by Sweet Lu
Kensi struggled to clear her head, thankful for the bags of laundry that had cushioned them all somewhat when the van had crashed. Now she struggled to see what was happening with Nell, yelling out her name and trying to ignore the flashing signs of panic in Eric’s turbulent eyes. She was wedged against Deeks’ body, which was partially covered in bags of smelly laundry, and she heard him groan before weakly asking what happened. The back doors were suddenly yanked open and a swirl of dust blew in and coated her face and mouth.
“Shut the fuck up, lady,” the one called Jasper shouted.
“Where’s my friend?” She demanded as he grabbed her ankles and dragged her out and dumped her on the ground.
“She bashed her cute little head in I’m afraid,” a tall, lanky man with badly gelled hair stared down at her with a leering smile.
She heard a muffled scream of denial from Eric as he was dragged out, struggling against the men with wild eyes and trying to see where Nell was. A hard slap on the head from the younger of the two hulks silenced him, but Kensi could see that his eyes were bright with unshed tears as he was shoved down next to her.
“She brought it on herself,” the lanky man said, delicately brushing some of the dust from his brightly patterned shirt.
“What the hell do you want?” Kensi asked, her anger blossoming as a semi-conscious Deeks was dropped facedown in the dirt.
“Needed the help of my old friend, Eric Beale,” he said with an irritating giggle. “The rest of you are just collateral.”
The man knelt down in front of Eric and ripped the tape off his mouth, laughing softly as the tech stared at him with wide, disbelieving eyes.
“Phineas? Why are you doing this?” Eric sputtered.
“You know him?” Kensi asked as she was pulled to her feet.
“He was my college roommate for a little while,” Eric’s voice grew quiet and she could see he was stunned by the revelation.
“And I thought I had weird friends in college,” Deeks mumbled as he was yanked up by both kidnappers and hustled toward the long black Cadillac Escalade.
Kensi watched uneasily as the men manhandled Deeks, who kept trying to pull them toward the driver’s side of the van.
“Nell? Nell? Can you hear me? Nellasaurus?” He called out, struggling until Horace wrapped a heavily muscled arm around his throat and dragged him away.
“She needs a hospital, man,” his voice raw.
“Hey, that her real name?” Horace asked as he forced him inside the SUV.
“What?” Deeks asked, looking puzzled.
“Nellasaurus,” the man said seriously. “That a real name? Never heard a name like that before. Sounds kinda cool.”
“Don’t let her die out here, man. Please,” Deeks pleaded.
“Hey, dude, I’m just the muscle, you know?” Horace said as Jasper yelled for him to come help with the others. “They don’t let me make decisions. But hey, you hit me so don’t expect no favors from me.”
“Of course not. What was I thinking?” Deeks replied under his breath as he eyed the woman covering him with a gun. “You’re the drunk woman from the blackjack table.”
“And you’re smarter than you look, surfer boy,” she snapped back, obviously irritated by something.
“If she dies, you’ll all be prosecuted for murder,” he coldly threatened.
“They’ll have to find us first, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” she said confidently. “And remember, I’m not afraid to shoot one of you. Maybe this hot brunette you’re with.”
The woman swung the gun toward Kensi as she was forced in next to Deeks. They both ignored the threat as their eyes met, their fear for Nell palpable, each trying to bolster the other before they turned to look back at the wrecked van. Jasper had the door open and lifted Nell out, and carried her over to the old rusted gas pump where he sat her down, propping her limp body up against it. Eric tried to get to her, pleading with his old roommate to call an ambulance, but the man just laughed and pushed him roughly against the side of the SUV. When he continued to resist, the man grew angry and suddenly slapped Kensi across the face, eliciting a shouted curse from Deeks, which earned him a breath stealing punch from a grinning Horace.
“Do as I say Beale, or your friends will suffer the consequences,” he said reasonably. “You’re a genius. That shouldn’t be too difficult for you to comprehend.”
Eric stared at them before his head dropped to his chest in defeat, numbly climbing in beside Kensi as his old roommate laughed.
“You two torch the van,” Phineas ordered.
“I don’t smoke,” Horace whined.
“What?” Phineas looked confused and turned to glare at the woman. “He’s your dumb brother. You deal with the idiot.”
“I mean I don’t have no matches,” Horace explained, looking to his brother who was searching his pockets.
“The Three Stooges live,” Deeks sniped. “At least two of them anyway.”
“Shut up, smart ass,” Angela snapped, as she handed her brother a lighter.
The flames of the burning van stood out against the purple black sky, the three unable to take their eyes off Nell as their kidnappers climbed in and the Escalade pulled away and headed toward the rugged ridges looming darkly in the distance.
Eric stared dully out the window, his mind still filled with the heartrending image of Nell lying unconscious in the middle of nowhere because of him. The guilt was overwhelming and the growing anger he felt toward his old roommate becoming all consuming the longer they drove. Kensi had tried to comfort him, but her words meant nothing to him, shaking his head at what he considered her naïveté, although he knew she realized Nell would probably die out there. They all knew that, and he didn’t want to be patronized. Not now. Not by the friends he now felt responsible for.
Garish flashing lights suddenly appeared as they reached the crest of a hill, and he looked quickly over at Deeks, whose own anger remained like a living thing, rising off of him like the heat of the desert they found themselves in. The desolate town they entered was tiny and the main drag consisted only of a few low buildings that looked deserted and dominated by a dilapidated old casino. Red and yellow neon flickered on parts of the giant cowboy atop the roof, the sign’s mechanical arm lifting the hat on its head again and again in hollow welcome. The Buckaroo Casino had seen better days, its windows now boarded over, with torn and bleached out posters of showgirls dressed in revealing cowboy outfits still visible in the glass cases decorating the outside walls. The old marquee announced Spike Jones and The City Slickers as the headliner with a few missing and badly faded letters, taunting Eric with old promises of fun he would never have.
“This used to be a jumpin’ place back in the fifties,” Phin said, his voice full of pride. “My mother danced at The Buckaroo in the late fifties. She was quite beautiful. Remember Eric? I showed you a picture once.”
“So this was your hometown?” Deeks asked, when Eric didn’t answer.
“And you’re about to meet my mother Lorraine,” he replied. “Be on your best behavior, now. She has bodyguards that won’t take it well if you’re rude to her. A couple still have mob ties. Their dads were killed off long ago, probably buried out here in the desert, where you could end up if Eric doesn’t cooperate.”
They all became silent after that threat and Eric kept his head down until they parked in front of a seedy looking ranch house with flashing lights running back and forth along the eaves over the porch. Even though it was late, the place was well lit, the screen door flapping open as Phin got out of the car. The woman he greeted with a quick hug wore a garish magenta satin robe and her bleach blond hair practically glowed under the flashing lights. It was long and rigid with hairspray and flared out around her heavily made up face as she stood with one hand on her hip, a cigarette dangling from bright red lips. She stayed on the porch watching as her new guests were manhandled out of the SUV, but seemed to come alive when she saw Deeks.
“Oh baby, what do we have here?” Her voice was gravelly and her walk sensuous as she approached him. “What’s your name, Sweet Buns?”
He tried to take a step back, but was tightly held by Jasper, who was smiling broadly at the old woman. She took a long drag on her cigarette as she looked Deeks over, finally tossing it away before placing a hand on the patch of bare skin below his throat as smoke wafted from her nose.
“Call me Marty,” he finally said, looking for any advantage that might get them out of this.
“Nice legs, honey,” she said in a sultry voice as she slowly undid a couple of buttons on his shirt, slipping her hand inside as Deeks closed his eyes. “Bet you’d be fun to play with.”
“Your son seems to have other ideas that sound a lot less fun,” Deeks told her softly, a grin slowly spreading across his face.
“My son’s a prick in case you haven’t noticed,” she replied as she touched the skin just below the bleeding cut along his hairline. “Sorry he had you roughed up by these halfwits. You got nice hair, Marty. Most of the dirtbags around here shave it close like they was in the army or something. Not attractive on ninety-nine percent of ’em.”
“You sound bored with the local clientele,” Deeks said, his voice soft and smooth and seductive.
“Sweet Cheeks, you have no idea,” she replied. “Now come inside and let me get a good look at those pretty blue eyes of yours.”
She snapped her fingers at Jasper, who looked confused as he looked over at his sister, who simply shook her head in disgust and walked inside, slamming the screen door behind her. The others had already been taken into the house, so Jasper yanked Deeks forward, making him groan from the pain in his ribs.
“You hurtin’ Sugar?” Lorraine asked kindly, stopping him and looking him over once again, but this time with concern.
“Bozo here likes to kick people while they’re down,” hissing out his reply, intentionally playing up his injuries.
Jasper grunted, stepping around in front of him to grip his throat tightly in one massive hand, choking the smile from his face. “Shut your mouth, dipshit.”
“Let him go, whatever your name is,” the old lady said sharply. “This is a brothel in case you haven’t noticed and I got plenty of girls who would just love to give your big ass a ride. But if you want a free ride, you’ll take your hand off this boy’s throat. Even someone as dumb as you gotta realize that’s a good deal.”
“You serious about a free ride?” Jasper asked as he turned to see if she was telling the truth. “You got any redheads?”
“Honey, I got a redheaded girl that’ll make you believe you got a nuclear missile between your legs,” she said, winking at Deeks as she stepped aside to allow Jasper to rush him inside.
Deeks smiled at Lorraine, and slipped his tongue between his lips, flirting with her easily, but earning a rather unpleasant and questioning look from Kensi. He saw her eyes flash with a hint of jealousy, and he cocked his head, giving her a look to assure her he was just playing a part, but exasperated that she would think anything else. Before he could get close to her they were pushed down a hall and into a dimly lit room full of computers.
“Now Eric, old friend, this will be your little workspace,” Phin said. “State of the art equipment, I might add.”
“What do you want me to do?” Eric asked.
“You were such a brilliant hacker,” Phin said. “I never understood why you didn’t do more with your skills.”
“Quit playing games and tell me what you want,” Eric shouted angrily.
“You were never any fun either,” the man growled. “Let me reiterate. You do exactly as I say and your friends don’t get hurt. Cross me or try and play me and your two friends will pay for it… big time.”
He nodded at Horace, who looked back at him with a clueless expression, so Jasper shoved him aside and slammed his fist into Kensi’s stomach, sending her to the floor. Deeks raged and attacked, even though his hands were still tied behind his back. Horace silenced him with a roundhouse punch that knocked him out.
“Do you understand now, Eric?” Phin asked.
“I’ll do whatever you want, just don’t hurt them again. Please,” Eric pleaded, his eyes bright with tears as he watched Kensi struggle for breath and lean over Deeks as he lay in a heap on the floor.
“I knew you’d see reason,” Phin crowed as he cut Eric free. “Now, sit down at that computer and do what you always did best. Hack.”
“Who am I hacking?” Eric asked, his voice empty and resigned as he stared at his friends.
“The Luxor’s in-house bank,” he replied. “You’re going to steal ten million dollars for me.”
“Kensi? Are you okay?” Eric’s voice cracked.
“We’re fine Eric. Don’t do this on our account,” she replied.
“My, aren’t you a tough little bitch,” Phin said.
“Untie me and you’ll find out just how tough,” she challenged.
“Need another demonstration of my resolve?”
“No!” Eric said. “Kensi, please.”
Kensi nodded from her knees and Eric turned to the computer and began typing, while Phin gave him information. Taking his time, Eric searched for some way to thwart his crazy ex-roommate’s plan and alert OSP to what was happening. He was the only one able to save his remaining friends, and his mind returned to Nell and he suddenly stopped typing.
“What did you say?” Phin looked pissed, but Eric stuck to his sudden plan.
“You send an ambulance for Nell or I’m not doing this,” he said firmly. “It can be anonymous. No one will tie you to what happened. Help Nell and I’ll help you.”
“And here I’ve always thought you were a wimp” the man replied. “Mother, please do the honors.”
“I want proof,” Eric demanded. “Photographic proof.”
“Okay. Send one of your boys, Mommy dearest,” Phin ordered. “But, in the morning you do what I want or these two will end up in worse shape than your little girlfriend.”
After he left, Eric and Kensi were led down a hall to a small room decorated in red-flocked wallpaper, knock-off Tiffany lamps and four iron beds. Kensi was pushed down on a pink one, her hands still tied behind her back and her feet quickly tied to the bedposts. Eric was being tied up when Horace and Jasper hauled Deeks in and threw him on a bed and rolled him over on his back, tying his ankles tightly together and then to one of the bedposts, laughing when they left.
“You did good, Eric,” Kensi said as she rose up to check on Deeks.
“What’d I miss?” Deeks asked, slurring his words.
“Eric made him send an ambulance for Nell.”
“Good work, brother,” Deeks said.
“Are you both okay?” Eric asked.
“I’d feel a lot better if I knew Sam and Callen were coming to the rescue,” Deeks said wistfully. “But I guess that’s not gonna happen.”
“Is that why you were flirting with that horrible looking old woman? She must be seventy-five at least,” Kensi asked with a slight edge. “Do you really think she’ll go against her own son to help you?”
“I know you can be sexy as hell when you want something, but even you aren’t that good,” she said. “Besides, it’s just creepy.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” he grumbled. “If you have any other ideas, Wonder Woman, I’m listening.”
“We could tell them we’re federal agents,” she proposed.
“Great idea! That should get one of us killed right away. Probably me,” he hissed.
“Guys, please don’t argue,” Eric pleaded.
Silenced, exhaustion and despair finally caught up with them, allowing them to doze briefly until the door opened. Kensi woke and then Deeks as someone sat down on the bed next to him and turned on a small bedside lamp.
“How ya doin’ Sweet Thing,” Lorraine asked, gently pushing the hair out of Deeks’ eyes.
“Can’t feel my hands anymore,” he admitted, tensing ever so slightly as she stroked his cheek and then ran her hand down to his chest.
“Honey, you are so damn hot, I could eat you for breakfast,” she whispered.
“I hope your son lets me see breakfast,” Deeks responded as she began to undo the remaining buttons on his shirt, exposing the deep bruising on his ribs.
“Oh Baby, they really did a number on you,” she said, sounding upset. “My son was always too big for his britches. Thought he was smarter than everybody, but this… this is just downright mean… just like his father. Thought once I got rid of that piece of shit, Phineas would be better off. Guess not.”
“He’ll kill us when this is over,” Deeks said softly.
“Or one of us… just to keep Eric in line,” Kensi warned.
“He tried to tell me he was doing this for me,” she said sadly. “But I know that’s just a load of crap.”
“Will you help us?” Deeks put as much kindness and neediness into his voice as he could.
“He’ll know it was me,” she reasoned. “But, what the hell. Can’t let him kill a sexy young thing like you.”
She patted Deeks gently on the chest and then got up and left, returning with a knife and a burley young man covered in tattoos. All of them were quickly cut free, and Deeks silently pulled Kensi into his arms, both trembling as they held each other.
“Buzz will get you as far as the casino, but after that Baby, you’re gonna have to wait till morning. I gotta a trucker comes in early tomorrow. You can hitch a ride outa town with him,” Lorraine told him. “Those two dumb bastards workin’ for my son don’t look like they could find their own assholes, so you should be safe until then.”
“Can you lend us a cellphone?” Kensi asked. “They took ours.”
“No signal out here, Sweetie,” Lorraine said. “Now you better go, before somebody wakes up.”
They were terribly tired by the time they reached the casino, the neon cowboy bidding them welcome as Buzz let them in a side door and handed them a flashlight, then disappeared without a word. Deeks led the way past rows of busted slot machines, coughing from the smell of mold on the keno cards discarded on the floor. The flashlight beam crawled over an abandoned roulette wheel draped in spider webs and a poker table still stacked with cards. Once bright chips were scattered across the surface, now barely visible under a thick layer of gray dust.
“If I’d just said no to Nell…” Eric began as he stared down at a hand of aces and eights.
“Don’t blame yourself, buddy,” Deeks said gently. “Nell will be okay, thanks to you and we’ll get out of this.”
“Why don’t I believe you?” Eric whispered.
To Be Continued…