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Vince waited with Frasier while the team hooked the pickup to a tow truck and drove away before Vince turned and gave a triumphant smile at his long time friend. “Let’s go talk to Mr. Marsh.”
Lance nodded and the pair headed back inside. They approached the base station where Dixie and Kel were reviewing a chart together.
The pair looked up as the two officers stopped. Dixie had already filled Brackett in on their suspicions about their rather abrasive orderly. And they were both waiting to hear the results of their search.
“So..?”Dixie asked with a raised brow, letting the rest of her sentence hang. The one word was enough.
“We found blood on the seat and the steering wheel,” Vince began.
Kel gave them a small half smile. “That may not help you much. Marsh is an orderly and he could have gotten blood on him from a number of sources.”
“Including the cut on his arm,” Dixie reminded them.
They nodded before they dropped the rest. “We also found a paramedics shirt behind the seat.” Lance said.
“Johnny’s?” Kel asked.
“I’ll have to verify that with the department of course,” Vince said.
“Number 330,” Dixie said positively.
Vince nodded. “I was pretty sure that was his number.”
“So now we just need to talk to Mr. Marsh and see if he can give us a plausible reason why he has it in his truck and whose blood is on the steering wheel and seat.”
“Has he answered his page?” Vince asked.
Dixie shook her head. “Let me call his supervisor and see if she knows where he is,” she offered, picking up the phone.
Sharon Walters came up the hall as the group waited for Charlie Marsh’s whereabouts to be revealed. She held several charts that she needed Dixie to sign off on and stopped at the base station, waiting patiently to get the head nurses’ attention.
“Hi Tina,” she began. “Have you heard from Charlie Marsh? We’ve been paging him but…” There was a brief pause before she frowned, obviously having been interrupted. “He did…I see. Thank you Tina.” From the tone of her voice it was obvious that they were about to be disappointed. Dixie threw them a shrug. “Seems Mr. Marsh suddenly took ill and left for the day,” she informed them.”
“Damn it,” Lance growled. “He musta been on to us.”
“How’d he get out of here?” Vince growled, knowing he hadn’t used his own vehicle.
“Miss McCall?” A timid voice interrupted the conversation.
She glanced over at the shy red head. She saw the stack of charts and held out her hand. “Here Sharon, I’ll take those,” she offered.
“Yes ma’am,” she replied, handing them over. “But I couldn’t help over hearing.” She added.
All eyes swiveled toward her. “Yes?” The older woman pressed.
“I saw Charlie a little while ago.”
“Where?” Frazier asked urgently.
“In the cafeteria. He was with another man. He looked pretty upset.”
“Marsh did?” Vince asked.
“No…The other man,” she clarified.
Vince and Frazier exchanged a worried glance. “What did the other man look like?” Vince asked.
“He was kinda blonde, with some gray here,” she said pointing at her temples. “About forty maybe and he was wearing a camouflage jacket.”
“Grady?” Frazier muttered.
“Sounds like,” Vince agreed.
“Think he found out?”
“If he did, we could be finding what’s left of Charlie Marsh,” Vince said drily.
“Oh he didn’t seem to be mad at Charlie,” Sharon interrupted, wondering what there was to ‘find out’ about.
The two men frowned. “What do you suppose they were up too then?”
“Walt thinks Gage is responsible for his wife’s death,” Vince told his friend.
Sharon’s eyes widened at the comment. Kel and Dixie exchanged a worried look.
“From what I’ve been told, Marsh doesn’t like Gage. He wouldn’t hesitate to let Gage take the heat for this.”
“Then we better find them; and fast.”
“Is Gage still here?” Frazier asked.
Vince and Dixie both shook their heads. “They left about forty five minutes ago,” Dixie informed them.
“Can you call them? Tell them to watch out for Marsh and Grady.”
“Right away,” she agreed readily, snapping up the phone as Lance and Vince walked rapidly toward the exit.
Dixie dialed the number but a moment later the obnoxious bleeping sound of a busy signal came back. She sighed in frustration and hung up.
Roy glanced out the sliding glass doors. Johnny appeared to be sleeping and he blew out a relieved breath that his young partner was getting some much needed rest.
He snapped up the phone and dialed. A moment later his Captain’s deep voice responded.
“Hello?” He answered, sounding slightly out of breath.
“Hey Cap; It’s Roy.
“Roy! I’ve been waiting for you to call. How’s John? Did you get this all straightened out?” He asked in a rush.
Roy grinned at Hanks obvious worry over his youngest crew member. “Yeah Cap. It’s straightened out. It was a huge misunderstanding. Vince never intended for Johnny to be detained or arrested or anything like that. He just wanted him to wait around so he could talk to him,” he explained.
“Is Johnny okay?”
“Physically…He has a mild concussion and some scrapes and bruises,” he said, before explaining what had happened.
By the time he was through, Hank was fuming. “So they put him through all of this for nothing,” he snarled angrily.
“Yeah; he’s still pretty shook up, but at least he’s sleeping.”
“No I’m not,” John’s voice interrupted from behind him.
Roy spun around, almost yanking the phone off the counter. He caught it and set it back in place. “Damn it John; don’t sneak up on me like that,” Roy growled.
“Sorry,” Johnny mumbled.
Cap heard the commotion on the other end of the phone. “ROY! Everything okay?” He questioned with a hint of amusement in his voice.
Roy shot John a glare before he returned his attention to the phone. “Yeah Cap…John just startled me.”
“I take it he’s not sleeping,” Hank teased.
“No Cap…He’s awake.”
“Is he okay?”
Roy covered the mouthpiece. “Cap wants to know if you’re okay?”
John shrugged. “Just rrrestless I guess,” he replied.
Roy heard what he didn’t say. He couldn’t get the past out of his head and he hoped a couple of days of peace and quiet would and quiet conversation with his partner out in the wilderness would do the trick.
“Says he’s just restless,” he relayed to his Captain. “We’re gonna head up to the mountains for a couple of days.”
“Is John up to that with a concussion?”
“It’s mild and he really needs to just relax without any pressure on him.”
There was a long pause on the other end. “Um Roy…Would you and John mind if I uh…tagged along?” He asked hesitantly, not wanting to intrude or make it sound like an order.
Roy looked to his friend who was slumping into his chair at the dining room table. The dark head was bowed and he was holding his head in his hands as if it was all he could do to stay awake. He looked exhausted.
“Johnny?” He called softly. The young man lifted his head. “Cap wants to know if he can come along?”
John frowned uncertainly. He didn’t really want his captain to see him this way. Hank had only known about John having Aspergers for a short time and he’d already seen him like this after Scott Jackson had kidnapped and tortured him. Would he think less of him because of it? He really didn’t want to refuse his superior either.
He finally nodded reluctantly, not wanting to tell his Captain he wasn’t welcome and hoping that he’d stand by him now the same way he had then.
“Okay...I guess,” he said tiredly.
“Hey Cap; John said okay.”
“Great; I’ll call the guys and let them know what happened. They’ve all been very worried. Just swing by and pick me up on your way.”
“Will do Cap. We’ll see you soon,” Roy added, before hanging up. Roy turned to John. “Are you okay?”
The younger man shrugged and gave him a half hearted nod. “I will be,” he reassured his friend, giving him a half hearted, quirk of the infamous Gage grin. “Just gotta try and get the ghost’s outta my head,” he whispered, looking down at his feet self consciously, feeling foolish that he couldn’t get past the memories of what his Uncle had done to him. He finally looked up at Roy and cleared his throat in embarrassment. “I’m uh…sorry you got pulled in to all of this,” he mumbled unhappily.
Roy reached out and nudged John’s chin with his knuckles. “You’re my kid brother; we’re family right?”
“I guess, but you seem to spend more time getting me outta trouble than I do you,” he muttered.
Roy smiled. “So who’s counting Junior,” he teased. “Why don’t you go change; I’ll get my stuff and then we’ll run by your place and get your gear and then go pick up Cap.”
John gave him a wan smile. “Okay.” John headed slowly toward his room, still moving a bit stiffly.
Roy watched him go with a worried frown. Jo came up beside him. “Will he be alright?” She asked, looking up at her husband’s concerned face.
Roy had talked with Dr. Hightower enough to know that the assault on John by his Uncle was something he would never forget or just put behind him; he couldn’t; no one really could, but he also knew how strong his young friend really was; he’d get past this and move forward. He just needed time.
“He will be babe,” he assured her. He planted a light kiss on her forehead before he turned and headed for the stairs.
It didn’t take too long for Roy to get his camping gear together before the pair headed over to John’s place. The younger man moved slowly but he was determined to go on this trip and clear his head of his demons of the past.
He shot a glance at his best friend as they climbed the stairs to his apartment. Roy knew him like the back of his own hand and John was grateful that he understood exactly what John would need to get himself together.
They entered the apartment and headed for John’s bedroom. He usually kept his gear packed and ready in his closet. The single bag containing his small tent, sleeping bag, tackle box, rope and first aid kit, plus a few odds and ends and a small supply of canned food. It always made it easier when John just wanted to make a quick getaway, which was usually at times like these. Times when he was over stressed or frustrated and needed time to think by himself.
It only took a few moments to throw a couple of changes of clothing together and grab his bag before the pair was on their way to Hanks.
The pair drove up the street toward their Captains house, expecting him to be waiting for them, but they both frowned at the sight of the three other crew members that waited with him.
“What the heck are they doing here?” Roy muttered in confusion.
John threw his friend an uneasy look, afraid he knew why and not wanting them to see him this messed up by the morning’s events and start asking questions about why a simple frisking by the cops would have screwed his head up so badly and he certainly couldn’t tell them; he’d never told anyone but Roy about what his Uncle had done.
His face flushed crimson at the memory of the man’s hands pawing at him and he shuddered, pushing the memory away. What would his friends think of him if they ever found out? Roy was one thing; he was his best friend; a big brother. He’d stand by him, but what of the others?
Mike might be understanding, but Marco? Raised in a large, close knit family, including two younger sisters…what would he think of John if he knew? Would he be appalled or even worse… pitied...He didn’t want that. And what of Kelly? He could just imagine the field day Chet Kelly would have at his expense if he ever found out. No…He’d just have to put on a good front for his friends, they could never know the truth.
Roy pulled his truck into the driveway and the pair climbed out and made their way slowly up the walk to where their friends waited. Roy gave John a worried glance, how would John react to their presence? He wasn’t sure himself why they were here, but he wouldn’t let them upset John, no matter what their purpose for being here was.
Roy slowed his gait to match Johns and his friends winced as they watched the stiff movements of the younger man, but they were glad that he wasn’t badly hurt and that the situation had been resolved and John was in the clear.
“Hey Cap; guys…What’s goin on?” The blonde paramedic asked his superior officer, as the others gathered around him and John.
Hank had already explained to them that John had been attacked in the jail and had some bruises and sore muscles, so they thankfully refrained from slapping their young friend on the back in greeting, but their eyes scanned the averted gaze and withdrawn demeanor worriedly, not understanding why he looked so ashamed about a few bruises.
None of them knew the real extent of his injuries were not visible on his body, but the wounds he bore in his soul.
Hank ignored Roy’s question for the moment and turned his attention to his youngest crew member. “John? How are you doin son?” He questioned softly.
John’s dark eyes flitted up briefly to meet his Captain’s concerned gaze before he glanced away again. “I’ll uh…I’ll be okay Cap,” he mumbled, barely audible.
The others exchanged worried looks. He didn’t sound okay. What had really happened in that jail cell that Roy wasn’t sharing?
“So what’s going on Cap?” Roy asked again, his eyes roaming over his shift mates.
“Oh…I called to tell the guys that John was out of jail,” he began. John shuddered at the memory but said nothing. Roy saw it and gently reached out to touch his young friends shoulder reassuringly. The younger man shot him and glance and a small nod, letting his partner know he’d be okay. Hank gave them both a suspicious glance but continued on, sure that he wouldn’t be able to pry any more information from the pair. “I uh…I told them you had it um… all straightened out and uh…that you were taking John camping and…”
“We’d like to come along,” Mike interrupted his Captains stammering explanation.
John’s head snapped up and he shot a worried glance at his best friend. How the heck could he keep his current emotional state from being readily apparent to the guys if he had to be with them for the next couple of days? He had no idea that it already was noted by his friends and they were all the more determined to be there for him. He chewed his lip nervously, obviously unhappy at this turn of events, but he couldn’t refuse them without offending them.
Roy saw the look and correctly read the fear in his young friend’s eyes. “I uh…I don’t know guys,” Roy waffled, knowing John wouldn’t want all his friends around right now.
“I told them it was up to you pal?” Cap told John, dropping the decision on his young paramedic.
Roy saw the desperate look in John’s eyes and understood his quandary. “Guy’s look; John just really needs some peace and quiet right now…,” he began tactfully.
“He’ll get it,” Marco assured him.
“We aren’t going to give him any grief,” Mike added. “We just want to be there for our friend.”
The dark eyes rose to look at Marco and then Mike before drifting to Chet. They narrowed suspiciously at the Irishman. Chet saw it and felt guilt well up that his young friend thought he’d harass him when he was this down.
“Johnny; I’m your friend man. I’d never kick ya when you’re down. No phantom…No wise cracks okay?” The curly haired fireman promised, holding his hand up as if taking a vow.
“We just want to hang out and fish and talk if John wants to,” Mike finished, giving John all their arguments about joining him.
“Johnny?” Roy questioned, touched by the crews desire to be there for their young friend.
“It’s up to you son?” Cap affirmed.
John chewed his lower lip nervously for a long moment. The dark eyes traveling from hopeful face to hopeful face. He finally blew out a resigned breath. These men had had his back for a long time. Keeping his Aspergers a secret from headquarters and standing by him through everything. How could he refuse them?
He decided he could always retreat into his tent if he couldn’t handle it, not wanting to hurt his friends. “Okay,” he mumbled.
They all smiled in relief. They knew something more was going on with John and they all wanted to be there for him if he needed them. They had no idea that it would be more than they’d bargained for.
Hank clapped his hands together and rubbed them excitedly. He picked up his own gear as the others ran to their vehicles to collect their own.
“Toss your stuff in the back,” Hank told them.
They complied and Chet and Marco climbed into the back of Hanks pickup truck, while Mike joined him in the cab.
None of them wanted to crowd Johnny right now and knew he’d be better off alone with Roy for the time being. He needed space. They were all wondering what had really happened to John, but they also knew they may never find out and that was okay, as long as John knew they’d be behind him all the way if he chose to open up and tell them.
It was only a few minutes before they were headed out to the mountains for a couple of days of ‘peace and quiet’.
Walt Grady drove up the narrow back road that led to his own street. He slowed as he passed the crime scene tape and Charlie’s face flushed scarlet as guilt rose up inside him. He studiously refused to look at the place where he’d committed his first murder. It hadn’t been deliberate, but it was murder none-the-less.
He cast a side long glance at the man sitting next to him, hoping he couldn’t read the guilt on his face.
Walt caught the furtive look and thought the crimson stain on his face was anger…The same kind of anger the he felt when he thought of Gage just walking from that jail scot free because he was a friend of some cop.
“I’ll make Gage pay for that,” he growled, nodding his head toward the churned up sand on the shoulder of the road. “I’ll mount his head on my wall, but not before I make him beg for his life.”
Charlie threw him a rather sick look of agreement, glad it was Gage it was aimed at and not him. “Just like poor Anna did,” Charlie added in agreement, remembering the terror in Anna’s eyes as she realized just what Charlie had been up to and tried to get away from him.
Walt’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “How would you know that?” He snarled at the younger man.
Charlie’s face paled. “I uh…I just assumed she did,” he stuttered. “I mean…the police told you there was a struggle right?” He added, desperate to turn his attention off of him and back onto Gage.
“Yeah they did…But I didn’t tell YOU that,” he reminded him.
“Uh…oh…it musta been that cop that was there talking to Miss McCall,” he said quickly, remembering Vince and that he’d almost hit him with the wheelchair. “He mentioned it,” he added lamely.
“Oh,” Walt grumbled, turning his attention back to his driving.
Charlie surreptitiously wiped the nervous sweat from his brow, fighting the urge to throw up as he thought of those huge, calloused hands choking the life out of him.
Walt threw one more curious glance toward his companion, wondering why Charlie was so nervous, but then he chalked it up his having corralled him into helping him get even with Gage. They continued on toward his home. They passed Charlie’s street and made the turn a half a mile further up onto the dirt road that led to Walt’s house.
The pickup truck threw up clouds of dust and gravel as they skidded to a halt in front of the garage.
“My stuff is in there,” Walt said heading for the beat up aluminum door to his garage. “I was just going out hunting when the cops showed up this morning,” he added, before lifting the heavy door. It screeched in protest as it rolled up.
He began grabbing his gear and handing it to Charlie to load in the truck. Charlie gulped at the sight of the crossbow and rifle he held in his hands, and blew out a relieved breath that neither would be aimed at him.
For a fleeting moment he almost felt sorry for Gage until he remembered Sharon and Sally fawning all over the heroic paramedic when they couldn’t even remember his name and when they did, it was with scorn. The moment of sympathy quickly passed, besides, he didn’t want Walt’s attention turned on him.
He turned with the weapons in his hand and gasped, freezing in his tracks as he came face to face with Walt Grady’s daughter.
She smiled at the man she’d known for years. “Hi Charlie,” she greeted cheerfully.
Shock gave way to appreciation as his brown eyes traveled over the girls face. He couldn’t believe how pretty she’d become since he’d seen her last. A leering grin curled the corners of his mouth.
She saw it and the look made her skin crawl. Her smile fled and she stepped back nervously. Charlie had never looked at her like that before and she didn’t like it.
Charlie saw the distaste on her face and his grin faded to a sneer of anger. This little tease was just like the others. Smile and look all sweet at a guy and then when they showed some interest, turn them off. It was a game they played and it made Charlie crazy.
He felt Walt come up behind him and schooled his features into a friendly calm. He finally replied to the girls greeting. “Hi Sherrie,” he said, turning away to put the items he carried in the back of the pickup truck.
Sherrie threw a hesitant glance toward her father, wondering if she should tell him about the way Charlie had just looked at her and then decided it could have been nothing more than her imagination, after all, she didn’t exactly have a lot of experience with men.
She turned her attention to her father. “Hi daddy?” She greeted the older man. “What are you doing home? I thought you were going hunting?” She questioned curiously.
“I am,” he snarled, but then his features softened as he remembered that his daughter had no idea what had happened this morning. He’d planned to leave her a note to go to her grandmothers when she got home tomorrow from her sleepover. He’d already called his mother this morning and told her what had happened. He’d thought it might be easier for her to hear it from her grandmother and she’d already be safely in her care should something happen to him, but she had returned early and now he had no option.
“What are you doing home; you were supposed to be at a friend's for the night?”
“Karen's mom wasn’t feeling well and she asked if we could reschedule the sleepover for next weekend,” she explained.
Walt sighed. He had no choice now but to tell her everything, no matter how difficult it might be.
“Uh Sherrie honey, we need to talk for a minute,” he said, tamping down on his rage at his wife’s murderer and letting his own grief well up. Tears filled his eyes as he thought of his beautiful Anna and for a moment he almost changed his mind about what he planned to do.
What would Sherrie do if he was arrested and sent to jail? She’d have no parent left to take care of her, but then the beautiful face faded to ashen gray and the blue eyes that had sparkled with life were now empty and dead and his resolve strengthened. Gage had to pay.
“Talk about what daddy?” She asked, frowning as she saw the tears in her father’s eyes. She’d never seen her dad cry, not ever and she couldn’t imagine what could have brought him to this point. “What’s wrong?” She pressed.
He turned the girl to face him, staring down at her somberly. “Sherrie; something happened to your mom this morning,” he explained gently.
Her gray eyes filled with fear. “What? Did she have an accident? Is she in the hospital? Is she okay?” She asked rapid fire.
Walt held up his hand to stop the flood of questions. He shot Charlie a ‘get lost’ look as he took her arm, leading her away from Charlie. Sherrie was too concerned about her mom to even think about the orderly right now.
“Sherrie; there’s just no easy way to tell you this…,” he began gently.
The girls face paled, understanding what he didn’t say. “NOOOO,” she wailed in grief, throwing herself into her father’s arms, sobbing against his chest. Walt patted her back soothingly, letting his own tears roll down his cheeks.
Charlie swallowed heavily as he watched the pair. Guilt welled up at the sound of the anguish, knowing he was the one responsible for it. It only lasted a moment before he remembered the way she’d backed away from him a few moments ago; as if he wasn’t good enough for her, he mused with a sneer, his eyes wandering over the run down home. She wasn’t any better than he was, he scoffed to himself.
The girl sniffled miserably and pulled back from her father. “How? How did she die?” She asked finally.
“Some bastard killed her,” he growled angrily.
“WHAT?” She gasped in shock, staring at her father in horror. Tears streaked her cheeks as she shook her head in disbelief. “Why? Who would want to hurt her? She’s never harmed anyone,” she cried.
“It was that highway stalker,” he snarled.
Charlie cringed at the tone and turned away to fiddle with the gear in the back of the truck, making sure to stay out of this conversation.
“Do they have him? Do they know who?”
“Yeah…They had him.”
“Had him?” She questioned, stressing the past tense.
“Yeah; they let him go.”
“He’s some paramedic…friends with the cops. But don’t worry baby…I’m gonna take care of him. He ain’t gonna get away with it.”
Sherrie’s face paled. “Oh no dad! What’ll I do if something happens to you?” She cried, throwing herself into his arms once more.
He hugged her to him briefly before he set her away from him. “I called your grandma this morning. She knows what happened and she was going to come tomorrow to wait for you, but since you’re home early…I want you to go call her and tell her to come and get you. She needs to take you to the police station and tell them what you know about this morning anyway.”
She frowned in confusion. “But I don’t know anything. I was asleep when she left,” she mumbled, feeling the guilt well up that she hadn’t gotten up to help her mom this morning or even say goodbye, and now she’d never have that chance to tell her she loved her or hug her one last time.
“That’s what they want to know. That you and I were asleep when she left and I was here in bed when you got up, but you don’t tell them nothin about where I am. If they ask you tell them you don’t know,” He instructed.
“Please don’t do this daddy?” She cried again, frightened that she was going to lose both parents and she needed her dad.
“I’m sorry baby, but I ain’t gonna let this guy get away with what he did. The police aren’t gonna do nothin about it so I will,” he vowed. He pulled her against him one more time, burying his face in the soft dark hair and holding her tight. “I love you baby,” he said gruffly, pushing her away from him and kissing her forehead gently. “Now; you go do what I told ya. Charlie and me are goin hunting, and I’m gonna kill that monster so he won’t hurt anyone else.”
Sherrie shot a nervous look at Charlie, wondering how and why he’d gotten involved in all of this, but she figured she’d get no more from her father, at least not now.
“Okay daddy,” she replied tearfully. “Where are you going?” She questioned. He pointed to the mountains but didn’t say anything more.
She stood watching as the two men made short work of loading the rest of their gear. There wasn’t much…Her father was an expert in the woods and tended to live off the land and create his own natural shelters, but she noted the sleeping bag, probably for Charlie, she mused to herself.
Charlie’s eyes returned to her on more than one occasion as he worked alongside her father. When this was done and her father was in prison for murdering John Gage, Charlie might just want to come back here and look the pretty girl up. Might not be so high and mighty then with her daddy in jail, he pondered sourly. She might even be more receptive if her old man wasn’t in the way.
Sherrie kept her distance from Charlie, but threw herself into her father’s arms one last time as they prepared to leave. “Please daddy. Don’t do this,” she pleaded.
Walt’s face set resolutely. “Sorry baby. I wish I could be here for you right now, but this jerk is gonna pay and this might be the only chance to catch him alone right now.” At least he hoped to. He hoped he could lure him away from his friend. He had no beef with that guy but if he got in the way…He mentally shrugged. Shouldn’t be protecting a killer like Gage anyway, he reflected.
He wasn’t worried about finding them. He knew the woods in Temescal Canyon as well as the ones here…He’d hunted them all, and when he caught him, he’d make sure he felt the same terror his Anna had.
“Go call your grandma,” he instructed before turning to Marsh. “Let’s go Charlie,” he added, gripping the younger man by the arm. Charlie cried out as his hand closed over the wound on his arm. “What is it?” Walt asked seeing the bandage peeping out from under Charlie’s shirt sleeve.
“Uh…I um…I cut it on a broken window,” he stuttered.
Walt nodded. “Oh…Well let’s get moving,” he said, climbing into the driver’s seat of his truck.
Marsh lid into the passenger seat and the two drove away. Sherrie watched them out of sight before she turned and ran into the house to call her grandmother.
Roy threw John a glance as they drove away from Hank’s house. The young man still looked a bit troubled and Roy wondered what was going through his head.
“You really okay with this Junior?” He questioned softly.
Johnny gave him a half hearted shrug. “I guess,” he murmured back.
“Johnny…If you aren’t okay with them being around say so and I’ll stop right here and tell them you changed your mind,” he assured him.
John sighed and thought it over and then finally shook his head. “I can’t do that,” he finally answered.
“Why? They’d understand,” he promised him.
The dark eyes turned toward him and he gave him a small rueful smile. “They’ve bbeen there for me over and over. If I tttell them I doan want em around now,” he shrugged in a there you are then gesture. He couldn’t hurt their feelings after they’d protected him so many times.
“This is different junior. If they make you uncomfortable until you get past the memories…,” Roy began, but John shook his head.
“That would be like saying…I ddidn’t trust them,” he stuttered. “Besides, maybe it’ll be easier ttto get over with my mind occupied,” he finished.
Roy nodded. “Okay junior, but you just say the word and we’ll pack up and go out alone…Away from everyone else okay?”
“Kay,” he replied turning his attention out the window to the passing scenery.
They drove for a few minutes and Roy saw John flinch. He didn’t see anything and he knew his young friend was still struggling with memories he couldn’t control. The older man knew his ‘little brother’ still harbored the feelings of shame and guilt that should have been born by his uncle and the rest of his family that should have nurtured and protected a grieving, orphaned child and had instead turned their backs on him and had not only allowed the abuse by Uncle George, but had added their own to it.
Roy got angry every time he thought about it. He reached out to gently touch John’s arm. The young man tensed briefly and then relaxed as he realized who was touching him. ”You okay?” He questioned.
John’s head barely moved in a brief nod. “Sorry…Ghosts,” he mumbled.
Roy gave him another pat and turned to his driving, letting John be for the moment. John had Childhood Traumatic Stress Disorder along with his other issues, and those recollections wounded the soul and haunted his mind.
He’d eventually push the memories down deep inside. It wasn’t good for him and he knew from Dr. Hightower that he should talk about them and let them go, but he also knew Johnny wasn’t ready to share his most painful secrets, even though none of what had happened had been his fault.
Roy had noted that the stutter was easing up and he was at least making eye contact again…John turned from the passenger window and looked out the front window. It was a good sign.
John turned away from Roy and gazed out the side window, feeling reassured after he’d told him he’d take him away alone if it got to be too much for him. Reflections from the passing trees cast eerie shadows on the glass and John could almost see the faces of the two cops as they pawed at his body as he was forced against the wall, trapped and helpless. He suddenly flinched as they seemed to transform into the leering black eyes he remembered in his nightmares.
He could almost smell the hot, whiskey laden stench of the man’s breath in his face, felt his hands on his body. He felt someone touch him and he stiffened fearfully until he realized who it was and let himself relax. “You okay?” The reassuring voice asked.
The vision of his uncle’s eyes and the frightening memories from the jail cell faded. Remembering Roy was close by helped a lot. “Sorry…ghosts,” he whispered in embarrassment. He felt another pat on his arm before Roy let him be. His friend always understood. John turned from the window and looked forward as they drove on.
“Think Johnny will be okay?” Marco asked Chet.
The Irish firefighter nodded. “Johnny’s tough,” he replied. “I don’t know what the hell happened at the jail, but I do know Gage.”
“He looked pretty shook,” Marco argued.
“Yeah…But Roy once told me John’s been through a whole lot...,” he began.
Chet shook his head. “I dunno; he wouldn’t tell me, but he said Johnny was stronger than any of us because of it, so whatever it was…I musta been bad,” he speculated.
Marco stared musingly into space. “And he’s still got such a great sense of humor and he’s so good natured and still sees the good in people.”
“Yup…So I plan to be there for him, whatever it takes,” the curly haired fireman said before he grinned at his friend. “But if you ever tell him I said so, I’ll deny it,” he warned.
Marco grinned. “I’d never ruin a beautiful relationship,” he teased.
Chet’s mustache twitched as his mouth curled in a grin.
Mike threw a glance at his Captain as they followed along behind Roy’s pickup. “Cap? Did Roy tell you what happened to John?” He asked quietly, his brows knotting together over his nose in a worried frown.
Hank shook his head. “All he said was that he was mauled by that cop that arrested him, which we already knew and then those two bikers attacked him in the cell.”
“Hmmm,” Mike murmured thoughtfully. “Mauled huh?”
Hank shot a look toward him. “What is it?”
Mike shook his head. “Just, I sometimes wonder how Johnny was raised…” Hank nodded, giving him a ‘go on’ look and Mike continued. “I mean…You didn’t know him when he first got here. He was so withdrawn and quiet. He hardly spoke and never about himself and he wouldn’t let anyone touch him,” he explained.
Hank’s eyebrow arched in surprise. “Really…? Our John…?” He questioned, thinking of the friendly, vivacious, talkative young man he’d come to know over the last couple of years.
Mike nodded, affirming his Captain’s question.
He and John hadn’t started off on the right foot, but he’d quickly learned that the young man was bright, strong and absolutely fearless when it came to fire fighting and rescue work. Oh he’d figured out pretty fast that Roy cared very much for his friend, and that he was over protective with his young partner, but he’d never known exactly why. Neither man was wont to talk about John’s past very often and Hank had never really pushed it.
All he knew for sure was that John was half American Indian and that he’d been raised on a reservation for the first part of his life. He’d just recently found out that John had a mild case of Aspergers Syndrome and that the rest of the crew had known and kept the secret. He’d readily joined the conspiracy, unwilling to risk losing half of the best team of paramedics in the business.
He knew John could drop into withdrawal if he was seriously, emotionally stressed and he became curious that there was more to what happened than Roy was saying. Something that would have scared the young man into withdrawal; but what? He glanced at Mike, unsure now himself if there was more to the young man’s past than they’d been told. If so, it probably wasn’t good.
“Poor kid,” Mike said quietly. “Why do these things always happen to him? He’s got one of the gentlest hearts I’ve ever met,” he said shaking his head. “It’s just not right.”
The older man agreed. “I know, but if something bad did happen to him…He’s got us now,” he said lightly, tossing Mike a grin. “To be sure we’ve got his back no matter what and help him through,” he said with certainty.
Mike nodded. “Just wish that cop would have listened to us in the first place and he’d have known John was with us all night and couldn’t have done anything wrong,” he muttered in annoyance.
“I know Mike; I guess Vince handled that quick enough.”
“That’s a relief. At least there won’t be any more repercussions from all this,” he replied, turning his attention out the side window.
Both men wondering silently if they would ever know all of the young man’s past.
The group pulled into a parking lot about an hour later. There was a lone Ranger station set back from the paved parking area, and a series of trails that led off into the woods.
The four members of the engine crew had all been here once before a couple of years ago when John and Roy had gone missing on a camping trip, and they’d come here to search for them. Thankfully Chet had been here with Johnny, and while he hadn’t actually camped at John’s special place, he had at least been taken there to see the view.
John had found ‘his’ place years ago while camping as a child with his dad and he guarded the spot fiercely. Only Roy had actually been invited to stay there, but there were several other areas that John loved to head off to; all of them way off the beaten track and designated camp sites that the park had staked out, which made them very private for the most part, unless you knew these woods the way John Gage did. The guys guessed they’d have a lot of peace and quiet wherever John led them.
The group piled out of their vehicles and quickly shouldered their packs and fishing poles and within minutes, they set off at a brisk pace.
“So where are we headed Junior?” Roy asked his young friend.
“Thought we’d head over ttto Temescal River at the clearing,” he replied with barely a stutter. He glanced around to be sure they were all okay with that destination. Most of them didn’t even know where it was.
“This trip is for you John. We go where you go,” Hank promised. The others nodded their agreement.
“Okay,” he replied, glad the others had no issues with his choice of locations. He knew they wanted to fish and ‘his’ place was only a few miles away up the mountain if he decided he needed his space.
They followed along behind the pair of paramedics, wanting to get to wherever they were going and set up camp before it got too late to maybe get in a little early evening fishing.
Most of the crew chatted among themselves but true to their word, they left John alone unless he chose to add something to the conversation, which wasn’t often.
Roy noted that John seemed to already be relaxing out here in the forest where he was most at peace with the world; this was his element. The stutter that had plagued him since the incident this morning was almost completely gone and he periodically lifted his head toward the sun and let the wind blow over his face, and just enjoy his freedom to be himself out here. He was no longer flinching from every sound or movement and the memories of his past as well as the morning were being displaced by the sights and sounds of nature. Roy blew out a relieved breath that he’d made the right choice.
About two miles down the marked trail, John veered off the path and headed out into the woods. The going got a bit more difficult as they had to push their way over, under, around and through the obstacles of fallen trees, gulley’s and rocks. Climbing some steep hills and sliding down the other side to set off again.
Hank, Mike and Marco exchanged a few worried glances at each other but Chet grinned at their nervous looks.
“Trust him Cap; he knows exactly where he’s going,” the Irishman assured them.
“You brought us out here once before when they went missing,” Hank reminded him and you thought you knew where you were going too.”
Chet flushed a bit in embarrassment; he’d gotten them lost three times, which is why they didn’t remember any of this. Chet had thought he could find his way through the easier trail and had been completely turned around until he’d found the river and followed it to John’s spot and then completed the climb up the mountain to John’s place.
“Ah c’mon Cap; I’d only been there once and we went from a different direction,” he whined. “And that was me…Not Johnny,” he added grudgingly, reminding them that the young paramedic was in charge of this excursion and had the homing instincts of a bat.
Hank chuckled at Chet’s disgruntled expression at having to admit that John was better at something than he was.
Mike and Marco shared a grin and trudged on after the others.
An hour or so later the group broke through the tree line into a wide clearing. Wild flowers dotted the open, sun drenched landscape for a good half mile before ending at another thick stand of trees that hid the clearing from the casual observer on the river, which was the reason John’s site had remained private.
Beyond the trees, through the less dense areas, the sparkle of blue water assured them that the river was very close and that some good fishing waited for them. Chet had been right; John had known exactly where they were and the beauty of the place was worth the trouble they’d had hiking in.
The three men glanced at Chet’s smug grin and returned their awed attention to the beauty stretched out before them. They wondered how this had been missed as a designated camp site by the ranger service.
“Gorgeous huh…?” Chet said, breaking the silence.
“Yeah,” Hank breathed out.
The foursome finally pulled their attention back and hustled after the two paramedics who had continued on; both of them having been here many times.
“This is amazing,” Hank said as they came abreast of the pair. “How come it’s so untouched?” He asked his youngest crew member.
John shrugged. “Too deep in through all that rrrugged ground,” he explained.
“They’d have to run a trail through all that to keep people from getting lost, and it would cost a fortune,” Roy added.
The others nodded, remembering the steep, treacherous trek they’d just endured. Without an experienced guide like Johnny, there would have been a potential for serious injury with the sharp drops and steep inclines.
“They probably want to preserve a few natural areas too I imagine,” Mike added.
John nodded, grateful that his place was well hidden and unknown by most campers and hikers.
The group looked around and noticed that the ground to their south began a slight incline, before rising sharply a ways further on to what they guessed was the cliff that John had fallen from a couple of years ago.
The other direction led further up river, but the trees crowded in close leaving no room for camping unless you truly meant to rough it without tents or clear ground to sleep on. Cap would bet John had done that in the past, but for their comfort had brought them here.
John dropped his pack and the others quickly followed suit. Thirty minutes later, there was a cozy campsite built around a central fire pit. The crew grabbed their poles, and began shoving through the dense trees and brush to head for the river.
Charlie Marsh and Walt Grady pulled off the dirt fire road that crested the top of Temescal Canyon. The broad open expanse looked like a hopeless case to Charlie. Finding two campers in there would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
“How the heck are we supposed to find them out there in all that?” He almost whined at his companion.
Walt shot him an annoyed glare but pointed off to the right. “See all that forested area?”
“There’s no flat land to camp in over that way, not unless you planned to sleep in a tree. It’s all rocks and steep embankments and drop offs, and they’d have to hike miles over that terrain to get to the water, which is unlikely considering the pounding Gage took in the jail. He’ll want to go somewhere to relax,” he concluded.
Charlie nodded, a bit worried that Walt was smarter than he gave him credit for. “Makes sense,” he admitted.
“They’ll be over that way somewhere,” he added, pointing west and sweeping his hand south where the flat ground went on for miles before climbing sharply to high and rugged peaks.
Charlie could see the thin ribbon of blue through the trees that showed the location of the Temescal River. He sighed heavily, not looking forward to the trek through the dense woods.
“Are we gonna have to walk through all that?” He complained, already sweating heavily just standing here.
Walt rolled his eyes in disgust. If he was positive that he wouldn’t need Charlie’s help to handle both paramedics, he’d send the man packing. He bit back a snide retort and replied. “I’ll drive us down close to the Ranger Station, that’s where the trails heading out to the campgrounds begin. I’ll stash the truck and we’ll hike down to the river and start from there,” he explained. “My guess is they’ll be close to the only water source.”
Charlie nodded and the two men climbed back into the truck. Walt pulled out onto the road and drove away. Only a cloud of gray dust remained to mark their passing.
Sherrie Grady hung up the phone and glanced at her watch. Her grandmother had told her she’d be there in twenty minutes to pick her up, which should give her enough time to pack a bag for a few days stay until her father returned.
She headed for her room and began to stuff her belongings into her suitcase. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she thought of her mom and how much she was going to miss her, and now her father too, gone off with plans to kill the monster responsible for it.
What was she going to do? Her whole world had just been turned upside down in a matter of minutes. She needed her mom more than ever and she was gone. She let her grief turn to anger at the thought of her mother’s killer running free out there to kill again and understood her father’s need for revenge.
She would rather the man would just rot in prison for the rest of his life and couldn’t understand why the cops had simply let him go; something she’d be sure to ask them when she went down to the station later.
She finally brushed the tears off her cheek and picked up her bag and headed for the living room to wait for her grandmother and just in time, she mused as she heard a car pull into her driveway.
She heard a door slam and walked to the door to open it for her visitor but stopped as she heard the second door. She frowned, wondering who was with her grandmother. The knock on the door brought further confusion…Her grandmother would have simply walked in.
She peeked out the window cautiously. Two men stood on the doorstep…One in a suit the other wore a uniform and was obviously a cop. They probably had some more questions for her and her father.
She opened the door, grateful that she now wouldn’t have to go down to the station and at the same time angry that they’d let her mother’s murderer go free while they were here harassing her and her father, and had forced her dad to take the law into his own hands to seek justice.
She yanked the door open before folding her arms over her chest. “What do you want?” She asked belligerently.
Detective Frasier and Vince Howard exchanged a glance at the brusque tone. They had to assume this was Anna Grady’s daughter. They also knew she hadn’t been home when they'd spoken to her father earlier or when he’d come to the station, so the only reason for her abrupt attitude was that she’d already spoken to her father and had the same misinformation that he did. They needed to know for sure.
“Good Afternoon Miss…?” Lance began, letting the question hang.
“Grady,” she snapped. “Sherrie Grady,” she added with a scowl.
“Miss Grady; I’m Detective Lance Frasier and this is Officer Howard. Is your father at home?” He asked urgently.
“No,” she replied. “Is that all?” She questioned, beginning to close the door in their faces.
Frasier reached out to block it from closing. “Miss Grady; we really need to talk to him. Do you know where he is?”
She shook her head. “Why do you need to talk to him? He told me you were asking about where we were this morning and he was here with me…He didn’t hurt my mom and you let the guy who did it WALK,” she yelled angrily, starting to close the door again.
“Miss…That’s what we need to talk to your dad about. We realize he was given the wrong information about that man. John Gage didn’t hurt your mom and that’s the man he thinks did it.”
Sherrie’s face paled a bit. “He didn’t?” She questioned hesitantly.
Lance shook his head as Vince explained. “A young officer made a mistake and arrested Gage for it, but he had a solid alibi and multiple witnesses as to his whereabouts at the time your mom was killed.”
“Oh,” she whispered. What should she do? She didn’t want to get her father in trouble but she didn’t want him to kill an innocent man either.
A car pulled into the driveway and Sherrie breathed out a sigh of relief as her grandmother climbed out and ran up the walk. “What’s happening here?” She questioned suspiciously.
“I’m Detective Frasier and this is Officer Howard. Who are you ma’am?” He questioned.
“I’m Pat Grady…Walt’s mother. What do you need gentlemen?” She asked curiously.
“They’re looking for daddy?” Sherrie answered.
“What for? Do you have a suspect?” he asked hopefully, unaware of what had occurred since Walt had called her this morning and told her of Anna’s death.
“Your son was misinformed about a suspect this morning and we NEED to set that record straight. The person he spoke to said he threatened to take the law into his own hands and if he does, he’ll be going after the wrong man.”
Pat looked ill. “He wouldn’t,” she argued.
“Yes he would,” Sherrie mumbled.
“WHAT?” Her grandmother cried in shock.
“Do you know where your father is Miss?” Vince asked worriedly.
Sherrie chewed her lip in indecision, not wanting to get her father arrested.
“Sheryl Ann…If you know something, you better tell them right now,” her grandmother commanded.
“He and Charlie just left here.”
“CHARLIE!” Lance snapped. “Charlie Marsh?”
She nodded her head. “How do you Charlie?” She asked timidly.
“We have evidence that Charlie Marsh may actually be the man we’re looking for in this case.”
Sherrie’s mouth dropped open in surprise. She didn’t doubt it…Not after the way he’d looked at her this morning and now he was up there with her father, helping him to kill an innocent man and send her father to prison for the rest of his life.
“Dear God,” Pat murmured, looking toward her granddaughter. “Do you know where Walt is?” She pressed the teenager.
She shook her head. “He said he was going to kill the guy who did this?” She whimpered in terror for her father. “He said you had him and let him go.”
“And Charlie went with him?”
“Yes. He had his rifle and his crossbow,” she told them.
“Did he say where?”
She shook her head. “No,” she replied. “He just pointed up there;” she said pointing toward the mountains.”To the woods,” she added before throwing herself into her grandmother’s arms.
The older woman hugged the girl to her. “Please…Please find my son and stop him from hurting anyone,” she pleaded. They nodded and turned away to race to their car and call for help. “Please don’t hurt him?” She called after them.
“We’ll do our best ma’am,” they yelled back as they climbed into Vince’s patrol car and drove away.
“How do we find him?” Vince questioned, looking toward the mountains and the vast spread of forest that lay before them. It would be a needle in a haystack.
“Any idea where your friend would go?”
“No,” Vince replied glumly. He suddenly perked up. “But I bet Roy’s wife would know.”
“John’s best friend and his partner. Johnny’s like a member of Roy’s family. It’s a sure bet Joanne will know where they’ve gone.”
“You know where they live?”
“Sure; I’ve been there many times. It’s on Washington,” he added as he accelerated. They had to either find Walt Grady or find John and Roy before Walt did…Either way, they had to hurry.
The crew of station 51 lined the bank of the Temescal River, enjoying the fading sunshine and cool breezes off the water as their lines drifted lazily in the slow moving water. Hank, Mike and Marco basked in the peacefulness and wondered why they hadn’t thought to ask to join the pair before this.
They bantered among themselves, but true to their word, they left John alone with Roy for the most part, but they did at least get a smile or two from their youngest crewmember as they teased each other over the smallness of a caught fish and when Chet managed the catch of the day, an old tire that looked as if it might have once been a ‘bumper’ guard from an old fishing boat.
He’d practically fallen into the river in his excitement to get his fish out of the river, only to find the tire instead. He’d waded back to the bank with his shoes squelching and his mustache bristling at his friend’s laughter at his expense.
John spoke quietly with Roy and stayed close to his friends, and that gave them hope that he was finally coming around and it would only be a matter of time until their young friend was back to the young man they knew and loved.
“How ya doin Junior?” Roy asked softly while the rest of the group was trying to get a fish off Marco’s line.
John shot his friend a small grin and then his dark eyes drifted over Roy’s shoulder to the others and the corners lifted even more, grateful for his friends and their concern. “I’m feeling better,” he admitted. “Being out here is helping to keep my mind off what happened and…,” he shrugged before continuing. “I’m putting Uncle George back where he belongs,” he added for his friend’s ears alone.
“You know you shouldn’t keep Uncle George with you…You need to let him go.”
John glanced away uneasily, wishing that he could do just that. “I can’t,” he whispered, looking ashamed and still bearing the guilt of what had happened to him.
“But you need to. You can always talk to me about what happened ya know,” Roy offered. “About yesterday or back then with your Uncle…Maybe it’ll help.”
John’s face flushed. “I already did,” he mumbled.
“No Johnny…You just gave me the basics.”
The dark eyes lifted to meet Roy’s blue and then again toward the crew who were working hard to ignore the pair and allow them their space. John drew in a shuddering breath, wondering how Roy knew that he was still holding back about what George had really done and what had happened in the jail. He wasn’t ready yet to talk about George, not the way Roy wanted but today’s events were different.
“They pinned me to the wall,” he whispered. “They were sss…searching me…You know…up THERE,” he stressed, his face turning scarlet in embarrassment. “And all I could think was not again. And then they locked me in that cage with those other two.”
Roy nodded in sympathy, knowing what memories that would have triggered for his friend. “You told me about that earlier,” he said softly. “I’m so sorry they scared you, but it wasn’t like…Uncle George,” he explained softly, reaching out to lift John’s chin.
“They were pulling at my belt…tearing at my clothes…It felt the same.”
“I understand…,” his friend began.
“NO…You don’t understand,” John muttered. “You can’t,” he added. “You’ve never been there...had someone do that to you. You’ve never been so scared and ashamed that you wanted to die,” he finished, looking away.
“You’re right. I know I can’t really understand… I haven’t lived through what you did, but you’re my brother…my friend and when you hurt, I hurt,” he said softly. “But you have no reason to be ashamed. You didn’t do anything wrong,” he argued.
“I didn’t stop him…or them,” he mumbled, flushing. “Then or today,” he said looking completely devastated at the admission.
Roy stared at him incredulously. He reached out to turn his young friends face toward him. “John…You were a child when your Uncle hurt you…What did you think you could do? Today you were outnumbered, handcuffed and injured,” he reminded him. “What did you think you could do today?”
John shook his head. “I don’t know,” he whispered. “Something…Nothing…I don’t know,” he mumbled in confusion. He knew Roy was right technically, but he couldn’t let go of the idea that he should have been able to do something to stop them.
“You know why? Because there was nothing you could have done to stop it…Not then…Not today. But John…You fought them…Back then…You held him off. And today…? There wasn’t really anything you could do to stop that but you still did everything you could do, right?”
John nodded, looking up into his friends blue eyes. “I guess…,” he sighed. He gave his friend a sheepish glance. “Look; I’m really sorry for dumping all this on you, dragging you into my problems,” he murmured.
Roy reached out and curled his hand around John’s neck, pulling him into his arms. “You’re not dumping anything…That’s what families are for. I know how proud I am to be your friend and how special you are. I do know how much you mean to me junior and that I’ll always be there for you…I promise.” Roy felt John relax against him and knew his young partner was close to regaining control of his fears and his past.
“Thanks Roy,” he murmured.
The crew exchanged surreptitious glances and smiled in relief that John seemed to be almost back to his normal self and returned to their fishing.
After a couple of hours, John squinted at the setting sun and turned to the others. “You wanna head back to camp before its dark?” He asked. “It’s rough going through the brush
“Sure,” Hank agreed.
“Yeah...We need to clean the fish and get a fire started anyway,” Mike added.
“You clean the fish; I brought beans for me,” Hank said firmly.
“You aren’t gonna eat fish Cap?” Chet asked.
“I hate fish,” he replied. “At least eating them. Catching them is okay if you guys will eat em,” he added.
John shook his head, knowing his Captain had put himself out for him. “I have some canned spam if you want that Cap,” he offered quietly.
“Thanks pal,” Hank said, reaching out slowly to gently pat John’s shoulder. He was relieved to see that the young paramedic stiffened, but he didn’t pull away. Hank grinned as the dark eyes lifted to meet his. “Let’s go eat guys,” he said, squeezing John’s shoulder before turning away.
Roy gave his Captain a wink before he laid his arm over John’s shoulders. “Let’s go junior.”
John threw his partner a small grin, knowing his friends were worried about him, but that they were willing to move at his speed until he was ready. The open spaces, his talk with Roy and the quiet camaraderie had done wonders for John’s peace of mind. He’d almost been able to put the morning’s events and the ghosts of his past back in that dark place he kept hidden deep inside.
He wished he could just let them go forever as Roy said, but he was afraid that would never happen, and he’d carry that weight forever. He sighed heavily and followed after his friends, not knowing that his best friend was already talking to someone that would one day help them both to get to that place where he could tell Roy everything and let the past die and be buried where they belonged…Behind him.
Walt and Charlie broke through the dense brush bordering the river almost two hours after they had set out.
Walt shot a glare at the younger man who’d been slowing him down and complaining in a constant litany about the difficult terrain the entire way here, and he was grateful that they’d finally reached some level ground so Marsh would stop whining and shut up.
Walt stood and gazed up and down the river, trying to decide which way to go. South would lead to a high escarpment and he doubted the pair would want to make that difficult trek up the mountain.
He leaned over to splash some cold water on his face before he pointed north. “Let’s go that way,” he stated, pointing up river.
”Can’t we rest for a while,” Charlie panted.
Grady rolled his eyes. “The sun is gonna be going down in another hour. We need to find Gage and set up a camp, unless you wanna sleep on the ground,” he sneered, knowing Charlie Marsh would complain all night without some form of shelter.
Charlie frowned, wondering again how he’d gotten himself into this, but he finally nodded in resignation. He wanted Gage dead and Walt in prison for it and there was no way he was planning to sleep on the ground with the bugs and snakes. He had no idea what Walt had in mind either since neither of them had brought a tent
Walt didn’t seem inclined to enlighten him as he turned on his heel and headed off up river. Charlie sighed and followed.
Even having to navigate the forest in the waning light, It didn’t take too long for the crew to return to their camp, John and Roy got the fire started while Marco and Chet cleaned the fish. There was a lot of good natured teasing over Hank’s dislike of the fish and his determination to stay away from the scaly creatures and the strong odor emanating from them.
There was a lot of laughter from the group and Roy as well as the rest of the crew were happy to see John joining in. He seemed to be relaxed and it was obvious his talk with Roy had helped some.
Roy was grateful that his idea to bring him out here was working so well and that the guys had asked to come along, not allowing their youngest crew member to pull away from them and hide in the darkness of past memories.
The group finally sat down to a repast of fish, spam and beans. Chet had even thought of bringing a six pack which he distributed among them with a waggle of his bushy brows. It didn’t take long for the stress of the mornings events to slip away to be replaced by the peaceful afternoon of fishing and camaraderie of the evening to take over.
The sound of their laughter and teasing jests floated out over the night air. They had no idea that anyone else was about to hear it, nor that it was about to take any ugly turn for the worse.
Johnny suddenly sat up, his keen hearing and his well honed senses detecting movement from the bushes. He started to tell the others to quiet down but before he could, there was a sudden thudding sound and the vibrating rod of a crossbow bolt startled all of them from their revelry.
The group shot to their feet and began to look around for the source of the fired shaft.
Lance Frasier and Vince pulled up in front of the DeSoto home. The pair climbed out and made their way up the front walk to the door.
Vince knocked softly, hoping Jo wouldn’t slam the door in their faces after what had happened to Johnny this morning. He was well aware that the woman tended to be more over protective than Roy was.
The door opened and Vince and Lance came face to face with the older paramedic’s pretty, auburn haired wife.
The smile of greeting faded when she realized who was on her doorstep. “Hi Vince,” she said frostily, her blue eyes shifting from him to the other man and back.
“Um hi Joanne,” he said quietly. “Uh…This is detective Frasier,” he said, nodding toward the older man.
Jo scowled and folded her arms over her chest. “What can I do for you?” She asked, sounding more annoyed than helpful.
“Are Roy and Johnny here?” He asked tentatively, aware that he was quailing at this demure woman when he faced criminals twice her size without a blink.
“No. Roy took John camping to help get his mind off what happened this morning,” she snapped.
Lance and Vince exchanged a look. “Um…Can you tell me where they went?” He asked sheepishly.
Her chin tilted defiantly. “Why? So you can upset him again? Can’t you just leave him alone?” She said angrily, her frosty gaze traveling between the two men once again.
The black officer sighed, knowing he’d have to tell her the whole truth to gain her cooperation. He’d been hoping to avoid that and not have her worrying herself sick if it wasn’t necessary, but she was in full protective, big sister mode.
“I don’t want to upset him Joanne, I promise, but…well…the truth is, he and Roy may be in danger and we need to find them.”
Jo gasped and her eyes widened worriedly. “From who?” She asked.
“The husband of Anna Grady,” Lance replied.
“The stalker’s last victim. Her husband was at the station this morning and he saw John. He thinks he’s the one that killed his wife and that we let him go.”
“Oh my God,” she breathed out fearfully.
“Do you know where they’ve gone?” Vince questioned.
“Temescal Canyon. John loves the Eagle springs area, but you’ll never find them. Johnny doesn’t stay in designated campgrounds.”
“Great,” Lance muttered. “This could be a big problem,”
“Well if we can’t find them, maybe Walt Grady won’t be able to either,” Vince said hopefully. He looked back at the now, very frightened looking woman. “It’s a place to start and we’ll get the helicopter in the air at first light. We’ll find them,” Vince promised, knowing they wouldn’t be in this mess at all if he hadn’t sent that rookie cop in the first place.
“Thanks Vince…Please hurry,” she added.
The pair nodded and ran for the squad car.
Jo watched them go, silently praying that the officers would find them first.
Walt and Charlie had been walking along the river bank, staying close to the tree line to be sure they didn’t accidently stumble across the two paramedics.
They’d been walking for over an hour and Grady shot repeated, irritated looks at his companion as he stumbled noisily along behind him, clearly out of his element out here. Tripping and falling over every rock and stick and Walt would swear in disgust, that he even tripped over blades of grass…The hike that should have taken twenty minutes if he’d been alone.
The sun was rapidly setting and Walt was afraid they’d have to wait out the night and try again in the morning if they didn’t find them before dark. He might be willing to continue if he’d been by himself, but there was no way to attempt it with his clumsy friend along.
He was about to give up for the night and head into the woods to find a place to set up camp when the sounds of laughter and raised voices floated on the still, evening air.
“Hold it,” he growled at the younger man, giving him an added backward hand wave to stop his progress.
The younger man halted gratefully and sank down on the loamy forest floor to rest. “What is it?” He panted miserably.
“Didn’t ya hear em?” He growled.
“Hear what?” He asked, looking perplexed.
Walt rolled his eyes in irritation. “There’re people up ahead,” he snapped, just above a whisper.
“Oh,” Charlie mumbled,
“Stay put; I’m gonna check it out,” he growled, shouldering his crossbow.
Charlie nodded gratefully; glad that he didn’t have to walk any further. He watched in silence as Walt slung the bolt quiver over his other shoulder and picked up his rifle with his free hand, before he headed out.
Walt crept forward, moving stealthily through the trees along the river’s edge. Making as little sound as possible, and wincing at ever twig snap. He finally came abreast of the campsite, where the voices and the smell of frying fish were wafting from. He frowned; from the sound of it, there were more than just two people camping here, and he was afraid they’d stumbled on the wrong campsite.
He was actually surprised to find anyone camped in this area since it was nearly impassable by land and nearly impossible to see from the river. He’d expected to find their quarry further upriver where the majority of the registered campsites were. Whoever he was hearing was most likely as experienced in these woods as he was.
He maneuvered his way through the brush, staying low and trying to remain quiet. He finally spotted the group sitting around a campfire and even in the waning light, he had no trouble spotting the object of his hunt.
He barely contained his curse of anger that there was far more people than he’d expected. He and Charlie could have handled the two paramedics, but he wasn’t sure about all six of the men gathered here.
Damn it; he’d wanted a chance to get his hands on the man who’d killed his wife, and now he wouldn’t be able too. He’d have to make it quick.
He thought about using his rifle, but with Charlie along, he was afraid he’d never make it back to his truck and get away if someone heard the shot and came to investigate. That left one option. He pulled his crossbow from off his shoulder.
He loaded the bolt and squatted between a pair of bushes, his camouflage jacket making him almost invisible in the dim light. He took aim.
Charlie paced back and forth for several long moments. The sounds of the forest and its inhabitants settling for the night making its sweet music, but to Charlie, it sounded as if every creature was stalking or slithering its way toward him.
Something off to his left made the bushes rattle and he jumped. Nervous sweat broke out on his forehead and he reached up his bandaged arm to swipe it away.
“Damn it,” he growled unhappily. He wasn’t about to sit out here by himself until something swooped out to attack him.
He headed in the direction that Walt had taken. He tried to stay quiet, but he heard the crunch of his feet in the fallen foliage and the snap of every twig at each step. He winced, afraid Walt would kill him if he warned Gage that there was someone else out here besides him and his pal, but he wasn’t about to stay out there alone either.
He just hoped he’d find Walt before he stumbled onto the others. The sounds of laughter and voices grew louder and he knew he was close. He pushed through another small stand of brush and barely spotted a slight movement to his right. He blew out a relieved breath when he realized that it was Walt.
He saw the crossbow in the older man’s hands and his excitement grew. It must be Gage and his partner out there. He moved forward to watch, not wanting to miss watching the young paramedic get what he deserved.
He moved up behind the man, who was concentrating on his quarry and lining up the perfect shot. “Is it them?” He hissed next to Walt’s ear just as the man began to squeeze the trigger.
Walt jumped; he saw Gage turn his head in their direction, but it was too late to stop his action and the bolt flew from the crossbow.
“WHAT THE HELL?” A shorter curly haired man barked.
The entire group jumped to their feet and began looking around worriedly.
“Damn it,” he snarled as the bolt slammed into the tree between Gage and a blonde man sitting next to him.
Walt shoved Charlie back and quickly reloaded, hoping to use their moment of startled confusion to finish this. He knelt again as another tall, slender man stood up and cupped his hands around his mouth.
“HEY…HEY WHOEVER YOU ARE IN THE WOODS. THERE ARE PEOPLE CAMPING HERE,” he yelled, all of them thinking it was probably just an errant shot by a hunter.
The rest continued to scan the darkening forest. They had all heard the scuffling noise and what had sounded like hushed voices, but no answer came, at least not a human one.
Marco turned toward his friends and stepped closer to them, “Hey Johnny? Have you ever had this…AAAAGH!” The young Hispanic man cried out as another bolt winged through the clearing, tearing through the plaid shirt and grazing his bicep, leaving a glistening, scarlet trail behind, before thudding off the tree and falling to the ground.
“Get down,” John shouted to his friends, realizing that the first shot hadn’t been a mistake after all. The group scrambled for the safety of the bushes. Roy started to grab for Marco to help, but realized that Johnny already had him by the arm and was pushing him to the shelter of the trees. He started to turn away and take cover, but they weren’t fast enough.
John’s cry of pain reverberated through the forest as the third bolt found its’ mark in his right shoulder.
Walt was furious as his shot missed his intended target for the second time, hitting the dark, Hispanic man as he’d moved into his path. He quickly nocked another bolt, swearing under his breath as he saw the group now scrambling for cover.
He smiled to himself as Gage reached out to help his friend instead of running. He’d just made himself a perfect target. He took aim at the dead center of his chest, but just as he fired, John began to turn to pull the man behind the tree and the bolt slammed into his shoulder instead.
He swore under his breath in annoyance, knowing he hadn’t killed him, but he knew he’d hit him by the cry of pain.
The blonde man moved to grab his wounded friends and propelled them both behind the concealment of the bushes.
Walt knew the element of surprise was now gone. He’d have to settle in and wait for another opportunity, but first…he needed to get rid of another problem. Charlie Marsh.
He backed away, figuring they’d need some time to check their wounded and regroup before they took the next step. That would give him time to tuck Charlie safely away until he needed him.
He turned and grabbed Charlie’s arm, dragging him back away from the clearing.
“Why the hell did you come over there?” He snarled angrily once they were clear. “I had him dead to rights and I coulda ended it right there if you hadn’t startled me,” he raged
Charlie paled at the anger in Walt’s voice. “I uh…I got nervous out here by myself,” he whined. “And then when I saw you were gonna shoot Gage…I wanted to see,” he added in excitement.
Walt frowned. Why did Charlie want to see Gage die? Granted, he’d been friends with him and Anna for a long time but it wasn’t a personal vendetta for Charlie; in fact he hadn’t even wanted to come along at first, so why did he want to see the young paramedic go down?
“Why do you hate that guy” He demanded.
Charlie shrugged. “He uh…He killed your wife,” he said lamely.
Walt’s eyes narrowed. “That explains why I hate him; what about you?” He pressed again.
“Um…uh,” Charlie stammered uncertainly, before deciding to just tell him the truth. “Because Mr. Hero Paramedic comes strutting through Rampart like he owns the place. The nurses fall all over themselves when they don’t even know I’m alive. They can’t even talk to HIM without stammering and blushing,” he said snidely. “Whores,” he added, angrily.
Walt stared at him incredulously, taken aback by his apparent disdain for the women he claimed to want to impress and then chuckling at the younger man’s reason. “You’re jealous,” he laughed, what an absurd reason for hating the guy.
Charlie’s face darkened in humiliation as he realized Walt was laughing at him. “I can’t even get them to look at me when he’s around. They can’t even remember my name,” he sneered, his anger at the women as apparent as his hatred of Gage.
Walt’s eyebrow rose. After spending an afternoon in the man’s whiney company, he could well understand their preference for the handsome, dashing young fire fighter, but regardless of that, Charlie was the only help he had and he needed him.
If Walt hadn’t been so angry, he might have thought about what Charlie had said. He had more reason than Gage did to go out attacking women on the highway since Gage apparently had no problem winning their attentions.
“Well because of you, we’re gonna spend the night out here.”
“Where?” Charlie whined looking around.
“I’ll set up something close. I’m not leaving until I get what I came for…Gage.”
“AAAAH,” Johnny cried as something thudded into his shoulder. His hand rose to touch the spot and a tearing agony began to flood through him. John gasped and his face tightened in pain as he pulled his hand away. It was sticky and wet with his own blood.
Shock began to set in and his legs began to shake, he wobbled unsteadily and finally began to fall.
“JOHNNY?” Roy shouted in horror as he realized his friend had just been shot. He didn’t have time to be gentle. He shoved Marco toward the bushes.
The wounded man stumbled slightly but finally realized they were still under attack, and ducked behind the bushes.
Roy spun away from him and barely managed to catch his partner around the waist as he passed out and began to fall.
He quickly dragged him behind the tree they’d been sitting against, sitting him down and leaning him back against it.
“Roy?” Hank called softly, concern evident in his voice. “Marco and Johnny okay?”
“Just a flesh wound Cap,” Marco called back, looking his bleeding shoulder over through the torn material.
“What about Gage?” Mike asked worriedly from the brush to their right, while Chet was blowing out a relieved breath that his best friend and line mate wasn’t too badly injured.
“Checking now,” Roy gritted out between clenched teeth.
He tore John’s shirt away from the still visible portion of the bolt protruding from his shoulder.
John moaned softly at the action and the dark eyes fluttered open. He looked blearily into Roy’s face before he remembered what had happened. The young face tensed with pain and he gritted his teeth to keep from crying out as Roy gently probed the wound. Sweat beaded his brow before running in small rivulets down his face.
Hank crawled from his place over to where they were crouched. “How is he?” He hissed, trying to stay as quiet as possible and not give away their positions in the gloomy twilight.
“It’s in real deep, but it’s not bleeding badly. I don’t think it hit an artery or anything,” he whispered, knowing his voice would carry on the evening air.
“Can you take it out?” Hank asked quietly, patting his youngest crewman’s shoulder comfortingly.
John and Roy shook their heads simultaneously and Roy grinned ruefully at his partner. John already knew as well as he did. “No…Best to leave it alone until we get him to a hospital. I could do more damage or even sever an artery. I’m just gonna bandage around it to keep it from moving too much and immobilize his arm,” he answered, his blue eyes shifting toward the woods and then to John’s knapsack across the clearing which contained the only first aid kit they had.
Hank turned his attention to his lineman. “How are you holding up Marco?” He asked, peering through the dim light to the oozing wound on the young man’s shoulder.
“Just creased me Cap,” he assured his superior. “Sure stings a bit though,” he added ruefully.
“I got to get to John’s backpack,” Roy muttered, nodding across the clearing to where the tents were set up.
John’s head shook in a negative motion. “You…You can’t…go out there,” he stammered, barely audible. His eyes were glassy and Roy knew he was going into shock and was close to passing out.
“I gotta try junior; you and Marco need that antiseptic and bandages.”
“Can’t risk it,” he mumbled.
“I’ll go,” Hank volunteered.
Roy stared at him incredulously. “You’ll make a great target,” Roy said drily, reminding Hank of his six foot three inch frame.
“I’ll go,” Chet offered. “I’m closest,” he added ruefully.
“You can’t…can’t go… out there,” Johnny groaned.
“We need that kit. One of has to go,” Roy argued.
“Could still…be out there,” John gasped.
“Who do you suppose it is? What do they want?” Hank questioned in confusion.
“And why mess with us?” Mike asked.
“Robbery maybe,” Roy suggested.
“Maybe he thinks we’re someone else,” Chet hissed from behind his concealing bush.
They all shrugged in bafflement. Why would anyone want to harm a bunch of campers?
“I’m gonna try and find out. Maybe he’ll answer me this time,” Hank said determinedly. He cupped his hands around his mouth. “HELLO OUT THERE? THIS IS CAPTAIN HANK STANLEY WITH THE LA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT…,” he shouted.
They waited for a long moment but there was no response.
“Suppose he left?” Mike suggested.
“We can only hope,” Roy muttered, wiping the sweat dampened hair from John’s forehead. “Ya hangin in there Junior?” He asked gently.
“Yeah,” John murmured through gritted teeth. Roy knew better. John’s eyes were glassy with pain.
“Maybe he’s just waiting us out,” Marco said worriedly.
Chet finally pushed himself to one knee. “I’m gonna try for that bag,” he said firmly.
“Stay low pal,” Cap warned.
“Yup,” he replied.
They all watched anxiously as Chet suddenly launched from his crouched position and ran toward the back pack. He grabbed it on the fly and rolled behind one of the tents. A bolt would pass right through the thin canvas but it at least afforded him some concealment. It didn’t matter…Nothing happened.
“I think he’s gone Cap,” he called softly.
“Don’t take any chances just in case,” Hank cautioned.
Chet threw one nervous glance toward the woods before he broke from his cover and ran toward the rest of the crew, backpack in hand.
There was a brief hiss of sound, punctuated by Chet’s scream of pain as another bolt shot from the darkness and lodged squarely in the lineman’s right butt cheek.
The bag fell from his hand, sliding toward the bushes where the others were hiding, while Chet rolled on the ground, moaning in pain, reaching around to clutch at his behind.
“Holy sh…,” Mike began, scootching forward to reach from the covering brush and grab the lineman’s collar, hauling him toward him.
Chet seemed to suddenly realize that he was still in danger and used his uninjured left leg to push himself toward the engineer.
“What hap…pened?” John hissed, hearing the cry and trying to turn his head to see what had just occurred. It was a mistake. “AAAAH,” he cried out as his shoulder rebelled against the motion.
Roy pressed him back gently. “Shhh; shhh, don’t move,” Roy admonished, resting his hand against the sable waves, while glancing over to where Mike was now pulling Chet to safety.
“Is he okay?” He called out softly.
“It’s not life threatening,” Mike replied.
“Just an ass…sault on my dignity,” Chet moaned.
“Who the hell is this guy?” Roy hissed, bewildered by who would want to hurt them.
“I’ll be right back junior and I’ll take care of that wound,” he assured him, before scrambling over to take a look at Chet, who was now lying on his left side.
Roy crawled to his side. Chet’s face was wet with perspiration. “How ya doin?” He asked the curly haired Irishman.
“I just got shot in the ass; how do you think I’m doin?” He growled through clenched teeth.
“Sorry,” Roy murmured, reaching around to pull his pocket knife from his back pocket. “I’m gonna have to cut your pants here,” he warned the injured man, his face flushing in embarrassment and grateful for the concealing darkness settling around them.
“Yeah I know; just do it,” he groaned, looking mortified himself and glad Gage wasn’t awake enough to know what had happened, or he’d never live it down.
Roy decided to start at the top of the waist band and leave the majority of his jeans intact. He slit downward and carefully peeled the fabric back from the wound to expose Chet’s behind. He probed the area around the bolt.
“Well Chet, you’re lucky. It’s not too deep. Looks like it deflected off your wallet,” he told him.
“Well at least it’s good for something,” he grumbled. “Ain’t got any money in iiiit,” he added with a groan, wincing as Roy carefully moved the bolt.
“Can you get it out?” Mike asked.
“I think so. It’s not hitting any vital organs or arteries or anything,” he replied, turning back to the lineman. “This is gonna hurt Chet,” he warned the lineman.
“Just do it,” he growled in resignation, clenching is teeth against what he knew was coming.
Roy nodded and gripped the shaft firmly but as gently as possible.
Chet tensed at the first touch.
Roy gave a slight twist and pulled firmly.
Two things happened simultaneously. Chet let out a shriek of pain and the bolt slid free. Blood began to flow freely but it was fairly light and it confirmed Roy’s diagnoses that it hadn’t been too bad of a wound.
“DAMN THAT HURTS!” Chet cried.
“I’m sorry,” Roy mumbled contritely. “It was the best way,” he assured him.
“Just glad you aren’t a surgeon with those ham hands,” he growled, twisting his body to look over his shoulder to try and see if Roy had removed half his butt cheek along with the bolt.
The blonde paramedic shook his head. Johnny was wounded far worse and hadn’t put up that much of a fuss.
Hank handed him a gauze pad and the antibiotic cream. Roy ripped it open and squeezed some of the medicine onto it before laying it over the wound and taping it in place. He tugged the denim into place and wiped his hands on his pants.
“All done Chet…I think you’re gonna make it,” he added drily. “I need to take care of John, so call me if you need me,” he said moving over to his partner. “Here Cap…Can you wrap up Marco’s arm?” He asked, pulling a roll of Kerlex from the first aid kit and handing it to his Captain.
“Sure thing Pal,” Hank replied, turning to his other lineman.
Roy knelt next to John. He pulled another 4X4 from the kit to wipe away the thin trickle of blood that leaked from the wound in John’s shoulder.
The young paramedics face scrunched up with pain as his partner worked around the torn and bruised flesh. He relaxed a bit as Roy finished and turned to get a roll of kerlex from the back pack.
“What happened?” He finally managed to gasp out through clenched teeth.
“Our friend struck again," he replied.
Is Chet…Okay?” He panted worriedly, wincing again as his partner laid two pads around the bolt.
“Well…he won’t be sitting down very well for a couple of weeks, but he’ll live,” he reassured his young friend.
John frowned at that, not with it enough at the moment to understand the cryptic comment, but Chet’s reply cleared up the mystery.
“Thanks Roy…I appreciate you telling Gage that I got shot in the ass trying to help him,” he growled from behind the other tree.
“No problem,” the blonde Paramedic quipped.
John’s eyes widened in shock just before a snort of laughter slipped free despite the pain he was in.
“Yeah; real funny pal,” Chet sneered back at the sound of John’s giggle.
“I’m s…sorry Chet,” he replied, trying to contain his mirth at the visual image in his head. His amusement faded with a gasp of pain as Roy eased him forward to lean against him while he unwound the roll of gauze around his chest and shoulder to secure the bandage.
“Sorry Junior,” Roy murmured close to his young friend’s ear.
“S’okay,” John slurred, trying not to cry out.
Roy finished up and eased him back against the tree. “Why don’t you try and rest a bit while we try to figure out how to get us all out of here,” he suggested, sweeping the dark bangs off John’s forehead.
John nodded and let his eyes drift shut, but he was still awake and listening.
“What do ya think Cap?” Roy asked.
“Well we have three injured men and three that are okay,” he began, laying out where they stood right now.
“I’m not bad Cap,” Marco assured his superior. “It’s just a crease and I can help Mike with Chet if you and Roy can help Johnny,” he suggested.
“If you’re sure you’re okay Pal?” Hank questioned. Marco nodded.
“Now all we have to do is get past our trigger happy friend out there,” Roy said drily.
“Maybe we can slip out to the river and head upstream to the camp grounds…It’s pretty dark now,” Mike suggested.
“I don’t know Mike, the trees run right down to the river further upstream and we’d have to try and get them through that and then some pretty rough water. Then there’s a huge open clearing to cross before we get to the camp grounds,” Roy warned them. “We’d be wide open to attack.”
“Besides; that’s where…he’ll expect…us to go,” John murmured tiredly without opening his eyes.
“Got any other ideas Pal?” Hank questioned curiously.
“Up,” he whispered. “To my place Roy,” John mumbled.
“I dunno Junior; that’s a tough climb even when you’re okay,” Roy reminded him.
John nodded. “But it has the…back trail we…use. He won’t know…that one,” he panted.
John was right. There really wasn’t a cleared path to John’s special place. It was marked out only in the young paramedics head and to a lesser degree…Roy’s, since he’d been there several times now with his friend.
“But can you make that Johnny?” He asked.
“I can walk,” he assured them, hoping that he really could.
“What about you Chet?” Hank asked.
“I can try Cap?” He replied. “Better than just waiting here like a sitting duck,” he added.
“We’ll help him,” Marco promised. Mike nodded.
Hank frowned. “Okay so that’s our plan. Let me try one more time…Maybe he’ll talk to us and we can straighten this out and just walk out of here the easy way.” He cupped his hands over his mouth. “HELLO? YOU IN THE WOODS…CAN YOU HEAR ME?” He yelled, not really expecting an answer.
They were all surprised by the gruff voice that answered back.
“I CAN HEAR YA.”
To be Concluded in Part 5
Posted to Site 4/19/16
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