Blair spun around, facing Brackett. Where he had come from, he didn't
know. But now he stood, two feet away, pointing a gun right at Blair's head.
you get past the noise?" Brackett was looking at Jim, but kept the gun pointed
"Simple." Jim replied, looking from Brackett to Blair.
"Your little toys aren't as fool proof as you might think."
nodded, moving closer to Blair. "I should have guessed you'd figure it out
sooner or later."
"What I haven't figured out, is why this game?
What's this all about, Brackett?"
Blair was watching Jim, trying to ignore
the gun that was now inches from his face. Was the game over now? This
was it? Just shoot them and walk away?
"Like I said, Retribution.
You see, I used to like my job. I liked covert Ops, staging the game, baiting
the trap, watching the victim trying to figure out your next move. You and your
friend here took that away from me." Blair tensed as Brackett placed a hand
on his shoulder. He looked over at Jim, trying to discern what his partner was
thinking, planning. "When I got out, I decided what better way to get back
into the game, than to play it with the two men who took me out?"
the game's over now." Jim said.
The hand on Blair's shoulder became a
fist, gathering up a handful of his shirt. He tensed, waiting for the explosion
of the gun pointed at his ear.
"Yep, the game's over."
ready for the explosion, at least he thought he was. He had been leaning away
from the weapon, as best he could, but it went off right beside his head. The
sudden flash, followed by an intense burning in his right eye sent him reeling
to the ground. For an instant, he assumed he'd just been shot in the head. Then
he heard Jim cry out, and even as he fell, he thought he saw his partner fall
as well. Oh God, no! He hit the ground, landing on his knees, and brought
both hands up to his eye, waiting for the second shot that would finish him off.
Instead of a shot, a hand reached down and pulled him back up to his feet.
on Junior, you're coming with me." Brackett pulled Blair up, shoving him
back against a tree.
Blair was struggling to see through the pain in his eye,
trying to focus, to find Jim. He blinked violently to clear at least one eye,
and saw his partner on the ground, unconscious. "Jim!"
just you and me know, kid." Brackett was saying. He put the gun back up where
Blair could see it.
"You son of a bitch!" Blair shouted. He didn't
care anymore. Jim was dead, Brackett was about to kill him. Nothing mattered anymore.
He was ready. "You killed him! Damn you!"
Blair was struggling to
go to Jim. Brackett pressed the gun into his chest and reached down for his left
hand. He unlocked the shackle and let it fall to the ground, then pulled out a
set of handcuffs. "You and me, are going to take a little walk." He
slapped the cuffs around Blair's left wrist and he cried out a little, pulling
"Why? You're just going to kill me. Do it. Just do it here and get
it over with!" Blair tried to resist Brackett as he pulled his right hand
away from his eye and slapped the other end of the cuffs around his wrist, securing
his hands in front of him.
"It's all part of the game." He put the
gun in his belt and pushed Blair forward. "Now, I'm betting you have enough
of a sense of self preservation not to do anything too stupid."
tried to turn, to see Jim, but Brackett shoved him forward, and his right eye
was burning so badly, he could barely see the ground in front of him. God,
it had all gone wrong. Not that there was anything right about this whole
mess. But they had just found a way to get out. A way to get Brackett, and it
had backfired. It was all Blair's fault, this whole mess. He should have found
a way to warn Jim back at the loft. He'd had three hours to come up with something.
Three hours! And then getting sick, making Jim stay in that cabin when he could
have gone after Brackett. And now....now Jim was dead. It was all over. Soon he'd
be dead too. Self preservation! He didn't any more. How could he go back
now, back to Cascade? What would he say to Simon? How could he possibly go back
to his life, after this? What was his life after this?
Brackett was pushing
him along, following close enough behind to keep a hand on his back. Blair could
barely see where they were going. His right eye was completely blurred from the
flash burn of the gun. His left wrist hurt as the handcuffs rubbed into the raw
flesh there. But none of it mattered. He felt numb, even through the pain. He
hadn't seen Jim go down clearly. Hadn't seen where he was hit. He just knew he
"So tell me, how did he figure it out?"
heard the question, and didn't care.
"I thought you two were finished
before we even began when that bear spotted you."
Blair looked around
as best he could, hearing something in the distance. The sun was poking through
the clouds now, but he still couldn't see well.
"You past right by several
of my little traps. You be amazed at how many I had to set, hoping you'd come
across a few on the way down."
The sound was getting louder and Blair
realized they were approaching a river.
"I have to admit, I was a little
disappointed when it took Jim this long to decide to come after me, instead of
running. I thought he'd find a way to ditch you sooner."
Blair heard the
rapids as they approached, but he still couldn't see far enough ahead.
in all, I'd have to say the two of you were really quiet a pair."
it was now or never. There was nothing left to lose. Jim was dead, and he soon
would be. The only thing he could do now, was take control of his own death. He
could feel the spray of water, and through the water in his eyes, could see the
river just ahead. Turning quickly, he reached out, swinging both hands, and struck
an unsuspecting Brackett in the face. As he reeled backwards from the blow, Blair
turned and ran towards the river, praying he could jump before Brackett got off
He froze just as he reached the rock, poised
to leap into the raging river. Something inside told him that hadn't been Brackett,
and that something made him stop just before going over. He turned, and saw two
blurred figures, struggling together just behind him.
God, he was alive! Blair started back, but he couldn't see which figure was
which. He rubbed at his eyes violently, trying to clear them. The right eye hurt
so much, but he should be able to focus the left. He was blinking away the pain,
and caught a brief view of Jim as he and Brackett struggled over the gun in Brackett's
hand. Jim was pushing him back, moving towards the rock Blair was perched on.
He tried to get out of the way, and block them at the same time, reaching out
to grab Jim as they neared the edge.
"Jim, look out!" Brackett was
at the edge now, and he took a step backwards, falling off the damp rock, and
pulling Jim with him. Blair had reached out for Jim's shirt and caught it just
in time to go over the edge with the two men.
They hit the water and Blair
went under immediately, losing his grip on Jim's shirt. He came up coughing, trying
to see where either man was. The raging water swept them all downstream so quickly,
Blair hadn't even glimpsed Jim. Each time he tried to shout his mouth filled with
water. It was deep where they went in, but the large rocks sent waves crashing
all around. Blair struggled to stay above the water, to breathe. After several
minutes of struggling against the drag that threatened to pull him down, he stopped
trying to find Jim and concentrated on staying alive. After one particularly long
submersion, Blair spotted a log stretched out across the river just within reach
of his outstretched hands. He snagged it and held on tightly, trying to find footing
against the current on the slippery rocks just below. After an eternity of forcing
his legs downward, against the water, and a couple of gallons going down his throat,
he was able to start pulling himself towards the bank. He was sure, he had to
be sure, Jim had found a way out already. He was probably waiting for him, just
down the bank. He'd pull himself out, and Jim would find him there.
the bank and fell, shaking, to the ground. He was seized by a coughing fit for
several minutes as he spat out water and fought the chill from the ice cold mountain
river. Each time he took a breath to call for Jim, another fit would seize his
lungs. He was shaking from more than the cold when he was finally able to sit
up and look around. His left eye was clearer now, but the right one burned even
more. The cuffs were still on, and his left wrist was bleeding freely. But these
were just cuffs. He dug his knife from his pocket and began to work the lock.
It worked once before on standard cuffs...and it worked again. He tossed the cuffs
he was now free of away and put the knife back. Gingerly he put his hand into
the river, letting the water wash away some of the blood. When the cold water
stopped the bleeding, he splashed some into his right eye, crying out with the
pain that caused. After two more rinses, and several choice exclamations, he thought
he was able to see a little more clearly.
"Jim!" He shouted as best
he could, but his voice cracked with exhaustion. "Jim!" He had to be
there somewhere. Jim was an excellent swimmer. If Blair was able to pull himself
from that river, then Jim most certainly could. But, how badly had he been hurt?
Brackett had shot him. "Jim!" Blair stood, shakily, and looked back
up the river bank, then down. Which way? He hadn't spotted Jim since falling into
the water. Would he have been in front of him, or behind him? Could he be on the
opposite bank? God, he's hurt. Which way do I go? "Jim!"
tried to listen above the roaring of the water, but he couldn't hear a thing.
Why didn't he have Jim's hearing? "Okay Sandburg, you have to make
a decision here." He glanced once again back up the river. It was fifty-fifty.
But Jim's life could be at stake. It was bad enough he had gotten them into this,
but for it to hinge on Blair's decision? "God Jim, how do you do this every
day?" He gritted his teeth and made his choice. Jim had entered the water
just ahead of him, and was probably still struggling with Brackett. There was
a good chance he was farther down, hopefully still on the same side, but probably
farther down. He set off, following the river as closely as the terrain would
allow. Often times he had to re-enter the water at the calmer edge to get around
clumps of rocks or trees. All the while keeping an eye on the opposite bank for
any sign of his partner.
"Jim!" He no longer thought of Brackett,
or if he would hear. He assumed the river took him. The thundering was getting
louder, and Blair realized there was a waterfall up ahead. Jim had to be here,
close by. He wouldn't go over. Jim was better than that. "Jim!" It felt
as though he had been walking for miles. His clothes were beginning to dry in
what was turning out to be a sunny afternoon. Twice he had to stop to rest, and
re-apply cold water to his wrist and eye. He could feel last night's fever coming
back but he ignored it. Jim had to be close now, could he have missed him? "Jim!"
He wasn't seeing too clearly. Jim could be unconscious somewhere. Maybe he pulled
himself out of the water and back a few yards, into the trees? If he was on the
opposite bank, Blair would have to find a way across the water. But if there were
falls ahead, he would have to back-track to find an area he could cross. "Dammit
Jim, answer me!"
He sat down on a boulder, defeat creeping in on him.
Thoughts of Peru flashed across his mind. Thoughts of standing beside a river,
talking to Jim. That was when his friend finally opened up to him about seeing
the panther. Until then, until Jim started confiding in him, he had thought their
partnership was over. He knew mentioning the trip to Borneo was a mistake right
after he did it. Then he spent the rest of the trip trying his damnedest to get
back into Jim's good graces, to prove himself worthy of Jim's friendship. He was
failing miserably. Like now.
"Jim!" His voice cracked again, but
his time not from the cold. "Damn you Jim." He didn't know what to do.
He'd have to go back and find the body. He couldn't leave Jim up here, but he
had no will to force himself off that rock. It was easier to just stay there,
staring at the raging water. Maybe he'd catch pneumonia sitting there and die
himself. That would be easier than going back to Cascade. He'd tried to jump into
the water just hours ago to end it before Brackett got the pleasure. Why couldn't
he do it now?
Blair didn't realize that voice had
been behind him, not inside his head. It took several seconds for reality to register.
"Jim! God, you're alive!" He turned to see Jim walking up the bank ahead
of him. "Where's Brackett?" He remembered then the reason they were
Jim shook his head and let himself fall down to the ground on his
knees. "He went over."
"God, you're bleeding." Blair had
moved from his rock to the ground, and now tried to pull the shirt away from Jim's
left shoulder, to peer at the bullet wound there.
"I'm okay, it was just
a graze." Jim winced and forced Blair's hands away.
Jim. Hold still." Blair examined the wound. "We need to get you to a
"We both need to get to a doctor." Jim reached out
and touch Blair's head, above the eye.
He winced and pulled back, "Then
what are we waiting for?" He stood slowly and helped Jim to his feet. "Can
you make it?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Jim looked back down the river,
towards the falls that were just out of sight. "Let's get away from here,
and head down. I saw a road just over there." He pointed away from the water,
into the woods.
"You said Brackett went over?" Blair took one last
look at the river as Jim led the way. "So, it's over then?"
Chief, it's over." Jim was holding his hand over the wound on his shoulder,
shaking his head. "We were together most of the way. Then he let go, and
I grabbed a rock, pulled myself out. I tried to catch him, but he kept going."
Blair just followed, listening. He didn't understand why Jim would try and
save a man who had tried so hard, and so elaborately, to kill them both. But that
was Jim. He still had a lot to learn. Jim still had a lot to teach him. "God,
Jim..I thought you were dead back there. I didn't think Brackett would leave you
without making sure. I just assumed..."
"Never assume anything, Chief."
Jim stopped as they reached the paved road that cut through the trees. "I
think it was just more of his games. He's too good a shot to miss."
Jim....about this whole mess, I just wanted..."
"Hang on, I can hear
a car." Jim held up a hand, listening. "I think we're on our way home,
Blair turned to look down the road. After several seconds, a car could
be seen traveling towards them. A police car. "Man, you're good."
the car, or the cop?"
They waved the patrol car over,
which wasn't difficult, considering how they both looked standing there, soaking
wet, bleeding from various areas, looking as if they had just spent several of
the worst days of their lives.