Heart pounding, she put her stethoscope to his chest. Shallow breaths, thready heartbeat. Moving the stethoscope down, she listened. No bowel sounds. He was so close to death. Without God's hand, nothing would change the inevitable.
Even as that thought crossed her mind, he took his last rattling breath. Had they noticed? Pushing her fingers against his neck, she searched for a pulse but found nothing.
Could she pretend he was still alive for a few minutes, stall them until she figured out a way to get Tadeas out of this mess? Probably not. These men had likely seen more death in their young lives than she would in her entire life. She had no options. Just as she took her stethoscope out of her ears and prepared to tell these warlords that their friend had died, she heard a commotion.
From out of the woods on the edge of the village, two soldiers emerged wearing camouflaged uniforms. They held their weapons at the ready and walked in a surprisingly fast crouch, though their upper bodies remained perfectly stable and the muzzles of their rifles perfectly vertical. They moved with practiced skill, looking like little tanks rolling across a smooth countryside.
The Chukuwereije soldiers started screaming orders. The driver lifted his weapon and fired twice. One of the oncoming soldiers fired a single shot, and the man fell at Cynthia's feet. Before she could react, the leader grabbed her and put a pistol to her temple. The hot gunmetal pressed painfully against her skin.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tadeas dash into the clinic. He likely went in to protect Ayo and Gamila. Once he was out of the way of any danger, she felt a sense of calm replace her rising panic.
With the doctor at the forefront of his mind, Rick stepped out into the clearing and stopped in his tracks. Chukuwereije soldiers held the doctor at gunpoint. It took a moment for his brain to kick into gear, for the focus of the adrenaline to come into play—just in time for his team to catch the attention of the Chukuwereije soldier on watch.
The soldier yelled something, and Rick and Sanders froze, weapons ready. Out of the corner of his eye, Rick watched two women sneak out the back of one of the buildings. One clutched a bundle to her chest, and the other had her arms around her as if supporting or shielding her.
The man yelling at them lifted his weapon and fired two rounds before Sanders dropped him with a single shot.
"Could have done that a little sooner, Drum," Rick said.
"Really? Seems like you had your weapon pointed in the same direction as me, Cap," Sanders replied.
The other soldier grabbed the doctor and put the barrel of a pistol to her head.
The two men dropped to one knee in a synchronous movement and carefully aimed their weapons.
"That's Duong," Sanders said in a low tone. "Not like him to be away from the crowd and out in front."
"We must have clipped someone pretty high up for him to be out here all by his lonesome." Rick scanned the area, but he saw no other evidence of activity.
Rick could practically hear the shrug in his friend's whispered reply. "We took out a truckload back there. Think they're alone?"
"One way to find out," Rick said. He pulled down the bandanna that covered his mouth and, in French, yelled, "Let the woman go!"
Duong screamed back, "I will kill her!"
In English, Rick quietly asked Sanders, "You got him?"
Sanders focused, aimed, and calmly brought Duong into his sights. The hostage considerably complicated his odds of a clean shot. "Not so much," he drawled. "Maybe keep him entertained until Maguire can show him the money?"
"Help me help you," Rick murmured.
Keeping his right hand on the pistol grip of his M4 carbine and his finger on the trigger, Sanders dropped his left hand and surreptitiously signaled for the sniper team to take the shot as soon as they safely could.
Rick yelled, "Sure you will, Duong. You're a killer. So you kill her, then I'll kill you. Where will you be then?"
"Laughing, because then your doctor would be dead. And we both know you need her."
Rick's blood froze as Duong cocked the pistol. Doctor Myers wouldn't get out of this situation alive if Duong got his way. He needed to stall.