"All set! Clear," Meredith Brody announced, exiting the building. She had been the one to find the explosive device positioned at a critical point against a wall in the restaurant, and her brow was creased in a mix of focus and concern.
"You sure?" their boss, Dwayne Pride, clarified.
Brody nodded, but Lasalle only heard half of what she said. The restaurant was clear, but he had been carefully watching all of the exiting occupants, and none of them had been Phil. Worry began to gnaw at his gut, and he realized what he needed to do.
There was no time to waste. Phil’s little boy was counting on him.
"Martino. Hey," Lasalle clapped a hand on his boss's shoulder, causing Pride to halt his own retreat from the potential fireball and turn to look his agent in the eye.
"What?" Pride was antsy, and Lasalle didn’t blame him. Not only did he need to get clear himself, but he had two agents to ensure reached safety.
"Nobody's seen him."
Pride’s eyes softened slightly. "Are you sure?"
"He could still be in there! I gotta go find him!” Lasalle exclaimed. “I gotta go; he's in there!" He was asking for permission in as determined of a tone as he could possibly muster.
"All right, but hurry!" Pride nodded quickly.
As several police cruisers pulled up with sirens wailing, Lasalle sprinted for the restaurant entrance. He barely heard Pride barking orders at the officers before the front door swung shut behind him and he was tearing through the restaurant.
Lasalle looked into the eating area, then the kitchen, desperately searching for his friend, but Phil was nowhere to be found.
A set of stairs caught his eye. Vaulting the rope and sign marked ‘Employees Only,’ Lasalle took the stairs three at a time. There was a door at the top that led to a balcony, and he decided to check the exterior area before trying the offices down the hall. There was a much better chance that Phil was in the first place than the latter.
When Lasalle stuck his head out, an involuntary sigh of relief burst from his lips. Phil was at the end of the small balcony, phone pressed to his ear. That relief only lasted a split second; even as the sigh left him, Lasalle sprinted forwards.
"Phil! Come on!" Lasalle grabbed the other man’s arm and started retreating, even as he explained in a rush of words, "We gotta go! You didn't hear the commotion?”
Phil shrugged. "French Quarter,” he said in explanation. “What is going on?"
It was too long of a story to try to get out while running for their lives, so Lasalle just ignored the question. "Let's go."
They ran down the stairs, brushing the walls on either side in their hurry. Lasalle was pretty sure his feet didn’t even contact half of the steps on the way down. There was the door, sitting straight ahead. Lasalle was behind Phil and heard the slight beeping as the perpetrator, somewhere outside and safe from the blast, hit the detonator. In the same motion, he put up a hand and threw himself forward, taking Phil with him as he launched himself through the door into the street.
The building exploded in a mass of fire and smoke.
The force of the blast threw the men clear of the fire itself, but their landing was anything but soft and smooth.
Lasalle felt the heat of the blaze against his back, and the thought that he would have to check to make sure his hair was all still there flashed through his mind. Then he hit the pavement. He felt the impact, felt himself slide a good ways as the asphalt grated against his cheek.
He raised his head but ducked it quickly as debris from the restaurant rained down on and around him. There was movement next to him as Phil shifted from where he had landed. Lasalle wanted to check on his friend, but there was no reprieve from the chunks of the building that were still falling. Something that felt like a brick hit the small of his back, quickly followed by several more, and he could barely bite back a yelp of pain. He had his vest, but he was pretty certain that his ribs weren’t taking the multiple beatings well.
His ears were ringing and everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Somewhere in the back of his foggy brain, the thought came that he needed to shield his head. He tried to do so, but his limbs didn’t want to cooperate, and it took all of his concentration to get his right arm up and over the back of his head. Several pieces of debris managed to land before he did so, but at least they were smaller than those that had hit is back. The confusing part was that his left arm wouldn’t move at all, but he felt exhausted from the simple task of lifting the other arm and only briefly wondered at the cause.
Lying still, panting for breath, Lasalle slowly became aware of a myriad of muted sounds all around him. There was a muffled roar somewhere behind him, what were probably screams and shouts from onlookers and emergency workers, and sirens. It all sounded as if there was a tunnel and at least three walls between him and the noise, however.
Then there was the pain. Or rather, the lack of pain. He knew he should be feeling… well, feeling something, but there was nothing. Belatedly, he realized he was probably in shock, and that whenever it wore off, he’d be dealing with one bear of a headache.
Suddenly, there was movement at his side, and someone was pushing at his left shoulder. Wait, not pushing. Shaking. Someone was shaking him.
“Christopher!” Again, the sound was very, very quiet, and he could barely make out that someone was calling his name.
“Lasalle!” Okay, that was a different voice. It was higher in tone… feminine. So there were two people at his side.
He moved his right arm from his head, still sluggishly but nowhere near as slowly as it had gone up, and used it to roll over and push up to a sitting position.
At least, that was what he was planning to do. The quick motion caused his vision to darken at the edges and his stomach to heave. The thought flashed through his mind that he was about to lose his lunch, which he didn’t appreciate because that gumbo had been delicious. Leaning on his arm, he looked over to his right and caught sight of two worried faces peering at him.
Pride nodded. “Christopher, can you hear me?”
The faces were swimming in and out now, at the same time as the gray along the edges of his vision began to grow inward. He blinked and tried his best to focus, but it didn’t work.
And that’s when everything went black.
“Whoa!” Pride managed to catch Christopher as the younger agent slumped backwards, getting his hands up and on the man’s shoulders before an unceremonious collapse to the pavement resulted in any further injuries.
Before he could make any assessments as to how badly injured his agent was, two firefighters jogged over.
“We need you to move back now,” one directed his order at Pride. “The building isn’t safe.”
Pride frowned, but the firefighter cut off any protest. “With all respect, sir, we need to do our jobs. So do our paramedics, so if you could just step back to the line we’ve set up, we’ll take it from here.”
A pair of paramedics jogged up behind the speaker, backboard and equipment bags in hand. Pride let out a breath and then nodded, pushing to his feet and stepping back. Brody was at his side, and he patted her arm as he turned to retreat as he’d been ordered.
“Come on, Brody; nothin’ more we can do here,” he told her. “We’ll meet them at the hospital.”
It was quiet, a far cry from the chaos of earlier that day… Or was it earlier that week?
And from where was that infernal, persistent beeping coming?
As the fog in his brain began to dissipate, more of the sounds surrounding Lasalle became clearer. That was when the antiseptic smell of the hospital registered with him, and he sat up with a start. Or rather, he tried to sit up. The motion sent stabbing, throbbing pains throughout the majority of his body. His head felt like someone was driving a screwdriver through it, there was a shooting pain in his side, and there was a dull pain in his left arm. A glance downward told him that he wouldn’t be using that arm for a while. A large white cast began above his elbow and ran down to his wrist, taking a turn around his thumb and holding his elbow at a ninety-degree angle. The entire contraption rested in a navy sling.
Finishing up his physical inventory, Lasalle couldn’t hold back the groan of pain that surfaced. Of course, that set off the device next to his bed, which was connected to him by a wire that was taped to his chest. As the alarm continued to sound, the occupant of the chair beside the bed suddenly jerked upright.
“Christopher!” he broke into a smile when he saw that the patient was awake. “How are you feeling?”
“Well, if this dadgum alarm would ever turn off, I’d be doin’ better,” Lasalle groaned, putting a hand to his head. His fingers met a thick band of gauze, and he grimaced as he gingerly rubbed his temple.
As if his complaint was an instruction, the machine’s beeping slowed down and then stopped altogether. The two men grinned, then Pride got to his feet to head for the door. “Let me go get a nurse to check on you.”
“Hey.” Lasalle’s voice stopped his boss halfway to the door. “Phil?”
Pride smiled. “You got him out in time.”
Lasalle let out a sigh of relief. “So he’s okay?”
“Yeah, Christopher, he’s okay. Much better than you, in fact. They just kept him overnight for observation and then sent him home.”
“...Overnight?” Thinking was hurting his head but he wanted, no, needed to know.
His face softening, Pride nodded. “You’ve been here for three days, Christopher. You were in surgery to repair some damage to your insides, and it was touch and go for a while. We… we almost lost you once.”
The man in the bed was quiet, processing that information.
“But you’re gonna be all right now,” Pride finished, clearing his throat. “Hey, let me go grab a nurse. I’ll be right back.”
As Pride’s footsteps retreated down the hallway, Lasalle sighed and lay back against the pillow behind him. He knew he had a lot for which to be thankful, that was for sure. He hadn’t been expecting this result when he ran into that restaurant after Phil, but he knew he would do it again in a heartbeat.
“Oh, only about two minutes ago,” Pride’s voice came back down the hall.
Then another familiar voice joined Pride’s. “Of course, right when I step out for coffee. Oh! Let me call Loretta real quick; she made me promise to let her know right when he was up.”
There was a smile in Pride’s voice when he replied. “Yeah, go ahead. He’s not goin’ anywhere.”
Lasalle smiled to himself. His team was always there for him, and he knew they also weren’t “goin’ anywhere.” And that was enough for him.