Then the ceiling fell in and the bottom fell out
I went into a spin and I started to shout
I’ve been hit, this is it, this is it!
Orange Colored Sky – Nat King Cole
Orange. The color that would remind me of today. Orange – the color behind the months of nightmares that would follow. Orange – the container, the hard hats, the bomb disposal gear, the letters on the back of the agency flak jackets, the sparks from welding gear shooting across the sky. Orange, the smell of burning flesh.
My heart goes into overdrive from the moment I put down the phone. I get in the Merc and race across Portland to get to the heliport arriving just as Christian touches down. Jason is out of the chopper closely followed by another member of Christian’s security team and across to meet me before I get through the security doors.
“Kate, this is Stephen Lindsey, he will drive your car back to Seattle.” I nod mutely knowing my words would be lost in the rotor noise. After I hand over my keys Jason puts an arm around me and shepherds me toward the chopper. He climbs into the back with Mia after he has me strapped in next to Christian.
Once we are airborne and Christian has spoken to the control tower, Mia’s voice comes over my headset explaining that Elliot has stepped on what she calls a Pressure Contact Trigger designed to set off bombs attached to a freight container at the building site. She doesn’t give details about the ‘who’ or the ‘why’ just the ‘what’. I have a thousand questions but the noise from the rotor makes it impossible to really have a d & m how it all happened. What I do get is that he had made the mistake at about 11am and has been standing there ever since. We are ten minutes past the conversation when I register that she has said bombs, as in plural.
When we touch down at Escala, Ana is there moving me quickly to the Escala bedroom that Elliot and I slept in last night where a change of clothing is waiting for me. Looking around, I wonder if this bed is the last one that I will make love to him on. Gail enters with a bag full of linen and hands it to Ana before leaving. As she looks at me I know without words that she has rescued these from the laundry. I recall the night Christian went missing asking her to do the same for Ana. Placing them near my work clothes Ana touches my shoulder. These little things will be my solace in the worst case scenario.
“They’ll be here when you get back. Now go.” Her arms go around me, her lips on my cheek. I feel her fear on my behalf.
We are hustled down to the basement where Luke and Jason are ready for us. Christian wraps an arm around my waist while Mia holds my hand all the way down. We don’t speak. There is nothing more to say. Mia joins her driver. Christian travels in the back of the SUV holding me firmly under his arm as he strokes the back of my hand. As we leave Escala and then upon arrival at North Beach we are inundated with news crews being held back from the action. God knows how they know what is going on. It seems only God and media trolls are omnipotent. I’ve never been more ashamed of my profession than I am right now.
My whole body is trembling and Christian pulls me in closer as we pass security and head to the top of the drive. Emerging from the car I see him standing there, looking tired but so beautiful and all I want to do is go to him. Someone holds me back. Jason I think. I don’t understand. At first I try to get out of his grasp. He has made a mistake. He knows I have to go to Elliot. That is why we are here.
“Kate, stop, you can’t go up there.” I still for a moment and turn my body in his hold, looking up at him in complete disbelief.
“Let me go. I have to go to him.” My voice is calm, foreign to me. He firms his grip.
“You can’t, Kate.”
“Jason, get your hands off me.” He tightens and I struggle. He’s lost his marbles. He has no right to stop me. My voice goes from a malevolent whisper to a full watch-your-testicles roar. “Get your fucking hands off me.” Screaming, slapping, struggling but most of all screaming, that just feels amazing. Jason is losing the fight.
“Katherine.” Christian’s dominant voice cuts in and he moves in to pull me into his protective body. I breathe him in but he is not Elliot. He is not my Elliot. “Katherine.” I know that tone, I am in trouble. He is about to scold me. I go to pull away from his impending discipline but he folds me in tighter.
“Kate. You can’t go to him. Look at me.” Somewhere in the struggle the fight leaves my body and the shudder of my first sobs arrives. “If you go up there upset or without safety gear, he might step off that plate. If there is any chance of him surviving we have to play this smart. Keep him calm. That starts with you. If I was up there and Ana came in like that I am not sure that I could have kept my cool. Look at him. I’m not sure I would have the composure to survive but he does. He can, but not if you lose it. You can do this. You need to use that analytic brain and work out how to do this so we can keep him alive.”
His speech, his voice, the continued contact from a man who I know hates to be touched is enough to bring me to heel. My brain switches in dampening my emotions. What does Elliot need from me? What would help him to keep it together long enough to stay alive? He searches my face for a sign that I have heard him. I have.
“Good girl.” As he continues to placate me Mia moves closer to us.
“Kate, you’re going to have to direct some of that energy to my boss. He is going to be the one who will permit you through but not if he sees hysteria.” I look in her eyes, once more acknowledging the message and drawing on all of my reserve to get some control over my body and my emotions. The desperate diva act is not going to work. A few deep breaths and a reassuring hug from Christian before I look up toward Elliot. He is exhausted, I can see it, emotionally and physically but his remaining energy is reaching out to me. Whatever I do now has to be calculated to take that worry off his face. I need to be smart.
“Introduce me to your boss.” Mia takes my arm and turns me away from Elliot toward a tall man. In another life I would have called him stunning. He is every bit as gorgeous as Elliot and Christian, with the same dominant qualities. With that first glance I know how to work him.
“Sir, this is Elliot’s partner, Kate Kavanagh. Kate this is Agent Rory Jensen. He is in charge of this operation.”
I don’t give him time to talk. “Agent Jensen, I need to get up there to my fiancé. How can we make this happen?”
“Miss Kavanagh, we are operating under EOD protocols here. There is no possibility of you getting any closer than this and you are only here right now because Mr. Grey contacted my superior and insisted that the two of you should be allowed access to the property. This was permitted under certain conditions so I have to tell you that not only will you not go any closer than this but you will both have to leave once we breach the walls of the container.”
So not happening. “Mr. Jensen.” Leaving out the agent is deliberate. Let me remind you that you are a nobody here. “The fates of everyone involved here, from the people in the container, to your agents, right down to your ass are being controlled right now by one person.”
“And Elliot is doing a good job of keeping things under control. If you go up…”
“Not him. Although I will grant you that he has been in charge up until now. Right now, all of his body language tells me that his emotional and psychological well-being is now tied to my presence. If you want to keep everyone alive in the next half hour then I would suggest that you do the smart thing, the humane thing and let him talk to me. That man is about to give up. I can see it from here and I might be the only thing that stops that from happening. So you will give me access to whatever gear I need and you will let me get close enough to him so that I can talk him off this emotional ledge. If he asks me to leave then we can discuss what happens next. But I promise you that you will lose him if you send us away without a word to him.”
I would go nose to nose with him but he is another giant and here’s me without my dancing shoes. He’s stuck and he knows it. No point in extending the stand-off.
“Agent Grey. Suit her up.” His eyes don’t leave mine. “There will be restrictions. You can’t get any closer than shouting distance, the edge of the drive. Are we clear?”
“Crystal, Agent Jensen.”
Now I’m dressed like a giant orange Michelin man as I waddle up towards the container. Elliot is shocked by my approach, I can tell. Well, man up, baby, ’cause if you think I’m leaving without having the last word then you’re sadly mistaken.
“Hey, tough day, babe?” The effort of waddling up the hill has me breathing heavy.
“Nah, just been hanging around really.” The concern in his eyes belies his humorous quip. “Katie, what are you doing here?”
“Probably kicking your ass but let’s play it by ear, shall we? Looks like you’ve put your big foot in it again.”
He chuckles and the tension leaves his body. “Yeah, well, seems it was better me than some other poor schmuck. But I’d be happier if I knew you were safely away from all of this shit.”
“What and miss the fun? No way, babe. Team right? Those were your words.” I’m trying not to let my voice break but shit, it’s hard.
“Baby, please. If something happened…” I know what he’s saying and I’m not sure I could stand here and watch him get blown to smithereens.
“Listen, sweetheart, you don’t get to give up that easily. You are coming home with me.”
“Don’t you fucking dare, Elliot. We have plans, you and me. So if you think for a second that you are going to leave me in this life I will hunt you into the next and give you the ass whooping you so richly deserve.”
“Okay, babe. I get it.” I want to make him laugh. I need to see his smile more than I need to breathe. And as soon as he does the emotion clogs my arteries. Tears threaten again, my mouth is dry and I’m fighting my own body. “Shit, Katie. Don’t. Please I need to talk to you.”
After a few desperate moments I get my vocal chords to cooperate. “I’m listening.”
“Dad has my will.” Fuck, he’s giving up. I drop my head. “No, babe, you said you were listening. Everything is for you. From the moment we met, it has always been you. My folks, they know that. I wanted you taken care of, so my share of the business, the house, everything is yours.”
I don’t want to hear this. This talk of wills is the voice of defeat. The ache squeezes my heart in its brittle hands pausing the flow of my blood and freezing my muscles in instant atrophy. Pain is a tangible being inside my veins of splinters and shards. Every breath is a deliberate act of will that I have to concentrate to complete.
“Stop it! Just stop! You don’t get to tell me any of this shit because it doesn’t apply to us. Not this time. Your father called me this morning when he couldn’t get hold of you. Mattie is coming home. Do you hear me? Our little boy is coming home. He is waiting for his Mom and Dad to get married at that church in Haiti with Liana and James and all the kids and then our baby boy is coming home with us. So don’t you dare do anything stupid and leave us here. With the exception of a couple of pieces of paper, you are a husband and a father and we need you. So don’t you fucking dare give up.”
His body is frozen in shock and Ethan’s hand seems to be the only thing that is holding him up. I am willing him to hear what I have said. We have a family, he has a family of his own and he can’t leave us now. His head drops to his chest and for a horrible moment I think I have made it worse. That perhaps that arrogant Agent Jensen was right and I shouldn’t be here. Then he lifts his head and reaches over for the water bottle, uncapping it and guzzling down half the bottle.
“Well, then I’m depending on you to go down there and make sure that no one does anything stupid to put me or anyone else in danger. You need to do what you do best, baby. Milk every ounce of information out of these fuckwits and keep me safe, babe.”
His expression is hard but full of confidence in me. “Okay. Don’t go anywhere, hey.”
“Got nothing better to do with my day. Me and your bro are just going to hang here and shoot the breeze.”
His smile is all the reassurance I need and I turn to leave. “Katie. I love you, babe.”
“I love you, too, you big lug.” Just as I start to move away I hear him call out again.
“Laters, baby.” I keep my eyes focused on the safety zone as the tears begin to fall. There is no way I am going to let him see me cry.
Once Mia gets me out of the rubber suit, she sets to work convincing Christian to go and break the news to their parents in person. While she fights that battle, I unleash hell on Rory Jensen until he capitulates on giving me access to their bomb disposal expert. Within half an hour I am pacing anxiously waiting to enter the operations truck to talk with the CIA bomb expert. A few minutes later, I am ushered inside by Agent Jensen and it’s like entering the tardis. The deceptively spacious interior houses a fully operational control center with equipment, lights and monitors everywhere. A man wearing an ill- fitting back suit stands abruptly as we enter wiping his hand on his pants before thrusting it toward me. I take it and am at least reassured by his firm handshake.
“Miss Kavanagh, this is our bomb disposal expert, Agent Mehta of the EOD unit. Spooky, Miss Kavanagh would like the defusal process explained…in plain language.”
Spooky? What the hell sort of name is that? Any ground he gained with the handshake has been lost with the fugly suit and the name. And now apparently this schmuck is about to take me through the Bomb Disposal for Dummies text book. Fuck – if I am placing Elliot’s fate with this prat then he and Jensen are going to have to up their game.
“Good morning Ma’am, the process is a little technical but in layman’s terms we will now set about the time consuming task of diffusing the elements of the explosives one by one. Do you have any questions, Ma’am?” The guy who was a bundle of nerves when we walked in has now decided that the little woman is to be humored. Well, fuck this.
“Exactly what do you do here, Mr. Mehta?” He looks a little taken aback by my question especially when I put my patented ‘surely, you cannot be their top explosives guy’ look on my face. Idiot! Changing tack I place my hands on my hips I deliberately place my feet apart taking my weight on one foot while thrusting my none-too-impressive rack directly in his sight line. His eyes just about pop out of his head when my hand snakes up to my lips and I bite on my finger as if I am thinking really hard. After a couple of seconds bead of sweat appears on his brow and he struggles to swallow.
“Um, well…I guess… ah, i-i-in layman’s terms, my job is to, ah, diffuse the bomb.” Oh, shit, one look at pair of tits and he is barely articulate? I take a couple of deep breaths then bite my lip. He mirrors me. Fuck, maybe he is just one of those incredibly capable nerds. The perennial SuperGeek – saving the world one computer program at a time. But he works with explosive devices. Shouldn’t he be calm? Confident? Focused? I’m trying to rustle up an image of the Hurt Locker here and this guy is coming across like a character from The freaking Office. Perhaps sexual intimidation is not the answer. If he really is going to save Elliot, I need to see some sort of focus under pressure not this quivering horny sweaty mess.
Questions! Where do I begin? Up until now, my mind has been a jumble of conflicting emotions with the capacity to form a cohesive thought eluding me. Now, my mind comes into complete focus like flicking the switch. I ask the first question that comes into my mind and the only thing that matters most to me.
“Tell me, Agent Mehta, in executing this process, exactly how do you intend to safely return my fiancé to me?” Seems simple enough but his eyes are darting back and forth between me and Jensen as if he is waiting for some sort of translation. At this moment I begin to question if he and I have the same priorities around Elliot’s safety. When his freaky eyes eventually settle on me it is with a sorry expression.
“Sorry Ma’am, I cannot comment on EOD protocols.” Can’t or won’t? If I hadn’t been concentrating on reading the little prick so closely, I might have missed the little smirk that he threw Jensen’s way. He’s trying to pull some sort of information power trip here and he seems to have Jensen’s full support to do so. A veil of red mist descends. Stepping hastily forward my right arm reaches for this man’s throat as my other hand grabs his testicles. I push him back a few steps until he hits the wall and my voice radiates with a cold fury
“Listen to me, asshole… that man over there is my fiancé and for the past few hours he has been operating under the misapprehension that once you freed the hostages, he would become your top priority. Forgive me if I’m wrong but I’m not getting that feel good vibe. Now, you are going to explain to me…in what did you call it? Layman’s terms… exactly what you are going to do and how you are planning to bring him safely back to me or I will rip off your testicles, shove them down your throat and watch you choke you to death.”
Finally, I see what I desperately need to see. Initial shock turns to defiance as his eyes harden and focus above my head. His body is flexed and tense under my hands indicating that if he wanted to, he could take me down with one swift maneuver. His poise under this pressure probably belies a new understanding that dealing with an explosive weapon is a lot easier that an explosive female. His eyes flick towards Rory Jensen. Big mistake, buster! Tightening my grip downstairs I lean into his neck for extra emphasis. You’re dealing with me, asshole. Not that fuckwit, Jensen. Emitting a small choking noise, he gives me nod. I let go of him.
“My apologies, Ma’am.” The guy rubs at his neck, eyes focused back over my head like a good little soldier. When he has himself together he guides me over to a screen where there is a 3-D simulation of what I suppose must be the container with the platform in front of it. It shows the location of Elliot and Ethan. The lights go on. To this guy, who to my knowledge, hasn’t stepped outside this truck all day, Elliot is an image on the screen, a series of numbers and my hands itch to choke him again. “What we currently know is that the trailer has been rigged with eight blocks of Semtex H, each block with its own pressure switch trigger. These have been implanted at various intervals under the gap between the container and the trailer. Any attempt to move the trailer will trigger an explosion. It also appears that there are further explosives lined up along the inside of the door so any attempt to open it may trigger them.”
My mind races. TJ had summoned the trucking company to move the trailer earlier this morning. When the guy had finally turned up he had been stopped and turned away at the security gates. Nausea hits me in a wave as I think what could have happened if he had arrived before the CIA did. All those women waiting for their freedom now, would have been killed instantly. My mind then summons up all those orange sparks going on around the container as we speak. If movement can trigger the bombs what can a spark do?
“You have men with blow torches working at the back of the container. Won’t that set off the explosives?”
“No Ma’am. We have scanned the container with detectors; we know there are no devices within four feet of the breach zone and a blowtorch cannot ignite these explosives. They need a special detonator to trigger them. Right now our hostages are relatively safe.” He signals to another screen that shows a mass of hot yellow, orange and red near the front of the container. That fucking smirk is back and I’m ready to slap it off his face. He loves this shit. I bet if I glanced down right now, he would have a semi in his pants. I suppose a love of explosive devices might actually be working in our favor here but those women and Elliot are more than just a problem to be solved.
“So what is the plan? How are you getting my fiancé back to me safely and those poor women out of that container?” I know I must sound like a broken record but he needs to hear that connection. I need him to see them as human beings with families, hopes and aspirations. Not as thermal images on a screen and certainly not as collateral damage.
“We have sent a robot to check on all the explosives. Each device has an independent trigger, but they are all daisy chained so the activation of a single trigger will set off all of the blocks.” Oh, Jesus, this just gets worse and worse.
“Currently we are planning to follow the render safe protocols. We have nearly completed the breach. Once that is done, we are going to get the hostages in the container out.” Yes, apparently that is the easy bit.
“What about Elliot?”
“That will take a little longer. Normally we would use a robot to disarm the explosives. However in this case the explosives are inaccessible to a robotic arm. We will need to go in manually and diffuse each explosive. This is usually only done as a last resort. Unlike what you see in movies, we don’t cut the red wire.” He laughs at his own joke, not appreciating that he is one giggle away from castration but then he looks at my face and sober seems to be the order of the day. “We intend to use a pigstick to blast the detonators.”
“Won’t the blast trigger the explosive?” God, what are these people thinking? “And what the fuck is a pigstick?”
“A pigstick, Ma’am, is a water stick that delivers a very high pressured precise jet. It is powerful enough to blow the wires out from the detonators. Once we sever the connection to the detonator, the explosive can’t be triggered. However, before we can hope to diffuse the bomb, we are going to setup a reactive armor shield in front of your fiancé which should offer him some protection just in case.” An alarm goes off at one of the stations and he is momentarily distracted shutting it down. He looks over his shoulder at Jensen who gives him a nod. “I’m sorry Ma’am. I have to go now, I’m needed. It looks like they have just breached the container.”
Just as he is leaving, I call out to him. “Agent Mehta!” He stops in the doorway and looks back at me. “Please, bring him back safely!” With a small, tight-lipped nod and disappears out of the truck. Jensen looks grim, having realized that Mehta has given me more information than he ever intended when he agreed to bring me in here. My first stop is to debrief Christian with this information. Clearly, Jason and Luke had both expected a remote defusal and they both let out a whistle of air when I tell them what I know.
Twelve very frightened and damaged women are escorted from the container by agents. Mia is in the thick of it, speaking quietly to them in their native tongue and the flighty girl I thought I knew becomes a woman of substance before my very eyes. Part of me is relieved that the next phase is about to begin. On the other hand, the next part holds the most risk and I don’t need a heart monitor to know that I’m dealing with the thoroughbred of all pulses.
I want to be useful; I want to be in the thick of the action because sitting still is a situation painted in shades of ape-shit crazy. Luckily, Mia is one of only two women in the whole operation so my skills as a bearer of estrogen are required if only to keep the women calm in the presence of all of these armed and intimidating men.
Once the medics have done a quick check to ensure that we aren’t dealing with any life threatening injuries the women are loaded on to a bus to be taken for debriefing. My heart goes out to them. From what I can gather none of them had signed up for this gig. Mia is tight-lipped on the details but I can tell that she is none too happy with the stories she is hearing.
Before the bus leaves the compound there is a flurry of activity as a gurney is wheeled up to the container. I hope that whoever is injured will be able to stay with the main group. To say that my heart sinks when they load up a body bag and trundle it down the hill toward a waiting ambulance, is an understatement. The thought of being locked up with a dead body makes my stomach churn and for a fleeting moment I wonder how well they knew the deceased. My attention turns back to the last few women boarding the bus as I try to gauge their reaction. Four of them have stopped to watch the body being loaded in the vehicle. I brace myself for tears and sadness but one by one they spit on the ground before entering the vehicle. The last woman in line places a protective arm over the one in front but this seems to trigger something and the girl turns back toward the ambulance shouting something that sounds like a stream of curse words before brushing her hand under chin in a universal symbol of fuck-you-and-the-goat-you-rode-in-on. The others glance around nervously with waiting-for-the-axe fear in their eyes before hustling her quickly inside the vehicle, the doors shutting on her continued tirade.
Agent Jensen waits at a distance before approaching us as the last of the women disappear inside. Apparently he has a strong enough sense of self-preservation to keep away from them.
“Miss Kavanagh, we are about to start the next phase of this operation which will necessitate us clearing the area. I am going to have to insist that all civilians leave the property before we begin.” The shit-head is deadly serious and out of his pea-brained mind. I stare at him long enough to give him nowhere to go but exasperated sigh. “You’re not going to go, are you?”
“Nah-ah. So you better come up with another option.”
“Kate.” Pausing for effect, he lowers his head so that I can get an eyeful of feigned concern. “This really isn’t safe and my head is on the line should you get hurt.” As far as tactics go, suddenly getting up close and personal in the hope that my emotional state will soften my stance is just one assumption way too many. The self-righteous jerk does not have permission to use my first name and I sure as hell won’t be returning the favor.
“Agent Jensen, you don’t seem to appreciate that while those two men up there, my fiancé and my brother, are both putting their lives on the line I will not be leaving this compound. I certainly will not be telling either of our families that I walked away before this is over. And since Christian Grey owns the piece of land you’re standing on, I am fairly sure that he has at the very least a legal claim that might usurp your authority around here.” I know this isn’t strictly true. I’m pretty sure that matters of National Security would trump but I am going to play every card in my hand while I am still sitting at the table. Jensen stalks away muttering something about stubborn women.
Now it seems all we can do is wait and pray. They won’t let us go anywhere near Elliot and Ethan now and a brief but very public conversation via the CIA comms system is all that we are permitted. Christian and his parents are relayed in from Bellevue.
“Dude, I want a rematch, you feel me?” Christian talks with Elliot first.
“I’m looking forward to kicking your ass again, man.” Elliot’s voice comes over the radio. “Listen, if this all goes south, look after everyone for me.”
“Nothing is going to happen but I hear you and consider it done. It will be my honor and privilege.” Christian always sounds like he should have lived in a different age. “And Lelliot?”
“I …I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me. You’re a role model and a friend and I…I love you, bro.” There is a long air silence.
“I love you too, bro. I wouldn’t change anything. Not a damn thing.”
The message relay from Carrick and Grace has us all choking back our tears as they express their love and their pride. Then it’s my turn and for the life of me I can’t do more than tell him I love him.
As the day heads towards late afternoon, the sky changes from blue to orange-red. Tomorrow will be a beautiful day. Tomorrow this will all be behind us. Tomorrow will mark the future. All bodies not required in the blast zone are now safely monitoring the action from behind the EOD vehicles. Elliot has been suited up and a wall of protective material has been placed between he and Ethan and the container to shield them from the worst of the blast should anything go wrong. Of course, no one can guarantee that any of this will protect them at all and once more Mia and I leave unspoken the fact that we could both end this day losing a lover and a brother.
The useless disposal robot has been re-purposed to provide us with a grainy video feed that we anxiously monitor. Agent Mehta, Ethan and Elliot are the only people in the zone, each completely focused on the task at hand. One by one we watch as Spooky releases the detonators, each success bringing more air back into my lungs, each one charging the gathered crowd with quiet confidence. Elated applause erupts when finally the three men start to walk down the hill toward us. So it took us all by surprise when another loud flash of blasting orange burst in the sky behind them.