"There will be no mercy for anyone who tries anything remotely threatening to expose what’s going on here,” Charlize hissed, her voice growing sharper as she weaved a tale of cruelty and ruthlessness. "The punishment will be swift and severe. I don’t care if you’re three or thirty, if you try to step out of line you’ll join Rose and Nathaniel." She hoped these women and children would be with Rose and Nathaniel soon. That they’d all be free and safe.
The men in the room grew impatient with the talking, as men always do. Their irritation driving them to push Charlize further, to make her prove her loyalty through gruesome actions. She could feel their menacing eyes on her, their collective desire for blood palpable in the room. There was really only one way to ever prove you could be trusted by evil people. To be evil in their presence.
Finally, she seized Marcy by the shoulder, pulling her to her feet. Charlize whispered urgently in her ear, "Help is coming, I promise. I'm so sorry for this." With a trembling hand, she brandished the knife and sliced at the woman's long blonde hair, sending chunks of it cascading to the floor.
The other women in the room whooped and hollered in fear but the men were dissatisfied, one of them growling, "I thought there would be blood on your hands, not just a pile of hair."
Just as the tension in the room reached its peak, a commotion erupted from the stairs leading up to the apartment. The men turned their attention toward the noise, their expressions shifting from irritation to alarm. Charlize seized the moment, her heart racing as she took a step back, the knife still in her hand, and moved back from Marcy.
“What was that?” The men all reached for their weapons and waited for someone to tell them what to do. Charlize capitalized on the confusion.
“Go see what it is,” she barked, as if she had any authority at all. Five of the six men stormed off. She liked her odds against the one man remaining much better. Now she hoped whoever was making that noise could handle the five others.
He told him he didn’t have to come. Harry had done what he set out to do, but when he heard Charlize as in trouble, he insisted on helping. The phone call lasted only a minute before Harry was leaving Rose at the safe house and racing to help Mick.
By the time they were both outside the apartment it was clear nothing would stop them from going in.
“I know the building better,” Harry said firmly. “I’ll draw the men out and you take the back stairwell up. That’s where Charlize’s GPS is pinging.”
Mick nodded, acknowledging the truth in Harry's words. "Alright. But we move quickly. We find Charlize, secure her and the other women and children, then we get the hell out of here."
They shared a silent moment of agreement before moving swiftly toward the building's entrance. Their senses were heightened, every step filled with purpose. They couldn't afford to make a single mistake.
Once inside, they followed the directions from Charlize's GPS signal, leading them deeper into the heart of the building.
“She’s in the second floor apartment,” Harry whispered. “It sounds like they are all up there. You need to take those stairs there. I’ll draw the men out this way.”
Mick nodded his understanding, reluctant to go their separate ways but understanding this was the best chance of success. As he climbed the stairs, his footsteps as quiet as possible, the sounds of muffled voices reached his ears. Harry had estimated there were still six or eight men in the building, and they needed to take them by surprise. By the sound of the voices upstairs he thought his estimation was likely correct. That wasn’t exactly a fair fight, but he knew if he could get to Charlize and arm her, that would help.
Mick pulled his weapon and waited for Harry to do his part. He was on the other side of the building, still a floor below and planning to draw the men out with a diversion.
There was a loud clattering of furniture falling over and a loud shout. With that, a thundering of feet flew in the other direction, going toward Harry and away from Mick.
Taking advantage of the sudden absence of guards, Mick kicked the door open, and burst into the room, gun at the ready. The scene that greeted him was chaotic. Fearful women cowering over their children in the corner. To no surprise, Charlize had already subdued and disarmed the last guard, leaving only stunned expressions in her wake.
Without hesitation or the need to even speak, they worked together to secure the incapacitated man, making sure he couldn't pose a threat. Then they turned their attention to the women and children in the room, guiding them to the back corner and positioning themselves between them and the door, weapons at the ready.
The shooting downstairs had ceased, and the building was eerily quiet. Mick's mind raced with worry for Harry, but he knew they had to stay focused on the task at hand.
He attempted to reach Harry on their communication devices, but there was no response. Anxiety gnawed at his gut as he tried to push aside the fear that was clawing its way into his mind. Harry had been outgunned. Even with the element of surprise he was at a disadvantage.
While trying to keep his eyes focused on the door, Mick sent a quick text message to Carmen, providing an update on their situation. The women and children were secured, but they remained in the dark about Harry's whereabouts.
Carmen's voice came through the coms, her tone reassuring. "The DEA teams are moving on the houses now. They'll be there soon. They know your location and are treading lightly. They are aware shots have been fired."
Mick held his breath and glanced briefly at Charlize, who was trying desperately to get her hands to steady. They waited anxiously for any news about Harry.
Time seemed to crawl by as they guarded the women and children. Mick's mind raced with a whirlwind of emotions, from guilt over not being able to back Harry up to anger at the monsters who’d created this entire system.
Finally, they heard the team breach the doors and begin slowly clearing the rooms. It felt like an eternity before they were stepping in and taking charge. They led the women and children out slowly, giving direct and firm instructions until the room was empty but for Charlize, Mick, and one remaining DEA agent.
“You two okay?” he asked, lowering his weapon and resting his arms by his side.
“Our man was downstairs, the shootout.” Mick found it hard to even get the words out. He knew if Harry was safe, he’d have already made his way upstairs.