The security system on the Lancer ranch house brought him a great deal of irritation. It took extra time to bypass the complicated circuits then to cut through the sturdy locks. His entire schedule was wrecked. He’d hoped to get in and out of the house right after night fell.
Now he’d be lucky to get inside by midnight. And worse, it was getting chilly, his fingers were cramping inside his surgeon’s gloves. Even the moon was working against him; it was three-quarters full, gleaming off the white adobe. He shuffled into the shadows near the door. The lack of vehicles in the yard and garage meant no one was home, no one except the target.
Kneeling down by the window, Jed Lewis slid one lock pick into the bottom of the deadbolt keyhole, applying pressure as he turned it. He felt the pins moving the way he wanted. He inserted another tool at the bottom of the lock, pushed up on the pins until they were in alignment and the lock released, allowing the window to open. He lowered himself into the wine cellar. In less than ten minutes, he canvassed the rows of wine casks and bottles. Pulling a sample from the shelf, he slid his finger across the artsy-fartsy label. Wild Horse Noir. It figured the Lieutenant would come up with some fancy shit like that.
He slipped up the stairs and encountered another lock. This one was only for show and he plowed through it in half a minute. Listening, he heard nothing: no radio, no television, no conversation. Getting halfway down a length of hallway, a soft slap of footsteps against tile reached his ears. He ducked into a closet. By the time the footsteps came closer, he was hidden deep within its confines behind an assortment of masculine leather coats. A few smaller garments hung to the side, a distinct female scent tantalizing his nostrils.
A two inch crack in the door provided Jed had an excellent line of sight. A girl came into view. No, a young woman. Pretty in a compact, slim way, she was wearing a terry-cloth robe.
She shook back her long hair, rolling her shoulders. Placing a hand to her neck, she circled her head and stretched, drawing the white fabric tight against her breasts. The more he saw, the more his annoyance faded. He followed her with his eyes, studying her smooth curves, until she left his view. Very nice, but business first.
She’d changed his plans, however, so he waited in the dark until he heard her footsteps again.
Scott’s stomach growled as the hint of fresh coffee reached him. Teresa entered Murdoch’s study, carrying a tray of what he hoped was sustenance. Time had slipped away from him, but it usually did when he was looking over spreadsheets.
“I thought I should see to your welfare,” she said, tilting her head, “since you’re not going to do it. I have coffee and a ham sandwich, here. And if you’re really good, I could probably snag you some of Maria’s chocolate chip cookies.”
He snuck a glance at the time on his computer screen and grimaced. “It’s that late?”
Teresa set the tray down and nodded towards it. “You can consider that your breakfast.”
He leaned back in his chair. “All right, all right, I'm going to knock off in a few minutes.”
She splayed one hand out on her hip. “Oh, I'm done talking. I'm gonna let your dad do it when he gets back tomorrow with Johnny. But I should tell you though…”
“Now you've already told me, um…I'm working too hard.”
“Don’t be such a smart ass. Murdoch said he didn’t have to have those figures in until next week.” She tapped her finger against her jaw line. “You know what I think?”
Teresa walked to the doorway and turned, giving him a wide smile. “I think you’re showing off, Scott Lancer. Seeing just how much you can get done before the Patron returns.”
He rose to his feet and bowed. “Well, like my younger brother, I too am an overachiever.”
She rolled her eyes. “Spare me.”
He grinned. “Teresa…thanks for the coffee and sandwich. Now you go to bed. I'm going to turn in myself in a few minutes, I promise you. Oh, and don’t forget Cipriano and I have to get down to the valley early tomorrow morning to see about the frozen semen samples Murdoch ordered.” Those were words he thought he would never utter in his life.” If we get done in time I’ll swing by to pick you up for lunch.”
She nodded through a yawn and left, shutting the door.
Scott picked up a pen and the antiquated leather-bound ledger Murdoch used to order his samples, and moved off to an overstuffed chair. Opening the binder, he shook his head as a few receipts fell out to the floor. Murdoch liked to kick it old school as Johnny reminded their father every chance he got. And when it came to computer basics, Scott had to agree with his brother. At least most of the spreadsheets had been transferred to the new Access database Scott had put together. He fought a hard campaign to get that done; the next front to tackle was Murdoch himself—as in getting him to sit down to use the thing. The old man had long ago mastered Google and e-mail, but databases still had him running for his ledgers.
The door behind him slid open on a whisper.
“Teresa, I thought you were going to bed…”
He twisted in the chair and sprang to his feet, the ledger forgotten. “Who…?”
“Now, I’m going to real disappointed if you don’t remember me, Lieutenant. After all, it’s only been what—three or four years?”
“It’s your fault we’re in this mess. If you hadn’t given the all-clear, we would’ve never tried that pallet drop. You did a shitty reconnaissance and now we’re paying for it—Jack’s paying for it.”
The memory hit like a sucker punch. “Jed Lewis? How did you get in?”
Jed smiled at him. “So you remembered after all. Big place stuck out in the middle of nowhere, not a lot of people around. You might want to upgrade your security system sometime soon.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Not even gonna invite me to sit down? Pretty rude for a man like you, but I guess getting older makes us all change, one time or another. And still others don’t get a chance—to get old, I mean.” He slipped his hand into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a nine-millimeter.
“What the hell are you talking about? What’s the gun for?”
Jed caressed the barrel. “Nice, isn’t it? Just like we used back in the day with the 83rd. I got a man who remembers those days, Lieutenant, even if you don’t. In fact, you and I are gonna meet him. He’s waiting right outside town. The name ‘Cassidy’ ring a bell?”
Brilliant white muzzle flashes arced across the nose of his ‘copter. Where were those intermediaries now when they were getting their asses shot out from underneath them?
Nine-zero had realized the trouble and was backing off the target. More bullets traveled Cassidy’s way and the pallet shifted as Dan tried to pull up. The steady hum of the rotors changed to a distinct whump, whump as the blades slowed. Scott could almost see each individual blade and knew they weren’t going to make the climb.
“Dan, punch the load! Punch the load! You’re starting to oscillate!”
Yoro. The Tolupan village in Honduras. Scott hadn’t thought of his last mission in a while, at least not in his waking hours.
Jed peered at him. “That's right, Lieutenant Cassidy. Maybe you do remember, huh?” He waved his free hand toward the French doors while the pistol remained pointed at Scott’s heart. “Shall we go?”
Scott’s eyes cut to the glass doors behind the desk, measuring the distance.
The gun cocked. “Uh-huh. You wouldn’t want that pretty little thing who brought you coffee all mixed up in this now, would you?”
The French doors opened. A stocky man with a shank of black hair covering his forehead appeared, his gun looking just as deadly as Lewis’. “What’s the fucking hold up? We need to get out of here.”
Jed leaned over and snatched up the sandwich, taking a big bite. “Come on in, Ric. I was just convincing Mr. Lancer here that he wants to leave with us. Nice and easy, no fighting, no shouting.” Lewis gestured to the side of the room where Ric stood. “Let’s go.”
Scott exhaled a silent breath and walked to the doors.
Jed’s voice came from behind him. “And maybe after we get you all fixed up, I’ll come back and see what that little Miss has to offer.”
Son-of-a-bitch. Scott half-turned, but the barrel of Lewis’ pistol was thrust between his shoulder blades, forcing him through the doorway.
He was hustled out to a waiting car beyond the fence line and pushed into the back seat. Jed Lewis crammed the gun against Scott’s belly, insuring he would stay in place. As the lights of Lancer dimmed behind them, Scott felt relieved. One situation down—Teresa was safe now—just one more to go.
The car slipped and swerved going around a hairpin curve. Ric didn’t seem to mind as he yanked the car from side to side, gaining speed. But with Jed it was a different matter.
Jed’s gun against his side eased up with each sharp pull of the steering wheel. “Goddamnit, Ric. Slow down. I’d like to get there in one piece.”
Scott braced himself to avoid hitting the side window. “By all means, let’s get to Dan Cassidy safe and sound. What’s this all about Lewis?”
“My brother died in the jungle, singing your praises. He was a fool, considering you were the one who killed him. And as for Dan, well, you’ll just have to wait and see.”
“Listen Jack, I’m sorry for getting you into this mess.”
“Don’t be. We all take an oath and know what could happen. I wouldn’t want to fly with anyone else and that’s the honest-to-God’s truth. Don’t be pussying out on me now. Remember what we said after that trouble the last tour in Iraq? We check…”
“…each other’s six.”
“Damn straight, L-T.”
Scott slumped in the seat. Jack Lewis. He hadn’t allowed himself to think of his crew chief.
The old beater shimmied, swinging close to the edge of the curve. Jed bent forward to punch Ric’s shoulder. Scott leaned, pushing all his weight into Jed, sending them both crashing against the far window. The pistol swung up towards his cheek. He ducked as it went off, shattering the back window. Ric stomped on the brakes and the car swerved to the opposite bank, screeching and sliding towards a tree.
Scott didn’t wait for the car to stop, pushing open the door and jumping away. He hit the asphalt with a heavy thud and rolled clear. By the time Lewis and Ric were shouting to each other, he was up on his feet moving out. Taking a quick look around, he started down the trail—away from Lancer.
A loud pop came from the direction of the car. The force of the bullet slammed him forward and he tripped over heavy undergrowth. Even as fire erupted in his shoulder, he couldn’t quite believe he’d been shot. He touched two fingers to the worst of the pain and felt the stickiness of his own blood.
Lewis and Ric were gaining, their voices too close. The beam from a flashlight arced out. Skirting it, Scott slid into the woods.
Dan Cassidy stared out the window of his motel room and contemplated the faint city lights in the distance. He almost laughed; Morro Coyo was nowhere near to being a city. It was too quiet here—the stillness setting him on edge. Chaotic dreams usually forced him awake by this time of the morning, but tonight he had a reason not to sleep. He pulled his wrist up, tipping the watch to read its dial from the moonlight drifting in from the window. It was after two, and Lewis and Hardy were late. The adrenaline that pumped through him earlier had faded, leaving him light-headed and cold.
Dan limped away from the window to the bag beside the dresser. With a quiet click of the latch, he opened it and took out his pistol. It was slim and sleek, almost an afterthought. A soft sigh from the bed had him turning around and stuffing it into his waistband, pulling his jacket around to cover.
“Dan…Dan? Where are you going?”
“Shh, Sarah, go back to sleep.”
“Do you know what time it is? Jed will be here in a few hours.”
“Something woke me and I can’t get back to sleep. I was going for a walk to work out the kinks in my leg. I’ll be back in no time. Maybe I’ll call Jed and tell him we’ll look at the house a little later, okay?”
Sarah sat up in bed, pulling her long hair away from her face. “I can run the water in the tub, get it hot enough to soak your calf.”
Her eyes were voluminous in the dark—brimming with pity. God, he hated that. “No, I’m good; I just need to walk some. You get back to sleep, honey, I’ll…”
A faint knock on the door. He and Sarah traded looks while she put on her robe.
Dan slivered open the door and leaned into the small space, his voice low, “Get lost, Jed. I’ll meet you later.”
“Who is it, Dan?”
Cassidy ignored Sarah and eased the door open an inch more. “Are you crazy or drunk or what? Why’d you come here? I told you I'd meet you.”
“I couldn't wait…understand? He got away.”
Dan choked off the curse as heard the swish of a robe beside him. “Who got away? What's going on, Dan?”
Sarah glanced from him to Jed Lewis then back again. “Oh no. Tell me you didn’t.” Her scathing look had him shifting his weight from one leg to another. Not waiting for an answer, she clasped her robe tighter about her waist and swept into the bathroom.
Dan stepped back, listening to the bathroom door slam. “You’re an idiot, Jed.”
“She was bound to find out sooner or later anyway.”
“Get out of here; wait for me in the car.”
Lewis glanced in the direction of the bathroom door. “What are we gonna do…about her?”
“Just get out!” He pushed the door closed and stood, waiting for his heartbeat to slow. Waiting for some semblance of control, no matter how slippery.
When Sarah came out, he saw the wild fear on her face, something he’d seen too many times before over the last few years. “It had to be this way, Sarah. It had to be.”
“All your promises…for this. To come all this way…to kill a man.”
“He's not a man. Scott Lancer hasn't got the right to be called a…”
“Dan, I’m done listening. I've listened for these past three long years and I watched you in that military hospital. I watched you and I told myself—made myself believe—that when you got out, you'd be so grateful just to walk, you'd forget all of this. That it wouldn't be hard for us to start over and build a new life.”
Sarah had a beautiful, expressive face. He could read every emotion. The anger that had been building and threatening to erupt faded away. In its stead were flickers of understanding and sorrow…and sympathy. It made him less a man somehow to have his wife pity him. His own anger grew.
“What kind of life can we have, Sarah, if we build it on the graves of good men?”
“Give it up, Dan. For my sake, because you love me and I love you. Give it up, because we both deserve better…please.”
“Sarah, listen to me, try to understand. I said we'd come out here, buy a house and settle down. Forget the past. And we will. Just as soon as I clean the slate. The only time I ever lied to you was the day I told you why we were coming to Morro Coyo. Can't you trust me this one last time?”
She whirled around to face the dresser, leaning on it. “I don't want you to murder Scott Lancer. Is that clear, Dan? I want you to give this thing up, here, tonight, now. Do it for us, Dan, for us.”
“Not for us, Sarah, for you. I have to believe what I’m doing is right. And until it's done, we don't even exist.”
Sarah turned around and her gaze lifted, eyes cool. “Dan…when you kill Scott Lancer, you'll be killing us, too.”
Pain stabbed his chest and back with every footfall. Scott took a deep, steadying breath and continued his slow jog. He circled a small clearing and was in the foothills before stopping to rest again. Checking out the surroundings in the darkness, he could see a small pond half-hidden by brush and trees, and the stripe of back road off in the faraway distance. He made his way towards the water.
A large boulder afforded some necessary protection and he crept behind it. Soaked in sweat despite the damp night air, he’d been walking and running for a few hours now. The pad of handkerchief he dipped in the pond and pushed against the hole in his shoulder was tacky with blood; he didn’t have anything for the one in the back.
Scott was used to running, at least several days of the week—it helped to clear his mind. Johnny chided him about it, saying nothing ever good came from running, but it put him in good stead here. Still, he felt like he couldn’t take another step. An overwhelming tiredness threatened to pull him down.
Just a few short hours ago he was sitting in Murdoch’s study then…Dan Cassidy. Memories spiked, bringing with them a greasy wave of nausea.
A cloud of gas marking the zone was like a harbor fog blowing into the target area. Within minutes, the open expanse of the village was full of whirling rotor blades and green fuselages. Scott surveyed the village below, making slow swaths around the lingering smoke. He could see Dan already jockeying his bird into position. “Seven-niner-zero, drop looks clear. Over.”
“Roger, zero-six-zero. Beginning drop.”
Scott continued to make paths around the zone. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off-kilter. He nudged the intercom. “Chief, do you see anything?”
There was silence from the back of the helicopter then a loud squawk. “We got a problem, Lieutenant. I don’t see nothing out there.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Scott yelled, not bothering to use the intercom. He punched the radio. “Seven-niner-zero, abort drop. Repeat, abort drop. Something’s wrong.”
Scott started at the snap of a twig. The sky had lightened with thin slivers of white making their way across the horizon. He hunkered down behind the rock, renewed pain bringing tears to his eyes. Hearing nothing, he peered out and saw the bouncing headlights of two cars. No one would be on the back road unless it was family, or Lancer employees. Murdoch and Johnny were still away and Teresa…he swallowed hard. He hoped Teresa was still at the house -- safe.
The headlights steadied then stopped. Dismayed, Scott glanced around him. His footprints were all over this section of trail along with his blood, and he had no weapons to defend himself. He watched three smaller lights bob back and forth in slow, wide arcs. It was almost dawn now and his pursuers were too close. He had to move on.
Teresa yawned a jaw-cracking yawn and thumped down the hallway, holding her boots in one hand, an iPod in the other. Even the Black-Eyed Peas couldn’t take the sleep out of her eyes. Her head bounced to the beat as she passed Scott’s closed door then paused. Older brothers could be such a pain, as she was finding out. Scott and Johnny had set ground rules once they got settled. The number one rule: knock first. But sometimes it was just so much fun seeing them scramble around when she didn’t. This time she settled on bypassing the door altogether; Scott was working hard--he needed the rest. Besides, it was more than likely he and Cipriano had already left since she was a little late getting up this morning. Thank God for the summer break.
She stopped at the bottom of the stairs long enough to draw one boot on, then continued on to the kitchen, hitching and clacking on the tiled floor. Maria threw her a look of disapproval. Teresa took out her ear buds and gave the woman her sunniest of smiles. “Morning, Maria.”
The housekeeper arched an eyebrow. “Plan on sleeping the entire day away, chica?” She placed a steaming bowl of oatmeal on the table.
Teresa dropped into a chair and pulled on the second boot. She needed to find another tract. “Have you seen Scott this morning?”
Maria pulled up and looked thoughtful. “Not this morning.” She shook her head and turned to the counter. “That one is not good for keeping regular hours.”
Walking to the kitchen window, Teresa pulled back the curtains and looked out. The Jeep Compass was gone. It didn’t look like Scott was sleeping after all. He and Cipriano must have already left for town.
Scott slumped down behind a fallen log and pulled aside his collar. The makeshift dressing was gone--lost somewhere along the way and the wound was angry-looking. At least the bleeding had stopped for the most part. His arm, growing numb from holding it across his belly, was eased out from his open shirt. Threads of feeling returned, sending jolts to his already throbbing head.
He leaned back and looked around through bleary eyes, trying to figure out his location. Thoughts were getting too muddled in his mind, and he just needed to rest…
Strong rotor vibration fed into the cockpit, and the ‘copter jumped and twitched under his hands like a bucking bronco. Scott countered the downward motion by pulling on the collective. Instead of changing the pitch and slowing the bird down, the craft settled even faster.
He glanced to Dan’s hawk and could see its gunner through the open cargo doors, a horrified expression on the man’s face. Nine-zero’s fifty-caliber guns opened up, their booms immediately upping the level of chaos in the air.
His co-pilot screamed out the altitude and speed. “Four hundred…eighty-five percent.”
Scott gasped awake, reaching for the controls. Only his hand clutched at fistfuls of air. He ran the same hand through his hair and waited long moments for his heart to slow down. It was mid-day and he was in trouble. Deep trouble. Using the log as a brace, he rose on legs that felt like rubber and changed directions, heading for the road.
At the counter in the greenhouse, Teresa put the finishing touches on a new pot of herbs. The combination of lemongrass and lavender would be perfect for the new scent. She dipped a finger into the soil and added a misting of water. She looked at the clock, it was nearing five. Since getting stood up for lunch, Teresa had made good use of the time, but was now more than ready to quit and have dinner. The diet coke and chips just a faint memory.
Car wheels crunched gravel outside the hothouse.
She went outside and waved. “Hey, Cipriano!” The foreman looked up and smiled, waving back. She walked over to the Jeep where he was hauling out a sack of grain.
Teresa looked about her. “Where’s Scott?”
He reached past her for another bag. “Disculpe, señorita Teresa. He isn’t here?”
“Didn’t he go to town with you this morning?”
“No, when he didn’t show I went without him. I thought he was too busy. I knew the samples had to be done.”
Teresa turned towards the house, puzzled. “If he didn’t go to town with you then where is he?” She took off at a jog for the kitchen door.
She spun into the house, heading straight for Murdoch’s study. The room was empty, save the silver tray with Scott’s cold cup of coffee. She bent down to retrieve a few bits of paper. Murdoch’s receipts. She placed them on top of the ledger book in the chair. A thought came to her and she strode over to the computer. She wiggled the mouse back and forth. As the screen lit up, the spreadsheet Scott was working on materialized. It wasn’t complete, or saved for that matter. It wasn’t like him. Scott would have closed out the program and turned off the computer before turning in.
Feeling a bit foolish for the rush of fear, she left the study and headed to his bedroom. She caught Maria at the banister. “Has Scott come in yet?”
“No, he isn’t upstairs, I just came from there.” The housekeeper peered at her then placed a hand on her arm. “Is there something wrong, chica?”
“I’m not sure, Maria. Scott didn’t go into town with Cipriano and he’s nowhere around here.” A cell phone sounded from the hallway closet. Teresa opened the door and rummaged through the jackets, until she found Scott’s BlackBerry hiding in his coat pocket. She looked at it for a moment then turned on her heel to run out the front door.
Twenty-four hours. The sheriff said the police couldn’t do anything for twenty-four hours. So many missing persons just showed up again. And maybe Scott went to town for a drink and lost track of time. Or maybe he went fishing. Sure he did, and with all the vehicles and horses accounted for at Lancer, too. What a bunch of patronizing crap. She might be only fifteen, but she knew. Something was wrong and twenty-four hours was too long to wait.
Cipriano came back empty-handed from the fields; together they gathered up the workers and sent them out on horseback to the more remote areas of the preserve.
Now she waited.
Murdoch’s chair creaked as she sat back. She took a measure of comfort in its huge size and old leather smell. It was the same one she had sat in and waited for her dad to return that night, the same one she cried in. She edged a look at the phone on the desk and willed it to ring. Murdoch and Johnny were out of cell range, but she’d left them a message. Fighting to relax, the nervous churn in her stomach just wouldn’t stop.
The co-pilot was splayed at an awkward angle across his seat, bubbles of red froth coming out of his mouth. The man’s eyes were open and unseeing, staring right at him.
He swung his eyes away from the dead pilot—not seeing him made it better somehow. “Chief!” he shouted, surprised when his voice came out thin. A low moan responded from the back of the bird.
“Jack, can you hear me?”
Scott rubbed the sweat off his forehead, thoughts shifting to the present. He’d fallen to his knees for the second time since leaving the more forested area. The trail he took was full of switchbacks guaranteeing him at least some protection, but it was rough going. And he wasn’t steady.
The sun was setting, and at this rate it would take him all night before he made it to the damn road. He shielded his eyes and looked around. Flashes of color winked at him from the distance. Whoever was after him…Jed or Ric or Dan…were gaining. He lurched to his feet and bolted for the rise.
Scott took a few tentative steps at the arroyo’s edge. There was a sudden trickle of gravel underneath his boot and then…nothing. He felt his palm strike the ground, a sharp sting to his knee and he was in motion, tumbling downward.
Johnny whipped the car into the courtyard, spitting gravel. Murdoch pushed the door open and untangled himself from the seatbelt. Teresa met them halfway.
“Scott's gone! He’s disappeared, his bed hasn't been slept in, and nobody's seen him.”
Murdoch exhaled. “Slow down Teresa. Tell me what happened.”
“He was working late last night and I brought him something to eat. I thought he'd gone to bed, but he didn’t come down for breakfast…or go to town with Cipriano.”
Johnny came alongside them. “Take it easy, Teresa.”
“Take it easy?” She reared back. “Bite me, Johnny. You haven’t been here.”
“Look, I’m sorry. We got your message and rushed home. We’ll find Scott.”
“But there’s no sign, nothing to say where he went to. How are you gonna find him?”
Johnny looked to Murdoch then back to Teresa. “I don’t know, we just will.”
Murdoch wound his arm around Teresa’s shoulders as they walked to the house. “I don’t want you to worry; Scott’s a big boy. He can take care of himself.” He felt her shoulders drop and she leaned into his side, clutching a handful of his coat. He just wished he could believe it as easy himself.
“This isn’t your fault, Cipriano. Anyone would have made the same call.”
The foreman looked up. “We will find him. I’m sure of it.”
“Yes, we will. But now, get something to eat and rest. We’ll start again early in the morning.”
Johnny tipped his head toward the departing Cipriano. “That was good.”
“He didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Yeah, but you could of yelled at him. I think he was expecting it. Would’ve made you feel better anyway.”
Murdoch shook his head. “The only thing that’ll make me feel better is knowing where Scott is.”
Ramirez translated. “…the jungle will kill them anyway.” He shook his head as they watched Arellano’s back. “You’re either one smart son-of-a-bitch or crazy. I haven’t figured out which yet.”
The scene at the fenced-in prison was somber. He bore the accusing looks from Cassidy and Jed, but Jack’s pallid face tore at him.
Dan sneered, “What’s the matter, Scott? They got a little rough for you and you caved?”
“Don’t what? The truth hurts, doesn’t it? You’re just a damned coward after all, delivering the ‘Hawk right into their hands.”
Jack was hoisted between Cassidy and Jed. Dark shadows underlined the Chief’s eyes as he looked at Scott in puzzlement. “What are you doing, Lieutenant?” he asked. The Chief’s color turned grey, the effort of talking was costing him.
“Checking six, Jack,” he said, keeping his voice low.
Realization dawned and the injured man struggled for a bit in his brother’s grip. “You don’t have to do this.”
Scott nodded. “Tell my Grandfather I may be late.”
Tap-tap. Tap-tap. Scott came awake. There was a whooshing sound in his head like the waves coming in at Harbor Island.
“Hey, you’re awake.”
Scott shifted, sending an arrow of pain radiating through his arm.
“You’d better lay still.”
Like the pain, memory burst back. “He shot me.” He started to move his hand to the fire in his shoulder, but strong warm fingers clamped around his wrist.
“Who shot you? Jack or Ramirez?”
Johnny entered through the kitchen door, letting the door slam behind him. Murdoch turned to him in annoyance and motioned for him to be quiet.
“Police?” Johnny mouthed.
Murdoch nodded. “I’m on hold.”
“Well, I’m not waiting. We have horses and vehicles ready to widen the search area.”
A car drove up, its engine cut.
Murdoch hung up and walked outside with Johnny. The driver was a slim young woman with blond hair. With her shoulders slumped forward, she looked to be carrying the weight of the world.
“Mr. Lancer? My name is Sarah…just Sarah. Your son Scott and my husband…well, Dan may have done something very wrong.”
His stomach lurched and he glanced at Johnny. “Maybe you’d better come in to the house.”
Murdoch studied Sarah from his desk. The young woman was well-spoken, from back East according to her accent, and she was nervous.
Her eyes remained steady but the hands in her lap were clenched tight. “He's dead, don't you understand that? If you don't find him…”
Murdoch stood to look outside. “You've made that very clear. I want to know why. What's your husband got against him?
“Scott never mentioned the Honduras mission?”
He turned around. “Means nothing to me. But my son—there’s a lot of things about him I don't know.”
“Well, how much do you have to know to go out there and find him?”
Johnny stepped forward from the fireplace, running his hand down Teresa’s sleeve in passing. “We're looking for him. Just tell us why.”
“My husband and your son did a stint in Honduras. A humanitarian mission that went wrong. They were captured by arms dealers and Dan was interrogated. Then they took your son. When Scott came back they released the rest of the men, my husband included, into the jungle. But Scott stayed behind.”
She shifted in her chair and stared at the tops of her knees. “Dan injured his leg and the infection almost killed him. It wasn’t until he was back stateside, that Dan even knew Scott was alive. He saw your son while in the hospital and he warned him then that he'd come after him.”
“Why?” Johnny fingers were twitching, a sign Murdoch was beginning to recognize as some emotion, but not sure which one.
“Three other men died during that mission. Two of them were good friends of Dan’s.”
Murdoch understood. “And he believed Scott sold them out to gain his own freedom.”
Teresa sat forward. “Scott would never do that.”
“Teresa.” Murdoch kept his tone low and gentle, but with enough warning that Teresa backed off.
“He's believed that every minute of his life for the last three years. I think that's the only thing that kept him alive during those first few months, when the doctors said they might have to amputate his leg. He was so sick. And all those months of physical therapy… his leg…he walks with a limp. Dan means it when he says he's going to make Scott pay for those lives.”
Johnny moved back behind Teresa’s chair and put his elbows on its high back. “He's got help?”
“There's one man I know of, Jed. He was in my husband's company when they were captured. His brother was one of the men who died in the jungle. There may be more. I don’t know who Dan spoke to about this.”
Sarah got up to pace the room, finally turning towards him, tears threatening. “Don't you see you've got to find him; you've got to find him before they do. Get him out of here, anywhere!”
“Assuming he's all right, where would you suggest I send Scott where your husband won't find him?”
“I don't care what you do with him. I came here for Dan. I didn't come here to save Scott.”
Sarah continued, “I don't want to see Dan end up in prison—he wouldn’t live through that. Mr. Lancer, my husband was a good man before that mission. He came back changed. But I won’t trade his life for anybody’s.”
She started for the door, then turned back to face him. “Take my advice; you've got money, use it. Use it to send your son away from here, across the world if you have to. Maybe someday Dan will forget.”
“Sarah, someday is a long time. Too long. If you want to do something for your husband, tell him to leave Scott—us—alone before it’s too late.”
She looked at Murdoch for a few long moments, her mouth thinning out to a grim line. “Mr. Lancer, please…don’t call the police. Let me try to talk to Dan first. I’m just asking for some time. Her eyes filled again, and she fought back the tears.
Johnny opened the door and she slipped out.
Murdoch swung behind his desk, slapping his palm flat against the top. He met Johnny’s eyes. “Did you know about this?”
Johnny looked down then shook his head. “No. And I’m guessing you didn’t either.”
“I knew about his service time, but nothing specific.”
Johnny came to stand by Teresa. “You believe her and what she’s hinting at?”
He wanted to laugh and accuse the woman of making it all up. But his son was still missing. “I don’t know what to believe.”
“All we have is her word against Scott’s, right?” Teresa asked.
Murdoch and Johnny shared a look. He stood and gathered up the maps.
“What about the police?” Johnny picked up his jacket from the back of the chair and slipped it on.
“You take a couple of vehicles and canvass the back roads. I’ll gather the men and lead them on horse-back cross country as far as the river. In the meantime, I’ll notify the police. No one tells me what to do as far as my son is concerned.”
Jack or Ramirez?
No, that wasn’t right, was it?
Past, present, it all blended together in a chaotic jumble. He could all but smell the jungle, the cooking, but it faded as his eyes opened to an unfamiliar room. One lamp lit the area, throwing it into soft shadows. A glance out the window revealed a low lying sun.
“What…?” Scott had to swallow to force the remaining words out. “What time is it?”
“It’s mid-morning.” The voice was deep, a smooth rumble of sound and as unfamiliar as his surroundings. “You didn’t answer my question. Jack or Ramirez?”
The owner of the voice came into view. Longish hair held back into a ponytail, a face of all hard angles, with deep crows feet radiating out from the eyes.
Scott’s body felt heavy, but his mind was settling on the here and now. “Either Lewis or Ric. Probably Lewis.”
His benefactor’s eyebrows rose a little, but that was the only visible reaction. “Do you have many people who want to shoot you, Mr. Lancer?” A hand came up. “And before you waste energy asking, it’s big news on the gossip grapevine of Murdoch Lancer’s returning sons. I’ve seen you both in town.”
Suppose it was at that.
“I’m Joseph Bell. I live about ten miles as the crow flies from your place. I found you about two miles from here after I became aware of a racket in my woods. Didn’t like your odds, so I brought you here where I patched up your shoulder, but I suggest we get you to a hospital soon as my medical skills are rusty. Wouldn’t hurt to mention it to the police that there are two men who stumbled around in the dark most of the night.”
“Surprised you haven’t called them by now.” Scott nodded as Bell held up a glass of water, and he took it with a shaky hand.
“I don’t have a phone.” Bell slid an arm behind his back and lifted Scott enough so he could drink then eased him down once he was finished. Setting the glass aside he pulled up a canvas chair, those used for the outdoors, by Scott’s bed.
“You can go without a telephone?” Scott sunk into the pillow and thought of his BlackBerry, missing it like he missed caffeine. Bell leaned back in the chair folding his hands over this stomach.
“Quite well, although it is inconvenient at times. This being one of those times.”
“I should leave.”
“And you will once I get the truck and deliver you to the hospital’s capable hands.” Bell jutted out his chin. “But first I need those meds to wear off so you can walk.”
Considering the heaviness of his limbs that was a wise course, but Scott didn’t like the idea of staying in one place too long. Not when this stranger had taken him in without knowing the risks.
“Lancer.” Bell’s voice cut through the dizzying swirl of his thoughts. “Those men—how well are they armed?”
And then, maybe not so unaware.
“Lewis had a nine-millimeter. The man named Ric had a piece, not sure what caliber.” Scott felt the weariness creeping up on him, dragging him down. The whooshing sound in his head was becoming louder.
“Get some sleep, Lancer. We’ll move out in an hour or so.” That sounded like an order and if the tone seemed familiar he fell asleep before he could wonder why.
Johnny watched as Murdoch did his best to reassure Teresa. Murdoch Lancer did have that bigness about him that had nothing to do with his size. He oozed confidence and once a decision was reached, it was carried out. No second guessing. Johnny could see that Teresa wanted to believe everything would be all right this time. But even as she gave Murdoch a slight smile, Johnny could see she didn’t and he couldn’t blame her.
He wasn’t so sure he believed it himself, but they had just started this family thing and he was loath to lose a part of it now. So when Teresa looked his way, he shoved his doubts aside and pulled out his very rusty faith that situations can improve. He wouldn’t have placed a bet on making his making it out of Mexico alive just a short time ago. Good things do happen and when he grinned at Teresa, she looked like she believed it, too.
Scott checked the altimeter…just a few more feet. He cut the engines and they started to free fall, the blades catching in the downdraft. Arellano panicked and clawed at his shoulder harness, slapping at Scott and the controls. Anything he could reach.
Suddenly, everything around Scott began to spin. His ribs dug deeper into his lungs. He couldn’t breathe anymore. Not now…not now. He pulled at the cyclic forcing the ‘copter into a roll.
He felt his body floating. The pain was gone. So this is what it feels like to die. Soothing grey flitted across his vision then a soft white. High above Arellano’s screams to his God, he felt sorry for Ramirez…this landing wasn’t going to be soft.
Scott woke with his heart pounding in his chest and a yell locked in his throat.
“You back here?”
Again, there was that disconcerting shift in time and place. He knew the voice, but it didn’t belong, only it did. Joe Bell. He lived near Lancer and Scott was in his house. Honduras was a few years ago and many miles away. If only distance would make the memories disappear.
Scott raised a shaky hand to wipe the trickle of sweat working down his temple. “I’m back.”
“You ever talk to a shrink about those dreams?” Bell stood by the fireplace coffee cup in hand. That one eyebrow went up again at Scott’s look. “Went well?”
“Much like yours must have.”
Bell looked down in his coffee, chuckling.
Scott turned to his side and sat up. Didn’t enjoy the process. “I should go.”
“Would be best to get you to a doc so they can have a look at you.” Bell set his cup on the nearby table. “On that stand there’s a clean shirt for you. Figure it will fit.”
Scott laid his hand on the soft Henley. “Thank you.”
Bell gave a nod and stepped out the door while Scott worked his uncoordinated way through dressing and was more than grateful Bell hadn’t removed his jeans. The shirt was enough. Restless, he wanted to move and shake the remnants of the dream loose.
Hand on the wall, he rose to his feet and waited for his head to become used to the idea. Took longer than he would’ve liked, but his mind was as clear as it was going to get when Bell returned.
“You good to walk?”
“Close enough.” Scott took a step and the rest of his body followed. It was a good start.
Under normal circumstances the drive to Morro Coyo was a quick trip.
Johnny loosened his grip on the steering wheel when he realized it had become so tight his hands were aching. Stretching his fingers out he took a deep breath and let it out slow, wishing he’d never heard of Sarah or the story she shared with them.
Didn’t make sense with what he knew of Scott, and he realized that deep down he didn’t believe it. Maybe not even that deep. Maybe he didn’t want to believe it. Not quite sure which it was, but that could be worked out later. Right now he’d be happy to find Scott and hear him tell his side. If he was willing. Johnny had things in his own past that he wasn’t all that ready to share. What he did know of Scott, he’d bet that his brother wouldn’t be all that eager for show and tell.
Right now, with no luck in locating Scott, he decided to go into town and do some research. Research he thought it best to do away from Lancer and without the chance of Teresa overhearing. She was as tough as they come, but Johnny wasn’t interested in seeing how tough.
Scott concentrated on not yelling as the truck made its way down the so-called driveway that was more a two-lane rutted nightmare. The pain meds were wearing off and right now he missed them with a fierceness that matched the fire in his shoulder. They turned onto asphalt and Scott sagged into the seat with relief. Every little bump was still felt, but at least this was manageable.
Bell wasn’t the chatty sort and he concentrated on his driving while Scott concentrated on staying upright until he saw the “Morro Coyo ten miles” sign.
“I need you to take me to the Sandpiper.” The words were out before he had put any real thought into it, but once said, it was the only course he was willing to take.
“Didn’t think you were suicidal.”
Scott half-smiled at the dry comment. “I’m not, but I don’t think this can wait. I go to the hospital and they’ll keep me there. I can’t stay.”
“Yeah, well, I can see the medical professions point in this case.”
“I’ll just check myself out AMA, but I’d just as soon not waste the time.”
Bell glanced Scott’s way. “If nothing else, they could get some more pain meds into you.”
“Did I deplete your stash?”
“Can always get my hands on more.”
“Don’t think I want to know.”
“Don’t think you need to know.” Bell sighed. “Lancer, I’ve got a lot of respect for your father, and I hate what he might be going through right now.”
Scott had avoided thinking about his family since he believed Teresa was safe. He couldn’t afford it, but now it was up front and center and it didn’t sit easy with him.
“I need to see if I can end this before my family becomes involved.”
“Who’s to say they’re not?” Bell frowned at the road. “They gotta know you’re missing by this time.”
“Probably, but as long as they’re out of it – ”
“Did they come for you at your house?” Bell’s tone was hard with a coldness that shocked Scott into silence. “Did they?”
“That little Teresa, was she there?”
“She didn’t see them.”
“But they saw her.”
Scott’s silence said it all and he cursed Bell’s perceptiveness. A couple of miles passed before Bell spoke again.
“I’ll drop you at the motel.”
Bell glanced at him and then shook his head. Scott didn’t bother working Bell out. That was for another day when there wasn’t so much riding on this one.
His weak leg threatened to give out beneath him, and it was with relief that Dan opened the door to their motel room.
“We haven’t found him, yet. Jed Lewis is still looking. I'm beat, I'm gonna lie down for a little while.” He took a step towards the bed and stopped when he saw her open suitcase, half-packed. “What do you think you're doing?”
Sarah sat at the small desk, a pen clutched in her hand. “I'm leaving, I’m going home. I---I was just writing you.”
He looked down at the motel stationary with a few lines in Sarah’s flowing hand starting with ‘Dear Dan’. “You were writing me? After ten years of marriage, you were leaving me a note?”
stood, shaking her head. “I'm sorry. I just can't stay here and watch you do
“Oh no, no, you can't use my love for you to twist my arm.” He closed the small distance between them. “You're a strong woman, Sarah, but not that strong.”
“Twist your-” The consternation that crossed her face was replaced by dismay. “I don't understand you anymore, Dan. You’ve changed. Ever since Honduras.”
“Scott Lancer left us to die in that jungle. That is the cause.” The anger of Lancer’s betrayal hadn’t waned since the day they parted in Honduras.
“Scott is the cause for all of this? Do you even hear yourself?” She flung her arms out to the side. “Take a good look around Dan; it’s only you and me here.”
“You weren’t there, Sarah. How can you understand what it was like to watch Jack Lewis die in his brother’s arms? Jack fought every step of the way, but it was too late for him and now Scott knows how it feels to hurt, to bleed.” Dan couldn’t maintain his anger at the look of resignation in her face. He turned towards the window his damaged leg almost giving out beneath him. “How can I forget what happened when I am reminded of it everyday?”
Dan leaned against the sill and rubbed at the ache in his thigh. He was so tired. Sarah came to him her soft hand covering his on his leg. “I’m not asking you to forget what happened. But to see that there is no one to blame for any of it. Except for what you are doing now.
couldn’t have heard that. Not from Sarah.
“What you are doing now is wrong and this time the blame is yours or Jed Lewis.” Her hand tightened over his. “You came back so sick and wounded from that mission and I was so frightened that I would lose you that I accepted that it was your hate for Scott Lancer that fueled your recovery, not any love for me. For us. But it didn’t matter, because you survived and I thought that was all that mattered. But I was wrong. You’re still sick, and still angry. Maybe in time it would’ve become different, but Jed is using your hatred, fueling it and you’ve allowed that to destroy the man I once loved.”
Dan heard her gasp, knew his hand clamped around her wrist yanking it up. In some dim part of the red haze that swept over him he was aware that he had shoved her against the wall and her voice calling out to him. Telling him to let her go, that she was hurting her. He felt her twisting against him, fighting, felt her fear.
“Let me go!”
His Sarah, blue-eyes wide, staring at him like he was a stranger and maybe that wasn’t so far from the truth. He released her and stepped back, attempting to catch his breath, to speak, but it came out a weak whisper. “Sarah, I’m so sorry.”
She shoved him back further and edged away from him. “Stay away from me.”
Dan pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and backed away to the bed, sitting down. “I won’t touch you again.”
“No you won’t.” Now with some space between them, the shock on her face morphed into disappointment. “Is Lancer responsible for this too?”
Was Scott Lancer responsible? No, there was no excuse for what he had done to Sarah.
“What would you have me do?”
A small fleeting hope crossed Sarah’s face. “Come with me now. We’ll find someone to help, someone you can talk to.”
Fear swamped him. Memories of broken minds and bodies slumped in wheelchairs. “A VA hospital? Where they’ll lock me up with the rest of the loonies?”
Sarah looked horrified. “No! It won't be like that. There are plenty of other places. We need to move on to something better.”
But three years he had waited, searched, planned. “Not until this is finished.”
He rose to
his feet. “Nobody's going anywhere, not until this thing is done.”
She flinched, but in his anger he couldn’t care. Sarah backed away. “You're wrong, Dan. I'm leaving just as soon as I can get a rental and there's nothing in the world you can do to stop me.”
He hesitated, searched her face, and saw resolve that matched his own. “Fine, go…and the hell with you!”
Sarah just shook her head, took up the motel key and left the room, leaving Dan in his dying fury.
Scott Lancer had to be dealt with. Sarah didn’t understand. Only Jed did, he had been there, watched his brother die. Yes, this was their right.
“He couldn’t have done it, not what that woman said.”
Murdoch rattled around in his desk.
“We both know that, we’ll find him, everything will be all right.”
He yanked open a drawer and pulled out the missing map.
“Everything’s gonna work out.”
Map spread out, Murdoch searched for the grid coordinates.
“Whatever you believe, he didn’t do it.”
His hand stilled on top of the map. What did he believe? Just what the Pinkerton’s reported. That Scott had finished college then did something Murdoch was sure Harlan had apoplexy over—he joined the military. The investigators hadn’t been able to find out much about Scott’s service record; aside from his rank on discharge and occupation. His boy was a helicopter pilot, with a tour in Iraq. A spurt of pride burbled up. “I’d like to think that no son of mine could do a thing like that…”
“But, Murdoch, you aren’t sure?”
“Let’s sit down, Teresa.” He rose and started to take her arm, but she shook him away and stepped back.
“But you know him now. You’ve seen how he acts.”
“I don’t know my son.” The words, blurted out, contained a healthy portion of pent-up frustration.
Scott had won over Cipriano and that was no small feat. He was also attentive and hard-working. But all those things just told Murdoch what his son did, not how he measured up in life. “Maybe he was a different man back then. Sometimes, given the situation, when a man is pushed hard enough and there’s no other way out…”
“He has to make a decision…”
“No! I don’t believe that, and neither should you.”
“It’s a possibility.”
“But…well, what’s gonna happen if it’s true?” Hugging her arms, she turned away. “I don’t want to him to go away, Murdoch.”
So Scott had another supporter in Teresa, and if he had to put money on it, he’d lay odds that Johnny would be in Scott’s camp along with her.
He contemplated Teresa’s rigid posture near the fireplace, feeling an overwhelming sense of loss. “One bridge at a time, honey. We need to find him first and hear what he has to say.”
Unsettled, Johnny left the diner. A man walking with a pronounced limp had been in to eat—with two other men. Looking up and down the two-lane street in Morro Coyo, he made a decision and started for the small police station. Ducking down an alley, he took a short cut, pulling his phone out of his jacket as he went. Murdoch needed to be updated.
A limping figure coming his way made him pause. As the man made to pass, Johnny blocked his path.
“Dan?” Only a slight reaction, but he knew he had it right. “Name’s Johnny. Johnny Lancer.”
“My business isn’t with you, Mr. Johnny Lancer.”
Johnny stamped down on the surge of relief. “Well, that must mean you haven’t found Scott yet.”
Dan narrowed his eyes. “Not yet.”
“And you won’t, because you and I are going across the street here and right on into the police station where you can explain to Deputy Crawford what your intentions are and where we can locate Jed Lewis.”
Johnny itched to wipe the amused look off of the man’s face but restrained himself. As he went to grab Dan’s arm he felt a rush of motion behind him. Turning, he saw a man’s arm raised, and blocked the blow aimed for his head, but couldn’t stop the second one from slamming across the back of his skull. He dropped to the concrete, head reeling.
Voices floated down to him. “Let’s go.” It was Dan. “Lewis, what are you doing?”
“Getting rid of him.”
Johnny felt the presence of somebody standing close—too close.
“He has no part in this!” The tone was low, almost shocked-sounding.
“He’ll get in our way, Dan.”
“Leave him.” Johnny wasn’t so dazed that he didn’t know that Dan was saving him from a bullet in his head. “Come on.”
Lewis; voice was further away from him now. “No, you go back, Take Hardy with you. I'm gonna keep lookin' for Scott.”
“I need to get some rest. And how long, ‘til you fall over with exhaustion? Now come on, we gotta--”
“No, you gotta! But not me, I don't quit until I pay him back for what he did to my brother.”
There was a scrabble of footsteps. Johnny forced his eyes open to see a trio of men slipping out of the alley, but it was Dan’s apprehensive focus on a taller man’s back that let him know who Lewis was.
Scott was still out there somewhere. That meant he had a chance to find him before they did. Pushing himself up caused a wave of dizziness so intense he fell again, and the world whited out on him.
The Sandpiper Motel was the best game in town if you wanted a clean enough bed and no questions asked. Who was he kidding? It was the only game in Morro Coyo. Scott let himself into the lobby front door, the bell overhead jangling. Tommy came out; the boy’s smile a mile wide. Only it wasn’t for him. Tommy had other interests and Scott was just a convenient link in the chain. Still, he was a good kid.
“Hi ya, Scott!” Tommy looked around. “Did Teresa happen to come into town with you?”
“Not this time.”
Was he ever this obvious? Now that the news was bad, Tommy was all business.
“So what can I do for you?”
“I’m looking for a friend, Dan Cassidy. I think he has a room here.”
Tommy looked up from his computer. “You know I can’t give out the room number. How about if you call him and if he says okay, I can tell you then.” The boy leaned against the counter and gestured to Scott’s shoulder. “Hey, you don’t look so good. Is that…blood?”
Scott looked down and sure enough a small spot of blood had come through the bandage. “It’s nothing; I banged it up at the Preserve last night.”
He hated to do it, but he was pretty sure she wouldn’t kill him—right away. “You know, I think Teresa may be coming into town, either Monday or Tuesday.”
“Yeah? When exactly?”
Tommy may have been young, but he was shrewd as they come. “It’s Tuesday, in the afternoon, I think. Said something about getting together with Allie at the café.”
The smile was back in full force. “Well all right then.”
“Tommy? That man I need to see. He’s an old Army friend. I’d really appreciate the room number.”
The boy looked around. “I guess it’d be okay this time. He and his wife are in room twenty-three. But he’s not there, left earlier with some guy. I think the lady’s still here, though.”
He thanked Tommy and took a right out the door.
The room was at the back of the lot, facing the parking lot. He took a deep breath and knocked. When the door opened, Scott thrust his leg out, wedging it between the door and jamb when Sarah attempted to slam it shut. He leaned on the frame, his breathing coming hard. “Where’s Dan? When is he coming back?”
Sarah lifted a brow. “You want to…talk?”
“Look, I know what
he probably told you, but I didn’t sell them out.”
“It doesn't matter what you did or why you came here. The point is he'll kill you on sight.” She tipped her head to the wound on his shoulder. “I should think that would be proof enough.”
Wedging his leg further into the small space, he nudged it open with his knee. “Lady, your husband and I are going to have this out once and for all. Now, tell me when he's coming back. “
Sarah Cassidy opened the door and allowed him to walk into the room. “I don't know. Look, Mr. Lancer, get this through your head, there is nothing you can say, nothing you can do that will change his mind. I know, I've tried. Now if you stay here, one of you is going to die. If you go now, I promise you, I won't say anything to him.”
He tried to speak but his words came hitched out one moment and slurred the next. “Even if I trusted you…even if I trusted you…” His hand found the back of the overstuffed chair beside the bed and he collapsed into the seat. “I don't think I could make it back to the lobby. So it looks as if I'll be staying for a while.” The blood on the shirt fabric was warm and tacky…so much for Joe Bell’s careful bandaging.
She looked at him
for a moment then turned and started for the door. He managed to lift up and
curl his hand around her wrist. “Where do you think you're going?
“I'm going to Wal-Greens to get something more than aspirin and a Band-Aid.”
“That’s very nice, but I said I was staying and I'm not going to be tricked out…or dragged out.” The green shag carpet blurred then came towards him. Sarah turned around and captured his elbow, easing him back into the chair.
Kneeling by the chair, she looked into his eyes. “If it weren't for you, if you'd never existed, I'd have a life today. Now you take five minutes, and you get out. You understand? You have five minutes.”
A car rattled its way into the parking lot, coming to a stop outside the door.
“It’s Dan.” She got her hand under his elbow again to help him up.
“Sarah, let me in,
the door’s locked.” They both watched the knob turn. “I said let me in; I’ll
just get another key from the kid at the front desk.” The door jiggled, with
force this time.
Scott looked at her and nodded. He watched as Sarah let her husband into the room, followed by Ric. He took a long breath and stepped to the desk.
Cassidy pulled a gun from the back of his trouser belt and glanced at his wife. “New friend of yours, Sarah? Looks like you've saved me a lot of trouble.”
Her mouth open,
Sarah shook her head. “Dan…no.”
“Get out of here, Sarah. You were gonna leave anyway, now’s the time.” The gun pointed towards Scott with all too much familiarity. “I'm going to look forward to hearing you explain what happened when…”
“Dan, don't do it!”
Cassidy raised the
pistol to Scott’s chest. “It's done.”
“You kill him, Dan, and you're killing us.”
“You’re taking his side? Do you know what you're doing?”
Sarah closed her eyes and nodded.
The muzzle bumped against Scott’s chest. “Lies. What lies has he told you?” Cassidy shoved the pistol against his shoulder and took a stumbling step towards him. “Did you think I’d just let it go? Take a look at me now. Take a good one.”
Scott looked hard at Cassidy and couldn’t find the vital helicopter pilot he’d once been. The confident, almost arrogant air was gone, replaced by frailty, but strong enough to push that gun harder in his chest, and God, that hurt. His vision doubled.
Grabbing hold of the desk, Scott forced himself to remain upright, while Dan sweated, eyes flitting from Sarah and back to him.
A hot ball of dread lodged itself in his throat. Scott gauged the man before him and hoped it wasn’t a mistake. “Do it, Dan. Just pull the trigger.”
Ric stood behind Dan, almost panting with excitement. “What are you waiting for?”
“This is for Jack and all the others.”
“Don’t claim this for Jack.” Scott forgot the gun boring into his chest. “He wouldn’t condone this and you know it.”
And Dan did know it. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he recalled Jack with his broad face and huge smile. The chief who’s loyalty to crew was absolute and if he found fault with his crew he would take it up with them himself. Jack Lewis, lying in his brother’s arms blood soaking his flight suit arguing with his brother that the L.T. wasn’t to blame. His last words – Shit happens. Suck it up, asshole and fucking deal with it.
And he allowed himself to remember Scott’s face as they were escorted away from the village. Resolute, but there was concern for them and while Dan didn’t always get along with Lancer, the situation as he saw it didn’t fit with the man he knew.
God, he really had gone off side-ways.
Dan’s hand betrayed him and began to tremble. He clicked the safety back on before he did shoot Scott, and looked down at the weapon. “I'm sorry--for you, for me. For what happened in Honduras.”
Scott sat on the desk, good arm crossed to his wounded shoulder. Sarah’s eyes hadn’t left Dan, and he saw that hope again; that damnable hope that he kept destroying.
“Guess I’d better talk to Jed.” He turned towards the open door. “Hardy?” Alarmed, he limped into the hallway. “Hardy!”
The implications of Hardy’s disappearance hammered at Dan.
Scott didn’t look up when Dan reentered the room. “Guess you know what that means, Dan. Ric’s gone to tell Jed. I don’t imagine he’ll be happy. You can enjoy the role of the hunted.”
“Will I?” Would Jed do that?
Sarah’s expression said it all. She believed he would. That Jed would turn on him.
“Jack was all Jed had. He’s got to blame someone and he’ll still blame me, but you didn’t follow through. He’ll hate you worse.”
“And you take pleasure in that, don’t you.”
Scott looked up then. “Oh, well, I don't have much time for that. If you wait for the police here, you’re liable to wait too long. We need to leave now. We’ll go to the Preserve.”
“Saddle fresh horses. I’ll be with you in a few minutes.” Murdoch slapped the dust from his trousers as he turned from the riders and walked to the front door. Limped, more like it. His leg and back had started to protest in earnest the last two miles.
Teresa met him inside. “Did you find anything, Murdoch?”
“No…nothing. No tracks, no sign of Scott anywhere. There are just too many places a man can hide on the Preserve.” He swiped a hand across his chin, surprised to find stubble there. “Or maybe he’s not here at all. Did Johnny…”
A car driving into the courtyard interrupted his thoughts. “That must be him. I could stand some good news about now.”
He looked out the window. It was Sarah sitting in the passenger side, a dark-haired man in the driver’s side. This wasn’t the news he was looking for.
“What does that woman want?” Teresa’s disgust echoed Murdoch’s feelings.
Anger bubbled up; the brunt of it targeted the woman in the car and whatever ties she had to his missing son. If she had come to harangue them once more… A brief flash of color came from the back seat; she’d brought muscle it looked like. Well, now wasn’t the time.
He strode outside with Teresa at his heels, his leg and back pain forgotten. Before the passenger door was even open, he held out his hand.
And then the back door opened, the man in the seat was having a hard time coaxing his body out of it.
“Scott!” Fresh blood dotted his son’s shoulder; a sheen of sweat across his forehead. “Let’s get him into the house.”
Scott tilted, throwing most of his weight away from Teresa and against Murdoch. “You'd better set up some look-outs on the road—some men may be coming…for him.”
Murdoch turned to look at the man standing beside the sedan.
“Name's Cassidy, Mr. Lancer, Dan Cassidy.”
“Cassidy? You're the one…”
“Who traveled three thousand miles to kill your son. That's right, Mr. Lancer…”
The cell phone’s obnoxious music pulled Johnny back to consciousness. First muzzy thought, he was never letting Teresa touch his phone again. Second, that it was Murdoch calling—who knew they would make Stardust into a ringtone? Or that Murdoch Lancer would like Sinatra?
“Murdoch?” Johnny used the wall to get to his feet and to give him his balance. He prodded the painful lump on his head.
“Johnny, Scott’s home.”
“Be right there.” Any thoughts of going to the police died away with the need to return to Lancer and see Scott. “Is he okay?”
Murdoch’s hesitation was enough to know it wasn’t good news. “He was shot, but he’s been treated. I’m calling a doctor next.”
“Then you best get to it. I’ll see you soon.” Johnny disconnected and started off with a stumble out of the alley. It didn’t take much for him to push his discomfort aside and run to his car.
She wasn’t going to cry. It wasn’t the time or the place. Teresa saw Scott’s wound when Murdoch lifted up the homemade bandage. It was messy, reddened and swollen. Murdoch had clamped his lips together and gone to call the doctor first, the police second. Now she was alone with Scott, and damn, the tears started to well up again. She edged a palm to his forehead checking for fever, just like she did a few minutes ago.
Scott shifted and rolled his head. “Teresa…” He captured her hand in his, enveloping it. “I’m all right.”
Worry needed a place to go and it exploded from her. “All right? You’ve been shot! There’s blood…”
His eyes cleared a little and narrowed. “Are you…?” His grip tightened. “Did Lewis come back here?”
She sat back in the chair, not understanding. The name Lewis meant nothing to her. He searched her face, needing an answer. “No one was here except Cipriano and a few others.” Oh…oh. “I’m fine. They made sure I was safe, no one else came to the Preserve.”
That settled him and he seemed to melt into the white sheets.
Murdoch sent Teresa out of the room on a mission to make coffee and sandwiches. She didn’t need to see anymore than what she had seen already. He wasn’t so sure he wanted to see the wound anymore himself. The doctor was coming, thank God for old favors—and the ability to call them in. He cut through Scott’s shirt using the same bandage scissors he’d used on Johnny. Bullet wounds leaked out precious blood. Something he hadn’t quite come to terms with when it happened to his younger son. And now Scott…
Scott stirred under hands. Warm but not hot, just like Teresa told him. Maybe it would be all right, after all.
“You need a hospital.” His anxiousness came out in a demand. Would he never learn the way of it?
“No.” The Lancer stubbornness had a firm foothold in this son.
With an exasperated sigh, Murdoch bent down to his task and removed the old bandage and dressing. He looked up and met Scott’s eyes.
“Joe Bell helped me.”
“Bell? But he’s…” Murdoch looked back up and saw Scott’s eyes were closing. It was a story for another time.
“Sarah.” Dan Cassidy reached for his wife, but she backed away to the end of the four-poster bed. The room Teresa had shown them was clean, if a little old-fashioned. After giving their statements to the police, Sarah had unpacked their things, leaving the bags by the door. He sunk down on the mattress.
She folded a shirt and opened the bureau, her back still to him. “Why don't you lie down and get some rest, you must be exhausted.”
“Do me a favor, Sarah, stop being so solicitous. Right now, it's hard enough for me to be here.”
“Dan, what do you want me to do?”
“What if I'd killed him, Sarah, what if I'd killed Scott Lancer?”
“But you didn’t.”
“All that time spent….hating, plotting. For something I couldn’t manage to finish.”
“I expect Scott and his father are relieved about that.”
“What happens now? I just can’t sweep it under the carpet and hope it’ll all go away.”
She turned, sitting down beside him, and took his hand in hers. “Talk to him, talk to Scott and get it out in the open. And hope that Jed never shows up.”
Murdoch waved the doctor off, scripts for pain medication and antibiotics in his hand, with a stern warning for Scott to show up in the clinic on Tuesday ringing in his ears.
Johnny passed the doctor’s BMW and pulled his Jeep in alongside the garage.
“I saw the police out by the road, where’s Scott?”
Murdoch tipped his head towards the house. “He’s upstairs, sleeping. He was shot through the shoulder. Doctor Martin patched him up and gave him an injection for the pain.”
Johnny got out of the vehicle and pinned him with a look. “Why isn’t he in a hospital?”
Murdoch shook his head. “Come into the house, I’ll tell you what I know.”
Johnny stood, leaning with both hands on the small table. “Look, I know what Scott's trying to do, but if Cassidy stays here any longer, there's going to be trouble.”
“So what should I do? Just kick him out?”
“Scott's got a hole in his shoulder and Cassidy had it put there. I nearly got the same treatment in town. Tell me something—would you have let him stay if Scott hadn't talked you into it?”
Murdoch turned and looked out the window. “I'd like to think that I have as much compassion as my own son.”
Johnny scrubbed a hand over his face. “But you're not sure, are you?”
He looked outside again, worried over the fact he didn’t have an answer to that question. A scrape of shoe leather sounded in the doorway. He saw Dan Cassidy standing there, holding back as if asking permission to enter. Johnny saw him, too.
“Okay, maybe you're right. I hope so, ‘cause more than a few of those employees out there have become friends of mine, and I don't want to see them get hurt…let alone more family.”
With an emphasis on ‘family”, Johnny brushed past Cassidy and left.
Coming halfway into the room, Cassidy stopped and gestured towards the door. “I take it that was about me.” He walked further into the room. “I'd feel the same way. So much so, Mr. Lancer, that I've decided to go.”
Murdoch turned and looked at him. “Go where? Where could you go that…?”
“I didn't come to argue—just to ask if my wife can stay on until it’s safe. Look, when I came here, I wasn't thinking. I was in a panic.”
Cassidy leaving would solve more than a few things. But in the end, Murdoch couldn’t let him go, at least not yet. “Mr. Cassidy, it's been a long day and I'm tired. Dinner will be in an hour, why don't you go upstairs and freshen up or have a drink…or something. We can discuss this later.”
It wasn’t until Murdoch was alone again, after Teresa and Johnny had left, that he started to shake. After talking with Cassidy, he’d gone outside to thank his employees - his friends, for spending countless hours in the search for Scott. It was a time to put a period to the last few days’ activities.
Now that he knew Scott was safe in his own bed—and he’d be all right—there was no need to look in on him, better to let him sleep.
Losing the battle, he pushed the door open.
Scott lay, still and pale. Murdoch’s heart did a little hitch, his control slipping a notch. The fresh white bandage did nothing to make him feel better. For the first time, Murdoch saw two old surgical scars, one halfway covered with a length of shoulder dressing, the other a neat white line along his son’s ribs. He thought back to the Pinkerton report: Just his rank, discharge date and a few other sundry items.
Murdoch watched as Scott broke through, every flicker of the eyelid. His hand flexed once on the spread, then quieted again. But his lashes fluttered again, then his eyes opened. Murdoch waited for them to focus.
“I'm sorry, Scott, I didn't mean to wake you up. How're you feeling?”
“A little stiff, but all right.” His voice sounded hollow to Murdoch’s ears. Feeling foolish standing there in the doorway, he walked into the room.
Scott shifted in bed, his breath hissed out on a bite of pain. “I heard some men before, some talk. What was that all about?”
“Nothing for you to concern yourself with, you go back to sleep.”
“Murdoch, I asked you a question.”
“Frank said he saw some tire tracks near the rise, nothing more. It could be anything.”
“Jed Lewis? I had to bring Cassidy here; you understand that, don't you? I couldn't just—”
“Let him be killed? There's nothing to be ashamed of there, Scott.” But Murdoch had been, for a quicksilver moment, at Sarah Cassidy’s first visit. A brief moment of question. He’d never known… You have no right to intrude in this boy’s life now.
“Scott…we need to talk.”
His son’s eyes darkened, offset by the deep shadows under them. He pulled the blanket up higher, covering the scars. “I suppose so.”
Felling antsy, Murdoch turned and stepped to the window, staring outside. “I should have been there,” he managed after a moment. “You shouldn’t have been alone.”
Feeling the utter silence, Murdoch looked back to the bed.
Scott plucked at the spread. “I wasn’t…my grandfather was there.”
A door slammed somewhere, taking the uncomfortable out of the moment for Murdoch. He glanced outside. It was Mrs. Cassidy, making her way to their car. He needed to catch her before she made a mistake.
Murdoch turned back to the bed, hating that he had to forfeit this chance with Scott. “Son, Mrs. Cassidy’s outside. I need to talk to her.”
Scott nodded and sunk back into his pillow.
Murdoch put a hand on the door of Cassidy’s sedan. “Can I guess, Mrs. Cassidy? You're going to Jed Lewis. I would wager it won’t do any good, just as it didn't with me this morning. There are times when talk is not…”
“Get out of my way!”
“What? What am I supposed to do? Just sit here and wait for them to come and kill him? Or your son?”
“There are other people, more qualified to do this. The police are close by. Your husband and my son are safer here than they would be any place else.”
“For how long? A week, a month, maybe? Or are we gonna be your permanent houseguests? I can talk to Jed Lewis, make him see…”
“The only thing you'll be giving him is a hostage, the lever he needs to force your husband out into the open.”
“I've got to try. Dan wasn’t in his right mind when he hatched this plan. Jed played on his weakness, used him to get back at Scott.”
“Sarah, maybe you're doing too much for him. Now come on and get out of the car.”
She sighed and got out of the car. “What did you mean by that?” Murdoch took her arm. “Can't you understand? I'm just trying to help Dan, I don’t know what else to do.”
“Yes, I can understand that, but sometimes a woman in doing that destroys everything she loves in a man and leaves him with nothing. You’ve given him a start, it’s up to him to use it—make something of it. Let him take the lead.
“Sarah, I’m not going to let you go out there under any circumstances. But I can't believe that you would want to cripple him any further, at least until he had a chance to stand on his own two feet. I guess it all boils down to one thing—how much do you love him? How much do you trust him to do what’s right?”
“Up until this afternoon, I wouldn’t give you two cents for that trust. I told him I was leaving, Mr. Lancer, and maybe I still should. You can’t fathom what living with Dan has been like. But then I realized he had problems as a result of that mission. Problems that were staring him right in the face—and he turned away and tried to attack your son instead.”
“Come on, let's go back to the house and get things sorted out.”
Dan ducked back into the shadows to let them pass and pressed his back against the adobe, still warm from the afternoon sun. He’d gone outside, intending to talk to Sarah. It was time, he told himself, now that he knew what it was like to hold another man’s life in his hands. The weight of the gun in his hand as he pressed it against Scott’s chest still nauseated him. How did it ever come to this?
But he couldn’t make it across the courtyard—then Murdoch Lancer showed up. Trust…when did he make such a mockery of Sarah’s love for him? There was only one thing to do now, and that was to find Jed Lewis.
One way or another he’d make this right.
“Now don’t overdo it, Scott. And Johnny, you need to keep it short, he needs to sleep.”
“You’re pretty good at throwing out those orders, Teresa. I think you’ve been around Murdoch too long.”
“That’s a compliment, right? Just make sure to follow them.” Her flip words didn’t fool Johnny one bit. Teresa was halfway between frightened and terrified. Seeing Scott in bed with a bloody bandage sure didn’t help any. Scott must have seen her distress, too, since he squeezed her hand and whispered something in her ear. Some of the fear cleared from her face, allowing the girl in her to peek through again.
Thoughtful, Johnny watched her leave the room.
“Maria made this gem for you.” He lifted the cover off of a small bowl on the tray. “She guarantees it'll cure any kind of croup, nastiness or bullet wounds.” Turning towards Scott, he carried the bowl in both hands, watching it slosh from side to side.
“Hey, move over.” He handed the bowl to Scott as he sat on the edge of the bed. “Teresa was worried about you. Murdoch, too.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been mothered like this before—it’s a little claustrophobic.” Scott sniffed the broth then took a small sip. “Nastiness, eh?”
Johnny took the bowl back and snuck in a sip of his own. “Maybe Maria got her recipes mixed up.” He set the cup down and stared at his brother.
“I’m waiting to hear the story.”
“You didn’t hear enough from Mrs. Cassidy?”
“Well, that’s one version anyway, but not the one I want to hear.”
“What makes you so sure it’s worth hearing?” Scott rifled his good hand through his hair. It wasn’t a casual gesture, but a weary one.
“Look, this can hold until later. Teresa was right, you need some sleep.”
Scott remembered how it had smelled—the air heavy with blood and fuel, the acridness of cigar smoke from Arellano’s Havana’s. Remembered, too, how it had been so quiet that split second after the engines were cut. He wanted to sigh and tell Johnny he was fine, but knew that seeing Cassidy and Lewis after these few years had dredged up memories he’d shoved to the very back of his mind. Once locked up nice and tight, they were now out prowling around in his head.
“I gambled on their lives with mine, only it didn’t turn out the way I planned, or maybe it did. I never really knew what happened after the second crash.”
Scott nodded. “The good part was that I never liked that aircraft anyhow—it was always full of gremlins. The bad part was that the Army was pissed at being out the price of two helicopters.
“We were down in Honduras on a humanitarian. Just a day or so to go before wrapping things up, Dan and I needed to drop a pallet of medical supplies to the locals. It was routine until hitting the drop zone. Then they hit us. Scene of the first crash. My crew chief, Jack Lewis, was in the back and took a bullet.
“By the time, Dan and Jed pulled us out, the locals turned out to be militia and we were escorted to their camp.”
Johnny nodded. “Been there…or something like it. Funny how quick a situation like that can turn on you.”
“Uh-huh. They wanted the other helicopter and needed someone to fly it. Dan refused...”
Johnny ran a finger along the striped spread. “And you volunteered.”
“There wasn’t anyone else and besides, gremlins or not, I wanted them to get the full ride for their money.”
“Let me guess. You dumped the chopper.”
“Something like that, I really don’t remember the last hundred feet or so…but Arellano sure did.”
“The bad guy?”
“One of them.”
“How does Cassidy figure into all this?”
“The bad blood between Dan and I was just that—bad. He and I flew together. It didn’t mean we loved each other. Hell, I don’t even think we liked one another for most the time.
“They were let loose in the jungle. All I knew when I woke up at the MASH was that Dan and the Lewis brothers were still missing, presumed dead. The next time I woke up, it was in a Walter Reed hospital bed with my Grandfather hovering over me. I didn’t find out Dan was alive until much later. But he’d gotten injured in the jungle, almost lost a leg. Jack died, along with my co-pilot and gunner, two of Dan’s men died.
“Crappy ending for a humanitarian mission. You made a decision,” Johnny said. “Most people would consider it the right one—your General here probably did, if those ribbons on your chest are any indication.”
“The Army doesn’t pin medals on you for killing mega-million dollar aircraft. Besides, it’s what I consider that counts. Jed is without a brother and Dan Cassidy was severely injured.”
“I bet you’ve had a hell of a time adjusting to the fact you’re not perfect.”
Scott’s eyes narrowed. “I…”
Murdoch walked into the room. “I thought that Dan Cassidy might be in here. Have you seen him?
Johnny bowed his head, resting an elbow on his knee. “Not for the last half hour or so.”
Murdoch gestured out to the hallway. “Johnny, could I see you for a moment?”
Scott hitched up higher on the headboard. “What's the matter, Murdoch?
Johnny shrugged and tapped his knee. He got halfway out of the room, stopping by the bureau.
“Now what?” Scott asked.
Johnny’s fingertips brushed the framed photo of the two men in uniform. “Sold you a little short, is all.”
‘Not perfect’…that about summed it up in his mind. The whole damn mission fell way short of perfect. As much as Scott didn’t want to admit, it mattered to him. The loss of life, Dan and Jed, Ramirez, even the aircraft—it all mattered. He threw the covers to the side and eased his feet to the floor.
“There’s some shoe prints back around here,” Johnny said, coming around the side of the house. Sarah Cassidy was standing on the portico, near Murdoch.
Murdoch looked at Sarah. “If he was there, he heard everything we said.”
Johnny came along beside them. “He went after Jed Lewis?”
Heaving a sigh, Murdoch crossed his arms. “Most likely.”
“Why, what could he prove?” Sarah asked.
“Prove he could stand by himself, or maybe in a funny way that he loved you.”
Johnny looked at the house, wondering if Scott knew what was going on. “What now?”
“The two of us go after him.”
A shuffle of boots across the threshold had them turning towards the door. “The three of us.”
It looked like Scott did have a clue.
“Oh, now, Scott, you're not strong enough.”
“No, I've been in involved in this since the beginning. And now, one way or the other, I'm going to be in on the end of it.”
Johnny shook his head and stole a glance at Murdoch. The old man was worried; he wore the same look now that he had in the hospital when Johnny woke up from Pardee’s bullet. Like he wanted to say something but couldn’t make it come out. He could understand Scott’s thinking, but if this didn’t turn out right—well, he was in no mood to lose a brother tonight.
Jed Lewis drummed his fingers on his thigh and considered. He glanced at the house and driveway below him. There wasn’t much traffic coming and going from the big house, except for one lone car. He knew it wasn’t Lancer, not shot up like he was. Maybe the brother or father? The hickville police were monitoring the road, a single patrol car. Amateurs.
Hardy rustled the foliage behind him. “Fuck this, Jed. Look down there. I don’t think there’s a way in hell of getting into that house again.”
“I don't care if we got a chance or not, when you feel like I do, you just grab 'em by the throat and squeeze. Look at that car—could be somebody we want to talk to. We’ll wait until they pass the cop; they have to slow down around the bend.”
It was going to be all right…he was going to make it right. Those thoughts flew out of Dan’s head when the windshield was flooded with bright light. Two men jumped into the pathway of his car.
Dan rolled down the window and stuck his head out. “Jed? Is that you?”
“That's right, me and Hardy.”
“I heard you might be around the Preserve.”
“Hardy here heard a few things too…” The sound of a gun being cocked grabbed his attention.
“Yeah, that's what I came to talk to you about, Jed.”
“Let’s get out of the car. Hardy, make sure he doesn’t have his gun. And cut those damn lights.”
Dan’s eyes became accustomed to seeing in the semi-darkness and he got a good look at Hardy as he was turned around. The little man was all business.
“He’s not packing the piece, Jed.”
“What you have to say can’t be too serious, I mean, you're not wearing your gun.”
Dan sighed. “I didn't think one would do me any good.”
“I'll say one thing for you, Lieutenant, when you're right, you're really right. Go ahead; let's hear what you have to say.”
“Jed, for three years now, I've thought about only one thing, you know that. My whole life wrapped itself around it. Sarah tried to help, but all I thought about was revenge on one man. And now, for the first time, I can see who that man really is. Believe me, Jed, I never knew...”
“Yeah, well, it seems to me like your Sarah's been doing a lot of talking. First off, she warned the Lancers, then she tells you some wild story that stops you from killing Scott.”
“Wild story?” A prickling sensation ran down his spine. Jed wasn’t listening.
“That's right, Lieutenant, a wild story. You think about it. And like you say, she's been trying to get you out of this from the start.”
He eased back from the two men. This wasn’t the way he thought it would end. “Well, sure, Jed.”
“Maybe she just got you twisted around a little bit, you know, played on your troubles, made out that Lancer was really an upstanding soldier-boy after all. ‘Cause if you really believed that story, you wouldn't have come out here alone, without a gun.”
“Now, Lieutenant, I know you been through a lot, but you and me, we both really know who’s at fault here, don't we? We know it was Lancer and all you've got to do is realize now that your wife was telling you a lie and we'll all be back together again.”
Dan shook his head. “I can't. I just can't, Jed.”
“What do you mean, can't? Who gave you that limp you’ll be using for the rest of your life? Now you think about it, Lieutenant! You just say the word and everything will be like it was.”
“It's too late, Jed. Even if what you said is true, which it's not, I couldn't. I've run with the hunted now, I can't go back with the hunters.”
“That's too bad, Lieutenant.” Jed fingered the muzzle of his nine-millimeter. “Last chance.”
Lewis cocked his pistol; Hardy stood off to the side, looking from him to Jed, an odd anticipation on the round face.
A deer was jogging down the other side of the road, its breath coming in white streamers. It frisked to the side, stood splay-legged and looked at them. It jumped again, then tried to run back up the hill. The patrol car in front of them stopped. Their lights, already dimmed, were shut off. Murdoch glanced at Johnny, sitting in the front seat then looked in the rear view mirror at him. Scott’s adrenaline was fading and he didn’t have time for the look his father was sending him: You don’t have to do this.
The truth was he’d be more than happy back in his bed. But he’d risk comfort on a little closure this time. Maybe it would help Dan—maybe it would help him.
The officer approached their Jeep. “Wildlife is jumpy. And there’s an abandoned vehicle up along the road. My partner and I will investigate, but you need to stay here until we give the all clear.” The man didn’t wait for a response and took off for the waiting police car. The two men edged into the tree line, weapons drawn.
The vehicle had to be Dan’s. Scott opened the door to get out but Murdoch was quicker. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Out. Dan may need some help.”
“Isn’t that why the police are here?”
“I’ll go with him, Murdoch. Kind of want to see how this all ends.”
“Johnny, I’ve never needed a baby-sitter.”
“You’ve never been shot before.” Murdoch stopped and peered at him. “Have you?”
Scott shook his head and caught Johnny’s grin in the darkness.
The sound of a pistol shot ended the conversation. All three started forward to the trees.
Only a hundred yards to go and Scott was puffing as if he were running the mile. It couldn’t end like this. Not with violence. It didn’t need to end the same way it started.
They skidded into the spotty lights brought by the officers. Both Jed and Ric were on the ground, doing their best impressions of innocent men being caught by the bad police. Jed in particular was lacing the air with indignant profanity.
Scott stumbled up to Cassidy. “Are you all right? Is there anything I can do to help?
Dan, looking older than Scott remembered, turned to him. “Thank you, no, Scott. I don't think I need any help any more.”
Murdoch made a plea for the police to take Cassidy to town by way of Lancer first to see his wife.
Scott came up next to him. “Thank you for doing that.”
Murdoch studied his son’s face, pale from more than the glow of the squad car strobes and headlights. “She would be half out of her mind with worry if she didn’t see Dan with her own eyes.” He took hold of Scott’s uninjured arm. “Let’s head back ourselves.”
Murdoch had to wonder if this was the end of this situation.
Sarah and Teresa were waiting for them outside when they pulled up to the hacienda. It seemed such an effort to leave the car, but he managed. And Scott wasn’t so out of it that he missed Johnny shadowing his movements.
He watched Sarah and Dan meet halfway and cling to each other. Since Dan had offered no resistance, the police let the couple be.
If Scott had any say, Dan would get the professional help he needed.
Dan spoke a few quiet words to Sarah, and she nodded before hurrying back into the house, Teresa following her. He watched her go before turning to Scott. Steps tired, the limp more pronounced, Cassidy made his way over while Scott waited.
“I’m sorry, Scott. And I know that isn’t much, not enough for what we put you and your family through.” Dan looked past Scott’s shoulder to Johnny. “Somewhere along the way I lost sight of what’s important. Things got mixed up for me after Honduras. Sarah’s right, I should have been happy with making it home, being able to walk again. Most importantly to see her again.”
“Sarah’s a strong woman. She wants to see you happy again, too.”
“I know.” Dan glanced back to the house. “I’d be lost without her.”
“Why don’t you tell her that, it’s not too late.” Dan nodded and walked away to the police car.
A moment later, Sarah rushed out the door, a small bag over her shoulder, carrying a suitcase and something small in her hand. She dropped the bags by her car before catching his eye and coming up to him, the package still in hand. Her cheeks were still wet, but her eyes were dry now. “There are no excuses, Scott. Even an apology at this point is inappropriate, after what happened here. But I’d like to thank you…”
He took a step towards her, stopping when she flinched. “For what?”
Sarah shrugged. “For me, and for Dan—he’ll finally get the help he needs. I’m just sorry it had to go this far to set him down that path.” She thrust the package to him.
“We want you to have this. It’s been bouncing around in our trunk for three thousand miles, it might be a little nicked. There were good times, from what Dan told me. And I can only believe it when I look at your faces.”
He peeled off the brown paper and turned over the frame. The glow from the porch light revealed the 83rd as it looked before that last mission: The two Blackhawk crews standing beside the ‘copters, wearing wide grins and Stetsons. Searching the faces, he found Jack Lewis leaning against the cargo door, one foot raised on the wheel.
Can you tell me why we always end up with the newbies, Lieutenant? I’m startin’ to think someone put the bad mojo on us. And why does junior always have to man the guns? Jesus, I bet he talks a mile a minute. I got sixteen more days, Lieutenant, just sixteen more days and I drop papers.”
Jack Lewis whose bark was worse than his bite and one of the finest men he had ever served with.
Fingers brushed against his wrist bringing him back to the present. Sarah Cassidy had tears forming in her eyes again, but she held them back. “Thank you.” Turning, she walked away.
He watched as Sarah met Dan halfway, laying a hand on his arm in passing. It looked like a new start was forged.
Dan shuffled up. “I see Sarah gave you the picture. Scott…maybe some day we can find time to talk about the good things.” He stretched out his hand.
Scott nodded and put out his own hand. There was strength in Dan’s grip and a feeling of finality.
With a brief nod to Johnny, Dan limped off to the waiting squad car. Murdoch assisted Sarah with putting her bags in the car along with the rest of the cases Teresa brought out. Without a word, Murdoch closed Sarah’s car. Teresa stood back and didn’t bother to hide her frown, giving a clipped wave to the car as it started down the lane following the police car.
The whole thing had gotten to Scott and a familiar anger arose: at the loss, at the frustration of trying your best but not having it be good enough to matter.
Johnny nudged Scott’s arm. “You really gonna meet up with him?”
He wasn’t sure what would be more painful, holding it in or spitting it out to somebody, especially Cassidy. “Hell no.”
The ending could have been so much worse, starting off from that nasty beginning, but Scott just wanted a chance to try and forget again. Maybe being here at Lancer would help him do just that.
Now that he knew Jed Lewis and Ric Hardy were on their way to the local lock-up for the night and things were reasonably in hand, there was no need to hang around. But he couldn’t make it across the courtyard to the front steps, so he sat down on the wooden bench under the poplar tree. There was a breeze tonight, shifting a few clouds across the night sky and something otherworldly about it all. Scott slumped on the armrest and rested his forehead against his palm. Dizzy, the darkness twirled around him.
He looked up when Johnny took the picture out of his hand and pushed him back against the bench. Murdoch stood beside the front door, backlit by the entryway light.
“What’s going on?” he managed.
“Thought you could use a hand.”
“I let you walk after Pardee, didn’t I?”
Johnny folded his arms. “Well, all right then, let’s see what you've got.”
He got his feet—just. He made it one step, then two before his legs buckled.
“God, you’re a hard head, Scott. Just give it over and we might make it into the house by morning. Besides, you don’t want the old man coming over here, do you?”
Shaking his head and sorry he did, he leaned into Johnny’s side. Together they walked.