By Sweet Lu
He couldn’t help himself. He smiled and shook his head. The incongruity of the Christmas tree in a place like this, set up by a couple of lowlifes was unexpected. It wasn’t perfect by anyone’s standard. Scraggly was a better description, but it was decorated with twinkie lights that flashed on and off. If he didn’t have such a headache, it might even cheer him up. The room sure as hell didn’t offer any comfort, and his situation seemed hopeless. If he wasn’t tied up, he would kick himself for allowing them to grab him in the first place. Even when he’d gotten the assignment, he’d been suspicious of the so-called inside man with inside information Kilbride had sent him to interview. If he somehow managed to get out of this, he’d ask Kensi to kick Kilbride’s butt for the shoddy information. Or maybe Sam would do it. He hadn’t trusted the intel either. But here he was, head pounding, tied to an old iron bed in a cold room that hadn’t been vacuumed for probably two years, if ever. He’d flippantly promised Kensi he’d be home for Christmas, even jauntily singing the now haunting lyrics of the old song before kissing her goodbye. He could only hope the last line didn’t prove true…that their Christmas together would only be in his dreams.
He needed to stay positive, but he was finding it difficult, the sad looking tree taunting him with improbable promises. The thing even had an angel on top, albeit a plastic one. He could use an angel right now…a Book of Revelation angel, a vindictive one that would smite the bad guys holding him. That bizarre thought made him question whether he’d suffered a concussion when they took him down. He still wondered why they took him in the first place. It was one of the many questions adding to his dizziness. Now his butt was numb, and his wrists stung from the tightness of the thin nylon ropes they had used to tie them to the bed frame.
The sound of a tiny intake of breath came from the door to the bedroom on his right. He turned too quickly and the room spun. The face of a little girl peeked out at him. Her delicate fingers covered her mouth. She had dark brown eyes and black hair that touched her shoulders. She looked to be three, maybe four. The tattered red sweater she wore hung to her knees, way too big for her. A snowman decorated the front of it. She looked behind her and then surveyed the room with wide eyes before slipping out of the doorway and moving cautiously toward the tree. She watched him as she took tentative steps across the bare linoleum floor. She wore no shoes, and the bottom hem of her pink pajama pants were dirty. He was shocked to see her.
“Hey, sweetie. What’s your name? I’m Marty, or you can call me Deeks.”
She flinched when he spoke, edging closer to the tree, only glancing at him briefly before fingering the tip of one of the branches. Her eyes roamed over the few ornaments hanging on the sparse tree before reaching out to touch a small Santa Claus made of paper that had seen better days. When she looked back at him her smile was brief and incredibly cute, and he wondered how she got here.
“Do you live here?” He asked softly. “Is your mommy around somewhere?”
She stared at him for a long time, but said nothing, eventually turning back to the tree to continue her examination of the bedraggled ornaments. One seemed to hold her attention. It was a snowman made of felt with a red scarf and a bent black hat. It looked old, with stuffing coming out of it, but she didn’t seem to mind, gently removing it from the branch and clutching it to her chest.
“I like snowmen too,” Deeks said with a soft smile. “Have you ever made one?”
Once again, she stared back at him as if she didn’t understand, and he realized that maybe she didn’t.
“Cómo te llamas, chiquita?” He asked, watching for any sign of response.
He saw recognition in her eyes, but before she could answer one of the lowlifes who had dragged him here banged through the front door. She cringed.
“What the fuck you doing out here?” He yelled at her. “Get the hell back in the bedroom.”
“Hey! Whatever the hell your name is. Leave the kid alone,” Deeks shouted.
“She ain’t none of your business, dude. And my name’s Rojo. Now shut the fuck up before I make you,” he warned as he reached for the girl.
She ducked under his hand and darted toward Deeks, still holding the snowman ornament in her hand. She crouched down and tucked herself tightly under his outstretched arm, drawing her knees up until they were covered by the oversized sweater. Rojo cursed and made a grab for her again. As he bent down, Deeks slammed his foot into the man’s ankle, sending him hopping backward. The little girl giggled.
“You’re gonna pay for that, asshole,” Rojo growled. “And she is too.”
“You’re a real tough guy, yeah? Terrorizing a little kid,” Deeks said as the man tried to put weight on his ankle. “Not used to babysitting I’m guessing. Maybe you should go get her mother. You know…someone who knows what they’re doing.”
“Her mother ain’t here,” Rojo said.
“And someone thought it was a good idea to have you watch her?”
“Ain’t my idea.”
“Then whose was it? Your boss?” Deeks asked. “And who might that be, by the way?”
“The guy who’s gonna kick your ass when he gets here.”
“This ass kicker got a name?”
“Ain’t everybody?” Laughing at his own joke.
“Do you even know his name?”
“The cartel guy?”
The information was a revelation. They had had no intel about cartel involvement in the theft of the weapons from China Lake.
“You ain’t gettin’ outa here alive, pendejo,” Rojo said with a smile.
“Probably true. Now what about this little girl?” Deeks asked. “Is she his?”
“Peña’s? Naw, dude,” he replied. “She’s insurance. Just like you.”
“Insurance for what?” Deeks asked, suddenly afraid for the kid.
“Insurance that Santiago gets the weapons he was promised,” Rojo said gruffly. “If her grandfather don’t deliver, he knows what will happen.”
“We made sure the Feds knew we had you. They come at us…we kill you.”
“And your boss thinks that will work?” Deeks asked, raising one eyebrow. “Good luck with that.”
“You’re the one needs the luck,” Rojo replied with a smirk.
“You got me there,” Deeks admitted. “But tell me…who put up the Christmas tree? You?”
“Hell no. Rickie stole it from a house in town. He thought it might stop her crying.”
“Promise me that neither one of you will ever have children,” Deeks said earnestly.
“I already got two…somewhere,” he said as he walked toward the door.
The whole conversation made him infinitely sad. He and Kensi had been disappointed in their every attempt to have a baby, and this idiot had two…somewhere. Life definitely wasn’t fair.
“Don’t go nowhere, pendejo,” Rojo laughed as he headed out the door. “I ain’t bringin’ you dinner after you kicked me in the ankle.”
“That ain’t the only thing that’s gonna be broken when Rickie and I get back. The boss is coming too. He’s got questions and you better answer ’em if you know what I mean,” he said. “Until then, dude…you can babysit.”
The door thudded closed, and Deeks sensed the finality of the act. Out that door was his future, one he doubted he would ever enjoy. He had no illusions about being rescued. All he had was the hope that somehow Kensi and the team would find him. But to Kilbride, he wasn’t as valuable as the stockpile of stolen weapons, which was why the threat to his life that was supposed to keep the Feds away was so ludicrous. The inside man he’d been sent to interview in Victorville had been dead when he got there. He hadn’t even had time to call it in before he was jumped. Now he was in some dilapidated house, out in the middle of nowhere, with a pathetic looking Christmas tree, a four-year-old, and no way out.
“It’s just you and me, princesa,” Deeks said with a weary smile.
She looked up at him with deep sadness in her eyes and it made him wonder if she understood what might happen. She looked back down at the snowman ornament and sighed before slowly getting up. They were face to face now, and she reached out and touched the cut above his eye. When she lowered her hand, she stared at the sticky residue of blood on her fingers for a long time and slowly began to cry.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. It doesn’t hurt,” Deeks said softly. “Please don’t cry. You’ll get your snowman all wet and snowmen melt.”
He had no idea if she understood, but she wiped at her nose and cheek and seemed to calm down. She placed the tiny snowman on his chest and moved slowly to where his wrist was tied to the bed frame. He held his breath as her small fingers began to work at untying the yellow nylon cord cutting into his skin. After such a shitty day, he began to have hope they might actually make it home for Christmas.
She would occasionally brush the hair out of her eyes, but seemed determined to free him. When the tight knot began to loosen, she looked over and smiled at him with triumph in her eyes, then turned quickly back to finish the job. When the rope fell from his wrist, she laughed and clapped, and looked shyly at him as he took her small hand in his.
“Gracias, mi pequeña princesa.”
She giggled, and he gave her his best smile as he handed her the snowman ornament. Scrambling to his feet, he tore at the knot on his other wrist. When he was free he turned to see her holding the tiny snowman against her cheek. Her eyes were closed, and he knelt down in front of her, holding her shoulders as she sobbed. It broke his heart. He picked her up and sat her on the bed, gently wiping the tears from her cheeks. When he brushed the hair away from her face, he felt fiercely protective of her. She was so little, yet so brave, and he needed to get her out of this place.
“Wait here, sweetie.”
She grabbed his hand as he tried to leave and he saw the fear behind her tears. He realized she thought he was going to leave her there, and he searched for words to reassure her.
“I won’t leave you, princesa. No te dejaré. I think that’s right,” he said, hoping for a smile of understanding. “Tú y yo. Vamos…juntos. You and me. We go together.”
She nodded but wouldn’t let go of his hand, so he picked her up in his arms and went in search of a gun and a phone. He found neither. But in the kitchen he found an open package of beef jerky, a bag of Fritos, and a Twinkie.
“My wife loves these,” he said, handing the snack to the little girl.
He began chewing on a piece of jerky, stuffing the rest in his back pocket as he searched the drawers for a knife. Nothing.
“No nada, princesa.”
For some reason his comment made her giggle and he grinned at her. “Vamos?”
They were the first words she’d spoken.
“Let’s try this again. Cómo te llamas, princesa?”
“Angelina,” she whispered and tucked her head under his chin.
He felt her warm tears and he patted her gently on the back. “You are very brave, Angelina. Eres una niña muy valiente.”
“Me quiero ir a casa,” she whispered, raising her head to look intently into his eyes.
“I want to go home too,” he replied.
Grabbing the bag of Fritos, he carried her to the back door and set her down. After handing her the orange bag, he checked outside. The van that had brought him here was still gone, along with Rojo’s pickup. As he stepped outside, Angelina took his hand, and he felt the heavy cloak of responsibility settle over him. He was determined not to let anything happen to her and offered a smile of encouragement. He wasn’t sure he entirely believed they would make it out of this considering they appeared to be in a ghost town and completely surrounded by desert. Although it was warm enough now, when the sun went down the temperature would drop, and Angelina had no shoes.
“Come on, sweetie,” and picked her up again and headed for the road.
The smell of the corn chips made him nauseous, but she was hungry and was shoving handfuls into her mouth as he carried her through the so-called town. They passed a sign that marked the area as Shadow Mountain Village. Maybe once it had been a living place, but not now. Its buildings, in varying stages of decay, were scattered across the harsh landscape, most open to the elements. The pink stucco house he’d been held in was the only one with doors and windows. It was an eerie and desolate place, especially when the wind blew the dirt into dust devils. Low hills rose north and south of the town, but he couldn’t see the advantage of heading up into them, especially since it would be too hard on Angelina. What he needed to do was find a phone before Rojo came back with Rickie and his boss. The only good thing about the desert was that it allowed him to see the bad guys coming. The only bad thing was that they would be able to see them just as easily. Not that he had a choice. They needed to get moving before the sun dropped.
He continued to check each ramshackle building they came to, hoping to find anything he could use as a weapon. In a tumbled down house next to the road he found an old iron bed frame that had disintegrated. One of its rusted legs would have to do.
Angelina pointed to the dust rising on the horizon, and he knew their time was up. He ducked inside the building and looked for any place he could hide the little girl. A set of musty smelling cabinets lined the wall of a back room, and he set her down and signaled for her to crawl inside. She didn’t move, looking up at him with those deep, dark eyes that twisted his heart. He had to be tough with her now and kept his voice firm.
“Hide here and wait for me,” he told her, struggling to remember how to say it in Spanish. “Escóndete aquí y…espérame. Entiendes, Angelina?”
Her eyes filled with tears, but she nodded, handing him the little felt snowman before turning away and climbing inside without a word. She didn’t have to say anything. The little snowman was her way of reminding him not to forget her. As if he could. He tucked the talisman into the front pocket of his jeans and moved quickly into what had once been a kitchen, pressing himself between a decaying fridge and an open doorway. It didn’t take long before Rojo roared past their hiding place and slowed to a stop in front of the pink house. He got out and slammed the pickup door as if angry, pausing briefly before going inside. A second later he came out swearing, holding a gun in his hand. Deeks took up position behind the fridge as the man began searching each house until his eyes settled on the one they were hiding in. A flash of orange caught his eye. The empty Fritos bag tumbled by and Rojo smiled.
“I got you now, asshole.”
Deeks hefted the rusted leg of the old bed, holding it like a baseball bat as he waited for his chance. Rojo paused just outside, too far away for him to take a swing at.
“Hey, little girl. There you are,” he called out. “Come on out here now. I brought burgers.”
Deeks froze as Angelina walked out of the other room and stopped, staring somberly at her kidnapper. When Rojo stepped through the doorway Deeks came out swinging, the piece of iron connecting with the bridge of his nose, dropping him like a rock. The man’s gun skittered across the floor, coming to rest at Deeks’ feet. He tossed his now bloody weapon and picked up the gun, pointing it down at the man whose face he’d just rearranged. The light touch of Angelina’s hand on his leg brought the impact of the sudden fear he’d felt when he saw her confront the man. He looked down at her with relief, wondering if she could feel his hand shaking as he pulled her close.
“You scared the shit out of me,” he said, realizing she was trembling too, and probably in shock.
Blowing out his breath, he shoved the gun behind his back. He knelt and searched the man until he found his phone. It was unlocked and he read the last text he’d gotten.
“Kill them both.” He whispered the damning words and his anger exploded. “Sonofabitch!”
Before he could think better of it, he texted back. “Your insurance is cancelled dirtbag. Rojo too.”
He picked up Angelina and dialed Kensi’s number as he walked toward the pickup.
“Who is this?” Her voice was strained and angry and it made him smile.
“Just your wayward husband who’s in need of some backup.”
“Deeks? Oh, my God,” she practically screamed. “Where are you? Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“We’re okay for now,” he said.
“We? What do you mean…we?”
“They took another hostage. Her name’s Angelina.”
“Well, don’t get too cozy with your new girlfriend, baby. You’re married, remember?”
Even though he knew she was just trying to lighten the mood, he suddenly became angry. “Seriously, Kens? She’s four-years-old and she wants to go home. Now track this damn phone and get us the hell out of here before I have to take out another guy with a terrified little kid in tow.”
“Deeks…baby,” she said softly. “I’ve been so scared for you. I’m sorry. It’s just such a relief to hear your voice. We’re coming, baby. Just hold on.”
“It’s been a long day,” he replied wearily. “And I’m not sure I want to stick around here. There are at least two other guys involved. The boss is Santiago Peña, and he wants us dead according to the last text on this phone. Angelina only speaks Spanish, so I don’t know exactly how she’s connected, except that her grandfather is involved…”
“Let me talk to her.”
“Give me a minute,” he replied as he opened the door to the pickup and sat Angelina down on the seat.
He put the phone on speaker and handed it to Angelina, who smiled when Kensi began speaking softly to her in Spanish. They talked back and forth as Deeks kept watch for any new, unwanted arrivals. He overheard a couple of different names and became anxious when he had trouble following the rapid exchanges between the two. When Angelina handed the phone back it was Callen who spoke.
“Stay put, Deeks. Sam is sending a chopper to your location. Do you need medical personnel on board?”
“No, but we’re exposed here, Callen…”
“Not anymore. You’re safe. Angelina’s grandfather turned himself in, claiming his granddaughter had been taken. Kilbride didn’t believe him at first, so he offered to flip on everyone, including Peña, who was taken into custody an hour ago. Kensi freaked out when she saw the last text he’d sent. She threatened to shoot the guy if he didn’t tell us where you were. We didn’t know where they’d taken the little girl.”
“I just talked to Angelina’s mother and let her know she’s safe,” Kensi added. “She’s been estranged from her father for years, and really, really angry her daughter was dragged into the middle of this. Deeks…are you sure you’re okay?”
“I am now. How soon can you get here?” he asked. “You know how I feel about the desert.”
“I’m coming, baby. I’m coming,” she said. “And just so you know…you’ve got quite a fan there. Angelina called you Ángel de la Guarda. Her guardian angel.”
“I’m not sure about the angel part, but I definitely wanted to protect her,” he replied, his emotions raw as he thought about how it all could have ended. “She was so brave, Kens. I wouldn’t be talking to you right now without her. She untied me…and if she hadn’t… if she hadn’t, Kens…I wouldn’t be making it home for Christmas.”
“Then I owe her a very big hug when I get there.”
“What about my hug?”
“You’re going to get more than a hug, sweetheart.”
“Sounds promising…Hey Kens? I’ve been thinking. Can we adopt a little girl?” He asked, his eyes suddenly bright with tears. “Angelina reminds me so much of you. I mean, boys are nice, but this little girl…she…”
“She got to you.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too, Kens. Can’t wait to hold you.”
“And I can’t wait to have you home…safe and sound. See you soon, baby.”
Deeks ended the call and stared up at the sky as his emotions calmed. When he looked back, Angelina was staring at him with a soft smile.
“Me gusta Kensi,” she said and giggled.
“I like her too.”
He reached into the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out the little felt snowman. He offered it back to her, and she took it, staring at it for a few seconds before handing it back.
“Quiero que lo tengas,” she said shyly. “Feliz Navidad, Señor Deeks.”
“Really? For me? Wow! Best gift ever,” he said with a wide smile. “The little snowman who survived the desert. Gracias, princesa. Me encanta. I love it.”
She was giggling when she stood up and hugged him.
Happy Holidays from all of us at wikiDeeks