The drainpipe is large enough that I can be on my hands and knees, and I crawl as fast as I can, ignoring the stale smell of sewage and rust. Thankfully, it’s only a little bit wet in there, and I try not to dwell on what that wetness might be.
Finally, I reach the other opening. Compressing myself into a little ball, I manage to turn around and climb out feet first.
Stepping away from the pipe, I gaze at my surroundings. The sky above me is covered with stars, and the air is thick with the scent of warm earth and jungle vegetation. I can see the warehouse building on the small hill above me, less than fifty yards away.
I stare at it, sick with fear for Julian. There is another burst of gunfire, accompanied by flashes of bright light. The gunfight is still going on—which is a good sign, I tell myself. If Julian was dead—if the terrorists had won—there would be no more shooting. He must’ve come with reinforcements after all.
Wrapping my arms around myself, I press my back against a tree, my legs trembling from the combination of terror and adrenaline.
And in that moment, the sky lights up as the building explodes . . . and a blast of scorching-hot air sends me flying into the bushes several feet away.
The next twenty-four hours are a blur in my memory.
After I get to my feet, I am dizzy and disoriented, my head throbbing and my body feeling like one giant bruise. There is a din in my ears, and everything seems to be coming at me as though from a distance.
I must’ve passed out from the blast, but I am not sure. By the time I recover enough to walk, the fire consuming the building is almost over.
Dazed, I stumble up the hill and start searching through the smoldering ruins of the warehouse. Occasionally, I find something that looks like a charred limb, and a couple of times, I come across a body that’s very nearly whole, with only a head or a leg missing. I register these findings on some level, but I don’t fully process them. I feel oddly detached, like I’m not really there. Nothing touches me. Nothing bothers me. Even the physical sensations are dulled by shock.
I search for him for hours. By the time I stop, the sun is high up in the sky, and I’m dripping with sweat.
I have no choice but to face the truth now.
There are no survivors. It’s as simple as that.
I should cry. I should scream. I should feel something.
Leaving the warehouse, I begin walking. I don’t know where I am going, and I don’t care. All I’m capable of doing is putting one foot in front of the other.
By the time it starts getting dark, I come across a cluster of tiny houses made of wooden poles and cardboard. There is a shallow creek running through the middle of the settlement, and I see a couple of women doing laundry there by hand.
Their shocked faces are the last thing I remember before I collapse a few feet away from them.
“Miss Leston, do you feel up to answering a few questions for me? I’m Agent Wilson, FBI, and this is Agent Bosovsky.”
I look up at the plump middle-aged man standing next to my bed. He’s not at all like I imagined FBI agents to be. His face is round, almost cherubic-looking, with rosy cheeks and dancing blue eyes. If Agent Wilson wore a red hat and had a white beard, he would’ve made a great Santa Claus. In contrast, his partner—Agent Bosovsky—is painfully thin, with deep frown lines etched into his narrow face.
For the past two days, I have been recuperating in a hospital in Bangkok. Apparently, one of the women at the creek had notified the local authorities about the girl that wandered into their village. I vaguely recall them questioning me, but I doubt I made any sense when I spoke to them. However, they understood enough to contact the American Embassy on my behalf, and the US officials took it from there.
“Your parents are on the way,” Agent Bosovsky says when I continue to stare at them without saying a word. “Their flight lands in a few hours.”
I blink, his words somehow penetrating the layer of ice that has kept me insulated from everyone and everything since the explosion. “My parents?” I croak, my throat feeling strangely swollen.
The thin agent nods. “Yes, Miss Leston. They were notified yesterday, and we got them on the earliest flight to Bangkok. They wanted to speak to you, but you were sedated at that point.”
I process that information. The doctors already informed me that I have a mild concussion, along with first-degree burns and lacerations on my feet. Other than that, they were impressed by my overall good health—dehydration, recent surgery, and various bruises notwithstanding. Still, they must’ve sedated me to let me rest.
“Do you think you could answer some questions before your parents arrive?” Agent Wilson asks gently when I continue to remain silent.
I nod, almost imperceptibly, and he pulls up a chair. Agent Bosovsky does the same thing.
“Miss Leston, you were abducted in June of last year,” Agent Wilson says, the expression on his round face warm and understanding. “Can you tell us anything about your abduction?”
I hesitate for a moment. Do I want to tell them anything about Julian? And then I remember that he’s dead and that none of it matters. For a second, the agony is so sharp, it steals my breath away, but then the numbing wall of ice encases me again. “Sure,” I say evenly. “What do you want to know?”
“Do you know his name?”
“Julian Esguerra. He is—” I swallow hard, “—he was an arms dealer.”