The pain was beginning to get to him. His head was pounding from the drugs and the beating he'd taken was manifesting itself in sharp stabs of muscle spasm. His sight was coming and going with nauseating regularity and only briefly had he been able to concentrate on the cellar he was in. One door, no window and a ventilation shaft that sent a blast of cold air onto his head every ten minutes or so.
The ropes that bound him were rough hemp, now slippery with his blood. A little more ... and he'd have them off ... There. Tortured muscles cramped while he gritted his teeth and inched his arms forward and back to get the circulation going again. Back and forth. Back and forth. Now, he added his abdominal muscles to the mix to pump the blood from torso to legs.
Whoa! The nausea threatened to overcome him and he rested his head on his knees for a breather. Concussion symptoms reeled through his tired brain and he decided to just breathe for a while. Slowly, he brought his heart and respiration down to a resting beat. Opening his eyes, he swept the room, looking for anything that might get him out of here and on the trail of the men who'd kidnapped Dr. Quest. No, he wouldn't think of that. Pushing the rage down, he focused on here and now.
Gingerly he got to his hands and knees, pausing before pushing up and leaning back against the wall. The room whirled and he pressed both hands against the rough bricks to steady himself. Slowly, he felt along the wall, giving the door a through examination then moving on until he'd gone over every inch of the small space. Nothing. They'd stripped him all the way down to his boxers and there was nothing he could use as a tool to break open the door or a weapon to overcome a guard.
Except himself, of course.
A blast of cold air reminded him of the ventilation duct. He pulled at the grill and was surprised to find it give after only a brief tug. Laying it aside, he pulled himself up for a look. Only twenty inches square, it would be a tight fit. And what if it narrowed beyond his sight? There was a faint light at the other end, but no sound. Letting himself down, he went back to the door and listened very carefully, sending his senses out into the next space.
Nothing. No sound, no movement, just silence.
He shivered slightly. Someone walking over his grave. Which could be here if he didn't get out. Picking up the grill, he worked out one of the narrow strips of metal and attacked the door lock with his improvised pick. Several moments later, he heard the click that heralded success. Gently, he pushed the door open and stuck his head outside, making very sure he kept low to the ground.
An empty corridor opened out before him. A rickety set of wooden stairs to his right beckoned. But he took the time to check out the other doors. Empty rooms all. He took the steps slowly, trying to still the creaks. The door at the top was locked and it took him five minutes to pick it. Staying low, he inched the door open into another empty hall. Damn.
A quick check showed no one and nothing on first floor. Second floor, ditto. But in the attached garage, he found a car and his clothes in the back seat. Dressing finally stilled the almost continuous shivers that racked his body. A through check of the car turned up nothing but the license plate.
He had to find a phone. Sliding out the back door and taking a careful look around; he hurried towards the nearest red call box. One call got the search started for the owner of the house and the car. Another brought an old friend with a vehicle and the offer of a computer connection. Harry bandaged his wrists and gave him a cup of tea and some aspirins.
Race could feel the clock ticking away any chance of him finding his friend. The tension clawed at his mind and the tenuous hold he was maintaining on his rage. Then, the information started coming back. The Eastern Bloc connection was readily apparent. Race shrugged, he'd been lucky. If it had been the Soviets, he'd be dead in an alley right now. Tracing the kidnappers back to the starting point gave him some more names and more routes to investigate. An hour passed and his frustration level grew.
Then the gods smiled with a mention of tickets on an Air Moscow for two of the kidnappers and the corresponding mention of cargo. Bingo, Race smiled wolfishly. He gathered Harry and two more friends and they headed to Heathrow.
Finding and liberating Dr. Quest was surprisingly easy. He'd been doped to the eyeballs and packed in a padded crate. Race pulled him out and Harry dropped in the comatose guard and sealed the box back up. A little surprise for the kidnappers, Race decided. Harry drove them to a private clinic where the doctors went to work on the drugged scientist.
Assured that he would come out of it in a few hours, Race allowed the nurse to clean his cuts and rebandage them. Ordered to stay awake because of the concussion, he insisted on sitting by Dr. Quest's side. They left him alone and he finally had time to let go.
He relived the ambush. One moment laughing about the play they had seen, the next watching the green eyes go wide and cloudy. He'd caught him close before he hit the ground, trying to see in all directions at once. Then a flash of silver and the pain in his head. He remembered slumping across the still body and the reassuring thump of Benton's heart before he passed out.
Race leaned his head against the aluminum railing, one hand gripping it tightly, the other feeling the slow, regular pulse of the man in the bed. When had he let himself get so out of control? When had this scientist become his whole world? He lived with him, ate with him, protected him, watched over him, laughed with him and cried with him. When had friendship turned into obsession? When had it turned into love?
By turning his head a fraction, he could watch Benton's face. A lock of red hair fell across his forehead and he fought the necessity to tidy it back. The long black lashes veiled the brilliant green eyes and he finally allowed himself the luxury of a delicate finger over the high cheekbone. Brushing the lock of hair back, he softly combed through the burnished silk of the auburn curls.
Snatching his hand back, he almost overturned his chair backing away. What the hell did he think he was doing? Taking advantage of a comatose friend when he didn't have the guts to say something to him when he was awake. Crossing to the windows, he leaned heavily against the sill and tried to get control of himself. But it was harder now than ever before. He could still feel the solid warm weight of him when he carried him to the car. The way his breath scorched the skin of his throat when he held him in the back seat of the borrowed car while Harry broke all speed records across London.
What do I do now, he wondered dully? The pain behind his eyes was almost as bad as the pain in his heart. How much longer can I hide the longing? Why can't I let it go and accept that there's no hope? Where the hell are the really strong drugs when I need them, he laughed silently to himself in self-derision. So much for being the strong silent type.
A rustling sound behind him sent him whirling into a karate stance. His eyes met a bewildered emerald look from the white bed. And with the experience of years, Race Bannon locked his feelings away and came forward with an easy smile and the beginning of the explanation that Dr. Quest would need.
End part one