Ezra cursed himself for dozing off again when he opened his eyes and realized there was enough light to see again. It was just before dawn, when the air was the coldest. He shivered inside his meager shroud of thin clothing and tattered nylon.
JD shifted restlessly behind him, but he checked Vin before going to him. Vin's features, so twisted with agony just a few hours before, were now alarmingly calm. Where it not for the raspy sound of each breath he took, Ezra would have been certain he was dead.
"Mr. Tanner?" he nudged him gently. "Vin?" He got no response, but then decided there was no real reason to keep trying for one. Conscious, Vin would only suffer.
He worked his way to JD, who looked up at him with blank eyes. The back of his shirt was soaked with drainage from the wound there. Ezra didn't know if he had the physical strength to replace the bandage. He wondered if it would matter. He didn't have anything to clean the wound with, and infection had probably already set in. Still, he had to try. The boy lay on his side - it was the only way he could lie down - so all he'd need to do was lift his shirt, but even that simple task seemed overwhelming.
"JD? I need to change the bandage on your back . . . " He had rummaged through his suitcase and come up with a clean white tee-shirt, already folded to the appropriate size to serve as a dressing.
JD didn't react as Ezra lifted his shirt, but he cried out in pain when he attempted to remove the old dressing. It had stuck to the wound. Ezra didn't know what to do for that. He tried to think . . . to force his mind to come up with something . . . anything . . .
JD muttered something unintelligible.
"What did you say JD?" Ezra frowned.
The kid was looking right at him now, recognition in his dark eyes, but he seemed unable to form whatever words he wanted Ezra to hear.
"Sssshhh." Ezra tried to calm him. JD quieted, but continued to stare at him looking lost and confused. Ezra tried to reassure him. "You're hurt, JD. We had . . . an accident. Buck will be here soon, though, and everything will be fine."
He felt a pang of guilt when the kid seemed reassured by his words. Then he noticed JD was trembling, from shock or the cold, he thought at first. But the tremors steadily and rapidly increased in intensity until his entire body was jolted by a convulsive spasm. A second one followed and then a third before Ezra's befuddled mind realized that JD was having a seizure. Helpless terror gripped him as he frantically tried to remember all those first aid courses he'd been forced to take. He slipped his good hand under JD's head to keep him from banging it against anything that would cause further injury. He was already lying on his side, so Ezra didn't have to worry about turning him, and that was a lucky thing because he didn't think he could have managed it.
The convulsions continued to wrack JD's small body for several seconds, longer than Ezra would have thought he had the strength to endure them. When the finally abated, there was a bluish cast to the kid's skin that told Ezra he'd stopped breathing.
He shook the boy, hard. "JD!" he shouted. He stuck a finger into JD's mouth, and was relieved to discover that, perhaps because it had been so long since he'd eaten, that he hadn't vomited. He carefully turned his head to the side and covered JD's mouth with his own and attempted to force air into his lungs. He was rewarded by a slight rising of JD's chest. His airway wasn't obstructed. He repeated the effort two more times before JD's eyes opened. The young agent's expression was vacant, his eyes glassy, but he was alive and breathing on his own.
Ezra slumped back against the bulkhead, exhausted from the ordeal and fighting back tears. Vin was dying. His injuries may not have been life-threatening in the beginning, but his simple basic need to be kept warm and dry and to have his pain eased had not been met and that was what was killing him. JD . . . JD was clearly more seriously injured than he had first appeared to be. Ezra knew he wasn't going to regain full consciousness again. Not out here.
They didn't have much time left . . .
Ezra opened his eyes, his head pounding. Alarmed, he realized he must have drifted off again. The daylight was much brighter now, and seemed to pierce his eyes and cut all the way through to the back of his skull. He squeezed his eyelids shut again, trying to ease the throbbing. As his level of awareness gradually increased, he discovered that the throbbing was not coming from inside his head, but from outside the ruined aircraft.
Noise. A loud steady thrum-thrum-thrum . . . He was so weak from cold and fatigue that he had to force himself to concentrate on it. He knew he should know what it was but he just couldn't . . .
He almost laughed with relief when the sound finally registered. He struggled to untangle himself from the scraps of nylon he still had wrapped around him for warmth. In the back of his mind, he knew his first concern should be for Vin and JD - he'd fallen asleep - again - when he should have been looking out for them. But right then, what mattered most was that there were other living, breathing human beings in the air above him, and whoever they were, they needed to know the three of them were there.
He struggled out of the makeshift shelter and immediately his heart sank. The mountainside was still engulfed in the remains of early morning fog. The sun had burned much of the haze away, but there was still enough of it to limit visibility. He could just barely make out the chopper's silhouette, and realized with a sick feeling that maybe it couldn't see them at all Looking around frantically, he had the irrational thought of finding something to throw at it, but he knew that was ludicrous. He didn't know what to do. His head burned with pain, making it hard for him to think, and the cold morning air combined with the torn tissues and possibly broken bones in his injured limbs made movement damnably slow.
A soft sob escaped him when his feelings of total helplessness were amplified by the observation that the mud slide the night before had coated most of the wreckage with a film of dirt - and the rest of it was covered in brown nylon. Even if the chopper could see through the mist, it might not recognize the wreckage from the air.
He still had Vin's knife, and with a determination borne of despair and desperation, he began to hack away at the nylon. It didn't really matter if he destroyed their shelter. He didn't have the strength to last much longer, and Vin and JD were in worse shape than he was. Chances were, they wouldn't need it another night, one way or another. He sliced away at the fabric like a man possessed, distantly aware that he was shouting obscenities at it and sobbing at his own clumsiness and he attempted to uncover the wreckage with his one good hand.
It was no use! He simply couldn't move fast enough. The string of foul language dissolved into an anguished cry as he realized that thumping of rotors was retreating into the distance. He cursed and threw the knife into the ground, and hobbled after the retreating sound as if by doing so he could somehow catch the aircraft. He stumbled over a piece of debris and fell face-first into the dirt, landing with agonizing force on his injured arm. If it wasn't broken before, it was now.
He rolled off of the damaged limb, but didn't have the strength to get back on his feet. He sobbed tears of frustration and finally gave up and let unconsciousness claim him again. This time, he didn't care if he woke up.
"Josiah!! Chris!!" Buck shouted.
The two men were instantly alert, back in the present, searching the ground below for the plane, for they knew Buck wouldn't shout about anything else.
"Over there! To the right!" Chris shouted.
Below them and to the right, was what looked like the remnants of a hot air balloon. And below it, peeking through the tears, were the shining parts of a small airplane.
"That's gotta be them!" Buck shouted excitedly.
Chris half listened to Josiah as he called in that they'd found the plane and the crash site coordinates, finally breaking their radio silence. His initial happiness at finding his friends quickly went away when he spotted the still form of Ezra Standish lying motionless about twenty feet from the wreckage.
Josiah flew low to get a better look. The others searched for a place to land. They quickly came to the conclusion there wasn't any. Chris glanced at Josiah and saw he had a death grip on the stick.
"Are you going to be able to handle this?" Chris asked in concern.
"Just go," Josiah said. "I'll manage."
Chris took off the headgear and headed for the back. Buck and Nathan were loading supplies into one of the stokes. Chris noticed Nathan already had his harness on. Chris struggled into his as he watched Nathan hook himself and the stokes to the cable. Buck told Josiah to hold it steady and he began to lower them to the ground. Once Nathan was safely down and he had everything unhooked he gave Buck a thumbs up to reel the cable back up. Chris saw Nathan run to over to the still form of Ezra. When the cable was back up Chris helped Buck hook the second stoke to it. Chris clipped his harness to the cable and was about to push off when Buck grabbed his arm.
"Good luck!" he shouted.
Chris nodded and Buck hit the switch. Buck watched Chris's decent until he was on the ground. Buck saw the all clear signal and he reeled the cable back in. He let Josiah know they were down and he took the chopper out of hover and circled the crash site. Chris heard Josiah veer off as he ran to help Nathan. Nathan was quickly but efficiently checking Ezra for injuries.
"How is he?" Chris asked.
"Broken wrist, concussion," Nathan answered. "He's suffering from hypothermia. That's all I found so far."
"I'm going to check the plane," Chris announced.
"Be careful," Nathan said grabbing his arm. "It doesn't look too stable."
Chris nodded and ran over to the plane. He saw that the nose was missing and figured that was how to get in. As he came around to the front of the plane he saw a rope tied to a tree. He figured Ezra must have stabilized the plane with the rope. Chris crawled inside and used the rope to pull himself up. When he did he heard a painful cry. Chris wasn't prepared for what he found.
The smell of blood, vomit and urine was enough to make him want to leave. When he finally made it all the way in he froze in place. He saw Vin tied to the copilot seat. The usually vibrant and lively sharpshooter looked like a discarded rag doll. Chris moved closer and reached out his hand to check Vin's pulse. Vin moaned before Chris could touch him and he pulled his hand away. Chris looked around and noticed the rope disappeared under the nylon covering Vin. He lifted the covering and Chris paled.
"Shit!" he cursed dropping the nylon. "God I'm sorry Vin."
Chris thought he was going to be sick. He had used the rope to pull himself into the plane and possibly caused Vin more harm. There wasn't anything he could for Vin without Nathan, so he left Vin to search for JD. He found the youngest of the seven in the back lying on his side. Chris cautiously made his way over to him and checked for a pulse. JD didn't stir at his touch and
Chris knew they didn't have much time. JD's skin was cold to the touch. They would have to move fast if they were going to make it. He crawled back towards the nose and started to climb out.
"I'll be back," Chris said. Vin and JD probably couldn't hear him but it made him feel better saying it.
As he made his way back over tot Nathan he saw that the morning sun had finally burned off the rest of the fog.
"Nathan we have to move," Chris urged. "JD's bad and Vin's even worse."
"Ezra's almost ready," Nathan said. "Give Josiah a call."
Chris radioed Josiah and let him know they were ready to pick up Ezra. Josiah confirmed and circled back. Nathan asked about Vin and JD as he finished getting Ezra ready. Chris told Nathan what he had seen and felt, but said he didn't move them to check for any other injuries.
When Chris told him that JD's skin was cold and clammy he knew he was in shock. Nathan was worried about Vin when Chris described his broken leg and what Ezra had done to stabilize it. However, he was only one man and he could only worry about one patient at a time. He finished adjusting the straps holding Ezra on the backboard and then checked the cervical collar one more time.
Josiah's returned was heralded by the sound of the rotors and the dirt devils that danced around them. Nathan decide to ride up with Ezra and help Buck transfer him out of the stokes. It sounded like they were going to need both of them for Vin and JD.
"Chris," Nathan called. "Go back inside and cover them with the thermal blankets. It's going to take me a few minutes to get Ezra situated."
Chris helped get Ezra in the stokes. When Nathan was satisfied Ezra was secure he gave Buck a thumbs up and he lowered the cable. Once it was down they hooked the four straps to the cable so it would rise flat. Nathan placed his feet on the edge of the stokes so that he was standing over Ezra then hooked his harness to the cable. He gave Buck the signal and they began to rise. Chris watched their ascent for a few minutes then turned away. He dragged the second stokes over to the plane. He removed the blankets and crawled back inside. Chris moved to the back to cover JD. After Chris covered JD he knelt by his head and pushed the hair out of his eyes. Chris shook his head. It was getting as long as Vin's.
"JD," Chris called stroking his hair. "JD."
When JD didn't respond or move he tucked the blanket around him and moved on to Vin. Chris removed the wet nylon and Vin shivered.
"Easy Vin," Chris said as he covered him with the blanket.
Chris couldn't believe Vin had survived the plane crash. The right side of his face was covered in blood. When he removed the nylon covering he saw Vin's right arm was crudely bound to his chest. Chris took his left hand and held it to try to warm it up. He looked at Vin's face and noticed his lips moving. Chris leaned closer to hear what he was saying. When he finally made out the mumbling he sat back.
"It's OK Vin," Chris said gripping his shoulder. "He's safe, Nathan has him."
As if saying his name summoned the ex-medic Nathan crawled inside the plane. "Have either of them responded to your voice?" he asked.
"No," Chris answered. "Vin's just calling for Ezra."
Nathan checked Vin quickly and was impressed when he saw the traction setup that Ezra had devised. When he saw how securely Vin was tied into the plane he decided to move him last. He moved in the back to check on JD. The young agent was lying on his side with his face towards him. He checked his pulse and it was fast. He then began to check JD and found the wound on his back. He could see the old dressing was covered in blood and probably stuck to the wound. He pulled out some pressure bandages and with Chris's help he secured them in place. Nathan had Chris help him roll JD on his back. Nathan told Chris to go get the backboard while he got JD ready to go. He placed a C collar around his neck then checked his eyes. They were slow to react to the light
Chris came back in carrying the halfback board and he helped Nathan roll JD onto it. Nathan placed extra padding under the back wound then secured him to the board. When he was finished Chris helped him maneuver JD out of the plane and onto the stokes and together they secured him. Again, Chris called for a pick up. Buck was getting good at the winches and had the cable waiting for them. They hooked JD up then gave Buck the signal. This time Buck would have to deal with JD alone.
Chris crawled back inside while Nathan grabbed the traction splint. Nathan flipped the blanket off Vin's leg and held the splint next to it. He made the necessary adjustments to make it fit his leg. Once that was done he slid it under Vin's leg. Ezra's traction was making this easier. Nathan hooked the strap to Vin's ankle and made the tension equal to what Ezra had with the rope. When that was finished he then wrapped the thick straps at different points along Vin's leg, carefully avoiding the larger section of the thigh figuring the break was there. When everything was ready Nathan pulled out his knife and cut the rope to the tree. Vin gave a piteous cry and then he was quiet. Nathan went back out and grabbed another backboard.
"Chris stand in front of him and hold his shoulders," Nathan instructed.
Chris did as Nathan asked, as he cut the ropes binding Vin to the seat. When the ropes were gone Nathan slipped the backboard behind him and left it there. He dug in his bag for the last C collar and carefully placed it around Vin's neck. Next he strapped Vin to the backboard. Nathan checked Vin one last time and wasn't happy about his breathing. However, there was nothing more he could do for Vin on the ground, so while Chris got ahold of Vin's upper body, Nathan levered the sharpshooter's legs, as gently as possible out of the plane. Unfortunately, when they moved him Vin's eyes flew open and he cried out in agony and then went limp. They finished placing him in the stokes and Nathan saw that Vin was panting. He quickly secured Vin and then looked up at Chris.
"We have to move," Nathan shouted. "NOW!"
Luckily Chris had called Josiah just before they moved Vin and he was waiting for them as they struggled out of the plane. Buck immediately lowered the rope and Nathan secured the stokes. Again he chose to ride up with it. Once they were securely inside Buck lowered the cable to pick up Chris. The ride up on the cable seemed to take forever but finally he was aboard.
Chris could see Nathan frantically working on Vin. He knew he was of no help to Nathan and the area was now a little cramped, so he climbed back into the copilot seat. He couldn't help Josiah fly this monster but he could lend the ex-missionary his moral support. When he got settled and buckled in Chris glanced at Josiah. The big preacher was pale and sweating but seemed to be confidant in his flying abilities. Chris just hoped they all made it back.
Josiah felt the Huey lurch in his hands. The added weight of the three injured men and the movement of the others as they settled them, made it increasingly difficult to keep the cumbersome machine under control. "Chris! Tell Nathan to get them settled. I've got to get this thing out of here or we'll all end up on the side of this mountain."
Chris heard the strain in Josiah's voice and leaned backward through the cockpit door. Nathan and Buck were struggling to get Vin settled between Ezra and JD on the floor. Closing the sliding door on the winch side of the copter, Buck was moving quickly to cover each of the injured with blankets.
"Nathan," Chris called, "How much longer. Josiah says we need to leave."
Nathan worked Vin's stokes around so that his head was near the cockpit opening. Giving Chris a thumbs up, he turned his attention back to Vin. There was little to do for Ezra now that Buck couldn't do. Buck had already turned the back area heaters on full force and Nathan could feel the heat starting to warm the air. Taking stock of the situation, he tried to think only about medical needs; Not the fact that these were three of his very best friends and the fact that he might have to make a decision to put one in peril to let the rest of them live.
Shaking his head, Nathan sat up and closed his eyes for a minute trying to collect his thoughts. There was nothing he could do for Ezra now besides try and get him warm. He suspected that JD had some type of head injury, as well as shock from the open wound on his back, but his pulse was strong and he was breathing ok. Looking down at Vin, he watched as the semi-conscious man struggled to breathe. Placing his hand on Vin's neck, he noticed now Vin's neck and shoulder muscles strained with the effort to move air in and out of his lungs.
Feeling the unsteady pulse beneath his fingers, Nathan made a decision. Moving across the chopper slowly, Nathan placed several bottles of sterile fluids on the manifold. He could feel the heat created by the heavy engine there and was hopeful the fluids would warm there quickly. "Buck, I'm gonna have to put a breathing tube down Vin. He's working too hard to breathe. Using too much energy. I'm warming these fluids here so I can get warm fluids in them in a minute. Help me with Vin."
Buck joined Nathan at Vin's head. "JD ain't moving. His breathing seems ok though and his pulse hasn't changed. Ezra's in and out but seems to be better now that he's warming up. "
"Ok, that's good Buck." Nathan looked into the door way at Chris. He was studying a map, trying to help Josiah find the nearest town with a hospital. He was going to have to have Chris's help with Vin soon, but he would wait until he was totally ready before getting him.
"Ok, Buck. I've got to put this tube down Vin's throat. I've got suction set up so if I ask for it, hand me this part." Nathan showed Buck the part he wanted. Leaning low over Vin, he whispered into the sharpshooter's ear. "Vin, it's Nathan. Everything is going to be ok, but I need to help you out. You're working too hard to breathe, and I'm trying to help you out. I don't want you to fight me. It ain't gonna be easy cause you're sort of awake, but this is for the best. You have to trust me Vin. If you never trusted me before, this is the time I need you to do that, ok?" Nathan waited and was rewarded by a small nod from Vin's head.
"Nathan?" Vin's voice was a moaning whisper. "Where are you? Hurts"
Nathan placed his hand on Vin's head and whispered again. "The light isn't very good in here, Vin and I'm sorry I don't have anything for pain with me but Josiah's flying us to the hospital. Try to relax and let me help you." "Buck, get Chris." Nathan started taking out the laryngeal scope and ET tube he would need. He turned as Chris crawled through the small opening and knelt beside Vin.
"What's up? He ok? Buck said you wanted me." Chris leaned forward and stroked Vin's forehead, looking at Vin struggle to breathe. Vin's eyes continued to search around following the voices of the two men above him.
"I'm gonna need both of you to help me. He's got to have help breathing or he'll go into a respiratory arrest. He's just too exhausted with his injuries and shock. I don't have anything to sedate him. Not sure that I'd use it if I had it. He's too unstable to add something that will lower his blood pressure or pulse. He's gonna try and fight me, so I may need both of you to hold him. As soon as I get the tube down him Chris hand me that ambubag so I can breathe for him. Ok, let's go." Nathan took the scope in his hand and moved so that Vin's head was in front of him.
"Ok, Vin? I'm gonna help ya out here. Open you mouth as wide as you can."
Nathan watched as Vin tried to open his mouth. The collar around his neck made it hard, but he tried as much as he could. "Chris, take his hand. Talk to him."
As he watched Nathan begin to slip the metal blade into Vin's mouth, Chris grabbed Vin's good hand and raised his voice so Vin could hear him over the roar of the helicopter engine. "I'm here, Vin. Just try and relax and let Nate help you. Keep your mouth open and squeeze my hand if it helps. We need you to fight to stay with us." Chris tried to watch but when Vin gagged and bucked around the metal blade and tube Nathan was inserting down his throat, he had to turn away.
Vin tried to arch his back and move away from the thing forcing it's way down his throat. He was trapped. He couldn't see. It was hard to catch his breath. Now they were stuffing something down his throat to kill him! He tried again to force the tube out of his throat, but the striking tearing pain that seized his leg and shoulder stopped him. He grabbed again at the warm hand holding his and began to feel a silence overtaking him. He was dying. He couldn't breath against the thing in his mouth; pain consumed every part of his body. He heard a voice urging him to stay alive. To stay with them. But he couldn't . . . The silence began to settle over him. The sounds around him faded and all feeling melted away.
Nathan had the tube in and was reaching for the ambubag to give Vin oxygen when he saw Vin's eyes roll back in his head. " Shit! Here Chris squeeze this bag for me now!" Handing the bag to Chris, Nathan kept his hand on the tube and reached for his stethoscope. Realizing he wouldn't be able to hear over the roar of the helicopter, he placed his hand on Vin's chest. He felt the chest rise and fall with Chris's efforts. Placing his hand on Vin's stomach, he felt no movement. Satisfied the tube was where he wanted it, he quickly moved his hand to Vin's neck. Searching for a pulse, his eyes met Chris's.
Chris was in a panic. He saw Vin turn deadly white and watched as his eyes rolled back and stared into nothingness. He heard Nathan yell at him and felt the rubber bag being shoved into his hands. Squeezing it in and out, he tried to force the oxygen into Vin's lungs a quickly as he was able. Seeing Nathan search for a pulse, Chris felt a deep terror inside his body. Vin. He couldn't lose him. Not Vin! Not like Sarah!
Nathan searched in vain for a pulse. Vin's skin was white and cold against his hand and he was moving to start CPR when he felt a faint pulsing beat. Keeping his hand where it was, he motioned Chris to pump the breathing bag faster. A second beat and then a third. Nathan closed his eyes and willed his strength into Vin's body.
Chris continued to keep his eyes on Vin's face. Desperately squeezing the bag, he watched Nathan work on Vin. Suddenly Nathan began to smile. He looked up at Chris and nodded. About the same time Chris began to feel resistance when he tried to force air in Vin's lungs. Nathan put out his hand and stopped Chris from bagging. Together they watched as Vin's chest rose irregularly in and out.
"Chris, see if you can time your squeezing with his breathing. Just support what he's able to do. That bag will deliver oxygen to him and help open up his lungs. Let's see if we can slow down his breathing that way."
Chris continued bagging Vin, while he watched Nathan start IV's on all three men. Hanging up warm bags of fluid, he let them drip quickly. Placing more bags on the manifold to warm, he checked Ezra over again.
Ezra felt the sting of the needle in his good arm. Trying to move away he felt his arm held and soothing words spoken about a throbbing mechanical sound. Trying to turn his head to move around, he met resistance and tried to reach up to remove the offending item from his neck.
"No, Ezra. Easy now. It's Buck.You, Vin and JD are on a helicopter on the way to the hospital. Can you open your eyes for me, pard? Ezra? Can you hear me?"
Ezra wanted to tell Buck to let him sleep, but the voice continued irritating him. Slowly opening his eyes, he saw Buck kneeling over him his face full of concern.
"Buck? Vin and JD they . . . " Ezra began but was stopped by Buck's reassuring hand on his shoulder. " No Buck you have to know. Vin can't see. Let them know. He's been blind since the accident."
Buck bent down and put his mouth close to Ezra's ear."It's ok Ezra. I'll tell Nathan You did a great job. Nathan's taking care of JD and Vin right now. Just rest. Are you warm enough?"
Ezra nodded slowly. Ezra suddenly realized that he was no longer cold. Hours ago he would have bet anyone that he would never feel warm again. But here he was . . . in a warm cocoon feeling the pulsing of the engine that would take him to safety. Nodding his head he felt himself drifting off. He felt Buck take his hand and give it a squeeze. Smiling slightly, he tried to imagine what his mother was going to say about this latest adventure . . .
Nathan finished spiking the second bag of Lactated Ringers and watched it continue to infuse into JD's arm. A second check of the boy's wound showed no more fresh bleeding. JD's breathing was deep and regular, his pulse having slowed with the fluids Nathan had given him. Thank God for youth, Nathan thought. Adding one more blanket, he moved back toward Vin and Chris.
Chris continued to force the oxygen into Vin's lungs. His concentration was so intense that he didn't see Nathan come up beside him and take the ambubag from him. Chris sat back exhausted. "Nathan, what do you think? Is Vin? I mean he's still not moving. Nathan."
Shouting over the noise of the copter blades, Nathan looked over at Vin. Feeling Vin buck against the tube in his throat, he motioned with his head to Chris. "He's waking up, Chris! Move so he can see you!"
Chris looked and saw Vin's blue eyes looking around but remained unfocused. Moving so that Vin could see him easily, Chris smiled down at the face of the sharpshooter. He again saw Vin's eyes moving but not focusing on anything. Chris placed his hand on Vin's battered cheek and stroked it carefully. Vin's eyes moved toward the warm hand and Chris almost cried at the clouded unfocused look he saw in Vin's eyes.
Tears started to fall from the corner of Vin's eyes and Chris whipped them away with his fingers. "It's ok, cowboy. You're safe. Just let us help you with the breathing, ok? Rest. We're almost there. Nathan is right here, we won't leave you." Chris thought he saw some of the pain leave Vin's face, but he couldn't be sure. As Chris continued to stroke his face, the sharpshooter closed his eyes and slept.
Buck moved over to Chris and Nathan and put a hand on Chris's shoulder. "Ezra woke up and told me that Vin can't see. Said he's been blind since the accident."
Nathan looked down at the sharpshooter. "Well, that explains his strange eye movements and his statement about it being dark. He must have been terrified when I put that tube down his throat. Damn!" Nathan tightened his fist and banged it on his thigh.
Chris put his hand on Nathan's back. "Nathan, you couldn't have known. He knows he's safe now. We'll just have to get him to the hospital all the faster, ok?
Chris made his way to the cockpit and sat down in the co-pilot's seat. Looking back, he could still see Vin with Nathan breathing for him. Turning his attention forward, he looked at Josiah.
The big man's face was white with tension. The chopper was beginning to move back and forth from left to right. "Chris. Get on the rudder pedals with me. Feel what I'm doing and add your foot pressure. This old bird is getting unsteady on me with this cross wind. We're loaded to the max with all seven of us. It's a good thing it's winter so the blades get more bite into the air. If this were summer, we'd be on the ground now. Hell, if this were summer, we wouldn't be out here doing something as crazy as this." Josiah started to laugh. The laughter started to turn into hysterical laughing and Chris reached out and closed his hand on Josiah's big forearm.
Feeling the strength of the hand on his arm, he took a deep breath and straightened himself in the seat. "Ok, Chris. We're gonna have to find an alternative site to land. The extra weight we're carrying and this wind is eating up our fuel. I figure we've got about a half hour of flying time. That's if we don't have to go over a mountain instead of around it."
Chris worked the maps, trying to figure distance and time and he wished Ezra was in a condition to help. "Josiah, the best I can figure, we've got to go to Albuquerque. They have a level one trauma center; everywhere else is too small. I just talked to one of their air rescue helicopter pilots and he says you'll need to land the Huey at the airport. They'll send ambulances to meet us. Trouble is, the way the pilot figures it . . . we're at least 40 minutes out. "
Josiah listened to what Chris was saying. The fuel gauges were reading three-quarters empty, making him nervous. At this higher altitude the Huey sucked up fuel with surprising quickness. "Chris. See if you can get me that chopper pilot again, ok? I have an idea and I need some information." Ascending so radio contact would be better, Josiah waited. Chris finally tapped him on the arm and motioned to his mike.
Chris watched as Josiah talked to the medical helicopter pilot. He knew they had taken a big risk by stepping out on their own to rescue JD, Vin and Ezra. Nathan seemed to have things under control in the back. Now everything depended on Josiah. There was nothing for Chris to do but wait. And Chris Larabee hated waiting. Turning he watched Nathan continue breathing for Vin. Watching only made him feel more helpless, so he turned back toward the map and tired to figure out their position.
"Ok, Chris." Josiah's voice sounded full of energy again. "Get your cell phone out and see if you can get this number. Then hold the phone up to my face." Josiah gave Chris the number and Chris completed the call, waiting for someone to answer before placing it next to Josiah's face.
"Kimbell's Air Service." A gruff voice answered and Chris held up the phone to Josiah.
"Hal Kimbell? This is Josiah Sanchez. Good to hear your voice." Josiah smiled as memories of his Vietnam co-pilot flooded his mind.
"Sanchez? Now's there's a voice from the past! Shouldn't you be out communicating with your spirits someplace? What the hell you doing? Just got a call from a Pat Morse, chopper jock from Life Flight. Says you need some fuel. Just like old times, huh? Need me to bail you out of some hare-brained scheme to help out people?" Kimbell talked while he motioned for his fuel truck driver.
"That's about it, Hal." Josiah couldn't help but smile at the sound of the man's voice. "Got three of my team injured in a plane crash. Search and Rescue thought fog and rain was a problem. I thought otherwise. Borrowed a Huey. Now I've got them but I'm running low on fuel." Josiah adjusted his controls to contend with the air turbulence.
"Airflight says you've got one that's pretty bad. I'll get one of the volunteer paramedics I'm used to working with to come over, then I'll fire up the Long Ranger and take him straight to University Medical. Pete, my mechanic, can hot fuel you on the ground while we make the transfer. Give me your headings and airspeed."
Hal took up a pencil when he finished talking and waited for Josiah give him the needed information. Working some figures for a minute, Hal continued speaking. "Ok, Josiah take a heading of 210 hold that for seven minutes. You should see a small farm at the foot of a line of small hills. Turn there to 150 and that should put you on my back porch in 10 minutes. Leave that cell phone on, so I can call you if I don't hear your blades in 15 minutes. And Josiah. Trim those blades please. I don't want to hear no chattering as you land. Gives my place a bad name." Josiah grinned and nodded to Chris to take the phone.
"Chattering! That son-of-a-gun! Don't think he will ever let me forget that one! Ok, Chris get your second hand and start timing me." Josiah turned the cumbersome aircraft to its new heading and nodded to Chris. "Let me know when six minutes and thirty seconds is up. "
They made good time to Kimball's Air Service. Chris saw a smaller sleeker helicopter sitting with it's blades spinning and a young man in a jumpsuit standing next to it. Josiah maneuvered the Huey and lined it up with the fuel tanks. Setting it down softly, he signaled to Chris.
Chris climbed back to the cockpit and took over bagging Vin. The sharpshooter hadn't woken up again during the rest of the trip.
Nathan ducked under the rotors and sprinted across the asphalt to talk to the medic. Explaining what had been done, he listened to the questions the man asked. Satisfied, Nathan brought the man over to the Huey. The medic followed carrying a new oxygen tank and some fresh IV fluids. With Chris's help they moved Vin to the new helicopter and helped the medic get him settled.
Hal Kimball finished trading old times with Josiah and after shaking his hand jogged toward his Long Ranger. Taking Chris's hand, he looked at Nathan.
"I'll have your friend at University Medical in about 15 minutes. Josiah's getting fuel now and you guys will be at the airport in about half an hour. I'll radio EMS and have them standing by at the airport. Good luck." Hal slipped into the cockpit and increased the speed of the blades preparing for lift off. Chris and Nathan backed away and watched as the copter took Vin away from them.
Racing back to the Huey, Chris climbed to the cockpit while Nathan went to sit by Ezra. Buck was settled next to JD. Looking back to see that everyone was ok, Chris nodded to Josiah and felt the heavy machine lumber into the air.
Tipping it's nose down to gain air speed, Josiah used most of the runway to get them swiftly and quickly into the air. Setting his heading to the airport, Josiah frowned when he saw ice starting to form on the windshield.
"Chris. Turn on the defrosters now. They're down there by the heaters. Damn. Come on baby . . . give us just a few more miles and then you can rest. Then we can all rest." Squinting his eyes he peered forward hoping for another miracle.
Nathan saw Ezra open his eyes and bent low so he could hear the con man speak. "Vin, did Buck tell you? He's really bad. He can't see. I tried to do what I could. But he hurt so much. JD? I couldn't get him to wake up after a while . I . . . .my ankle . . . it was so cold . . . I tried to . . . really I did." Ezra reached up with his good arm to rub his eyes. His head hurt so much and he knew he was about to cry. He didn't want Nathan to see him do that but he was so tired and almost every part of his body hurt.
Nathan bent down over him and gave him 2 milligrams of morphine in his IV that he had gotten from the paramedic. Ezra felt the soothing relief of the pain medication hit his system, and gave into the wonderful feeling of being warm and without pain. Buck held the stokes that JD rested in trying to keep it from rocking as they landed. As soon as the blades had stopped spinning, two EMS people with stretchers appeared at the side door.
Josiah watched as JD and Ezra were loaded onto the stretchers and taken to the waiting ambulances. Turning he saw Chris staring at him. "Chris, go on. Get to the hospital and check on Vin. I'll catch up with you in a while. Need to let my legs stop shaking for I can get out of here. I'm fine. You go on."
Chris stretched out his hand and grabbed Josiah's forearm giving it a strong squeeze. "Thanks, I'll never forget what you did. I know this was harder for you than you've let on. We all owe you."
"Chris, we all did it. We're a team remember? Buy me a drink later on after we see that the others are going to be ok and we'll talk. Now go on. They're waiting for you." Chris gave Josiah another squeeze and ducked out of the cockpit.
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