The men jumped out of the truck, shouting something angrily in a foreign language and gesturing at them.
“What are they saying?” Tamara asked, moving in close to Caleb.
“I don’t think we’re supposed to be here,” Jenna said. They were all backing up now, except for Santiago, who stood facing the men with his arms hanging at his sides. He looked somehow like a man preparing for a gunfight.
Then one of the men pulled a pistol from a holster and raised it. The other one followed and they began shooting.
“They’re shooting at us!” Jordynn cried.
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Pandemonium broke out. Some of the contestants simply froze. Others ran toward the jet or simply away from the gunfire. Over the sound of the gunfire came Akila’s voice, yelling, “Over here! Come on!”
Akila had reached the warehouse and was standing in the open doorway, waving to them. Nate started to run, saw Omisha standing there motionless still, and grabbed her arm. Bullets spattered around them. “Come on!”
At first Omisha just stared at him as if she had no idea who he was. Then Nate began to drag her and suddenly she came to life and started to run.
They reached the shelter of the warehouse and ran inside. Akila slammed and locked the door while the rest stared at each other in stunned disbelief.
“Why did they do that?” Jordynn asked in a small voice. “What’s going on?”
No one answered. What was there to say? What had started as a normal enough day, filled with anticipation and excitement, had turned into a nightmare.
Akila went to the small window and looked out. “They’re leaving.”
Others crowded around the window. The men seemed to be arguing as they went back to the pickup and got in. The vehicle sprayed dirt as it spun in a tight circle and headed back the way it came.
“Somebody doesn’t want us here,” Akila said quietly.
“No shit,” Tony said.
“Are they going to come back?” Tamara asked. She had a tight grip on Caleb’s arm.
“What do you think?” Akila said. There were a couple of light switches by the door and she turned them on. Rows of overhead fluorescent lights buzzed and came to life.
One end of the warehouse was mostly filled with stacks of boxes and crates on wooden pallets. Along one wall was a row of cabinets and metal lockers. The other end of the warehouse had been framed in and walled off. There was a door in the center of the wall.
“What the hell?” Caleb asked.
Akila walked over to the nearest crate, which was sitting on the floor, its lid partway off. She pushed the lid back and looked in. “I think I know why they were shooting at us.”
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
They hurried over to her. What Nate saw confused him at first. The crate was filled with brick-sized packages wrapped in plastic. There was something brownish inside the packages.
Then Caleb said, “Is that what I think it is?”
Akila looked at him. “What do you think it is?”
“I think it’s heroin. But what is this much heroin doing in Africa? Heroin doesn’t come from Africa.”
“Maybe it’s not heroin,” Jordynn said.
“I saw something on CNN about this,” Jenna said. “They said with all the pressure on the heroin trade in Afghanistan that more and more of it was being produced in Africa.”
“That’s a lot of heroin,” Tamara said, her eyes getting big. “I’ve never seen that much at once before.” Caleb gave her a look but didn’t say anything.
“Hijo de la Madre,” Santiago swore. “If that’s heroin we got real problems.”
“I don’t understand,” Jordynn said quietly.
“This must be a transfer point for a drug operation,” Akila said. “That’s why this airstrip is here in the middle of nowhere. The money from the drugs is probably being used to finance one of the rebel armies fighting to overthrow the government.”
“She means we are in a very bad situation,” Santiago said.
“They’re going to come back,” Tamara said. “No one leaves this much drugs behind. They’re going to kill us all.”
“What are we going to do?” Nate asked.
“Maybe we could just put it outside,” Jordynn said. “Maybe they’ll take it and leave us alone.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Santiago snapped. “Not with drug dealers.”
“What if we just leave? Get out of here before they get back?” Tamara asked.
“Really?” Santiago said. “Are you stupid? We’re in a middle of a fucking jungle. How long do you think we’ll last out there?”
“You don’t have to yell at me! I’m just trying to help.” Tears ran down Tamara’s face, smearing her makeup. She turned to Caleb. “Why are you letting him talk to me like that?”
“Just ease off, mate,” Caleb said. “We’re all a little tense.”
“We have to fight,” Santiago said, ignoring Caleb.
“Fight?” Jenna asked. “How are we going to fight them? They have guns in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Santiago looked around the warehouse. “They must have some guns stashed here somewhere. All we have to do is find them.”
“It makes sense that there would be some weapons here,” Akila added. “If they’re using drug money to finance a war then maybe they’re shipping guns through here too. Some of these crates could have weapons in them.”
The crew members from the jet came running into the warehouse then, the pilot and the co-pilot, the two flight attendants. “Is everyone all right?” Carl asked. “Was anyone hit?”
“We’re okay. But we’ve got a big problem on our hands.” Akila pointed to the drugs.
The pilot’s face grew very grave. “We have to get out of here as soon as we can.”
“What about the plane?” Tamara asked. “Is it okay?”
“I haven’t had a chance to look it over. It might be. I don’t think we hit any of the big trees.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway,” Adam said. His expression was haunted. “We’re out of fuel.”
Carl gave him a hard look but Adam ignored him. “One thing at a time. We just need to stay calm.”
“’Stay calm,’ he says,” Tony said. “Yeah, why shouldn’t we stay calm? We’ve only just crash landed in the middle of nowhere and drug dealers are trying to kill us. Oh, and a killer virus is spreading all over the world. Fuck calm. I say we panic.”
“Are you done?” Carl asked, when he stopped talking.
Tony hung his head. “I’m done.”
Carl gestured toward the co-pilot. “Dave and I are going to go check out the jet. Kelly, you and Adam go back into the cabin and assess the damage there.”
“We’ll search through this stuff,” Akila said. “See if we can find any weapons.”
“I’ll start going through these crates and boxes,” Santiago said.
“I’ll help Santiago,” Caleb said.
“I want to see what’s behind that door,” Jenna said, pointing to the other end of the warehouse, where it was partitioned off.
Akila, Tony and Maha followed Jenna. Nate noticed that Omisha was just standing there, a dazed look on her face. He took her by the arm. “Why don’t you come with us?” She nodded but didn’t speak. He wondered if she was in shock. He wondered if he was in shock. It all felt terribly unreal.
They filed through the door. On the other side was a big room with a dining table in the middle of it. Along one wall was a refrigerator, some cabinets, a stove and a sink. On the other side of the room was a couch, a love seat and a couple of chairs facing a flat screen TV. On the far side of the room was another door. Akila went to the door and looked through.
“It looks like the bedrooms are back here. I’m going to search them first.”
“Jenna, can you help me with Omisha?” Nate asked. “I think she’s in shock.” He led her to the couch and helped her sit down. She was shaking and crying, but no sounds were coming out. Jenna sat down on the couch beside her and put her arm around her.
“It’s okay,” she said softly. “We’re going to be okay now.” She put Omisha’s head on her shoulder. To Nate she said, “See if you can get her a glass of water.”
Nate brought her a glass of water and then stood there feeling useless until Akila emerged from the hallway. She was carrying two semiautomatic pistols. She looked at Jenna. “There’s beds back there. See if you can get her to lie down.”
Jenna and Nate helped Omisha up and over to the door. At the door, Jenna stopped Nate. “I think it’s better if it’s just me with her.”
Nate nodded. “Keep me updated,” he said. She led Omisha away.
“Let’s go see what the others found,” Akila said.
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