Brody was nowhere.
There had been a time, when Brody first showed up on the beach, that Mitch would have loved for this outcome. He’d never wanted to bother with Brody; he’d resisted Thorpe when he had insisting on giving Brody a chance. And those first few days had been rocky. When Brody had puked at the Huntley instead of playing backup, Mitch was ready to just be done.
Sever ties, cut his losses, the end. He wouldn’t have given Brody a second thought.
But now Brody was on the team. Brody had come through, he’d proven himself. Now Brody had a room at Mitch’s house and furniture was coming in just a few days. Mitch had cleared out the entire room for Brody. Just for Brody.
And he was nowhere
There were a lot of people on the bay, but it really wasn’t that big of a space. Mitch walked up and down the beach -- even under every pier, just to be safe -- but there was no sign of him. He checked in at every tower, and everyone sounded relieved that there was no sign of him.
Mitch wasn’t relieved.
In fact, as he turned his search toward the boardwalk, he was starting to feel jittery. He walked in and out of the restaurants and stores, asking the owners who all knew Mitch by name if they’d seen Brody. The smiled politely, telling him that they hadn’t.
As a last resort, he threw all caution to the wind and marched up to the Huntley. It was the only other place Brody frequented as of late. He had to check there.
He knew it was a risky move, due to the sensitivity of the case. But Brody’s life was more important than this stupid case. Brody had never thought so, but Mitch always had. He would compromise the entire case for Brody. He’d give Leeds a free pass if he could just get the damn kid back in one piece.
Unfortunately, when he reached the Huntley, he found it dark and shuttered. The sign on the door read “Closed for a Private Party.”
Mitch peered inside, as if he might see Brody back there.
He could break inside; he might.
Frowning, he turned away and pulled out his phone, pulling up Ellerbee’s number again. Ellerbee answered on the first ring. “Tell me you got him.”
“He’s not on the beach,” Mitch reported. “I’ve asked around; no one’s seen him.”
“We’re still working on getting his GPS tracker,” Ellerbee reported.
“I have one more spot he might be,” Mitch said, giving the Huntley a long, hard look behind him.
“Yeah?” Ellerbee asked, sounding momentarily hopeful.
“Sure, but I think I’m going to need your help getting in,” Mitch said.
“My help?” Ellerbee said, and there was actual surprise in his voice. “Since when did you need my help?”
“Because I want to check the Huntley,” Mitch said. “But it’s closed.”
“Closed? During the lunch rush?” Ellerbee asked.
“For a private party,” Mitch added.
“Damn,” Ellerbee said. “You can’t, like, knock and get in?”
“No one’s going to answer,” Mitch said. “I mean, I thought about breaking in--”
“No way,” Ellerbee said quickly. “You do that, the case is toast.”
“And if I don’t give a shit about the case?” Mitch asked, lowering his voice slightly.
“Then worry about Brody,” Ellerbee said. “I mean, best I figure it, there are two options here. One, Leeds doesn’t give a shit if Brody’s been fired, and he’s back there, doing his thing right now bringing this case to a close for us. We go in, we blow his cover, and we lose Leeds.”
Mitch grinded his teeth together. “And the second option?”
“Second,” Ellerbee said, with a little less vigor now. “Leeds has decided that Brody’s not worth the risk, and she’s closed down her club to tie up loose ends.”
That was the worst damn euphemism Mitch had ever heard.
Because Brody wasn’t some loose end.
Not when tying him off meant killing him.
“So we need to get in there, now,” Mitch hissed.
“And if she’s just holding him for now? If she’s not decided to kill him?” Ellerbee asked. “What do you think she’s going to do if we break in there?”
Mitch started to pace now, up and down in front of the door, staring at the looming building with menace. “If he’s in there--”
“And if he’s not,” Ellerbee said. He let out a heavy sigh. “Look, I agree. We need to check out the Huntley, but we can’t go in there half-assed or nothing. I got...get a warrant. I’ve got to get a team. We have people who can do this shit, high tech, precision strikes.”
“But will they approve it?” Mitch demanded.
“I don’t know,” Ellerbee admitted. “But even if I can’t, you got to let me do this one. I can make a decent case for probable cause, but I got to be onsite.”
Mitch eyed the windows with increasing disdain. “I think I should just break in the window.”
“And what? Get arrested?” Ellerbee asked. “Give her reason to sue your ass? Leeds had been playing a bigger game, but I don’t think this girl will be like that.”
Mitch growled. “So what the hell am I supposed to do?”
“Keep looking,” Ellerbee said. “We still don’t know if he’s in there or not. Think about what he’s told you. Think about the case he’s built. Where else could he go? What else would he do?”
Mitch took to pacing again, running a hand in frustration over his scalp. “I don’t know! I don’t know! I just know he’s not here, and I don’t know where he is!”
“Look, man, I know, okay,” Ellerbee said. “I’ve been at various stages of freaking out all morning. I’m his point man here; I’m running this op. This is on me.”
“But I’m his backup in the field,” Mitch said. “I was supposed to have his back at the office, and this whole firing thing blindsided me. I lived with him, and I lost him completely.”
“We’ll find him, okay?” Ellerbee said. “I’m going to go ask the DA about a possible warrant for the Huntley.”
“And if they say no?” Mitch asked.
“Then I’ll be looking into it on my own and come up with a probable cause later,” Ellerbee said. “What about you?”
Mitch turned, looking hopelessly out at the beach again. “I guess I keep looking,” he said. “I mean, what else am I supposed to do?”
“Keep me updated,” Ellerbee said, ending the call abruptly.
Mitch pocketed the phone again, the feeling of panic bubbling right under the surface. When he had a rescue, he knew what to do. There was a clear objective. He could see the victim; or, at the very least, he knew the area where the victim went down.
He’d missed this one, though. Brody had been in distress all week, and Mitch had been looking the other way. He had no idea where Brody went under.
Now, standing on the boardwalk, Mitch was faced with the daunting task of searching the whole damn beach.
Sure, it wasn’t like searching the whole ocean.
But when someone was already under, it was still a daunting task.
Mitch had never quit a rescue before.
He just wished that meant that the victim always came back alive.
There was no time to worry about that. There was no time to panic. Mitch could even afford to second guess or beat himself up.
No, Brody’s life was on the line now.
Mitch wasn’t about to let him down this time.
Brody screwed up.
That was all.
That was how this started.
This was how it was going to end.
In fact, Brody thought it already had ended. He was moderately surprised when he came to, although it was hardly a relief. Consciousness wasn’t actually a thing for him at this point, but he had a vague awareness of the world around him.
Which was shit, of course.
He was propped up against the hall, sitting on his ass. The air smelled funny, dank and musty, like a closed space. When he tried to lift his head, everything wobbled, and he caught snatches of dark corners and crates.
So, he probably wasn’t in the Huntley anymore.
That might be good. He hated the Huntley and he hated Anikka.
Especially after she tried to kill him.
His mind raced; no, his heart raced. Everything raced. She’d tried to kill him.
Which meant what exactly?
Brody was confused; sure, he was often confused, but he was, like, really confused. The world didn’t make sense; the pieces didn’t fit.
Then, he heard voices.
That might be good, he thought at first.
“No, man, you got to -- you got to put it in his hand.”
“That’s awkward, though.”
“Sure, but that’s what you have to do. Otherwise you inject him at an angle that doesn’t make sense.”
“Oh and you do this often?”
“It’s common sense, dude.”
“No, it’s not common. I think we need a raise.”
“Yeah, you’ll just ask for it with drugs and squander it all.”
“Just give me the thing.”
Brody tried to lift his head again, but this time it didn’t work. Instead he blinked his eyes a few times, staring down at his own hands, which were limply at his sides on the grimy floor. Then, someone reached down and picked his arm up.
That was weird on basically every level.
What was annoying was that Brody couldn’t do anything about it.
“Yo, I think he’s awake.”
Someone reached up, grabbing him by the chin and lifting his head.
Brody’s gaze slid drowsily over the faces, and his mind stumbled to make the connection he knew was there. These guys were familiar. But they weren’t friends.
Caleb, for some reason, smiled. “Hey, man, just take it easy.”
Terence slapped him. “Take it easy?”
Caleb yelped, dropping Brody’s head unceremoniously. “He looked scared.”
“Because we drugged him and going to overdose him with more drugs,” Terence replied. “He knows what’s what.”
“Well, it doesn’t seem right,” Caleb said.
“You want to walk away and explain why we didn’t do the job to Anikka?” Terence demanded.
“No!” Caleb said. “But, it’s like, you know. You still give last rites to a condemned killer.”
“Yeah, you want to give him a last meal?” Terence quipped dryly. “Give me the damn drugs.”
“Okay, okay,” Caleb said.
Terence picked up Brody hand again, this time shoving a syringe into it. With some force, he wrapped Brody’s fingers around it. Brody wanted to stop them, protest, but yeah. That wasn’t happening.
“So, we just,” Terence said, fumbling as he tried to lift Brody’s hand and aim the syringe at the exposed flesh of his opposite forearm. “Like this?”
“I think?” Caleb said. “I mean, that’s where I like it.”
“Figures,” Terence muttered. “You two would get along.”
“Hey, he’s not a bad guy,” Caleb defending him.
Brody wasn’t sure if that was reassuring. Or still pretty insulting, all things considered.
“I don’t care what the hell he is,” Terence said. “After we do this, he just ain’t our business anymore.”
The syringe was pushing against Brody’s skin now, and the prick of the needle felt sharper than Brody expected. Like it was cutting all the way through him. They could have been injecting it into his heart, for all it felt like.
It would have been easier that way.
To the point.
Brody shuddered, choking on a sob he was unable to cry.
“Dude, he’s crying,” Caleb said. “I don’t know, man--”
“I do,” Terence said, and he plunged the syringe in, injecting all of its contents directly into Brody’s arm. Heat suffused into his arm, spreading rapidly down to his hand and up his shoulder. Brody could feel it as it spread to his heart, and then the rapid pulse sent it spiraling quickly throughout the rest of his body.
The sob dissipated in his throat; his breath evaporated in his lungs. Everything buzzed, and for a moment, his entire world was alight, like every nerve receptor on his body had been electrified. There were flashes of color and he could smell the faintest traces of the dirt on Terence’s hand as he pulled the syringe out again, dropping Brody’s hand back by his side, the syringe slipping from his limp fingers once more.
“Shit,” Caleb said after a long quiet moment. “Is that what I look like?”
Terence huffed, sitting back on his heels. “Normally we don’t give you enough to kill you.”
“So he’s,” Caleb started. “He’s dying?”
Terence reached down and lifted Brody’s head again. The lights were wild now, desiccated wildly. Terence’s face had split and was refracted. He stared at it in wonder; shock and awe. “Yeah,” he said with some detachment. “We put enough shit in that thing to kill anyone. He’s not coming back from this.”
Caleb looked sad at the notion, a surreal picture behind Terence’s terse expression. “Won’t this seem, I don’t know, kind of too obvious?”
“He’s got a drug conviction, everyone knows that,” Terence said, tipping Brody’s head to the side as if to examine him more clearly. “And he’s not exactly known for making smart decisions under pressure.”
“Right, the Vomit Comet!” Caleb said. He grinned. “That was so gross, man.”
Brody wanted to protest, but he wasn’t sure what he was going to protest. Was he really made about being known as the Vomit Comet? Was he really going to tell them that they were wrong? Brody had spent the whole last week burning all his bridges. No one would be surprised by this. No one would doubt it. Shit, no one would even think twice.
If anything, him using drugs would explain it all. It would tie up his pathetic story perfectly.
It was then that he recognized where he was.
The storage room, behind tower one. He could still see Mitch’s meticulous stacks of supplies. He could even see where he’d planted Mitch’s things in some silly attempt to frame him. It seemed laughable now. Like anyone would ever believe that Mitch Buchannon was trying to sell drugs.
He was Mitch Buchannon.
Brody, though. He was still Matt Brody.
In the end, people still thought of him as the Vomit Comet.
Two weeks didn’t change that.
Two weeks didn’t change anything.
Brody had been silly to think it could. Brody had just been silly. He’d been stupid and wrong.
Terence shrugged, letting Brody’s head drop again. “Whatever.”
The heat had turned to cold, and Brody felt his breathing catch. His heart seemed to be skipping beats now, and he blinked hard but nothing would bring his vision back into focus now. No more than two blurry blobs now, Terence and Caleb back up, standing until all Brody could see were their shoes.
“I sort of thought Anikka would be here.”
“I think she was worried.”
“That she couldn’t go through with it?”
“Nah, she’s definitely going to kill him. But I think she was worried she’d be all over him if she came. DNA evidence, you know.”
“Oh. I guess. She did like him.”
“Hell, yeah. Lucky for us, she’s not sentimental.”
There was a laugh, and it echoed through Brody’s ears distantly. “Not so lucky for him, though.”
“He made his choice. Now he’s got to live with it.”
There was another chuckle, cold and biting. “Or, you know. Not.”
As they walked away, Brody could lift his head to watch them go. He could form words in his mouth to beg them to stay. The door opened and closed, and Brody had the sudden need to fight. He didn’t want to die here. He didn’t want to die at all. He wanted to go back to Baywatch. He wanted to apologize to all of them, everyone. He wanted to tell Stephanie that her rules weren’t stupid, that she was a good lifeguard and he liked her. He wanted to tell Ronnie that, yeah, he looked terrible in a bathing suit, but that Brody wanted to be a lifeguard like him, with passion. And CJ deserved to know that it didn’t matter how big her breasts were; she was good at her job, and she was nice and she was kind and she was the first person there to give him a chance.
And Summer, he wanted to tell Summer that breaking up with her was the worst thing he’d ever had to do. It was worse than going to let Anikka grope him every night. It was worse than having his birth mother tell him they could be a family before blowing him of when she found out he was broke. He wanted to tell her that he loved her, he loved her. He just loved her.
There was Ellerbee, too. Even Casey Jean.
But mostly, there was Mitch.
There was Mitch who had given so much. Mitch who deserved better. He should have listened to Mitch from the start. He should have.
He was going numb now, starting in his toes. He was shaking as he tried to breath, lungs desperately forcing air through the constriction in his throat. His heart felt like it was ready to explode, and his head was pounding, pounding and pounding.
He thought about the room back at Mitch’s house. The spare room.
If he’d held out two more days, it would have been his.
Brody didn’t make it, however.
Because Brody screwed up.
That was how the story started.
His eyelids began to close; the numbness crept up to his neck, seizing upon his tongue as his ears closed up and his brain jolted with one last, fleeting sense of panic.
And that was how it ended.
Up and down the beach again, Mitch came up blank. He checked at home, and broke down and went to Summer, just to be sure. She insisted that she hadn’t talked to him in days, and that there was no way in hell he could get insider her place. Out of desperation, Mitch checked throughout the HQ, going through Brody’s locker before looking through his own for some kind of clue.
Everything was normal, in its place.
Mitch frowned, going through his things again. All his things were there, spare clothes, towel, deodorant, sunscreen.
Where were his spare keys?
He kept a set for beach facilities here just in case. The main set was on his keyring, but he worked a nonconventional job which meant he wasn’t always able to keep his pockets filled. He knew he’d left them there, just two days ago, in fact.
Then, Mitch remembered something else. Something Brody had told him about the case.
The set up he’d been working on. He’d been hoping to frame Mitch, set up a deal on Baywatch property and link it circumstantially to Mitch. He’d even asked to borrow his keys, specifically for that reason.
He’d wanted to set it up in Mitch’s own backyard.
The equipment shed behind tower one.
All upper brass had key access, but Mitch was the one who organized it and kept inventory. Everyone knew he was the only one who used it.
Brody had picked that as his location.
Sure, the set up had been to nab Mitch, but Brody’s firing could have changed things. If it was already set up for a crime, then Leeds might take the easy way out and use it as a location to keep Brody until she knew what she wanted to do next.
That was all he could bring himself to imagine.
Besides, he didn’t have time to imagine.
He had a rescue to mount.
Turning, he slammed the locker door shut and sprinted out of the locker room. He skidded around the corner, nearly taking out several other lifeguards as he went. He would apologize later; once he could bring Brody back in here with him and they could both do it right, explain everything.
Outside, the sunlight was high overhead; it was late afternoon by now. Ellerbee hadn’t gotten back to him.
Taking the steps out of HQ two at a time, Mitch ditched his sandals at the bottom, going barefoot across the sand as he ran. He nearly collided with several tourists, and a few people yelped, but Mitch was out of range before anyone had time to do anything about it.
Expertly, he wove his way behind tower one. There was a public bathroom nearby, which kept a lot of the sunbathers a little farther away, and there was a few electrical boxes mounted on a slab nearby, marking the area as more utility than scenic. The access door to the shed was hidden on the backside. It had been a security decision at the time, making sure that no one confused the building with the nearby restroom. It also had the inadvertent effect of making the entrance to the shed more or less private.
A few people milled about by the bathroom, but the area was much less crowded than the nearby beach. When Mitch made his way around the back, he found it entirely deserted. That was, of course, how it normally was.
For some reason, this time it made his stomach churn anxiously. His pulse was racing; it was more than adrenaline. When he reached out to test the handle, his fingers were shaking.
Then, the handle moved.
The blood rushed to Mitch’s head so fast that he thought he might actually faint. Mitch always kept it locked. Always, no exception. So if it was unlocked, and Mitch’s spare keys were missing.
Despite himself, Mitch hesitated. On a normal rescue, that wasn’t like him. He never hesitated. He was always sure and confident and unyielding; that was the only way to give the victim the best outcome possible.
But, truth be told, Mitch wasn’t sure he wanted to know what was inside. Was this a rescue? Or was this a recovery?
If he stood here, on the outside, that was a question he didn’t have to answer.
Maybe it was a question he didn’t want answered.
Because he knew, Mitch knew, how Leeds had dealt with her enemies. He knew that this Leeds had wanted him out of the picture, too. Had she turned to murder yet? Was it just a matter of time? Was Brody’s failed promise of success enough to push her over the edge?
The doubt was paralyzing.
The truth was impossible to ignore, however.
Whatever was beyond this door, Mitch had to find out. If Brody was hurt, if he was captured, if he needed help -- then Mitch was the only help coming.
And if something worse had happened.
If Mitch was about to have his worst nightmare realized.
Then Mitch owed it to Brody to do that, too.
Mitch had made a choice about family.
No matter what.
It was time to bring Brody home.
With a resolved breath, Mitch turned the handle, keeping himself at the alert. It was also possible, he reflected dimly, that Brody might not be alone in there -- if Brody was in there at all. Mitch knew that he was no good to Brody unless he stayed viable during the rescue.
Fortunately, Mitch was a big guy. There weren’t many fights he couldn’t win.
Physical fights, at any rate.
Brody was making him reevaluate the other kinds.
With the door cracked, Mitch listened first. For voices, sounds of movement. When he heard nothing, he dared to open the door more, keeping himself primed and with the best visibility he could possibly retain.
Still, inside was quiet. Still.
Maybe Mitch’s instincts were wrong.
Maybe Brody wasn’t here.
Maybe this was all some stupid, horrible coincidence.
Maybe Brody was back at home now, safe and secure and--
Mitch opened the door farther, wincing as it squeaked on the hinges. He froze, wary and alert.
When there was still no response, Mitch pushed the door all the way open.
Slow and steady could win the race, sure.
But sometimes so did brute force and determination.
For all of two seconds, he felt like maybe this was going to be okay. It was just a store room. Organized with crates of supplies, extra floats and spare parts for jet skis. Along the back wall, there were tools, and to the side were old life jackets.
And then he saw the shoe sticking out from the back stack of clipboards. Clipboards, of all things. They went through a lot of clipboards, actually. They got broken in the wind, dropped on the ramps, stolen by little kids on the beach. He’d meant to unpack that earlier this week, but he’d gotten busy with Brody.
Maybe Brody left the shoe in here. Maybe Brody had planted the shoe in here.
Except the shoe was too small. There was no way that sandal would fit Mitch.
Plus, there was a foot in the shoe.
And a leg attached to the leg.
Mitch inhaled sharply.
His heart stopped.
His mind went blank.
Because that was Brody.
Brody was there.
Brody was inside.
Brody wasn’t moving.
Shit, Brody was what?
His breath caught on a curse, and the only sound he could form was the sound of Brody’s name, torn out of his chest with a desperation he didn’t even recognize in his own voice.
“Brody!” he called again, crossing the small space in several large steps. “Brody, talk to me!”
Brody, being stubborn or obstinate or -- Mitch didn’t let himself think it, he couldn’t -- didn’t reply. As the rest of his body came into view, it was obvious why.
Slumped against the wall, Brody was in a semi-upright position, although he was leaning badly to one side. His head was dipped forward so that his chin was against his chest, and he wasn’t moving.
Mitch hit his knees, calling Brody’s name again. “Brody, look at me,” he ordered. He reached out, taking Brody’s shoulders in his hands. “Talk to me.”
Brody didn’t stir at the invective; he also didn’t flinch at the touch. Mitch shook a little harder, despite the fact that he knew it was not appropriate first aid technique.
“Damn it, Brody,” he hissed, knuckles white as he gripped Brody’s shoulders. Scanning up and down the length of Brody’s body, there was no overt sign of injury. No blood; no bruises. Just a small weeping puncture point on his arm. And a syringe in his hand.
Mitch knew what that was supposed to tell him, but none of it parsed. There was no way. There was no way Brody had decided to shoot up drugs behind tower one. Not even if he was upset about losing his job. Not even if he felt completely like he’d never get his friends back. Not even if it seemed like Mitch had abandoned him.
It didn’t matter that Brody had a history with drugs and alcohol.
None of it mattered.
Brody hadn’t done this.
Brody wouldn’t have.
This was done to Brody.
And it was up to Mitch to fix it. He should have prevented it, sure. But he was here now; he’d deal with it now. He’d help Brody now.
It wasn’t too late.
He reached out, tipping Brody’s head up and pushing the fringe of his bangs from his eyes. His forehead was clammy under the touch, and his face was nearly colorless, save for a slight, dark discoloration around the mouth and eyelids. It was indicative of poor oxygen circulation.
Going on the evidence, Brody was in some kind of respiratory distress. How advanced, Mitch didn’t know. But he was a lifeguard, so he knew what to do next.
Efficiently, Mitch shifted his position, gently maneuvering Brody down toward the ground and away from the wall. He was careful to support Brody’s next in the process, easing him down, mindful of his head.
There was barely enough floor space for Brody, and Mitch found it difficult to get in position, much less have enough light from the bare bulbs overhead. Frustrated, he shoved the crates behind him hard, sending the clipboards tumbling over and scattering over the floor with a cacophonous clatter.
Mitch hardly heard it. His focus was entirely on Brody at the moment.
Expertly, Mitch tipped Brody’s head back, just enough to open his airway. Then, he lowered himself over Brody, putting his ear so it was nearly touching Brody’s dusky lips.
He had to still the adrenaline pulsing through him long enough to recognize the faint puffs of air against his cheek.
The relief was nothing but a momentary spike. Brody was alive.
But that didn’t necessarily mean he was going to stay that way. Most of the time, maintaining an airway and pulse was all he had to do as a lifeguard.
This wasn’t about being a lifeguard this time.
It was about being a friend.
Sitting back up, Mitch reached down, pressing his fingers into Brody’s pulse point on his neck. He knew that Brody’s heart was beating already, but if he had drugs in his system, then the stability of his heart rate was significant.
Mitch’s face twisted, and he felt his throat tighten. Brody’s pulse was fast, light and erratic. His heart was working too hard and not getting enough done. This was why he was showing signs of poor oxygen circulation. Brody’s respiratory system was probably in more than distress.
It was failing.
With his panic just barely at bay, Mitch looked at the syringe again. It had fallen to the side during Mitch’s ministrations, and he picked it up a short distance away. Looking at it, he hadn’t expected it to tell him what was inside but he had hoped there would still be something visible to help him figure it out. Unfortunately, the syringe was empty.
It wasn’t hard to figure out what Leeds’ plan was. In fact, the evidence seemed so obvious that Mitch felt foolish for not predicting this outcome. Brody had been sent undercover to infiltrate the drug operation at the Huntley. By Brody’s own account, she had offered him a significant share of the operation. That could have been a trap, or a mere sign of her inexperience, but in either case it made Brody an expensive asset for her. As long as he delivered, he was good. At the first sign of trouble, however, Leeds would have been looking for an out.
Brody getting fired was a real problem for her. Brody was her inside man. Without that, Leeds would have been spooked. She would doubt Brody’s ability to deliver. It would be just like Ellerbee had said. Brody had become a loose end.
Killing him, therefore, became inevitable. But Leeds wasn’t stupid. She had found a way to leverage Brody, even while getting rid of him. She had wanted Mitch to be her scapegoat, but Brody was a convenient alternative. Even more, by keeping all evidence of the deal on the beach, in Baywatch property, no less, she had still successfully implicate the team while getting rid of a key witness.
That was when Mitch saw the other containers, right next to Brody on this far side of the room. On his feet, Mitch ripped open one of the containers. It was full of cocaine. Mitch mentally catalogued the rest of the crates. He doubted it was the full shipment, but it was more than enough to send someone to prison.
He looked back at the syringe he was still holding. If this had been full, there was more than enough to kill Brody.
Numbly, Mitch took his phone out of his pocket while he got back on his knees next to Brody. He needed to call Ellerbee, but Brody needed medical attention first. Pressing his fingers to Brody pulse point again, he waited for the line to connect to emergency.
By the time an operator answered, Mitch had taken to checking Brody’s pulse on his wrists.
“Yeah,” Mitch said, forgoing all pretense. At least he knew he was dealing with a professional. “I have a suspected drug overdose on the beach behind tower one in the storage shed. It’s right next to the public bathroom there. I need immediate paramedic assistance.”
Brody’s pulse was severely diminished in his wrists. In fact, Mitch couldn’t find it at all in his right side, though his radial pulse was slightly stronger.
“Is the patient conscious?” the operator asked.
Mitch knew that she was going through a checklist, and it was a checklist made with good reason. Mitch still didn’t give a shit. “No, and he’s obviously in some respiratory distress, so you need to hurry. While you’re at it, notify the police. Ask for Ellerbee in particular. He’ll know what this is about.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but what was your name?”
“I get it, you’re doing your job,” Mitch snapped, sandwiching the phone between his chin and his shoulder as he reached for his keys in his pocket. He had a penlight there. “But I’m Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon of Baywatch, so I know what I’m doing, okay?”
“I totally understand, sir, but if you could just confirm your name and location,” she said.
Mitch hardly heard her, he was so busy using one hand to open Brody’s eyelid, shining the penlight directly into it to check pupil response. The right side was reactive but probably a little sluggish.
“Sir, is the victim still breathing?”
Mitch was going to answer -- he was -- but when he checked the left pupil Brody twitched. At first, Mitch thought maybe Brody was waking up, but then it was more than a twitch.
“Shit,” Mitch cursed, moving back as Brody started to seize. “He’s seizing -- I need backup, now!”
Without listening for a reply, he let the phone drop, moving back toward Brody’s side as his body jerked. He stifled a curse, pulling Brody away from the wall to avoid his head from bashing into it, but he knew from his extensive first aid training that there was nothing more he could do. He had to wait it out.
That sounded a lot easier when you learned about it in a training course.
Mitch had even seen in several times on the beach.
But when it was your friend?
When someone you cared about was turning blue?
Shit, that wasn’t easy at all.
Helpless, Mitch watched, shoving a few more boxes out of the way to give Brody wide berth. Even that couldn’t stop Brody’s head from bouncing up and down on the slab floor, and Mitch finally eased himself into position, providing his own lap as a cushion without restricting Brody’s uncontrolled movements.
Somewhere, Mitch heard the operator still talking over the line. In the distance, Mitch could hear sirens. But Mitch focus was singular, right where it was supposed to be. Where he should have been all along. He’d only been distracted for awhile. Less than a day.
And now Mitch feared it had cost him everything.
That it had cost Brody everything.
Then, without warning, the seizure stopped, the jerky motions tapering down for a second before Brody fell entirely into stillness. The sirens were closer now; Mitch dared to let himself think that maybe this was going to be okay.
But when he looked at Brody, nothing seemed okay. His color was still bad; really bad. Quickly, Mitch pressed his fingers into Brody’s next, feeling the dull beat of his heart. But Brody’s color seemed to be getting worse; his vital signs were starting to become depressed.
Mitch carefully lowered him back to the ground, lowering his head over Brody’s mouth again. But this time, he could find a breath, not even a faint one.
“Damn it,” Mitch hissed, quickly moving himself into rescue position. He tipped back Brody’s head and leaned down, pinching off his nose. With two quick puffs, he watched Brody’s chest rise and fall, rise and fall.
But then it was still again.
“Brody,” he growled, anger and frustration momentarily overriding his growing fear. “Don’t do this.”
He breathed for Brody again, willing the younger man to follow suit.
The sirens were just outside now, and Mitch could hear a racket. He wanted to go direct them, but Brody’s dusky lips and still chest kept him where he was. With another two breaths, he checked Brody’s pulse, just to be sure.
His heart was still beating.
Mitch offered two more rescue breaths.
Brody was still alive.
Even if Mitch had to give him all the air in his own lungs to keep him that way.
Finally, the door burst open. Mitch finished delivering two more breaths before motioning the paramedics over. “He just stopped breathing,” he said. “But he’s got a pulse.”
The two medics worked their way over, pushing more of the crates out of the way while Mitch gave two more breaths. One medic got on her knees across from Mitch, the other snaked his way to Brody’s head.
“Sir, we can take it from here,” the girl said, and she had produced an oxygen mask from her kit.
Mitch relinquished his position, but he didn’t back off, watching with acute clarity as the girl started manually pumping air into Brody’s lungs.
The guy, on the other hand, was pulling out leads and monitors. “You’re a lifeguard?”
Mitch nodded. “So is Brody,” he said, watching as Brody’s chest rose and fell in conjunction with the movement of the paramedic’s hands.
“Okay, we need to check his vitals,” the guy said, working his way around. Using a pair of safety scissors, he sliced up the front of Brody’s shirt, and started to apply the monitors.
“When I found him, his pulse was diminished in radially,” he said. “I haven’t checked since he had a seizure.”
“Seizure?” the guy said, bringing more equipment to bear. “And you said it was drugs?”
Mitch groped around, finding the syringe. “Whatever was in here,” he said.
He took it, giving it a critical look. “Took too much for sure,” he said, handing it back to Mitch. “If you take it to the hospital, they might be able to figure out what was in it. It might help with treatment.”
“He didn’t take it by choice,” Mitch snapped at them, tucking the syringe out of the way. “This was a set up.”
The guy didn’t say anything in response, but the girl looked somewhat sympathetic. “These situations are always difficult,” she said. “But we’re going to make sure he gets the best care possible.”
Mitch knew that voice. That was the voice you used for a victim when you wanted them to feel okay about making a huge mistake. They didn’t think Brody was an innocent victim.
No, with crates of drugs and a fresh track mark on his arm, they thought Brody was a stupid drug addict who didn’t know when to stop.
Shit, Mitch knew there was a cover to worry about, but he needed to have Brody’s back.
This wasn’t Brody’s fault.
This wasn’t Brody being stupid.
He trusted that these paramedics were professionals, but damn it, Mitch couldn’t do this anymore.
His eyes fell on Brody. His color was a little better at least, but the girl was still providing nonstop oxygenation while the guy recorded Brody’s vitals and then reached into his bag to start an IV.
Leeds hadn’t realized that Brody was trying to double cross her, probably. Leeds had just thought he was a loose end. If Mitch blew Brody’s cover now, before the case was closed, then Leeds would cut and run for sure.
Or, worse, come after Brody to make sure the job was done.
“Heart rate is all over the map,” the guy noted.
“Overdose is at risk for heart attack,” she observed quietly in return.
“Among other things,” he said. “We just need him stable enough to transport.”
They were trying to be discreet, obviously. For Mitch’s sake.
But Mitch knew.
Mitch knew a lot more than they did.
Maybe not about medicine, but he knew more about this case, about this situation, about Brody. He knew more about how to make a person feel at ease.
That was good for them, because Mitch didn’t need them. He didn’t need their discretion or their sympathy or any of that shit.
He just needed them to get Brody to the hospital alive.
“So, we move him?” Mitch asked. “Call ahead to St. Luke’s?”
The two paramedics exchanged a look. The guy had the IV set up by now, and there was more noise outside as the police started to arrive as well.
“The police are going to have some questions,” the guy explained.
“I don’t give a shit,” Mitch said. “Do you need me to go get the backboard set up? Or are you going to do it yourself?”
The guy held up his hands, getting to his feet. “Hey, man, we’re just doing our job,” he said, crossing over to where he left the backboard by the entrance.
“Yeah, and so am I,” Mitch shot back.
“This isn’t exactly a lifeguard’s normal job, though, is it?” the girl asked, still maintaining constant oxygenation. Beneath her, Brody continued to breathe.
Brody continued to stay alive.
Another day was all Brody had asked for.
Now Mitch was just asking for minute by minute.
“It is today,” he said. “Brody’s one of us; he’s family.”
The guy was back, edging Mitch out of the way. “Then let us do what we can,” he said.
“Of course,” Mitch said. “Just tell me how I can help.”
They exchanged another look. The guy finally scowled back. “Help me roll him,” he said. “We need to get him on--”
Mitch was already complying, supporting Brody’s head and neck while the guy rolled Brody, pushing the backboard into place.
“Okay,” the guy said, moving to one end. Mitch went to the other; the girl prepared herself to stand, still squeezing the bag. “Now lift--”
They moved together, and Mitch kept a careful eye on Brody as they carried him toward the door. Outside, Mitch was glad to see that the police were already creating a perimeter. They carried Brody out, mindful of the sand, and Mitch could see Stephanie working with the police to maintain control.
She looked at Mitch.
She looked at Brody.
The expression that crossed her face was inscrutable, and Mitch couldn’t bear himself to look at her any longer. She made no move to cross the line, and Mitch would deal with her -- with all of them -- later.
He turned his eyes back to Brody. Pale and vulnerable, Mitch was keenly aware when cameras started flashing. The press was inevitable; and the news that it was Brody would be impossible to cover up.
Still, Mitch positioned himself next to Brody’s head, trying to use his sheer mass to protect him from most of the cameras. A drug overdose two weeks after a public intoxication charge? Brody’s reputation would be in shreds; the media would have a field day. It’d get picked up nationally.
To think, it had been Mitch’s job to protect Brody.
And here Brody was, not breathing on his own with his carefully built reputation ripped apart. The DA would probably argue that Brody had failed his job.
He helped guide Brody onto the waiting stretching, standing by protectively as he was loaded up into the ambulance. Without invitation, he climbed inside, pulling the doors closed as he did.
Mitch knew who had failed here.
And it sure as hell wasn’t Brody.
Mitch didn’t speak on the ride to the hospital, and the girl didn’t ask him to. She applied sufficient medical support, and by the time they arrived at the ER, the two medics were content to hand over their charge and sign off on the case altogether.
Their job was done, after all.
The ER team took over with more force and precision. Brody was stripped of his clothes, and more monitors were set up. Something was added to the IV, and one of the doctors finally asked Mitch what Brody had taken.
At this, Mitch provided the syringe. “Not sure what was in it,” he said. “But there was cocaine in the area.”
The doctor appeared to be thinking about the symptoms of cocaine overdoses, and Mitch could see him cataloging all the possible complications. He said something to one of the nurses, who nodded and went to retrieve something from another room.
“Does he have a history of drug use?” the doctor continued, moving around Brody to check for signs of awareness.
“Um, honestly, I don’t know a lot about it,” Mitch said. “I think he’s used some before, but nothing in the last few months.”
“No previous overdoses?” the doctor clarified.
“No,” Mitch said. “And he’s been clean.”
The doctor shook his head, as if this information simply wasn’t important to him. “Addiction is a difficult disease,” he said. “There’s no need to be defensive. No one here is passing judgment.”
Mitch sighed, not quite able to keep his temper in check this time. “He’s not some junkie.”
“No one said that,” the doctor said. “But what we do know is that your friend has suffered from what appears to be a massive drug overdose. If even half of that vial was full, that’s more than enough cocaine to kill him. We need to work fast in order to counteract the effects.”
There was no cruelty in the doctor’s voice. It still hurt to hear him. Stubbornly, Mitch stood his ground, watching as the doctor checked for a response when he rubbed Brody’s sternum. “Like what?”
“Heart attack, respiratory failure, kidney damaged, liver damage,” the doctor said, making a slight frown when Brody failed to respond to any physical stimuli. “Basically, any of the internal organs can be at risk, though we’re noticing most of the effects in your friend in his heart and lungs.”
“So what do you do?” Mitch asked.
The doctor had produced his own penlight, giving a short, one-shouldered shrug. “We have various medications that can counteract some of the effects,” he said. “But the trick is mostly to keep him alive long enough for the drug to work its way out of his system.”
“And you can do that?” Mitch asked. “You can keep him alive.”
The doctor was checking the pupils now, right side first. “We can try,” he said. He moved to the left. “And trust me, we will.”
Putting his penlight away, the doctor made a notation on the sheet. The nurse came back with another pack of supplies. They were moving back toward Brody when a monitor started beeping. At first, Mitch worried Brody was arresting, but then he saw Brody’s leg twitch. The tremor ran up his arm and encompassed his body. Mitch recognized the seizure a second before the doctor got into place.
“Okay, he’s seizing,” the doctor called out. “I need to get those meds, now.”
There was a renewed flurry of action, and the doctor barked out several more orders. Then, he glanced at Mitch.
“Someone please escort the friend to the waiting room,” he said.
Mitch shook his head. “No, I want to stay--”
One of the nurses already had him by the arm. “It’s hospital policy,” she said with a small smile.
“No,” Mitch said. “I have to be here for him.”
“You want what’s best for him, I know that,” she said sweetly. “Which is why you need to let us work.”
Behind her, Brody was still seizing as the doctor injected something into his IV. Within a few seconds, the seizure started to taper off, and the doctor blew out a breath and shook his head. “Okay, we need to intubate him, start him on a fresh round,” he said. “And make sure the lab rushes his blood work, okay?”
“Sir,” the nurse said. “You’ve done everything you can.”
The way she said it, like she meant it. Like she knew.
She didn’t know.
How could she know?
How could she know that Brody had needed him and Mitch hadn’t been there? How could she know that Mitch and Mitch alone had the power to prevent this from happening? How could she know that Brody was his family, and that Mitch had let him down in every possible way?
She couldn’t, quite simply.
And Mitch had no words to defend himself.
“That’s it,” she said, guiding Mitch out the door. He stole one last look at Brody as the doctor threaded a tube down his throat. “We’ll take real good care of him.”
The door closed behind him, and Mitch couldn’t go back now.
He couldn’t go back five minutes, 30 minutes, three hours. He couldn’t go back three weeks, three months. He had to go forward.
Hoping like hell that the future was one that included Brody.