Chapter 12 - Nothing But The Truth
Janice looked at the tall doors. From the glow of the torches on either side of the entrance, she could see there was no marble or carved ornamentation adorning the temple. Only plain stone housed the valuable treasure inside.
On the way, she and JJ had asked the old man many questions about this temple - what to look for, what they would find inside, how one got their answers.
But he only said you must experience it.'
Neither of them was very pleased with that answer.
Janice exhaled heavily, rubbing her sweaty palms on her trousers before grabbing the door handle. She glanced back at the old man, who smiled warmly and nodded to her.
She looked at JJ. "You ready?"
JJ nodded vigorously.
Janice grinned and slowly pulled the heavy door open, bracing herself for what she was about to see.
Her eyebrows rose. There were no vases, no statues or tapestries. There wasn't even an altar, just smooth stone walls, each with a single torch mounted at its center.
The inside was as plain as the outside.
"Is that it?" JJ asked with a frown, clearly unimpressed. When he took a step inside to look around, Janice quickly grabbed his shoulder.
"Hold on, Sport. You stick to me like glue. Understand?" She said firmly, holding out her hand.
He sighed and nodded, taking her hand. JJ started to step inside again, but Janice didn't budge.
"Well? Are we going to go in, or what?" He asked impatiently, tugging her hand.
"Of course, that's what I'm here for, right?" Janice said hesitantly with a weak smile, looking around uneasily.
JJ looked up at her curiously. "Are you afraid?"
Janice looked at him sharply, annoyed he could tell. She finally exhaled and nodded reluctantly.
"Why are you afraid? It's the just the truth, right?" He asked.
"Yeah, right. Come on, let's find my answers," Janice said with forced confidence, walking inside with JJ.
The temple was dark, except for the warm glow of torches on the walls. The heavy doors silently closed behind them. When they finally slammed shut, the deep sound echoed in the temple.
JJ jumped nervously, bumping into Janice as he looked back. Instead of doors, there was now a smooth, stone wall with a simple, torch mounted at its center, perfectly matching the other walls.
"Look," he whispered with concern, pointing uneasily to where the doors used to be.
Janice glanced back and nodded. "You're not claustrophobic, are you?" She asked and gently squeezed his hand.
"Fear of enclosed spaces?" He asked, getting a nod from the impressed woman. "I think I might be," he said, glancing at the four walls. "I really don't like this," he added with a furrowed brow.
"Me neither," she said, looking for a way to leave but finding none.
In front of them, the torch flame grew larger and brighter. Squinting, they watched the light engulf the solid wall. Then the light disappeared, along with the wall, leaving a cavernous hallway.
"How did that happen?" JJ whispered with wide eyes.
"I don't know."
The torches on the remaining walls dimmed as torches lining the newly formed hallway burst into flame, two at a time, illuminating a pathway away from the center chamber.
"Well, what do you . . . ?" Janice asked, but was interrupted by the eager boy who pulled her towards the newly lit path. She shook her head with a silent chuckle.
"I wish he told us what to look for," JJ said with irritation as they continued to walk down the long, torch-lit hall.
After a few minutes walking down what seemed to be an endless hallway, Janice looked down at the raven-haired boy holding her hand. "So, what do you want to be when you grow up? A linguist, like your Mama?"
"How did you know she's a linguist?"
"Well, it could be because I'm omniscient..."
She chuckled when he frowned.
"...or, because you said she was translating some Xena scrolls."
"Xena . . . ," Janice said then halted when the hallway suddenly expanded into a large green field. A bright sun hung high in the clear blue sky.
"Wow," the two said in unison.
"How can it be day?" he asked, looking around curiously.
"I don't know if it's really day now, or this is just an illusion," Janice responded, looking across the green field.
She suddenly wondered if this place somehow knew she was looking for her daughter.
Her eyes searched the horizon with anticipation. Janice reminded herself she would be almost five now. Almost five, she thought with amazement, recalling the last night she held her daughter. She smiled at the memory of the bundle of warmth against her chest, those tiny hands that clumsily reached out to grab her fingers, the contented gurgling, and that incredibly trusting gaze.
A gaze she did not earn, Janice considered as her smile fell, guiltily recalling the pained screams from her daughter when she was injected with drugs so she'd sleep as Greta took her away Birkenau.
And so many years had slipped away without finding her. Would she ever be able to make up for that pain or the lost time?
Janice wondered as the green field dissolved into a swirl, whiter and brighter than the sun, making Janice and JJ squint as they shielded their eyes. The swirl filled with a rainbow of color that expanded, forming a small house and yard in a clearing, nestled by a forest of trees.
JJ nervously stepped closer to Janice, looking around the yard they now stood in. It all looked so real. He could feel the fresh air gently blowing against his skin. He could smell the flowers from the small garden. And he could hear children . . . laughing?
Janice sucked in an anxious breath.
They watched three laughing and squealing children run out of a shed with a small dog, which yapped and jumped about excitedly as a man growled and chased them.
Janice's heart pounded as the boisterous children, two girls and a boy, ran towards them, dashing about to avoid being caught by the man. The archaeologist slowly knelt down, intently searching the girls' faces as they continued to laugh and play with the man, all unaware of their two visitors.
Janice's eyes widened with recognition when the girl with golden-red hair and deep-green eyes stopped in front of her. Janice instinctively reached out. But her hand slipped through the unaware child, who continued to giggle as she watched the man and other children play.
JJ watched Janice glance dejectedly at her hand then the girl.
Janice's eyebrows furrowed as she reached out one more time. But once again, her hand slipped through the vision and she felt nothing, except for an ache that welled up as she watched the man scoop up her child and do something she hadn't been able to do for nearly five years - hold her daughter.
A smile of delight filled Faith's slightly freckled face.
She has such a beautiful smile, Janice thought.
JJ watched the daddy as he gently deposited the girl down and kissed her forehead before chasing all the kids towards the house. A plainly dressed woman emerged from the house and stood on the porch, feigning impatience as she put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot. JJ smiled as the mama's stern demeanor quickly faded as the children and daddy climbed the porch steps.
JJ looked curiously up at Janice, who stood still, staring at the porch with sadness in her eyes. He glanced back at the house thoughtfully, then to Janice again.
"Janice?" JJ asked, squeezing her hand.
She slowly responded with a silent look.
"Who are they?"
"A family, JJ," she said with a tight voice. "A happy family," she repeated in a pained whisper.
The mama warmly greeted them with hugs and kisses before briskly shooing them inside.
JJ looked at Janice then the house curiously. She must be thinking of her mama, JJ concluded and squeezed Janice's hand, feeling her squeeze back.
The daddy smiled and grabbed the two smallest kids in his arms and entered the house.
JJ wondered what it would be like to have a daddy. Grandpa and Robert tried, but they got tired too quickly. And Uncle Brian lived in California. And Mama . . . well, Mama was Mama.
JJ looked up to Janice, who looked like she was thinking real hard.
Janice fought to focus on her last task. One which she always dreaded. Saying good-bye to fellow survivors had always been hard. But having seen Paul and Daniel grow up over the past four years, she knew it would be so much more difficult. Especially now, she considered, fighting tears and clenching her jaw at her damned fate.
But despite her selfish reluctance to find the boys' family, she had promised. And after all the hell they've been through, the boys at least deserved that much. She took deep breaths and shut her eyes, trying with great difficulty to focus on just the boys and their remaining family.
"Wow," JJ softly called out with wonder as the country house dissolved into a swirl of light which brightened before expanding into a campsite.
"Who are they?" JJ asked, seeing twin boys walking into camp with fish they just caught.
"That's Paul and Daniel," she said, remembering that exact day with a warm smile.
They had just turned eleven and she remembered telling them it was about damn time they got the dinner. The boys were nervous about failing, but she knew they wouldn't. They had fished with her before and quickly learned what lures were needed and where the best places to fish were.
"That's you," JJ said with surprise, looking between woman holding his hand and her vision, which came out of a tent and congratulated the boys on their good-size catch.
"Yeah," Janice said softly with a grin, remembering how happy she was when the boys beamed with pride.
Their smiles lasted for days.
The camp dissolved into a swirl of light which expanded into the boys' tent at night. They stood inside, watching her sit by the lantern and read them a local newspaper as they lay on their cots.
Janice recalled how they would discuss the news or, if the news was boring, fall sound asleep.
"When we first started traveling together, I used to read to them at night or tell stories sometimes, like my Dad did for me," Janice explained softly as if not to disturb the people in the tent. "But they grew out of it. I never really did," she smiled sadly, watching another happy memory.
"Mama reads to me every night," JJ offered. "Well, except tonight," he said with a depressed sigh, missing her terribly.
The tent dissolved into a swirl of light which turned into the archaeologist's current camp.
"Mama!" JJ said with excitement, spotting her by the camp fire. Aunt Christine, Lee, and Ivan were there with the twin boys and a pretty blond and some other people that JJ didn't know. His eyebrows furrowed.
Janice's eyes were immediately drawn to the Southern lady, longing for a glimpse of the woman who had filled her thoughts during the day, her dreams during the night, and her heart . . . always.
She stood tall, in a perfectly tailored blue skirt and jacket with a cream blouse. Her outfit accentuated her figure, not too much, nor too little, but just right, Janice considered, expecting no less from the meticulous woman. Her long, raven hair was neatly swept up under a small, matching hat, allowing full appreciation of her beautiful face, her tender ears, and her long, sensitive neck, Janice noted with a slight sigh, contentedly drinking in the vision as Mel's name touched her lips in a whisper.
A small smile emerged as Janice observed the familiar act she had witnessed thousands of times, Melinda pushing her glasses up.
Janice loved Mel's glasses.
Though she strongly suspected she would have had to fend off even more people if the beautiful Southerner didn't have them, the reason Janice really loved them was because she alone had been allowed the intimate privilege of removing them.
"Why do they have guns?" JJ said with concern as he tugged on Janice's hand, interrupting the archaeologist's appreciative gaze.
"Huh?" Janice said, the words not yet registering. When they did, her eyes darted back to the vision.
"Damnit" she growled, seeing two of the three gunmen pointing their weapons at Ivan and Greta.
"For Heaven's sake, no one's lying! She actually disappeared," Melinda blurted with annoyance, pushing her glasses up again.
"Mel?" Christine asked with concern.
"Disappeared?" Filo said, amused.
"Yes. Let me show you where," Melinda offered. "If you are not satisfied, you can always shoot us later," Mel offered reasonably.
"Uh, Mel??" Christine eyed her bold friend and the rifles now trained on her.
"Why not," Filo said, scratching his head, and followed the intriguing, raven-haired woman towards the largest tent.
With panic, Christine looked at Greta, who shrugged and watched Dr. Pappas, who was either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. Greta sighed heavily, fairly sure it was bravery, since Janice didn't tolerate stupidity.
As she slowly walked to the tent, Mel knew she had to do something to avoid someone, even Greta, from getting shot. She was stalling. Though she didn't know for what exactly, she knew she needed to. And the only thing she could think of to stall with was the truth. She prayed that didn't cause more problems.
"Well, here we are," Melinda said politely, trying not to breathe too deeply as the man was rather . . . pungent.
Filo eyed his odd hostess curiously.
She pushed up her glasses and entered the tent. Motioning to the ground, she explained.
"She disappeared here, in the ring of. . . ." Mel said, looking at the ground with surprise.
"Ring of what?" Filo said quickly glancing to the ground, then the stunned woman.
"They're gone," she whispered hollowly. Oh dear Lord, don't make me lose my son too, Mel prayed as fear consumed her.
Filo growled and stormed out of the tent, startling Mel.
"Wait! What are you going to do?" Melinda asked, anxiously following the large man.
"I do not appreciate being played for a fool," he snarled.
"What happened?" Ivan asked.
"The stones are gone," Melinda informed them, struggling not to think the worst.
"What does that mean?" Daniel asked, glancing at his brother with worry.
"I don't know," Melinda said nervously.
"What do you mean you don't know? You knew about the stones of passage. Don't you at least have some idea of . . . ," Greta snapped.
"I said, I don't know!" Melinda interrupted tightly, her eyes narrowing at the German doctor.
Filo rolled his eyes and announced to his guards. "I'm tired of this. Maybe Dr. Muló might reappear' if you shoot of them."
Filo sighed wearily and weakly motioned to Ivan and Greta. Two of the men raised their weapons to their heads.
Hearing the rifles being cocked behind her, Greta shut her eyes. The out-of-practice Catholic crossed herself, praying for forgiveness, but not expecting it.
"Please, listen . . . !" Melinda blurted in panic, remembering how easily and swiftly life could end. Dear Lord, no, she prayed, as a familiar feeling of helplessness washed over her.
"Ugh," blurted two guards before they disappeared into flashes of light.
Hearing the brief commotion, then silence, Greta opened her eyes slowly, one at a time, surprised at the delay. She curiously glanced at the boys, who sported big grins.
"He's gonna get it now," Daniel whispered to his brother, who nodded happily.
Melinda glanced around with nervous anticipation.
"Dr. Muló!!" Filo called out to the now empty air where his two guards once stood. "There's no need for violence," he announced with an uneasy laugh. "Can't we talk about this?" he asked as his eyes darted skittishly about the camp.
Janice hurled two empty rifles into the thick brush and flung the cartridges in the opposite direction.
She returned to the two men on the ground and eyed the old man guarding them with his staff. "Thanks," she said with a nod as she rubbed her sore hand.
The old man's responding smile turned into a grimace when one of the men stirred into consciousness, startling JJ, who jumped back with a gasp.
Swiftly clocked in the head with a wooden staff, Filo's goon plopped back down into unconsciousness, next to his associate.
JJ blew out a relieved breath.
"Got one more fish to catch," Janice announced to the old man and JJ, who nodded as she turned her attention to the ring of stones.
Kneeling down, she gently placed her palms over two of them. A shaft of light erupted from the ground within the ring, creating a doorway to the camp, through which she could see the last gunman.
Too bad the last fish wasn't a guppy, Janice thought with a grimace, eyeing his muscular build as she reflexively rubbed her already sore hand.
With a deep breath, she stood, steeling herself for the impending battle. She exhaled heavily, cracked her fingers, then reached through the shaft of light.
The remaining gunman cocked his rifle, nervously scanning the area. Feeling an odd electricity around him, he glanced at Filo with concern just before two disembodied hands emerged from a flash of light and grabbed him. The rifle discharged into the air as the man was yanked back.
Filo stumbled back into the table as he watched the last of his men being swallowed by a flash of light.
"Janice! Show yourself!" Filo barked as he pulled his pistol out.
Lee jumped up from the table, towards the large man, but halted when Filo grabbed the closest person, Daniel.
"Show yourself or I'll shoot him!" Filo called out in a panicked voice, pointing his pistol at the boy's temple.
"No!" Melinda pleaded.
"I'll give you until the count of three!" Filo snapped, his greed outweighing his fear, certain there must be a massive treasure involved.
"Dear Lord, you can't!" Melinda begged.
"Uh, Muló?" Daniel called out, looking around nervously.
"If its money you want, I have money! I'll give it to you!" Melinda quickly offered the smuggler. "Please. Just don't...."
"TWO," Filo interrupted, unimpressed with panicked promises.
"Uh, MULÓ??" Daniel blurted again. "If you're not busy, I could really use your HELP now!"
Through another flash of light, Janice finally emerged, though slightly winded and touching her newly split lip. Her eyes narrowed, boring into the smuggler.
"Get your goddamn hands off my boy."
Chapter 13 - Hello Again
Dear lord, Melinda thought as she took a startled breath and stared at the archaeologist. There she was, standing mere yards away, in the flesh, suddenly appearing after eight years, out of nowhere . . . literally.
Melinda's eyebrows furrowed. Now wait a cotton-pick'n minute, she thought, trying to rein in her turbulent emotions. This could all be just another dream, she considered cautiously as her eyes dropped and searched the ground as if that's where she might find her missing marbles.
It wouldn't be the first time she had dreamt that Janice was alive, she acknowledged as her eyes curiously lifted to the archaeologist and her short hair. But it would be the first time she had ever dreamt of Janice with short hair. Not because she didn't like short hair, Mel considered as her brow rose critically. In fact, it was actually rather . . . .
Janice's angry "Goddamn" interrupted her thoughts. The familiar cursing, that grating bad habit the Southern Baptist had constantly asked Janice to curb, was now music to her ears.
Mel blinked. Was this just another dream??
She had heard that voice in dreams before. But Janice was never cursing at a foul smuggler who was threatening a young boy, who Janice was looking after ever since their freedom from the Nazi concentration camp.
While her dreams were at times rather creative in their own right, they never were quite this complicated, she considered and glanced at Daniel's twin brother, Paul, who tended to think a bit more than his brother before he spoke, then to Lee . . . the nice man enamored with Christine who had no idea what he was in for, then to Ivan . . . the gentle giant who obviously cared for Janice deeply. And Dr. Snider.
Her dreams were never quite this crowded either, Mel concluded with a furrowed brow, which relaxed as her eyes returned to the woman who filled her thoughts during the day, her dreams during the night, and her heart . . . always.
Was this just a dream?
She wanted to believe what her eyes were telling her. But she was so tired of waking to the devastating truth. If she was dreaming, she wanted it to stop now, before she was completely swept up in this wild illusion.
With a deep breath, she clenched her fists, burying her fingernails into her flesh. But the dull pain did not wake her. The amazing vision remained intact, standing, mere yards away. Confident. Angry.
Dear Lord, she thought with a pounding heart as she finally embraced the wonderfully absurd truth.
This wasn't a dream . . . .
"You don't understand, Janice. I'm in control here," Filo said uneasily, roughly jabbing Daniel with his pistol to prove his point.
The disturbing act drew Mel's gaze. Her eyes narrowed at Filo's continued threats to the boy. Curiously though, Daniel wasn't upset. In fact, he beamed happily, his trusting gaze fixed on the archaeologist, his guardian.
"You don't understand, Filo. You harm him and I promise you, you will die, slowly and painfully."
His incredibly angry guardian, Mel considered. And rightfully so, she concluded as she pushed her glasses up and eyed the smuggler angrily.
Filo's eyes widened at the disturbing threat, delivered with such chilling honesty. But he had the gun, he thought with confusion, looking between it and the angry archaeologist, who was not at all intimidated by him. Feeling another set of eyes boring into him, Filo glanced over to the tall woman and nervously returned his attention to the archaeologist who stepped closer.
"I know you are a business man, Filo, not a murderer. There is nothing for you here. So I suggest you walk away. It's in your best interest."
Filo swallowed uneasily. He was convinced there had to be something really valuable behind those amazing flashes of light, yet he couldn't help but believe she would make good on her threats.
Bursting through a flash, the last man Janice had fought, charged towards her.
"Janice!" Her friends warned as she turned and deflected the attacker.
Christine yelped as the man's already bloody face smashed onto the table in front of her. She was quickly hauled out of her seat by Ivan and Greta, who each grabbed an arm. Paul started to follow the exodus to the edge of camp, but slowed to watch the fight.
Janice grabbed the back of the man's shirt and pulled him roughly to his feet. When he struggled, she slammed him back into the table top with a loud thunk.
"Yes!" Paul cheered.
"Get back, NOW!" Janice yelled angrily, causing him to cringe and quickly find a safer spot behind a tree with the others.
As her eyes followed the boy, her opponent's very hard head struck her face.
"Ugh," she moaned, stumbling back with her hands covering her now bloody nose.
Melinda cringed. She hated blood, especially Janice's.
Avoiding his lunge, Janice dropped to the ground. With a quick sweep of her leg, the archaeologist felled the burley man, who hit the dirt, hard.
Jumping to her feet, she touched her bloody nose with irritation. "Gahdambutt," she blurted and swung her fist at the man when he stood, connecting solidly with his jaw.
As he stumbled back, she delivered a back kick to his chest. With surprising swiftness, he grabbed her foot and tossed her onto the ground.
Melinda's hands clenched into tight fists.
He stepped towards Janice as she scrambled to get up. When he grabbed one of her arms, he quickly realized he should have grabbed both as a free elbow slammed into his face.
"Yes!" Melinda cheered beneath her breath.
He moaned, stumbling back with a hand to his nose.
Janice barreled into him with a powerful tackle that would have made a line-backer proud, sending them both through a flash of light.
Mel blinked. They were suddenly gone.
They emerged from the shaft of light as Janice tackled the man to the ground, startling JJ and the old man.
"Uh . . . sorry about that," the old man called out to the archaeologist. "He got away," he said unnecessarily with an uneasy shrug.
JJ rolled his eyes.
Janice and the man jumped to their feet and traded blows.
"Get him, Janice!" JJ cheered with excitement.
After delivering a right hook to the man's chin, Janice eyed JJ with concern.
"JJ, fighting . . . " she started, but stopped to block a couple jabs and deliver a knee to his groin, causing a high pitch whimper.
The old man and JJ cringed as she pushed the crunched-over man away from her.
"...should always be," she said, interrupted by a surprising flurry of wild punches, which she easily avoided.
"the last re. . . ," she continued, but a surprising kick slipped through her defenses, hurling her backwards, through the shaft of light.
"soooort!" Janice yelled as she emerged from the flash of light mid-fall and hit the ground, knocking the wind out of her.
The man stepped through the light, lunging after her, but her feet slammed against his chest, sending him back through another flash. Janice quickly scrambled to her feet and dove after him, disappearing.
The calm returned. But only for a moment.
". . . talking it out first," Janice blurted as the fighters appeared from another flash trading blows and kicks.
The man feigned a punch and rushed her. With his arms about her waist, he lifted her up and barreled towards the truck.
"OOfffff" they both blurted as her back was slammed against the door.
She shook her dazed head with a groan.
He pulled her off the truck then slammed her again with such force, the door window cracked.
Janice could feel her consciousness slipping away. No,' she thought with panic as the man continued to smash her against the truck.
"Muló," Daniel and Paul called out with concern.
Janice blinked, struggling to fight the wave of blackness that started to overtake her.
Sensing victory, the man sneered with satisfaction as he let the little woman who almost beat him, crumble to the ground. As he slowly leaned over to pull his victim up for more, he felt a painful sting on his rear, accompanied by a large crack.
He jumped, grabbing his sore spot with both hands, and swiftly turned to find what seven pairs of wide eyes were now staring at - a tall, incredibly displeased woman, holding a whip in one hand and pushing her glasses up with the other.
Not knowing any better, his eyebrows shot up with amusement.
"That's enough," Melinda growled in a low voice.
Her ice-cold stare bore into him, making him hesitate and reconsider his amusement a moment before he just smirked and stepped menacingly towards her.
"MEL?!?" Christine called out nervously, wondering if her old friend, fellow debutante and finishing school classmate, not to mention, Southern lady, had any idea what she was doing.
She was not alone with that question.
Perhaps she was wasn't brave or stupid but just crazy, Greta considered, shaking her head with amazement at the woman of contradictions. By every indication, Melinda Pappas was a refined lady. A lady that looked like she might faint at the sight of blood or fret over a smudge on her disgustingly flattering outfit which would threaten her meticulous appearance.
Yet here she was, jumping into the middle of this life-threatening situation, brandishing a whip. A whip! This lady, who had enough wits about her to go get a weapon, didn't get the pistol. No, she got the whip! Greta continued to shake her head, dumbfounded.
Instead of intimidating the tall lady, the man found a disturbing smile on her face. Swiftly drawing her arm back, Mel firmly snapped it forward, landing an accurate, loud, and painful blow against his arm.
"Ugh!" he yelped, grabbing at the sore spot with his hand. "You bitc . . . !" he called, but was interrupted by another lash in the same spot, striking the back of his hand. "Aggh!!"
"Be nice," Mel warned as Ivan carefully emerged from the edge of camp.
Ok, so she actually knows how to use the whip, Greta considered, impressed. She must be part German.
Filo's amused chuckle stopped when he noticed the tall man inch closer.
"Hold it right there," Filo barked at the tall man, jabbing Daniel in the side again. Ivan grimaced and stopped his not-so-surprising advance.
The man rapidly shook his throbbing hand with shock, then gazed at the lady with anger, growling as he stepped towards her.
With powerful grace, the imposing woman delayed his advance by swiftly delivering two precise and rapid lashes that landed the man's other arm.
"Aggh, STOP it!!" He demanded, trying again to step towards the woman.
Oh no, not just yet, Melinda thought, eyeing the unfortunate man who took pleasure in hurting Janice, and delivered two swift and much more powerful lashes to his legs.
"Damnit," he squealed, slumping over as he grabbed his newly throbbing limbs.
Beside himself with anger and shock, he looked up and watched the tall woman's cold glare suddenly melt . . . into a warm smile. His eyebrows furrowed at the alarming change.
Feeling two firm taps on his shoulder, he turned to see the archaeologist's fist approaching his face.
Janice watched the man collapse at her feet, finally unconscious. Exhaling with relief, she finally looked up into blue eyes. Eyes that she had carefully avoided until now. They were easy to get lost in. And now was no different.
"Hi," Janice said weakly.
"Hi," Melinda responded in a whisper, her previous confidence having quickly abandoned her.
It was like she had just stepped off the Tilt-a-Whirl at the State fair. Her legs were not yet steady, still convinced the world continued to spin wildly around her. But it would be OK, Melinda concluded as she focused on green eyes that had always anchored her. And now was no different.
The two women blinked and broke their gaze to see Filo retreat towards the truck, dragging Daniel with him.
"What the hell are you doing, Filo?" Janice growled, walking towards them.
"Hold it right there, Janice," he said uneasily, jabbing the pistol deeper in Daniel's side.
"Filo, if you don't hurt anyone, I won't hurt you. Just walk away," Janice offered again.
"Oh, I'll leave. But I'm not walking. I wouldn't want you to suddenly change your mind, so I think I'll drive," he said with a pleased smile at his shrewd decision, motioning to the handy truck with his head.
Daniel's eyes widened as the smuggler reached for the door handle.
"No Filo," Janice warned, stepping towards him. "There's a ..."
"I'm sure you'll be able to buy a nicer one with your treasure, Dr. Muló," he sneered and shoved Daniel into her as he quickly opened the truck door and climbed in.
"Filo . . . !" she yelled, grabbing Daniel. "Get back now," she ordered the boy, who quickly nodded and retreated as Filo tried to start the sluggish old engine.
"Janice?!?" Mel watched with confusion and horror as the archaeologist opened the truck door and grabbed the surprised man.
A pistol shot rang out, making Melinda jump.
"Ah fuck," Janice wheezed, falling to the ground with her hand over yet another bloody chest wound and yet another ruined shirt.
"No," Christine said in disbelief, instinctively stepping towards her friend. Held back by strong arms, she looked at Lee with annoyed confusion. He gently shook his head with a pained grimace.
"Janice!" JJ cried out, emerging from a flash of light as Mel headed towards Janice but was pushed to the ground by Ivan as Filo screamed and thrashed about.
Filo fired his pistol wildly as he frantically stumbled out of the truck and away from the snake. The pistol quickly emptied as the smuggler collapsed.
An uneasy calm returned to the camp.
Standing with difficulty, Janice asked with belabored breaths "Is everyone ok?"
Chapter 14 - The Bigger They Are
Janice quickly spotted JJ sprawled out nearby, face-down on the ground. Oh God, Janice thought with panic, rushing to his side.
"JJ?" She exhaled nervously, reaching for him as his head lifted up.
"Tripped," he said sheepishly then gasped, noticing her hand pressing against her bloody chest.
Janice glanced to Ivan and Mel.
"Mama?" JJ blurted with fear.
"No, no," Janice silently pleaded as her unsteady legs took her to Mel and Ivan.
The disheveled and dazed Southerner slowly sat up and adjusted her glasses, feeling like she was hit by a truck. She glanced over to the tall man who ran her over. Mel's eyebrows furrowed with concern as she realized Ivan wasn't getting up.
"Mama!" JJ barreled into Mel, fiercely hugging her.
"Oh, JJ," Melinda gasped with relief, tightly hugging her son. She winced as Janice stumbled to her knees.
"Don't let him die," the archaeologist pleaded as Greta and Lee carefully rolled the unconscious man over.
Greta glanced uneasily at Janice before inspecting the tall man's stomach wound.
"Get my bag," Greta ordered Paul, who nodded and rushed off. "Get some towels," she ordered Daniel, who nodded and rushed off.
"We need to get him to the hospital. He'll need lots of blood," she quickly said, glancing at the shot-up truck with a grimace, then looked at the cars.
Greta glanced at Christine. Opening her mouth to say something, Greta's eyes dropped to the brown bag still clenched in her hand. The doctor quickly changed her mind and looked at Mel.
"You'll drive," Greta ordered Dr. Pappas, who looked between Janice's chest wound then Ivan's stomach with confusion.
"Help, Ivan," Janice told Mel firmly. "I'll heal."
The confused Southerner looked into Janice's eyes questioningly.
"I'll heal," Janice repeated.
Noting her speedometer was pegged to the right, Melinda's eyebrows furrowed, praying she didn't have an accident as she raced towards the hospital. She quickly glanced into the rear-view mirror at Greta, who kept pressure against Ivan's wound, softly telling him that he was a survivor and this was something else he would survive.
"Is Janice going to be OK?" JJ asked with concern.
"She said she would heal," she relayed uncomfortably.
"It looked bad, Mama. Why isn't she going to the hospital too?"
"JJ," Dr. Snider interjected. "Do you like needles?"
"Noooo," JJ responded with a cringe.
"If people find out how quickly Janice heals, they will want to know why. She would receive many needles . . . and worse," Greta said ominously, remembering the worst with crippling guilt.
"Mama!" JJ called out with concern as Mel veered towards an on-coming truck. JJ exhaled with relief when she quickly corrected her course.
"Sorry," Mel said tightly, clenching the wheel with a white-knuckled grip.
Seeing the driver's posture become even more rigid, Greta winced.
"So am I," she whispered and looked at Ivan.
When they arrived at the hospital, Greta immediately jumped out of the car. She returned with two large orderlies, who ignored her rapid-fire orders as they moved Ivan from the car and placed him on a gurney.
As they rolled Ivan into the emergency room, the confused nurses looked at the woman who continued to order them around.
"He needs an operating room now!" Greta repeated with great frustration at their lack of response.
"He needs an operating room, now!" Melinda translated the German for the Greek staff.
Greta growled impatiently, wishing everyone just spoke German.
"Who are you?!?" One nurse challenged the women as the staff quickly assessed the bullet wound.
"I am Doctor Snider," Greta crisply responded in Greek and pointed to Mel. "And that is Dr. Pappas. . . ."
"Uh, actually . . . " Mel felt compelled to interject but was interrupted when another gurney burst into the ER.
"Snakebite!" a nurse called out as Filo was brought in.
Lee and Christine followed, immediately joining Mel and JJ's side.
As Greta tried to follow when they started to taking Ivan to the operating room, an orderly stepped in her way.
"Get out of my way!" Greta growled in crisp Greek.
"Now wait a minute!!" A doctor said indignantly as he arrived.
"No, you wait you idiot," Greta snapped in German. "I am Ivan's doctor. And if you don't let me operate, he will probably die!"
"Please, she is his family doctor. She has much experience. He will have a better chance if you let her operate," Melinda translated diplomatically. "Please."
Ignoring Greta's stare and raised eyebrows, Melinda continued to look imploringly at the Greek doctor.
The Greek doctor looked between the two determined women and made a decision he hoped he wouldn't regret.
"All right," he said with exasperation.
As Greta quickly went to the doors they took Ivan through, she stopped and turned to Mel.
"Dr. Pappas, you'll assist," Greta quickly ordered, impatiently waving at her to follow.
"W..What??" Mel said with wide eyes. "But . . . I'm a translator," she discreetly reminded the vexing woman in German.
"Exactly, now move!"
Finally healed, Janice arrived at the hospital front desk with the twins, anxious to find out how Ivan was doing. When she asked the nurse about the tall man with a gunshot wound, she was promptly directed to the waiting area, where two policemen were questioning Christine and Lee.
"Oh great," Daniel muttered. "Just what we need," Paul added wearily.
"Hey," Janice scolded them. "You know, life is much easier if you don't get on their bad side. And it never hurts to have friends on the force. You never know when you might need their help," she sagely advised the boys, who nodded thoughtfully.
The younger officer eyed Christine, who smiled and sweetly repeated "Miláte Angliká?"
The officer sighed and shook his head as he returned his attention to Lee's accounting of the events.
JJ grinned, seeing his friend arriving.
"Janice!" JJ called out happily and dashed towards her.
Christine looked at Janice with surprise then a relieved smile as the archaeologist approached.
JJ eagerly grabbed Janice's hand as they walked. "So, you're ok?"
"I'm ok, JJ," Janice said softly and looked around, curious about Mel's noticeable absence. "Where's your mama?"
JJ pointed to the double doors.
"In surgery," Christine offered, immediately concerning Janice. "Assisting Dr. Snider with Ivan," she quickly added, immediately confusing Janice.
"Dr. Muló, good to see you again," one Greek officer tipped his hat with a friendly smile.
"Everything OK, Sal?" Janice asked absently, still pondering the assisting Dr. Snider part. Melinda was not a happy Southerner around blood.
"Just finishing up our questions on the shooting and snake bite," Sal mentioned. "Mr. Grossman was explaining to us that this all was just a bizarre accident," he said skeptically and looking at his watch.
Lee nodded quickly.
"And Miss Whitherspoon . . . ," Sal continued, eyeing the Southerner, who asked "Miláte Angliká?" with a shrug.
"Well, anyway . . . thanks to your friends' quick thinking, the lucky bastard is alive. Filo's conscious now, but uncooperative, as usual," Sal sighed heavily and closed his note pad. "If you want to press charges, let me know," he added hopefully, noting the Lee and Janice's uneasy gazes drop to the ground.
The policeman sighed again, shaking his head with disappointment.
"Good luck with your friend, Dr. Muló," Sal said and tipped his hat as the policemen left the small group to wait.
They waited. And waited.
Christine held Lee's hand as they sat, staring at the double doors. She glanced over to the boys, who were looking through magazines as Janice stood, staring out the window.
Janice hadn't moved for the past half-hour, except for the barely perceptible rise and fall of her chest. A chest that was shot by that foul man only a few hours ago, Christine considered, shaking her head with amazement. She wanted to ask her friend so many things, but she knew now was not the time.
The city's lights sparkled like earthbound stars, Janice considered, concentrating on the lights, trying not to think. If she did, she feared she wouldn't be able to stop the thoughts or the crippling emotions that accompanied them. So she focused on the lights, because everyone, including herself, depended on her being strong.
Her gaze drifted to the building down the hill as its lights were turned out, office by random office. Her eyebrows furrowed. Ah fuck, she silently cursed the goddamn lights with a clenched jaw.
"Muló? I'm hungry," Daniel announced, startling her from her troubled thoughts.
"Me too," Paul added.
"Me three," JJ chimed in.
Janice glanced over the three expectant faces and thanked God for each of them.
Clearing her throat, Janice responded "Well, if you guys are willing to risk the cafeteria food, I'll take you to it."
The boys happily jumped from their seats.
"But I don't want to hear any complaining," she gruffly warned them.
The three quickly shook their heads no.
"I could take them to the cafeteria, if you want to wait here," Christine offered.
"No, thanks. I'd like to do it. Move a bit," Janice said uneasily.
Christine nodded with a warm smile and watched the archaeologist herd the boys down the hall and quickly grab JJ's hand as he started to veer off in a different direction.
Suddenly, the Southerner turned to the promising chef curiously.
"Now why is it, that hospital cafeteria food is so darned awful?"
Lee sat, hunched over. His elbows rested on his thighs as he shook his head at the tragic loss.
"I just can't believe that after everything . . . a life of isolation, where people would just fear him without knowing him. And the captivity, wondering when or if he'd get another meal, or live to see another day. I just can't believe that after all that, his life was lost to a greedy smuggler's bullet," Lee said bitterly.
Christine silently nodded as she gently caressed Lee's back and squeezed his hand.
After a respectfully solemn moment, Christine softly asked "How could you tell it was a he'?"
Lee looked up at her with sudden guilt. He had just assumed.
"Mel!" Christine quickly jumped up from her seat as her friend finally emerged from the double doors.
"How's Ivan?" Lee asked uneasily as he joined Christine's side.
"Well," Mel said and cleared her throat, looking rather pale as she pushed up her glasses. "He's been moved to a room. Greta said the operation went well," she said calmly as she sat down.
Lee nodded with relief, getting an encouraging smile from Christine.
"Of course, I'll have to defer to Dr. Snider's assessment of the operation, as it was my first and, I sincerely hope, last time observing one," Melinda added crisply as she battled the queasiness.
Suddenly looking around with concern, Mel asked "Where's JJ?"
"Oh, he's with Janice and the boys in the cafeteria," Christine replied matter-of-factly.
He's with Janice and the boys. Mel silently repeated those amazing words as she looked at Christine and blinked.
Apparently, leading incredibly complicated and unbelievable lives was not a fate just reserved for their ancestors, she considered and shook her head with a weary exhale as the long day started to catch up with her. Yet, as those wonderful words kept repeating through her head, a smile emerged.
He's with Janice and the boys. . . .
"You must be famished yourself," Christine suggested with a raised eyebrow.
Mel grimaced at the thought of food.
As Melinda walked to the cafeteria, she pondered what she could possibly say to Janice.
Gee, Janice, I'm terribly sorry about not trusting you with a nun and getting you killed. But I'm really glad you're alive now,' the Southern lady considered, rolling her eyes at yet another situation finishing school had not adequately prepared her for.
Dear Lord, eight years was such a long time, she fretted, knowing that people and their feelings can change. And she didn't need the gruesome details to know that in those eight years, Janice had gone through hell. What she had learned from Ivan at the camp and Greta's face in the car was enough to paint that horrible picture.
And what of Greta? Mel wondered with a sinking heart, nervously stopping at the cafeteria entrance, having no idea where she stood or what to say.
Not yet ready to face the archaeologist, Melinda started to retreat from the cafeteria. The last thing she wanted, was to say or do something that might interfere with Janice's much-deserved happiness, even if it meant she was to be with someone else. As she turned, Melinda spotted the boys and Janice at a table with a young woman, who, despite her unflattering cafeteria uniform, was rather attractive.
The woman chuckled with the boys. "I'll keep that in mind, Janice," she said with a smile and placed a hand on the archaeologist's shoulder.
"Mama!" JJ called out happily as the tall woman approached with purposeful strides.
Daniel and Paul quickly stood, followed by the startled archaeologist, who clumsily stood, knocking her chair over.
"Well, my break is over," the woman suddenly announced and stood as the archaeologist quickly picked up her chair and glanced between the well-mannered teens, who looked amazingly like two boys she knew, and Melinda, who smiled politely at the retreating woman.
"It was nice chatting with you, Janice, boys," the woman said a smile and waved as she left.
"Bye," Daniel and Paul said with smiles, waving back.
"She's nice," JJ declared happily, diving into his extra large pudding.
"Yeah," Daniel and Paul sighed dreamily as they watched the pretty woman leave.
"How's Ivan?" Janice asked uneasily.
"Greta is optimistic. They moved him to a room," Mel said, prompting a nod and small sigh of relief from the archaeologist.
"How's your . . . ?" Mel asked uneasily, briefly glancing to the archaeologist's chest.
"I've healed," Janice answered, her eyes dropping uncomfortably.
"May I join you?" Mel asked, pushing up her glasses.
Paul and Daniel bolted around the table to pull a chair out for her.
"I've got it," Daniel said, blocking his brother from the chair.
"No, I've got it," Paul said with irritation, pushing his brother out of the way.
"I got here first."
JJ shook his head and ate his pudding.
"No, I'll . . ."
"You two. Sit down. Now!" Janice snapped.
They immediately stopped their arguing, looked at her, then Dr. Pappas and her questioning eyebrow, and returned to their chairs with embarrassment.
"If you still care to . . . ," Janice offered wearily, pulling out the chair for Mel as she cast an annoyed look at the boys.
"Thank you," the Southern lady said softly, withholding a grin as she sat down.
Mel's uneasiness soared as Janice sat next to her, mere inches away. What do I say? What can I say? She wondered, nervously glancing at Janice, who was watching her with eyes that at one time reflected love, devotion, and unwavering confidence. Now, those beautiful eyes reflected weary uncertainty.
Dear Lord, help us through this, Mel prayed, smiling tightly and glancing at the twins and her son, who quietly ate.
"Thank you for helping Ivan, Mel," Janice said, interrupting the awkward silence.
"You're welcome," Mel said softly, shyly returning Janice's gaze.
Janice nodded and inspected her fascinating coffee cup.
So, Janice, how have you been?' Mel silently considered with a slight grimace, then concluded Janice might not appreciate the question and she might not appreciate the answer.
Dear Lord, Mel thought with growing concern. Will they ever be able to talk to each other like before?
"You know, for the record, when I asked you to help, I didn't actually expect you to operate on him," Janice said, glancing at the tall woman with a familiar twinkle in her eye, giving her hope.
"Well, Janice, I take my responsibilities as a doctor of linguistics very seriously," she said firmly, provoking a soft chuckle from the archaeologist.
"She dosh," JJ interjected wholeheartedly.
"JJ honey, don't talk with your mouth full," Melinda gently scolded the boy, who quickly swallowed.
"Sorry," he said, looking at Janice with embarrassment that melted her heart.
"You know, she used to tell me that too," Janice shared, getting a curious look from JJ and the boys which made her suddenly wish she didn't say anything.
"You already know Janice, Mama?" JJ asked his mother with great interest.
Mel glanced at Janice as she answered "Yes. And like you, she used to have a bad habit of talking with her mouth full." Melinda paused a moment, watching the archaeologist's eyebrows rise, before she added "But she improved."
Paul and Daniel stopped snickering when they felt the irritated green gaze on them.
When the gaze returned to the tall woman, it softened and was accompanied by a warm smile. "So, you got your doctorate."
"Yes, last year," Mel announced proudly, delighted to share that news with the only person who had ever encouraged her to pursue her doctorate, even before knowing it was a life-long dream. And now, seeing Janice's pleased smile at her accomplishment gave her more joy than when she received the diploma. Her opinion meant the world to her.
Janice's eyebrows suddenly furrowed, concerning the Southerner.
"Well, ah, it did take longer than originally planned, but there were extenuating circumstances . . . ," Mel blurted uneasily as she pushed her glasses up.
"Daniel, could you please get Doctor Pappas a cup of tea? Paul, could you get one of the edible sandwiches?" Janice asked, handing them money.
They immediately perked up as they took the money and eagerly left on the mission.
"Janice, there's no need . . . ," Mel protested but was stopped by a determined archaeologist.
"Mel, tea and a sandwich won't break the bank. And you shouldn't argue with a more senior Doctor of Archaeology," Janice said with a small grin.
"My apologies, Dr. Covington, but it's just that. . . ."
"Hey, if you're Dr. Covington, why do they call you Dr. Muló?" JJ interrupted with confusion.
If that wasn't such a good question, Mel would have scolded him for interrupting.
"Muló is a Romani term for the dead who come back to get revenge," Janice said, looking at the boy and his startled mother uncomfortably.
"That's what the Gypsy camp thought I was, until I met Ivan. The name kinda stuck, even after he learned I wasn't exactly in a position to get any revenge," she explained with a shrug, staring at her coffee.
"Gypsy camp?" JJ asked curiously. Janice glanced around uneasily, spotting a few of the hospital staff in line at the register. She wasn't exactly comfortable trying to explain the camp or the past eight years, especially in a public cafeteria.
"JJ honey, why don't you save your questions for later, ok?" Melinda asked softly, relieving Janice.
"But Janice said if I had any questions that I should ask her. Right, Janice?" JJ asked with concern.
"That's right, Sport. But how about later, ok?" Janice asked.
"Ok, but I'm gonna ask later," JJ warned the archaeologist, who nodded then eyed him a moment.
He looked at her curiously.
"I knew you were going to say that," Janice announced with a smirk on her face.
His eyes narrowed. "You are not omniscient."
A smile of satisfaction appeared. "I knew you were going to say that too."
JJ rolled his eyes with exaggerated weariness and a poorly hidden smile.
Although delighted with how well Janice and her son were getting along, Mel looked curiously between them, wondering what on Earth they were talking about.
Mel noticed Janice glance at the boys with a warm smile at they returned with the food.
"Thanks, guys," Janice said, making the boys' faces light up.
Her opinion of them obviously means the world to them too, Melinda observed.
"Yes, thank you," Mel chimed in, then looked at the unwanted sandwich placed before her with a sigh. She might have been able to eat something if it hadn't been for . . . .
"Greta," Janice said and quickly stood as the German came in the cafeteria. "How is he?"
"Stable," Greta said and eyed the translator, then her sandwich with surprise. "Dr. Pappas," she said crisply with a brisk nod.
Mel returned the greeting with a polite smile and nod.
"Can I see him?" Janice asked hopefully.
"He's unconscious, Janice," Greta warned the archaeologist, who continued to stare at her earnestly.
"Come on," Greta said wearily and motioned Janice towards the door, provoking a pleased smile from the archaeologist.
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