The old Chevy pick-up bounced over the rough gravel road and the headlights reflected off wind-swelled water, jostling the three men inside, before coming to a stop in front of a large wharf.
"Let me out!" A dark haired young man, stuck in the middle, elbowed his two slower moving friends.
"Relax JD...you got ten minutes before the plane leaves...stop and smell the coffee." Buck stiffly stepped out of the truck into the dewy darkness of the very early a.m. He was just taking a sip of the hot liquid out of his traveling coffee mug, when he was nearly run down from behind as JD scrambled past the steering wheel and pushed him out of the way.
"You could at least come and help carry your own gear!" Buck yelled out to his roommate, as JD leaped up onto the wharf and bounded towards the canary yellow De Haviland Beaver floatplane that would fly them to Lake Willmere.
"Little ingrate." Buck smiled with affection at his young friend as he started to unload all the gear from the back of the pick-up.
"I don't know how ya put up with him Buck," A sleepy Vin said from inside the vehicle, his head still resting against the glass window and his eyes shut.
"Rise and shine there, junior...your bus is about to depart," Buck grinned as he looked back and forth between his two young friends; a total contradiction in attitude was taking place this morning. Vin slowly opened the truck door and rolled out, scratching his face with one hand and holding onto the door to stay upright with his other. JD had already cornered the poor unsuspecting pilot and was yakking his ear off at 200 rpm.
"Yep...it's going to be an interesting trip," Buck thought.
Soon the wharf was covered in duffle bags, backpacks and fishing poles. JD carefully extracted his wakeboard from the back of the truck and made sure it was sealed safely in it's bag.
Vin glanced at the wakeboard then back to JD, "JD...this is a fishing trip, why are ya bringing a board along? We are going for some relaxing R and R...canoeing, fishing maybe a quiet hike through the woods."
"Yep...and I read the brochure on this place, they have a tournament ski boat and trail riding too, so I came prepared for everything!" JD laughed, choosing to ignore his teammate's displeased look.
"Think it's to late to hogtie Ezra, and bring him along instead?" Vin asked a grinning Buck.
"Don't even thing about it, Vin! Five whole days with the apartment to myself...it will be just like the good old days. No worrying if the kid is going walk in on the middle of a hot date...no having to listen to loud alternative music or having to clean up after him. Nope, you are stuck with each other." Buck nonchalantly peaked into his roommate's backpack just to make sure the kid had warm clothes with him. Late September held many surprises for the unprepared in the mountains and Buck didn't want JD ill-equipped when he stepped off the plane, nor did he want JD to know he was checking up on him.
"Time to go gentlemen," The pilot threw the last of the gear in the plane and prepared to release the ropes binding the plane to the wharf.
"I call shotgun!" JD hollered out.
Buck reached over and slapped Vin on the arm, "Have a good time Vin...try to catch up on some ZZZ's and don't let JD run you ragged."
JD was just about to leap into the six-passenger plane behind Vin when Buck caught him in a choke hold and whispered in his ear, "Vin needs a break here, JD...you play nice and leave him alone, ya hear!" Buck felt the kid laugh and nod his head. Buck ruffled the back of JD's hair and pushed him up the step into the plane.
JD stuck his head out the Beaver's door and waved at his best friend, "Thanks for driving us, Buck...we'll see you back here in five days."
Buck just shook his head at the smile that threatened to split JD's face open, "What else did I have to do at 2:30 in the morning!" He yelled back over the sound of propellers winding up. Stepping back off the wharf Buck watched the floatplane taxi out into the middle of the lake and then gradually pick up speed and lift up off the water. His last vision was of a happy face plastered up against the window waving at him, before darkness swallowed the plane up.
Vin settled back against his seat and let the vibration of the plane lull him back to sleep. He was so tired he could hardly stand it. A month of working nonstop on the Taylor case, sometimes eighteen or nineteen hours a day was bad enough, but when the city started repaving the bridge outside his bedroom window at night, he got pushed right over the edge. Five days away from the noise and combustion, and demands of the job, was just the break he needed. The smell and feel of crisp mountain breezes against his face and the taste of sweet glacier water on his lips; all would help to remove the stench of city life from his soul. Vin's last conscious image was of himself standing alone, in silence on top of a snow peaked mountain, before a gentle slumber claimed him in it's warm grasp.
"So how fast will this baby go? I flew a two-seater Viper Cub five or six times when I lived back east. How far is it anyways to Willmere lake? What's the lodge like? Have you ever been there before? Do you just drop us off or do you stay the whole time too? What mountain range is that...oh, hey there are lights from a town below us...which town is that? What's your gas mileage like with this puppy? How big does the lake need to be too take off and land? What's the speed of the plane on take off and landing? Do you have a navigational system on board or do you fly by the seat of your pants? Hey...are there any parachutes on this plane?
The pilot looked over at the young guy sitting in the co-pilot seat and shook his head. Good thing the kid had his seatbelt still on or he would be bouncing out of the plane. The pilot had given up trying to answer any of his questions about two dozen questions ago, as he could not get a word in edgewise. In contrast the sandy, long haired agent had climbed into the back of the plane, flopped in a seat and not made a peep since take off.
Darkness finally gave way to dawn and majestic mountains ranges appeared all around them. An occasional lake broke up the rugged landscape of rock and alpine trees, which was all JD could see in any direction. As the scenery opened up around him, JD finally fell into a silent awe.
JD jumped as the pilot tapped him on the arm. "Just one more pass to climb through and we will be at the lodge. Either of you ever been here before?"
JD's eyes glowed with anticipation as he shook his head, "No, first time for us both...my boss and roommate were supposed to come, but they had to go to court at the last minute so Vin and I got the nod to come instead."
Suddenly the small aircraft swooped around a mountain and a pristine, crystal blue lake appeared. Golden September larches stood out amongst the tall evergreen trees surrounding the clear water, and the snowcapped Rocky Mountains rose up in the background to touch the billowy clouds. Autumns hand had just started to splash color on the tree leaves with gold, reds, yellows, oranges and rich dark browns.
"Vin...Vin wake up...we're here!" JD yelled excitedly back to his sleeping friend and slapped him on a kneecap.
Vin stirred, as first the sound of the plane's spinning props invaded his dreams and then JD's voice. Vin stretched up to unkink his back and wiped the gritty sleep from his eyes just in time to see the shoreline whirl by as the floatplane touched down onto the lake and bounced across the water. A large log structure came into his view as the plane slowed down and turned towards the shore.
Two men made their way down from the lodge and waited on the wharf for the plane to dock. JD threw open the plane's door and jumped onto the bobbing wharf, "Oh...this is incredible!" he said to the two men who appeared to be waiting for them, as he whirled around to catch in all the glorious landscape.
Vin exited the plane with a little more caution as he fought to get his sea legs back under himself. He also nodded a greeting as the two men approached him. Both were the epitome of outdoorsmen, from their robust, healthy complexion and muscular physiques to their well broken in outdoor gear and hiking boots.
The two men looked slightly uncertain at him, then at JD, "Mr. Larabee?" One of the men asked Vin, slowly putting his hand out to be shook.
"Chris...ah, I mean Mr. Larabee was detained in court and unable to come. I'm Vin Tanner and this here is JD Dunne. His misfortune is our fortune as we get to take advantage of his trip." Vin grasped the offered hand, noting the slight hesitant hitch in the other two men.
"Is there a problem? I guess no one thought to notify you of the change in plans. I apologize for that...it's been pretty hectic at work this past month and it was just yesterday that JD and I were told we were coming in place of Buck and Chris.
"No...no, not a problem at all!" The man who's hand Vin shook finally seemed to catch his voice, "Lets get you settled into the lodge, then we are at your disposal. Fishing, hiking...whatever fits your fancy!"
The four men grabbed up the gear and headed towards the log structure.
"You both work with Mr. Larabee...isn't he a police officer?" One of the men asked as they made their way up the path from the wharf. He glanced at the long hair that hung down past the shirt collars on both men and the dark haired one didn't even look like he wasn't quite out of his teens yet.
"Yep...I've been with the unit almost year and Vin's worked with Chris going on two years now," The younger of the two answered, as he threw his backpack over his shoulder so he could get a better handle on his wakeboard.
The man absorbed this information with a shrug, then led the way up the stairs to the wrap around veranda and into the lodge.
No one noticed the shades in one of the upstairs bedrooms open briefly and then be drawn closed again.
Vin stood in the doorway surveying the bedroom he would be using for the next five days. Like the rest of the lodge, it was sparsely furnished, but comfortable in a rugged masculine way. A large, bright bathroom separated his and JD's room from each other. The log walls were adorned with pictures of the surrounding mountains and streams and the rough hewn wood floors were covered in hand-woven throw rugs. Vin dropped his duffle bag on the quilt laden bed then moved over to the big window that faced the south end of the lake. He lifted the latch on the window and pushed it as wide open as it would go. A gentle breeze fluttered the drapes and Vin dragged in deep breaths of the cool, fresh mountain air. All ready he could feel his body start to rejuvenate and heal after spending months tied up in the city, where he could see the mountains, but they had remained just beyond his grasp.
Vin drank in the splendor and quiet solitude. He owed Buck and Chris a huge favor for letting him have this homecoming of sorts. Vin was never more at peace with his universe than when he was surrounded by mother nature in all her glory and soaking in his kinship with the wilderness.
Vin nearly jumped out of his skin as the bathroom door flew open and an exuberant JD ran into the room. JD had already changed into a pair of cargo shorts and had his hiking boots on and laced up.
"This place is incredible! What do ya feel like doing first, Vin...I was thinking we could go for a short hike to start before it gets hot, grab a bite to eat and then hit the lake!" JD ripped open Vin's duffle bag and started rifling through it until he found a pair of shorts to throw at the jean clad sharpshooter, "it's already too warm for jeans...what a great fall day...hurry up Vin, get dressed would ya...I'll meet you by the fireplace downstairs."
Vin stood by the window gripping his shorts as his whirlwind of a teammate exited the bedroom. Counting to ten he waited patiently until the rushing footsteps receded down the stairs...and then Vin turned back to the window, too again savior the calm stillness that was slowly seeping back into him.
JD's chest pounded as he heaved in great gulps of fresh air. Standing slightly bent over with his hands on his knees, he gazed at the lake from on top of the smallest mountain that rose above the lodge. After running up the hill, he yanked his tee shirt off over his head and let the warm wind help dry the sweat that dripped down his body in little streams.
Behind him, Vin steadily climbed up the path, observing the scent of the wild flowers that grew on the hillsides and listened to the calls of birds. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a small black bear as it ate dry berries in a dense thicket of brush. A startled whitetailed deer bounded back into the forest, closely followed by her spotted fawn. Up ahead he could hear rocks rolling and branches snapping as JD, his supposed hiking partner, ignored the trails and just ran straight up the hill. Vin hoped the run would wear the kid out, but knew from past experience it wouldn't. The woods were not safe from JD just yet...in another day or so he would calm down and start appreciating the quiet beauty, but first he had to get all his vented up energy out of his system.
Vin reached the summit of the hill and looked over the mountain ranges that extended beyond the lake. It was as wild and isolated as any place Vin had ever been and with a sigh, he thought it was still too loud as he heard JD yell out to him.
"Meet ya at the bottom...last one in the lake has to buy dinner tonight!" And then he was gone again. Vin just shook his head as JD disappeared over the side of the hill, his footwork churning up clouds of dust in his wake. Ya...nice hiking with you kid.
Vin sat down on a sun warmed rock and looked out over the lake, deciding he was in no hurry to follow JD back down to the lodge. The trip came with meals included so he saw no reason to rush anywhere.
His paddle remained still, as Vin floated upon the lapping duck waves. He was laying peacefully in the bottom of the canoe and just letting the lake take him where it wanted. One arm hung over the side, his fingers trailing along in the cool water and a book on wildlife sat perched open on his chest, unread. Vin let the gentle rocking of the boat relax him into a state of serene peacefulness, as he lay staring up at the blue sky, hypnotized by a few fluffy clouds. A droning hum started to build in the back of his consciousness, but Vin ignored it until he felt the canoe start to rock violently and he recognized the ski-boat roaring by. Before he could sit up a shadow suddenly appeared over him and water rained down, soaking him and nearly everything else in the boat.
Vin could hear JD shout at him as he sailed over top of the canoe on his wakeboard in a huge three-sixty s-bend off the double up and nail the landing. Vin was so startled he moved way faster than he meant too and the next thing he knew he was under water with the canoe floating above him. Vin gurgled out a curse as he watched his book and sunglasses disappear into the dark depths of the lake.
By the time Vin surfaced, JD was off his wakeboard and swimming towards the canoe laughing as he stroked through the water. "You were looking way too hot anyway, Vin," he said as he helped Vin right the canoe over and climb back inside.
Vin decided he wasn't enjoying his canoe ride quite as much as he sat in the sodden boat feeling like a drowned rat. His peace now completely disrupted, he resigned himself to watching JD practice some more jumps and tricks as the kid cut back and forth behind the boat's wake.
Vin was sitting on the veranda soaking up the sun's rays and enjoying his lunch of fresh lake trout, when he heard the ski-boat return. JD leaped over the side of the boat and tied it to the wharf, the sound of his laughter carrying up to the lodge. Bill and Stan, the two men who met them at the wharf earlier also scrambled out of the boat and laughed at something JD said.
JD looked up at the lodge and waved enthusiastically after spotting Vin on the veranda. Barefoot, he rushed up the hill to the lodge, his wakeboard bag clutched in one hand and his dripping wetsuit draped over a bare shoulder.
"Oh man! It was awesome Vin...the water was glass! You should have come with us, you could have used my board or Stan's water-ski." JD plopped down into an empty chair at Vin's table and glanced around. "Boy it is sure quiet here. Bill said it is just us and three other guys staying right now...kind of eerie, don't ya think? All this land and we are the only people around for as far as the eye can see."
"Eerie? I love it here...no cars blaring loud music as they race down freeways, no crush of people all trying to get to the same place you're trying to get too! I'll take this any day of the week over life back in the city."
"I know that...I like it better here too, it's just, it's so quiet and big! It makes you feel real small and insignificant."
Vin smiled to himself, "That's what you get when you hang out with guys who are bigger and louder than life JD, like Buck. This is where it starts, we come from the earth and in the end we go back to the earth...you've just gotten too used to the concrete jungle and lost touch with that part of yourself."
JD rose to leave, extracting his wet shorts from the chair, and gave Vin a swat on the arm as he went past, "Man...I think you've been reading too much Zen again, Vin...you're starting to scare me. Meet you at the stables in ten minutes?"
"Yeehaw...this feels great!" JD shouted into the wind as he galloped across the meadow, the powerful bay Quarter Horse gelding stretched out and running hard under him. The aroma of wildflowers burst through the air as the horse's hooves split the petals open and produced a potpourri of scents.
Leaping over logs and winding around the groves of aspens that formed small islands in the middle of the meadow; JD gradually circled back towards Vin slowing the horse to a more controllable lope before doing a twenty-five foot sliding stop in front of Vin, "Wow...what an incredible horse! I wonder if he would fit in the back of the plane? I'm thinking he would look great in Chris's barn...don't you Vin?"
"Yeah, whatever JD...come on you old plug...MOVE!" Vin finally appeared up the path to the base of the meadow, his soft, doe-eyed pinto mare moving at a sedate walk.
"Bill said it took over a week to ride the horses here, cause there is no way to haul them in. He said it was too bad we have to leave in a few days, otherwise we could help ride them back to the ranch that they come from before the bad weather hits."
"Oh yeah, great for you...how come you get to ride Secretariat and I got stuck with his great grandma?" Vin asked, totally exasperated. No matter what aids he gave the old mare, she had one speed and it was almost reverse. "It'll take a hell of a lot longer than a week to get anywhere with this old nag!"
JD laughed at his friend's predicament; this was amazing country to ride in, full of alpine meadows and breathtaking views and Vin was seeing it all in slow motion.
"Guess you shouldn't have told Bill you wanted a nice, quiet ride!"
"When I told him I wanted a quiet ride I only meant I didn't want some jughead trying to buck me off every ten feet...not, that I wanted a horse with three of it's legs already stuck in the grave. Ah...too heck with it!" Vin dropped the reins onto the mare's neck, crossed his arms and with a resigned sigh watched JD rein his horse off the path and race across the meadow again, while he and the mare slowly followed behind.
The late afternoon sun was just setting on the crest of the mountain, casting long shadows across another small clear lake that was located a mile from the lodge. A flock of mallard ducks bobbed on top of the lake, with a mother duck and her brood swimming amongst lily pads that lined the shoreline in a sea of green and the steady hum of insects echoed off the walls of the small basin that held the lake.
Vin stood in his hip waders on a low under-cut bank rimming a deep pool, his fly rod held lightly in his experienced hands. Sunlight flashed off the lure as it danced on top of the water, the line singing a rhythmic melody all of it's own.
JD stood about a hundred feet away from the sharpshooter on the silty lakeshore, casting out a line of his own. Every few minutes he would pause to watch the ballet that existed between Vin and his fishing lure. While Vin had the graceful moves of Mikhail Baryshnikov, JD looked like a mule drover snapping a bullwhip and poorly at that. So far he had spent as much time clambering up the bank to untangle his fishing line from the brush as he spent in the water actually trying to fish.
Vin felt serene! That was only way he could describe his mood at this very moment. The fall air was starting to cool down as the sun began to set; a light breeze whistled softly through the trees and Vin could feel himself swaying along with them. A good fisherman knows how to wait and waiting quietly was something Vin had mastered better than most. And Vin was never bored as he watched the diverse wildlife appear on the shoreline to drink from the lake or listened to the different birdcalls and tried to identify them all.
JD, however, was bored! Slapping at buzzing mosquitoes he looked over to his friend, and could tell Vin was lost in some other world and not yet ready to be disturbed. He could not for the life of him understand how Vin could be so content to stand in the same body of water and toss a fishing line around for hours on end. JD sighed a deep impatient breath and cast his line out one more time, but the wind caught it and blew it back against the shore into a thick patch of lily pads. JD tugged on the fishing pole, then muttered a curse when the line refused to budge. Tossing his pole up onto the shore, JD waded over to unhook his lure when his foot caught on something and he stumbled to his knees. A waterlogged raft with some missing logs lay partially buried in the weeds and mud. A smile broke out on JD's face, with another glance at Vin to see if he was still in his fishing mode, JD yanked on the raft in an attempt to rescue it from the lily pads.
The fishing here was good! Vin could see dozens of dolly varden and rainbow trout as they swam around in the clear blue water, but he had his eye set on one huge old bull trout. Slowly he swung his fly rod back and forth above the trout, then let the spinner settle on top of the water. The bull trout swam towards the spinner and Vin set it in motion by lifting the rod tip. The big fish swam up to the lure and engulfed it into it's mouth. The rod screamed and howled as Vin let out some line than dragged it back in with the reel. Vin's rod almost bent double as he played the fish on the end of the line, sweat breaking out on his forehead as the battle between man and fish raged on.
"Hey Vin...looks like you caught a big one!" JD yelled out excitedly from the raft he had finally got floating, and watched Vin struggle to bring the big fish to shore.
Wanting to get a better view JD angled the raft closer to Vin, while fighting to keep his balance on the half submerged group of rotting logs. Struggling to steer, JD looked up too late to turn as the raft caught Vin just above his knees and knocked him over into the deep pool.
"Whoops..." JD cringed as he watched Vin sink to the bottom of the lake.
JD waited on the raft for Vin to reappear. When he didn't, JD laid down on his stomach, placed his face in the water and tried to find where his friend had gone. Expecting Vin to pop up any second from under the raft and dump him into the water, JD froze at the sight he saw below him. Vin's hip waders had filled with water and dragged him to the bottom of the lake like an anchor; JD could barely make Vin out as he fought to get the waders off his feet.
JD took a big gulp of air and dove into the lake. Vin was almost out of breath when JD arrived and with fumbling fingers managed to get the buckles unstrapped on the final boot. Both men shot to the surface with Vin choking and coughing to clear his lungs.
"JD!" was all Vin could rasp out, as he glared out at the younger man from underneath a lily pad that dangled down the side of his head.
JD floated towards the middle of the lake, treading water and wisely staying out of Vin's reach, while waiting for his friend's normal good sense of humor to return. He could see Vin was just about ready to crack a smile when the big bull trout swam past them, and out to deeper water dragging Vin's fly rod behind him. JD looked back over to Vin just in time to get brained with a face full of mud.
"Thanks, Vin." JD sputtered, as he splashed water on his face to rinse the mud off. "Ah hell...get them off me!"
"Get what off you, JD? What are ya screaming about?" Standing on the beach, empting the water from his hip-waders, Vin looked up to see what JD was yelling about. He set the waders on the sand and went to offer the kid a hand, but JD had already scrambled out of the water and shoved past him as he raced up onto the beach..
"What the heck is the matter with you?" Vin asked, as JD jumped up and down, screaming on the sand and fighting to kick off his soaked jeans.
"How do I get them off?" JD asked frantically as he tugged on the three leaches that had embedded themselves into his thigh, just below his crotch.
Vin burst out laughing, "I like you, kid, but you're on your own with this problem."
JD could just make out Vin's silhouette in the sliver of moonlight, sitting cross legged on the end of the wharf . A light wind was wafting in, ruffling his long sandy hair across his closed eye's and his chest rose and fell as he took steady deep cleansing breaths while trying to regain his harmony and balance in a light meditated state.
Small pebbles rolled under JD's feet as he tiptoed down the path and made his way onto the wharf, trying carefully not to disrupt Vin.
"Hey JD...what ya up to?" Vin asked, without moving or opening his eyes.
"How did you know it was me?"
"You kind of skip or spring when you walk...your walk is always full of energy and enthusiasm."
"Yeah, really...can you tell who it is by the way the others walk too? How about Buck?" JD questioned Vin as he dropped to his butt on the wharf and stuck a cold mug in Vin's hand, "Fresh banana, strawberry milkshake...a peace offering for this afternoon...but watch out for the strawberries, they keep getting stuck in the straw."
"Don't need no peace offering JD, I'm not mad at you, but I thank you for the milkshake, you know I never turn down a fresh banana, strawberry anything," Vin opened his eyes, stretched his legs out beside JD and took a long draw on the straw.
"Let's see...Buck, he has a manly strut. A long stride, but the slow cadence required to strut. Chris has a authoritative walk...doesn't like to stroll...always sounds like he is on a mission. Nathan has a light step for a big man, but he never sounds like he is moving in a hurry...even when he is. Ezra has kind of a dance rhythm to his walk...he's the graceful one in the bunch of ya, and Josiah moves in relation to his moods. Sometimes he is light of step and sometimes he walks with the weight of the world on his shoulders...he feels things deep."
"That's cool...I never thought about it before. It sure is a nice night, not as chilly as I thought it would be up here this time of year," JD fought to suck a strawberry from his own milkshake up the straw, then removed his boots and socks, rolled up the bottoms of his jeans and dangled his feet into the cold lake.
The two friends sat in a companionable silence on the bobbing wharf and stared out over the black body of water. The moon and stars shone down and reflected off the wind rippled lake and the odd splash from fish jumping out of the water could be heard along with the ringing, far reaching cry of loons.
"You feeling any better Vin?" JD snuck a look out from under his dark bangs at his friend.
"Yep...all this fresh air and swimming today felt great. In fact I think I might head up to bed so I can finally get a good night sleep and then we can get an early start tomorrow. I don't know about you, but I would like to try a longer hike in the morning."
"Sounds good to me," JD pulled his numb feet out of the lake and stood up.
"Give me a hand would ya kid?" Vin stuck a hand up to JD.
"Sure." JD clasped his hand into Vin's and started to pull when Vin swiveled around on his backside, stuck a foot against JD's midriff and with holler lifted the kid off his feet and tossed him over his head and off the side of the wharf into the lake.
"Oh...god this is cold!" JD shouted as he surfaced, "What the heck did ya do that for?" a flabbergasted JD asked, as he reached for the ladder that hung down in the water off the end of the wharf
Vin placed his hand across the top of JD's head and dunked him back under the water, and held the struggling agent there for a few seconds.
JD finally managed to get Vin's hand off the top of his head and reemerged sputtering lake water out his mouth and nose.
This time a grinning Vin offered him a hand and pulled him out of the lake, where he stood with his arms wrapped around himself shivering and dripping water all over the once dry dock.
Vin laughed at JD's shocked expression, "I said I wasn't mad at you for trying to drown me twice this afternoon...I didn't say nothing about not wanting to get even!"
JD pushed his wet bangs off his face and than burst out laughing along with Vin.
"You got me."
"Ya, but only after you got me twice earlier. How about we call a truce and start out with a clean slate tomorrow?" Vin offered his hand to JD to shake.
"Deal...think I'll go find something dry to put on, it's suddenly not as balmy as it was a few minutes ago. You coming up now too?" With teeth chattering, JD bent over and picked up his socks and boots.
"Naw...you go up, I'm going to just sit out here awhile longer and enjoy the stars and quiet. I'll see you in the morning."
Vin watched JD slosh barefoot up the path, his pants making slurping noises as he walked and his feet leaving wet footprints in the gravel. With a grin he found a dry spot on the wharf and sat down. Slowly he pulled his sweater and tee shirt over his head then laying down unzipped his jeans and wiggled out of them and his boxer shorts. Standing up, Vin again stared out over the lake, this time the moonlight reflected off his lean, naked body. Taking a deep breath, Vin pushed off the wharf and dove cleanly into the water.
"Ah...pardon me...sorry about the water on the floor! Give me a minute to change and I'll come down and clean it up," JD was hoping he wouldn't run into anyone in the lodge on the way to his room, but in true JD fashion it looked like everyone staying at the lodge was sitting in the dining room, watching him traipse water all over the hardwood floors.
"Don't worry about it JD. Why don't you go get dried off and then come join us for a before bed drink? We're just visiting and comparing fishing stories," Stan smiled an encouraging smile at the slightly discomposed young man standing in the entrance to the dining room.
JD peeled the wet clothes off and hung them over the shower rod in the bathroom, then dug out another pair of faded relaxed fit jeans, a navy blue Henley tee shirt, and an over-sized hooded sweatshirt from his backpack. He took two extra seconds to smooth the wrinkles out of the shirt before putting it on. He figured when he came back up for bed, he would hang the rest of his clothes in the closet or he would not have a wrinkled free article of clothing to wear the rest of his stay.
He just slipped his feet into a pair of high top sneakers without bothering to tie them and made his way back down the stairs, fighting the urge not too swing up onto the polished, wooden banister and ride it to the bottom. The lights had been turned down low, making JD squint to see after coming out of his brightly lit room and the voices where strangely hushed as he entered the dining room.
Bill and Stan stood near the bar and the other three quests were scattered around the room. JD stopped to survey the room and decide who to talk with first when out of a dark corner a burly man dressed in hunting gear immerged.
'That's funny I don't remember seeing this guy earlier or hearing the plane return to drop any more guests off!' JD thought as the man approached him. From out of the shadows JD could make out dead, cold eyes staring at him.
Too late warning bells went off inside JD's head as something stinging was thrust into his chest. With a jolt JD looked down to see a syringe full of a gold liquid being plunged into his body; then the warm dizzying sensation hit.
With strong, smooth strokes Vin propelled through the black water back to the wharf. Grasping the ladder with both hands he dragged himself out of the lake, letting the cold liquid run in a torrent down his bare skin and splash across the wharf.
Vin scooped the towel he had brought with him from the bathroom off a deckchair and rubbed himself dry. The cold water had helped clear the cob-webs from his mind and rejuvenate his bone weary body. He was just slipping his sweater over his head when he heard the footsteps of three men coming towards him in the darkness.
"Good evening Mr. Tanner." Vin recognized Stan's voice and felt the men step up onto the wharf. Vin froze for a second...something in the voice pricked the hair's on the back of his neck and then came an uneasy feeling at the appearance of a large stranger beside him. Vin backed towards the end of the wharf to give himself some space from the other men and to decide if he needed to jump back into the cover of the black water.
The hard commanding voice of the stranger stopped Vin dead in his tracks. "Before you contemplate leaping back into the lake, I think you should know your friend is up in the lodge with my friends...and in need of some assistance. You can try making a run for it, or come quietly and look after your partner...it's your call!"
Vin felt his heart jolt at the mention of JD...damn, he had sent the kid back alone! With a murderous expression on his usually placid face Vin elbowed past the stranger and reluctantly started the long climb to the lodge.