My first sense to come back was taste. And it was blood, that familiar metallic which registered first.
My vision was still fuzzy, but I didn't need to look up to know that I was in deep shit.
"Familia," the masked man shouted again.
"Nada," I replied as I spit blood onto the dirt floor.
I knew how this worked, I would be held, and my family would have to pay a ransom for my freedom. There was only one hiccup in my captor's plan, I didn't have a family. I never had a family, and I liked it that way. I looked over at the six fellow-American tourists who were all seated against the wall. They looked terrified, and I was too, but I'd be damned if I'd let some cartel asshole see it.
"We will kill you," the man said as he lifted me to my feet by my shirt.
"I know. I believe you, but I don't have any family. Do some digging, you'll see."
The man stared at me hard, and I met his gaze with equal ferocity.
"No," I replied.
The man let go of my shirt, and I fell back onto the floor. After two days of interrogation and lack of food and water, I was weak. I was going to die here, and I knew it. Another man walked into the room, and I looked over at the fellow tourists kidnapped off minibus with me. They pasted themselves closer to the dirt wall. I knew the man coming in was the heavy, the masked man who had interrogated me was meant to be the good cop.
I was hoisted back up onto my feet, and I tried not to sway. I looked my captors in the eyes. If this was my moment, so be it. The bad cop pulled a gun from his belt loop and held it to my head.
"Familia," he growled.
I stayed silent. Annoyed, he pulled the hammer back on his gun. I closed my eyes; this was it.
"One last time, your family name," he said as he pressed the cold metal into my forehead.
I swallowed, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath as I waited for the shot.
"She's mine! She's mine. I'm her husband."
My eyes shot open, and the room turned to look at the man who had claimed me as his own. I didn't know him, other than the few words that we as prisoners had exchanged. His name was Ian, and he was from Greenbay, Wisconsin. He was meeting his brother at the resort for a bachelor's blowout weekend. He stood, bracing himself against the earthen wall.
"She's my wife. Please don't hurt her."
The two captors eyed me suspiciously. I stayed silent more out of curiosity than anything. They exchanged a few words in Spanish, and the man with the gun looked back at Ian and then at me. He raised his hand, and the world went black.
I woke with that same metallic taste in my mouth, blood. I was getting really tired of waking to the taste of blood. My entire body hurt, and I could sense that I wasn't alone. There was someone else there.
"Shhh," a man's voice said. I didn't recognize it.
I felt a caress over my head, and then the man moved away. I heard his sandals on the dirt floor. He was speaking Spanish to someone else.
"Please," he said as he walked back over and knelt down next to me.
I opened my eyes to see Ian kneeling over me. A woman brought in a small metal cup of water and handed it to Ian.
"Here, try to sip this." He said as he helped me pick up my head.
The water tasted of the metal cup, but it had been days since I'd had anything to drink. I gulped heavily, and Ian pulled the cup away.
"No, slowly, or it will come back up. You need to keep this water in you."
He brought the cup back to my lips, and I did my best to go slowly. He pulled the cup away and laid my head back down. I drifted off into a place of exhaustion and sleep.
I woke to complete darkness, I shivered on the cold dirt floor. We'd been stripped down to our undergarments when we arrived. I pulled my knees up to my chest to try to hold onto my body heat. I felt someone move behind me. He rubbed my upper arm, and instantly my body went rigid.
"Shh, I won't hurt you. I'm just trying to warm you up. It's Ian."
I looked behind me, and although I couldn't see him, I knew it was him by his voice.
"I'm freezing." I croaked.
"Here," he said as he pulled away. I felt something warm drape over me. "It's my t-shirt, you can wear it. I don't know why they didn't let you ladies keep your shirts too. Well, I do, but let's not go there."
He didn't finish his statement, and I was okay with that. I slipped his t-shirt on. The thought of putting on a stranger's three-day-old shirt would normally turn my stomach, but at that moment, I was grateful. I sat up, slid it on, and my body screamed out in pain.
"There's a little food too. I saved you some of mine."
My eyes adjusted to the darkness, and I could just make out his silhouette moving in the night. He handed me what felt like a tortilla.
"Eat slowly. I have more water too."
I smelled the tortilla in my hand, and it smelled musty, but I had not eaten since my flight almost two days ago, or at least I thought it was two days. Time was fuzzy. I took a small bite; the food felt like sandpaper in my mouth.
"Water," I croaked.
He placed the metal cup in my hand and helped me bring it to my lips. I remember his words, to sip slowly. I pulled the cup away from my mouth, and I let him take it away. I chewed the tortilla slowly and finished the cup of water. Each time he helped me to make sure I didn't spill the precious liquid.
"Was this your dinner?" I asked.
"It was your share."
"Why are you helping me?"
"They would've killed you."
"I know, but you still didn't have to do that. They're going to demand my ransom from whatever family name you gave, and they'll find out you lied."
"I don't understand."
"Just rest. You've been through a lot."
I leaned back up against the wall and closed my eyes. Sleep came quickly again. In the early morning light, we were startled awake by the gunshots. I jolted with each shot, and I somehow knew that our fellow tourists had just lived through their last nights. I heard sobbing, and I buried my head deep into Ian's chest. The hair on his chest tickled my nose as he pulled me in closer.
"Shhh, I promise you we will get out of this alive."
It was only when he said it that I realized I was the one sobbing. I didn't cry. I never cried. I was Murphy Green, ruthless, stoic, and unattached, yet here I was clinging to a stranger as I cried. I couldn't help it. I promised myself on my fifteenth birthday I'd never cry again, and I'd kept that vow for the past twenty years. I couldn't stop the tears, and the harder I tried, the more they came. Ian held me tightly, trying to comfort me. When I finally stopped, the sun was up. I sat up slowly and dried my eyes. I looked over at him; he had grown a thin beard and wore the stress of the situation on his face, his own eyes bloodshot, and his thick lips cracked from dehydration.
"I'm sorry," I said, embarrassed that I'd completely lost it and sobbed all over the chest of this man sitting next to me.
"It's okay. You can hold me when I break down."
I looked at him, wondering if he was serious or had he just made a joke as we were held captive and the rest of our party had been executed? Sensing my confusion, he sat up and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Sorry, I tend to use humor in the most inappropriate movements."
"Oh." I feigned a little smile.
"I am Ian Woodard, by the way, in case you were wondering what my last name is. Seeing as we're married, I thought you should know it."
"Oh, right. I'm Murphy Green."
I held out my hand for him to shake it, and it felt ridiculous after he'd held me through some sort of mental breakdown.
"Hi, Murphy, nice to meet you. Where are you from?"
"I'm from, well, nowhere really. I live in New York now."
"Believe me, I know about nowhere. I'm from a tiny town in Wisconsin. Lather, Wisconsin. I think the town's population is like three hundred. We have more dairy cows than people."
"No, I don't know where I'm from."
"How do you not know where you're from?"
"I was adopted, and the original records were lost. My adoptive parents died, and I grew up in the foster care system. I'm alone, and I don't have a home. I'm okay with it though, it keeps things simple for me, and I like that."
"Okay, Murphy, from nowhere. So you don't have any family? Like none? Friends? No one they could call?"
"No. I have work colleagues, but I doubt any of them would shell out for my return. I'm not popular, and I'm okay with that."
Footsteps approached, and I crawled over and sat next to Ian; both of us sat against the wall. The two men from yesterday approached. One held a plate of scrambled eggs, beans, and rice. The smell wafted into our room, and my mouth watered at the scent. I heard Ian's stomach growl.
"You." The man with the gun from yesterday said as he pointed at me. "Familia name!"
"I don't…" I started.
"Her last name is Woodard. She is my wife. You can ask my family for her ransom too they will pay it. Please don't hurt her."
I looked back at Ian, still not believing that his family would pay for a complete stranger.
"Call them, use the phone number I gave you they will pay for both of us."
"You," the gunman repeated as he charged in and pulled me up by Ian's shirt.
Ian stood too. "Stop, there's no need to hurt her. Call the phone number I gave you."
"She is going to call."
I glanced at Ian, trying not to show the panic coursing through my veins. How would I tell his family that he'd been kidnapped and had claimed me as his wife?
Ian reached out for me. "It's okay tell mom her little bear will be okay. She'll send the money; she loves you too."
I was so confused, but I didn't have time to ask questions as I was dragged out of the room, through the compound. We entered another room with a table and a wooden chair on each side. I was placed in one chair as the gunman sat in the other chair. I looked back at the "good cop," who still stood with the plate of food. I silently prayed it was my reward for making the phone call, but I didn't dare ask. The man across the table dialed the number on a cellphone and handed it to me. My hand shook as I took the phone and put it up to my ear. I tried to organize my thoughts. What the hell was I going to tell these people, Ian's family?
"Hello," an older woman said on the other end of the phone.
"Hello," I said as my voice cracked from dehydration. I tried to clear my throat.
"Can I help you, dear?" The woman asked.
"I'm, um. I'm Ian's wife. I mean Ian and I…Uh, we've been kidnapped here in Mexico."
"I'm sorry, I don't know anyone by that name."
"What? Ian Woodard from.." I searched my memory for the name of the town, "um.. from Lather, Wisconsin."
The voice changed on the phone, it was the same woman, but she sounded much younger and stern. "Code name?"
"What?" I was so confused. What was happening here? Who was Ian? I ran through what I knew about him. "Cows," I guessed.
The woman did not respond. I thought again.
"Your little bear will be okay."
"Yes, he will." The woman said and hung up the phone.
I pulled it away and looked down at it, not understanding what had just happened. The man across the table grabbed the phone from me.
"They're going to send the money."
The man with the plate of food set it down in front of me, and I dug into it with my hands. I willed myself to slow down, but I couldn't. I ate most of it before I remembered Ian. He'd given me half of his dinner. I stopped eating, even though my body desperately craved each morsel on the plate.
"Can I take the rest to my husband?"
The gunman gave a nod that I could, and I stood up, carrying the plate carefully back to our cell. I handed the plate to Ian carefully, and he looked at me, surprised. I stayed quiet until our captors had left.
"Who are you?" I whispered.
"Told you we're related," he said as he dug into the rest of the breakfast. "Did you tell mom her little bear will be okay?"
"Yes. Your mother said, "yes, you will." Again who are you? And how are we related?"
"The less you know, the better. Just know the good guys are on the way."
"Are you CIA?"
"Thank you for saving some of this for me."
"Ian, you aren't going to answer my questions, are you?"
"The less you know, the better."
Ian and I stayed locked in that cell for another day before we were rescued by a private military group that worked out of the United States. The rescue happened so fast as we were whisked from the building during a gunfight. I was pushed into an armored jeep, followed by a helicopter. Weak from hunger, I couldn't pay attention to where I was taken.
I woke in a hotel room with an i.v. in my arm. I feared the worse as I sat up in bed. I began to gently pull at the I.V. to remove it from my arm. I stopped as the door opened and Ian walked in.
"It's okay, you're safe. You're home now, on American soil."
"Who are you? Where are we?"
"You're in California, safe and recuperating. You can leave at any time."
"I don't understand. Are you CIA?"
"No, not CIA. Just one American helping out a fellow American. That's what I meant by "we're related."
"Do you want me to call someone for you? I can have a phone ran in here for you if you prefer to call yourself."
"I have no one to call. I wasn't lying."
"Well, next time, you have someone to call."
Ian sat down on the side of the bed and caressed the side of my face. I welcomed his touch. I would've never made it through that ordeal without him.
"Me. You have me, Murphy. Anyone who can keep their shit together through that, I am glad to call family."
Those three days we were held captive, Ian cared for me. I know I wouldn't have made it through without him. If this was what family was supposed to be, maybe it wasn't so bad after all.