A Four Corners Adventure Tours story
Vin slid his right leg over the saddle and gently let himself slide down to the ground. Slowly he used his right leg to lower himself into a squat, keeping his tender left leg stretched out in front of him. He was able to put some weight on it but he wasnt about to push it too much. He studied the ground in front of him, seeing the overturned leaf, the scuff on a small rock, a branch snapped from a bush. Pushing himself upright, he took a tentative step forward. Instantly Buck was there to lean on. They moved a few feet more, then Vin squatted once more.
Standing again, he pointed off to the right and up hill. Turning, he hobbled to the wrong side of his horse and Buck helped him get his right foot in the stirrup, keeping a guiding hand there as Vin carefully moved his leg over the horses rump and settled it on the other side, foot out of the stirrup. That was the hardest part, getting on and off the horse so he could check the trail. He was dealing with the jostling his leg received from the uneven ground even though his leg was hurting more than it probably should. There would be time to deal with it later.
He knew that Nathan was watching him for any sign that he was in extreme pain. Any reason to turn him around and take him down the mountain. The guests had started back down the mountain the day before accompanied by Chris deputies as soon as the last two children had joined them, following the faster, though less scenic, trail that Chris had brought the officers up. Everyone else had set up a quick camp once more and they had spent the night in the meadow. Chris had wanted to head out right then, but even he realized that they would have maybe 30 minutes of bad light in the woods before they would lose any sight of a trail in the gathering gloom.
Nathan had reluctantly given Vin a few Motrin and Benadryl tablets and Vin had slept sporadically through the night. Between the man set at watch waking him in case he had a concussion and the throbbing in his knee, true sleep was not in the cards for him. But the next morning he looked as though hed had a full eight hours sleep.
And now they had been on the trail for a good five hours, stopping only when they had to for water and to rest the horses, and when Nathan insisted Vin rest for a time.
"Were getting close ta the caves. And hes been wanderin around here today. Some a these tracks are fresh."
"How do you know?" Brookes asked. The man had never worked with a tracker of this sort before and doubted that such a thing could be told just by looking at a patch of dirt and leaves. He had been questioning almost everything Vin had said on the trail so far even though he had been the one to ask for this mans help when he had arrived in Four Corners. He was a law officer used to high technology and forensics but it seemed beyond him that anyone could see the things Tanner had been telling them by looking at the ground.
All seven men looked at him as if he had grown a second head. Vin shook his head and moved on, pulling his vintage sawed off Mares leg rifle from the scabbard on his saddle.
Brookes raised an eyebrow at the sight of the antique weapon, but kept silent when Larabee silently shook his head in warning.
Thirty minutes later Vin pulled his horse to a halt and signaled everyone for silence. Chris dismounted and moved over next to Vins horse so they could talk.
"The caves are about a fifteen minute walk that way," Vin said quietly, leaning as low in the saddle as he could. "Theres three of em. Hes in the one closest ta us. Its bigger and has a vent hole fer the fire he has going. If ya look real careful ya kin see the smoke. Ya kin smoke him out by plugging the hole."
Chris motioned for the others to dismount and gather around. Vin slid down also, putting slight weight on his leg.
"Were close," Chris told the others. "Vin says theres a vent hole in the first cave. Plug it up and we can smoke him out. Vin, I need you to tell Buck where to find this vent. And no," Chris cut off the words about to come out of Vins mouth, "Youre not the one climbing up there. Youve been pushing that knee hard enough."
Chris stared at Vin until he was certain the man was not about to argue. He finally saw the acceptance in Vins stature and continued. "JD, I need you to stay here with the horses. Vin, youre sitting right over there. The rest of us will spread out and cover all possible paths he could run from. Buck, plug that hole five minutes after you get up there. That should be enough time for all of us to be in position. Lets go."
Buck got directions from Vin then took off uphill as quietly as he could. Nathan and Josiah made sure that Vin settled against a rock, his swollen knee propped up. Then they all moved off and took position, fanning out to form a semi-circle around the opening.
The vent was exactly where Vin had told him. Buck could see the slight curl of smoke emerging from the brush. Looking around he found a large chunk of flat slate and pushed it over the hole. Then he made his way down to take up a position as close to the cave opening as he dared get and waited.
None of them had to wait long as Cochran came stumbling out of the cave, coughing and rubbing a hand over his watering eyes.
"Freeze!" Brookes, who had taken the position directly in front of the cave opening, yelled out, his weapon aimed at the man. Cochran paused for a brief second before darting off to his left, heading along the path that would take him toward JD and Vin. Brookes fired, his shot missing and chipping the rock side of the cave. Chris took aim at the man as Brookes darted in front of his path, cutting off Chris vision.
"Damn it!" he cursed under his breath, then yelled at the top of his lungs, "Buck, hes heading your way!"
Buck had barely gotten into position when Cochran had emerged from the cave and Brookes had fired at the man. Cochran darted by him and Buck took aim and fired. He saw a slight jerk, but the man continued running, firing his own gun while on the run, causing Buck to step back behind a tree. Brookes ran by, followed by Chris, Josiah, Ezra and Nathan. Buck joined them, but before a few more steps had been taken they heard a familiar boom of a rifle.
The small group slowed, anxious to help Vin and JD but needing to be cautious themselves. Then they heard a familiar voice call out.
"Chris! Buck! Vin got him!" came JDs excited voice. The men quickly entered the small clearing that held their two friends and the horses. Vin still sat where they had left him, his Mares leg cradled across his arm as Brookes examined the body.
"You two okay?" Chris asked, allowing the barrel of his rifle to lower at his side when Brookes looked up from cuffing the dead gunman and shook his head.
"You bet!" JD said as Vin nodded. "Vin just casual as you please lifted that gun of his and fired when that guy stopped on the path and started to aim at us!"
Chris walked over and squatted by his friend. "Vin?"
"Im fine Chris. It was shoot er be shot. Im okay with it."
"Okay." Chris stood. "How far from the meadow are we?"
"Kin make it in a couple hours since we dont have ta read track."
"All right. Buck, you and JD go make sure his fire is out. Bring back his blanket if he has one and anything he might have in there. Brooks, you might want to go with them and see if theres anything you need for evidence. Well wrap him up in his blanket and put him on the packhorse. Well rest the horses for awhile longer then head out."
Nathan took his first aid kit down from his horse and handed Vin a packet of headache pills and a canteen of water. "Im gonna take a look at that knee Vin. The bandage looks like its workin loose anyway."
Vins face turned pale as Nathan lifted his knee to unwrap it. Now that Cochran was found, he seemed to give in to the pain and leaned back against the rock, his hands dropping down to the ground. The knee that Nathan exposed was not a pretty sight. He had rewrapped the joint that morning, checking on the swelling and bruise, and hadnt been happy about the idea of Vin riding around in the mountains. But Vin had assured him that it didnt hurt much and he would be fine, so Nathan had relented. Now he was regretting that decision.
The bruise had deepened to a deep angry purple and seemed to have spread completely around the knee and slightly down the calf and up the inside of the thigh. A warm heat radiated off the bruise but the swelling had not increased. Nathan looked up at Vin, concern on his face.
"Aint purty is it?" Vin said, trying for a lopsided grin. But the color of the joint bothered even him.
"No it isnt. We need to get you down this mountain. Could be nothing will happen, but Id feel lots better if this were treated proper." He rummaged in his kit and pulled out another Ice Pack, quickly breaking the inner packets and shaking it to mix the chemicals. He wrapped Vins knee back up then used a second bandage to wrap the Ice Pack in place. "Josiah, help me get him on his horse. Id like ta start on down so we can get him settled as soon as possible."
Nathan and Josiah helped Vin to one foot as Ezra brought Vins horse over. Chris stood nearby to help where he could and shortly Vin was in the saddle, with a blanket cushioning his knee. Ezra headed off to the cave to tell the others that Chris, Nathan and Josiah were starting on down.
They had been traveling over an hour when Vin started having trouble breathing, gasping to pull in air. It wasnt obvious at first and Chris almost missed the sound. But it came again and Vin swayed slightly in the saddle. Chris was off his own horse immediately, Nathan quickly behind him.
"Vin?" Nathan checked his pulse rate.
"Hard ta breath sometimes chest hurts "
"Josiah, we need an airlift up here right away! Get on the radio."
"What is it Nathan?" Chris asked, one hand on Vins arm, holding him in the saddle.
"Not sure. But I think hes throwing a blood clot. How much further to the meadow."
"Few minutes..." Vin answered.
"Then lets get going." Chris swung up behind Vin as Josiah passed them on his horse, needing to get out in the open to transmit. Chris moved Vins horse forward as fast as he dared, breaking the tree line ten minutes later. Ezra and JD joined up with them as they moved forward. As soon as they were clear of the trees, Chris and Nathan pulled Vin down from his horse. Ezra grabbed bedrolls and laid them out on level ground as Nathan and Chris helped ease Vin down. JD unsaddled Vins horse and carried the saddle over to be used as a backrest.
Vins breathing had gotten heavy and erratic. His eyes squeezed shut periodically in pain. Nathan leaned him back against the saddle, keeping him slightly upright so he could breathe as easily as possible.
"What next Nathan?" Chris asked, kneeling next to the younger man, a hand resting reassuringly on his shoulder.
"We wait for that air lift."
"But you can help him cant you?" JD asked.
Nathan shook his head. "Theres nothing I can do. Except get him to a hospital as soon as possible."
"Mediflight should be here in about 45 minutes," Josiah said as he rode back up. He had proceeded out into the middle of the meadow to use the emergency radio. Even as he dismounted Buck and Brookes broke through the tree line with the packhorse and its grisly cargo in tow. They were quickly filled in.
Hang in there Vin, Chris thought to himself. Vins eyes met his and he nodded, as though reading the mans thoughts.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Time drug on for the men in the meadow as Vin seemed to improve, then begin struggling for breath once more. Nathan had elevated Vins knee, applying a fresh Ice Pack, and given him aspirin. He kept the thoughts of what would happen should a clot not pass to himself. Chris sat silently nearby. Buck paced back and forth while Ezra checked the packhorse over and over. JD stood slightly away from the group, alternating between staring worriedly at Vin and watching the sky. Josiah sat on a nearby rock, his eyes closed as if meditating or praying.
Brookes had wandered off into the meadow, trying to call the Sacramento offices on his cell phone and fighting the reception interruption caused by the mountains. He would glance over at the gathered men as he tried, thinking them the oddest collection of men he had worked with. Efficient, yes. They had indeed found Cochran. But unusual in the fact that they moved as one unit, each seeming to know exactly what needed to be done and working together to that end. He silently wished that his own law enforcement team worked so well together, and in the next thought felt uncomfortable being an outsider to that cohesiveness.
There!" JD shouted as a small spot appeared in the sky. It quickly increased in size and soon the sound of helicopter rotors filled the silent meadow. As it put down in the tall grass Ezra and Buck ran over to help carry equipment.
"Wont be long now Pard," Chris leaned over and spoke into Vins ear over the chopper noise. Vin didnt respond, having to concentrate on just taking his next breath.
Two people ran up laden down with equipment, a nurse and a paramedic. Buck and Ezra followed them with a Stokes basket. One immediately started oxygen as the other took blood pressure readings. Nathan gave them information and assisted and shortly Vin was lifted onto the basket.
Chris and Nathan followed as Buck and Ezra helped the medical team carry the basket back to the chopper, ducking as they neared to avoid the rotors. Cochrans lifeless body was also loaded on board. Chris insisted he go along, climbing in beside Vin, but staying out of the way of the medical team. The rest of the men moved away from the helicopter and watched as the machine rose into the air and headed off to Memorial Hospital in Modesto. Then they turned to set up a camp for the night, reluctantly staying behind.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Chris paced the waiting room. He hated waiting. He was a man of action, and felt helpless just sitting by while a friend was hurting and in danger. But there was no enemy here that he could fight. Frustrated, he picked up an outdated magazine and flipped through it, then dropped it back to the table, unable to concentrate enough to even look at the pictures. He began pacing once more, then finally settled against a window frame, staring at the darkness outside.
"Mr. Larabee?" Chris turned at the sound to see a man in green scrubs and a white lab coat. "Im Dr. Chin. Were moving your friend to a room in ICU."
"Is he all right? What happened?"
"Please, have a seat. As you know already Mr. Tanner suffered from a dislocated knee. He has suffered a deep hemotoma, or bruise, as a result. The accumulated blood there has clotted and has been breaking up and the small clots have been passing through his lungs. We are currently treating him with Heparin to dissolve the clot in his leg and a sedative to keep him calm. Its imperative we keep him immobile so that the clot is allowed to dissolve on its own and not break away."
"And if it does?"
"We could lose him. But well have him monitored. The medication should do the trick." Chin stood. "Give us about thirty minutes to get him settled. Then you can check on him if youd like. He should be sleeping. Five minutes only, okay? He needs his rest."
Chris shook the mans hand then dropped onto the waiting room couch to wait until he could go up and see Vin.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Chris sat in the chair, reclined back as far as it would go, covered in a blanket, with his chin resting on his hand as he watched his friend sleep. The sound of oxygen moving steadily through tubing and the occasional click that came from the unit controlling the IV in Vins hand were the only sounds in the room. The head of the bed was elevated to help Vin breathe and his left leg was propped up and immobilized. Chris was surprised at how few tubes there were, just the oxygen, IV and Foley catheter.
Even in the gloom of the room Vin looked pale. His head was turned slightly facing Chris, his face relaxed in medicated sleep. Chris thoughts went back in time, time spent watching his own young son sleep, all too short a time spent in this same hospital watching as his family, his life, passed on. Their deaths had been painless, never waking up from the car wreck that had taken their lives less than twenty four hours later.
He thought back, too, of the day Vin Tanner had entered his life, answering an ad for a wrangler. The connection had been immediate and Vin had been hired on the spot, moving his meager possessions from his battered Jeep into the tack room of the barn as soon as Chris had shown him the space. The two men had meshed immediately, Vin always seeming to know what Chris needed at any given point in time, whether he wanted it or not.
He was snapped from his memories by the feeling of being watched. He looked up to see Vins eyes studying him, a slight frown on his face, as though he knew the melancholy turn Chris thoughts had taken.
"Ya kin get that frown off yer face, Larabee. I aint dyin or nothin."
"No, but ya could have, ya damn fool. Next time you get hurt like that were taking you to the nearest hospital."
"Dont need ta be coddled." Vin tried to shift into a more comfortable position, but the restrains and cushions surrounding him restricted his movement considerably.
"They dont want you moving around, Pard. They have you pretty well immobilized."
"So I see. So ya gonna help me get loose a this stuff? Dont like bein confined like this." Even as he tried to shift and ease some of his restrictions, it was obvious he was tiring and losing his fight to stay awake.
"I know, Vin. But you cant move around. You have this large blood clot in your knee. If it breaks loose it will kill you." Vins eyes opened slightly wider, before digesting that bit of news. "So you have to stay as still as possible until they get that clot dissolved."
"kay " Vins voice drifted off as he fell asleep. Chris watched him until he was certain the man was sleeping normally, then sat back in the chair, attempting to rest himself.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
"How is he?"
Chris looked up at the five men entering the room. Vin had been moved to a private room earlier that afternoon just outside ICU, where he would be in slightly more relaxed surroundings, yet still get a higher level of care and scrutiny.
"Hes got a large clot on his knee. Theyre trying to dissolve it." Chris raked a hand through his hair and stood as the rest of his friends moved into the room, taking position along walls or on the window ledge, each one studying the man sleeping in the bed before turning their attention to Chris. "Theyre keeping him somewhat sedated so he doesnt try to move around."
"Hes not gonna be happy about that," Buck commented.
"Thats why theyre sedating him."
"How long is he going to be in?" JD asked.
"They dont know. Depends on how long it takes to dissolve the clot. Even when he gets released hell be on bed rest and meds."
"Most likely some sort of re-hab too," Nathan added.
"Boys, I believe we will all have our hands full." Josiah commented.
"Did our guests get back all right?" Chris resumed his seat near Vins bed, keeping his voice low.
"Yes, indeed. Your deputies delivered them all in one piece early yesterday morning," Ezra reported. "The Jennings family has already returned to their home. But the rest have decided to stay on. It seems they have decided that maybe a nice quiet week of non-activity would be preferred to returning home."
"I think some of them want to find out how Vin is first. But none of them seem upset by the fact that their vacation has been changed a bit. They all said that if we didnt take them rafting or hiking it was okay. They were going to stay on anyway," Josiah added. "If that was all right with us."
"Nettie, Inez and Casey are keeping them busy today," Nathan put in. "Believe it or not, some of the women were helping Nettie with some canning. And a few of the men did some of the gardening or chopped wood. Theyre all city folk and have never done these things. For a day anyway its a novelty."
"Yeah, and some of the kids cleaned out the stalls and fed the horses with Caseys help"
"How did you all get here so fast?" Chris asked, glancing at Vin, who still slept.
"Brought the chopper," Josiah said.
"Brookes would like you back in town so he can finish up paperwork and get your release to send Cochrans body back to Sacramento," Buck inserted. He hurried to finish his statement before Chris could interrupt, "Fraid thats all part of the job, Chris."
"I know it is." Chris studied the form in the bed, his thoughts left unspoken about leaving his friend. "You dont need to remind me."
"Josiah can fly you back. You can wrap things up and hell bring you back here. We figured while you were gone, two of us would stay here, then Josiah would bring you back when you got everything finished up and Brookes is on his way home." Nathan said.
"Besides, you look like hell Chris, and you could use a shower and shave." Only Buck, and maybe Vin, could get by with a comment like that. Chris glared at him all the same.
"Thanks for your kind words there, Buck." He stood and stretched. "Whos staying?"
"Mr. Jackson and myself," Ezra told him.
"All right. Call my cell phone if anything changes." Chris followed the others to the door, each man stopping to say their silent goodbyes and well wishes to the sleeping man. JD especially had a hard time, the hospital atmosphere alone bringing up the memories of having lost his mother to a lingering death not so very long ago. Chris placed his hand on the young mans shoulder then walked to the door with him, stopping himself once more for a final glance. Stay tough, Pard, he sent the silent message.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Six men and women waited on the road near the helipad as Josiahs chopper touched down. Impatiently they waited as the rotors slowed to a stop, then Buck drove the suburban as close to the chopper as possible. Ezra and JD darted ahead as the chopper side door was slid open.
"Hey Vin!" JD practically shouted in his delight at seeing his friend. He reached inside the chopper and grabbed hold of Vins duffle and a box sitting next to it.
"Welcome home Mr. Tanner. I trust you had a comfortable flight?" Ezra said, also lifting several boxes of supplies from inside.
"Yeah, it was fine, Ez," Vin answered.
Josiah moved around to the open side door from the pilot seat and waited as Nathan and Chris helped ease Vin to the door. Nathan jumped to the ground and he and Josiah supported Vin between them and practically carried him to the waiting Suburban, with Chris following holding the IV bag still attached to the injured man.
Buck had the back door open and Vin was eased into the roomy cargo area so he wouldnt have to struggle trying to climb up into the seat and chance bumping the still tender knee. Nettie hovered nearby and as soon as he was settled she moved in to place a quick peck on Vins cheek.
"You gave us quite a scare boy," she said as her hand stroked his stubble-covered cheek. "And were mighty glad youre home."
"I think the nursing staff was glad to get rid of him," Chris said as he sat down on the edge of the cargo area still holding up the IV bag. "Two weeks of him was enough for them to send him home sooner than they had originally planned."
"Nah, they jest figgered that Nathan could take care a me jest as good as them. Sides, the food there sure aint like your cookin Nettie."
"Well I should hope not!" Nettie kissed him again then leaned in to whisper, "Theres a homemade peach pie with your name on it just waiting for you."
"Now I knew I smelled peach pie baking this morning!" Buck exclaimed as he stood near the door. "You boys ready to go?"
"Yep," Chris answered. Nettie moved around to climb into the Suburban with Josiah and Nathan. Inez leaned in quickly.
"It is good to see you, Senor Vin. Lunch is also waiting; tamales and enchiladas, enough to feed an army. I hope you are hungry!"
"Sure am. Thanks Inez." Vin waved at Casey through the window as Buck started up the truck and drove toward the lodge. Inez, Casey, Ezra and JD followed them on foot. Vin had already been told that he would be staying at the lodge while he recovered. At first he started to object, then realized the benefits. Both Nettie and Inez were wonderful cooks and Nettie especially had taken a special liking to Vin. He knew Nettie would be plying him with special treats while he was stuck in bed. Plus the practicality of the action made sense. The business still needed to function, and that couldnt happen if someone was sitting up at the bunkhouse with him.
It bothered him to a degree that some of their guests were there, staring at him as they helped him out of the truck and up the few steps into the back door. He didnt like being the center of attention, or being fussed over for that matter. He had been so miserable and irritable in the hospital that Chris had convinced them that he would recover better at home. And so they had reluctantly released him with the promise that he would get the rest he required and stay on the IV meds under Nathans care until further notice. They had also promised Dr. Chin a long weekend away in two days, with Josiah furnishing transportation, so he could keep an eye on Vin himself.
Nettie had set up a room on the main floor next to hers with Vins CD player and radio and the quilt from his bed. The curtains were thrown open to let in the sun that Vin loved so much and the window was cracked open for fresh air. A vase of wildflowers stood on the dresser courtesy of Casey, and Inez had placed a stack of puzzles and books on a small TV tray next to the bed. A small TV/VCR combination sat off to one side, close enough that Vin could reach the VCR part if he stretched, and JD had stacked several movies on a bedside table next to the lamp. Buck had tried to slip several movies of his own into the stack, but Nettie had threatened to burn them if they werent removed immediately.
They settled Vin down onto the bed, then everyone but Chris and Nathan stepped out while Nathan checked Vin over and got him comfortable. He was allowed some mobility by now, as long as someone was handy to help support him or he used crutches. The knee was still an ugly purplish green but the clot had all but disappeared. Nathan knew what to look for should the area start to clot again, but doctors didnt feel that would happen as long as he stayed on the Heparin, and eventually a form of oral blood thinner.
When Nathan finished Nettie came in with a heaping plate of food, along with a large slice of peach pie, shooing the other men out to eat their own lunch. Vin did his best to plow through the meal, starting with his dessert first, which gained him a frown from Nettie even while she allowed it. But about half way through he ran out of room and energy, drifting off to a satisfied sleep.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
"Now you stay on this porch, Vin Tanner! Ill be back out to check on you in just a bit."
"Yes, Maam," Vin muttered. He was tired of sitting, tired of laying down, tired of napping, tired of the re-hab exercises he was now doing, and just plain tired of people fussing over him. It was a beautiful summer day, the temperatures were just right, and Vin had a bad case of cabin fever. Nettie had finally relented and allowed him out onto the porch without a guard dog and Vin meant to take full advantage of that fact. As quietly as he could using crutches for support, he made his way down the steps and proceeded slowly across the yard.
Nettie watched him from the window, knowing this day would come eventually where Vin would try and establish some form of independence. They had all talked about it, knowing at some point he would make a break for it, and everyone had agreed to keep an eye on him when he did. If he fell, someone would be there in moments to help.
Eventually he made his way to the corral. Leaning tiredly against the fence he reached through the rails to where a familiar head already waited for him. The action of scratching the velvety muzzle felt normal to him, and he pulled the sugar cube from a pocket of the cargo shorts he wore, feeding it to his four-legged friend.
Chris Larabee watched him from the shadows of the barn door, ready to run to assist his friend should the need arise. He knew it had been a long six weeks for Vin. It had been a long one for all of them. But the clot in Vins leg was gone, he had been switched over to oral blood thinners, and was working hard to get the strength back in his leg and return the circulation back to normal.
Chris let the man stay as long as he wanted, but finally Vin did turn toward the house to begin his slow walk back. Chris let him get about half way there before heading to the house himself, coming up behind his friend before Vin had gone much further.
"Feels like time for lunch, eh Pard?"
"Yep." Vin raised an eyebrow, expecting Chris to give him a tongue lashing for straying so far from the lodge. It would have been one he would ignore anyway, but he was a bit surprised when it didnt come.
"I heard Nettie made rhubarb cobbler for dessert."
"I just love Netties cobbler." Chris stopped, an evil grin crossing his face. Vin stopped to look at him.
"Last one there eats the crumbs!" Chris said and darted off toward the house.
With very little hesitation, Vin moved as fast as he could on the crutches, Chris laughter urging him on. "No fair Larabee! Im hurt ya know!" His own laughter joined Chris.
Inside Nettie still watched. Things were suddenly back to normal. Turning, she saved an extra portion of cobbler back for Vin, then set about carrying plates out to the gathering guests.
Follow up story: It Wasn't Supposed to Go Like This