When he woke up the next morning, Zeb’s head was resting on the edge of the tub. He tried to lift it, but the muscles in his neck and shoulders burned and screamed in protest. He lay still a moment longer, then rolled onto his hip and pushed up carefully onto his knees with a groan.
He stayed on his knees for a few minutes, thanking God for getting him through the night. Then he reached over into the tub and turned the hot water handle as far as it would go. It emitted a sharp squeak, but the water came cascading out to tumble against the porcelain. He tempered it with a little cold water, then pulled the lever to redirect the water into the shower head on the wall above.
He stripped off the clothes he’d spent a full, hot day and one long, uncomfortable night in and stepped into the shower. He pulled the curtain to and just stood, letting the hot water pelt his skin, working the sore muscles loose.
Ten minutes later he was cleaner, and felt refreshed and more rested. Gathering up some clean clothes out of his bag, he dressed and repacked his dirty clothes and other belongings in preparation for his departure from this city.
Going back into the bedroom, he listened for several seconds before deciding that Uno and Dos probably weren’t sitting in the hallway waiting for him, so he moved the desk back into its proper place. He turned back to get his bags when a thought occurred to him: if he had another run-in with these guys, they would most likely be more interested in the photographs than they were in him.
But, part of him argued, he couldn’t just hand over the only evidence that could prove that a young life had been snuffed out so callously. He picked up the camera and removed the memory card. Looking around, he found a small pad of hotel stationery and ripped off a sheet. Using the paper, he wrapped the memory card in it securely, then slipped the paper inside his passport.
Zeb shoved the passport into the front pocket of his jeans and inserted a blank memory card into the camera. He peeled back the curtains to reveal the rather lovely view of the city he’d enjoyed this week and snapped off a dozen or so photographs in various directions, just so they wouldn’t be suspicious if they checked if anything was on the card when he gave it to them.
He would buy his life with this camera; there was no reason he had to buy it with the actual evidence they were after…
Standing on the corner just down from his hotel, Zeb got another idea. Calling the police may have blown up in his face, but there was still one place he could go where he may have a shot of being believed – and, more importantly, where he was less likely to see anyone who might be connected with whatever office Uno was with. He needed to find the American Embassy.
He crossed the street, heading toward the government sector. He didn’t know exactly where the Embassy would be, but thought it shouldn’t be too hard to find.
However, barely two blocks from the hotel, he stopped dead in his tracks. Dos was coming toward him, eyes locked on his like a predator’s. “No, no, no,” Zeb muttered.
Dos broke into a run, pushing through the people crowding the streets even this early in the day. Zeb plunged into the street to his left, running as fast as he could while dodging both pedestrians and traffic.
His heart was pounding, his breath pulling raggedly through his throat as fear coursed through his body. He didn’t know where he was going, and didn’t really care as long as it was away. The rush of blood in his ears became louder, the sound morphing into a roar like a jet engine.
Please, please, please not now, he prayed. Pain like a hot knife blossomed in his skull and he pressed a hand to his forehead and gritted his teeth, hoping to keep the attack at bay just a little longer. He turned a corner too quickly, smashing into an older woman’s shoulder and careening away toward the wall of the building bordering the alley in which he found himself. He yelled an apology back to her, but kept running, even though he could feel the ground reaching toward him.
His body finally betrayed him and he pitched forward, overbalanced, and hit the hard, stony ground with a sharp yelp of pain. His arms and knees were scraped up and down and the right side of his face felt like it had been hit by a truck, but the worst part was the blinding pain inside his head, the near-deafening roar in his ears and the roiling nausea in his stomach.
He was vaguely aware of concerned voices around him, but all of his concentration was focused on the agony he was suffering. One voice came closer and someone lifted him to his feet. He pried one eye open to see Dos’ face mere inches from his. “”Come with me, friend,”” he said loudly, apparently for the benefit of the other people gathered there, “”let me get you to your doctor.””
“No,” Zeb groaned weakly. He wanted to pull free and run, but his legs could barely keep him upright. Without Dos’ support, he’d be a crumpled mess on the ground.
Dos gave him cold grin and pressed something painfully into his ribs. Looking down, Zeb saw that it was a gun. Continuing to outwardly look the part of a helpful and concerned friend, Dos steered Zeb away from the small crowd and down a maze of narrow alleys. They stopped just outside a building Zeb glimpsed through his half-shut eyelids and the puddled tears in his eyes.
Dos shouldered open the door and threw Zeb to the floor inside the mostly empty and quiet, musty room. In the dim light, Zeb saw Dos remove a metal, cylindrical object and affix it to the barrel of the gun. A silencer, he surmised.
“Where are the photographs?” Dos asked in thickly accented English.
Zeb gasped as a sharp wave of pain seared through his brain. He groaned and fumbled in his bag for his camera case. Finding it, he rolled a little more toward Dos and slid the case containing the expensive camera he’d finally treated himself to for this very trip across the wooden floor to the man who may very well kill him momentarily. “There, just take it all,” Zeb said. “The cops didn’t believe me, so there’s nothing I can do to you.” He peered up at Dos, watching to see if today was the day he was going to meet his Creator.
The man knelt down without taking his cold eyes or the gun off of Zeb and grasped the camera case. He pulled it toward himself and unzipped the case. He reached in and flipped open the port where the memory card was inserted, then, apparently satisfied that the card was there, he shut it and stood to put the camera case strap around his neck.
“It seems you are in a bit of agony, my friend. I don’t know what is wrong with you, but let me end your suffering, yes?” He leveled the gun at Zeb’s head.
The nausea overcame him and Zeb vomited on the wooden floor. He expected the muffled sound followed by the stillness of that moment between death and eternity, but it didn’t come. He heaved once more and saw that Dos had moved away just enough that the broken door of the room had swung open.
A voice in the alley outside made both of them freeze. Zeb turned his head to see a police officer approaching. He let out a grateful laugh, then turned his gaze back to where Dos had been standing a moment before.
He was gone. And with him was the camera and decoy memory card. His plan, though it had never included such a severe attack of his illness, had worked. “Thank you, Lord,” he breathed.
The young officer got to his side and told him help was on the way, but the migraine and the nausea were the entirety of his world and the words barely registered.
Zeb passed out.