head, making bright lights appear at the edge of his vision. Temporarily stunned, he could only put up a token struggle as the men managed to slip a pair of zip tie cuffs around his wrists, cinching them up and immobilizing his arms. He kicked out with his right foot, catching the closest man in his leg, right where Short Round had sunk his teeth into the flesh. The wounded man let out a hiss of pain before back handing Gunny across his face, stunning him even more.
When his vision started to clear, he found that both his wrists and ankles were bound and he was pinned between the two behemoths that were holding him firmly against the back of the seat. He felt a trickle of blood moving down his forehead and watched as a red drop fell to land on his jacket. Turning to look at the back of the driver’s head, he started calculating his chances of getting out of this alive and wasn’t happy with the answer.
They traveled several blocks until they entered one of the dilapidated warehouse districts, not too far from where he had started his day and he wondered which one of his friends was going to find his beaten and very dead body. He took a few deep breaths, deciding that if this was, in fact, going to be the end, he was going to go down fighting and hopefully give his captors a few good scars to remind them of what happened on this day. Who they were or what this was all about never entered his mind, his only thoughts were on how to meet his end with dignity and bravery.
Even though he wasn’t thinking about why this was happening, when the vehicle finally stopped moving and the driver turned to face him, he got his answer.
“Hey, remember me, tough guy?”
It took a moment, but then through the haze of his blurred vision, the man’s features finally cleared. “You’re the guy driving the Escalade that almost ran us over.“
“Yeah, Asswipe.” The punch came out of nowhere, catching Gunny in his solar plexus and driving the air right out of his lungs. “Not only did you break my mirror on my brand new ride… but you and your friend managed to distract me long enough for some stupid traffic cam to take my picture.” There was another punch just as his breath was returning. “And in my business, old man… I don’t need that kind of attention.”
“So, grabbing a homeless bum off the street in broad daylight isn’t going to get you any more attention?” Gunny knew it wasn’t smart, but the longer he could drag this out, the better chance that he could find a way to turn the tables on these clowns. Even though they weren’t that bright, they were dangerous; and maybe, just maybe… someone saw something and the cops were on their way. “You guys are about as smart as a screen door on a submarine.”
Either he didn’t get the joke or he thought it wasn’t all that funny, because the next thing the driver did was drive his fist right back into Gunny’s stomach, causing him to cough and wheeze through gritted teeth.
“You think you’re funny, old man?”
Gunny’s quick response would have made Deeks proud. “I got your old man right here.” He tried to gesture toward his crotch, but his arms were held tight. The next blow indicated that he’d managed to convey the meaning clear enough. As his insides burned from the repeated blows, an old complaint by his ex-wife flittered through his addled brain. On more than one occasion, she’d complained that he never knew to quit when he was ahead. A smile crossed his face when he admitted to himself that she might have actually been onto something with that observation.
Tony jerked his head toward the man in the front seat. “I think he’s laughing at you, boss.”
“Let him laugh. This idiot might have just screwed up my entire coke operation in this area and it took me weeks to get it off the ground and rolling.” The man in the sharp suit pulled a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses down over his eyes, a nasty smirk growing across his lips. “I’m going to cut him into itty bitty pieces, and then I’ll take him back and feed him to his own dog.”
With a sneer that sent a shiver down Tony’s back, the boss fixed his eyes on the battered man in the back seat.
“We’ll see who’s laughing then.”
To be continued…
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