A heart torn

Jeff finished his wine and took the glass out to the kitchen to rinse. He put it on the sideboard and stretched, wincing at the bruises he developed from his flying tackle of Masters. I'm not a young man anymore, he ruefully admitted to himself. But still, it was an effective attack.

He entered the living room of the flat to find the couch empty. Bekkah had been placed there to sleep off the sedative that Penelope had administered. Jeff looked carefully around the room. He knocked on the bathroom door, got no answer, tried to open the front door only to find it was still locked. Then he noticed the bedroom door slightly ajar. He opened it quietly.

The medical equipment brought by Evan Longfeld kept track of Brains's heartbeat and blood oxygen levels. An IV dripped clear fluid into the back of his left hand. His right shoulder was bandaged and immobilized, the gauze strips wrapped around his bare chest. His glasses sat on the nightstand. Bekkah sat cross-legged on the bed, her back to Jeff, holding Brains's hand. Jeff could see her shoulders shake and hear a little-girl sniffle from time to time. He came quietly into the room and sat on the end of the bed, facing her back.

"Bekkah? Are you all right? We were concerned about the seizure Penny and Lovitt said you were having. Maybe you should lie down on the couch again."

Bekkah sighed heavily. "It wasn't a seizure, Jeff. It was... a... a flashback." She turned her head towards him as much as the cervical collar she wore would allow. Tears stained her face. Her voice croaked from the abuse Masters had given her throat.

"A flashback? What exactly happened in there?" Jeff wanted the whole story.

She turned back to look at Brains. Her fingers swept his palm, kneading it gently, avoiding the IV needle in the back of his hand. Her breathing became less ragged as she calmed.

"At first, things went much as they did for the Martins. Masters's goons grabbed me after work, knocked me out, and took me somewhere. They tied me in a chair and Masters made me call Hiram. Masters went out himself to pick Hiram up. When they came back, Hiram was given the choice: get up in the chair and cooperate, or Masters would hurt me. The twist came in the fact that Masters intended to use the machine on both of us as part of his revenge. Hiram chose to cooperate. Masters and his co-conspirator, an Asian woman named Heimana, scanned Hiram's brain. Then they took him out of the brain scanner and put me in it; tying Hiram up in the chair where I had been, just turned around so he could see."

"Masters decided that he would have some... fun.... with Hiram and me. He began to recreate Ivan's attack while I was restrained in the chair. He thought it was fun to watch my reactions, knowing I was helpless. And watch Hiram's reactions when he knew he couldn't help me. But his... inappropriate touch... triggered a flashback. Everything that Ivan did came crashing back on me in slow motion. Then all the nightmares came boiling to the surface. I couldn't stop it. I couldn't control it. My body writhed in revulsion and terror, while my mind was focused solely on the events and the fear." She paused and caught her breath, a sobbing sound. "That's what Penelope and Lovitt must have seen. It had the side effect of clouding my mind enough that his assistant, Heimana, couldn't get a good copy of my brain. After that, I don't remember much. Just scattered images. I remember hearing Masters threatening to shoot me. But Hiram got shot instead."

She turned her attention back to Brains. "He's been a perfect gentleman during this whole affair. Considerate, gentle, never pressuring me. A gentleman and a hero." Her shoulders began to shake again. "And, Lord help me, I love him." She got to her knees and leaned over Brains's slumbering form, placing a gentle kiss on his lips. Then she slipped to the edge of the bed and turned to Jeff. "You need to take him home to the Island so he can recover."

"Kyrano is on his way so we can all go home." Jeff assured her.

She shook her head. "Not me, Jeff. I'm staying here for a while. That is, if you folks can handle my kids for a couple more weeks." She got up and went to the living room. Jeff followed, puzzled.

"I want to finish teaching the engineers here. There's still a lot they need to know about nanocircuitry. I'm also building a little present for myself; a new, next generation microcomp." She turned to Jeff. "Has the brain scanner been dealt with?"

"Yes," he assured her. "It's been moved to a lab at the local office and locked down tight. We got every disk, every scrap of paper."

"Then that's another reason I should stay. I want to dismantle that thing myself." She sat down on the couch."But I guess the biggest reason is that I need time. After that flashback, the last place I'm going to feel comfortable is on an island full of men. Even if they are well-intentioned, well-mannered gentlemen." She gave Jeff a brittle smile. She looked back at the bedroom. "I am so torn. I love your son. I love Hiram. I have to decide, but I need to be sure of myself first."

"I don't like leaving you here alone." Jeff frowned. "Masters may be going back to the jail at Abidjan, but that Heimana woman is still around. She may come after you."

"I don't think she will. I was nothing to her but a means to an end. It was Masters who held the grudge. But I won't be completely alone anyway. Lovitt will watch over me, as will Penny and Parker. I plan on spending weekends at her estate, getting to know her better. And I made a promise to my children that I would be back on the Island for Christmas. That's only two weeks away. Surely I can stay out of trouble for two weeks!" The old, joking Bekkah flashed for an instant.

"Maybe I should send my mother out to make sure you do stay out of trouble." Jeff quipped.

"She's probably the only one who could do it." Bekkah riposted. A knock sounded at the door. Jeff opened it to reveal Kyrano and Lovitt. Behind them stood Dr. Evan Longfeld.

"Come in. We've got to prepare Brains for travel." Jeff said.

Kyrano gave Bekkah a searching look, then nodded. "I will pack his things," the quiet-voiced servant said as he entered the bedroom.

"How are you, Dr. Barnes?" Lovitt asked. The last he had seen of her was when he and Parker had carried her carefully up to the apartment and laid her on the couch.

"I am up and about, Lovitt. Thank you for asking."

Jeff pulled Lovitt aside for a talk. Bekkah was just about to lay back down on the couch when she heard her name being called from the bedroom.

Kyrano appeared in the door. "Dr. Barnes. Mr. Brains is awake and will not calm down until he sees you."

Bekkah nodded and got up. She padded into the bedroom, and climbed up on the empty side of the bed again. Dr. Longfeld was giving Brains a quick examination. Kyrano had Brains's glasses in his hands and he gave them to Bekkah, who carefully slid them on Brains's face, resting them on his straight nose. Magnified blue eyes came to rest upon her.

"Bekkah!" he whispered. "What happened to your neck?"

She picked up his hand and squeezed it gently. "Don't you worry about that. I'll be fine. Jeff and Kyrano are going to take you home so you can get better."

"You're coming, too, aren't you?" His voice, querulous from pain, went to her heart.

She shook her head. "Not yet, Hiram. Someone has got to take care of that infernal machine. And I think Jeff would rather it be someone who already knows the secrets of... the family business. Besides, I want the exquisite pleasure of taking it apart myself. I will be home for Christmas, though. I promise."

While she was speaking, Dr. Longfeld and Kyrano were preparing Brains for the ride to the airport. They moved him to a gurney that the doctor had Lovitt bring in from the ambulance parked outside. They disconnected everything but the IV and moved the machines out of the way.

Jeff appeared in the bedroom door. "Bekkah, I want you to meet Dr. Evan Longfeld, M.D. and newest agent for International Rescue. Evan, Dr. Rebekkah Barnes, Ph.D. of our engineering staff. I asked Evan to become an agent for us, on call whenever and wherever we need medical assistance for our operatives." The two shook hands.

"Thanks for taking such good care of Hiram. Both here and in Singapore," Bekkah said.

"Hiram is an interesting patient. But I hope I don't have him under my care again anytime soon. He always does something frightful to himself!" Evan grinned. He turned to Jeff. "Lovitt and I will take him out to the plane. Kyrano can come with us to stay with him while I come back to examine this lady." He gave Bekkah a long look. "You rest while we are gone, Dr. Barnes. I want some roses in those cheeks when I return."

"Yes, sir,"she dutifully replied.

Brains was now ready for transport, bundled up in warm blankets and strapped securely in the gurney. Bekkah turned around and crawled off the bed. She stopped the gurney, bent down, and kissed Brains on the lips. He was startled by her action.

"For the man I trust," she said quietly. "And love," she whispered.

His startled look changed into a quiet smile. He craned his neck to watch her as he was wheeled out. She stood in the bedroom door and waved. He mouthed the words: I love you, and then he was gone.

"Jeff, when things have calmed down a bit more, you and I need to have a serious talk. About my future with International Rescue." Bekkah looked down at her hands, at the costume jewelry ring that now meant a little more to her than before.

"Of course, Bekkah. Whenever you want." Jeff looked at her, a battered and bruised woman. He thought he knew what she wanted to talk about. Not many can live this life, he thought. I've been fortunate to find people who can. To have sons who can. But not everyone is cut out for it.

"Now, you heard the doctor, young lady. That bed awaits you. Get some rest," Jeff said with a mock sternness. She smiled wryly at him, then turned around and closed the door behind her.