by Kristine Williams
Lee checked the batteries on his pack for the twelfth time, making sure they were fully charged. Satisfied, he looked back across the street just as Jim Ellison stepped out.
"It's about time." He watched as Jim crossed the street in front of him and climbed into the truck. After just a moment's warming, he drove off. Lee knew he would have several hours now, unless Ellison was a bad date and got shot down before dessert. He secured the white-noise generator in the pack on his belt, checked his gun, and got out of the truck. "Showtime."
He crossed the street at a leisurely pace so as not to draw any attention. He'd waited months for this opportunity. The decision to wait as long as he had was due only to the kindness of his heart. Jim had a date tonight, what would turn out to be his last. He might as well enjoy his last night in the city. Sandburg would have been given the same consideration, but the kid hadn't had a date in the past two weeks, and Lee couldn't wait any longer. Besides, this would give him some quality time alone with Jim's Guide. He was at the front door now, testing the knob.
"Jim?" He heard Sandburg's voice just inside. "What'd you forget, man?" The door opened and Lee was ready. Blair had just made eye contact when Lee's fist struck his jaw, the force sending him back into the loft and down. He rushed inside, slamming the door shut before Blair could recover, and was on top of him, flipping him over easily and pulling both hands behind his back. "What the hell?!" Sandburg was struggling now and Lee pressed his knee into the small of his back.
"Just hold still, Sandburg. You and I are going to spend some time together." He handcuffed Blair's wrists and reached into his pocket for a gag. "But I think I'll do all the talking this time." His victim stopped struggling against the full weight on his back and Lee slipped the gag through his mouth, securing it behind his head. Once done, he stood, pulling Blair up with him. "There. That's not so bad, is it?" Blair was glaring at him as fear and recognition flashed across his face. "Remember me? Yeah, I bet you do." He pushed Blair over to a chair and shoved him down. "Standing that close to the Ebola virus isn't an easy thing to forget, is it?" He walked over to the window and looked out. The sky was beginning to darken, so he pulled the shades down. "Don't worry, though. No viruses today." He walked over to the kitchen, checking the coffee pot. "No tear gas." He walked back to the living room and took a seat on the couch, facing Blair. "And no fighter planes."
Blair had watched him walk around the loft and now sat, staring at
him from across the room. The gag was too tight for any conversation and Lee just
smiled. "You know, I once admired you for your insatiable curiosity. I suppose
I still do." He pulled the gun out from his belt where he had stuffed it prior
to approaching the door. "And I just bet you have a million questions right now."
He flipped the gun open and pulled out the dart it contained. "Well, I'm the man
with the answers."
Blair heard the footsteps coming down the hallway at the same time as Brackett. He wanted to call out to Jim, but the gag was still in place, and after three hours with it, his mouth was far too dry. Brackett grabbed his shirt and pulled him from the chair, pushing him roughtly towards his room. They stopped midway down the short hall and Brackett pulled him around, standing behind him, and pulled the gun from his pants. They waited, with the gun pointed towards the now opening door. Come on Jim, notice something's wrong! Don't come in here! He knew the white noise generator Brackett was wearing on his belt would keep Jim from hearing anything. He just wished that fact would alert his friend that there was something amiss. How often did Blair spend time alone without having the music on?
"Hey Chief I'm..." Jim stepped inside and saw the two of them.
"Glad you could join us." Lee stepped forward, pushing Blair in front of him. "Come on in, shut the door."
Jim stepped farther inside and pushed the door closed, glancing from Brackett to Blair. "What do you want, Brackett?"
Brackett pressed the gun into Blair's neck and he stiffened. He had seen the tip on the dart Brackett loaded. He knew the sedative it contained wasn't deadly, from the description his captor gave, but he most certainly didn't want it injected into his own neck, with point-blank force.
"Justice. Revenge. Retribution. Call it what you like." Brackett pressed the gun harder into Blair's neck. "I call it the cumulation of a life's work." He moved the gun away and pointed it at Jim. "I just need some of your time." He cocked the gun and Blair tensed again, trying to urge Jim to run, hide....something. "The last hours will do."
Blair wanted to shout but he couldn't, and the gun went gone off. He saw Jim try to move out of the line of fire, but it was too late. The dart hit him in the left shoulder, and the effect was immediate. Blair tried to rush forward as his friend fell to the floor, unconscious, but Brackett turned too quickly. Before he could take more than one step, he was pushed backwards with such force the wind was knocked out of him as he hit the wall. Brackett leaned into him, pressing Blair's head back and up with his arm. He couldn't see what Brackett was doing, couldn't see Jim on the floor just a few feet away.
"Now, just hold still. I wouldn't want to make a mistake here." Blair saw a flash of light off of metal as Brackett was lifting a syringe, bringing it close to his face. "You need to take a little nap, that's all. Then the Sentinel and his Guide can find out what they're made of."
Oh God...he was going to get it in the neck!
Blair tried to pull away, but his chin was forced up and back, exposing his neck
and pinning him. He had to grit his teeth against the sensation as the needle
entered his neck, moving deeper. There was a burning as the liquid entered his
vein, then the needle was removed. Brackett lowered his arm and smiled. Blair
felt the world spin as he pitched forward, falling so quickly into oblivion...it
felt like death.
Jim stirred, feeling small objects jamming into his back. He felt groggy, as though he couldn't wake up. A breeze was drifting across his face and he turned away. Sandburg, if you left the balcony doors open again all night...He heard birds, and his mind registered the fact that his house mate must have left the doors open. Damn him and his fresh air, it's cold! He tried to wake himself more. It was cold, and he was a little uncomfortable, but his mind was just too tired to want to make his body do anything about it. He heard a dog then, howling somewhere. Who had a dog in his neighborhood? Why was the wind blowing across his face like that, when his room was up higher than the doors? Or was he in his room? He remembered the date, remembered Wendy. They'd had a nice dinner, he was being perfectly charming the entire night. But--even though he thought he was going to be taking her home--had he? Hadn't he said something that upset her? What was it? Jim tried to roll over and brush his nose at the same time, but had trouble moving his right hand. Maybe he was at Wendy's after all. And if so, he had better wake up.
"What the...?!" Jim opened his eyes to a full view of blue sky. He glanced around quickly, seeing not his bedroom, or Wendy's, or anyone else's for that matter. What he saw were trees. Trees, mountains, rocks...he was outside! And not just outside, but somewhere in the mountains. He pulled at his right hand, to rub this dream from his eyes, and felt the pull of shackle and chain. "Sandburg!" He looked down when his hand didn't respond and saw why. Blair was lying beside him on the dirt, a shackle around his left wrist, connected to the one around Jim's right, with a four foot length of heavy chain between them. He reached out and shook Blair. "Sandburg! Sandburg wake up!" Blair didn't respond and he quickly checked his friend's pulse. It was strong and steady, as was his breathing. That's when he noticed the purple bruise on Blair's neck, with a tiny hole in the center.
It all came back to him then, what little there was. Walking into the loft, seeing Blair, bound and gagged, with Lee Brackett behind him. He remembered the gun, and the fact that he had been shot. His shoulder was sore where the bullet....or no--it must have been a dart. That's it. He pulled his shirt away and examined the bruise on his shoulder, nearly identical to the one on Blair's neck. Drugged. Both of them. Then taken....where? And why? Why hadn't Brackett just killed them both? Why hadn't Jim known he was in there, that something was wrong? "Damn that white noise generator." He remembered. How long had they been wherever it was they were? He looked up at the sun. Must be close to noon. He had come home just before eleven. Was it that long? Had they been out for one night, or more? He felt his face, no growth. Must only have been one night.
"Blair. Come on Chief, wake up." He tried again to wake his friend. Nothing. He pulled back the lid of each eye and peered inside. The pupils were dilated, he was still under a heavy dose of whatever it was that brought them both there. He couldn't wake him until the drug worked its way through. And he couldn't go anywhere, chained to an unconscious partner. Jim took a closer look at the shackles binding them both together. If he could just pick the lock, or break a link in the chain. Blair wasn't going anywhere for a while, and neither was he, so he searched the small area around them for two rocks. After locating a heavy stone and a smaller one, Jim set about working on one of the links, smashing the rock into the chain with the larger rock as a base. All the while he worked, he kept looking around, searching for any sign of Brackett, but his vision would occasionally blur, and there was a buzzing in his head. An after effect of the drug? Why had he brought them up here? And how had he escaped Federal Prison? Obviously he was after the two of them for payback, but why this elaborate game? Why not just kill them in the loft? Jim heard the dog again and realized it had to be a wolf. Just how far up were they?
"Sandburg, wake up!" He tried to rouse Blair again with no success. He had been working on the chain for some time, and hadn't even made a scratch. So he tossed the rock and reached into Blair's pocket, finding the ever-present Swiss army knife. He'd been working on picking the lock for twenty minutes when he heard Blair start to cough. "Sandburg, come on, wake up. Come on Chief, shake it off." He was slapped Blair's face, trying to bring him all the way out of the influence of the drug.
"Wha...Jim? What's going, where are we?" Blair came awake suddenly and Jim helped him into a sitting position.
"Take it easy, you've been out for a long time." Jim held him up, trying to get a look into his eyes. "You were drugged. We both were." Blair was blinking, trying to open his eyes wider and look around.
"Oh God, Jim, Brackett! It was Brackett." Blair looked around then, noting their surroundings. "Where are we?"
Jim patted him on the back, satisfied now that his partner was awake, and looked around again. "I don't know. Did Brackett say anything to you? How long was he there?"
Blair looked down at his left wrist then, seeing the shackle and the chain that held them both together. "Oh man! Um...I don't..." He was trying to remember something, shaking his head. "He came in just after you left. I thought it was you, I thought you had forgotten something."
"He must have been watching, waiting for me to leave."
"Yeah. He said he knew about your date. Jim, he must have been watching us both for some time. He knew where you were. He said, something about putting us to the ultimate test." Blair looked around, "Is he here?"
"No, I don't think so. I've been awake for about an hour and I haven't seen or heard anyone. Except for some animals, I think we're alone."
"Yeah, but Jim, you didn't hear him in the loft either. He has a white noise generator with him, in a pack on his belt. He could be here, and you just can't hear him."
"No, I don't think so. If he is, it's not turned on, 'cause I can hear other things." Would that explain the cutting in and out of his sight? Jim glanced at the chain. "I've been trying to break these, but I think it's titanium or something. I can't even make a dent." He folded up the knife and handed it back. "Here. This wasn't any help either."
Blair took the knife and gave Jim a strange look, putting it back in his pocket. "So what do we do now?"
Jim sighed heavily, glancing at the sun. "We get down off this mountain, Chief." He stood, reaching a hand down. "Come on. We'll head down," He pulled Blair up. "And see what we can find."
"And if we find Brackett?"
"We'll deal with him." Jim looked around again, scanning the woods for any sign of life. "Let's go." Jim led the way as they both proceeded into the trees in the general direction he hoped would lead them down, off the mountain they were on, and somewhere near a road. Blair followed close behind, holding on to the chain so he wouldn't be pulled by the wrist.
"Why would he do this, Jim? Why would he take us up here, then leave?"
Jim shook his head, keeping an eye out as they entered the tree line. "I don't know, Chief. I didn't know he was out of prison. The Feds should have let us know he escaped."
"Why didn't they?"
Jim just shook his head. It was a good question. After Brackett had used both him and Blair to break in to the CIA hanger, with the threat of an Ebola epidemic hanging over their heads, he had expected them to keep this guy under lock and key for the rest of his life. But, with the CIA, nothing was certain. Maybe he hadn't even escaped.
"Man, this sucks! I'm cold, I'm hungry, I...." Blair suddenly ran into Jim, who had stopped right in front of him, holding out his arm.
"Shhh!" Jim held a finger on his lips and Blair glanced around, suddenly more alert. "There. Right over there." He nodded towards a small clearing just a few yards away.
Jim hadn't needed Sentinel sight to see the large grizzly bear standing there, guarding his freshly-killed deer. They both froze, watching the bear that was watching them. "I didn't think there were many of these up here anymore." he whispered, staring at the beast.
"I think that's a moot point, considering." Blair whispered back. "Jim, I can climb a tree pretty fast. How about you?"
Jim nodded, very slowly, moving only his eyes around as he searched for a tree that would be tall enough to get above the bear's reach, and strong enough to hold them both for as long as they would be stuck.
"Jim, behind us." Blair pulled on his arm. "Right behind us. Come on, man...we gotta go for it."
"How low are the branches?" He wanted to turn and examine Blair's tree, but to do so would require turning his head. An action he didn't want to take until it was time. But the trees he could see didn't have a single branch at a reachable level.
"I don't know." Blair whispered urgently. "But we can't just stand here."
Jim glanced around as much as he could without moving his head. The bear was just staring at them, standing over the carcass and sniffing the air. "Okay, here's what we do...." He was about to explain his game plan when the bear suddenly roared, and charged.
"Oh shit!" Blair shouted and turned, Jim right behind him.
They ran as fast as they could to the tree Blair had seen, neither one looking back for even a moment. Jim reached the tree first and made a leap for the lowest branch, some eight feet up. He caught it with his left hand. He was trying to bring up his right, but Blair was still attached, and he couldn't reach up. Blair was right behind him, reaching up and freeing Jim's right hand enough to use the momentum, swinging his body up and onto the branch, then pulling Blair up behind him. The grizzly was right on their heels.
"Higher!" Jim shouted even as Blair was reaching up for the next branch. It was just out of his reach, so Jim gave him a quick shove, holding his right arm up to give Blair enough room. Once he was up, Blair reached down and pulled Jim up. He heard the bear coming up the trunk as he scrambled up next to Blair.
"Jim!" Blair's shout covered the sound of the bear as it grabbed Jim's leg, growling furiously. He expected to feel the searing pain of claws tearing into flesh, but instead he only felt a dull tugging, then his leg jerked free and he pulled himself all the way up. "God, Jim, are you okay?!" Blair was holding him up on their precarious position.
Jim quickly examined his leg, expecting to see blood. "I'm okay. He missed." Jim gratefully displayed his torn jeans, but no injury. "We'd better get higher, I think he's gonna try again."
Blair nodded and stood slowly on the branch, reaching up for another. They had to work together, reaching up and climbing, so as not to pull each other down by the chain. After another five branches, Jim decided they were well out of reach of the grizzly, who had now returned to his interrupted meal. They watched him for several minutes and the bear kept watch on them. After ten minutes, Blair turned around and got into a more comfortable position.
"I get it. Brackett doesn't need to kill us. He just needs to sit back and watch us get ourselves killed."
Jim looked at his friend, then back to the bear. "I should have smelled him long before this."
"Can you smell him now?" Blair asked, turning slightly to watch Jim.
He took a slow, deliberate sniff, then nearly fell off the branch as he recoiled from the incredible stench that struck his senses. "Oh, man! How did I not smell that before?"
Blair had to reach out a hand to keep Jim from falling, and taking him along. Now he was shrugging, a look of thoughtful contemplation on his face. "I don't know. Maybe....maybe you were focusing too hard on sight? I didn't see you zone out, but I wasn't paying attention. Sorry."
Blair looked apologetic and Jim shook his head, "No, I wasn't that focused. "My senses feel strange somehow." He looked around at the view from their vantage point. "They keep cutting in and out, changing in intensity."
"Maybe it's the drug? Whatever it was Brackett used kept us out all night. It could still be in your system, just enough to mess with your senses, like the cold medicine. Do you feel dizzy? Have a headache?"
"Not really. But my eyes keep blurring off and on, and hearing is coming in and out. Not out completely, but the intensity is wavering."
"I think that's it Jim, you just need to wait it out. Blair looked down at the bear again. "I think we're in for the night."
Jim looked down and nodded. "How are you at sleeping in a tree? Is that what you were doing when you broke your arm?"
"What? How'd you know about that?"
"You mentioned it." Jim replied. Blair looked skeptical for a moment, then shook his head. Jim was going to tell him that it was his conversation with Lash that had led Jim to the room, but he didn't want to bring back that memory. "Okay, let's get comfy." He turned, putting his back against the trunk, and tried to find a position he could stand for several hours. Blair did the same on the branch next to his. It wasn't even afternoon yet. If they were going to spend the entire night in a tree, one of them stood a fairly good chance of falling out. He looked around the tree, trying to find a safer area or larger branch. He had slept in a few trees in Peru, but they had wider branches, and he wasn't chained to anyone then.
"We could try and go tree to tree here." Blair said, looking out at the neighboring trees. "Maybe get some distance, then come down? You know, bears can't run fast down hill."
Jim shook his head, eyeing the branches on the next closest tree. "No way, Chief. Tarzan I am not." It wasn't a bad idea, but chained together, they both would risk breaking more than an arm. "No, we'll just wait him out. Once he's finished eating, and gets tired of staring at us, he'll leave."
"Unless we just happen to be in the middle of his territory." Blair replied. "And if so, then we're a threat as long as we're visible."
"You are just a ray of sunshine, you know that?" Jim flashed Blair a dirty look, then rolled his eyes so he would know he was kidding. Sometimes he could scare his friend, who still took him too literally, and now was not a good time to do that.
"Okay. Fine. We'll stay up here."
They passed several hours in the tree in silence, watching the bear, watching the area for any sign of Brackett. Blair even managed to fall asleep for nearly thirty minutes. Jim kept an eye on his friend, perched there on the branch, lest he lean too far over. The bear had finished his meal, and was just sitting there, watching them, and yawning occasionally. Jim was still upset at having gotten so close to an animal he should have smelled, and heard, long before. Had he really been focusing his sight and lost track of the other senses? No, he was sure he hadn't. And Blair never missed it when he zoned out. That's what made him more and more willing to focus solely on one sense when he needed to. He knew Blair would be there to watch his back, and snap him out of it. No, he hadn't zoned out. His sight and hearing were still coming and going, like there was a short somewhere. Maybe Blair was right. The drug had kept his partner unconscious for some time, maybe there was still enough left in him to affect his senses this way. And if that were true, what else might happen? It would have been okay if it was just him, but Blair was here. Brackett was hunting them, it was the only logical conclusion to their predicament. They were going to have to turn the hunter into the hunted, but he couldn't do that until his senses settled down. Until they could take the fight to Brackett, his skills would have to keep them alive, both of them.
Blair's question startled Jim. "He's falling asleep." he replied, looking back down at the bear. "He's had his lunch and now he's taking a nap."
"Great, just great!" Blair sighed. "Jim, I really think we could make it to the next tree."
Jim looked over at the tree again. He had been considering just that. "No, it's too risky. Chained together like this, it'd never work." He looked back to Blair. "It's not worth the chance. We just have to wait, then we can climb down nice and easy."
"Well we have to do something." Blair brought his left hand up and began to work the shackle, trying to slip it off his hand.
"No good Chief, I've tried that."
"Yeah, well I haven't." He kept working the metal band, twisting it, trying to get his thumb to go under.
"Sandburg, you're just going to hurt yourself doing that. Give it up." Jim reached over and pulled Blair's hands apart. "That hand is going to be sore enough by the time we get out of this mountain, don't rush it."
Blair reluctantly stopped and leaned back against the tree. "Man, this Brackett is a total dick!"
"Shhh, hang on." Jim held up
a hand. He heard something, off in the distance.
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