Author-Kimberly Workman and Author-Lucy Hale
The Essence of Inhumanity
by Kimberly Workman and Lucy Hale
See notes and disclaimer on part one.
Henri pulled up to the 40th Street shelter, unable to hold back a smile. Man, he missed his partner. It was ridiculous, but he was looking forward to seeing that familiar grin again, if only for a few minutes.
He pounded up the stairs and into the building, glancing around at the dingy interior. The room was full today. Breakfast time, he guessed, seeing the trays of food in front of the seated residents.
He turned and saw the woman from yesterday heading for him, her friendly smile in place. "Morning."
"You don't have another guest for us, I hope?"
He grinned. "Nothing like that. I wanted to make sure the one I brought yesterday isn't causing any problems."
"Oh. No, no problems at all."
"Can I see him for a few minutes? We had a few questions we needed to ask about his old hangout."
"Of course. Let me see if I can find him." She waded in among the crowded tables, her eyes scanning.
Henri looked around himself, certain he would find his partner before she would.
He started in surprise, turning to see a young kid with stringy hair grinning a hyper smile at him. "Uh, hey."
"You lookin' for the new guy?"
Well, that got his attention. "What?"
"That guy you brought in yesterday."
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. You know where he is."
The kid nodded happily. "Not here."
Henri's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean, not here?"
"I mean, he ain't here. He went out yesterday, followin' the foreigners. I tailed him 'cause I was bored, and he just didn't listen to me when I said leave 'em alone."
Henri frowned. "What happened?"
The kid shrugged. "Dunno. He went out and watched the foreigners meet some other foreigner, then a cop chased him away." The kid giggled. "I saw him 'fore he went to sleep, but he wasn't here this morning."
Henri's eyes went back to scanning the crowd, but his stomach churned with the nervous knowledge that the kid was right. Rafe wasn't there.
"He shoulda left 'em alone," the kid said with a happy sigh.
Henri faced him again squarely. "Alright, kid, tell me everything that happened."
"Why you wanna know?"
"Just tell me!"
The kid studied Henri's angry face for a second, then shrugged carelessly. "'Kay. Well, the foreigners went to the park, right? And he was followin', and they met this other guy-"
"What other guy?"
Another careless shrug. "Older guy, talkin' the same language as they was."
"Maybe fifty years old? Grey hair? Dressed well?"
"Yeah!" The kid beamed. "That was him!"
Smola. Henri let out a shaky breath. "Good. Now what happened to Ra...to the guy I brought in?"
"Like I said. He was here last night, wasn't here this morning. Foreigners did something with him. They always get rid of anyone who watches em too close."
Henri gritted his teeth. "Where are the foreigners now?"
"Left this morning. They'll be back tonight."
Henri turned on his heel, not bothering to thank the kid or wait for the lady volunteer, and went out the front door fast. He jumped into his car and took off.
"I don't understand why you're questioning me. You say I am not a suspect, why am I in here being interrogated?"
Blair noticed that his partner was one step away from tearing into Smola, so he cleared his throat lightly. "We're trying to put a motive to the murder of Mr. Gierhake. We can do that if our suspicions....er, if we can show that PAGAD had some sort of problem with your company."
"I can't help you. I've said that since I first arrived. I can not help you. I'm sorry. Please, let me return to my hotel."
Simon looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. "Blair, could you take Mr. Smola out to your desk for a minute? I need to have a word with Jim."
Blair nodded and stood.
Smola heaved an irritated sigh, standing and leading the way resentfully to the outer room.
"He's lying, Simon."
"I know. I could tell he recognized those pictures. He's definitely hiding something from us."
Jim frowned. "So what do we do?"
"We'll have to catch him in the act, Jim. He's not gonna tell us anything unless we get some kind of proof."
Jim cocked his head slightly, listening to an approaching sound. "Henri's back."
Simon stood. "Thank God. Maybe Rafe's found something out we can use. God knows we're not getting anything accomplished."
Jim was still listening, his brow furrowed. Suddenly he bounded to the door and pulled it open. "Henri-"
The detective had marched all the way up to the waiting Smola. Without a word, without even a moment's hesitation, he grabbed the man's shirt front and hauled him to his feet. "Where is he?!?"
Smola sputtered for a moment, surprised.
Henri pushed him back, eyes burning, expression irate. "WHERE IS HE??" He pushed Smola until his back hit the wall.
With a surprised exhalation of breath, Smola's eyes went to the officers behind him. "What is this?"
Jim and Simon started forward, going to Henri quickly and grabbing him to haul him away from Smola.
To their surprise, he didn't budge. His hands stayed clenched to the starched fabric of Smola's shirt front, not even seeming to notice they were there. "Tell me what they did with him, you son of a bitch!"
"Brown, get your hands off of him!" Simon snapped.
Brown shrugged his arm out of Simon's grasp, his fierce glare never leaving Smola's face.
"Henri, come on, man. Let him go," Blair's voice was almost frightened behind him.
"No! Not until he answers me!"
"What is it, Henri?" Jim was the calmest of the group. "What happened?"
"Missing! He wasn't at the shelter!"
Simon groaned softly, but was quick to talk again. "What makes you think Smola had anything to do-"
"Some kid in the shelter told me our suspects must have done something to him," Henri reported, cutting off Simon without a thought. "He also told me he followed them yesterday to some park, and guess who they met up with?" His hands tightened on the shirt, and he pushed Smola back into the wall.
"Shit! Brown, let him go! This isn't the way to play this."
"No?" Henri's glare didn't fade.
"No! Let him go, we'll question him. He's not gonna say a damned word with you in his face."
"Yeah he will. He's gonna tell me why he's lying, why he's helping the men who killed Gierhake and kidnapped my partner!"
"D-detective, please. I cannot tell you any-"
"You'd better stop stalling and start talking, you conceited fuck."
Smola swallowed. "My daughter," he said in a near whisper.
Henri blinked. "What?"
Looking suddenly vulnerable, Smola stopped trying to pull away, sagging in Henri's grasp. "They have my daughter."
Henri locked eyes with him for a moment, then blinked again, seeming to realize where he was and what he was doing. Almost shocked at his loss of control, he released Smola and stepped back without a word.
Rather than waste time rebuking him, Simon kept his eyes on Smola. "Go on."
The older man was quiet for a few moments. "They've had her for two weeks now. They said they would kill her if I met with the police. I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I can't tell you anything. If they see any police, they'll know I talked."
Simon glanced over at Jim.
The Sentinel nodded slightly. He was telling the truth.
Simon breathed out. "Do you know what they did with Rafe?"
"Ryf?" Smola's eyes came up, looking at Henri in surprise. "Ryf is your partner?"
Henri nodded, his jaw clenched, still not trusting himself enough to talk.
"I...I have not heard. They would not have said anything to me."
Simon glanced at Jim; another nod. "Are you alright?" he asked Smola.
The businessman straightened himself slightly, but nodded. "Yes."
"You?" Simon's gaze went to Henri.
The detective paused. "Simon, I want to go in tonight," he said finally, ignoring the question.
"To the shelter? Are you nuts?"
"The kid said Friedrich and his group would be back tonight. I want to see if I can track them to wherever they've got Rafe stashed."
"Henri," Simon spoke hesitantly. "You realize they might have-"
"Don't say it, Simon," Brown cut him off.
He hesitated, but nodded finally. "I don't like it, Brown, but something tells me I wouldn't be able to stop you if I tried."
Henri shrugged. "Probably not."
"Alright. First, you drive Smola back to his hotel." Simon turned to their guest. "Mr. Smola, go back and rest. I'm going to send Detective Ellison to your hotel room tonight, and I want you to give him a full statement. Everything you know about these men."
Smola opened his mouth to protest.
Simon went on before he could. "I know you're scared for your daughter, but I promise you we won't do anything to endanger her life. If we don't find them, they'll never let her go. You know that, don't you?"
Smola hesitated, but nodded. "I think I do."
"Good. Thank you for telling us the truth, I know it wasn't easy."
Smola glanced at Henri, and actually smiled somewhat. "I'm sorry I had to be forced to do it."
Henri met his eyes. He still didn't like the man, he never would. Not for what he knew about Rafe's childhood, about the part this uncle had played in it. So he didn't return the smile. He did manage to speak civilly, though. "Let's take you home," he said stiffly, turning and heading for the door.
Smola seemed to understand his anger, and he followed the detective without a word.
"Jou kombers en my matras en daar l^e die ding, daar l^e die ding, daar l^e die ding."
Ryf's eyes opened slowly, listening to the surprising sound of music in their home. No one ever sang here, especially not his mother. "Jou kombers en my matras en daar l^e die ding, daar l^e die ding."
He sat up suddenly, ignoring the pounding headache that rushed to drive him back down. He had overslept! He would be late to work. "Verdomp!" he swore. Then instantly he paled and hoped no one had heard him. Ryf wasn't supposed to use the grown-up words. He really wasn't supposed to talk at all.
"Jou wakker?" The song cut off, and the singer came closer to him shyly.
He watched as she came into view through the darkness, and Ryf suddenly vanished. Leaving a very confused Rafe in his wake.
"Oh my God, I'm going crazy," Rafe mumbled to himself, his hands covering his face. It was one thing to have dreams, it was something else to wake up thinking it was twenty years ago.
"Wat skort daar?" Annerl asked quietly.
"Niks," Rafe answered automatically, bringing his hands down and looking around. "Where are we?" he asked in quiet Afrikaan.
"I don't know," she replied in kind. "Friedrich took us in a car to this building."
Rafe sat up all the way, his back protesting spending hours unconscious on the ground. "A car? Freidrich has a car?"
"Why has he been staying at the shelter?"
"They would not tell me. It has something to do with my father."
She shut up abruptly, as though realizing she'd said too much.
He recognized the look of fear. "It's okay, I'm a police officer."
"I was sent to keep an eye on Friedrich. We suspect him of the murder of a man a few days ago."
She shuddered. "I would not be surprised if he was."
"Who are you? Why are you here with them?"
"They...they took me. They have been holding me for a long time."
Rafe's eyes narrowed. He should have known, as scared as she was of them, and as quickly as they came to attention when someone began talking to her in the shelter the day before. "Why?"
"My father." She looked down at her feet.
A thought struck Rafe suddenly, and a few pieces of the puzzle started coming together. "Gustav Smola?"
She looked up in surprise, but nodded.
He stood slowly, and had to lean against the wall as the room started to spin.
"Are you okay?"
"Just dizzy." He waited a moment, breathing deeply. "Is there a way out of here?"
"The only door is the one they brought us through, and Mikial is there to guard it."
Rafe cursed softly, looking around the dark room. "What do they want with your father?" he asked as he looked around carefully.
"Something about his company. I don't know everything."
"Alright," Rafe turned to her squarely. "I'm going to get us out of here, but I'll need your help."
She met his eyes, then looked away.
"I know you're scared, Annerl. But I can help you." He hesitated, then went to the young girl's side and waited until she met his eyes. "Gustav Smola in my uncle," he said quietly.
She stared. "You...you are Ryf? You are my uncle's son?"
Rafe nodded silently.
"I have heard....my father said that we might see you here, but..." She looked up at him in amazement. "My cousin."
He smiled slightly.
"Father...he does not speak well of you," she went on, studying him.
Rafe's smile faded. "I'm not surprised. I know you must have heard some bad things about me before, but..." He trailed off.
He had been all set to argue with his uncle's views of him, but how could he? He had realized over the last day that those views were more accurate than he thought.
"Ryf," Annerl replied when it was obvious Rafe was through. "I think...I understand why you left."
Surprised, Rafe met her eyes. The young girl smiled slightly, a wisdom in her eyes that belied her age. Old before her time. Rafe knew that look well.
"Tell me what do, cousin Ryf. I'll help you get us out."
Mikial was not the brightest crayon in the box, Rafe discovered with relief. Annerl's scream brought him running, and he approached her huddled, frightened form without even checking the shadows behind her.
"Wat skort daar? Hou jou bek!"
She whimpered as he approached. "Asseblief...nee, asseblief..."
"Wat? Wat skort?" He finally noticed the absence of a second hostage. "Waar is-"
Rafe walked unnoticed right up to the man. "Hier is ek," he answered with a grin.
Mikial whirled just in time to hit Rafe's fist with his face, and he fell heavily.
Rafe crouched and ripped the old rifle out of his hands. "Dankie," he thanked the semiconscious man. "Annerl, ons loop, nou!"
She jumped up and he grabbed her hand, running out the door and into another small room. He saw an exit sign and realized this must be some kind of abandoned office building. *Figures.* But he didn't stop to think about it, heading for the door and opening it quickly.
Right into the surprised face of his old friend Friedrich. "Wat-"
Rafe didn't hesitate. He aimed the rifle at the man's chest. "Loop. Nou."
Friedrich and his partner backed up a step dutifully, and Rafe pushed out the door, followed by Annerl.
"We will find you," Friedrich promised him simply.
Annerl backed away from the two men, and her eyes went back to the open door. "Ryf! Pas op!"
Rafe turned just in time to see the man he'd knocked down. He raised the rifle, but Friedrich moved like lightening, slamming into his arm and knocking the gun to the ground.
"Annerl!" Rafe looked back and forth between the three men. "Loop. Polisiestacie. Praat u Kaptein Banks. Nou! Loop!"
She backed up a few steps, then turned and ran as fast as she could down the street, towards help.
"Nee!" Freidrich gestured for his shadow to go after her.
He started forward, and Rafe ended the stand-off between them, throwing himself at the man, knocking him to the ground. He raised a fist, but felt hands grabbing at him from behind. He struggled wildly, but the man under him aimed a sloppy hit and got him square in the jaw.
Rafe rolled off of him, but didn't have time to recover before he felt a sudden sharp pain in his already-throbbing head. He sank down, weak, and another hit came, like a blanket, covering him with darkness.
The phone in Bank's office rang, sounding like a harbinger of doom.
Simon forced his melodramatic thoughts out of his mind and picked up the phone. "Banks....Who??" He listened for a minute, and sank down to the chair behind his desk, his eyes shutting. "Where is he?....Alright. Thanks for calling, I'll be there in ten." He hung up and sat for a minute silently.
Jim appeared in the doorway a moment later. "Is everything alright, sir?"
"There was a shooting ten minutes ago, outside the Palace Hotel." He sighed, then got to his feet stiffly. "Someone came gunning for Smola as he and Henri got to the hotel. Henri took the bullet."
Jim sucked in a breath. "Is he-"
"He's alright. Hit in the leg. He's at Cascade General."
Simon smiled tightly. "He's the one who just called. He's at the hospital with Brown."
Jim met his eyes, a full range of emotions going through him at once. "Let's get over there," he said finally.
"Kaptein Banks! Kaptein Banks! Polisie, asseblief! Polisestasie!"
The uniformed cop blinked down at the dirty girl who threw herself at him, ranting in a foreign language. "Hey! Calm down. What's wrong?"
"Uh, yeah, I'm police. What's wrong?"
"Polisiestasie! Asseblief! Kaptein Banks!"
"Captain Banks?" he repeated.
"Okay, okay," the older, pot-bellied cop gestured towards his car. "get in. We'll go see Captain Banks."
She nodded, sagging in relief. "Nou. Kaptein Banks."
"Yeah, yeah. Get in." He opened the back door for her and let her climb in, then shut it and walked around to the driver's side.
Maybe the 23rd had a Captain Banks.
Henri tried not to even look to his right. He tried to ignore the fact that Gustav Smola was in a room alone with him. He tried not to get mad, tried to let his cool Bad Mutha Fucka cop self take control, ease away the stress and anger he was feeling.
But that shit just wasn't gonna happen. "You are one one lucky son of a bitch."
The older man turned to him, surprised he was speaking. "Pardon me?"
Henri looked away innocently. "Nothing."
But Smola had heard, and now sat staring at the prone detective.
There was silence for a minute, not even the beeping of hospital equipment to break the stillness.
"Why did you do it?"
Henri glanced over, and didn't have to ask what he was talking about. His tone wasn't gentle when he responded. "It was a gut reaction."
Smola smiled faintly. "You purposely took a bullet for me."
Henri shrugged. "Maybe I just didn't want to have to do the paperwork if you'd gotten killed."
"You were shouting before I even knew something was happening," he replied in admiration.
"Just reflexes. I'm a good cop, I've got lost of reflexes I can't control."
"You don't like me," Smola observed.
"Two points," Henri retorted.
"My nephew has told you about me."
Henri glared over at him, wondering why he didn't just ask the man to leave. "Yeah, he has."
Smola didn't respond to that.
Henri fumed for another minute, before turning back to his visitor. "What did you say to him?"
Smola glanced over. "Pardon?"
"In the station that first day, when you first saw him. What did you call him?"
Smola looked away. "I don't think that is exactly-"
"Nobody." Henri caught his startled reaction. "That was it, wasn't it?"
Smola didn't asnwer.
"I just took a bullet for you, you asshole. You can answer this one thing for me."
Smola sighed, but faced him again. "Neimand. It was...it was what we called him."
Henri's jaw clenched. "Neimand. Means nobody, right?"
Smola's eyes went a little apprehensive, but he nodded.
Henri shook his head, his fists clenching at his sides. "You son of a bitch," he said quietly.
"With all due respect, Officer Brown, you really do not understand my nephew's past."
"No," Henri agreed readily enough. "I don't think I ever could. But I know who he is now. And I know how much he still thinks about what it was like back then. I know he still has nightmares all the time."
"But he is here now, and who do you think he has to thank for that?"
"Oh, yeah, he should be bowing at your feet out of gratitude. Like you didn't put him on a plane because you were tired of dealing with him, like you really did it for his benefit."
Smola met his eyes now, glaring right back. "How would you know my motivations for anything? Yes, I put him on the plane to this country. I won't pretend I did it solely for him. But I also kept up with where he was. I am the one who made it possible for him to remain here."
Henri's eyebrows shot up.
"Or do you think," Smola went on. "That they typically give green cards out at homeless shelters."
"You got him US citizenship?"
"Yes," Smola replied.
"Why?" he asked in response.
"Because he was his family's best hope here," Smola replied sincerely.
Taken aback, Henri hesitated. "What?"
"I know my brother, Officer. He is an alcoholic, and he is lazy. It wouldn't change in America, I knew that. Ryf's mother could not be expected to work -- she was ill constantly from disease and complications with childbirth. His sisters were too young by far to do any good. Ryf was a hard worker, and he was at an age where he could make money, even in America. I sent him because I knew he was their only way of getting off the streets and in to a better life."
This was definitely a surprise to Henri. "But...but after they left him? They deserted him at the airport. Rafe knew then that they didn't want him around, why would he have gone looking for them once he got here?"
Smola exhaled slowly. "I was not told the circumstances around Ryf returning to my home after he was supposed to have been on the plane. He wouldn't say at the time, and I assumed he had lost his way and missed the flight. That was why I drove him back .It wasn't until much later, when speaking to my brother, that I asked about Ryf, and he told me the truth."
Henri shook his head in amazement. "Have you told Rafe that?"
"No. We had not spoken until I arrived at your station days ago." Smola saw the thoughtful look on Henri's face, and smiled slightly. "When I arrived here, I had a great deal of resentment towards Ryf. I see the kind of job he does, though, and the kind of loyalty his friends have for him, and I realize I may not have been entirely correct. Perhaps, officer, it is possible that Ryf is not entirely correct in his opinion of me."
Rafe sputtered into consciousness, breathing in some of the water thrown at his face, and erupting into coughs. His eyes snapped open, and he was suddenly aware of a searing pain in his shoulder and wrists.
Oh. He was tied by his wrists to an exposed pipeline in the old building. No wonder. He was standing on his toes and could still barely touch the ground, and the strain on his shoulders was making the muscles burn.
His eyes went to Friedrich, who stood enraged in front of him. "Oh, great," he couldn't help muttering.
A hand whipped out and slapped him in the face, hard.
He bit back a reaction, facing Friedrich defiantly. "What do you want? Annerl is gone, she's going to bring the police back here. What do you hope to accomplish?"
"Who are you?" Friedrich demanded, ignoring his questions.
"None of your business."
Another slap. Rafe almost laughed. They were going to slap the information out of him?
"What is your name?"
Another slap. Well, it was starting to sting.
"Who sent you to us?"
"Give me a break."
Rafe didn't reply.
"Wyk duiwel," Rafe spat out defiantly.
Friedrich did not respond well to name-calling. He balled up his fist for the next hit.
Rafe's body twisted, his toes losing their grip on the ground. His shoulders screamed their protest at the movement, and that hurt worse than the sore spot on his jaw. He breathed in raggedly.
"Antwoord," Friedrich hissed again.
"What answers do you want from me?" Rafe retorted.
"Who are you?" Friedrich repeated, enraged.
Rafe mentally shrugged. Why not? "Ek polisie."
Friedrich drew back, startled. "Polisie," he repeated after a minute. He stared at Rafe for a moment, then threw another hard punch, this time into the detective's midsection.
Rafe's breath exploded out of him, his eyes shutting. Oh, that was why not. Great.
"Suit-Afrikaaner polisie jou?"
"Nee," he breathed out. "American."
Rafe's eyes opened gingerly, and he saw with relief that Friedrich had turned away from him, to where another of his men stood. Mikial. "Hy is'n fokkin polisie ofisier. Verdomp Here!" He stood fuming for a second, then turned back to Rafe. "Hy is'n polisie ofisier dood."
Rafe met his eyes without a hint of fear. He'd heard plenty of death threats before, he wasn't about to let this one get to him.
Friedrich held out a hand without looking back at Mikial. Without a word, the lackey grabbed the rifle and handed it over to him. Friedrich approached. "Jou nie polisie is nie, seun. Neimand you, helsem. Ju mof-skaap."
Rafe shut his eyes briefly. He had no idea that hearing the old insults in the old language could hurt so much. Dressed in the rags, his uncle's words fresh in his mind...somehow it seemed fated that he was to live and die Neimand, after all.
Friedrich moved faster than he could follow, driving the stock of the rifle into his stomach. "So'n helsem!" he hissed angrily. "Neimand!"
Rafe sucked in a breath with difficulty, and looked up to see the rifle coming towards his head.
Then there was nothing.
"Come on, Jim. Call. Come on, Jim. Call." Blair paced around the almost empty Major Crimes office, looking down at the phone on Jim's desk with every pass. Okay, so they knew Henri wasn't exactly dying, but Jim could still call Blair back and assure him that the guy was alright.
He was worried, and he couldn't help it. He was worried about Henri getting shot like that, he was worried about the fact that Rafe was missing, and now his partner was unable to help him. He worried about what both his friends were going through.
But his worrying was interrupted by the door into the office opening, and a uniformed officer coming in. "Hello?"
Blair went for him, seeing his hesitant look. "Yeah? Can we do something for you?"
"Uh, is there a Captain Banks here?"
"Nope. You just missed him."
"What's wrong?" Blair asked conversationally, hoping this guy would have some minor problem he could deal with, to get him mind off his worries.
The uniform held the door open and gestured, and a young girl came in shyly. "This," he answered simply.
"Kaptein Banks?" The girl faced Blair with wide eyes.
"No, I'm not-"
"She can't understand you," the uniform interrupted.
Blair looked down at the girl. "Why not?"
"Speaks some kind of funny language."
And Blair knew as certainly as he knew anything else what language she spoke. He hesitated. "Um...Hallo. Ek nee Kaptein Banks. But...um,. hy is...uh. hy is hospitaal."
Blair knew that fragment wasn't a complete sentence, but she understood and looked grateful. "Asseblief, ek moet saam hy."
"Umm. Alright, wat is..damn. Wat is dis. Nee. Damn." He was scanning through every language he knew, trying to pick out the few Afrikaan terms.
She stopped him. "Kenne Ryf?"
"Rafe?" he repeated in surprise.
She nodded enthusiastically. "Ja, is Ryf! Asseblief, Kaptein Banks!"
Blair nodded. "Ja. Hang on." He held up a hand, gesturing for her to wait. "Thanks, man. I can take it from here."
The uniform was staring at him in surprise through the whole exchange. He got control of his jaw again and nodded. "Yeah. Thanks."
Blair went to the phone.
Simon and Jim arrived at the hospital to find that Henri had been moved out of the ER into a private room. The doctor said it was 'just for observation' in case infection set it in. They started to search for the room, but Jim heard his friend's complaining long before they got there.
"I'm fine!" H was saying. When Jim and Simon entered, they noticed that a nurse was fixing his IV line. "Will you stop shooting me up with drugs? I said I'm fine!"
"Officer Brown!" Simon shot out in his most commanding voice, "Stop hassling this nice young lady."
The nurse blushed. "It's just for the pain. Make sure he keeps it in."
"Yes, ma'am," Henri begrudged as she took her leave.
It was then that they noticed Smola sitting quietly in the corner.
"Mr. Smola," Jim nodded towards him. "I'm sorry that you had to be in the middle of all this..."
"Have you found the man that did this?" Smola asked, his concern making him again quick-tempered.
"No sir, but we're investigating the situation."
"I don't want to hear that. I want to hear that these people are found. I want my daughter back, and I want to get the hell out of this country."
"It's my fault for getting shot," Henri spoke up before Smola could revert too far back into his former self. "If I hadn't of been so stupid, I woulda seen him coming and gotten a clear shot."
"Did you get a good look?" Jim questioned.
"Mikial Wasamba," H spat out the name. "Plain as day."
"What happened? Tell us exactly," Simon asked as he sat down in the only remaining empty chair, leaving Jim towering above them.
"Well, we were at the hotel," Henri began. "I had just left Mr. Smola when I heard somebody behind me. I turned around and saw that it was Wasamba. He had a gun pointed in Smola's back. I drew my weapon and yelled, then he turned around. I guess it startled him, maybe he recognized me from the shelter...I don't know. Whatever it was, he got spooked and took a shot at me. I took one in the leg, but I tried to get a clear shot at him." H faltered. "There were just so many people and I couldn't get a good aim and...."
"It alright H," Jim assured him. "You protected Mr. Smola and that's what's most important."
"And I'm sure Mr. Smola appreciates it.....don't you, Mr. Smola?" Simon probed the quieted man.
"Yes," Smola replied, facing Henri. The two men shared a meaningful look. "Thank you."
Jim noticed the look and wondered at it. Whether it was because he had just taken a bullet for the man or some other strange reason, Smola and Brown seemed to have reached some kind of understanding. He'd be interested in hearing the details some day. For now, he just wondered why they couldn't ever have a quiet, easy day where one of them didn't end up shot, beaten, or kidnapped.
Ryf was scared. He had no idea where he was, why he wasn't with his family, or out on the roads. The only time he ever woke up indoors was in his family's house, but the dark room was unfamiliar.
He sat up, and whimpered slightly at the aching pain in his head. It hurt to move, but he did anyway, knowing what kind of dangers met kids like him on the streets. He could have been arrested, or...
His stomach muscles screamed a protest when he tried to stand, and he fell back. He must have been bad. Uncle must have caught him not working and beaten him.
This, at least, was familiar, though he still didn't recognize the room.
It didn't matter. Soon they would have to eat, and they would let Niemand out again.
"Dom," he whispered to himself in reproach. "Seun dom." He had to stop fighting Uncle's rules. He knew father was almost ready to take them all to America. He just had to be good until then.
Stupid boy. He caused trouble for his family, he knew. He made it hard for father and mother, fighting against Uncle's rules like that. He should know better.
He should be dead. Seun dom, making problems when he was living the life his younger brothers should have been living. They would not have been difficult. It was only him, only Neimand.
He curled up on the floor, letting his mind drift away from the mistakes he always made. To....
His eyes darted towards the door, half-sure someone outside must have heard him utter the forbidden word. When no one came to hit him, he held his breath and whispered it again. "America."
It was his hope. His dream. In America, he could be better for his family. He would not get in so much trouble then. He would work, and make real money. His father would not hate him, his mother would talk to him again. Everything would be alright.
He would not be Neimand, not in America.
Just thinking about it made smile. Father was taking him to America with them. Father could not hate him so much after all. To leave the streets and Uncle and the other children in the city far behind him, to be with his family in a new world. It was more than he could think about for too long. The fantasy made it too hard for him to wake up to the children and the work.
A sound reached his ears suddenly, and he scrambled to sit up as the door opened. He looked down at the ground reflexively, hoping it was mother at the door. Then at least he knew he wouldn't be yelled at.
But whoever opened the door didn't make a sound.
After a few long moment, Neimand slowly, carefully raised his eyes, just enough to make out the face above him before he pulled them back down to the ground. Who was that?
Officer? That man couldn't be talking to Neimand.
With a start, he realized that the man must be an officer, and was telling Neimand how he should have addressed him. He quickly spoke up, quiet and respectful. "Hallo, ofisier meneer."
"Waat?" There was a pause. "In pyn, helsem?"
Neimand heard the familiar insult, and was puzzled. Who would bother asking him if he was in pain or not? No one did before. "Nee," he answered, knowing instinctively to lie.
The voice laughed. "Waat is u naam?"
"Ryf," he answered softly, hoping he would not be hit for giving the true answer. Most people liked to hear him say Neimand.
"Waar woon u?"
Where did he live? Who was this man that he would not know? Neimand frowned, knowing the man couldn't see him. "Verskoon my?"
"Waar woon u?" he repeated, none too gently.
"Jou familie is wie?"
Neimand froze. This man did not know who he was. Perhaps it would mean more to give his uncle's name. After all, Uncle was the one everyone in the town knew. "Gustav Smola."
"Verdomp," the man swore.
Neimand looked up for a split second, confused. Should he ask what was going on, or would he get hit for it? After a moment he decided to ask. "Wat is hierdie?"
"Hou jou bek!"
Neimand looked back down at once, grateful. Being told to shut up was better than being beaten, anyway.
"Bly hier," the man snapped, going out and shutting the door abruptly.
Neimand almost smiled. Stay here? Where else would he go?
The aching in his head had gotten worse through the strange meeting with the man, and he had to lie down again, dizzy.
Almost instantly, a wave of darkness swept over him, and Neimand fell back into a world of dreams. Of America, and what a great land it would be.
Of someone named Henri. Though he wouldn't remember that part when he woke up.
"No, captain. I'm sorry, I have told Officer Brown how much I appreciate what he did, but if anything I'm more convinced now than ever that these men are dangerous and will kill my daughter if I help you."
Simon heaved a breath, wanting to pace around but trapped in this small hospital room with three other men taking up space. "Mr. Smola, I promise you that-"
There was a knock on the cracked door, and a familiar pair of blue eyes peeked in. "Everyone decent?"
Jim grinned at his partner. "What're you doing here?"
Blair came in, grinning broadly. "We had a guest show up at the station."
"Oh?" Simon spoke up now from his spot against the wall.
"Yep, and if Mr. Smola doesn't mind, I think we need him to play interpreter." He turned towards the door. "Annerl? Come on in." He gestured in case the words weren't understood.
Smola jerked out of his seat like lightning with those words, and as the young, dirty girl entered the room, looking around apprehensively, the older man's demeanor changed completely. His face dropped into a shocked mask for a moment. "Annerl?"
She saw him and a huge smile crossed her face. "Vader!" She launched herself across the room and into his arms
He grabbed her tightly, his eyes tearing. "Anna! My Anna!" He pulled away slightly and studied her face intensely, memorizing every line. "Dankie, Here," he mumbled.
She smiled through her tears, but shook her head. "Nee, vader. Danke Ryf."
"Ryf?" His smile faded slightly.
Blair latched on the word and turned to Simon. "She was talking about Rafe down at the station, but I couldn't understand her. I think she knows what's happened to him."
Simon turned his full attention to the girl. "Smola, can she tell us what happened?"
Smola nodded slightly and looked down at her affectionately and repeated the question in quiet Afrikaans.
She started talking, excited now, and rattled on for a few minutes in the strange language. As Smola listened, his face grew more and moe grave.
Finally he turned to Simon. "Your of...er, Ryf...was kidnapped by the same men that took my daughter; you were right about that. They were taken to an old building in the middle of the city. Ryf helped her to escape and told her to come here. She says she is sorry but she could never find that building again." His expression changed into the sharp frown they all remembered. "My Anna is young and scared and in a strange land, Captain."
Simon looked down at the round eyes of the girl and smiled somewhat, covering his disappointment. "I have a son of my own, Smola. I wouldn't force her to do anything she can't do."
Smola nodded. "Alright,"
Simon sighed as he stood up. "Let's get the two of you back to the Station. You can tell me everything that happened. And you, Smola, you're going to answer our questions now?"
Smola hugged his daughter to him as though afraid of letting her go. "Yes, Captain, I can answer anything you want. I'm sorry I couldn't do so before, but I was worried..."
"I understand." Simon turned his attention to his two officers. "Alright, you guys heard all that. We're no closer to finding these guys, but at least we know Rafe's alive somewhere. Jim, figure out a way to track these men to the building."
As he talked, Annerl was watching him. She turned to her father and whispered, "Kaptein Banks?"
He smiled. "Ja."
She looked at Simon and began speaking again solemnly. "Jou sal jou bes doenom Ryf to help. Asseblief, ek was baie bang, mar hy maak my veilig. Dit wasbaie dapper van hy." She met Simon's eyes, then turned to her father expectantly.
He cleared his throat slightly. "She...she says you have to help Ryf. She...she says she was very scared, but he kept her safe. He was...very brave."
Simon was gratified to see another look new to Smola -- guilt. Apparently he was still revising his opinion of his nephew. "We'll do whatever we can. Rafe is a good man, and a good friend, we won't let him down."
Smola repeated his words to Annerl, who smiled over at the three officers and observer, a sweet, grateful smile that almost made the men blush. "Dankie.Baie Dankie."
"Yes," Smola said, rather than simply repeating her words.
"Thank you, all of you."
Simon ushered them out before it could get any more emotional, leaving the three remaining men in silence. Blair looked towards the door thoughtfully, long after they had gone.
Finally, he turned to the other two, his jaw set. "I want to do it."
"Do what?" Jim asked, gazing over at him.
Blair tenses himself for the explosion. "I want to go in to that shelter tonight."
The explosion didn't come. Jim sighed, almost wearily. "You're out of your mind, Sandburg."
"No," Blair shot back. "I'm not. I'm the only one that can do this."
"How do you figure that?" Jim retorted.
"Look, man. Henri isn't going anywhere, and you used to work down there inVice, right? So that leaves me. I can do this, guys."
"No." Jim's tone left no room for argument.
But Blair made room. "You can't do that, Jim! For God's sake, who else is going to go? How else are we going to find Rafe and catch these guys?"
"I don't know," Jim admitted finally.
Blair smiled in triumph. "Alright then."
"But you're not going."
"Dammit, Jim, stop it! Stop treating me like I'm a baby! I'm thirty years old. I've been working with you for years now. When are you going to realize I can take care of myself? I'm not stupid, okay? Man, we talk about this and talk about it and you always tell me I'm wrong, you don't think I'm helpless, or dumb. But you never, not once, have given me a chance to prove it. This time it's different. Rafe's my friend, and if I'm the only one who can find him, then I'm going to find him; whether you want me to or not!"
Silence fell. Jim stood after a few minutes of thought, and headed for the door, passing Blair without looking at him. He stopped in the doorway and glanced back.
"I'm going to call Simon, arrange to get you in."
Blair sagged in relief, not replying as Jim left the room and shutting the door behind him. He turned once Jim was gone and sank into the chair Simon had been sitting in.
"Man, I feel like I just ran a marathon." He grinned over at Henri.
The prone detective wasn't smiling back. "This is a bad idea, Blair."
"Oh, man, not you too. Come on, Henri, I can handle this."
Henri shook his head. "This was my gig, Hairboy. My assignment. You can't go in my place." His tone was dark.
Blair's brow furrowed. "Why should it matter whose assignment it was? If you think I can handle it, why is it a problem?"
"No. Don't even ask, it just is. You have to listen to me, Blair." Henri's voice almost cracked, and he paused, taking a deep breath.
Blair studied him for a minute, and quickly decided there was more going on here than he knew. He stood and went to the bed, perching on the edge. "Something up I should know about?"
"I just don't like the idea."
"I don't think you're this upset 'cause you don't like an idea, Henri."
Brown looked up into the open, worried face in front of him, and almost groaned. Just great. For years he'd kept his skeleton safely tucked in the closet. For years he'd gone without telling anybody but his partner and best friend about this demon of his. Now here he was about to bare his sould for the second time in two weeks. What was it with these guys? Acting so worried?
"Alright, Sandburg. I ever tell you I pulled a tour in the Army?"
"Jou kombers en my matras en daar l^e die ding, daar l^e die ding, daar l^e die ding."
Ryf kept singing to himself softly, wondering why he thought of that song. It was something he heard groups of children singing at times, but of course he never joined in. And now, He sang alone, almost smiling ironically at the words.
"I'm with you and you're with me. And so we are all together." Not a song for a boy on his own to be singing. But he couldn't stop, he couldn't let the silence around him go on any longer.
His head felt like it would burst open any minute, but he shut his eyes and kept singing.
This was more than his usual punishment. He had been in here for a long time, and no one but that strange officer had come in to see him.
Funny, the man hadn't looked like an officer, not the way he was dressed. But Neimand knew better than to question it. Uncle should be there soon to fetch him, when he didn't show up to finish his work or clean for the evening meal.
Unless...unless these were the police, and they would make Uncle pay to get him out.
Neimand breathed out shakily at the thought. His uncle would never, ever pay money, he knew that. It would be cheaper to hire one of the other children from the street for a night. He would leave Neimand in there to rot, to never be seen again, like others who had vanished from the streets.
"Ryf," he said to himself quietly, as he always did whenever he got too frightened. "My naam is Ryf."
It didn't help. All he could think of was being left here to die, being found in a back street somewhere by playing children, being laughed at one last time. Stupid Nobody. Dom Neimand, getting himself caught and killed.
"Asseblief, ek bang, asseblief. Laat ek uit," he murmured to himself, sinking against the wall. Please, let me out. Please. I'm scared. Uncle, come get me. Please.
Blair looked around the dingy building. Rafe wasn't the only one that had memories of shelters, although Blair's weren't nearly so grim. Once or twice, when Naomi had been staying with someone and it hadn't worked out, they had to spend a night or two in a place like this, just until she was ready with a new battle plan.
They had always been together, and Naomi had always made sure that no one bothered him. But he still didn't like the places. They were grim, and not just for what they represented.
It wasn't hard to spot Friedrich Schmidt, but Blair couldn't see Wasamba or the other man that was supposed to be with them.
He hunched his shoulders, let his unwashed hair fall into his face, and started forward, dragging his feet a bit. He was playing up the role, he guessed, but he couldn't look that different from anyone else trudging around the room. He noticed that the other people sitting down with their dinner trays gave Schmidt a wide berth, and he followed suit, sitting a table over from him.
"Hi!" a voice that was way too cheerful greeted.
Blair smiled reflexively at the young man sitting down across from him. "Hello."
"You new here?"
Blair shrugged. "Kinda, yeah."
The kid grinned. "We got a lot of new people coming in here lately."
"Yep. You nicer than most."
Blair grinned slightly, and his eyes went back to Schmidt for a moment, just to ensure he wasn't going anywhere.
"Uh oh," the young man across from him giggled.
"You looking at the foreigner. I always tell em, I always say don't, but they do, and then they don't come back."
"What?" Blair took a huge bite of the lumpy white substance that resembled potatoes, eyeing the kid.
"Look, the guy's bad, okay. I told the last guy, he followed him, he's gone. I told guys before, they always look too hard, now they gone. This keeps up, no new guys gonna last, you know?"
"No, I don't know. What are you talking about?"
"The guy bad news. The one you lookin' at. Don't let him see you, okay? You ain't gonna listen to me when I talk, but I'm done talk anyway. Don't let him see you."
"Sure," Blair said agreeably, sticking a corner of only slightly stale bread in his mouth enthusiastically. "I won't let him see me, no problem."
The kid grinned. "I like you. You a good new guy."
Concluded in Part Four...