Nate and Sophie were seated quietly at a table in the bar, talking quietly and waiting for the rest of the team to arrive. It was rather late, but they had a client with an emergency, and Nate needed to fill everyone in before the job started tomorrow. Hardison was the next to arrive. He greeted the mastermind and the grifter with a smile, and then sat down across from them and opened his laptop in front of him, ready for whatever research Nate needed him to do. Eliot arrived next, wearing sweatpants and a sleeveless tank top, and he had a blue bandana tied hurriedly in his slightly disheveled hair.
"Did we pull you away from something important?" Nate asked, with a knowing gleam in his eye.
"As a matter of fact, you did," Eliot said, with a smirk.
"Anything you want to share with the class?"
"Would you like the best story, or the truth?"
"The truth, please."
"All right. I was teaching twelve troubled young men that they don't have to be someone else's punching bag." Eliot smirked again, fully aware that that wasn't what the mastermind was expecting to hear. "Any other questions?" Nate shook his head, grinning sheepishly at the hitter as he pulled a chair to the end of the booth and sat down, leaving the space beside Hardison free for Parker.
"Answer a question for me, then. Why are we here?"
"We have a job."
"Tonight? We have a job tonight?"
"Yes, well, no. Technically, the job starts tomorrow. But we need to start as early as possible tomorrow, which means we need to make some plans tonight." Nate looked at his watch and then at the empty seat next to Hardison. "Wasn't Parker supposed to be with you?" he asked Hardison.
"No, she cancelled. Said she had something she had to do. I kind of thought she just didn't want to see the movie I chose." While he was saying those words, he had his phone out, dialing her number. He listened, frowning, as it rang several times. 'Leave a message,' Parker's voice yelled at him from her voicemail message. "Hey girl. Nate was just wondering where you were. We're all at the meeting at the bar. Call-" His voice faltered. Did she not want to talk to him? What was going on? "Call me back," he finished.
The young, black-clad woman opened her eyes as the incessant, obnoxious beeping assaulted her senses. The sound seemed familiar to her, but she didn't recognize it. She looked around, trying to figure out where it was coming from, and she saw a black cell phone lying a few inches away. As she reached for it, she felt the gravel roll and slide under her arms, and realized how much her hands hurt. Turning her head to look at them, she discovered they were torn to ribbons from the gravel, and they were raw and bleeding. She couldn't exactly remember what happened, but it must have involved sliding on the gravel. She struggled to reach the phone without moving too much, but no matter how much she stretched, she just couldn't do it. As she pulled herself into a sitting position, sharp pain rocketed through her skull, she tasted blood, and then she leaned over and retched on the asphalt in front of her. Leaning her head back against the wall, she closed her eyes and tried to breathe through the pain. When it was gone, she bent at the waist and reached for the cell phone once again. The pain came back with a vengeance, and she let her arm drop to her side as she collapsed back against the wall a second time, unable to keep her eyes from slipping closed as she did so. Little sounds, almost sobs, started coming from her as she sat there, and when the beeping sound started again, she couldn't marshal the energy to reach for the phone, and so, she sat there, unable to stop the strangled sobs coming from her, listening to the beeping, and trying to ignore the pain wracking her body.
Hardison took the phone away from his ear, after the second call, and sat there staring at it. Eliot squeezed his shoulder gently.
"She still isn't answering?" Nate asked. Hardison shook his head, not trusting himself to speak.
"What about comms?"
Hardison pulled up her comm on his computer and was greeted with silence. She might have hers muted, though. Reaching up, he touched the button on the back of the comm in his ear and turned his on. "Parker? Are you there?" There was no answer. "Parker!" he said, louder this time. His heart sank as he heard a muffled, strangled sobbing sound coming from Parker's comm. He muted his own comm before speaking to the others.
"Guys, we might have a problem. I found Parker, but she isn't answering, and it sounds like she's hurt."
"Can you trace her using the phone's GPS?"
"Yes." Hardison got to work tracing the phone, and soon had an address, but he frowned when he saw where it was. "She's in the warehouse district, near the docks."
"Let's go." They all left the bar at a run, and loaded into Hardison's van. Eliot drove, knowing they needed to get there fast.
After they were on their way, Sophie spoke up, "I wonder what she was doing there. That's a bad area. Lots of crime."
"You can ask her when you see her," Nate said, grimly. "Hardison, have you triangulated her location?"
"Almost." He broke off abruptly, all of his attention on the computer screen. "There, that warehouse there. She's not inside. Looks like she's in the alley that runs between the two buildings. There!" he said, pointing. Eliot slammed on the brakes, rammed the van into park, and then ran toward the alley, the others following behind.
As he entered the alley, he clicked on the heavy aluminum flashlight he always carried, and bathed the walls with its light. Finally, he saw the young blonde, about halfway down the alley, with her head leaning back against the wall and her eyes closed. He stopped a few yards from her, trying to assess as many injuries as he could before he got close, so he would know what she needed. Without even realizing it, he had brought the first aid kit he kept under the front seat with him. It was the smaller of the two in Hardison's van, but it was all he would need, as they would be putting her in the van in just a few minutes.
Dropping to his knees beside her, he stabilized her neck in case there was an injury to it that he couldn't see, and then he helped her lie down on the ground. "Shh. It's okay, Parker. We're here, Darlin'. We'll get you fixed up."
The young woman forced her eyes open when she heard a gravelly, male voice so close to her own. He had one hand on her arm, and she began struggling to get free. He tightened his grip, and said, "Parker, relax. It's me, Eliot. I ain't gonna hurt ya." When she saw him, he was looking down, using the flashlight to find something in the kit that sat open on the ground.
She found her voice and said, "Who the Hell is Parker?"
Taken aback, Eliot shone his flashlight on her face. She was pretty messed up, with blood matting her long blonde hair, and bruises and cuts showing up all over her face, but when their eyes met, he saw that there was no recognition there. Looking more closely, he saw that indeed, this wasn't Parker.
He looked from her to the cell phone and back again. Then, he reached up and removed the comm from her ear. What was going on? She was dressed in Parker's clothes, and she had Parker's comm in her ear. Parker's cell phone lay nearby.
"What's your name?" Eliot asked,gently.
The young woman frowned. "I have no idea."
"Who did this to you?"
"I don't know. The last few hours are a bit of a blur." He saw that she was starting to get agitated. She wouldn't be able to tell them anything if they couldn't calm her down.
"All right. Just relax. We're gonna get you out of here and find out where you belong, okay?"
"Thank you," she said, closing her eyes again.
Eliot heard a voice in his ear. Nate. "What do you need, Eliot?"
Squeezing the woman's arm gently, he said, "I'll be right back. I just need a few more supplies." She tried to nod, but could barely move her head. Eliot rose and walked a short distance away. He whispered into the comm, "Nate, I need something flat we can stabilize her on, so that she doesn't injure herself further. I need something to strap her down with, and I need space. She's terrified." He didn't take the time to tell Nate it wasn't Parker they had found. It had been his experience that news like that was best delivered in person. The team would know soon enough, and he wasn't about to let the only lead they had to Parker and her whereabouts slip away. Besides, they needed to get out of the open. There was no way to know if whoever did this was watching, planning something. There would be plenty of time for answers later, when they were safely back at Nate's apartment, and the girl was safe and warm, treated and comfortable.