For disclaimers, see Part 1
Regina yanked the blue plastic cover from the metal cart. "Finally," she exclaimed and pulled the green oxygen cylinder from the shelf. She grabbed the regulator lying beside it and lost her balance as she stepped back into a stack of boxes. She teetered precariously for a moment and then fell backwards into them. Her weight sent the box at the top of the stack crashing to the floor. A pile of papers bound in folders slid out from the broken lid.
She shook her head at her clumsiness and gingerly got to her feet still holding the tank tightly in her grasp. "Nice Reg, why don’t you just drop the oxygen tank on the floor and have it explode," she berated herself.
Lucky’s ears twitched and the German Shepard leapt to his feet, and stared at the stairwell. A low growl resonated deep from within his barrel chest.
"It’s all right, Lucky. It was just me," Regina re-assured him.
Regina knelt and connected the regulator to the oxygen tank. She glanced down at the boy and pressed her lips together. His seizure lasted several minutes and she had no way of knowing if he had suffered more before she discovered him. She didn’t want to leave TJ alone, afraid that if she did he would have another seizure while she was gone.
She finished hooking up the oxygen tubing, and slipped it over TJ’s ears, then, adjusted the cannula inside his nose. She adjusted the flow and checked the gauge relieved to see that the tank was still full. Next, she pulled a blanket from another box she opened earlier and draped it over the boy’s body. "At least that’s something for now."
The young doctor stood up and wiped her hands on her pants, leaving dusty handprints on the fabric. The sound of water dripping onto the concrete floor from a pipe somewhere in the cavernous warehouse was the only thing she heard besides her own breathing.
Lucky growled again and his hackles rose on his neck as he stood at attention next to TJ.
"What is it, Lucky? What do you hear?" She ran a hand through his fur, more for her own re-assurance. The dog jerked his head around and whined softly.
"He’ll be okay," Regina said, hoping to herself that she was right.
She moved several boxes aside and found one that was marked medical supplies. "Ah, maybe this has something I can use." Regina ripped the tape off the lid of the box and tossed it on the floor.
Lucky’s sudden ferocious barking startled Regina and she fumbled around on a shelf for something to protect herself with. She grabbed a metal pole and gripped it tightly in her hands.
Regina knelt down beside TJ and checked him as she tried to figure out what to do next.
Her heart lurched in her chest when she peaked over the box and saw a shadow looming along the wall of the stairwell.
Lucky launched himself forward and disappeared around the corner. She heard a startled shout and the sound of a body tumbling down the steps, then, more excited barking.
Mustering her courage, she hefted the pole in her hands and crept from her hiding spot. Regina stopped at the top of the stairs and furrowed her brow as she looked at the crumpled body, lying in a heap at the bottom of the stairs.
Lucky sniffed curiously around the body. He backed up as the person stirred and sat up with a groan.
"Well, that was one hell of a greeting you stupid dog."
"Alex!" Regina dropped the pole and darted down to the bottom of the stairs. She knelt beside the taller woman and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Are you okay? Regina cupped Alex’s face in her hand and kissed her temple. "How did you get in here?"
"I still have the keys from when we were here before." Alex rubbed her head and winced as she tentatively moved her shoulder around. "What is he your personal guard dog?"
Regina glanced at Lucky and watched as he caught a scent of something and darted down the dark hallway. "H…how did you know I was here?"
"Long story." Alex struggled to her feet. "We need to get out of here. Cassandra saw you on a video monitor that was hooked up in the security office of the hotel."
"I’ll explain later. Come on. Let’s go."
"Alex, wait." Regina grabbed hold of Alex to steady her. "I found TJ."
Alex blinked and leaned back against the wall. "You what? He’s here?"
"He’s up in the storage area."
A car door slammed shut out in the alleyway. A moment later the doorknob jiggled and a shadowy silhouette of a man’s hulk filled the window.
"Go." Alex grabbed Regina’s hand and together they raced up the stairs.
"This way." Regina led the way to the cramped space where TJ was tucked securely beneath a blanket. "I think he got in through the loading docks.
Alex glanced back at the narrow space at the bottom of partially closed door "You fit under that?" She observed the muddy streaks across Regina’s pants and shirt for the first time and shook her head.
"I had to."
The slightest hint of a smile played around Alex’s mouth and she squeezed Regina’s shoulder affectionately. Alex knelt down with a groan and opened one of the boy’s eyelids. "He’s out cold."
"He had a seizure thirty minutes ago and hasn’t woke up yet."
"Let’s get him out of here." Alex grabbed the boy underneath the arms and started to drag him towards the garage door.
The sound of footsteps running up the stairs alerted Regina. She grabbed a handful of Alex’s dinner jacket and tugged her back down. "Someone’s coming."
"Dr. Margulies," a familiar voice echoed through the warehouse. "I know you’re in here, Alex."
"Matthew, go to hell," Alex growled as she gingerly lowered TJ back down to the ground. "I had two security guards try to stop me from leaving the hotel after Cassandra saw Regina on the tape." She stood up and swept her hand out in front of her. "Figure it out. Whatever they’re hiding is right here under our noses."
The investigator stood under the feeble glow of the flickering fluorescent lights and stared at her. "That means they know you’re here."
"Brilliant deduction, Sherlock." Alex looked at Regina and shook her head before she looked back at Matthew in disgust.
Regina knelt beside TJ and adjusted the blanket around his shoulders. "Alex we need to get him to the hospital."
Alex turned back to Matthew. "Now might be a good time to call for back up and while you’re at it, call EMS so we can get this kid transported."
Suddenly, on the far side of the warehouse, the front door banged open and Cassandra and Dr. Pierce rushed into the storeroom as Matthew reached for his cell phone.
"Put that phone down," Pierce ordered as he pulled a gun from the inside pocket of his jacket and aimed the muzzle at Matthew.
Alex’s adrenaline surged. She tackled Regina to the floor and rolled them behind a row of boxes.
"What’s wrong Alex? Bring back memories?" Pierce cackled from across the warehouse.
Regina pressed her body against Alex. "Alex, what the hell his going on?"
On trembling arms, Alex crouched behind the stack of boxes and watched as Matthew held his phone up and closed it. "It was Cassandra all the time, Reg."
She reached back and wrapped her arm around Regina’s shoulder as the younger woman pressed against her.
Dr. Pierce stepped closer to Matthew and kept the gun trained at his chest. "Take your gun out and turn it around. Don’t try anything, smart. Cassandra hurry up and find the charts."
"Just take it easy. Nobody wants to get hurt here." Matthew slowly pulled his jacket back, and removed the nine-millimeter Glock from his side holster,.
"Shut up! Set it on the floor and slide it over there." The doctor pointed to an open spot on the floor between them.
Matthew did as he was told and slid the gun across the concrete floor.
Dr. Pierce scooped it up. "Now lay face down on the floor where I can see you." He pulled a pair of handcuffs from his coat pocket and tossed them across the room where they landed a few feet away from where Alex was crouched. "Those are for you Dr. Margulies. Take those handcuffs and get over to that row of pipes with your girlfriend. Now!"
Oh god, we’re dead. Alex shuddered as she stooped and picked the manacles off the floor. She looked at Regina who was staring back at her with a grim look of desperation in her eyes. Slowly, she held her hand out and waited for Regina to come to her.
A moment later, with the warmth of the Regina’s smaller hand tucked in hers, they walked to the back of the warehouse where a myriad of pipes ran along the wall.
"Now, toss the handcuffs over the pipe and lock yourselves together before I put a bullet in your girlfriend’s head."
Alex glanced overhead and slipped one of the cuffs around her wrist. "It’s too high for her."
Pierce glared at Alex and shrugged. "Then cuff yourselves to one of the pipes along the wall. It’s of no consequence."
Alex stared down at the rust-stained floor around several of the pipes and stepped back several paces before she motioned Regina to follow her. Her hand shook as she gingerly squeezed her forearm behind the pipe and held the manacle out to Regina. "You’ve got a chance to make it to the door when he’s not looking," she whispered to Regina.
"Not without you," Regina replied, while she slipped her wrist into the manacle and locked it around her wrist.
"Shut up over there!" Pierce charged across the floor, lunged at Alex and backhanded her across the face.
Alex raised her head and leveled a hateful stare at him. Beside her, Regina growled and very deliberately spit in his face. "I hope you rot in hell!"
"Robert, enough! We have work to do," Cassandra reminded him.
Dr. Pierce wiped the spittle off his face and stepped back. "Did you find them?"
"Right here, where we left them."
"Good. Torch them so we can get the hell out of here. We have a plane to catch." He kept his gun aimed at Matthew’s head as the agent lay sprawled face down on the concrete floor.
"You just couldn’t play by the rules, could you, Alex?" Cassandra asked.
"Rules? You mean the rules you made up as you went along." Alex raised her head and glared at Cassandra with penetrating eyes.
A tingle of dread that ran up her spine when she saw the gas can in the Vice President’s hand. She spared a glance at Matthew and frowned in confusion as he turned his head and tried to mouth something to her.
"It was such a simple plan really," Cassandra continued. "T&M approached us two years ago to perform drug trials on their number one and two experimental drugs. They offered twenty thousand dollars per patient that we enrolled in the study."
"So at some point it went from conducting medical research to embezzling money from the drug company," Alex stated, as she continued to watch Matthew.
A subtle movement of his fingers pointing toward his feet alerted her to the irregular bulge outlined by his pants. A glint of metal flashed beneath the overhead fluorescent lights and she realized it was another holster. Alex quickly jerked her attention back to Cassandra.
"You’re in no position to accuse me of anything," Cassandra spat.
Keep their attention on you. Alex didn’t dare look back at him. "How many of the patients that you enrolled were real?"
"Enough to make it look legitimate."
Alex forced a laugh. "That’s why all those charts were missing from medical records. You enrolled dummy subjects into the drug trials and needed to forge the consent forms so the drug company would pay you for more subjects."
"Precisely," Cassandra laughed.
Don’t let them focus on Matthew. Alex racked her brain for a way to keep the conversation going. "You ran two sets of books, one for the hospital and one for the drug company to see."
"It’s too bad you picked the wrong team to play for," Cassandra sneered at her.
"I don’t think I did."
Cassandra unscrewed the cap from the can and doused the boxes in front of her.
Oh sweet Jesus. The thick, oily, bitter scent of gasoline filled Alex’s nostrils and her throat constricted at the thought of burning alive.
"Dr. Jameson was sloppy. I needed to get rid of him." A self–satisfied smile lit up Cassandra’s features as comprehension dawned on Alex’s face. "That’s right, all it took was a slight adjustment in his normal dose of medication and oops…" She pulled a lighter from her coat pocket, flipped it open, and held the flame against the corner of one of the boxes. "He had a heart attack." The boxes ignited with a whoosh.
Alex watched the flames follow the trail of fuel in search of more to feed its deadly appetite. The warehouse was crammed with boxes, old mattresses and god knows what else.
"You conniving bitch. You planned this all out from the beginning," Regina shouted at her as she lunged forward against the pipe.
"Not everything. You being here tonight was unexpected, but not something we couldn’t handle." Cassandra turned and walked away from the growing inferno.
"For god’s sake, take the boy. He has nothing to do with this," Alex shouted over the growing roar of the flames.
Pierce glanced over at the limp form huddled on the floor and shrugged with callous indifference. "Wrong place, wrong time."
Several feet away, Mathew lunged to his knees and desperately grabbed for the gun that was holstered around his ankle. Dr. Pierce reacted instantly and gunfire erupted, echoing throughout the warehouse.
Matthew’s body jerked like a marionette and spun around from the impact of the bullets. His arms flailed helplessly overhead.
As the gun jarred loose from his grasp and arced into the air, Alex pulled Regina to the ground and threw her body over hers.
"Oh god, no." Regina covered her mouth as tears flooded her eyes.
"Don’t look." Alex hugged Regina to her and battled the overwhelming sense of futility as flames engulfed the stack of boxes in the middle of the room and erupted towards the ceiling.
The smoke detectors on the ceiling finally blared and the sprinklers spit out a pathetic stream of water.
"I think you used up your nine lives last year, Dr. Margulies," Pierce laughed as he walked backwards and tossed the keys to the handcuffs into the flames.
Alex stared after them until she lost sight of Cassandra and her accomplice in the smoke. It would be easy enough to close her eyes and let the smoke overtake her before her body ever felt the searing heat from the flames but one look at Regina and she knew giving up was not an option. Not if I have anything to say about it, you bastard.
"Alex," Regina’s voice cracked and she began to cough.
Alex tilted Regina’s face up to hers. "Slide your arm behind the pipe."
Despite the paralyzing fear, Regina twisted around and slid her handcuffed wrist between the pipe and the wall, wincing as she pushed her arm through as far as she could.
Alex grasped the handcuffs with her free hand and tugged them. She stretched out to her full length and extended her leg until the toe of her shoe touched the handle of the gun. "Just a little more, Reg. Come on. That’s it." She nudged the gun forward until she was able to cup it with the top of her shoe. She gritted her teeth as she pulled it toward her.
She grabbed hold of the gun and pushed the safety off. "Close your eyes." Alex pulled the links between their hands taught and aimed the muzzle of the gun down at the metal chain.
Regina ducked her head between her arms and turned away.
Without a second thought, Alex squeezed the trigger and two shots thundered through the warehouse. The metal links shattered between them and she felt the sharp bite of metal as a link flew past her face.
Alex ripped off her jacket, balled it up, and shoved it over Regina’s mouth. "We have to get out of here."
She leapt of Regina’s body and frantically scrambled across the floor to TJ. Alex grabbed the oxygen tank lying beside his body and ripped the tubing off of the regulator. With all her strength, she hurled the pressurized canister into the air away from her and Regina.
A loud reverberating explosion shook the warehouse and a wall of flames erupted toward the ceiling twenty feet away from where Alex was crouched.
"Alex!" Regina cried out and started toward her.
"Down! Stay down!" Alex screamed at Regina as she flattened her body over the boy’s to protect him.
Heavy acrid smoke and filled the air. Light bulbs exploded overhead from the intensity of the heat as the flames consumed everything in their path.
Alex scrambled over to Regina and grabbed her by the arm. "Get TJ out of here. Can you do that for me?"
They both flinched as a shower of sparks cascaded down from several light fixtures up on the ceiling.
Regina nodded and crawled beneath the cloud of smoke.
Alex watched as Regina grabbed his wrists and dragged his body over to the garage door.
As Regina disappeared through the opening, Alex turned and raced back towards Matthew. Overhead, flames flared again and flashed across the high ceiling. Please, just give me one more minute. That’s all I need.
Alex crouched beside Matthew and rolled him over. He lifted his head and tried to push himself up but collapsed to the floor.
"Just stay still." Alex grabbed his wrists and dragged him over to the door. Smoke burned her lungs and her eyes filled with tears, blurring her vision.
A loud metallic noise echoed in the distance and then drew closer. Alex redoubled her efforts. Suddenly out of nowhere, something slammed into her back and knocked her flat.
With enormous effort, Alex lifted her head and saw Dr. Pierce staggering to his feet with a metal pole clutched in his hand
Blood trickled down the side of his face. "You fucking crazy bitch, you trapped us in here."
"You trapped yourself." Alex glanced at the garage door, knowing every second she stayed the slimmer her chances were of surviving.
She squinted as the dim light filtering through the narrow opening changed shape and then was blocked out. Her blood ran cold when she saw Regina pull herself back through the opening and crouch on her hands and knees.
Pierce whirled around and cocked the pole back. It took all of Alex’s strength to stagger to her feet. Desperation fueled her oxygen starved muscles and she lunged at his knees, driving her shoulder into his body as the metal pipe descended in a sickening blurred arc toward Regina’s head.
It missed Regina’s head by inches and Pierce’s knees buckled as he collapsed to the ground with a grunt.
Flames erupted from an overhead vent and fiery debris rained down on them. Regina screamed a warning at Alex as Dr. Pierce rolled to his feet and swung the bar wildly at Alex’s head.
Instinctively, Alex threw her arms up and took the force of the blow on her ribs. As her body absorbed the impact, Alex drove her arms down and wrapped her hands around the metal shaft. Desperately, she used Dr. Pierce’s momentum to shove him off balance. He struggled to yank the bar from her hands.
Alex leveraged her body weight against his body and slammed her knee into his stomach. His grip loosened and she viciously shoved the end of the pole into his gut.
"Get Matthew out of here," Alex yelled at Regina over the roar of the flames.
Regina darted around Alex and grabbed Matthew who was slowly crawling on all fours. She struggled to pull him towards the door and collapsed under his weight.
Alex broke free from Pierce’s grasp and kicked him viciously in the head. She lifted Regina to her feet and shoved her toward the door. "Get out of here!"
Regina squirmed through the opening first. Alex shoved Matthew after Regina and then squeezed her body through. She crawled to the edge of the concrete loading dock and lowered herself to the ground. Her lungs violently protested the smoke she inhaled and she doubled over in a bout of coughing.
Around her, sirens and horns blared as emergency vehicles converged on the warehouse. With Regina leaning against her, Alex dragged TJ off the loading dock and carried him several feet away.
Firemen and paramedics rushed towards them.
Alex let them take TJ from her and held onto Regina. "Are you okay?" she asked staring into Regina’s eyes.
Regina looked up at the warehouse as an explosion sounded from inside and windows shattered. They fell to their knees and held onto each other.
"No," Regina buried her head in Alex’s shoulder as the flood of tears came.
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