"Hold on!" Was all he managed to say before the bottom
of the bridge fell away. The planks under their feet fell away with great speed,
gravity carrying them to the river below. His grip on the wire was the only thing
keeping him from following. Quickly he glanced over at Blair, relieved to see
him similarly suspended, one hand gripping the cable on his side.
They were each hanging by just one hand, on opposites sides
of what had been the bridge. Four feet of open air separated them, and four feet
of heavy chain bound them together. Jim looked at the far bank, trying to gauge
the distance. They had about twenty feet to go, and the cables were holding, but
one handed was not any way to travel across a cable.
"Okay Sandburg, you're
going to have to come over here."
"What?!" Blair looked up at
his hand, then over to Jim. "How?"
"Start swinging with your
legs, then when I tell you, let go and swing over here. You'll use your left hand
to grab this side."
"You're kidding, right? Jim, there's no way.
Why don't you swing over here?"
"Look at the bank, Chief. On your
side the tree is right up against the edge. On my side, we stand a chance of climbing
up." He paused, looking back at Blair. "Now come on, this isn't getting
"Jim, if I miss, I'll take you down with me."
could hear the concern overriding the fear in his friend's voice. "It's okay,
Blair. I won't let you miss." He pulled on the chain and started Blair swinging.
"Okay. But if this doesn't work, the last thing you're going to hear is
I told you so." Blair used his legs to increase the momentum.
three." Jim said, watching him swing.
"This really sucks."
was going to have to raise his right arm up so Blair could catch the cable with
his left. "One." His partner had the ability to be fearless when the
need arose, for that Jim was grateful. "Two." Jumping from a plane,
into a jungle, with no training what-so-ever was no small feat. "Three!"
Blair let go exactly when Jim said to, reaching up with his left hand for the
cable. He had over shot the jump and for a split second, missed the wire. But
as he began to fall lower, his outstretched hand made contact, and he grabbed
the cable, then pulled his right hand up.
"Okay?" Jim asked, eyeing
him. Blair just nodded. "Let's go. Just slide your hands down, don't try
to overhand it." Jim was now able to grab the wire with both hands, letting
the chain dangle against the back of his head as they both slid along the cable,
towards the other side. It seemed like forever before they reached it, and Jim's
hands were raw from the cable. The tree that it was attached to was several feet
back from the edge, allowing Jim to stay on the wire until he was far enough in
to just drop onto solid ground. He turned and pulled Blair in to land beside him.
Blair hit the ground and kept going, laying down gratefully on the ground and
examining his hands. "Man. I used to like suspension bridges."
smiled as he looked around, finally seeing the small holes in the ground where
the charges had been set. "He's been on this side."
Blair sat up. "Dammit. Jim, you have got to stop listening to me."
shook his head and sat down next to Blair, looking at his own red, sore hands.
"It's not your fault, Chief. I could have said no." He looked up.
thought for a moment. "Jim, he's hunting us. Setting traps ahead of us. But
what if he isn't ahead of us? What if he set these traps before we even got up
here, and he's herding us in the direction he wants us to go? And we can't find
him because instead of looking for him, we're trying to out guess him."
as how the route they took after waking up was the only one that would lead them
down. And down was the only logical route when you were trapped on a mountain.
Following a river was standard military survival. He figured Brackett was behind
them that first night, then moved ahead while they slept. At the bridge, he could
have set a remote charge to cause enough noise that would make both of them think
he was on their side, making them want to cross the bridge that had been rigged
already. He scanned the forest again, wondering if Brackett was in front of them,
farther down, or behind them, ready to follow. He couldn't see much in the dense
woods on that side. And Brackett probably counted on that, too. Blair swore softly
and Jim looked at him.
"What are you doing?"
"Jim, if I could
get out of this thing, you could go after Brackett. I'm only holding you back
"Sandburg, I told you that's no good. You're going to hurt
yourself." He pulled Blair's hands apart and looked at his left wrist. "You
are not holding me back, Chief, you're--" Blair's sudden intake of breath
matched his own. "Dammit Sandburg." he'd pushed the shackle as far up
his friend's arm as he could, revealing the red, bleeding wrist. "Haven't
learned yet, have you?"
"I was getting close." Blair replied,
wincing as Jim examined the wrist.
"Close to what? Getting this off, or
listening when I tell you it's not going to work?" Jim examined the damaged
tissue, then tore a piece of his shirt tail off and tried to make a bandage that
would keep the metal from touching the raw flesh. "This is not your fault,
Chief. We're in this together, and that's the only way we'll get out of it."
he wrapped Blair's wrist, then gently lowered the metal band back down, trying
to shove the cloth in under it. "We outsmarted Brackett once before. We can
do it again."
Blair shook his head, trying to pull his hand away as Jim
forced the cloth in. "We didn't out smart him. Ow!. You over powered him.
And you could do that again if we could get these off."
"No. No good.
I can't find him, remember?" he released Blair's arm and looked around. "No,
we just keep heading down, until we figure something out. He's enjoying this,
which means he's going to make a mistake soon. Then we'll get him." Jim stood
and reached out a hand to pull Blair to his feet, then they headed off.
was late afternoon when they finally came to a more clear area, where Jim could
see more than just green bushes and large trees. He had been keeping alert, using
all of his senses to look for traps along the way. After several hours past the
bridge they had seen no more sign of their hunter. Jim was beginning to think
Brackett planned the long intervals to get them both to drop their guard. Blair
hadn't said a word in the past three hours, except for the occasional cough, and
Jim wasn't sure if it was to help him concentrate, or out of a sense of guilt.
He tried to get him to talk once or twice, but it was hard to get his friend to
open up, and watch their step at the same time. That was probably what Blair was
doing, keeping him focused on the task at hand. He knew when Jim was focusing
and never broke his concentration. He also knew instinctively when Jim was zoning
out. Something no one else seemed to notice, not even Simon. Blair was walking
slightly ahead of him now, and had been blocking his view of the ground just in
front. He heard the trip wire an instant before it released, and saw the heavy
branch coming straight at them both.
Blair had felt the shove from Jim's hand on his shoulder at the same time the
branched brushed right over his head, striking the taller man in the temple. Blair
was taken down with him by the pull on the chain as Jim fell to the ground, unconscious.
"Jim!" He landed on his knees beside him, and saw the gash on the left
side of his head. "Jim, come on." he jumped across his friend and examined
the wound. "Jim, answer me." It was bleeding badly, so Blair pulled
out the piece of Jim's shirt that he had stuck under his shackle and used it as
a pressure bandage. "Jim...Jim come on. Don't do this to me, please."
He was looking around, trying to see if Brackett was anywhere near. If he saw
Jim go down, he just might move in and finish Blair off. "Dammit, Jim."
he couldn't tell how hard the branch had hit, but it was hard enough to knock
the larger man out completely. It couldn't be good. How hard a blow did it take
to give a concussion? He wanted to stop the bleeding If only he could find...
"Yes." Blair spotted the flower he was looking for just off to their
right. By straining as far as he could, he was just able to reach it. Head wounds
bled a lot, he knew that, but he didn't like the look of this. Blair tried to
tear a strip off of the bottom of his own shirt to make a bandage that would hold
the bits of yarrow to the wound, but the heavier fabric wouldn't start a tear.
So he used Jim's, as it was already torn, and pulled off a strip long enough to
tie the small bandage in place.
Suddenly there was a rustling in the brush
in front of them and Blair looked up, fearing the worst. He expected Brackett.
He expected to die. He didn't expect the small brown rabbit that sat there, staring
at him. "Oh man, I'm really sorry about this, but..." Blair slowly picked
up a rock and the rabbit just turned a little away from him, sniffing the air.
He took aim, prayed, and let the rock fly, hitting the rabbit square in the head,
killing the animal instantly. "Thank you." Blair was now grateful it
was his left arm chained to Jim, as it was his right arm he threw best with. Now,
to get dinner from several yards away, with Jim's unconscious body attached.
took him several minutes to pull Jim back up the hill, close enough to the dead
rabbit to grab it when he stretched as far as he could. He reached out, pulling
Jim's arm up as he did so, and gritting his teeth against the sharp pain in his
left wrist. He didn't know how long Jim might be out, and leaving a dead rabbit
that close was just asking for an unwanted visitor. He snagged the rabbit by an
ear and pulled it closer. Jim was still unconscious, so Blair gathered as many
branches as he could reach and started to build a fire. The sun was just beginning
to set, and if he couldn't wake his friend, he'd have to keep him warm against
the cold night air. If he didn't wake up soon there was no way Blair could carry
him. Maybe he could build some kind of stretcher. How long was too long to be
unconscious from a head wound? Jim hadn't been out this long after Kimberly hit
him. Blair had little experience, other than taking a couple of blows himself.
He did remember something about how a concussion caused pupils to dilate. But
then, Jim's Sentinel eyes could dilate impressively at will. Still...he leaned
over and lifted Jim's right eyelid, peering inside. Immediately a hand came up
and grabbed his wrist,
"Ow! Jim!" Blair pulled his sore wrist out
of Jim's grasp and looked down on his friend. "Thank God. Man, you were starting
to scare me. How do you feel?"
Jim blinked heavily, then reached up to
touch his head. "What happened?"
"Easy, easy." Blair pulled
his hand down. "One of Brackett's little surprises. Caught you dead center.
You've been out for a while."
"Oh, man, what a headache." Jim
was trying to sit up slowly so Blair supported his back. "What the hell is
"Don't pull it out, Jim." Blair pushed his hand away
from the bandage around his head. "Just take it easy, okay?"
okay." Jim was sitting up now, supported by Blair. "Any sign of him?"
Blair glanced around. "No. Not one."
"What is this?"
Jim reached up again and was feeling the slight bulging of the bandage.
yarrow, Jim. It's a flower, used to stop bleeding. Head wounds bleed a lot and
I couldn't get it to stop." He paused, still holding his friend up. "God
Jim, I'm sorry. I wasn't paying attention. I just..." He faltered, unable
to find the words to say how sorry he was that he had nearly gotten Jim killed.
Blair let go of Jim's back and reached around to produce dinner.
okay, Chief." Jim was rubbing his neck, trying to clear his head. "Just
stay behind me from now on, okay?" He looked up and noticed the dead rabbit.
"How did you manage that?"
skeptical, but stopped fingering the bandage and looked at the small fire that
was taking on more shape. "How long was I out?"
Blair shrugged as
he pulled out his knife and began to gut their meal. "I dunno, maybe twenty
minutes. I'm not sure." He paused. "Long enough to scare the hell out
"My head is killing me." Jim was rubbing the back of
his neck. "Got anything for a headache that grows naturally?"
coffee beans. But we're in the wrong part of the world for those. Sorry."
He had finished gutting the rabbit and shoved the meat onto sticks, placing them
into the flames.
"We're going to need more wood soon." Jim started
to get up and Blair reached out,
"Hang on, you should sit for a while.
His friend had already made it shakily to his feet and was tugging
on the chain as he rubbed his neck again. Blair stood quickly, trying to stop
the metal from rubbing into his wrist.
"I'd love to just send you out
for some Sandburg, but under the circumstances...."
They walked together in a circle around their small fire, this time Blair picked
up the wood and handed it to Jim, so his friend wouldn't pass out with the rushing
of blood to his already throbbing head. Blair tried to keep an eye on his friend
and gather wood at the same time. How could he have been so stupid? Walking in
front of Jim like that. He never did that when Jim was in charge. He never did
that period, and for good reason. After a good armful they returned and found
dinner sufficiently browned. Blair wasn't very hungry anymore, so he let Jim have
most of the meat. He still had a chill from standing in the stream, and there
was a faint scratching at the back of his throat. His wrist was throbbing, but
he didn't want to mention it, having been properly scolded earlier that day over
what he had done. And after nearly getting his partner killed...he didn't want
to cause any more trouble.
"It's your turn to sleep, Chief."
statement startled Blair. He had been sitting, who knew how long, just staring
into the fire, mesmerized by the flames. "I don't think I can."
you can. You were practically asleep right there." Jim replied, tossing the
stick that had held dinner into the fire. "Come on, you've been awake too
long. If you don't get some sleep we won't make it out of here. I'll keep watch.
My head's throbbing too much to sleep anyway."
Blair nodded, deciding
not to argue. He could at least lay down, close his eyes. But being chained to
someone, in the middle of the woods, on who knew what mountain, with a madman
hunting you, was not conducive to a good night's sleep.
It wasn't good, but
it was sleep. Every sound woke him, only to find Jim sitting beside the fire,
scanning the surrounding area. He kept waiting for his partner to let him know
it was time to trade off, but Blair had lost all sense of time during that fretful
night. When Jim did rouse him the sun was already up.