The file was deceptively thin. He read the contents in less than five minutes. Closing the folder, he leaned back in his chair, removed his reading glasses, closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose and then rubbed his eyes with thumb and fingers. Hard. Hard enough to get the little light flashes from complaining ocular tissue. Taking a deep breath, he moved that same hand back to the folder and reopened it. Read the contents again. The words had not, unfortunately, changed. He sighed. He knew what he should do. He knew what was the prudent thing to do. Neither was the right thing to do. He had obligations. Responsibilities. Imperatives. But he was also indebted.
Keeping hold on the file, he stood and crossed to the door of his office. He looked at his secretary, debating with himself for just a moment before deciding.
"Sarah, I want you to get me everything anybody has that relates to this. I want the originals and all copies." He handed her the folder. She glanced at it momentarily and smiled.
"You don't really believe this crap, do you?" Her brows quirked up in amused question.
"Don't be silly. That's why I want all the available info. Put a stop to this nonsense."
"Works for me. Give me a few days to track it all down."
"Thank you." He returned to his office, sat down and contemplated another file, a companion to the first. One he had compiled himself. Much thicker than the other one. It included a Master's Thesis along with a multitude of references. The other file was patently preposterous. It was also true. What he should do, was take action to corner the market, so to speak, on the subject. Problem was, a certain obligation he owed. On the one hand, he wished he hadn't become curious as to why a tough former Ranger Captain turned cop should want to drag around a civilian. Not just any civilian, mind you. An anthropology graduate student. Son of a nomadic hippie; totally untrained in either self-defence or firearms. The kid tagged around after the captain, no. He was a detective, now. The kid tagged around after the man like a puppy. Into and out of the damnedest situations, if the reports were to be believed. There were enough witnesses to believe the reports. No matter how well sanitised they may be. Unbelievable as it might seem, the facts pointed to the impossible. He shook his head. Well, if he could get all the documentation, he could at least pay off a little of the debt he owed.
"Jim?" Blair awoke. Groggy, confused. As he became more coherent, the fear took hold. "Jim?" He looked around the tiny cell. Seeking his Blessed Protector. He was alone. He drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them and started rocking. The terror taking over.
His senses were all out of whack. He dared not open his eyes, as the light hurt so much. He turned down all the dials, just to protect himself. He couldn't remember what had happened. Where he was, how he got here, or why. He groaned and gingerly opened his eyes, checking his surroundings, looking for...
"Blair?" He sat up, wincing in pain. Realising he was alone, he extended his hearing, searching for his Guide. Unable to maintain control, his senses reeling, he collapsed back on the cot unconscious.
"When? How? By whom?" The voice on the other end of the phone line wasn't sure. Only that he'd seen the two men hauled out of their building and driven away in a big, black van, heading east, out of town.
"Damn." he looked out into the bullpen, spotting Joel Taggart. He stood, stepped over to his door and called out softly to his friend and colleague.
"Joel, come in here for a minute?"
Joel read the worry in Simon's tone. He immediately came over. "What's wrong, Simon? Is it Jim and Blair?"
"I just got a call from an informant. He saw Jim and Blair carried from the loft and loaded into a big black van which then was seen travelling east." His expression showed his desolation. "We have no clues. They didn't get the license plate number."
"Oh, dear Lord. What are we going to do?"
Someone was coming. He could hear them. He lay quietly, not moving. One arm over his eyes. The door opened, but he didn't move or acknowledge their presence.
"Get him up."
Four hands grabbed his arms, pulling him up. He hung limply in their grip. Ignoring them. The voice came over and grabbed his jaw, twisting his face up to look at him. He didn't bother opening his eyes.
"What's wrong with him?" A second voice, over by the door. Unfamiliar.
"I think he's playing possum." The first voice replied. Fingers digging into his jaw, leaving bruises. He still didn't respond.
"Stop it." The second voice ordered. "He's not a toy for your sadistic amusement. Word is that they're a team. Check out the other one."
They dropped him back on the cot and left. He heard them close and lock the door. He lay where he fell. Not moving.
He was still sitting, his back to the wall, knees up before him, arms wrapped around them, rocking, when they came in. He didn't look up. This had happened to him so often that he simply was trying to maintain until Jim came to rescue him. If he could. Only they probably had Jim, as well.
He flinched, but didn't look up.
He still didn't look up. Just rocked a little harder.
A second voice spoke. "I don't get it. This is nothing like we were led to believe. Get him up."
Four hands grabbed him by the arms, dragging him to his feet. He finally looked up, acknowledging their presence. He remained silent, however.
"We mean you no harm."
He grunted in disbelief and let his eyes drop to the floor.
"We just need your assistance in a little matter."
"Go to hell."
They dragged him, unresisting to another room, where they opened the door and dragged him in. He saw his Sentinel lying on a cot, unmoving.
"What did you do to him?" Anger in his voice, gaining his feet and wrenching out of the grasp of those holding him, rushing over to his friend.
"Jim?" Kneeling on the floor by the cot, hands reaching out, touching. Fingers grasping shoulders, touching his face. Lifting eyelids to check pupils. Realising what had happened. Turning, he snarled at them. "You idiots. You drugged him. What did you use?"
The second speaker replied, "Just something to keep him quiet for a couple of hours. Same thing we gave you."
Blair exhaled in exasperation. "You didn't do your homework, did you?" He turned back to his friend. "Jim? I need you to come back, now. Jim?" Speaking softly, soothingly. "Jim. C'mon, man. Wake up and talk to me. Jim?" There was no response. He sighed, shaking his head. Standing, he turned back to their captors, he sat on the cot beside the still unresponsive Jim. He looked up at their jailers.
They stared at him in confusion. The one in charge finally spoke. "What are you talking about?"
"Why did you grab us?"
"You have an unusual talent, or so we've been told."
"Yeah? What might that be?"
"One of you can see and hear through walls, is what we've been told."
Blair laughed. "See through walls? You been watching too much TV, man."
The man wasn't amused. "Why isn't he awake yet? You're fine."
"He has some really strange drug reactions. If you'd done your homework, you'd have known that. What kind of idiots are you, anyway? What did you give us?"
Blair shook his head. "I don't know that one. Obviously, it's working a lot longer than it should." His smile was strained. "You'll just have to wait until he recovers." He felt just a tiny bit of satisfaction. "So. What's for breakfast?"
"I got those files you wanted, sir." Sarah brought in an armload of files and set them on his desk. "There was a surprising amount of information. If it wasn't so preposterous, I'd almost believe the amount of so called evidence."
"Thank you, Sarah. What were the sources?"
"It started with the Captain's return from Peru. During his debriefing. You were involved with that, weren't you?"
"Well, one of the Army interrogators seemed to feel something was up. Then there's that rogue agent Brackett, who's been telling tales about him. Of course, he's suspect. After all, he was stopped by a civilian." She smirked.
He smiled. "I've met that particular civilian. Very resourceful, but hardly superman."
"No, sir. The rest is just innuendo, supposition, speculation. Really far out, if you ask me."
"Yes, I imagine that it is. Anything else?" Leafing through one of the folders.
"This is everything. I also wiped the various computer systems of any of this information."
"Good work. You're certain you've sanitised everything?"
He smiled. "Who'd you miss?"
She sighed. "I couldn't wipe out his Master's Thesis. It is a matter of public record. However, it is not likely to come up anywhere soon."
"Excellent. Thank you."
She smiled and exited. He looked through the various files, there were reports from a number of agencies, Including a number who should have passed on their information to him long ago. Just as well. If they had...But they hadn't. He picked up the stack of files and packed them in his briefcase. There was one file on the bottom that slipped and spilled its contents. Stooping to pick it up, he read the opening page. Then snatched up the entire file and quickly read it.
"Damn." One of his units had made this file. They included plans to snatch the pair. He looked at the date on the documents and realised that they had already kidnapped them. He clenched his jaw in anger. Reaching for his phone, he punched in a long-distance number.
"What have you done?"
"You heard me. Who authorised this operation?"
"I was under the impression that you had authorised the acquisition."
There was something in the man's voice. "What went wrong? If either of them is damaged..." "No, sir. Just that the older one has had some kind of drug reaction. He's still out. The other one's fine."
"What did you use?"
"Will he be all right?"
"His partner thinks so. What are your orders, sir?"
"Don't touch them. Don't talk to them. Take care of them like they were made of plutonium. Do not allow any damage to come to them. Understand?"
"Yes, sir. What if they try to escape?"
"What do you think?"
He hung up the phone, glaring at the file. If it hadn't fallen...Who could have authorised the operation? More importantly, why?
Joel looked at the business card. Blair had given it to him a few weeks after his and Jim's return from their last trip to Peru, telling him that if anything ever happened to them, like if they disappeared, to call the number listed on the card. He looked at Simon's closed office door, debating with himself. Deciding, he picked up the phone and dialled.
On the fourth ring, an answering machine picked up. At the beep, he spoke.
"You don't know me. Blair Sandburg gave me your card with the instructions that if he and his partner James Ellison ever disappeared, to call you for help. They were seen being carried from their home to a large black van which was then seen headed East, out of town. I don't know how much you know about them, but..."
"Yes. I'm here, Mr..?"
"Oh. Joel Taggart. I work with them."
"You're a policeman?" \
"When were they taken?"
"I see. Any ransom requested?"
"No. This has happened before. We suspect the Feds or at least one of their covert organisations may be involved. Blair said to call you if this ever happened."
"Yes. Wise on his part." He was wracking his brain for a reason. He needed to contact Control. See if he had any part in this. "Where can I reach you? I need to check a few things here." Control, then Mickey. Then fly to Washington to meet up with the police there, formulate a plan.
"I'll give you my work, home, and cell numbers," and proceeded to do so. "Is there anything I should be doing at this end?"
"Yes. Have your forensics people use a magnifying glass in going over their home for any possible clues as to their abductors. I'll get back to you in a few hours."
"You're more than welcome." The least he could do for the men who had saved him and Mickey from the jungle and a pack of drug manufacturers. He hung up the phone and immediately redialled.
"Control." Wondering who was calling him on that particular line. Not very many people knew that number.
"Do you have anything to do with the disappearance of one James Ellison, Detective and one Blair Sandburg, Anthropologist?"
"No. I didn't have anything to do with that. However, one of my groups took it upon themselves to...acquire them. I've already set in motion the means to return them."
"Why were they taken in the first place?"
"You probably wouldn't believe it, old son. It's not anything I would believe, despite the documentation."
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"Nothing you need concern...Hold on. I need to take this other call."
"Just now, sir. I'm sorry. I..."
"No excuses. Find them. Who was it?"
"Wilkins, sir. It seems it was his idea. I'm..."
"Find out what you can. Keep in touch." He slammed down the phone with an oath.
"Robert? Trouble. Turns out the man who authorised this little fiasco has decided to go into business for himself."
"Why am I not surprised? Where are they?"
"Still in Washington State. His name is Wilkins. He killed three agents, at least one of them is working for him, I think it's Carlton. The two of them were always pretty close."
"Carlton's a sadist."
He sighed, "I know. I'll be flying out in a couple of hours. You want to come?"
"Let me find Mickey, first."
He looked up at a figure slouching in his doorway. "You won't have to. He just walked in."
"Fine. Fill him in. I'll meet you at the airport in...say two hours?"
"That should do. See you there."
"What's up?" Mickey asked nonchalantly. Coming the rest of the way in and slumping down in a chair.
"Ellison and Sandburg."
Mickey sat up straight. "The guys you sent in after McCall and me?"
"Wilkins and Carlton have taken them. Without authorisation. They've killed three men."
"Because of some silly suspicion that one of them might be Superman."
"This is a joke, right?"
"I wish it were. How soon can you be ready to go?"
"I want my van."
He looked at his subordinate. Familiar with the properties of the van in question. It would mean a military flight instead of the standard private jet. He nodded. "All right. I'll set it up. Be at the airport in two hours. Robert will be meeting us there."
"On my way."
There were advantages to being in charge and having as much pull as he had. He only had to make two more phone calls to set it all up. Meeting the others at the airport, he allowed Mickey to arrange the loading of his van, while he and Robert boarded as well. The flight was uneventful. Control used his laptop to gather what information he could, trying to trace the movements of the two apparent rogues. Cursing them soundly for their actions. Wondering what they could be thinking. Rereading the file that had alerted him to their actions. Furious.
Landing at SeaTac late that evening, they unloaded Mickey's van and proceeded to drive to Cascade. Control gave Mickey directions to the Police headquarters, where they checked the list in the lobby and took the elevator to the seventh floor.
There was something about the three strangers who came through the door into the bullpen that put everyone on alert. Rafe stood and approached them, on guard.
"Can I help you?"
"I'm looking for a man named Joel Taggart." The tallest one spoke, with a soft British accent. "My name is Robert McCall. He telephoned me."
Rafe looked curiously at the two silent men with him. The smaller one was fidgeting, almost bouncing on his toes. Just like...The realisation hit him. Just like Sandburg.
"I'm Joel Taggart. Thank you for coming Mr. McCall. If you'll come with me? I'll introduce you to the Captain." Rafe looked questioningly at Joel. "It's OK, Rafe. They're here to help find Jim and Blair." Rafe nodded his acceptance and backed out of the way of the three strangers.
"I thought you were going to call?" He asked as he led the way to the glassed in office of the Captain. He knocked on the door.
"Come." Simon looked up as Joel ushered in the three men. He started when he saw Control.
"Mr. Smith, what a surprise. Did you have anything to do with this?" Afraid of what the answer might be.
Joel looked in surprise at the other older man. "You two know each other?"
"We've met." The man addressed as Mr. Smith responded. "I didn't have anything to do with your men's abduction, but two of my people did. I'm here to rectify their mistake."
Simon was very happy not to work for this man. He could imagine what form of discipline he might take over this.
"Thank you." He looked at the other two men, curiously.
"This is Robert McCall and Mickey Kostmayer. The men Ellison and Sandburg rescued from Peru." Mr. Smith explained.
"Good to meet you. I just wish it were under other circumstances." Shaking their hands.
"As do we." The soft British accent agreed. "We owe a debt to you and your men. We're here to help. What do you have so far?"
Simon sighed. "Not much. Please, sit down." They complied. "I got a call this morning from an informant who saw Jim and Blair being carried out of their loft and placed in a big black van. No license plate, no descriptions. The van was seen headed East. We've had a forensics team through there with a fine tooth comb, they found nothing. That's all we have."
"I have a bit more." Mr. Smith answered. "One of my groups had received some information on your men. For some reason, they think that one of them is Superman. Able to see and hear through walls. Patently preposterous." He watched the two policemen's reactions, realising that his supposition that there was some truth to the suspicions, innuendoes, and off-the-wall reports was accurate. He was rewarded with the slightest tightening of muscles from the two men, giving proof to his belief. So. It was at least partly true, the reports. He smiled faintly. "They...acquired them without permission or going through channels. They have since killed three men and have moved them. I had ordered them to be cared for and returned. I'm sorry. If I hadn't made that call, my three men would still be alive, and yours would have been on their way back to you. As it stands now, I have a list of possible locations where they may be being held. We'll need to look at a map and co-ordinate our efforts." He glanced at McCall and Kostmayer, seeking their support. Robert met his eyes, brows drawn down in puzzlement. Control simply looked at him, showing nothing. McCall gave in and nodded his agreement to follow his lead. He glanced at Mickey, there was no doubt that Mickey would follow wherever they led.
"That's a hell of a lot more than we have. Thank you for your help."
"It's the least I can do." Mr. Smith replied. "I owe them."
"As do we." McCall added.
Mickey was watching closely. He'd noticed the two cop's reaction to the story Control told. But they didn't deny it. Interesting. He raised a questioning eyebrow at McCall, but received a blank look in exchange. He knew from the statements of Control and the reactions of the cops that there was at least a grain of truth in the story. He wished he could remember their rescue from Peru. He'd been badly hurt, his wounds life-threatening from infection, and he had almost no memories from that time. The only thing McCall had told him was about the natives who had worked with the two missing men in their rescue. That and some statue the Anthropologist half of the team had given one of them, what were they called? Chopec. That was it. The Chopec man had explained the meaning of the statue. Sentinel and Guides. That was the name of it. A Sentinel was a guard, or guardian. Someone who was on watch. A watchman and his guides. Superman. Can see and hear through walls. No. Not possible. Hear through walls. Yeah, he could buy that... "Mickey!" McCall's voice broke through his contemplation.
"Huh? What?" Blinking, losing his train of thought.
"We're going to the conference room to look at some maps. Try to figure out where they may have gone from their last known location." McCall replied.
"Oh, yeah. Sure." He stood and followed them.
They ended up working through the night. Locating on the map where they had initially been held. Control's people had already been there, finding no clues as to where they might have been taken. He indicated almost a dozen possible hideouts they could have been conceivably been hidden. All of them hard to get to and easily defended.
"Look, I'm going to make a call, get a satellite image of the possible locations. Infrared scans, try to narrow down the possibilities. While we're waiting, I, for one could use a meal and a lie down." Control said, opening his cell phone and making the call. While he did that, Simon ordered in a hot meal for them all.
When they had finished eating, he considered the options and decided to put the three men up at the loft, figuring that Jim wouldn't mind. He would find a hotel for them later. Time was important at this juncture, and the loft was close and easy. Mickey followed him to the loft, where Control took Jim's bed, McCall took Blair's and Mickey slept on the couch.
"I'll meet you back at the station when you all wake up." Simon told them. He wasn't going home, himself. He was going to catch a few Zs on the couch in his office. Just in case they got a call.
"Jim? They're gone." Blair whispered.
Jim's eyes opened and immediately connected with Blair's worried baby blues. "They haven't bugged the cell, Chief." His senses were still a little wonky, so he continued to keep the dials turned down.
"Good. Do you have any idea where we might be, or who those guys are?"
Jim shook his head in the negative. "Some kind of Covert Ops. I recognised the type." He grimaced, "What'd they give me, anyway? I feel like some old goat slept in my mouth."
"Something called Fentanyl, I think it's some kind of sedative they use in surgery."
"Whatever it is, it didn't mix well with whatever gas they used to knock us out at the loft." He looked at the door, his senses coming back under control with the presence of his Guide to steady him.
He stood carefully, still a little woozy, and went to check the door for an escape route. It was metal and secured with a dead-bolt, no way out there. The rest of the room was utterly featureless, not even a window or vent. He returned to the cot and again lay down.
"We're going to have to take our chances when they move us." Blair nodded and settled down on the floor beside the cot, pulling his legs into a half lotus position and relaxing into meditation. Able to do so, now that his Blessed Protector was nearby.
Blair didn't hear anything, but Jim jumped.
"What is it, man?"
"Gunshots." He quickly lay back down in the position he had been in when their captors left, pretending to still be unconscious. Blair stayed where he was.
He looked up, curious, when the door burst open. One of the talkers was there, brandishing a rifle.
"All right, get up. We're leaving. Now." The man snarled. Blair jumped to his feet. One of their silent guards from earlier came in and dragged Jim up and over his shoulder in a fireman's carry, carting him out the door and outside to a large, black van. Blair followed meekly along, the talker's rifle pointed at the back of his neck. Jim was dumped in the back of the van and Blair climbed in with him, unwilling to risk the wrath of the man with the rifle. The silent one got behind the wheel, started the car and drove off. Blair stayed close to his Sentinel, cradling his head in his lap, covering up the fact that the man was conscious.
They stayed on back roads and firebreaks, with occasional logging roads thrown in for good measure. They drove all afternoon and long after dark. Blair was hungry and thirsty. He could imagine how Jim was feeling. He was a big man with a high metabolism. He had to be starving, by now.
"How about something to eat and drink?" He asked, brazenly. The man with the rifle only glared at him. At least, Blair thought to himself, these guys weren't getting anything, either. Another hour passed, Blair was really starting to feel the strain.
"Uh, excuse me. I need to go." He was surprised when the driver almost immediately pulled to a stop.
"What do you think you're doing?" The man with the rifle demanded.
The driver just looked at him. "Me, too." He then climbed out of the van and disappeared into the woods. When he came back a few minutes later, he stayed with Jim while the creep with the rifle escorted Blair into the woods. Blair didn't expect any privacy. He hurried, just in case Jim needed him back there. He was a little surprised to find Jim still playing possum when they returned. He pulled his head back into his lap, worriedly picked up one slack hand and checked the pulse, strong and steady. He held the hand for a moment, just long enough for Jim to squeeze back almost imperceptibly, reassuring the younger man. Blair settled back to wait for whatever happened next.
It was after nine p.m. when they finally stopped. It was a small cabin in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. Again, Blair was prodded at gun-point, while Jim was carried over the shoulder of the driver into the building. Once inside, Jim was dumped unceremoniously onto the battered couch. Blair still staying close to his friend. The driver then produced two sets of handcuffs and attached the two prisoners together with the chain going through a staple set in the floor for just such a purpose. The driver then went to the kitchen area and began preparing food. When he was finished, he dished up the mess onto plates and handed them out. He was kind enough to feed Blair, as well.
Blair picked at the food. Not only did it look awful, it smelled unappetising. He wasn't hungry enough for that, yet. He set his plate aside and leaned back against the couch. Wishing he had a cushion to sit on, or a blanket to wrap around his cold body. He had already realised the futility of asking them for anything. Their two captors ate silently and then rolled up in sleeping bags to go to sleep. Jim shifted on the couch, encouraging him to come up and lie beside him, sharing body heat to stay warm. It was a tight fit, but they managed. Their connected arms stretched down to the floor.
Mickey was dreaming. Like most of his dreams, it involved operations from his past. Not surprising, this one involved missions that had included Captain Ellison. The time when he was standing guard duty after rescuing some diplomat or other; the Captain had joined him, they were out in the desert, no moon, no wind. Quiet. They had been talking quietly. He was perfectly aware of how the younger man felt about him. How the Captain thought he was a loose cannon. Admitted, at least to himself, that the man was right. His memory of the Captain had been of a cold, unfeeling, automaton of a man. Hell, he hadn't been much better, being fire to the Captain's ice. They hadn't particularly liked one another, but they did work well together. They'd been discussing some point of the operation, when the Captain suddenly froze, looking into the distance, head tilted slightly to one side, mouth slightly open. Listening. Being told that company was coming. How the Captain had awakened the team and prepared for attack. How the attack came and was repulsed, with no loss on their side. How he'd wondered at the time how the Captain had known...Another dream/ memory of another mission, one where the Captain had made an impossible rifle shot without a scope. Fifteen hundred yards, nearly a mile. Hitting an impossibly small target. He'd called it luck. Other missions, other instances of strange happenings. Then the last mission he'd been on with the Captain. One that had gone bad. Dreaming/remembering the springing of the trap, the Captain on point, his favourite place; suddenly turning and yelling about a trap, the bullets hitting them, four men dead, six wounded., including himself. His anger at the Captain for not being injured, the final realisation that if the Captain hadn't been on point, they'd have all died. How the Captain's next mission was the one that stranded him in Peru for a year and a half. Relating it to Control's story of Superman. Not Superman. Super hearing and sight. He woke up, understanding. Looking around the loft, curious. Careful to not awaken the others, he quietly looked around.
He found the statue on a shelf. Eight inches tall, carved jade. Very old looking. Two men, standing back to back. The larger man with a spear, the smaller one holding something with designs carved in it. A jaguar curled around their feet, holding them together. The amazing resemblance to the Captain. He wondered if the other man looked like the carving as well. Suspecting that he did. He replaced the carving and continued his search.
It was under the other couch. A single notebook, the kind students use for notes and ledgers. He opened it and started to read. Confirming his suspicions. Discovering even more than a man with enhanced sight and hearing. Discovering what exactly a Sentinel was; what he was capable of. Glancing up toward the loft where Control slept, shifting his gaze to the door behind which McCall slept. Wondering whether to tell them. Realising that Control already knew. Returning the notebook to its hiding place under the other couch. Stretching back out and going back to sleep.
It was full daylight when he re-awoke. He could hear Control stirring upstairs. He quietly arose and went to the kitchen, found the coffee and filters and made a pot, extra strong. By the time the coffee was ready, the others were up and dressed, ready to tackle the search once more. They drank the coffee and cleaned up any sign of their presence. Mickey grinned a little, thinking that no matter how hard they tried, that at least one of the residents would know that they had been there. With one last look around, the three men left. Mickey drove them back to the police station.
Major Crimes looked practically deserted. The man from the night before, Rafe was the man's name, stood to greet them,
"Hi. They're all in the conference room." He turned and led them back to the room they had been using the night before. It was obvious that none of the cops had slept long or well. Their worry about their missing men visible on their faces and in their slumped posture. Mickey watched them all closely. Coming to the conclusion that not all the cops were aware of the Captain's abilities. Interesting. He wanted to get Control alone to ask him about it. Realising that McCall didn't know, and not wanting to make the situation any worse.
Joel was watching the strangers closely. He had figured out that the man calling himself Mr. Smith knew at least something about Jim. He'd talked to Simon earlier and discovered that Mr. Smith was pretty high on the food chain when it came to Covert Ops, and that Jim had worked for him in the past. Also that this man had helped Jim decide to leave the Army. Which proved, to Joel's mind at least, that the man had a heart, to be willing to give up an operative like Jim. The man had already been trying to get Jim and Blair returned to them when one of his people had upped the ante. His attention was drawn to the smallest member of the group. He couldn't get over how this Kostmayer guy reminded him of Blair. Very similar energy level. It would be interesting to see the two men interact. He hoped he had the chance. That Blair would have the chance. He caught Kostmayer watching him closely. A speculative expression on his face. Meeting the man's eyes, he straightened up and motioned toward the door, wondering if the man would follow him.
"I'm going to go make another pot of coffee." Joel announced and was met with grunts of approval. He wasn't surprised when Kostmayer followed him wordlessly.
When they had entered the break room, finding no one there, Mickey started.
"You know, don't you." It wasn't a question.
"Know what?" Keeping his back to the younger man.
"About Ellison. You know." Nearly positive. Able to read the larger man's body language.
"Know what about him?" Turning toward him with the water for the coffee.
"What he is. What does he call it, a Sentinel? You know." It was surprising to Mickey how pale someone as dark as this man could get. Knowing he had hit the nail on the head with his conjectures. Meeting the suspicion and fear in the cop's eyes.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Trying desperately to cover.
"Yeah, you do. That's OK.. I only figured it out last night. I remembered some of the operations I worked with him. How he heard an attack sneaking up on us, made an impossible shot, stuff like that. I'm surprised Control let him get away."
"Control?" A sudden chill gripping his heart. He'd heard of such a man way back when he'd been in the Army. A spy who could do the impossible. A real invisible man. One that made James Bond look like a piker. He looked at this man and realised who he was referring to. "Mr. Smith is Control?"
"Yeah." Brows drawn in confusion. "You've heard of him?"
"Oh, yeah. He was a legend even back when I was in the Army. The invisible man. He could get in places and get back out with information like nobody's business. A real spook."
Mickey smiled. "I've heard a few stories, but never anything concrete."
Joel looked at him, considering, deciding. "What are you going to do about Jim?"
"Get him back in one piece if at all possible. Him and his partner. We owe them for coming and rescuing us down in Peru." He shrugged. "I figure your Captain knows, Control probably knows, McCall I don't think does, too improbable for him. Your guy Rafe doesn't know, nor does your other man, what's his name?"
"Yeah, him. I won't tell, although I'd like to ask some questions, after this is all over, of course. Just stuff I'm curious about."
"You'll want to talk to Blair and Jim, then. They're the ones on top of all of this."
Mickey nodded his agreement, wondering what this man was holding back, it wasn't about the missing men, it was almost as though...Control. This man knew something about Control. He wondered what it could possibly be?
He'd gotten the satellite photos, the infrared scans of the entire state of Washington. He superimposed the photos over the maps, matching up the hideouts with the infrared. Finding only one possibility near the Idaho/Canada borders.
"That's it." He pointed. Mickey looked over his shoulder. "I've been there. Lots of forest. Steep terrain. It won't be easy to sneak up on them there.
"Simon, isn't that near that old lumber mill?" Joel asked. "You know, the one that had the drug lab that the Feds tried to capture and Jim had to go in and help them out?" He looked up at his superior, remembering the case as one that had predated Jim and Blair's partnership. Predated Jim's senses re-emergence.
"You're right. That old mill is..." He searched the aerial photo, "Here. Not more than ten miles from your cabin." He looked up at the older men, wondering if it was useful information.
"Can we get a chopper in there?"
"Not without being heard."
Control looked closely at the aerial photo. "What's this, here?"
"That's an old airstrip, Plane engines would be heard as well."
"Gliders don't have engines." Control responded.
"Where are we going to find a glider pilot?" Brown asked.
"That's not a problem. What we need is a big enough glider to carry enough of us to do the job." He looked speculatively at the police officers. Knowing that they would all want to be in on this. Four cops, three of them. Seven men. They'd need one of the old military gliders. Or...
"I need a twin Beechcraft. One with enough room for ten passengers. Can you find me such a plane?"
"Probably, but they'll still hear us coming."
"Not if we glide it in for the landing, coming in from this direction." Pointing to the map.
"Where are we going to find a pilot? That's assuming we can find a plane." Rafe asked.
"We have a pilot." Even McCall was staring at him oddly.
"What?" A puzzled frown.
"Where are you going to find a pilot?"
"Me. I'm cleared for up to four engines and twin jet engines. I can also fly F-4s, A-10s, F-111s, A-16s..." He smiled, smugly. "You don't think I was always a desk jockey, do you?"
"I never thought you were in the Air Force." McCall replied.
"I wasn't. My brother was, and one of my nephews."
That was more information on this man than anyone living knew, as far as McCall was aware.
"I've known you more than thirty years, and I never knew you had a family."
"I don't." He turned back to the policemen. "Can you get me what I need?"
"Let me make a few calls." Simon sat down with the phone and started dialling.
Jim woke up clear headed. It was midmorning and everyone else was still asleep. The side effects from the drug they'd used were all gone. Now all he needed was food, water, and a rest room. Not necessarily in that order. He felt Blair's warm body beside him, snuggled as close as possible on the narrow couch. He gently squeezed his friend, waking him quietly.
"Jim?" Blair whispered.
"Uh huh. Can you get your hand out of the cuffs, Chief?"
"No. Too tight. My Swiss Army Knife is in my watch pocket." He shifted so Jim could reach his hand into the indicated pocket and get out the small knife. He then proceeded to open it and started to pick the lock on the handcuffs. He was nearly successful, when the guy with the rifle woke up and looked over at them. He didn't see the knife, but he did notice that Jim was awake.
"About time you woke up." He growled.
"What do you want with us?" Jim asked. He palmed the little knife, to keep the guy from realising he was armed, although only slightly.
"I don't want anything with you. Just your services. I understand you can hear and see through walls."
Jim laughed at the ludicrous notion. "Hardly. I'm not Superman, you know." Shaking his head in amusement. Their captors were not amused.
"Well, you'd better hurry up and learn, If you don't, your new masters might not be as nice to you as I've been.
Blair stiffened. "What do you mean new masters? We're not some pet dog for sale."
"No. You're supposed to be something much more important. Some kind of Superman, able to hear voices through walls, find someone quickly in a crowded room, tell where someone's been by smelling their shoes..."
Jim laughed. "You don't have to be Superman to do that. Just depends on how long ago the dog was there." He realised that this guy was working on someone's misinformation. All he had were suppositions. No real facts. They still had a chance. "You must be nuts." He added, just to annoy the guy.
Their captors glared at them. Wondering if it had been some kind of set-up all along. Extremely annoyed at the idea. The two men looked at each other, uncertainty on their faces. The guy who had been driving looked disgusted and turned away.
"By the way. I need to make a pit stop. If you don't mind?" He held up his cuffed wrist, hoping that they would at least allow him to use the bathroom.
The talkative one motioned to the driver, who released the handcuffs. Blair stood to let Jim up, who moved slowly and cautiously to prevent the bad guys from getting nervous and shooting them. He was allowed to use the bathroom by himself. Foolish move on their part. Jim relieved himself as fast as he could, then climbed out the window.
He circled around the cabin, listening to the people inside. They hadn't thought to check the window, assuming he wouldn't try anything with Blair still a prisoner. He realised that they had pretty much left Blair alone. He stealthily opened the door, catching Blair's attention, motioned him to try and sneak over to him and escape.
It was almost too easy. Blair was actually at the door when one of their captors realised he'd even moved. By the time he shouted and lifted his gun, Jim had thrown open the door and pulled Blair out. They started running. It was only about fifteen yards to the trees, but quite a bit farther until they got to any real cover. They were actually in the trees when the gunfire started. They zigged and zagged to throw off their aim. Successfully putting several trees between them and their pursuers. Jim pushed Blair before him, running straight for deeper cover, crashing through the underbrush when they finally reached it. Jim's unerring senses led them toward water. They found the creek and splashed upstream as fast as they could, hoping to lose their pursuit. After fifteen minutes, they called a halt, panting heavily. Jim, with Blair's assistance, found that their former captors had turned downstream. They had enough time to catch their breath and decide what to do.
"Are you certain you know how to glide this thing?" McCall shouted over the engines of the aged plane.
"Yes." Not taking his eyes off the terrain below. "Now, fasten your seat belt and be quiet." He waited for all seat belts to be tightened, then cut the engines off. He had spotted their ultimate destination, the airstrip was a mere five miles away, across heavy, steep terrain. Nothing impossible. Just difficult. He only hoped they had the time to effect the rescue. Before it was too late.
Jim's head shot up, tilted to listen.
"What is it, man?" Was Blair's anxious query.
"A plane. They just shut down their engines. On purpose." He looked at his guide speculatively. "That way." Pointing Northwest. "They're maybe ten miles away."
Blair jittered in place, "Whatever you say, man. You think it might be the guys they were going to sell us to?" He shivered at the thought.
"No. If it were them, they wouldn't be trying to sneak in. It might be Simon."
"Oh, man. I sure hope so." He looked anxiously up at his friend, "Are you sure you're recovered from those drugs?"
"Yeah. Nothing left but a slight headache. Let's go, before they figure out we didn't go downstream." He turned and started hiking in the direction he'd heard the plane; hoping that the pilot had cut his engines only on his final approach to his landing, and not twenty miles away.
The silence was terrifying. The only sound the rush of wind around the plane. He kept the nose up, using his flaps to actually climb in the thermal currents, spotting the tiny airstrip. Realising just how overgrown it was. Hoping that it was still usable under the grass and that they would be able to take back off when the time came. He could feel his passengers' fear. He almost laughed at the sheer exhilaration of the wind rush, the silent glide, the minuscule adjustments to flap and rudder, the precise tilt of ailerons, the unadulterated joy of free flight. He circled the field, trying to see any obvious imperfections or obstacles to avoid. Finding none, he finished his manoeuvre and set the plane down.
His passengers were impressed. The landing was as smooth as any they had ever experienced from a commercial jet; and for those who had flown in small aircraft, it was probably the finest landing they had ever had. Coasting to a stop, he fired up the engines and taxied the plane back around to the other end of the field, stopping just under the shade of the trees, not exactly out of sight, but not especially noticeable unless you were looking for it. Green plane against green background, positioned so that when they returned they wouldn't have to waste any time on take off. Just in case.
They disembarked. Mickey pulled two old military OD duffel bags from the storage compartment. Rafe and Brown offered to help. He looked up at them and allowed them to carry the heavier bag. It took both of them to manhandle it out of the plane.
"What do you have in here, cannons?" Rafe asked.
"You're kidding, right?" Unable to accept the idea.
Mickey dropped his bag on the ground. The others gathered around to see what he had. He unzipped the first bag, crouched over it and looked over the contents. He then looked up at Control. "How badly do you want these guys?"
"The only concern is to get the prisoners back in one piece. I'd like to talk to them, but that concern is only secondary." Rafe and Brown looked at each other. Not having military backgrounds, the idea of this as an act of warfare made them both a little nervous.
Mickey pulled out a half a dozen packages of C-4 explosives. Joel's breath caught at the sight. Mickey looked up, saw the man's distress and stood.
Simon spoke first, "Joel? Are you all right?"
"Fine. I'll be fine."
"What's wrong?" Mickey asked softly, touching the older man's shoulder in concern.
"Oh, nothing. I just had a four story building blow up over my head a few months ago. I'll be fine. Just give me a minute."
Mickey understood. He'd seen it before. Men who had done a job for years, then had one too many close calls and were never again able to face their fears. He squeezed Joel's shoulder, offering comfort and understanding.
"Bomb squad?" He asked, already pretty sure of the answer.
Joel nodded. "Yeah. Twenty years. I'm OK." He took several deep breaths, regaining his composure. "It's not like I'm going to have to defuse it or anything, is it." A faint smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Mickey grinned in return. "Nah. No defusing. I can set any charges we need. Besides, this is more of a military action than a terrorist one."
Joel's smile broadened at this brash, confident, energetic man. "Very true." He watched as Mickey crouched back down and continued squirreling away the explosives in the pockets of his vest and coat, making sure that the wires, blasting caps and timers were each in a separate pocket.
Mickey then pulled an Uzi from the pack. Looking up at the men gathered around him, he offered it up. Rafe accepted the weapon, checked it out, finding it was already loaded. Mickey then handed him a dozen extra clips for it. Rafe pocketed the extra ammunition. Mickey then held up a second Uzi, which Brown took, along with extra ammunition. Looking up at the rest of them, then zipped up the first bag and moved to the second.
It really did have AK-47s in it. Mickey offered one up, Control accepting it. The other three shook their heads, deciding to depend on their familiar handguns. Mickey pulled out an AK-47 for himself and packed the rest of his pockets with ammunition. McCall held the rifle for him as he replaced the bags in the storage compartment of the plane.
Checking the map, the diverse group started off in the direction of the cabin. An eclectic group. The two old soldier/ spies in their suits, the four cops in jeans and flannel shirts, and the smaller terrorist in old military fatigues, except for the plaid flannel shirt he wore under his vest and coat, taking point, checking the compass and plotting their course.
They stopped to rest. They'd managed to get a couple of miles from the cabin. It was time to stop and take stock. Jim extended his hearing. Listening for any sounds of pursuit. Hearing none. Focusing back toward the cabin; hearing a vehicle, listening as it stopped and doors opened and closed, hearing voices...
"Jim. C'mon, man. Don't zone on me now. Jim?" Blair shook his friend by the arm, his voice starting to rise in panic.
It was that note of panic that brought him back. He blinked and looked down at the frightened, concerned face of his Guide.
"Sorry, Chief. What do you know about Chinese Sentinels?"
Blair shook his head at the seeming non-sequitur. "Huh? All of my research is based on Burton's work. I don't know anything about Chinese..." His eyes lit up. "Oh, cool. You think that the Chinese..." Bouncing in excitement.
"No, Chief." Jim interrupted. "I think the buyers just arrived at the cabin. It sounded like they were speaking Chinese."
Blair's enthusiasm evaporated. "Oh." Looking up, he continued. "Where to now, Jim? Can you hear anything from the direction we're going?" Hopeful, even though he knew they were still a long way from intercepting whoever had been in the gliding plane.
With Blair's hand on his back to anchor him, Jim extended his hearing to their furthest limits, it took a while to sort out and discard the superfluous sounds of the forest, but he finally managed to find what he was searching for.
"The guys who had us have figured out that we didn't go downstream. They're headed upstream. Depending on how well they can track, they should be coming up on where we left the stream within the next few minutes. We've got almost a three mile lead on them." He focused in the direction they were going. Finally, he heard what they'd been hoping to hear.
"It's Simon, Chief. Simon and a bunch of other guys," Concentrating. The voices had stopped; but he still knew what direction they were. "They stopped talking, but their about six miles north-north west. If they talk every once in a while, we'll be able to track them and intercept them."
"That's great, Jim. Let's get going." Jim checked once again on their pursuit, and then headed on an intercept course with the rescue party.
They had lost them. They turned back to the cabin, knowing that the buyers were due any time. Not looking forward to seeing them.
They were right. The buyers were furious. One of them was an accomplished tracker, so they started back out into the wilderness to try and track down their quarry.
For the experienced tracker, the trail was an easy one to follow. When they reached the stream he noted the overturned rocks on the bottom, indicating the direction the men had run. The same type of indicators when they left the water, the scuff marks in the duff of the forest floor. The rub marks on the tree where one of them had leaned while stopping to rest, the trail screaming out to the experienced man. When they stopped to rest, one of the buyers brought a map. He checked the direction their quarry was running, and pointed out where it appeared they were headed. The leader smiled, pulled out a cell phone and made a call. The merchandise was running toward where they had planned to take them. So long as they managed to catch up, they could simply transport from where they found them.
Blair was panting. He was tired, hungry, thirsty. He'd fallen and twisted his ankle, and he was afraid. He was grateful when Jim finally stopped. Blair sank down to sit and take the pressure off his injured ankle, trying to hide his injury, hoping Jim was distracted enough with getting them to safety not to notice. Jim crouched beside him, picked up his injured member and gently felt the damage. So much for trying to hide it.
"How bad is it?" Feeling the swelling, the heat in the pulled ligaments.
"Not too bad. I can manage. I'm just tired." Breathing hard.
"Uh huh." He gently set the foot back on the ground, again extending his hearing, he realised that their pursuers were gaining. Not rapidly, but still they might catch up before they intercepted the rescue party. He directed his concentration, searching for Simon and his group. They were maybe two miles ahead, pursuit was two, two and a half miles behind. It would be close. And Blair was hurt.
"Can you manage to run another mile?" Noticing that Blair was already starting to tremble from reaction and exhaustion. Fear could tire you faster than anything else on earth.
"How close are they?" Blair looked back where they had come from.
"Couple of miles."
"How close are we?" Looking up with utter confidence.
"Couple of miles. If we can run, we have a really good chance of meeting up with the rescue party. Then, at least, we won't be helpless. I'll still be able to keep track of them while we'll have protection in case they do catch up."
Blair struggled to his feet, unable to hide the grimace of pain his ankle caused. "OK, then. Let's go. The sooner we get started, the sooner we can get out of here."
Jim gently slapped his partner on the back. "OK, Chief. This way." He started off at a walk, letting Blair warm back up and favour his injured ankle.
Mickey stopped. He thought he'd heard something. He held up a hand and the others stopped and fell silent. Questing ahead like an animal, he motioned the others to wait while he went to investigate. He moved silently off into the woods, vanishing almost immediately.
Joel and Simon looked at one another, a speculative look in their eyes. Wondering if it was possible. Control leaned up against a tree. Watching the others. He'd figured out that Simon and Joel knew, but the other cops did not. He decided to find out what he could.
"Captain Banks, Mr. Taggart, may I have a word with you in private?" Hiding his smile when both men stiffened and looked at one another, shrugged, and followed him a short distance away from the others.
"What is it, Mr. Smith?" Simon asked rather pointedly. Joel winced.
"I know about Ellison." Watched surreptitiously as both men flinched in reaction. "When he insisted on taking Sandburg with him to Peru, I got to thinking. Why would an ex-Ranger turned cop and long time loner like Ellison allow, no, insist on allowing someone like Sandburg on a mission? It didn't make any sense. I started digging. You'd be surprised at just how many files there were out there on them."
Both policemen cringed and exchanged worried looks.
He watched the emotions cross their faces. The concern, the care they felt for their men, their friends. "I managed to get most of the files on them, as well as having any computer files obliterated. We couldn't delete everything, after all, Sandburg's Master's Thesis is a matter of public record. We just made it a little harder to get a hold of."
"What do you want with them?" Simon asked softly. He didn't want to rescue his men only to have this guy drag them off to work for him.
Joel was looking hard at him. "Peter, you're not planning on taking them, are you?"
Control froze. He looked closely at Joel Taggart, trying to place him. It had been nearly a lifetime since anyone had called him by that name. "What did you call me?" Covering well, in spite of his shock.
"Peter...Murphy, wasn't it? Oh, I'm sure that isn't your real name, either, but it is the name you were using in Nam." Watching for any sign other than the surprise at his use of that name; wondering at his own audacity at challenging this man. From the reaction to the name, he knew this was the same man. He barely noticed Simon's puzzled expression. He didn't dare break eye contact with this man, to do so would be to lose. "Isn't it?" Feeling enormous relief when the man closed his eyes and sighed, softly; giving in.
"When and where did we meet?"
"1971. Cambodia." He waited. "I was a twenty-two year old grunt who got captured with about a dozen other guys." Seeing the recognition flash across the blue eyes.
"Explosives. You were the one who blew up the tunnel." Looking closely, trying to recognise the twenty-two year old within the fifty year old. Finally seeing the man he'd met so many years ago when he was still occasionally a field operative.
Joel smiled. "Pretty hard to forget a guy coming through a tunnel and cutting us loose and then leading us back out through that same tunnel." He glanced at Simon; he'd never told this story to anyone, except his wife. "I had seen the explosives when they brought us in. I just helped myself as we went past it, made sure I was the last in line and set the charges along the way. Once we were clear, I pushed the button. Nine volt batteries and a little sending switch. Boom."
"I was so surprised when you did that. I thought they had caught up and thrown a grenade." He smiled at the man he'd only met on that one occasion. "You've done well for yourself." He'd never known any of their names. It hadn't mattered to him. He was just doing a job. Not the job he had been there for, but one that mattered to him. One he'd never reported.
"You didn't answer my question." Joel pressed, returning to the important matter at hand.
"I have all the documentation. It reads like a science fiction novel. Not a very good one, at that. I can destroy the files, or I can give them to you. Your choice." His calm had returned. Taggart wasn't pressing him about the name. He'd been a different man, then. A simpler, still idealistic, man. Before all the crap had ground down his humanity until only the job mattered. Before he'd discovered just how much his few friends meant to him.
Joel looked at Simon for permission. Simon nodded. So, Joel knew this man. Knew him back in Nam. He was going to have to ask him more about it, later. Much, much later.
"I think Blair would like to see the files. There might actually be something useful for his research." Joel looked up at the old agent, "Why? I mean, I'm sure you could use a team like them, why are you going to let them go?"
Control smiled, a world-weary, sad, smile. "Ellison has worked for me. I've worked with him. He's a good man. You're right, I could use him. But I won't. Sandburg would never make an agent. He's too much the academic, the hippie, if you will. Soft, gentle. It would be criminal to change him to make him useful to us, to me." He looked pointedly at Simon, "I came here to ask for Ellison's help when Robert and Mickey were captured. He was the only person I knew who stood a chance of effecting a rescue." He chuckled dryly. "When we were on the plane coming home, Sandburg summed it all up. He said that it was about friendship, that that was all it had ever been." Both policemen smiled at that. They'd heard it themselves from the source. "There are about thirty files and half a dozen disks. I advise you to be a little more careful in your handling of those men. I became interested from the moment I met Sandburg. He insisted on going, even though he wasn't trained for this kind of operation. At first Ellison agreed with me, then abruptly changed his mind and insisted the kid go with him. Refusing to explain why. It didn't make any sense, at the time. When we all got back, I started digging. It fascinated me how much Ellison had changed from the man I knew." He looked at Simon, "It was Peru, wasn't it?"
"Yes. His senses went back to normal after he came back. Then, about two and a half years ago, they went out of whack on him. He knew there was something wrong with him. He was at the hospital, where, of course, they couldn't find anything wrong with him physically. He thought he was going crazy. He was scared out of his mind. That's when he met Blair. It's like it was foreordained. Blair was working on his Doctoral Thesis, searching for a subject to prove Burton's theories about Sentinels, his girlfriend worked at the hospital, saw Jim, called Blair. Cosmic connection." He looked at Control and grinned. "You knew Jim BS, Before Sandburg. Could you picture the two of them even talking to each other?"
"No." Control laughed. "I still have difficulty seeing it. But it works, doesn't it?"
"Yes. They're a team. A single unit. Two halves of a whole. The sum of their parts is greater than they are separately. I can't explain it. I don't even try. Sometimes it scares me. Sandburg doesn't belong. He's naive, he's unprepared for the things he sees. He's accident prone and a real trouble magnet. He's also probably the most intelligent human being I've ever met. He's annoying, aggravating, has more energy than the Energiser Bunny, and he's managed to wiggle his way into our lives and our hearts. He's taken a tough, cold, lonely old lone wolf of a detective and turned him into a warm, caring, man who has even developed a sense of humour. It makes no sense. It works. I wouldn't trade them for anything. They're worth all the trouble and aggravation. They make Cascade a better, safer place. I, for one, am grateful to them for it."
Control smiled sadly, a little envious of his former agent. "They're both extremely lucky men, Captain. And they have the perfect champion in you. I have all the documentation hidden in Mickey's van. I'll give it to you when we get back." He turned and walked back to the others. McCall gave him an odd look at his return. Stepping close to his old friend, he asked:
"Are you all right?"
"Fine. I'm fine, old son." But the sadness in his eyes belied his words. "Do you remember Cambodia, 1971?"
"Yes." Curious. What could have brought that up?
"Taggart was there." He turned away, looking off into the forest toward where Mickey had disappeared.
"So?" Stepping close to his old friend.
"He knew me." He looked up. "He knew me when I still had a few ideals left." His eyes caught movement and he focused, seeing Mickey approaching, "He knew me by a name I hadn't used for five years before we met." He looked at the confusion on his dearest friend's face. "I don't remember telling them my name. Certainly not that one. He knew it. Knew me."
"What are you going to do about it?" Knowing that it was dangerous to know any name this man went by. Most assuredly if it was one of the names he'd used back when he was still an active agent, before he'd become so high up in the organisation. Wondering which name it had been, if he'd ever heard it himself. Wondered for perhaps the millionth time what name had been on his birth certificate.
"Nothing." He walked toward the returning Mickey.
"What did you find?"
"They're on their way. Maybe two miles. We can intercept them in ten, fifteen minutes."
"How do you know that?" Joel asked.
Mickey grinned. "I climbed the ridge, then a tree. Looked for movement. There they were. Let's get moving."
"Hold up a minute, Chief." He placed a hand on Blair's chest, stopping his forward movement. "Wait right here. I'll be right back."
"OK, Jim. I'm just going to sit down, OK?" But Jim had already gone.
He watched the approaching group of men. Recognising all of them. He stood so that when they topped the rise, they would be able to see him. He certainly didn't want to startle them, not the way they were armed.
"Hey, Ellison. How's it goin?" Mickey was the first to notice him.
"I'm OK. Blair sprained his ankle and we're being followed."
The others gathered around, anxious. "Where's hair-boy?" Brown asked.
"He's at the bottom of the hill, taking a rest. I don't suppose any of you thought to bring a pressure bandage?"
"Leave it to Sandburg to manage to hurt himself." Simon growled in relieved amusement.
"Here." Mickey pulled a roll of self-stick pressure bandage from a pocket. At the expressions of surprise from the others, "What?"
"Nothing. I just wasn't aware that you carried such things." McCall replied.
Mickey grinned. "I like it better than duct tape for bandaging. Doesn't pull out all the hair."
"Thanks." Jim said. Taking the roll and turning around. The others followed him.
Blair was so relieved when he saw the army behind Jim. "Oh, man, am I glad to see you guys." He shifted so Jim could take his injured leg and work on it.
"Can you describe the men who took you?" Control asked.
"One of them was the second in command with the group that actually grabbed us. There were four of them, that we saw." Blair started.
"Yeah. There's him and one of the silent stooges. Both average in size and build. The stooge is about six feet, a little under. Looks like he might lift weights, some. The other one sandy blond hair, hazel eyes, mid-forties. Starting to go soft. The stooge has nondescript brown hair and eyes."
"The blond is a man named Carlton. I wonder what happened to Wilkins? He wasn't one of the bodies they left behind."
"Maybe he's with the buyers?" Blair asked.
"Buyers?" Simon and Control chorused. Mickey, Brown, Rafe, and Joel had moved out to form a perimeter while the others tended to Blair's ankle. They all glanced toward them at the tone of their voices, then immediately turned back to watching the back-trail.
"Yeah. They had plans to sell us. Something about learning to see through walls for our new masters." Blair snorted a laugh. "That's nuts." Seeing the reactions from Simon and...Control? Uh, oh. That was the last person he wanted to know about Jim.
"I have some disks and files for you, when we get back. You may want to go through them and decide what you need to do to prevent any recurrences." Control told Blair nonchalantly. "I'm surprised that in the past two years, at least, that no one has figured it out to the point of doing something about it." He then stood and walked away. Leaving Jim and Blair gaping after him in shock.
"He was already aware of your abduction when McCall contacted him. You gave McCall's card to Joel in case something happened to you?"
"Yeah. We talked on the plane back from Peru. He said he owed us, big time, and gave me his card. I gave it to Joel, just in case. I mean, usually you have everything pretty much under control, Simon, so I thought maybe Joel could be your backup."
Simon nodded. Looking up as Joel came over to join them. "By the way, Mickey knows." He informed them. Simon rolled his eyes, while Jim and Blair both looked up in startlement.
"He what?" Jim hissed.
"He figured it out. Said he remembered you hearing an attack coming and making an impossible shot. Stuff like that."
Blair looked at Jim. "I thought you hadn't had the senses before Peru?"
"I've always had 'em, Chief. I just didn't use them." He looked at the accusation in his Guide's eyes. He sighed. "When we worked on that serial murder? The one where I found Bud's body when I was a kid?"
"I saw the killer then. My dad told the police that I had an overactive imagination. Then he told me that if I persisted in insisting I could see a birthmark on a guy's neck from seventy-five yards, that people would think I was weird, different. That it was a bad thing to be different." He sighed. "He knew. All along, he knew."
"So, that's when you started to repress your abilities?"
"I guess." Looking back down to where he had finished wrapping Blair's ankle. Absently replacing the sock and shoe, while the others watched in concerned silence.
"Jim..." Blair began.
"Not now. Not here." Jim interrupted.
"OK. But later. And soon."
"Sure." He stood and helped Blair to his feet. Turning back down the trail they had come, he stopped, concentrating. "Company. About half a mile."
Mickey had been looking intently down the trail, he turned toward the others and called softly, "Company." His eyes met Jim's "How many?" He asked.
Jim moved over to the others. Listening intently, he announced, "I think there's five or six of them. They think they're still chasing just the two of us. They must have a good tracker with them, because they've been gaining steadily for the past two hours."
McCall looked around for a moment. "I've an idea. Let's move the two of you down that little hollow. So they don't see our tracks and realise that you have reinforcements."
Jim helped Blair down to the little hollow, where they found some huge pieces of an ancient dead fall. While Jim made Blair comfortable and as safe as possible, Mickey brushed out their excess tracks. Once Jim was satisfied that Blair was safe, he circled around back to the others. An experienced tracker would see that the two fugitives had climbed the hill, stopped, and then gone down into the hollow, where, hopefully, they could rest. Jim started smiling.
"What's your plan?" Jim asked.
"Obviously we need to lay an ambush. If they think their quarry has gone to ground there," Pointing to Blair's hiding place. "Then they won't be looking for a rescue party here."
Jim looked at the layout. He smiled. "There's my spot." He pointed to a spot near Blair's hiding place, still in the same area, just off to one side. Each man picked his own spot to hide. They were all professionals, each man choosing a spot from which he had an unencumbered view of either the trail, the hollow where Blair was hidden, or both. Mickey had given his handgun to Jim. Once the pursuers were gathered together, they would announce themselves and request they surrender. If they fought, oh, well. They'd have tried.
Fifteen minutes later, they heard the sounds of the pursuit. There were six of them. The two abductors, three Chinese, and the man who had been in charge of the initial abduction, Control's missing Wilkins.
They walked right into the trap. The tracker, in fact none of them, ever imagined that anyone would be able to find them in time to save the two men. They followed the tracks right into the hollow, thinking they had caught up to the two unarmed men, having observed from the trail when Blair had fallen and that he was limping, and now limping more. Obviously in need of rest.
"HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!" Simon Banks shouted. The six men turned to try and locate the speaker.
"You are surrounded. Put down your weapons and give yourselves up. If you follow directions, you will not be hurt. If you do not, we have permission to shoot to kill. The choice is yours."
The six men looked at one another, almost as one, they opened fire toward where Simon's voice had come. They had no way of knowing that Simon was hidden behind a tree large enough to build an entire subdivision. The bullets thudded harmlessly (for Simon, at least. It didn't do the huge old redwood any good) into the tree. While they were concentrating on Simon, the others opened fire on them.
When the shooting stopped, the bad guys were all either dead or dying. Jim had taken a graze along one rib. Painful and bloody, but no lasting damage.
"Stay where you are, Chief." Jim called out to his worried partner.
"Jim? Are you all right? How's everyone else?" Worried, but scared, as well.
"We got them, Chief. I've got a score along my side. No worse than a cut. Won't even need stitches." He checked out the others, visually. "Everyone else looks OK."
"Then, why can't I come out now?" Plaintive.
"Because we made a mess, Chief. Let me come get you. You don't want to see this." Eight men, two with Uzi's two with AK-47s, four with handguns can make a mess out of six men when they're all within fifty feet. Rafe and Brown were a little green upon seeing the damage they had inflicted. The agents never even looked twice. Just long enough to make sure their job was done.
Jim got to his partner and led him out and around the carnage. Making sure that he didn't have to look at the dead. Simon sent Rafe and Brown with them, seeing their reaction to what high power combined with high volume in a weapon was capable of. Deciding to send them to see the department shrink for help when they got back. He looked at Joel. He was looking sadly down at the one still living, though obviously not for long. He was gut shot, among other bullet wounds, If they'd had medical help there, he might have had a chance. He would bleed to death before anything could be done for him. Control crouched beside the man.
"Go to hell."
"Been there. Took it over and came back for more. Why?"
"I do. Do you know who I am?"
Mickey joined them. The others watching silently.
"You know me. This is Control. You're going to die. I can keep you alive and in pain for several hours, or we can let you bleed to death quickly. The choice is yours."
They all saw the fear flicker in the man's eyes at Control's name. He took a shallow breath and sighed.
"Wilkins and Carlton had this buddy."
"Lee Brackett." Control supplied.
The man looked surprised. "Yeah, how'd you know?" Then, remembering who he was talking to, continued. "He told them that this Ellison guy was some kind of Superman. They arranged to sell him and his services to the Tam Choy Tong. They were going to use him in their drug trade..." Simon snorted in amusement.
"Never happen. Both of them would die before they'd do that."
"The Tam Choy didn't know that. They figured they'd get their money and be long gone before they found out." The man's face tightened up in agony. Gasping for breath.
Jim returned in time to hear the plans they had had for him and his partner. He glared at the dying man. Crouching beside Control, he got right in the dying man's face. Leaning close, he whispered so that only Control and the dying man could hear him.
"The stories were true." The man's eyes widened in shocked realisation, and he died.
Jim stood and offered Control a hand up. Looking deeply into the Sentinel's eyes, he took the offered hand and allowed himself to be pulled up. "I still owe you. This is only a partial payment."
Jim's eyes narrowed. Knowing that this particular man knew his secret should have bothered him a great deal more than it did.
"You've never lied to me." He reminded his former boss.
Control smiled gently. "You're probably the only man living who can say that, or who would believe it."
"You never told me why."
"Why I always told you the truth?"
"Because you were the most honest, truthful man I've ever met. If I wanted you to do something horrendous, you'd do it. Just as long as I told you up front. You never asked why, well, seldom asked why."
"Why did you let me go?"
"Because you deserved better."
The two men stood there, eye-to-eye. Matching blue eyes, matching expressions. Jim smiled. "Thank you. I think any debt you may think you owe has been paid. You didn't have to let me go then, or now. If you ever need my help, call."
"Only if there's no other choice." He looked at the six bodies. "I'll have this cleaned up." He looked at Simon. "Your two men need counselling?"
"We have a pretty good shrink with the department. We can handle it."
Control nodded and started toward the others. The hike back to the plane was uneventful, until they reached the edge of the forest.
Jim was helping Blair, almost carrying him. As they approached the abandoned air strip, he suddenly stopped, scanning the sky.
"Helicopter coming." He informed the others. Settling Blair on the ground and elevating his injured ankle, Jim then joined the others, peering out at the airstrip, and watching in concern as the large helicopter came in for a landing.
"How much you want to bet that they're here to pick up a couple of pieces of human merchandise?" Mickey asked dryly.
"No bet." Jim replied. He looked around the open area. "I can see the plane. If we're careful, we can skirt through the edges of the forest and get to the plane without being seen. Then it'll just be a case of getting off before them."
The others agreed. It took them an extra hour, but they made it to the plane, unobserved. They cautiously approached the plane, still unobserved by the men from the helicopter.
"I don't know who painted this thing, but it's obviously great camouflage." Jim whispered to the others. They managed to get the door open and started loading up, when something alerted the men in the helicopter, who started shouting and running toward them, their pilot started up the motors on the helicopter, rising up and approaching.
"We don't have time to get away." Control announced. Jim snatched the AK-47 from Control. Using the plane's wing as a support, he aimed at the helicopter. The men on the ground were still out of range, so he concentrated on the airborne craft. Carefully, he zeroed in on the main rotor connection, drew a deep breath, let it out. Drew another deep breath, let half of it out, steadied for an instant, and fired.
The helicopter fell from the sky like a broken toy, its main rotor having separated from the rest of the craft. Unfortunately, for the men who had come on it, it landed between them and those getting in the plane.
While Jim had been taking his shot, the others had loaded up the plane. Control had fired up the engines and was ready to taxi. Jim jumped in just as the small craft started moving. Slamming the door behind him. As they taxied down the overgrown runway, those left stranded on the ground opened fire on them. Several bullets went through the cabin.
Mickey grunted as one of the bullets impacted with his leg.
"Damn it. I caught one." He muttered.
"How bad is it?" McCall asked, concerned.
"Can't tell. It's...shit." Mickey slumped over, unconscious.
Jim made them shift around so he could access the unconscious mercenary. "Damn. Make it fast, Control. He needs a hospital. It went through his thigh and into his chest. I can slow the bleeding, but he needs a hospital, NOW!"
"On my way." He got on the radio, calling in another favour, or not, there's no way of knowing for sure. They landed at Fairchild AFB, where Mickey was rushed to their hospital.
They insisted on keeping him overnight. Then only allowed him to be transported to Cascade, where he was ordered to check in to the hospital there.
They gathered in the hospital room. Mickey lay in bed, leg in a cast, the bullet had broken his femur, gone through and lodged in his chest wall, breaking two ribs in the process. He was not happy. In fact, he was pretty grumpy.
"When can I get out of here, McCall?" He groused. He kept pretending to take his pain meds, but tended to hide them and toss them away.
"Take it easy, kid." Control admonished him. "You follow orders, for a change, and I can probably have you out of here in a week. If you don't, they'll keep you until the cast comes off. The choice is yours."
"I hate daytime TV."
Control and McCall chuckled.
The door opened, admitting Jim, Blair, Simon, and Joel. Blair had been reading the files Control had gathered on them; he was jazzed. Bouncing on his toes, unable to stay still. They visited for a while, then, Simon and Joel said their goodbyes and left. Blair continued to bounce, talking excitedly about the information in the files. McCall interrupted him.
"What on earth are you talking about?"
Control smothered a grin, exchanging glances with Jim.
"Oh, I'm sorry. It's, um, uh, just some stuff for my Doctoral Thesis. Anthro stuff. I forgot you didn't know anything about it."
"I see." McCall replied, not really seeing at all.
Mickey chuckled, grimacing in pain. Looking at Jim, he asked: "Doesn't he ever stop bouncing around? He's making me tired just watching him."
McCall and Control exchanged looks. Looking from Mickey to Blair and back. Robert turned slightly away, trying to cover his enormous grin. Jim didn't. He only made an observation that he must be as accident prone as Blair. Control laughed.
"Kostmayer, talk about the pot calling the kettle black." He observed, as the others joined him in laughter.