The four men sat in the bright, morning lit office and stared with horrifying disbelief at the black, blank computer monitor.
Ezra re-entered the office and knew at a glance that things had not ended at all well.
"Chris...we couldn't find where the transmission came from, it was blocked. And more bad news; Josiah just got off the phone with the Willmere Lodge. There never was a reservation made under your name, or anyone else's name from the Denver PD. No one fitting Vin or JD's description was flown in yesterday. The Lodge is a thirty-five room facility that cater's to corporate conferences. The tape we just saw certainly didn't show a facility of that magnitude."
"It should be us there!" Buck slammed his sore hand against the desk, oblivious to the pain, "those two attract trouble like a magnet...we should have known better to let them go off together."
"Buck...cut the nonsense, this isn't helping the cause any. They are grown boys, capable of making their own choices and nothing you said or did would have stopped them from going. None of us thought they would or could get into trouble going to a fishing lodge in the middle of nowhere. And contrary to what you sometimes like to think, they are as capable as any men I have ever met. You just have to believe that if any two people are going to survive until we get to them, it will be those two!" Josiah said in his deep, confident, strong voice, offering Buck a lifeline to grab onto.
"Chris...you and the judge are or were the targets, that means it has to be a case that you both were involved in. I'll pull all the case files that have you both working together, then you'll have to go over them," Nathan pushed away from the desk, and headed for the office door.
Chris seemed to snap out of his daze as Nathan spoke to him, "Yeah, thanks Nathan, do that. Buck, I want you to see if you can track down that woman who phoned me about the award...damn, what was her name again?"
"Judy Tyle," answered Buck.
"Tailor...Tyler...Tyson...what the hell was it...Jean...Joanne?" Chris rubbed his hands through his hair in frustration as the name continued to evade him.
"Judy Tyle," Buck repeated. "I was there, remember and I never forget a lady's name. I'm on it." Buck rushed off, glad to have something constructive to work on.
"And Buck," Chris yelled out the office door, "check all the commercial airline companies and then privately owned Beavers in the area. Let's see if we can't at least find the plane and pilot that flew them to god knows where."
"Ezra, get the lab guys up here now, and have them go over this e-mail for voice, sound...whatever. Have them run the whole gamut and see if the can come up with anything. I want a name or at least a location if possible!"
Full of heartache himself, Orrin Travis laid a comforting hand across Chris's shoulder, "Since it seems we are the ones to have caused this mess, I guess we better get started going over all these files. We have a lot of history together Chris, I'd forgotten how long you and I have known each other, or how many cases we have worked on together. This could take a long time and I don't think we have a lot of it available. We might as well start with the most recent and work backwards." Travis clicked on the computer and systematically started to sort names.
The early morning mist rose off the lake, blurring the vibrant autumn colors of the forest on the far shoreline. A small herd of mule deer tentatively made their way past the lodge, and ventured down to the rocky beach to drink from the clear water. The flapping sound of ducks could be heard through the mist as they took flight from off of the lake surface, and lord..., how Vin wished he was stuck back in downtown Denver in the middle of a traffic jam chocking on smog, twenty minutes late for work and a peeved Chris Larabee.
Vin worked his sore jaw back and forth. When Sorenson's huge club of a fist first connected with it, Vin was sure it had snapped, but two hours later he could move it again. His side really burned from where the cattle prod had made contact with the soft skin on his torso and his wrists were raw from the regulation police handcuffs that were locked tightly around them. Blood still continued to trickle down from his nose and lip. He was not having a pleasant time. 'Note to self...erase this place off the list of fun, goodtime and relaxing getaways. And oh yeah, pop Chris in the kisser if he ever offers to give a free trip to me ever again!'
Vin glanced over to where JD was sitting between two of the men they had originally thought were guest. The kid's head hung down to his chest, hiding his battered face from view, so Vin was not sure if he was actually asleep or just trying to recoup his strength.
JD looked up through his thick lashes, and caught Vin staring at him for what had to be the tenth time, and wished he would stop. Buck always called JD the team's cheap drunk, as it never took much to make him feel intoxicated, and the potent drug they injected him with last night had proven Buck to be right again. Finally, it was slowly evaporating from his system, and he was starting to feel more normal, except for his face which he had used to injure the giant man's fists. Unfortunately Sorenson's fists seemed to have come out the victor of their confrontation. JD squinted over at Vin and flashed him a 'I am fine...and you would be feeling how?' look?
A lopsided grin appeared on Vin's face. 'Okay wise-guy, message received, we are both just fine. In a heck of a mess so it would seem, but otherwise just fine.'
Vin hated to admit it, but by drugging JD they had forced him into a serious case of submission. While he was more than prepared to do combat with any of these men to escape, he would never leave JD behind or force him to jump into the middle of a scrimmage that he was not physically capable of dealing with. It might not have been the wisest decision for assuring his survival, but it was the only one Vin was willing to make. These men had obviously done their homework and knew the two agents would not desert one another. In fact they banked on the closeness between the two, and seemed to enjoy antagonizing them both with this knowledge.
And there was something about Sorenson Vin thought he should know, but he could not put his finger on it. His face was not familiar, but the way he carried himself and the terminology he used Vin was sure he must have had a history in law enforcement.
There was a lot of hush, hush conversations going on around them especially between Sorenson, who seemed to be in charge of all the men, and the articulate man who had made JD read that message to Chris. Vin wished to hell they would show their hand, because he really didn't like the fear or intensity of the unknown. He couldn't format a plan of action when he had no idea what was in store for them. Outwardly appearing disinterested, this endless sitting had his already vibrating nerves stretched almost to their breaking point, but he knew if they were to get out of this predicament in one piece, he had to be thinking with a cool head. Suddenly, the room came alive with movement, and Vin knew it was about to all come down.
Vin and JD were hauled roughly out of the chairs to their feet, and forced out of the lodge onto the veranda, with Vin leading the way down the steps.
"I'm going...I'm going!" JD said to the men who were steering him faster off the veranda than his feet were able to comprehend. With a yelp he missed a step and felt both feet slide out from under him. Without his hands to break his fall, JD crashed onto his left hip and slid down the last four steps, finally stopping when his knee collided with the banister.
"JD!" Vin yelled out and tried to come to his partner's aide, but Bill and another man shoved him hard and kept him moving towards the beach.
Stone-hearted, Stan grabbed the back of JD's sweatshirt, pulled him to his feet, and forced him to limp down to the beach as well.
"Let him go!" Vin shouted at Stan, feeling helpless as he watched JD cower under the bigger man's intimidation.
JD shrank back from the man, ducking his head as if afraid of receiving another blow to his face. The group of men looked at him with undisguised disgust.
"Oh, hell," thought Vin.
"Well...guess that is what happens when they let children into the police department. But you all saw Tanner's portfolio and history, so you know we will have at least one adversary who will present a challenge..." the hulking man in charge started to say.
A loud grunt of pain suddenly erupted out of Stan's mouth as he folded over, clutching his crotch with both hands.
JD brought his knee back down to the ground. "Oh...did I do that...sorry about that, Stan, just a knee jerk reaction, maybe from the drug you fellows gave me," JD feigned a look of angelic innocence.
'Yep...JD's starting to feel like his old self. That's what you get for underestimating a person!' Vin laughed to himself. These men would now know appearances could be deceiving.
With a loud growl, Sorenson stepped forward and let go with another backhand that knocked JD clear off his feet and sent him sliding across the gravel on his backside.
Another bruise instantly appeared on his other cheek. JD groggily struggled to get his feet back under himself, "That the best you got?" he snarled to the man who hit him, then looked down at a writhing and groaning Stan, "Hell, it was worth it!"
"JD!" Vin hissed, "Knock it off."
JD turned his innocent look to Vin. Vin just stared right back at him, not buying it for a second. With a resigned sigh and a rebellious expression, JD stood back up and stayed quiet like a good boy.
"I'm going to kill the little son of a..." Stan finally gasped out through his clenched teeth.
"You will wait your chance like everyone else." The articulate man spoke out in his controlled, clipped voice. He was the only one who's bearings didn't yell out professional militant, as he moved about in his new meticulous outdoor wear. Vin could tell it had just come out of the showroom and had never seen dirt before, and it was the expensive kind that Ezra liked to wear. In his hand, he was gripping too tightly to a high-powered rifle with a night-vision scope that would have cost Vin a half-years wages. But he scared Vin the worst...at least Vin could read the other men, and he knew how to fight them on their level if he had too. This other man looked at him with such a manic depth of hostility and revulsion, that Vin was not sure what he was dealing with.
JD took a step back when he felt the piercing stare impale him again. Emotions kept flashing helter skelter over the man's face every time he looked at JD, making the young agent very uncomfortable.
JD fidgeted under the scrutiny for as long as he could stand it, then he lunged up onto his toes so he was face to face with the man, "Why are you always staring at me. What the hell is your problem!"
"You are not anything like him," is all the man said after a pause, his voice full of grief, before moving away to stand by the leader again.
JD slowly lowered himself back off his toes and exchanged a confused look with Vin.
"We're wasting daylight, Sorenson. Let's get this over with now!" the man said, his voice husky with emotion as he pointed to the two agents. Sorenson nodded in agreement and snapped his fingers at two of his men.
"Get down," Bill's cold, impersonal voice washed over them, then Vin and JD were both roughly knocked to their knees in the dirt from behind.
JD lost the rebellious expression as his eyes filled with trepidation. Vin shoved a shoulder against JD, letting him know he was not alone, while he continued to try squeezing his hands out of the handcuffs.
"Lock and load gentlemen." Vin and JD both jumped as the sound of bullets being loaded into rifle chambers went off all around them.
"Christ!" Vin hissed out. How the hell had his life come to this?
"You kill us and you will spend the rest of your lives running from every cop in the world! We really frown on the murder of our own, a fact you probably all ready know, Sorenson." Vin said, taking a shot that Sorenson knew something about the field of law enforcement.
"Well...they will have to find your bodies for evidence first and that isn't about to happen Tanner. So you will have to excuse me for not shaking in my boots. We've had enough chatting for one day, we're wasting time. Bill...,bring the runty one first."
Bill and another man dragged a desperately struggling JD to his feet.
"Get your hands off me," he yelled, while kicking out at the men holding him.
Vin lunged partly to his feet and rammed his shoulder into the back of Bill's legs, affectively knocking all of them to the ground.
JD brought his knee up hard into the other man's face and he felt some satisfaction as the bone in the other man's nose shattered. Before he could do any further damage, the sound of a shotgun being cocked and the feel of the cold, metal barrel placed against his throat stopped his motion. Behind him he heard a grunt of pain as Sorenson kidney-punched Vin.
"Vin?" JD quietly muttered, then doubled over his stomach as Sorenson buried a fist into him at the same time he was yanked up to his feet.
"Get him in the boat and for god sake, watch him!" Sorenson said, exasperation dripping from his tongue as the man with the broken nose lay on the ground moaning beside Stan.
Two men grabbed JD backwards by his arms and dragged him to the wharf, his heels leaving weaving trails in the gravel.
Vin sat helplessly on his knees, with his mouth wide open as he gulped in great gasps of air.
"Vin!" JD yelled again as he was tossed unceremoniously into the bottom of the ski- boat.
"JD...No!" Agony ripped at Vin as the boat carrying JD and four men pulled away from the wharf and headed across the lake.
"What are you going to do to him, you son of a bitch!" Vin hissed at Sorenson.
"Nothing that we aren't going to do to you too. I like to consider myself an equal opportunity opportunist, but as tough as he thinks he is, he is still a babe in the woods, so my sense of fair play dictates he goes first."
JD's heart was pounding as he felt the boat first slow down, and then come to a stop as the bottom of the boat hull scrapped on the rocky shoreline.
Bill stuck his knee in the middle of JD's back and held him down as he removed the handcuffs from around the agent's wrists.
"Get out," Bill said frigidly.
JD climbed awkwardly over the side of the boat into the lake and waded up to the beach, expecting to feel a bullet rip him apart any second. JD closed his eyes, took a deep breath and then turned to look upon his captors with a face full of cocky daring. If he was going to die, he damn well wanted to do it face to face.
"I am going to explain the rules to you. One. You get a fifteen minute head start. Well...how about that, that was the only rule. You have fifteen minutes from now...go! I suggest you start running. We expect to find you and kill you within the hour anyway, but don't just stand there and make it any easier then it already will be. God, I hope your buddy is as good as they say he is, cause I've hunted rabbits more challenging then you. Damn it...run!" Bill shouted at the bewildered young man and pointed his rifle at him.
Confused, JD turned and stumbled up the hillside away from the boat and away from Vin.
Vin kept waiting for the sound of a rifle going off, since he could not see through the mist to where they had taken JD. Vin swore he was going to survive whatever they had planned for him and whatever it took he would hunt these men down until not one of them remained standing. And if they hurt a single hair on their youngest team member's head, he knew without a doubt, five other men would somehow manage to be right by his side helping him!
Hands unlocking his handcuffs brought his mind back to the present, "You have a ten minute head start Tanner, then we are coming a huntin'! Dunne was given a fifteen minute start, but I have serious doubts the extra time will make any difference in the final outcome to him. I hope you will give the hunt a little more excitement," Sorenson told Vin, in a voice filled with excited venom.
Vin let out a sigh of relief, at least for now JD was still alive. Hands pushed him roughly around and he was steered away from the direction JD had been taken, and allowed to melt into the forest.
Evan Watts watched as the two agents were forced apart and sent out into the woods in opposite directions to run for their lives. That they were innocent of any wrong doing was irrelevant to him. He, the dearest person in his life, had been innocent as well, but still he had died. Watts only wished it was Larabee whom he was about to hunt down, but the pain of killing his enemy's best friend and his youngest agent would have to sustain him until another opportunity presented itself, and he could deal with Larabee and Travis in a more personal way, face to face.
His heart pounded in his chest, and his breath came out in gasping gulps as he forced his legs to keep moving up the steep rocky incline. The run had helped clear his system of the drugs that had been pumped into him the night before. Now all that remained was a lingering headache, and a stiff knee from his collision with the banister back at the lodge. He knew he had to come up with a plan soon...he could not keep this pace up for much longer. He hoped to give himself some time by out distancing the men chasing him. He didn't have a lot of survival skills in the wilderness, but he did have great conditioning on his side and for now just hoped to keep way out in front of them. Unfortunately, he was now all turned around in the woods and didn't know if he was running ahead of them or right back towards them.
He was at the top of the slope when he heard the trickling of water and saw the almost dried up creek bubble over a rockbed. Gratefully, he dropped down to cup some of the cold, clear liquid into his parched mouth. He hadn't had any food or drink since he polished off his milkshake last night, as his rumbling stomach kept reminding him.
Worry tore at him too, not just for himself, but for Vin as well. He never heard any guns go off from the other side of the lake where he had last seen Vin. He could only hope Vin was in the same predicament as he was right now and he doubted anyone would be able find his friend if he was running loose in these forests. JD figured he could eventually find his way back to the lodge, if he could take his time, but for now he was too intent on trying to stay alive.
The trees that only yesterday he had thought to be beautiful, were now useful too, as swallowed him up under their thick canopy. Even the slope he had just climbed up gave none of its secrets away. JD looked around him, he needed to get to higher ground so he could pick out a landmark, which regrettably meant more uphill climbing. Pushing his protesting body, JD climbed over some slippery moss covered deadfalls and fought his way through thick underbrush upwards again.
The trees started to thin out as JD approached the summit, forcing him to stay to the shady side of the mountain, where he tried to blend more into the shadows. With tingling leg muscles quivering under him, he slowly lowered himself to a rock ledge and searched the meadow ahead of him, and the slope behind him that he had just traversed. He thought he recognized the hill to his right, but was not sure.
The late afternoon sun was setting lower in the sky; in a few more hours it would be dark and JD had no idea where he was or where Vin was or if Vin was even still alive. JD wiped his sweaty palms up and down on his jeans, and tried to get his frayed nerves back under control. He had survived a hell of a lot longer than the men hunting him thought he would. He had beat the odds already, he just had to keep going.
'Think...come on think...think!'
Tentatively, he raised his head above the rock ledge and again looked out over the open meadow, and tried to decide if he should risk crossing it. His heart leaped into his throat as the setting sun reflected off a rifle scope on the other side of the meadow.
Panicking, JD started sliding down the slope he had just ascended. Scrambling along loose shale he moved downwards and sideways at the same time, heading for the thicker forest again. Running now, he moved as fast as he could without slipping on the unstable footing towards the tree line. A bullet suddenly kicked up the dirt in front of him. With a shout he tucked his body into a ball and somersaulted the rest of the way down the slope bouncing hard over the craggy loose rock. Reaching the bottom he took off, zigzagging and running low, trying to put as many trees between him and the bullets as he could. A branch sliced him across his cheek as it was whipped from a tree by a bullet less than a foot from him.
JD hit the deep brush now and struggled over more deadfalls, as he fought his way through the thick underbrush that wanted to snag him. Running with one arm up in front of his face to protect his eyes, he forced his legs to keep moving and ignored the stitch in his side and the burning in his lungs.
He knew he was swathing a heck of a trail through the woods for the men behind him to follow, but didn't know what else to do except keep moving.
"Where ya running to JD...you know it's over, all this running is futile! You might as well give up now and face it like a man!"
Fear tore at JD as he heard Bill's voice right behind him, and he forced his legs to pump even harder over the impossible terrain.
Gasping for air, he struggled to push the underbrush out of his way with his hands and shoulders. JD threw a look behind him as the voices got closer, and went sprawling onto his hands and knees as he tripped over an exposed tree root. Crying out in fearful frustration, he stumbled to his feet and kept running.
With lungs bursting and legs deadened, JD scrambled under a pile of deadfalls and clawed his way to the back, dirt and spider webs filling his mouth and eyes. With his back against a tree he tried to slow his wheezing breath and racing heart. Even if they couldn't follow the trail, JD was sure they could hear his heart pounding all the way from where he was hiding.
He almost let out a scream as rodents scurried over his leg and hand. Snapping his limbs up tight into a ball he pulled his knees into his chest with his arms, and with closed eyes and lowered head rocked slowly back and forth as he heard the men walking closer and closer.
"Hey, JD...come on boy, you can do better than this! You're making it too easy," Bill hollered into the pile of downed logs, "this going to be your Alamo boy, you sure this is where you want to make your last stand and die? Well...this looks like as good a place as any. It's a good day to die...nice blue sky, warm wind. Well...it's been nice knowing you!"
With that Bill raised his rifle up, pointed it at the logs, and along with the three other men, blasted the hell out of the log pile.