It was a time to be joyous. The evening of Christmas Eve had begun with a magical entrance. Flakes of ashen snow trickled under the pale sky, decorated with streaks of pink and purple hues that reflected from a grand sunset. Cold breeze easily filled the lonely streets, as most people had opted for the snug and toasty warmth of a home occupied by their family members.
Although this wasn't the case for Zack, he equally felt a great joy and relief. The strenuous mission had finally come to its end. Earlier, the squad spent a tiring five hours working to retrieve Marilyn Hutton's earrings, an impromptu mission thought in the nick of time. The plan was simple - sedate her, take hold of the jewelry and leave no evidence - but even a trivial error could blow their cover. Zack supervised his team from the reconnaissance vehicle, as the rest spread out to play their roles. As Ryan watched over the perimeter, Nicky and Dawn blended in the afternoon Christmas Eve function as guests. Dawn managed to coax Hutton to the bathroom after Nicky persistently put the moves on her. It was in the ladies restroom that Dawn swiftly knocked out the woman, took off her earrings and left her in a cubicle. Dawn radioed in the good news just a few minutes ago.
It was turning out to be a good evening. As Zack waited for his squad to meet up at their hiding area, he turned his head to look at his phone. He grasped it in his hand, flipping it a few times, with one thought repeating in his mind.
Ava. Should he call her, postpone the mission for a day, meet up with her? Zack considered the thought heavily, remembering the promise that he would call. His thoughts were interrupted when Nicky unlocked the password-ladened back door and entered the van.
"Man, that was superb! It went quick and easy. Didn't I tell you Dawn's incredible?" The blond-haired man grinned triumphantly to Zack.
"We know, Nick. We know." Zack said firmly, but inside he was amused. He wondered at the last time he felt the same way about Ava.
There was a muffled clang at the back door, followed by a few more. Both occupants looked up at the surveillance videos to see the festivities happening outside their vehicle, only to find out that someone had placed a wooden plank on the door.
"Shit!" Nicky dashed towards it. He turned the knob and pushed hard. The door wouldn't budge. Zack immediately joined in, and both men shoved their weight towards the metal door but nothing happened. They were trapped inside the back of the vehicle.
"Damn this cheap-ass van!" Nicky gave the door another powerful kick, but his effort was in vain. "I thought H. said he'd upgrade this." Nicky said breathlessly but Zack had dashed to the hub.
"Retreat men, I repeat, retreat." Zack said into the transmitter, although he knew earlier the line had been intercepted. There was dead silence on both ends - the enemy had messed with their frequency reception. Zack needed to established a new connection, but the task was time-consuming. Nicky on the other hand, had begun to sort out through their set of ammunition.
"What are you trying to do?" Zack exclaimed.
"We need to find a way out."
"You can't blow open the door, it's either gonna kill us or destroy the evidence we already have."
"But Dawn's out there!"
"With Ryan." Zack gripped Nicky's left shoulder steadily , and the blonde reluctantly let go of the weapons. Zack quickly instructed, "Listen, you can move some of the equipment in here and try to make a hole in between this wall and the drivers' seat. Be cautious though, someone might be waiting for you to do that. We can try escaping using that. In the meantime, I need to see if I can contact them again."
Nicky nodded quickly, his face full with apprehension. He began immediately picking out sharp tools from their storage. When he stood up, his eyes met Zack's. "I hope they're okay."
The latter sank to his work chair. "I hope so too."
Dawn collided into the cold brick wall, her hands interlocked behind her back and her head corked upwards, the pressure of a rounded muzzle against her neck. Her dress hiked up as the perpetrator locked his legs against hers.
"Well, well - look who it is." A female voice spoke up, and she walked into Dawn's visual range. A tall figure with a fur coat looked icily at Dawn. "It's the ginger from the bar. What's your name again? Emma? Sounds fake." Hutton spat out at the ground, feigning disgust.
Dawn said nothing as she was forced against the dark alley. Her mind was reeling with the surprise encounter of Hutton and two men. She had left a sedated Hutton barely ten minutes ago - meaning that the woman had only played along with Dawn's plan. The redhead pulled herself together - she had to figure out an escape route fast.
"You know what I hate, Emma?" Hutton placed her cold fingers against Dawn's exposed cheek, slapping it slightly. "I really loath amateur spies. A simple mission like jewelry theft falls short. It's sad, and disappointing."
Dawn pursed her lip before spitting crudely at Hutton. She heard the click of the gun and felt the vibration against her skull.
"Play nice, Carl" Hutton waved her partner off. She then laughed to herself as she eyed the men with her. "See, they alerted me the minute you walked in. I actually have work to do tonight, and unlike yours - mine's gonna go peachy." She fingered the earrings Dawn had on her ears. The cold contact of her hand gave Dawn shivers. Hutton then delivered a placid smile as she took off one earring. She spoke coolly. "Nice knowing you, Em. I'll take back what's mine and leave a lil' message for your people - whoever they are."
Hutton gestured a quick nod to her men before glaring icily at Dawn. Her voice dropped to menacing dare. "I think a headless spy should do the trick."
"Sure." Dawn mumbled from her position. The cold bricks that scraped her jaw was making it uncomfortable for her to speak. "..'ll help track you down."
The man named Carl released Dawn momentarily only to slam her against the biting bricks again. Her foot accidentally slipped on an invisible sleet of ice, so Dawn quickly took the opportunity to sink low, elbowed the man's crotch and sent another blow to his stomach. As Carl doubled over in pain, another pair of strong hands grabbed Dawn from behind and she was pushed against the wall again. This time her head landed on the other cheek. The other man pulled Dawn's red hair so that the left earring was exposed.
"Enough with the small talk," Hutton snarled. She grabbed the second earring, intentionally snagging it off to earn a painful growl from Dawn. Hutton nodded to her partners. "Finish off the girl and leave nothing behind. She had a point - I don't want people coming after us since the last time -" she gave Carl a glare. "Seriously, pick yourself up. Do what I say, quick. I'm gonna complete what we came here for." Dawn could hear her heels turned as Hutton begin to strut away.
All of a sudden, the man holding onto Dawn forcefully threw her towards Hutton. Dawn stumbled forwards and knocked into the latter, and the two collided onto the ground. It was getting darker so it was difficult for Dawn to discern what was going on. From the corner of her eye, she could make out the second man sent a heavy blow to Carl's torso, who continued groaning on the ground. The man then picked up Carl's gun and pointed towards Hutton, his hood slightly coming off his head. Dawn recognized the green glint in his eyes. It was Ryan.
'Earrings!' Dawn thought to herself. Hutton must have thought the same too, as she quickly scrambled upwards but Dawn grabbed her legs. Both of them struggled as they fought for the jewelry in Hutton's left hand, before Hutton managed to take out a handgun from her coat. She cocked the gun and pointed it to Dawn, who instantaneously knocked the hand away. Immediately, two distinct shots reverberated through the alleyway.
A heavy silence echoed after the shots and Dawn's mind numbed for a second. A loud, shrill moan quickly followed, which turned out to be Hutton. Her right hand had been shot, and the left hand enveloped the bleeding wound. Knowing that the gun and earrings must had been released, Dawn spread her hands into the icy ground to feel around for the coveted gems. Ryan walked closer to the two of them, his gun targeting Hutton's head. The once-arrogant spy seemed to shudder under his trance.
"Got them." Dawn said breathlessly, once she took hold of both the jewelry and Hutton's gun. Ryan tilted his head to gesture for her to make the first move out. Dawn did so surreptitiously. She passed Carl, who faltered when Ryan pointed his gun towards him. The two was about to break into a run, when an incoming van pointed its headlights towards the two of them.
A beaming Nicky stopped the vehicle in front of them, clearly relieved that the two were okay.
"Open the back door!" He shouted through the window glass. The two rushed towards the back and saw that the door was still barricaded. They removed the wooden obstruction and unlocked the door. Ryan pushed Dawn in first, where Zack gladly welcomed them in.
"Drive - go, quick!" Ryan instructed as soon as he closed the back doors. Nicky immediately did as he was asked, and it took a few minutes before everyone settled down and became at ease.
"Did you get the earrings?" Zack questioned. Dawn nodded and shakily handed him the diamonds. Zack gave her a concerned look.
"Are you guys okay? What happened out there?"
Dawn and Ryan exchanged glances, and the redhead began recounting their stories. Ryan explained how he disguised to be one of Hutton's partners, which proved to be a lengthy explanation. They discussed the events until Nicky finally stopped the van. Almost instantly, he'd poked his head through the hole he broke created between them.
"Coast seems clear," he said. He pushed his long frame through the jagged foot-long opening. Dawn automatically reached out her arms and the male took her form in an embrace. "You look pale." He said worriedly.
"Won't be my first time." Dawn replied, allowing him some room to sit. "So how did you know where to find us?"
Nicky eyed Zack, who answered, "I couldn't connect to your earpieces, but I could track where you were using them," Zack explained. "Once Nicky could get to the driver's seat, that's what we did."
"Dude, you're bleeding." Nicky suddenly said, and all eyes turned towards Ryan. The quiet man had just begun to clasp his left arm. Under the dim lighting, the blood stain on Ryan's black sleeve was hard to notice.
"It's not a big deal." Ryan said. "Hutton's bullet scraped my arm."
"She shot you?" Dawn looked surprised.
"When you knocked off her hand." Ryan said. "Better my arm than your head."
As Dawn muttered a chain of apology, Zack looked at Ryan seriously. "That's not a scrape. Let me see."
Ryan hesitantly pulled down his shirt, revealing an open wound on the side of his left arm. Nicky automatically pulled out a first aid kit from under their seats, and handed a thick layer of gauze over to Zack. The latter took it and applied pressure on the bleeding wound. Meanwhile, Dawn had dampened a clean cloth with a mix of water and rubbing alcohol.
"It's a through and through." Zack reported. "Ryan, this needs medical attention." He gave way to Dawn, who began cleaning the wound site. Ryan clenched his jaw silently.
Nicky perked up at Zack's suggestion. "Yeah, we could call up Rylie then. Her birthday's tomorrow anyway, so we can celebrate it."
"Sounds pretty good to me," Zack acquiesced. He looked at Ryan and said, "She can stay for the night, but she'll have to leave the next morning. We can't afford another person on the mission."
"Aww man, it's Christmas." Nicky faked a whine. "Don't be such a grinch. Think of those poor lovebirds."
Zack playfully shoved Nicky's head to the side. "Don't be an ass."
Dawn chuckled as she began dressing the wound. Using a roll of bandage, she wrapped the gash carefully. Suddenly, Ryan spoke up. "Don't call her."
"Why not?" Nicky was the first to ask. The rest of them looked slightly puzzled.
Ryan hesitated his answer. "She has plans tonight," he lied.
"You're mental," Nicky said. "You think Rylie wouldn't murder us if you're not looked at?"
Dawn chipped in. "Yeah, you need stitches and a few shots, probably."
"You need a check-up too," Ryan replied. "We don't need to call Ryle."
Zack nodded in agreement. "Sure, we'll take anyone on the medical team, ready to go. It's quicker anyway." He ignored as Nicky gave a horror-stricken look. "Nick, take the wheels again, bring us to the safe house. I'll give the hospital a call now, ask someone to come over."
"You can't just take anyone to treat -" Nicky started, but Zack pushed him towards the man-made hole.
"Actually," Ryan interfered the hustle. "I know someone. His name is Jace."