by Kristine Williams
Blair tried to add another piece of wood to the fire using only his right hand. Jim was sound asleep. How, he didn't know. He was so jumpy at every sound he thought he'd overdose on adrenaline. Normal, everyday forest noises took on a whole new aspect when he knew there was a madman out there, somewhere, watching them. And there was Jim, fast asleep. That was either a testament to his trust in Blair, or more likely, to his system still being under the influence of that drug. Either way, Blair couldn't sleep. But he was freezing! He just hoped the wood they'd gathered would last through this cold night. He had been trying to sit still, and keep his left arm in one place, but he had managed to wake Jim three times already. There was no way he was going to be able to gather more wood without having Jim get up with him. As much as he new his partner would do that, he didn't want to ask him. If that drug was strong enough to wreak havoc with Jim's senses, then it was still strong enough to be flowing through his blood stream. He needed rest. Blair tried to pick the lock with his knife, like Jim had done, but he couldn't make any progress. If only he could get the shackle off, then Jim wouldn't be stuck with him, and he could go after Brackett more easily. His hands were cold, they should be a little smaller. He stopped wearing his rings in the cold weather 'cause they could slip off so easily. But the metal was cold too, and was constricting just enough to make up for any changes in his wrist.
A wolf howled in the distance, and Blair entertained thoughts of Brackett being hunted by a pack. As unlikely as that was. He sighed, and began to work at the shackle binding his wrist. If only he could get it over his thumb, it would slide right off. It wasn't so tight as to cut off any circulation, so there must be some room there. If only he could work it up and over. He busied himself with that task until he noticed the first rays of light shining over the hill to his right. He heard a stomach growl and worried that it had been his when Jim stirred and looked up at him.
"Sandburg, what are you doing?" Jim noticed the sun and sat up quickly, rubbing his eyes. "Why didn't you wake me?"
"You needed it Jim. What ever Brackett used, is hasn't affected me the same way. I thought a good night sleep would help work it out of your system."
"That's not the way it works, Chief." Jim looked around, noticing the fire had gone out. "It's equal time, got that? I should have woken up." He stretched, pulling both arms high above his head, making Blair reach over so he could bring his right hand up all the way. "You hungry?"
"You should eat. We both should, we're going to need it." He stood and pulled Blair up. "Come on, you know the mushrooms in this area, don't you?"
"Yeah, enough to keep us from dying slow, painful deaths, I think so."
Jim smiled and led the way back into the forest. Blair followed, he had to. He still didn't understand this madman's plan, but that was what made him so mad. Blair just couldn't understand what kind of game Brackett was playing. If he wanted them dead, just kill them. If he wanted to hunt them up there, then where was he? Maybe he was the bear's dessert? No, Jim said he had heard hoofbeats. As much as he was willing to consider Lee Brackett a devil incarnate, he doubted the hoofbeats part.
They gathered several handfuls of mushrooms and a few wild roots, then walked back to the dying fire. "Hey Jim, when you were coming up to the loft, did you hear anything?"
Jim paused, thinking. "No, nothing. But you said Brackett had that white noise generator."
"Yeah, he did, but I don't know if it was on or not. If you had no reason to suspect anything, you might not have been paying attention."
"What's your point?" Jim looked a little irritated and Blair realized he had probably just pissed him off.
"No, I mean the last time, when he used it at the University, you said you couldn't hear anything at all, I was just wondering if that's what it does, makes you totally deaf...or what?"
"It was, more like a buzzing in my head. Like all I could hear was static, nothing more." He paused, looking around. "Not like now, I can hear just fine."
Blair nodded, piecing the information together, trying to find something they could use. If Brackett was with them, and could turn Jim's hearing off with a flip of a switch, they had to find a way to detect it. Otherwise he could sneak up on them at any time. But then, why didn't he kill them already? None of this made since. Sometimes he thought Jim expected him to have all the answers regarding his senses. But Blair was learning about them just as Jim was. The fact that he knew Jim was a Sentinel, and why, didn't mean he had ever studied one before. But he tried. Jim was always deferring to him in that respect, and he was determined never to let his partner down. He had learned to do a lot of quick thinking on his feet, and sometimes out loud, but with Jim's insistence, he usually found an answer that worked. His friend's trust in him was frightening sometimes.
"Okay, you ready to get out of here?" Jim had finished his breakfast and was kicking the still hot wood around, spreading the embers. "Let's follow this stream down, that way we'll have plenty of water near by. It should take us all the way out."
Blair nodded and got up, following Jim as they crossed the stream and walked along the opposite bank where the ground was more flat. The quick run through the ice cold stream made him grit his teeth. Blair let Jim walk slightly ahead of him so he wouldn't block his view in any way as he kept an eye, and hopefully an ear, out for trouble. The sun was climbing higher but it wasn't taking much of the chill out of the air. He was cold, but as he and Jim were so similarly dressed, and Jim didn't seem affected by the temperature, Blair didn't want to say anything. He was used to Jim's 'do what I tell you , when I tell you', and found it easier to get through situations like this doing exactly that.
They walked on for several hours with Jim leading the way, and Blair trying very hard not to jump at every sound. So much time had passed with no trouble that Blair was taken totally by surprise when Jim stopped suddenly, holding out his arm to stop him.
"What? What is it?" Blair kept his voice low, looking around.
"It was there, for just a minute."
"What was there?"
"That sound." Jim said, looking around. "Like a buzzing in my head."
"Yeah, I think so."
"Is it still there? Do you hear anything?" Blair stopped scanning the trees, he couldn't see anything, and concentrated on his partner. "Could you get anything from it? Direction, intensity, anything?"
Jim shook his head, frowning. "No. Nothing. It wasn't there for long, then it stopped." He looked around again. "It took me a minute to notice it."
"Okay, try smell, Jim. See if you can pick up his scent." Jim looked at him for a second, then rolled his eyes and took a long, slow breath through his nose.
"No. Nothing...wait." he repeated the action. "There is something. I'm not sure what it is."
"Can you describe it?" Blair tried to help.
Jim took another breath. "Yeah, it smells like...like cat pee."
Blair laughed a little. "Did you say, cat pee?"
Jim nodded as he took another wiff. "Yeah, cat pee. But with more musk in it." He stopped smelling and wrinkled his nose. "Must be a cougar or something."
Blair glanced around again. "How far away?"
"I don't know. Not close. Come on, let's keep going."
Blair fell in step behind Jim again. "So we know Brackett is here. But what is he doing? Why turn on the white noise, then turn it off?" Jim just shrugged and kept walking. Blair decided to keep quiet. He knew his friend was thinking the same thing. Neither one of them had an answer, and his voicing their concerns wasn't helping Jim's concentration any. But the fact that Brackett was there, and close enough to think he needed to block his presence from Jim, made him nervous. As much as he wanted to know what they had been brought up there for, he really wasn't in much of a hurry to have Brackett show them the answer. He'd much prefer it if Jim would just figure it out, catch this guy, and get them home.
Jim stopped so suddenly, Blair bumped into him again.
"What?" Blair froze, trying to back up just enough so as not to tip Jim over without actually moving.
"There, see that wire?"
Blair tried to peer around the taller man's shoulder and caught a glimpse of the thin metal wire stretched across their path. Jim's finger followed the wire as it wrapped around a tree, then threaded up the trunk, and attached itself to a small crossbow.
Jim nodded. "He must be in front of us, setting these little surprises." Jim pushed Blair back a few steps, then found a stick he could set the trap off with. "Otherwise, he couldn't know which way we were coming down." Jim tossed the stick and they both watched the crossbow fire, sending it's arrow into the tree opposite, just about chest level for Jim.
Blair shuddered, wondering how many of those they might have simply walked past already, not tripping off out of sheer luck. But, Jim had seen this one right away. It must have been the first. "God, Jim. He's hunting."
"Yep. We are going to have to try and confuse him somehow." Jim looked back in the direction they had come.
"How? Walk back up the way we came? Jim, he'll just follow us."
"No. It would take us days to go up and over." He looked back at the trap and past it, down the hill. "Okay, we keep going, carefully, until we come up with something."
Blair followed again, keeping quiet this
time so his friend could concentrate on keeping them both alive with no distractions.
Jim was getting more and more frustrated with himself. He should have seen that trap sooner, before he was about to walk into it. His vision had mostly cleared up the night before, but he was till noticing the occasional flash of black spots. Just what kind of drug had Brackett used? Blair seemed completely recovered. He tried to concentrate his sight without overdoing it, so he could also try and listen for the static. Blair had suggested that he listen for what he couldn't hear. Where he came up with some of these things, he had no idea. He had to admit, his partner was well traveled, and wasn't stupid. But, he also had a knack for coming up with a quick and believable lie when the need presented itself. He had heard something over the roar of the helicopter, when Blair tried to get the pilot to take them back, about his having flown Cobra's in Desert Storm. The fool at the controls must have believed him. Then there was the story about the spiders in his beard. Jim never told Blair he heard that one, either. He didn't like to remember that day much. He should have been there, right behind them, but that brat in the elevator. Then he'd had to run up eight flights of stairs. When he heard the gunshots, his whole world stopped for a moment. Had Blair just been killed? Shot in the head, instead of the vest? Had Zeller been too close for the vest to stop the bullets? Was he using armor piercing ammo? Jim could still bring back the ice cold feeling that filled his chest at that moment. Almost easier than the sensation of extreme relief when Blair woke up, hurting, but alive.
They walked on, carefully, moving farther down the mountain. The trees were growing more dense and it was getting harder to see any great distance, so he changed his focus to smell. Occasionally the stench of some carcass, or animal waste ssaulted him and he would reel back, eliciting a question from Blair.
"Whoa, Jim. Maybe smell isn't the best sense to work on here." Blair said after Jim found a skunk somewhere off in the distance. "How's your hearing? Still cutting in and out?"
"Not as much. I think it's clearing up." Jim was still walking, but had turned to listen to Blair. Then he heard it, not too far off. "Wait a minute." he held up a hand to quiet his friend. "Our little stream just found a bigger one." He motioned to Blair and they changed direction slightly, moving more to the left as the sound of the river increased. They had only traveled a few minutes when Jim stopped suddenly, putting out an arm to keep Blair from walking off the edge he had just discovered.
"Oh man, that's some drop." Blair had grabbed Jim's arm and now stood, leaning forward just slightly, trying to peer over the cliff they were perched on at the raging river below. "Look, Jim, over there."
Jim followed Blair's gesture and saw the suspension bridge a few yards farther down. He scanned the bridge, focusing on the structure. He couldn't see any sign of tampering, or that anyone had crossed before them. "Let's go have a look." They picked their way along the edge, moving closer to the bridge. Once there he scanned it again, searching for any sign that Brackett had been there before them. He had to have been, but Jim couldn't see anything on the bridge, or on the other side.
"Well?" Blair asked, looking down at the river about one hundred feet below. "Do we cross?"
Jim looked back into the woods, then over the bridge again. Brackett was no idiot. He must have known they would come this way. He had known which way they were going this whole time. "I don't like this." Blair was inching closer to the edge, looking down. God, did he have a death wish? Or just a severe lack of self preservation?
"Jim, I don't see much choice. If there's a bridge, it's probably here for a reason, and it's going down, off the mountain. I'm betting it's the quickest way out of here. Any sign of Brackett?"
Jim shook his head, looking around them. Then he heard it, behind them in the trees. "Wait." he paused, listening, then saw several birds take flight above the trees several yards down, on their side of the bank. "I hear something on this side."
"Then let's get on that side." Blair said, pulling on Jim's arm. "Come on man, if we can get across, then take this bridge out, we could be home free."
Jim looked over the bridge again skeptically.
"Come on Jim, if Brackett's here, I'd rather be there." Blair was pointing across the canyon.
"Okay. Kept a hand on that guide wire and keep your eyes open." Jim instructed, stepping forward. "If he's been here already, it could be rigged."
Blair was stepping onto the bridge and now paused, looking at Jim.
"It's your call, Chief. Say the word, and we'll go back the way we came."
"No, it's fine. Let's go for it." Blair held on to the right guide-wire as Jim instructed. The wires were independently attached at either end, and he hoped if the bridge did come apart, maybe the wires wouldn't.
Jim nodded, taking hold of the wire on the left, and they stepped out onto the bridge.
The other side was a tantalizing fifty
feet away, but Jim didn't let them rush the distance. He kept scanning the bridge,
looking at the wooden planks, the thickly cabled wires, looking for any signs
of tampering. He was convinced Brackett had been there, but whether or not he
would take out the bridge, he didn't know. He just might want them on the other
side. Blair looked down at the river far below now and again, but never faltered
in his step or mentioned the height, so Jim continued. They were halfway across
when he heard the flash that ignited the charges on the opposite bank.
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