By Gil Hale – email@example.com
Chris had rested a little but he hadn’t slept; their situation was too dangerous and uncomfortable, and he was sore in too many places. Now, as the light seeped into the sky and outlined black shapes of trees and bushes, he flexed his stiff muscles and nudged Jim.
Ellison stirred. Chris doubted if he’d really slept either, but the break had allowed them to recover enough to go on.
“How’s the arm?” Jim asked quietly.
“Sore. Not a problem though.”
It was hot and smarting and painful enough to make him feel slightly sick if he moved it incautiously, but it wasn’t incapacitating. Jim nodded. He evidently felt the same: well under par, but able to keep going. Now Chris could see, he realised what a mess they both looked. At least his own clothes were black; neither blood nor smoke showed up too much on them. Ellison’s were ripped, sooty and bloodstained, and where his shirt gaped open it showed an angry scrape across his chest.
“Caught it on Yudin’s door,” Jim said, looking down. “You look worse.”
But he guessed they both looked as if they’d just survived an explosion, a couple of car wrecks and a long, muddy trek without food or sleep.
Chris stood up slowly. He felt no worse once he was on his feet, maybe slightly better. Jim followed, steadying himself on the top of the tunnel while he looked around. Chris saw his face twist a little, and guessed he was trying to listen—and failing. He put a steadying hand on his shoulder.
“Okay, don’t push it. We’re a match for Brackett and Miller without your senses, hell, we’re a match for them with one arm tied behind our backs.”
“I’m getting brief flashes—like not being able to tune a radio in,” Jim said, still struggling to hear. “I’d say there’s two or three men well back on our trail, probably moving faster than we did.”
Chris’s mind was on what lay ahead. “Looks like a big estate.”
“Four or five miles still to the sea I’d guess, and most of that will be rough underfoot. The grounds won’t be much changed from this until we get near the gardens and the house, and I imagine that will be at the coast. We’d better get moving.”
Chris could see his way now along the bank of the stream, but being able to see the boulders didn’t make it any more comfortable to scramble across them. Whatever he’d done to his leg had stiffened up while they rested, and it was sharply painful if he had to stretch. Jim was limping too; after a while he ripped off most of the remains of his shirt and tied it firmly round his knee, showing an extensive mottled pattern of bruises and some reddening cuts where he was bare to the waist.
The sun came up. They went on, stumbling too much for speed. Jim tried twice to listen for any pursuit but had to give up with a growl of frustrated discomfort. After a while they came into a more open, perhaps slightly cultivated area. Soon after that, there was a path of sorts along the side of the stream.
“Getting closer,” Chris said.
“Yeah.” Jim peered into a distance that just looked like more of the same to Chris. “There are some buildings up ahead.”
Reaching them took another half an hour, and they were nothing to shout about then, but at least it showed they were fast approaching civilisation. One was a wooden store with gardening equipment in it; the other was made of concrete blocks and had a security lock on the door.
“At least that means the house can’t be much further,” Chris said, wondering in which direction.
Jim had more urgent concerns. “I just got a flash of voices,” he said. “I can’t judge distance very well; I’ve had this ringing, buzzing, ever since the explosion and it’s hard to hear past it. But I can get us in here.” He gestured to the concrete store. “Cover our tracks while I do it. If we hide up and let them go past, we’ll have the advantage. They won’t be checking behind.”
Chris didn’t question his judgement. He left him to do some sort of sentinel thing on the lock—lucky he wasn’t criminally inclined because it seemed all too easy—and tried a few tricks Vin had taught him to disguise the traces of where they’d walked.
“Come on,” Jim hissed, the door open now. Chris wondered if Blair knew the statistics on sentinel safebreakers. Leaving a couple of conspicuous footprints, on the path that he’d been thinking looked like the best choice for the house, he followed Jim hastily in and they closed the door. That ought to be enough to reset the lock.
He looked around with interest. Stacks of garden chairs, there must be two or three hundred, and not poor quality. Tables. Lights. Four very large barbecues, very expensive.
“Someone throws a good party,” Jim muttered.
“Pity he doesn’t store any of the food or drink in here,” Chris said, stooping to examine the bases of the barbecues for anything that might make a weapon. Kebabbing Miller was an appealing thought, but he found only charcoal, lighters and a few books of matches.
Jim was sniffing, presumably at something other than the general slight odour of stale air. He walked over to the side of the room where several large crates were stacked, and opened one from the centre. “Take a look at this!”
Curious, Chris limped over.
Carefully packaged against the damp, neatly arranged according to their size and nature, were some of the largest fireworks he’d ever seen.
“Stored for the next holiday,” Jim said. “The estate is probably only used for some millionaire’s vacations. Everything ready here for him to turn up and throw an expensive bash. All that’s needed is the caterers.”
Chris could see an immediate consequence if he was right. “It’s not holiday time. That means the house may be shut up and empty.”
Jim shrugged. “I expect we can get in. If we set off some alarms, all the better. I wouldn’t mind seeing a uniformed cop any time now.”
Chris saw that there was a large assortment of rockets, all the usual smaller fireworks, and one or two massive cylinders with Chinese writing on. Were those even legal? They were practically weapons.
Of course, they could do with some weapons.
Jim grinned. “We didn’t quite succeed in blowing Brackett up before. How many of these do you think we could carry?”
They began to lift out some of the more impressive rockets, but before they had much of a pile, Jim stopped. Chris, almost without thinking now, put a hand on his arm to anchor him as he saw him try to listen. “Someone’s close,” Jim said softly. “I should have heard them before.”
Chris couldn’t hear them even now, but he didn’t doubt that Jim had got it right. There were no windows to the store, and the lock ought to be secure against anyone without sentinel talents, but he felt an increasing tension as he waited. For several minutes there was still nothing, then he jumped slightly as a voice sounded very close to the door.
“This is a good lock. They’ll not be in here.” That was one of the Russians.
“There is no sign of anyone near the… shed? I think they went straight on.” Chris couldn’t place the second voice. Foreign, certainly, but not a Russian accent. This wasn’t Yudin, nor one of Brackett’s men. Where had a new player come from? He glanced at Ellison, who shook his head to show he had no idea either.
The voices sounded again further away. This time he couldn’t make out the words.
“Can you tell what they’re doing?” he whispered to Jim.
Jim frowned and rubbed his ear irritably. “The ringing just about drowns it out, and I can’t focus. I think they’ve gone on—quite fast—but I didn’t get anything useful. Stupid. I ought to be able to handle this.”
“We know we can get out unseen, anyway. After that, we can use the skills and training we’ve got. You did this sort of thing before you had the senses.”
“I’ve got kind of used to them now,” Jim admitted. “But you’re right. We’ll take whatever we can find in here that might make a weapon, and move out. Let’s go for something to hit them from a distance though; hand to hand doesn’t seem a great idea just now.”
“Couldn’t take on an old lady,” Chris agreed. Not that he didn’t know some old ladies who were as tough as boots and definitely shouldn’t be annoyed even on a good day. “We’ll take the rockets. That’ll be a start.”
He took off his shirt, ripped it down the tear which was already parting it, and made two rough carriers, which they filled with some of the larger rockets. Chris slung his over his shoulder then used the last strip of the material to fasten one of the big cylinders to his waist.
Jim grimaced. “That thing’s practically a bomb.”
“No worse than carrying grenades.”
“Well, take it off before we start lighting anything. And don’t stand too near me.”
Chris tossed him a book of matches and put one in his own pocket—the side furthest from his explosive burden. The other crates didn’t seem so promising. One held quantities of wine glasses. Another contained the only personal items they’d found: discarded sports and games equipment that looked as if it might have been used by teenagers a decade or more ago. The croquet mallets were appealing, but a bit heavy to carry. Jim found a bow, small but still in good condition. He tinkered with it a while, found three or four arrows, and decided to take it.
“Better than nothing,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s anything else.”
“Except that we might show up a bit too easily as we are.” Jim ripped open one of the bags of charcoal and began a hasty camouflaging of his face and bare torso. The cut across his ribs bled again as he rubbed across it, and the blood smeared with the blackening soot to give an oddly savage appearance. Chris copied him, except that he didn’t touch his arm. Without his shirt, he was forced to notice the mess of blisters and weeping, reddened skin. The rest of him, though, blackened nicely over the cuts and bruises.
They looked at each other and began to laugh.
“We’d better hope the house is empty,” Jim said.
“We don’t look much like law officers,” Chris agreed.
They probably looked like any law-abiding householder’s worst nightmare: wild, dishevelled, half-naked and coated in blood soot and bruises. Their quivers of rockets were slung on their backs, and they were unsteady enough on their feet to suggest they were on drugs or alcohol. They’d better hope they didn’t run into a gardener with a shotgun.
They slipped quietly out into the shadows under the trees, and blended in with them easily. They had a rough idea where the house was, and their first aim was to get to that, but Chris was aware of other motives creeping in as well.
The two men ahead of them had no idea that they were no longer the ones in pursuit. Chris and Jim ought to be able to take them by surprise. Maybe if they were lucky, they’d even have a chance of hitting Brackett and Miller as well.
He glanced at Jim and saw a mood which exactly mirrored his own. It was time they took charge of this game.
“Let’s go hunting,” Jim agreed.
Brackett was finding it increasingly difficult to give an order and have it obeyed. If there was anything he hated it was an operation run by committee. However, the car belonged to Ducos, and he and Miller might temporarily need the Frenchman and the others, so he controlled his irritation and made it a suggestion instead.
“There’s no advantage in taking the car up the drive. If we hide it here we can go on just as well on foot.”
“But when we get Ellison and Larabee we’ll have to struggle all the way back here with them.”
Brackett shrugged. “If we try to get through the main gates we’re likely to set off some sort of alarm.”
“The gates don’t look very secure,” Ducos said. He had made it clear he wanted to start making the decisions. “They’re more of a statement that it’s private property than a serious attempt to keep people out.”
Brackett was inclined to agree with that opinion, but even if the security was basic, breaking their way in through the gates could be almost guaranteed to set something off. In the end, though, he had to compromise. Miller went in over the fence, grumbling about the possibility of dogs or outside workers, and they waited for him to come back with a more accurate assessment. As Suvarov and al Shenawi had already reported that the place seemed to be deserted, it didn’t seem too much of a risk.
“We’d be better on foot,” Miller said when he returned. “There’s less cover for the car inside and we don’t want to scare Larabee and Ellison off. The drive slopes steeply down to the house, and I went far enough to get a good view. The place is definitely empty—no sign of any staff, no cars. If Ellison and Larabee make for it, and I expect they will, because they’ve no other means of communicating with anyone, then we should be able to take them before they get in. Unlike the grounds, the house itself seems to be covered in alarms, though, so we don’t want them to get too close to it.”
“If they have really come this way,” Yudin said. “Call Suvarov. They should have seen something by now surely.”
Brackett tried Suvarov, but his report was the same as before. Al Shenawi had tracked the men into the grounds and onto the path to the house, but they hadn’t sighted them. He wondered if the two could somehow have already broken in to the main building, though it seemed unlikely.
“We’d better move,” Brackett said shortly. He was beginning to feel uneasy. The odds which had seemed stacked so heavily against Larabee and Ellison just kept shifting. He couldn’t really understand how they were still on their feet, let alone as troublesome as this.
As Miller had said, the place was absolutely deserted. Quite a lot of the coastal properties were empty at this time of year. The grounds were well kept, so a gardener must come in fairly regularly, but they’d hear the gates and the vehicle if he arrived while they were here.
The house, at the bottom of the steep descent, was large and expensive. To one side of the patio there was an ornamental pool with a silent fountain and centrally there was a complex glass sculpture which had probably cost a small fortune. From Brackett’s point of view the lines of approach were more interesting than the view. He and his temporary allies split up to cover all the ways the house could be reached on foot. He reserved the high ground for himself, and tried to impress on everyone that they needed Ellison relatively undamaged, and while Larabee was more expendable it would be much more convenient to have him alive. He had a rifle that fired tranquilliser darts, and Miller had the hand version he had used earlier. The others were to pin them down, or use some non-fatal means of immobilising them.
He hoped that they’d still remember this if Larabee and Ellison showed signs of fighting back.
Brackett settled in a good vantage point which looked down on the lawns on the inland side of the building, and scanned the area through his field glasses. He could pick out the furtive movements that were Suvarov and al Shenawi making a slow and careful circuit of the house looking for any signs of a forced entry. Apart from those two, nothing and no one seemed to be moving. He knew where his other people were placed, but they were professional enough to be invisible to him.
He watched and waited.
When he saw something, it was so slight at first as to be almost imperceptible, but he was alert to the slightest hint of a movement. In the shadows of the trees and shrubs, where the lawn ran into the beginning of woodland, something more than a shadow shifted. Even through the glasses it was hard to be sure of anything, but there seemed to be a sort of shimmering in the darker parts where the sun didn’t quite reach yet; he felt a pulse of anticipation. It would be like Larabee and Ellison to be tracking the men who were supposed to be following them.
He waited until the shadows shifted again and became recognisably human.
No good trying to alert the others. Ellison could hear too well. Instead he readied the rifle. He ought to be able to take one of them out; with any luck it would be Ellison, but anyway, whoever wasn’t hit would probably be too stupid to abandon the other.
He took careful aim.
The blur in his sights became a filthy mottled torso.
His finger tightened on the trigger.
Vin was moving through a strange, detached world, where he could see himself taking action and hear all that went on, but none of it was quite real compared to the gnawing, draining fear that they wouldn’t be in time.
He knew it wasn’t sense to feel like that now. Ezra was right when he said Brackett wouldn’t be planning to kill them. Anyway, Jim and Chris weren’t easy to take down; if anyone could look after himself, they could. His head told him the situation had to be better than it had been a few hours ago. But his heart thudded with the unbearable memory of how it had felt for those few seconds when he’d first heard that Chris had died in the truck crash. He kept seeing Chris in his imagination now, dead for real because they hadn’t got to him in time.
“Not far,” Ezra said softly. In the early light, Vin saw he looked pale and tired, his eyes red-rimmed. Blair was even paler, a ghost under the shadows of his untidy hair. None of them had eaten, slept or even had a drink since midday the previous day. It didn’t matter though, not to him and not to Blair or Ezra, who had backed him all the way. All that mattered was to be in time.
Ezra stopped so sharply that they were all jerked forward. Vin gasped as the belt cut into his bruised ribs, and for a moment the pain blinded him.
“There’s a car concealed on the left,” Ezra said. “There can only be one group of people who would feel the need to hide their vehicle at this point on the road.”
Blair was already out of the car, jogging ahead to look around the next bend. “I can see the estate,” he said. “The fence comes up to the road here, and I can see the gates to the drive.”
“See t’ th’ car,” Vin said briefly to Ezra, and followed Blair along the road. They had seen from the map that a private road led towards the sea where the stream came out. Now he realised it was actually the drive to this large property. He looked carefully along the fence, and easily found the tell-tale signs of where people had gone over.
“Reckon Brackett’s inside,” he told Blair. “I’m going in. Wait and tell Ez. If Jim’s in there, how far away could he hear us?”
“I don’t think he’ll be able to use his hearing much,” Blair said, his voice sounding strained as he thought about it. “That explosion must really have hurt him. Think what it would do to someone with even normally sensitive hearing.”
Vin looked at the fence, which he would usually have found a trivial obstacle, and braced himself for a painful effort.
“Ezra’s coming,” Blair said quickly. “I don’t think it’s such a good idea to split up and… we can give you a hand over.”
Vin nodded. Nothing mattered except speed. He let them boost him up and smothered any sound of pain as he landed on the other side. Ezra and Blair followed him quietly, to blend into what cover there was.
Vin led them obliquely down as soon as he saw the house. The stream ran towards it, decorative here, and then on to the sea. Surely Jim and Chris would make for the building in the hope of getting help or getting in contact with Cascade PD.
He saw them at the same time as Blair’s urgent whisper. Two men, moving cautiously, close to the house, checking the patio doors. He didn’t recognise them, but he guessed they had to be the two men who had followed Jim and Chris down through the gorge. They hadn’t found them yet, then. They were obviously checking to see if anyone could have got into the house, which he now saw was closed up and empty.
Had Jim and Chris not got here yet, or had they diverged from the gorge somewhere way back?
Ezra’s fingers bit into his arm with a sudden sharp grip. He turned and Ezra gestured to the far side of the huge lawn. “I thought I saw something, under the trees,” he breathed.
Vin stared, but whatever movement there had been must have stopped. He looked up and around for a better vantage point, and now he saw something unmistakable, something which sent his heart back into thudding overdrive, and brought his own gun into his hand before he had time to think.
The distinctive barrel of a rifle showed at the edge of a bush higher up on the slope—and it was pointing in the direction Ezra had just indicated.
Simultaneous thoughts spilled through his mind. No good shouting a warning. It was too far for normal hearing, and Blair thought Jim wouldn’t be picking much up. Besides, it’d give his own position away. No good taking a shot at the rifleman; he was too well covered from them by the bush. He needed something to startle everyone and send out a warning no one could miss.
Even while he was thinking, he’d been taking aim.
He fired, and the glass sculpture on the patio burst loudly and destructively into a thousand fragments, and the stillness of the estate shattered into activity.
The two men by the house bolted for cover. Someone else showed briefly, by the dock that ran out into the sea a short distance behind the house. The rifle swung vaguely in Vin’s direction, failed to find him and swung back towards the trees.
Then there was a strange flare in the shadows under the branches, and he stared in bewilderment at a trail of light which was just visible across the sky. It ended before he’d had time to realise what it was, terminating in an explosion down near the house where the men had taken cover. Someone there screamed, a sound hastily cut off. A second missile—a rocket?—followed the first, and this time both the men burst from cover, only to swerve wildly from a third which exploded almost on top of them. One man went rolling over and over, beating at his clothes and finally rolling himself into the fishpond.
“Now that,” Ezra whispered with satisfaction, his breath tickling Vin’s ear, “has all the hallmarks of Chris in an explosive mood. it’s evidently his day for blowing things up.”
“It’ll take them a long time to do any damage as expensive as Vin just did,” Blair said, still looking in awe at the splintered remains of what had once been a work of art. “That glass sculpture must have cost thousands of dollars.”
“At a conservative estimate,” Ezra agreed. “But I wouldn’t underestimate Chris or your partner. They’ve already demolished a house, so they are some way ahead.”
Vin realised there must be more people below he couldn’t see—at any rate, the rockets seemed to be carefully aimed in other directions besides at the men on the patio.
“Blair, you stay here and call in that back up now,” he ordered. “Ez, c’n you get around to th’ sea without being seen?” He knew Ezra would also have marked the man by the dock. “I’m goin’ after that bastard with the rifle.”
Ezra was gone almost before he finished speaking. Blair was dialling, with his eyes fixed not on the phone but on the fringe of woodland where they knew Jim and Chris must be. Vin pushed Botting’s gun towards Blair, gave him a quick pat on the back and turned to where he’d seen the rifleman. At last the impelling urgency which had been building in him for hours looked like finding an outlet.
“What the hell are they playing at?” Simon Banks demanded, as he came to the second wrecked car holding a prisoner expertly—not to say ruthlessly—tied up by Tanner and Standish. He exonerated Blair from that at least. Blair would have worried about cutting off their circulation, although the other two had in fact judged it exactly right. This one, like Botting, was immobilised and in some pain, but in no danger of lasting harm.
He was also, like Botting, complaining about being threatened at knife point by vigilantes. Luckily this one didn’t seem to know that the man with the knife was the agent of a federal organisation. Botting of course had been well aware of this. He’d used it to persuade Simon to forget the CIA had first claim on him and to give him the protection of custody by the PD.
“When do Sanchez and Wilmington get here?” Simon added irritably. “Maybe they have some control over them. I’m damned if I’m letting this go on.”
“Tanner did come to you yesterday morning,” Joel pointed out mildly.
“I know. I know. And I’m cutting him some slack because I didn’t give him a hearing. But that’s no excuse for not calling us in when they found these two wrecks.”
Henri was looking with interest at the crushed car, and evidently adding it to the wrecked van and the sad remains of the house. “One thing, Captain, Jim’s left you quite a trail to follow.”
That didn’t comfort Simon. he couldn’t help wondering what Jim was going to demolish next. Hopefully not himself.
“Where did Ellison and Larabee go?” he demanded of the man he’d just dragged from the trunk of the wrecked car.
The man shrugged and said he wanted a lawyer.
Simon slammed his fist on the roof of the car in frustration. Tanner’s methods must have worked on the man, but he couldn’t use those. He needed to know—now—where Jim and Chris Larabee had gone, and he’d bet that would lead him to the others as well.
His cell phone rang. He answered it irritably; he’d had seven calls in the last half hour, and the most recent had been from a CIA liaison with the unwelcome news—confirmed by Botting—that Miller was in this business with Brackett and that the CIA wanted to be kept fully informed. He had a feeling they hadn’t believed him when he said he had no idea where Brackett, Ellison or anyone else was.
He almost jumped. It wasn’t the CIA. It was Blair at last. Blair demanding squads of cars to be sent instantly to some ill-defined location.
“Slow down, Sandburg,” he ordered. “Where are you and what’s happening?”
“We’re in the grounds of some tycoon’s holiday property, or that’s what it looks like, right on the coast, a bit south of that house that Jim blew up. Are you there?”
“I’m collecting prisoners from car wrecks,” Simon said pointedly.
“You’re at the gorge? Great! You only need to look on the map to where the stream comes out and you can see where I mean. Everyone’s here, at least we think so. I can’t actually see Jim or Chris but someone’s firing rockets at Brackett’s people. Vin and Ezra have gone to take Brackett and Miller and the others from behind while they’re distracted.”
Simon had gestured to Joel to spread out a map while Blair was talking. There was only one estate it could be. He vaguely knew it. Owned by a short-tempered retired businessman, who was acquainted with both the police chief and the mayor. he complained regularly when he was in Cascade about every aspect of public life, including the standards of policing.
“What do you mean rockets?” he asked Blair, getting into the car with a hasty aside to Henri and Joel to call back-up to the house.
“I think they might be fireworks,” Blair said. “Mega fireworks. Anyway, they’re effective. They’ve really pinned Brackett’s men down. Whoa. One just went off course a bit and blasted into a window. It’s set off some sort of alarm. Simon! I can see Jim… and Chris. they’re coming out into the open now. I have to go down!”
“Stay put!” Simon bellowed. Joel, already speeding towards the coast, put his foot down a little bit harder. “Sandburg! Can you hear me? Damn! Joel, you’d better get us there before anyone gets killed—and before Ellison does so much damage it blows a hole in our pension fund!”
Ezra looked with satisfaction at the prone form stretched out at his feet. Who the man was, he had no idea, but he wasn’t Jim or Chris and gardeners were not usually armed, so it had seemed advisable to remove him from the fight. He’d hit him hard enough to make tying him up an unnecessary waste of time. He looked round quickly now, assessing the situation.
One man lay groaning beside the fish pond. Whoever he was, he seemed to be out of the fight. Another made a sudden bolt for the driveway to try to escape, as all the house alarms started to go off. This one made it about half way up the slope before Vin appeared and hurtled into him. Ezra winced. He hoped Vin really was right about his ribs only being bruised, not broken.
Vin got up and the man stayed down, so Ezra aborted his instinctive move to Vin’s assistance. That was three out of action. How many men could Brackett have?
Vin came at a staggering run down the drive towards him, waving at something. Ezra moved to catch him and to look.
Coming across the lawn, at a run no steadier than Vin’s, were two figures who looked like throwbacks to a more savage age. Bloodstained, half-naked, their skin somehow blackened in camouflaging patches, Chris Larabee and Jim Ellison didn’t seem to be looking for rescue so much as to finish the fight.
“Brackett and Miller are getting away!” Chris yelled, pointing towards the sea.
“Nice t’ see you too,” Vin muttered, finally coming to a halt by bumping into Ezra. They both spun round, hearing the man by the fish pond making a last effort. He got to his feet, aiming his gun shakily at Chris who was ahead. Before either Vin or Ezra could do anything they realised Jim had acquired a bow from somewhere. He had already paused in his run when the man moved, and now he dropped to one knee to steady himself and loosed the arrow. It took the man in the shoulder, and with a high-pitched scream he dropped and stayed down.
“C’mon,” Vin said, “Let’s get t’ th’ dock afore they hog all th’fun.”
There were four men on the dock, and they were all firing. Jim and Chris skidded into cover on one side of the house, and Vin and Ezra dropped behind some large pots holding bay trees. Another arrow clipped one of the men, slowing him down. Ezra fired and saw the man drop, clutching his leg.
“There’s a boat!” Vin said suddenly. “They’re trying t’ get away in a boat.”
He broke cover, swerving and ducking, followed by Jim and Chris. Ezra laid down covering fire then followed, as Vin reached the man sprawled on the dock and kicked his gun away—though the man showed no inclination to carry on the fight. Jim snatched the gun up and fired at the two men dropping into the boat. Vin was reloading, and Ezra needed to. Before that though, he wanted to know why there were only two men. There had been three. He stooped to check no one was clinging on underneath the dock to fire at them, found it empty and straightened up. There was a wild yell from Chris, who hurled a large, smoking cylinder into the boat as it began to pull away.
Blair, jumping onto the dock to join them, paused in his dash to Jim’s side. “That’s a firework? It looks more like a bomb!”
The men in the boat must have thought so too. As the missile curved down on them they both jumped out. The firework landed in the boat—which, impelled by the force of their jump, spun round through one hundred and eighty degrees and headed straight back under the dock.
“Look out!” Ezra shouted, but entirely too late.
The boat hadn’t been very far out and it came back fast. Before they’d properly begun their dash along the walkway back to land it hit a stanchion, the firework went off—very like a small bomb—the boat’s tank exploded and a large section of the dock blew up into the air just behind them.
Dazed and horrified, Ezra saw Jim Ellison go head over heels backwards into the water and burning debris, and Blair jump after him without a moment’s pause.
Vin had almost gone over as well, but Chris had managed to catch him as he fell and was holding him with difficulty; both of them were sprawled over the broken edge of the dock. Ezra moved hastily to help them, and was startled when Chris glanced round, froze and said sharply, “Ezra—stand still and don’t look down!”
Knee-jerk obedience was one of those qualities Ezra had never really cultivated. He could manage it in the middle of action, but the action was over and this order seemed by any standards bizarre. Whyever not, was the thought that came into his mind.
His eyes had been fixed on Vin and Chris but he looked down now.
He really wished he hadn’t.
Sticking out from the top of his leg, with a nasty stain spreading round it and ruining his pants, was what looked like a large stake. He hadn’t even felt the pain until he saw it, but it rushed in now.
He found himself sitting down quite suddenly, and all the noise around him, even Chris’s voice, was drowned by the roaring in his ears.
“Impaled,” he thought, staring with horrible fascination at the piece of wood. “Good Lord, I’ve been impaled.”
Simon Banks heard the explosion and saw rising smoke as he arrived at the large gates of the estate.
“Get these open!” he snapped to the two uniformed men who had just beaten him to the place. “Don’t worry about how you do it.”
He could hear more cars in the distance. His own men were on the way, the rest of team 7 were heading here directly from the airport, and he’d reluctantly informed the CIA. There ought to be more than enough manpower to deal with Brackett—if everything wasn’t already over.
He could see a body sprawled at the top of the driveway. He was sure he’d heard shouting just before the explosion.
Everything was ominously quiet now.
Jim was blind and deaf, and acid raked his skin. He flailed wildly against it, and some sort of recollection returned. Sea. He was in the sea. It was the salt which burned and corroded every graze on his skin, the seawater which pressed him down and threatened to fill his lungs.
He broke the surface and gasped painfully for air. He tried to find dials, to find anything other than painful confusion. Pieces of wood bumped against him. He tried again to see, and was blinded by the light on the water. He could hear nothing at all except a jangling, endless ringing.
Coughing and spluttering, he foundered under it all. But before he could sink again, a hand caught him under the chin. It was a warm hand, and where it touched him the sea’s burn faded. He gasped another lungful of air and managed to let himself float, supported by the hold.
Slowly, through that painful ringing in his ears, another sound became audible, a welcome sound that drove the chaos back a little.
“Okay, Jim, you’re doing great. Just relax, we’re not far from the shore. I bet the dials are all haywire right? They’re not designed to handle two explosions in a few hours. It’ll pass though. You just hang in there, man. We’re okay, we’ll be touching the bottom soon.”
Survival instincts kicking in, Jim began to get a grip. He let his feet drop, and found that he could already just touch solid ground. He could take some of his own weight now. Blair had done enough.
Some of the scrambled pieces of his mind fell back into place. He’d been amazed and relieved to see Blair come running along the dock just before Chris hurled that damned Chinese firework at the boat. What happened after that he didn’t know, but Blair was here in the water with him, unharmed and sounding as if his only worry was Jim.
“I’m okay, Chief,” he managed, coughing out a mouthful of water. “I can’t hear too well but I’m all right.”
He’d found his footing properly now, and they stumbled out onto the small beach. Blair brushed aside the draggled hair which was falling over his face, and looked at Jim with a mixture of concern and disbelief. “Oh man, we have got to get you to the hospital, Jim.”
“It’s superficial,” Jim said. The charcoal had mostly come off in the water, and some old cuts were seeping a bit of fresh blood. Maybe some new ones too—some was running down the side of his face into his mouth. But nothing was broken and he wasn’t concussed, and he wasn’t Brackett’s prisoner either.
“Did Chris get those bastards?”
“I’ve no idea. They jumped out of the boat when they saw that thing coming. He got the rest of us, though!”
Jim flopped down on the sand. He remembered now. The boat had come hurtling back towards them and the world had blown up. He just about recalled a glimpse of Blair’s horrified alarm.
“You jumped in after me,” he said, realising. “Thanks.”
“Hey, how often do I get to be the one to the rescue? I guess you’d normally just pull yourself out, but I thought with all the stuff in the last twenty four hours your senses might be playing up.”
“They were. They’re not so bad now you’re here.”
Blair, squatting there dripping, intent on Jim, brightened as if he’d been given some major award. Jim went on hastily, “How did you get here, anyway? Brackett said he had someone with a gun trained on you at Rainier. He gloated over the prospect of you watching his piece on the news.”
“I never saw it at all,” Blair said. “I think he must have lied about the gun, too, because I was in the library almost all day. I lost track of the time. I found this really cool piece of Roman history about the Germanic tribes, and it was describing a sentinel, definitely, but my Latin’s a bit rusty so it was quite a while…”
“So how did you get here in the nick of time?”
Blair grinned. “It was mostly Vin. He picked me up at Rainier and told me the story backwards, so I knew you were alive before I knew you might not have been, if you see what I mean.”
Jim did. He owed Vin.
“Vin and Ezra had already decided to follow up some girl witness from the news, and then, well, you left us one hell of a trail to follow. Must be a real insurance risk messing with you, man. Houses, vehicles, private estates.” He paused. “I was just kind of worried what you might have done to yourself while you were wrecking cars and so on.”
Jim used him as a prop to get to his feet, and then kept his arm around Blair’s shoulders. “I was kind of worried about you, too, Chief.”
He realised the ringing in his ears really had muted, and the noise he was now hearing was the sirens of police cars coming down the drive. “Looks like Simon got here just in time to do the clearing up.”
Blair stepped slightly back, partly supporting him, partly avoiding catching the eye of Simon Banks who had jumped hastily from his car and was staring, stunned, around the scene of devastation.
“Actually, that’s something else I was worried about,” Blair said uneasily. “We didn’t exactly put Simon in the picture until the last minute, and then he told me to stay put. Though I don’t think he knows I heard.”
Jim grinned. “So we go with “Captain, Sandburg just saved my neck” as my opening remark, do we?”
“It might save mine, but I’m not sure about Vin and Ezra. They had to cut some corners to persuade Brackett’s men to tell us where you were. And I think Simon blames them for not keeping him informed, though it was all of us really.” He paused, looking over towards Vin and Ezra on the dock and realising they and Chris were all either sitting or down on their knees. “I hope they’re okay,” he said.
“Probably had enough rushing about,” Jim said; he felt that way himself. “Anyway, we’ll go and take a look. Give me a hand.” He wasn’t going to get very far in any direction without some help, and Blair was a deceptively sturdy support. “If nothing else, we might as well present Simon with a united front.”
Chris held firmly onto Vin with his good arm, and shouted at Ezra, “Close your eyes!”
It was the only thing he could think of until he had Vin safely back up on the slats of the dock. Whatever damage the wood had done, looking at it was clearly making Ezra feel worse.
To his amazement, Ezra actually obeyed. Chris turned his attention back to Vin. When he and Jim had finally had the chance to go after Brackett and Miller he’d been startled and spurred on by the sight Vin and Ezra joining the fight. Now he was barely able to keep himself from falling flat on his face as the adrenaline wore off, but he was still gladdened by the sight of them. He made a final effort, and Vin slid up and hauled himself back onto the dock gasping. It looked as if it had hurt him as much as it hurt Chris, but even so he wasn’t as white as Ezra.
Chris tried to get to his feet to go to the undercover agent and found he actually couldn’t do it. The world rocked round him when he tried and his twisted leg refused to cooperate. He crawled the yard or two instead, and realised Vin was doing the same. In spite of everything, it amused him in a warped sort of way, and he caught a weak grin from Vin that suggested he saw the funny side of it as well. Just now, though, Ezra had to come first.
“Don’t think it’s as bad as it looks,” Vin said, while Chris was still trying to blink away the spots that danced in front of his eyes from the effort of the last few minutes. “Keep yer eyes shut while I check, Ez. Y’ll just make y’self feel worse looking at it.”
He produced a lethal-looking knife, one that was new to Chris, and deftly slit away some of the fabric of the pants.
“What are you doing?” Ezra asked suspiciously. His eyes were still crunched shut, but Chris was relieved to see a trace of colour creeping back into his face.
“Desp’rate situations,” Vin said, sounding very relieved now that he could see the injury clearly. Instead of sticking directly into Ezra’s leg, the piece of wood was an irregular shape, and had gone in at an angle, embedding itself more shallowly under the skin. Painful, but a lot less serious than it might have been.
“Not much more’n a really big splinter,” Vin said. He glanced at Chris and mimed pulling it out. Chris saw that it wasn’t going to cause too much bleeding. It wasn’t the recommended action, but he thought in this case it was worth doing, especially if they ever wanted Ezra to open his eyes again. He nodded and offered the last remaining piece of black rag from his shirt.
“Hold still now, Ez,” Vin said. “Let’s get this splinter out.”
“Splinter?” Ezra said indignantly. “It was a stake. A huge, barbaric… yeeeow.”
His eyes opened abruptly, but Vin had already tossed the piece of wood into the sea and pressed the rag against the wound. The cut would need cleaning up, Chris thought, but at least there wouldn’t be more damage if Ezra moved. The undercover agent seemed to be recovering something of his normal verve. He held the piece of black rag with distaste, and started to pay attention to the damage to his pants.
“Did you have to slit these to the knee?” he complained to Vin. “Do you have any idea how much I paid for them?”
“Hell, they were no good with a damn great piece of wood stuck through ’em.”
“Ah ha! Not just a splinter then,” Ezra said smugly.
“It weren’t all stuck in. Damn it, Ez, anyone’d think you was afraid of being—what they call it?—dusted.”
“For that, my ignorant friend, it would have to go through the heart.”
“Ah well, y’r safe then.”
Chris couldn’t imagine a better sound than listening to them score off one another. He’d told Jim that he thought these two might see a flaw in Brackett’s story; he hadn’t said that they were also the ones he worried most about. He’d left Ez undercover and Vin still not quite back to the balance he’d had before Josephs came along, and neither of them likely to do anything but close themselves off from their friends if something hit them hard. Without flattering himself, he knew that Brackett’s story would have hit very hard indeed. But somehow they’d not only handled it, they’d got themselves on the trail fast enough to get here at just the right time and make a big difference to that final fight.
The only downside was that now they both looked nearly as bad as he felt.
Sirens told him that at least they weren’t going to have to make any more effort. Just as well, since he was having trouble even staying on his knees. He wondered how Jim was doing—he’d seen him in the water with Blair beside him just before he’d been distracted by the sight of Ezra with a large piece of the dock sticking from his leg, but the sea was empty now of everything but pieces of boat.
“Jim and Blair ‘re on the beach over there,” Vin said. “Didn’t see what happened to th’ two in th’ boat, except they had the sense t’ get out before it blew. You want t’ work on doing more damage t’ the other guys than to us, cowboy.”
“Don’t see any of the other guys on their feet,” Chris said. “Anyway, we’d already done most of the damage, before you got here!”
“Typical ingratitude,” Ezra murmured, peering cautiously under the rag and pressing it hastily back on his leg again.
“Told you there’d be no “thanks boys fer rescuin’ us”, ” Vin agreed.
“Complete disregard of our detective endeavours.”
“And of taking out two gunmen and a glass thing.”
“Might as well have stayed at… home.”
Chris caught the very slight hesitation in Ezra’s voice, though he wasn’t sure what caused it. He’d already heard something in Vin’s tone that told him however much Vin could joke now, there had been some fraught hours while they were getting here. They were both white and tired and battered, and he guessed they’d neither eaten nor slept.
He wouldn’t usually do this, but…
“Thanks, boys, for rescuing me,” he said, quite seriously.
Ezra glanced up at him, taken aback, and for a moment Chris saw the vulnerability that was usually so well hidden. He held out his good hand, gripping Ezra’s, trying to let him know he didn’t always have to be wary, then turned to reach out to Vin in the full-arm grip that meant more than a whole lot of words.
That was movement too far though. As he turned, the leg he’d twisted earlier spasmed painfully, and he lost his balance completely, tumbling against Vin. Vin, not braced for it, managed to support Chris but went over backwards, so that they both tumbled in a heap against Ezra.
At least it was Ezra’s chest not his injured leg, Chris thought. It was just as well. He definitely felt too tired to move.
“We are not going to make a very professional impression on Cascade PD,” Ezra pointed out, but he slid his arm round to prop Vin’s shoulders up.
“Ain’t Cascade PD who’s comin’,” Vin said cheerfully. He’d somehow managed to hold Chris in such a way that his burned arm was protected and he was quite comfortably supported. “I saw ’em before Chris played skittles with us. Team 7 finally got here.”
Chris couldn’t turn his head to look, but he heard the feet on the slats, and Buck’s familiar voice, the concern in it fading into amusement as he saw that they were none of them seriously hurt. “There’s an ambulance on the way… or is this just some new kinda team building? Group hugs after a bust? I could go for that, but we’ve got to get some women on the team.”
“Get out of the way, Buck, let me see them.” That was Nathan, worried that his skills were required.
Josiah, instead of words, offered a strong arm to help Chris and Vin sit up, while Nathan started with Ezra.
“Captain Banks is collecting up the bodies,” Buck told Chris. “And costing up the damage you and Jim Ellison have done. Seems like the clear-up is a bit more extensive than he expected, so it’s left to us to help you get off your asses and along to ER.”
“How did you do it all, Chris?” JD sounded as though Chris had notched up a few more hero points. “Captain Banks says that this house looks as though a war’s been fought around it, and that the first place you were in was blown up completely. And that you wrecked a couple of cars and caught Botting and some other guy and…”
“Hey, that was us,” Vin interrupted. He was still holding Chris, but it was Josiah’s supporting arm behind them both that kept them from hitting the deck again. “Jim and Chris just demolished things. The constructive work was me ‘n Ez ‘n Blair.”
“What did I do?” Blair asked, coming up with Jim, who was leaning very heavily on his shoulder. “Whatever it was, don’t tell Simon.”
The two of them dropped down beside the ATF agents.
“We’ve come to save you from him,” Jim told Vin. “Simon Banks, that is. Blair thinks he may feel he missed all the fun.”
“We called him,” Vin said slightly defensively. “Wanted t’ be sure before we asked fer back up.”
“He might not be very happy about Botting and Alldred,” Blair said, glancing up the slope. “Not if they make a fuss about the knife business, anyway.”
“Did what we had to do t’ get here in time.”
“And if I was not being poked and prodded, I could be marshalling the arguments to justify our activities,” Ezra added.
Chris was going to have to find out what all this was about, but it would do later. He thought it would, anyway.
“You didn’t actually kill anyone?” he asked.
“Certainly not; in fact we used the minimum force compatible with achieving our goals.”
“Just had t’ persuade them t’ tell us where you ‘n Brackett’s lot had gone.”
They must have followed all the way, Chris thought. The house, and that side road, and finally here. One hell of a night.
“It’ll be okay,” Jim said, perhaps thinking the same thing. “Lucky you found out and got here in time. You saved our necks when you shot that statue. I didn’t see Brackett until he moved.
“Certainly got our attention,” Chris agreed. “Never realised glass could shatter like that.”
“Vin was obviously following your destructive example,” Ezra agreed. “But since it was probably an extremely expensive, as well as artistic, creation, perhaps we should let Brackett and Miller take the blame for its demise.”
The talk turned again to the amount of damage the unfortunate owner of the estate had incurred. Chris let it drift over him. The sun was warm overhead now, and he was even more tired than sore. Josiah had shifted a little so that Chris was propped against him and still leaned against Vin. It was surprising how many of his aches and pains that eased. He let the two of them take his weight and didn’t try to stop his eyes drifting shut.
Lee Brackett was wet, tired and angry, but at least he was free. His last-minute decision not to get into the boat with Miller and Ducos had paid off, though he wasn’t sure yet whether they’d actually been arrested.
He’d not avoided the boat in the expectation of Larabee’s Armageddon manoeuvre, but simply because he didn’t trust Ducos. There was no time to discuss it with Miller, and anyway, Miller knew Ducos as well as he did. Maybe he had more leverage with him. Brackett had made his own decision as the others cut the boat’s mooring rope, and instead of jumping in with them he’d dropped into the water and swum, well beneath the surface, for the farther edge of the estate.
He’d surfaced once, to see Miller and Ducos apparently succeeding in their escape, and a second time to witness them in the water and the spectacular explosion of the boat. After that he’d concentrated on getting the hell out of the immediate area. He’d heard the sirens as he pulled himself ashore through some undergrowth that ran right down to the water.
Time for a decision. Without knowing the police numbers, or how many of his allies had been taken, he decided that trying to make a getaway on foot was not his best option just now. He doubted they’d have dogs, and anyway, he’d only come a yard or two onshore. There were huge trees planted here. He chose the closest, covered his tracks and climbed way up into the highest branches. He could be found, but he didn’t think he would be, unless he made a stupid move. This was a huge estate, and they didn’t know where to start looking for him. With any luck, even if the CIA were involved, they’d be too busy with the ones they’d got. Suvarov and Yudin would be quite a catch; Kreiber they’d probably have to throw back; it would be nice to think of someone interrogating Ducos…
He still had the field glasses, and he watched the distant arrival of Simon Banks and his men. It looked a fairly routine cleanup. He could picture where everyone had been when he took to the water. Apart from Miller and Ducos, they’d been casualties—he’d underestimated Ellison and Larabee; they seemed to find weapons out of thin air. And maybe he’d relied too much on his news story. He’d glimpsed Sandburg on the dock, and he’d heard Larabee shout orders to the other two, so he guessed those were his men. If Helene had been the weak link, she was going to be very sorry.
Two ambulances arrived. He saw paramedics by the fish pond. That would be for al Shenawi. You hand to hand it to Ellison, he was as accurate with a bow as with a gun.
Well, it was over, and he’d lost this round, but at least this time he wasn’t heading for some maximum security imprisonment. He’d stay where he was for as long as it took, and unless Banks had a lot more manpower at his disposal than most police captains, it would be possible in the end to get away. He had no intention at all of going near Ellison again for a while. He didn’t like losing, but he knew when he had and revenge for the sake of it didn’t interest him. Hell, a part of him even wanted to respect those two, though he knew anything but total cynicism was a mug’s game.
He settled on his branch to wait it out.
Jim was okay. Simon had to secure the site before he could do more than just reassure himself with a glance, but at least that glance showed him Jim was among the survivors of whatever mini war had been fought here. For some reason Jim was dripping wet, and using Blair as a crutch, but he was on his feet and moving. Simon wasn’t so sure about Larabee and his men, but Jim was limping towards them without any sign of alarm. They couldn’t be too badly hurt.
That was more than you could say for the men Jim and Chris seemed to have strewn about the grounds. The one in the drive had just been stirring when the police reached him, though he didn’t seem to know much about being put under arrest. Ambulances were on their way, for him and for a second unconscious man they’d found between the dock and the house.
Joel came up now to report they’d found yet another casualty by the fishpond, this one with an arrow in him. Had to be Jim’s work, Simon thought. You could take the man out of the jungle, but…
He blenched as he saw the disaster area that had once been a patio, and the groaning man trying to refuse the help of the uniformed police. This one looked as if he was Arabic in origin. Botting had said something about Russians and a Frenchman, hadn’t he?
“Sir!” A very young uniformed officer came running. “There’s another man with an arrow in him down at the edge of the dock, and he says he’ll only talk to the CIA.”
“Looks like the rest of Team 7 are arriving, Captain,” Henri called from further back towards the drive.
“The mayor’s calling,” someone else shouted. “Wants to know if there’s been any damage to the house.”
Simon took a deep breath. “Brown, send the Denver boys down to the dock to check on Jim and the others, then tell the guy at the dock…”
“He’s a Russian.”
“The Russian at the dock that there’ll be an ambulance here for him in a minute, but if he’d rather wait for the CIA than get treatment I won’t force him into it. Joel, you get back to the Mayor, and whatever else you do, put him off coming here.”
He looked again at the mess in front of him. Someone was going to be very unhappy about this. One of the windows had been blown in, the patio doors had come open, there were blast marks on the outside walls and a blackened mess in the centre of the room inside. The patio was a wreck of destroyed plants and for some reason was covered in thousands of pieces of shattered glass.
At least the alarms had finally gone quiet.
The men who’d been checking the house returned to him, and others were reporting in from the grounds. There was no sign of Brackett or Miller. Simon decided that was as good a reason as any for heading straight down to Jim. There was no hint of any remaining threat, the immediate casualties were being dealt with, and he could see the first ambulance arriving. Time to find out what the hell had been going on here, and to see for himself that Jim was okay. Even now, his mind kept reminding him of the picture from yesterday’s news; he needed to see the live and irritating version of his detective.
There was quite a crowd on the dock by now, and Team 7 weren’t a quiet bunch, but it still surprised Simon that Jim didn’t hear—or sense in any other way—that he was coming. It was Blair who looked up and noticed him, just as he came to a halt staring at the hole blasted in the dock, and the wood and oil on the water.
Blair looked as if he had the night’s non-communication on his conscience. Simon hadn’t time for more than brief satisfaction at this, though, because he was too busy trying not to be shocked at the sight of Jim’s bare, battered torso. Had Brackett been torturing them?
Jim caught his look and managed a rather tired grin. “It’s superficial, Simon. We had rather a busy night.”
“I noticed. I see you’ve been busy here, too.”
“We had to improvise a bit. Brackett brought some friends along.”
“We’ve picked up four of them. No sign of Brackett and Miller though. How many more do you think there might be?”
“Just Brackett, Miller and a Frenchman.” Chris Larabee answered that without opening his eyes. He looked even worse than Jim, since he was filthy as well as cut and bruised. “Two of them tried to get away in a boat. Anyone see what happened to them after they jumped out?”
“What happened to the boat?” Simon asked, then realised it had to be a stupid question, especially given the oil glistening below him. “No, never mind. We’re still looking for three men, then, including Brackett and Miller.”
“Brackett dropped into the water when the others got into the boat,” Ezra Standish said. He was fidgeting ungratefully under the attentions of their medic, but like the others, he seemed to have escaped serious harm. “I think the Frenchman may have swum ashore beyond the beach where Detective Ellison landed—where the small headland juts out.”
Simon called Joel and had some men despatched to search that area more closely. Joel gave him the unwelcome news that the CIA had arrived and the Mayor was being persistent.
Tanner, who’d looked almost harmless when Simon arrived—like Dunne, he sometimes gave the impression Larabee must have recruited him from kindergarten—sat up now, looking suddenly alert and about ten lethal years older.
“You got no line on Miller and Brackett?”
“No sign of them when we got here,” Simon said. He could have added that maybe if they’d been called in a bit sooner, they’d have picked them up, but he didn’t. After all, maybe if they’d arrived in force too soon, they would have panicked Brackett into a more deadly use of his force. Anyway, he knew where and how he’d forfeited Tanner’s trust.
“I think they’d had enough,” Blair chipped in. “They were trying to escape, not keep on fighting. You should have seen Jim and Chris, Simon. It was kind of Rambo on the fourth of July.”
Vin tried to get to his feet, causing a concerted movement of prevention from the able-bodied half of Team 7, and a single growl from Larabee that had more effect.
“If Brackett ‘n Miller ‘re loose, I ain’t sitting on my backside waitin’ fer Nate t’ get around t’ me,” Vin protested.
“If they’re anywhere near here, we’ll get them,” Simon said. He had quantities of men already securing the grounds, and from what Joel said, the CIA had turned up in numbers as well. None of the other men in front of him seemed too concerned about a remaining threat from Brackett, but Vin was now as edgy and alert as if he was expecting sniper fire any minute.
Simon had been wrong when he didn’t listen to him the day before. He didn’t believe he was wrong now in thinking Brackett and Miller would cut their losses and make their personal safety a priority, but he called Joel again anyway, and got some extra uniformed men sent down to put protection around the group on the dock.
“They won’t shoot at us,” Jim said.
“Nothing to gain from it,” Chris agreed. One of his arms looked angrily red and blistered, but the other was slung round Vin’s shoulders, keeping him where he was.
“Y’ don’t know what they might do,” Vin said, frustrated. “Let me take a look. There’ll be tracks if they come ashore.”
He pulled away from Chris and tried to get to his feet. Chris’s glare warned his team against helping, and Jim stopped Blair’s instinctive move. Vin wobbled, got his balance, wavered again and sat down hard.
“Let Cascade PD do their job,” Chris said, somewhere between reassurance and an order.
Simon could see the real fear in the kid, fear that even now Jim and Chris were not safe.
He squatted down, so he could look Vin in the eyes. “I know I didn’t listen to you yesterday when you told me Jim and Chris weren’t in that wreck, and I’m sorry. I’m also not going to let anything happen to them now, okay?”
Vin flushed slightly. “Weren’t meant as a criticism. Just don’t seem sense t’take any risks now we got them back.”
“Brackett wanted me to do a specific job for him,” Jim said. “Believe me, I’m as keen as anyone else to see him picked up, but I don’t think he’s any interest in revenge. He might be a danger again, but not today.”
“He didn’t want us dead,” Chris agreed. “If anything, he was trying to keep us alive when his foreign friends were getting trigger happy. I heard him yelling at the Frenchman that he’d shoot him if he hit us anywhere vital.”
“We’ve got Botting, Alldred, and four others,” Simon said. “We should be able to get enough from some of them—Botting especially—to make life difficult for Brackett and Miller in the near future.” He looked up at a sudden flurry of activity in the drive. The first ambulances had been loading up the more seriously injured men, and at first he thought it was just the paramedics, but then he realised that pulling past to the front of the house was a vehicle that was neither a squad car nor anything from the emergency services. It was large, sleek limousine.
“Damn!” he said.
Joel was already hurrying to meet the two men who were getting out of the rear seat. The young uniformed officer, who’d been running messages before, came sprinting down to Simon now.
“I can see. The Mayor’s arrived.”
“With the owner of the house, sir.”
Jim said bracingly—and without a trace of regret—”It’s only surface damage.”
“Opportunity for a quality makeover,” Blair agreed loyally.
“Tell him the ATF are going to investigate where he got those fireworks from,” Larabee offered.
Simon decided that, bad as the coming discussion with the Mayor and his friend was going to be, it would be infinitely worse with contributions from Jim or Chris.
“Mr Jackson, how would you feel about these men going to ER in squad cars rather than waiting for an ambulance?” he asked.
Nathan Jackson managed not to grin, but he could evidently see where Simon was coming from. “It wouldn’t be a problem,” he said helpfully. “They’re none of them seriously hurt. Jim and Chris look worse than they are. Apart from needing some stitches and treatment for Chris’s arm, most of what’s wrong with them is exhaustion and a bit of dehydration. Vin needs his ribs checking out, but the rest’s just bad bruising. I doubt they’ll even keep Ezra in.”
“I doubt it too,” Ezra said firmly. “In fact, the main prescription I need is coffee and a chance to get some sleep.”
“Goes for all of them,” Nathan told Simon.
The young officer went off, still at a run, to send the cars down, and Simon turned reluctantly towards the house. He couldn’t leave Joel to handle this one. Maybe the CIA would like to share the flak. After all, if they hadn’t lost Miller and let him break Brackett out, you could argue none of this would have happened.
Well before he got there, he heard a man, a large, prosperous, expensively-dressed man, who was obviously the owner of the house, expressing his horror at the sight in front of him. He seemed to be particularly lamenting the destruction of some work of art that had been on the patio. Simon looked surreptitiously for its remains, but he couldn’t see anything. All there was on the patio was dirt, debris and an amazing amount of glass.
Continue on to Part 4 of 4