It was on a grey Wednesday morning that Oscar and his team finally got a lead on Steve’s whereabouts. The operative had been missing for a week and Oscar had been moving heaven and earth to try to locate him. His weary body had been running on adrenalin alone for the past three days. The lack of sleep was beginning to alter his behavior; his hair-trigger temper had already cost him two men who couldn’t take anymore of his belligerence. He often couldn’t stand to be in the same room with himself and the exhaustion was playing tricks on his mind. Still Oscar refused to relent and pressed on.
Today he knew Steve would be found and he wanted to be the one to free him from the evil clutches of his old enemy Dr. Carlton Spencer.
The group of agents adopted strategic positions around the abandoned warehouse where Spencer had reportedly established his new covert operation. On Oscar’s signal the men charged inside the building with guns drawn, disarming the guards as they made their way to the main room. They bashed down the door and thrust their weapon at a stunned Spencer who froze on the spot.
“Get your hands up, Spencer!” Oscar commanded, his eyes shooting daggers at the man who wanted nothing more than to seek revenge for a project that Oscar had run to the ground for lack of funds. “Where’s Steve?”
“Dead,” the man crowed, his smirk raising Oscar’s ire to a boiling point. Without realizing it Oscar backhanded the man in the face, sending him crashing to the floor with a bleeding lip. Seeing an incensed Oscar homing in on his defenceless prey, Russ bolted to his boss and grabbed him from behind to prevent him from doing Spencer further harm. “Where…is…he?” Oscar stammered with rage. Gone was the rational OSI director and in was a maniacal zombie who had a mission to destroy anyone standing in the way of finding his friend. “Where IS HE?” Oscar repeated as he lunged at Spencer to throttle the life out of him. The adrenalin gave him the strength of thousands, prompting Russ to beckon two men to help him restrain the possessed man.
“Mister Goldman. We found something outside,” one of the agents informed.
Oscar lessened his grip on Spencer’s neck once Russ assured him that he was to handle him personally. “Don’t lose him. He’s mine!” he sputtered angrily.
Oscar hurried outside to follow his man to a small river running a few yard down from the warehouse. He could feel his heart throbbing against his ribcage as he neared the two other men crouched down by their macabre discovery
One man glanced up at him and said forlornly, “We found him floating face down in the water, sir.” He took a deep breath to finish his sentence, “I’m afraid he’s gone.”
Numbed with terror, Oscar slumped to his knees by Steve’s lifeless body; his hand trembling as he reached for the neck where he hoped to detected the tinniest beat. Finding none, his eyes dropped like lead and his heart sank to his stomach. However the desperate entity within urged him to make an attempt at reviving the corpse. He grabbed his friend’s body, turned him on his stomach and began kneading his back to squeeze the water out of his lungs. He swatted the hands that tried to impede his action, his focus remaining on Steve’s face hoping to see or hear a sign that he was coming around.
“Boss, he’s gone. Even if you bring him back they’ll be brain damage from the lack of oxygen. It’s best to let him go,” one of the men tried to reason. “Mister Goldman.” He risked a hand on Oscar’s arm; the touch having an immediate effect on the distraught man who stopped his kneading and hung his head in defeat.
No sooner had he shed a tear for his dead friend that evil took over. In a trance-like state, Oscar stoically stood to his feet and slouched over to the warehouse’s main entrance where Russ was escorting Spencer out to the car. As he approached the two men, Oscar slowly unsheathed his gun, aimed at his target and fired a bullet between Spencer’s eyes. The shot came without any warning, leaving everyone flabbergasted at their boss’s irrational behavior. Once the deed done, Oscar dropped the gun onto the ground and slugged over to a nearby tree. He flumped his back against the trunk and slowly collapsed to his knees. The worry, torment and exhaustion of the past week spurt out in a torrent of tears; his body convulsing as it rid itself of the poison that had been festering inside the careworn man.
“I’m sorry, Steve,” he sobbed with his head buried in his hands. “It’s my fault. You didn’t want this assignment and I forced you. Oh God!” Another gush of tears washed over him, so powerful that it weakened him to the point that he lost his lunch.
The men looked at Russ, seeking his advice on the best approach in this delicate situation. He nodded to them to carry the body over to the trunk of their car while he tried to console Oscar on his lost. He squatted down beside him nd waited for him to acknowledge his presence before speaking solemnly. “We’re all grieving this lost, Oscar. Steve was a great man.”
“He was like a brother to me,” Oscar said wistfully, his puffy red eyes smiling at the warm feeling creeping over him as his mind roved back in time.
“Come on. It’s time to go.” Russ slipped his hand underneath Oscar’s arm to assist him to his feet, which proved a tougher task than he originally anticipated.
“You killed him, Oscar.”
“Good,” Oscar said without remorse, an offhand attitude that powerfully disturbed his young assistant. His boss had just gunned down an unharmed man in cold blood and knew the penalty for such an act was a life sentence if not death row.
“Russ, come here quick!”
Russ and Oscar quickened the pace to the spot where the men had called them. “What is it?” Russ asked of the man giving Steve mouth-to-mouth for resuscitation.
“He’s alive. Barely but we felt a heart beat as we were loading him into the trunk of the car.”
Oscar hunched down by the limp body and pressed his ear against Steve’s chest. “I can’t hear anything.”
“It’s there, trust me. We need to get him to the nearest hospital or he’s a goner for sure.”
“I’ll get on the phone to Washington right away. In the meantime you call for an ambulance,” Oscar instructed Russ as he wiped the last remnant of tears from his cheeks. He leaned in and placed a hand on Steve’s forehead. “You hang in there, Pal. You’re going to make it.” He staggered to his feet and hurried to his car to contact Rudy to explain the dramatic situation. Thereafter he called in with his Snow White priority clearance code to request that a plane be made available to Dr. Wells upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base.
Steve was kept on life support while his attending doctors waited for Dr. Wells to fill them in on the patient’s special nature. They offered dim hope of Steve ever regaining consciousness from what they were told of their patient’s condition prior to his arrival at the hospital.
“The EEG shows some brain activity but not enough to suggest this patient will ever regain consciousness and that if by some miracle he should…” the doctor needed not finish his sentence knowing Rudy had already translated the prognosis. “Does he have a living will?”
“Yes he does. I am executor.”
“Then it’s your decision, Dr. Wells.”
Rudy sighed and lowered his head in resignation. Never had he felt the woe of the world weighing so heavily on his shoulders. There was a remote possibility that Steve could surface from his coma but at what price? There was understandably brain damage sustained from the lack of oxygen but to what extend? Could he take that chance? Could he wait to see if Steve would rouse with no residual effect from his brush with death?
“Give me a day to think about it. This isn’t a decision you can rushed.”
“Sure.” The doctor reached out to Rudy with a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “I am sorry. That man is your proudest achievement.”
“If you only knew how much I didn’t care,” Rudy said disdainfully. “I am more concerned about the soul and not the body.” On that grisly tone he plodded out of the room to made his way down to Steve’s room where Oscar was keeping a vigil.
“Rudy, tell me, Steve is going to be all right?”
With a strained smile Rudy placed a hand on his shoulder and motioned toward the couch. “Come sit down.”
Oscar wore a worried frown at the doctor’s forlorn expression. “What is it?”
Rudy led him to the sitting area where he requested him to take a seat. “As you can see Steve’s being kept on life support. His brain is not assuming its proper function of relaying messages to his different organs.”
“I can understand that. But it’s only temporary, right?”
“I’m afraid not. Damage to the brain is irreversible.”
Oscar turned his attention to the patient hooked to the respirator, the constant beeping of the heart monitor echoing on the walls of his dull mind, hypnotizing him; beckoning him to come closer and closer still. “What do you intend to do?” he asked in a hollow voice, his face displaying no emotion whatsoever.
“I have a day to decide whether or not to pull the plug.”
Oscar shut his eyes in utter despair. He had a hard time grasping at the reality of it all. It was a finality he couldn’t accept. “Back there when I saw him lifeless on the ground I didn’t hesitate. I flipped him over and tried to resuscitate him. Maybe that’s what brought him back to life, I don’t know. I was relieved when I found out he was alive.” He shook his head mournfully. “I can’t believe he came back only to leave again.”
“That happens. Maybe he didn’t want to die out there in strange territory but right here surrounded by his friends,” Rudy opined, grasping at straws as to the right words to choose to allay the grieving man’s pain.
“That should make me feel better but it doesn’t.” He stepped closer to the bed to gaze at his friend clinging to life. “I’d like to stay here tonight. Could be my last. Haven’t you heard? I killed a man in cold blood.”
“Yes I know.”
“It wasn’t even self-defence. I just picked up my gun, aimed and fired without thinking of the consequences of this senseless act. I just couldn’t let Spencer live after what he’d done to Steve. I just couldn’t.”
“I think I understand.”
“Do you?” Oscar turned to Rudy. “Do you really?”
Rudy gave a sincere nod of the head. “Yes. I might have done the same had I been in your place. But I’m afraid the board will put a totally different light on the matter.”
“If I had to do it again, I would.” He scrunched up his face to prevent the threatening tears from spurting out. “God Rudy, I failed him.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Steve didn’t want this assignment. He kept telling me this was suicide and didn’t feel he could handle it. I didn’t listen. The NSB was on my back to get Spencer out of commission that I just…” his broken voice trailed off as emotions caught in his throat. “I did this to him.”
“Don’t blame yourself for this.”
“Then who am I supposed to blame, huh?” Oscar lashed out, much to Rudy’s surprise. “I’m sorry. I’m just a bit overwrought. I didn’t mean to snap at you, Rudy.”
Rudy laid a sympathetic hand on Oscar’s arm. “That’s okay. I know how you feel because it’s the same with me. Remember, I’m the one who has to make the decision.”
“Can you give it some more time?”
“I could but what good would it do? He’s practically brain dead. You wouldn’t want him to live like a vegetable, would you?” Oscar gave a weak shake of the head. “I’ll leave you alone with him. I’ll be back in half an hour.” He waited for Oscar to acknowledge with a nod before exiting the room.
Oscar settled in the chair by the bed and folded his hands underneath his chin, his gaze never leaving Steve as he silently prayed for a miracle. “Steve I don’t know if you can hear me but if you can, know that I can never apologize enough for what I did to you. It was entirely my fault and no one will be able to convince me otherwise.” He scooted his chair closer to the bed to address his friend’s heart in hopes his next thought would be heard “I have a feeling Rudy is going to do the noble thing tomorrow. Noble for him but definitely not for me. I’m no doctor so I can’t tell if you really are beyond reach.”
Oscar rose from his chair and pulled down the bed rail to lean closer to Steve’s face. “I won’t be here to witness your demise. I did once and nearly died along with you. This time they are going to force you to go and that is something I can never reconcile with.” He raised the bed rail and squeezed Steve’s hand. “Goodbye, Pal,” he quavered with a tear in his eye. “I’ll never forget you.” He took a moment to steal himself before he made his way out of the room and out of the hospital to step into his car and drive away to some unknown destination.
The next morning, the patient began showing signs of responsiveness, much to the doctor’s astonishment. They had obviously miscalculated the amount of oxygen denied to the brain. By some Divine intervention, Steve’s condition was improving at an extraordinary rapid rate. Two days later he finally opened his eyes to whisper Oscar’s name to Rudy.
The good doctor could only shake his head in dejection and say, “We can’t find him anywhere. It’s like he disappeared from the face of the earth. He was despondent when he sat with you three days ago, blaming himself for what happened. I didn’t see him leave, just that when I came back in the room he was gone.”
Steve closed his eyes at the grim news but something about this odd occurrence brought a ray of hope. His heart knew exactly where Oscar had gone but wasn’t ready to divulge the location to its host before he made a full recovery.
“Leave him be,” he breathed out.
“He’s a wanted man. If they find him they’re liable to kill him on the spot.”
“Won’t---won’t find him, “Steve said with a confidence that puzzled Rudy.
“You know where he might be?”
Steve merely turned to Rudy with a lopsided grin before closing his eyes.