A Cloak of Lies Ch. 13bySweetWitch©
A Cloak of Lies
"I won't let you die," the angel said.
Brick grunted as she applied more pressure. He thought he could stand any pain as long as he could look into her eyes. They were the greenest he'd ever seen. A tumble of red-gold curls brushed his face as she worked to stem the flow of blood. The hair felt like warm silk against his skin. Never had he seen anyone like her.
"I'm sorry if this hurts," she said in a voice as wispy as a summer breeze.
"I been hurt worse," he said.
"We need to find my father. He'll know what to do," she said.
"We'll find him, Lorette," another female voice said.
The other woman was tearing up what looked to be part of her dress, handing the pieces to the angel, Lorette, to add to the compress. Must be Pavli's woman hell of a woman.
"Can he stand?" Niko asked.
"Only if you want to kill him," Camille snapped. "In case you haven't noticed, he's got a hole in his chest."
There was another explosion and part of a wall came down.
"It won't matter much if we don't get him out of here," Olan said, reaching for the giant. "On your feet, Marion."
"Don't call me that," Brick growled, grunting against the pain.
"Gently," the angel said. "He's hurt."
"Hell, it'd take more than a bullet to kill this monster," Olan said with a laugh. "He's too mean to die." Olan supported him on one side, making a big show of wheezing and gasping. "Christ, Brick, you reek."
"You're making me look bad in front of the ladies," Brick growled back.
The sweet angel was smiling at him, her sea-green eyes sparkling as she took up position at his other side. He let her drape his arm around her shoulders as he took his first few steps. She was delicate, almost miniscule under his arm—so much so he refused to put any weight on her. The scent of her filled his nostrils and his mind. If he lived through the night, he'd never forget this moment.
A bullet whizzed past, prompting a round of unintelligible words from the Greek who got him into this mess.
"This way," Niko said, leading the way back to the large hall.
"Where we going?" Olan asked, still gagging on the stench.
"Out," was all Niko said.
"But my dad..."
The angel at Brick's side looked horrified. Her eyes were pleading, begging Niko for help.
"We have to get out of here, lady," Niko said.
"I say we find her dad."
All eyes turned to Brick. To be truthful, he was as surprised as they were that he said it. He was never one to stick his nose in the affairs of others, but if he'd been willing to risk his life for Niko, he by-God was willing to do it for this beauty at his side.
"You can't," she said. "You're hurt."
"This?" he said, laughing. "This ain't nothin'. I just let you help me because I like the way you feel under my arm."
He let go then. Shoving Olan aside, he pulled a gun from the back of his waistband and gave it a quick check. His chest burned with the very fires of hell and he was so thirsty he could barely swallow, but this child-like woman at his side was looking at him with gratitude. No, it was more than gratitude. It was open admiration.
"I'm getting my wife out of here," Niko yelled.
"Niko," the other woman said, "I promised her. I'll explain it all to you later, but right now we have to help. I owe her that much."
Brick almost laughed out loud when Niko cursed, then capitulated. He thought the man a weak fool for going to all this trouble over a woman. The only thing that kept the laughter in check was a pair of bright green eyes that smiled so sweetly. He was starting to understand Pavli's need to keep his wife happy.
"Which way?" Niko growled.
"We have to go down," the angel said. "They keep him in the lab downstairs. I hope he's still there."
"We'll find him, honey," the other woman said. "You sure you're okay?"
It took a moment for Brick to realize she had directed her question at him. He grunted and waved her on, stopping only to make sure the angel was where he could keep an eye on her—and keep her safe when the time came. There was something about her, a gentleness that he'd never known. Most women looked on him with fear, but this one had no problem meeting his eyes. She showed real concern for him, stopping every few minutes to check the amount of blood on his bandage.
Shaking his head, he tried to clear his mind. He didn't have time to think about the petal soft fingers that touched him from time to time, or the way her curls danced around her face like a hundred butterflies. He had to stop looking at the light in her eyes and the dimple on the left side of her mouth that showed when she smiled. Focus, he told himself.
She pointed the way, leading them to a ruined elevator. He wanted to take her hands in his when she began to wring them together in worry. She looked around trying to find some other way.
"Staircase?" he asked, catching her eye.
"I don't know," she answered meekly. "I only saw the elevator the two times they took me to my father. The rest of the time they kept me...locked up."
Her last words were accompanied by a shudder. He had to wonder what they'd done to her while she was "locked up". The disgust on her face was evidence enough that it hadn't been pleasant.
"Over here," Olan said.
Niko was the first to reach the indicated door. Brick shambled up behind them to peer through a small window in the steel door. On the other side was a narrow stairway, which led both up and down. Taking a deep breath, he stepped back and told the others to get out of the way.
He tried the knob, found it unlocked. One more glance through the glass showed the way was clear. The sound of gunfire coming up behind them forced him to make his move. He tossed open the door and stepped through, ushering the others in behind him.
"Down, you say?" he asked the angel.
She nodded, biting her lower lip. He stifled a groan as he watched her little teeth chew on the mouth-watering morsel, and tore his eyes away to put his foot on the first step.
"Let me lead," Niko said. "I can move faster. Olan, you take up the rear, girls and Brick between us."
"I got your 'girl' right here," Pavli's woman said with a snarl. To Brick, she seemed like a real hellcat and a lot more trouble than she was worth.
Niko shot her a grin, grabbed her around the middle and planted a hard kiss on her mouth. When he let her go, she almost fell backwards. That'll shut her up, Brick thought.
Niko took the steps slowly, stopping to check around every corner. Behind them the sounds of battle were drawing ever nearer, making Brick wish the dumb Greek would shake a leg.
"I think this is the level," the angel said timidly. "There's a hallway and then an armored door."
Brick shoved her behind him when Niko opened the door. He intended to shield her from whatever was out there. The battle rumbled overhead, sounding like a dangerous thunderstorm in his beloved mountains. He thought of what the angel would look like with the wind in her hair on his mountaintop.
A shot was fired and Niko yelled for everyone to get down. Olan was still behind them, ducking against the wall with his weapon held out. Niko rolled through the door, firing several shots. To her credit, his woman didn't scream once, only glanced through to make sure he was still alive.
When the coast was clear, they all stepped into the hallway to find three men dead and Niko tossing his empty gun aside before picking up another from one of the fallen.
"Is that the door?" Niko asked the angel.
She nodded. When she looked like she would make a run for it, Brick grabbed her delicate arm—carefully, so that her little bones wouldn't break. She gazed up at him, her eyes pleading, her mouth trembling.
"Don't worry, angel," he said, pulling her closer. "We'll get your pops out."
Again her expression of admiration and gratitude warmed his senses. She looked as if she might kiss him.
"Stay close," he said after clearing his throat.
She did just that, hanging onto a belt loop on the back of his pants. He could feel her warmth as she matched his steps. It was enough to drive him insane.
The door ahead looked to be of dense steel—probably several inches thick. He didn't see a lock anywhere, just a solid plate and a handle. Niko pulled on it, but to no avail. Olan walked past Brick to comb the walls on either side. He found a niche, a panel, which he slid upward. Behind it was a strange looking contraption.
"Well, this is a new one on me," Olan said, scratching his head. "Is this some sort of lock?"
"We can't shoot our way through," Niko said, still eyeing the door as he moved to where Olan stood. He looked at the thing in the wall and shook his head. "Looks like some kind of lock, all right."
"The key," Pavli's woman said, digging into her pocket. "This must be what it's for."
The woman was practically dancing when she ran up to the strange lock. She eyed the contraption, then the thing in her hand before lining one up with the other. It seemed to turn with little effort, making a loud, clicking sound. A larger panel opened to reveal something even stranger.
"Who the hell puts a piano in a wall?" Olan asked no one in particular.
"That's what Olaf was trying to tell us," Lorette said. Her voice quivered with excitement as she moved in front of the keys. "I never saw this before because the door was always open when they brought me here. But I don't remember how it goes. Do you, Camille?"
"Yes," Camille said. "I think so."
She hummed a strange series of notes before the angel joined in. Both women fairly giggled when the angel reached for the keyboard. She copied the notes flawlessly and, like magic, the heavy steel door started to open.
Brick stumbled forward, grabbing his angel and shoving her behind him. He didn't know what was on the other side of the door, but he damn sure was not about to let anyone get at her.
The room was dark as they entered. Camille lost sight of Niko for a moment. With the scant light shining through the door, she could see the way the giant was hovering over Lorette. She also saw the way Lorette looked at him. It might have been a match made in heaven.
"Here's a switch," Olan said a moment before the lights flashed on.
"Where's the lab?" Niko asked.
All eyes turned to Lorette. The poor woman colored brightly, embarrassed and afraid. She looked around the barren room, spying three doors and choosing one.
"Through there, I think," she said, pointing at the one to the left.
Niko questioned her on what the setting was like inside and what they could expect. She gave details right down to how many doors they could find and where the guards were usually stationed.
"Is that everything?" he asked.
She nodded, watching as the three men stepped forward and told the women to stay put. Her hand reached out; touching the giant they called Brick on the arm.
"Be careful," she whispered.
He patted her hand and offered her a careless smile meant to reassure. Pushing her back against the wall on one side of the door, the big man told her to keep hidden before adjusting the makeshift bandage on his chest. He was in the kind of pain that would bring a lesser man down, but he hid it behind casual stance and a bawdy wink.
Camille reached for Niko, told him to watch himself before taking a position on the other side of the door. It was Brick who led the charge, nearly tearing the door from its hinges when he stormed through. A barrage of gunfire erupted, causing Lorette to scream and drop to a crouched position.
Camille was not so inclined to duck and cover. Her mind raced with the possibility of losing Niko again—this time for real. Pulling her gun from her pocket once more, she peeked around the corner to see him lying motionless on the floor. Just as she was ready to dash in, two men ran out. One seized Lorette, holding a gun to her head as he backed toward the far door. The other came at Camille, only to drop to the floor when she shot him in the face.
The man holding Lorette was none other than Rolf, the guard who had tormented her so badly in the filthy cell of Oleander's dungeon. Camille could see the terror in her eyes, the mindless fear that robbed her of her senses. She leveled the gun on the man, praying that she wouldn't need to pull the trigger.
"Drop the gun, bitch," the man snarled.
Camille held her ground, inching away from the door so that she could see anyone else that might run out. Her heart banged painfully against her ribs as her mind raced to keep up with everything that was happening. Rolf kept pace with her, his eyes never leaving her face as he once again ordered her to drop her gun.
"I'll kill her," he said. His lips curled back in a sneer, his tongue snaking out to lick the side of Lorette's face. "Mmm...tastes like honey."
Lorette's body convulsed, her throat emitting a wretched whimper reminiscent of a wounded animal. Camille was about to give in when she heard a terrible roar that rattled her to the core. The big man blasted through the door like a shot from a cannon.
In the split second before the collision, Rolf's expression changed to that of rabid fear. Then he disappeared beneath the thrashing body of the giant, his gun arm shattered by an enormous fist. Lorette was thrown clear to land in a heap against the far wall. There was a sickening crunch when Brick smashed Rolf's skull against the concrete floor.
With more agility than his frame should allow, Brick was on his feet, taking just a moment to get his wind and struggle against the pain in his chest. One look at the quivering body of Lorette, though, had him moving again. When he reached her, he plucked her from the floor as if she weighed nothing.
She whimpered something, but Camille didn't stick around to hear it. She dashed through the door to where she had last seen her husband. Olan was on one knee beside him, pulling on his shoulder to turn him over.
"Niko," she whispered, falling to her knees at his side.
Olan patted her on the arm, giving her a dry smile. "It's just a crease," he said. "He'll have a hell of a headache, but he'll live."
Niko stirred, slapping at Olan's arm. Camille saw the blood on the side of his head where a bullet had grazed his skull. She did a quick, but thorough check of the rest of him to make sure there were no holes. Satisfied, she returned her attention to his head wound.
"Can you hear me?" she asked.
"On your feet, Pavli," Brick yelled from the doorway. "We ain't got time for your gold-bricking."
"Prick," Niko muttered as his eyes blinked open.
"Hey, I got a bullet in my chest, but you don't see me layin' around like a lazy dog. Get up."
"Please put me down," Lorette said softly.
The giant looked like he might refuse, but finally set her on her feet. He continued to hold her until she was steady, and even then looked reluctant to release her.
"Help me up," Niko said to Olan.
It took a beat for Niko to find his footing, leading Camille to worry about a possible concussion. There wasn't time to think about it, though. Another explosion brought a chunk of ceiling down in the other room.
"Which way, angel," Brick said.
"Here," she answered, leading them to another door.
The door was locked, but a control panel on the wall was easily accessible. She pushed several buttons until the large metal shutters along one wall opened to reveal a window to the next room. Inside was a room full of computers and laboratory equipment.
Lorette was dancing in place, her face all smiles when she saw a gray-haired man through the glass. He looked tired and scared, but when he saw her, his face lit with a brilliant smile.
"Everyone back," Brick said just before he hurled a chair through the glass.
Lorette's father and two other men dove for cover. She screamed and tried to climb through the window but Brick pulled her back.
"Let's go," Niko yelled at the men in the lab.
All three of them scrambled over. In the lead was Lorette's father. He grabbed his daughter in a fierce bear hug that left her gasping and in tears.
"My child," he crooned. "How...?"
"I'll be," Olan said. "You're Dr. Robert Shaffer. You remember, Niko. He's the NASA scientist that disappeared last year. He was supposed to have been killed in that house fire with his wife and daughter..."
Both Lorette and the good doctor embraced again, their faces registering the loss they'd suffered. Lorette whispered, "Mama," before dissolving in tears.
"Nice," Brick growled, giving Olan a shove.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Niko said to the Shaffers, "but if we don't get out of here, this whole place is going to come down on our heads."
"Quite right," Dr. Shaffer said, giving his daughter a pat. "Dry your eyes, my dear. There will be time for this later. Your mother wouldn't want you to come to anymore harm."
"Yes, Papa," Lorette said with a sniff. "I want to go home."
"Let's just worry about getting out of here first," Niko said. "Any ideas on how we get out of here, Olan?"
"Andrew," said Dr. Shaffer to one of the lab technicians, "go inside and destroy everything, just the way we planned."
The man named Andrew ran to do Shaffer's bidding. Within moments he returned, yelling for everyone to run. The entire party ran to the next room where they were forced to climb over piles of rubble to get to the only known exit. Before they made it out, there was an explosion in the lab, accompanied by a ball of fire that had them diving for cover.
"Sorry about that, everyone," Shaffer said as he climbed to his feet and brushed off his white lab coat. "Couldn't be helped. I won't let Oleander get his hands on our findings."
"Smart man," Niko muttered as he tried to open the jammed door. "Stuck."
"Out of my way," Brick growled.
He hurled his enormous frame against the door, nearly losing his footing when it gave under his assault. The next room was clear but for the bits of rubble that littered the floor. They made their way to the hallway and back to the stairway. As they climbed, the sounds of the battle above became louder. Then suddenly all was quiet. The little party of refugees froze in their tracks. The only sound was that of Brick's wheezing. Lorette let go of her father long enough to place a hand on the big man's arm and voice her concern.
"I'm all right," he said with a gruff voice.
"We need to get him to a hospital," Lorette told Niko. "He's getting weaker."
Niko gave a curt nod before opening the door to the main floor. Taking Camille's hand, he stepped cautiously through, telling the others to follow. Olan brought up the rear, doing his best to support Brick.
"Don't fall now, big guy," Olan said. "No one here can carry your big ass."
Brick could only manage a grunt, stumbling forward as he tried to keep up. Lorette took his hand, pulling him gently along with her face a study of concern. Her father missed nothing, eyeing the giant with suspicion.
"Damn it, Pavli," a voice boomed from what was left of the end of the large hall. "We thought you were a goner. Good to see you in one piece."
A man in battle fatigues stood with a contingent of others surrounding him. He had the look of authority about him, leading Camille to believe he was the one in charge of the attack.
"Glad to be alive, Colonel," Niko said, pulling Camille close as he led the group to the military men. "How goes the day?"
"We took some casualties," the man said. "Looks like we took the island, too. Did you find this Oleander?"
With a shake of his head, Niko gave his wife a reassuring squeeze.
"He got away. We gained a few bonuses, though. I'd like you to meet Dr. Robert Shaffer. Seems he and his daughter weren't killed. Oleander's been forcing him to continue some research project he had going. I'll let him tell you about it. Right now I just want to get my wife out of here. One of my men needs a doctor, too."