Masbro County Search and Rescue Series
Note: As an active member of a search and rescue team, I enjoy teaching others about how to enjoy the outdoors safely and how to survive safely in the wilderness. I have tried to include some useful information in this story. If somebody noticed any inaccuracies please let me know. I have experienced many things that have happened in this story, although they have been enhanced for the entertainment factor. Natalie and Luke are loosely based on two close friends whose personalities just seem to mesh well with the story. Enjoy the story and I welcome any feedback or suggestions!!
Buck gently shifted to a more comfortable position, having no intention of disturbing the woman sleeping next to him. Her warm breath sent a pleasant tingling feeling though his whole body. He didnt mind being woken up this late to be reminded that he was one lucky man. He kissed her softly on the forehead, thinking about what the day might hold when she finally woke up. A loud vibrating noise interrupted his happy thoughts. He knew instantly what is was.
Damn! he swore reaching for his pants that had been discarded onto the floor. He pulled out the cell phone. Hello Chris, he answered, stifling a large yawn.
How did you know it was me? the voice on the other end asked.
Cause youre the only cuss that would call at eleven o clock at night, Buck answered.
Why didnt you answer your pager? Chris asked accusingly.
Buck looked down at feet sheepishly even though the speaker was almost twenty minutes away.
Well you see I met up with a friend and one thing led to another and we .
I dont want to know Buck, Chris interrupted. Get your ass into a pair of pants and down to the Resort right now!
Chris I Buck started to protest until he realized that he was talking to a busy signal. He thought about rolling over and going back to sleep, but he knew that there was no sleeping now. I swear Im going to shoot that bastard, he grumbled as he got dressed.
Whats going on? The grumbling had caused the sleeping woman to wake up. She was now looking at Buck with questioning and wide awake eyes.
Some idiot probably got lost in the woods and cant find the way to a road, Buck answered. Gotta go. He leaned over and kissed her hard. Ill give you a call in a few days Melanie.
Better not, Melanie answered. Im supposed to go stay at my fathers for a few days and
Buck shuddered at the thought of having to deal with one of the most powerful men in town.
You better call me when you are free, he stated. He kissed her again. See you soon darlin. He was still grumbling as he got into the awaiting silver pick-up and pulled out onto the highway, driving faster then he probably should have been. He turned up the radio when the weather forecast came on.
Its going to be an interesting night. Masbro County can expect anywhere from four to twenty inches of accumulation tonight
Four to twenty? Buck asked dumbfounded. So once again youre stating that even with all your high tech equipment you still dont know what the hell is going to happen. Welcome to Colorado.
,,,,and strong gusts of wind could provide hazardous traveling conditions. I recommend that you guys stay indoors until this passes folks. Enjoy the snow! He turned the radio down when some old eighties song stared playing.
Hey, do you think you could hold out until we get this lost dipsit back into a hotel room? he asked the snowflakes that were starting to fall on his window. A strong gust of wind jerked the truck to the left. Buck was forced to grab onto the steering wheel with both hands to prevent the vehicle from spinning off the narrow road. Now that was unnecessary, he stated through clenched teeth. A simple no would have done it. At one point Buck would have questioned his sanity if he realized that he was talking to the weather, but not anymore. The Rocky Mountain air messed with peoples heads.
A few minutes later, he was turning down the driveway that led to the Resort. The driveway was really a dirt path that was badly in need of some shoveling. It was doubtful it would receive it until somebody ended up getting stuck. The Resort was a small log cabin situated in the middle of a little cleared meadow. The cabin had seen better days. The roof was beginning to cave and many creatures had begun making their homes in the cracks of the exterior.
The Resort housed the headquarters of the Masbro Country Search and Rescue team. The team was under the control of Country Sheriff Orrin Travis, but he had basically given the team free reign. The team contained some of the most bizarre people Buck had ever known, and he loved them with every ounce of his big heart. Some of his best moments had been when the seven of them had worked together to save some unfortunate soul who needed help from the big scary wilderness. The joy in the victim and the familys faces made it all worth it.
Out of the corner of his eye, Buck saw something sprint in front of the tires. He was able to slam on the brakes before he hit the raccoon, but he was unable to prevent the pickup from spinning down the driveway. It came to half when it ran straight into a large snow bank. Almost worth it, he thought.
Buck shrugged his shoulders and turned it off. No use worrying about it now. The others would be able to get around it. He hoped Ezra would hit it so he could collect the insurance from his wealthy friend.
Buck opened the front door to the cabin which protested with a loud screech.
Shut the damn door, youre letting all the cold air in!
Good to see you too Pard, he laughed at the ever so pleasant greeting. He walked into the main room that had probably served as the living room for the previous owners. Now the carpets had been torn up to reveal a scratched up hardwood floor. A small spiral staircase led to a second level while an out of date computer beeped against the back wall displaying the latest radar images. A bookcase that contained old climbing guides and first aid manuals stood next to it. Maps of the area covered the wall. One large poster showed a woman reaching the summit of a mountain. The words Reach your own Peek were written underneath.
The focal point of the room was a large table. It was so full of papers and gear that it was difficult to see the rotting wood underneath. Seven chairs from five different table sets were positioned around it. The man who had taken him out of his peaceful bed was sitting in the middle of the table holding the phone.
Damn, its cold in here, Buck stated plopping down in the chair across from his friend.
Heater broke again, Chris explained. Nathan and Luke are out gathering wood to start a fire in the wood stove.
How come you aint out there with em? Buck asked. He picked up a badly knotted climbing rope and began to try and untangle it.
Chris gave him a mischievous smile, but didnt say anything more. He took a drink out of the mug next to him and winced.
This health craze thing of Nathans has got to stop, he stated. Im never going to last if I keep on having to drink this green tea shit.
Buck laughed. The smile on his friends face was enough to make him warm up inside despite the cool temperature. There had been a time when Buck wasnt sure if his friend would ever smile again. It took a lot to lose your family and be able to start life all over again.
Buck and Chris had met in basic training when they were in their late teens and had basically been inseparable since. Each of them had saved each others asses at least a dozen times during their stint in the SEALS. After their short lived Navy careers, both had taken jobs with the Denver Police Force. Both may have lost their desire to stay in the military, but not their passion for extreme outdoor sports. Denver seemed the perfect location to get to all places in Colorado that had large enough mountains to hike and climb.
During their first year in Denver, Chris met one of the most wonderful people Buck had ever known. Sarah Connelly was beautiful, both inside and out. The Vail native had moved to Denver to work with at risk kids and started numerous programs across the city to set them on the right track. It wasnt long before Buck found himself roped into spending much of his spare time helping his friend. He found that he actually enjoyed it so much; he considered quitting his job at the police force to work with kids full time.
Sarah became more than just a friend to Chris. Buck couldnt recall a happier day when both of them had asked him to be Chriss best man in their wedding. A year later, Buck felt his heart stretched to fit in a little life that could almost fit into the palm of his hand. If life had gone the way he expected it to, Buck would have been content to play the favorite uncle that spoiled the hell out of Adam. Too bad life never went exactly how a person wanted it to.
It was about four years after Adam was born when Sarah had finally convinced her husband to leave the force and help her with her teaching programs. It hadnt taken much convincing to get Buck to leave either. It was hard to deny those beautiful blue eyes that were so concerned for his safety. It turned out that Sarah should have spent more time worrying about herself..
Still thinking about it brought tears to Bucks eyes. How could one awful event ruin so many lives? Chris and Buck had been down in Steamboat buying new climbing gear. Chris had finally convinced Sarah to let him take Adam on his first climb. Chris had been dreaming about teaching Adam to climb since the day the kid was born. It hurt Buck almost as much as it did Chris to think that the father and son would never reach the peek of Mount Hood or traverse across the Wind River Valley, only some of the places Chris had planned to take his son.
While they were gone in Steamboat, the Larabee household had caught fire. Sarah and Adam were trapped inside. By the time the fire department got there it was too late. Chris had gotten a phone call on the road. Chris had driven a hundred miles an hour to get back to Denver, but it didnt matter. Sarah and Adam werent breathing when the firefighters finally were able to pull them out of the building. That was the day Buck had thought the world had ended.
He didnt remember much about the next couple of weeks. The funeral, having to sort through the burnt objects, everything was still a blur to him. The one thing he did remember was talking to the fire chief. The house had been so destroyed that it was impossible to determine a cause. The cause of the fire would remain a mystery.
There had been many nights that he didnt remember all together. The whisky bottle and he had become best friends for a while. It took a while for him to realize that in consorting with his new friend, he had forgotten about his old. Chris was in bad shape. He was living in a rundown apartment and living off the small bank account he and Sarah had set up.
Buck would have given anything to help his friend, but Chris was so deeply absorbed in his own pain that there was nothing he could do. After some hard punches and harsh words one night, Buck knew that he had to leave. The stinging words hurt more then any punch ever could have. He busied himself working at the community center with Sarahs kids, always keeping his ears open for news about Chris. He heard that this friend had moved up into the mountains. He had hoped that Chris would find solace in the fresh mountain air and pines that seemed to touch the sky. He prayed the man wouldnt jump off a cliff. It was almost two years since the fight before Buck saw Chris again.
It had been quite a surprise. Chris was still too damn skinny and there was a sad look in his eye, but he was smiling Buck remembered every word of the conversation. The two men were sitting in Chriss living room sharing a friendly beer.
Buck, I have a business proposal for you, Chris had stated.
Im listening, Buck stated.
Being up here, the peacefulness and the beauty, it really works wonders on a damaged soul.
That is does Pard, Buck answered, surprised that his friend was so willing to talk openly.
I was thinking about the kids that Sarah used to work with, how hard it was to get them to concentrate on what really mattered, he paused. If we could get those kids up here, far away from all the dog eat dog of the city. They might be able to help themselves. You know get on the right path.
What are you saying Chris? Buck asked skeptically.
I want to take these kids into the wilderness Buck, make them see what real survival is, help them find themselves. But I cant do this alone, I need your help.
Buck paused for a while, and then a huge smile lit up his face.
Sounds like a good idea to me.
The two men started leading their first group of troubled youth up in the mountains the summer after. Ten years later, Chriss obscure idea had turned into New Horizons, Colorados most successful wilderness therapy program. Judges from across the country sent them troubled youth with one last chance before they ended up in prison,. The two men hadnt been able to reach all the kids, but they had left a positive impact on the majority. Buck smiled. Sarah would have been proud.
The door to the cabin opened.. The sudden burst of cold air sent a shutter down the two mens backs.
Shut the damn door! Chris growled.
Two men came inside carrying wood. Both men were tall and lean and shaking from the cold, even under heavy winter coats. A large bernese mountain dog bounded in after them barking happily. The dog ran to Buck and was rewarded with an affectionate scratch behind the ears.
Hey Vesper, Buck greeted. The rescue team had found the dog during a search for a missing skiing party. Vesper had become the unofficial mascot of the team. She lived with whoever was around to take her. How are you Nathan?
Not appreciating getting woken up in the middle of the night, but other then that just peachy, Nathan answered, dropping his wood pile next to the ground. Although it had been almost ten years since he had skied competitively, Nathan still maintained the well-toned body he had when he had won an Olympic silver medal. Now, he oversaw the organization of several ski patrols in the area. In addition to his skiing duties, Nathan served as the lead paramedic on the team.
It had been Nathan who had originally gotten Buck and Chris involved in search and rescue. One of Chriss campers, a particularly difficult teen from inner city Chicago had ran off into the woods. As hard as Buck and Chris had looked, they couldnt find the boy and had to call in the search and rescue team. At the time, the team had been undermanned and untrained. Nathan had basically found the boy on his own. He had begged Chris and Buck to just come to the meetings and see if they were interested in joining the team. The two men had agreed, it was the least they could do for the man who they owed so much. The two men had assisted on the next search and had been hooked ever since.
At the time, a pompous bastard by the name of Tom Glazin had headed up the team. Glazin had very little experience and had filled the team with people who were just like him. At the time, the country had money to employ ten positions. For several years, it was Glazin, his ten stooges, Nathan and Buck and Chris who worked on a volunteer basis. When the county lost the grant to pay the team, Glazin and his men left. Sheriff Travis had pleaded with Chris to lead the team. Chris had eventually given in and turned the Masbro County search and rescue team into one of the best in the country.
So why exactly are we here? the other man asked, placing his pile of wood next to Nathans.
Not sure yet, Chris answered. I got a call that two boys might be lost in the woods. Sanchez is going to call when he finds out more details.
You mean you dragged me out of bed with a Buck protested, but was silenced with a look from Chris.
Come on Buck, running through the woods at night has to be a bigger thrill then being with some woman cooped up inside, the younger man stated, straightening out the wood pile.
You say that now Pigeon, Buck answered with an affectionate smile,
but wait until you find a pretty little girl wholl keep you warm at night.
The young Native American man cringed. Buck wasnt sure if it was the nickname or his statement that caused the action. Lucas Olson was a twenty-three year old nature photographer. His pictures had appeared in magazines and publications across the country. Most recently, he had won a National Geographic award for his pictures on his favorite subject, Red Tailed Hawks. Buck had called the birds Pigeons one day, and it irked Luke so much that Buck had officially made it his nickname. Buck didnt care that the kid hated it. It kept the kid from getting a big head. Not that the kid hadnt deserved everything he was getting.
Luke had grown up on the Blackfoot reservation with his mother and father. His father was an alcoholic and never could hold a steady job. Luke would tell stories of his father coming home drunk and listening to the shouting matches in his parents bedroom, only to wake up the next morning and find bruises on his mothers face. Lukes mother had filed for divorce when Luke was thirteen, but the kid had already been traumatized.
Lukes only solace was visiting the next door neighbor, an elder of the tribe who had taken the troubled youth under his wing. Luke had learned the traditions of his people and spent most of his time with the man he affectingly called Grandfather. The skills that Luke had learned made him a valuable member of the team. His tracking skills were unmatched in the area, and he always caught clues the others had missed. Luke was also an excellent mountaineer.
You got a lighter? Nathan asked, as he stacked the wood in the fire. Where you going Luke?
Im hungry, Luke stated, before disappearing.
That kid eats more than a bear, Nathan shook his head.
And he doesnt gain a pound, Chris said. He still looks like one good gust of wind could blow him away.
Hes not going to stay that little if he doesnt start eating healthier, Nathan added. The same goes for you too. The junk food in this place is disgusting.
Buck and Chris both checked their pockets for a lighter, but came up empty.
Theres a book of matches in the top drawer in the kitchen, Chris stated.
Speaking of being hungry, Buck stated. He got up from his chair and followed Nathan into the kitchen.
Luke was opening every cupboard and drawer looking for food.
Theres nothing in here to eat! he exclaimed.
Theres a basket of apples in the fridge, Nathan stated.
I aint eating rabbit food, Luke complained, and continued to search for food. His voice was muffled, but loud enough to hear from behind one of the cupboard doors. Theres got to be something good in here somewhere.
Buck decided an argument with Nathan was not the best idea right now. He opened the fridge door and took out an apple.
The wind is really blowing out there tonight! A light female voice greeted Buck as he walked back into the main room. Hey guys.
The petite and fit brunette plopped down in one of the seats, pulling off her down vest and stocking cap. She tossed them on the table and began playing with one the carabineers on the table. Whats up Chris?
What are doing in town Natalie? You were supposed to be in Vail for another four days. Chris scolded.
Got the professor to let me leave early, she stated defensively after she saw Chriss glare. It was an introductory rock climbing course, she explained with disdain in her voice. Im more productive here anyway. Someone has to make sure you guys dont break your necks trying to scale the mountain, she stated, then paused. What are all you guys doing here anyway?
We might have a call, Chris answered. Two kids, Josiahs out checking on it right now.
Well you should be glad Im here to provide back up, Natalie stated.
Cause the infamous Natalie I have to climb everything taller than me which isnt saying much cause Im a whole five feet tall Royal follows every safety precaution when she climbs, Buck scoffed, picking up the rope and began his attempt to untie it again .
Luke! Nathan roared Bring them back here!
Luke sprinted out of the kitchen with a bag of chips in his hands. Doritos were falling out of his open bag as he hid behind the chair. Vesper was quickly making them disappear
Chris glared at the young man,
He was going to throw them away! Can you imagine? Luke protested. Hey!
Natalie had reached over and grabbed the bag out of his hand.
Im imagining belaying your fat butt up Picklers Peak and not enjoying the image, Natalie answered. She rolled up the bag and threw it at Nathan as he emerged from the kitchen.
The paramedic, unprepared for the movement, was greeted with the bag hitting him in the face. The chips fell all over the ground. Vesper was on her feet as soon as she heard the crumbs spill and began eating the mess.
Sorry Doc, Natalie chuckled, not really that apologetic.
Its like babysitting cougar cubs, Nathan cursed under his breath and went into the kitchen to try and find a broom.
So your dad know youre back in town yet? Buck asked as he took a sip of the tea, and then winced in disgust.
No and hes not going too, Natalie answered. Ill sleep here till Saturday and he wont know a thing.
Youre going to be in trouble if he finds out, Buck answered. Looks like it might be pay back for the time you left me a present from Vesper in my ski boot.
Yeah guess your right, Natalie sighed in defeat.
Buck smiled in triumphant at finally being able to get back at his arch nemesis.
But when your done telling him where I am tonight, give me the phone because I thing hed be very interested to know where you where too.
Bucks eyes grew large and he nearly spat out his tea.
Havent talked to my sister for a while, Natalie explained. I thought Id stop by and see Melanie, but she already had a visitor.
Jesus, Chris sighed. Guy Royal is going to ruin my business yet. Hes going to shoot my partner for messing around with his oldest daughter and lock his youngest in her room for skipping class.
Im not skipping class, Natalie protested. She scooted her chair in to let Nathan through who had thrown the broom the ground when he saw the dog had cleaned up most of the mess.
Im just .
Pursuing my career opportunities, Luke and Buck finished for her, knowing the routine.
You got to come up with a new one Nat, Luke scolded.
Its true, she answered. I can be so much more productive out here then sitting at a damn outdoor education conference contemplating if its better to use a bowline or a figure eight knot to set up a climb.
Cause we know the answers a bowline, Buck supplied.
Everybodys using a figure eight now, Luke answered. Bowlines are out of date.
I climbed on a bowline my entire life Boy and never had a problem, Buck growled.
And I wouldnt doubt you smacked your head a few times too many too, Luke answered, already out the door by the time Buck had gotten to his feet. He sprinted outside after the younger man. Vesper followed, barking the entire time. They all shivered when a cold gust of wind blew into the room.
Cougar cubs, Nathan repeated, taking the book of matches and lighting a fire in woodstove.
Natalie, you need to watch yourself. I want you here when we send out the kids this summer, but you need that degree and certification if were going to open again. Chris told her seriously.
Dont worry Chris, Natalie answered with a smile. The professors know that Im good at what I do, she paused when the door opened. Ill have my degree and certifications by the end of this semester. If not Ill have Ezra fudge the papers for me.
Not without some proper form of compensation Ms. Royal, Ezra Standish smiled, not missing a beat as he walked into the small room, Vesper followed him inside.
Chris nodded his greeting as the younger man pulled off his designer ski jacket and carefully hung it on the chair next to him as he brushed off the snow.
Thanks for showing up on time, Chris said sarcastically.
Im sure I missed a whole lot judging by the spectacular display of face facing going outside right now, Ezra answered. Ill have you know that I was in the middle of a very important business meeting.
At two o clock in the morning? Natalie asked.
Poker tables get out late? Chris asked with a smile.
Ezras answer was to smile slyly. He reached down to scratch Vesper behind the ears.
You arent going to chew another pair of my shoes are you? he asked the dog affectionately.
Chris watched Ezra sit down in the chair formally occupied by Buck. The man picked up the knotted rope and with a few simple twists had pulled them out. Chris considered himself a pro at figuring people out, but he had not been able to do so with Ezra. To most people in Four Corners, Ezra was a pompous, self-absorbed, fill in the blank yourself. In his own words, Ezra oversaw the management of one of the most lucrative ski resorts in the area. The resort was actually owned by his globetrotting mother, a sore spot that Ezra never really talked about. Very few people knew that Ezra was secretly hiding his earnings and planned to someday buy the resort. Chris imagined that the salary he made from the resort was only a small percentage of what he earned at the casino next door.
Many people questioned Ezras dedication to the search rescue team that required so much time and energy with almost no personal gain. Chris wondered for a while too, before he had really gotten to meet the man. About three years into its existence, New Horizons had lost the grant that provided most of its funding. Chris and Buck had been forced to close their program until they received a large donation from an anonymous donor. At first, Chris and Buck had been clueless to who the donor was, but slowly they pieced it together. Ezras constant questions and his sudden appearances during their trips with their kids had given him away. Always claiming just to be hiking in the area, Ezra would spend hours talking with the kids about his own troubled youth and teaching the kids knots. Ezras ambidextrous hands that made him such a formidable foe at the poker table also made him an agile climber.
The door to the cabin opened once again as Buck and Luke walked back in both covered from head to snow.
Its the first Yeti sighting in Marlboro County, Ezra shook his head. Close the door, the conditions in here are bad enough!
Luke walked over and hugged Ezra around the neck, the snow dripping off him onto Ezras neck. Aww, is being outside your nice warm resort making you cranky?
Ezra ducked his head under Lukes arm.
No its the awful display of manners, Ezra stated disgustingly.
The telephone in the resort started to ring. Chris reached out only to realize the cordless phone was not in its cradle.
Wheres the damn phone? Chris roared. A desperate search for the phone began as everyone in the search attempted to follow the noise of the missing telephone, at least an attempt at a search. Buck tripped over Natalies foot sending the two of them crashing to the floor. During his fall, he knocked over Nathan and Luke. Somebodys leg knocked over the chair where Ezra was sitting, sending him sprawling out on top of the pile.
Maybe you should watch where youre going!
I think I broke my toe!
Chris shook his head as he lifted up a rope on the table, to find the communication devise hidden underneath
Larabee, he answered, gruffly.
Chris Larabee, the words best PR representative, Ezra stated sarcastically untangling himself from the pile. He did his best to wipe the dust off his clothes.
Shhh! Nathan scolded.
They all turned to watch Chris who was listening intently to one end of the conversation.
How long?...Shit .and they didnt call until now?...Bastard What did Travis say?...Alright, were getting ready right now. He deliberately put the phone back in its cradle, but didnt expect it to be there, the next time he had to use it.
He looked at the six faces staring impatiently at him. They looked like puppies waiting for a treat.
Weve got ourselves a case, Chris stated, with no emotion. He didnt need too.
A loud whoop erupted in the small room. Vesper, sensing the excitement in the air, began barking. It was always the same. Everyone would grumble and complain about having to come in, but as soon as they had a case the adrenaline would kick in.
Chris waited patiently until everyone was seated at the table, waiting to hear instructions.
Alright ladies, Chris stated. Josiah should be here within the next ten minutes to brief us some more, but here is what I got so far.
He had the complete attention of all six humans in the room.
We have two victims, two kids, Vin Tanner and JD Dunne, Ages 14 and 10. Theyve been missing since three thirty this afternoon when they didnt return home from school. Mom got home from work around nine and noticed they werent there, called the Sheriffs department about two hours ago.
What? Buck asked. Theyve been missing since this afternoon and it wasnt reported until tonight? The man was flabbergasted. What kind of parents would
Foster parents, Chris corrected. Apparently the mom works late. Her husband is supposed to watch the kids in the afternoon when they get home from school. Apparently, he was passed out with a hangover the entire day. Never really woke up until she got home from work.
If theyve been gone since three clock this afternoon A loud gust of wind shook the entire cabin, interrupting Nathans statement. They all looked out the window as the snow began to fall harder by the minute. .
Chris, if they dont have the proper clothing on, theyre probably already Natalie began.
But we dont know that for sure, Chris interrupted the young woman harshly.
Travis was hesitant to arrange any sort of search on account of the weather and the time. A whole bunch of inexperienced people wondering around in the dark and this weather could turn into a bigger mess, than two missing people.
But theyre boys just kids! Luke protested.
.but since they are kids hes organizing a small search in town. Mostly his deputies and a few townsfolk he can trust.
Good luck, Buck huffed. He had led an afternoon of survival training down at the Sheriffs office a few weeks ago. They had barely moved past its probably a good idea to figure out how to actually use a compass before heading out into the woods. Most of the deputies were great guys, but Buck would not trust them taking care of themselves in the wilderness, much less heading up a search
which is why he is organizing the search mainly around Four Corners and the neighboring woods In fact ? Chris continued.
May I ask why we are sitting inside this decrepit hell hole instead of assisting in the search? It was Ezras turn to interrupt.
Seems the woman had decided that situation with the kids wasnt working out and was planning on giving them up. Social workers were planning on splitting the boys up. I guess the older one threw a fit and threatened to run away a few days ago. The mom mentioned that.. Chris growled when he was interrupted once again by the opening door.
At that moment, the door to cabin opened and a big man covered in snow walked in. The group collectively shivered.
Sorry about that, Josiah stated, walking over to the open chair. He took extra time to clasp Luke on the shoulder and kiss Natalie on top of her head. They older men in the room smiled when the actions made the youngest members of the team beam. Both of them owed a lot to retired teacher.
Josiah was fond of telling the story of how he first met Luke and Natalie. Luke and Natalie had been in eighth grade during Josiahs last year at the school before he retired. All three of them had been assigned to an at-risk counseling session. At that time, Natalie and Luke were headed down the wrong path. Both of them were facing court date for crimes and expected to be heading out to a juvenile facility in the near future.. Neither of them wanted to be there, and Josiah admitted he was not happy that he had been assigned such hard cases his last year
Lukes mother had moved the two of them away from his abusive father two years before. Like in Vassar was not cheap, and she was forced to work three jobs in order to keep the family afloat. When Luke was diagnosed with Dyslexia, she had little time to seek the help he needed. Of course, Lukes schoolwork was awful and nobody at the school was willing to do anything about it. He turned to the only thing he had knew he could be good at, drugs and alcohol. It took a horrible accident for Luke to finally receive the attention he needed, he was in the vehicle when one his intoxicated friends lost control and the car went flying into office of the wealthy realtor, Guy Royal.
Unlike Luke, Natalie Royal had all the money she could ever need. She had been the result of an affair between the realtor and the actress Emma Dubonnet who was in Vassar filming a movie. Natalie had lived in LA until she was five when her mother lost custody of her due to neglect. Royal had taken the girl only to protect his image. He had not really wanted her and neither did his wife. Natalie caught on from a young age that she was not loved, not the way her older half siblings were. Like so many kids seeking attention, she began seeking it in the wrong ways. Nobody thought her unstable home life was to blame, and not the ADHD they were so quick to diagnose her with. Natalie was in big trouble when Josiah got her for selling her Ritalin to some classmates.
The counselor had taken an instant liking to the youths, but he was making no progress with them inside a classroom. Neither one of them had any respect for any authority figure inside the school. New Horizons only took trips during the summer, but Josiah had asked Chris and Buck for help. Both had been hesitant, but agreed to help their friend.
Buck was not sure if New Horizons had changed Luke and Natalie or they had changed all of them. He guessed it went both ways. It usually took weeks to convince kids to climb, Natalie was dangling from a cliff within ten minutes of being strapped into a harness. Chris would never admit it, but he loved having such a willing and capable protégé. Luke was also a capable climber, but seemed to enjoy the peacefulness of just hiking on the mountain. When Chris was showing Natalie how to set holds, Luke was following a set of tracks. He shared what he had learned with his grandfather and his desire to learn more. Buck offered to teach him the survival skills he learned in the SEALS. The volunteer work for Josiah slowly didnt seem like work anymore.
In the meantime, their grades were improving and they had not gotten in trouble for over three months. Josiah had helped Lukes mom find a steady paying job that allowed her to be home with her son at night. The judge had been impressed with the sudden positive change in the kids and decided against any action, as long as they stayed out of trouble.
So what have we got Josiah? Chris asked.
Looks to me like the little boys ran away because they were going to have to leave Four Corners, he said looking over at Natalie and Luke. Their house is right outside of Moose Park.
There was a long silence.
Well this quite ironic, Ezra whispered quietly.
This story had seemed vaguely familiar. Buck looked at the faces around the room. He wondered if they were remembering the same thing he was
Buck waked up the rickety steps of the old house he and Chris shared. He walked into the first of the three bedrooms on the second floor. God, he felt like would rather shoot himself than do the job he was going to have to right now. He looked behind him and saw that Lukes eyes were welling up with tears.
Hey buddy, you going to be okay? he asked, stopping and putting a comforting arm on the teens shoulders.
Yeah, Im fine, he answered quickly, wiping the tears out of his eyes. Im just being stupid.
Buck squeezed him hard around the shoulder.
Its okay to cry boy, sign of a real man., he pulled Lukes face up with his hand to let him see the tears falling down his own his own cheeks, but we have to hide them right now. Both of us have to be strong for her.
Buck squeezed Lukes shoulders one more time before letting go and continuing up to the doorway of the next room. The sight that greeted him nearly broke his heart.
Chris was sitting on the twin size bed. Natalie was pulled close to his chest. The blond nodded his head when he noticed that Buck was standing in the doorway, He tapped Natalie on the shoulder. She also looked up, her green eyes full of desperation.
A few months ago, Emma had gotten herself cleaned up and wanted custody of now freshman daughter back. Royal, never wanting the girl the first place, had more than happy to oblige. Buck and the other man had been livid. Why take the girl away now that she had finally managed to get her life straightened out.
Oh God, kill me now, Buck thought to himself. He would rather jump off a cliff than have to tell her the awful news.
Did you talk to the lawyer? she asked, her voice shaking.
Buck nodded his head.
She tried everything that she knew, but theres nothing she can do. Both of your parents are completely within their legal rights to do what theyre doing.
NO! Natalie screamed. She broke out of Chriss grip and ran right past Buck and Luke before either one of them knew what happened.
Nat, wait! Luke screamed as he chased after her.
Buck was about to go, but Chris put on hand on his shoulder.
Let the two of them be right now. I need you to explain to me what the lawyer said.
Buck sighed heavily.
Murphy said that the judge listened to what Natalie wanted, but he has to follow the law. Royal doesnt want her anymore and her mother does, its as simple as that. She tried talking to both Royal and Emma. She even proposed your idea of letting you adopt Natalie to Emma. She said that Emma got all teary eyed and asked who on earth would propose taking her daughter away from her. Bucks voice was cold.
Bitch, Chris swore, clenching his fists.
Hello? a voice called from downstairs.
Were up here Josiah, Buck called back.
Hold on, were on our way down, Buck called.
Chris was already walking down the steps.
I take it the news from Murphy wasnt good, Nathan stated when both men reached the living room.
Its out of our control now, Buck answered.
Damn, Josiah swore, punching his fist into the wall. Those kids have come to far to have everything blow up in our faces!
Where did you send them off to? Nathan asked.
Huh? Buck asked.
Luke and Nat, they went tearing out of here in your old Jeep. They passed us on our way here. Hell, Natalie was driving faster than you Chris.
Buck and Chris looked at each other, eyes wide before shooting out the door into the open garage.
Buck took one look around and cursed.
Theyre packs are gone!
Chris saw a note on his truck. He ripped it off and began reading. Im sorry I have to do this to all of you. Youve have done so much for Luke and I. But this is the only option I have right now. I wont go live in California! Dont worry about us. We are prepared and know how to take care of ourselves. You made sure of that. Well let you know when we figure something out.
Shit! Chris swore.
Really regretting telling them to always keep their gear packed and ready, Buck stated.
Except they wont have their tents, Chris answered shaking his head. I took
them out a few days ago to recoat them and never got around to putting them back in.
Any idea where they could have gone? Josiah asked.
No clue, Chris stated. They both know these woods as well as any of us do now.
Im going to go call the cops, Nathan stated. Maybe well get lucky and theyll find them before they even get off the main highway. He walked into the house.
I better come inside and call Lukes mom. Josiah stated. I suppose Natalies parents will want to know whats happening too. He added the last part as an afterthought. The two walked into the house.
Theres no need, Buck answered. They watched as an expensive SUV pulled into the driveway. A very angry looking Guy Royal stormed out of the vehicle
You bastard! Royal swore shoving Chris backwards. I just got a phone call from Natalie tell me she isnt ever coming back. You put her up to this didnt you?
You really believe I told Natalie to run away? Chris growled, pushing Royals arms off of him.
Why else would she do it? Royal answered. She listens to you more than anyone else. But this is just how you want it isnt it? Youve always wanted to destroy my reputation havent you? Well, youve succeeded, because as soon as Mary Travis gets a hold of this :
Chris and Buck stared and Royal, dumbfounded. They were both unable to speak for a minute. It was Buck who finally broke the silence.
Is that all you think this is really about?
What else could it be about? Royal asked.
Chris launched himself at Royal, knocking him to the ground.
Son of a Bitch! She is your daughter! Chris would have proceeded to beat the living daylights out of the man, if Buck didnt hold him back.
Not now Pard. This isnt the time, Buck whispered in his ear. Chris broke out of Bucks embrace, but did not attempt to attack Royal again.
I will sue you! Royal yelled, pulling himself up.
I think it would be a good idea to leave right now, Buck growled. Youll have a hard time explaining to your clients why youre in the hospital.
Royal took the hint. He backed away towards his car, but not before yelling.
If anything happens to her, I will destroy you!
How could you not take a punch at him? Chris asked while Royal was driving away.
Believe me I was fighting the urge the whole time, Buck answered, but I figured the last thing we need right now is to be sitting in a jail cell. Buck felt something wet hit his nose. He and Chris both looked up to see snowflakes falling down.
Buck looked towards the sky and could see the dark clouds moving in.
Great, thats just what we need.
Nathan came shooting out of the house.
I just checked the radar. Apparently theres a nice size front heading this way. Could bring blizzard conditions within the next few hours.
Chris opened his mouth to let out a long string of curses, but stopped when a different fancy SUV pulled Chriss driveway.
OF course hes late, Nathan sighed as Ezra walked over to join them. He took one look at their faces and sighed.
I was listening on my police radio on the drive here, Ezra answered. Is it true theyve put out an amber alert?
Chris nodded his head.
You were supposed to be here a half an hour ago, Nathan accused.
I was researching something that now may be vital for helping Natalies case since
What can be so important that Nathan interrupted.
Can it you two, Chris answered. Right now, we need to come up with a plan on how we are going to find Natalie and Luke before this blizzard sets in.
Chris? Josiah walked out of the house. I was just checking your maps of the area. Youre missing the one of Moose Park.
Josiah, what does that have to do with Buck asked, and then is suddenly dawned on him The realization seemed to hit the other men at the same time.
Get in the truck! Chris ordered.
Two hours later, Buck covered his cold nose with his gloved hands. He looked around to see the swirling snow starting to make it more difficult to see.
Shoot, Buck whispered. This isnt looking good Pard.
Chris gave him a look then pulled out his radio.
Anybody got anything? he asked.
Ezra and I got nothing, Nathan responded.
They havent come back to the jeep either, Josiah answered. His voice cackled over the static.
Buck looked around and saw something silver glistening in the snow. He reached down and picked up a Snickers wrapper.
Chris looked at him.
You think its from Luke? he asked.
Gotta be, Buck answered. If it had been out here long, it would have gotten covered up by snow.
Could have blown in, Chris suggested, then stopped. Buck, pull out the map.
Buck obliged and pulled out the Moose Park map they had borrowed from Ezra.
They were trying to make their way here, Chris answered, pointing his gloved hand at an old ghost mining camp.
Buck gave Chris a questioning look.
They would have known they needed to do something for shelter once they realized they dont have tents. This is the closest place with shelter..
What if they made it farther than we thought? Buck answered.
Then were screwed, Chris answered. He pulled out his radio.
Nathan, meet me at Fortune Mining camp. Josiah, I want you to stay at the jeep just in case they decide to come back. Chris called into the radio and started jogging towards the ghost town. Buck followed on his heels.
Buck and Chris reached the outskirts of town. Buck turned his head when he thought he heard a scream.
Did you hear that? He asked.
Could have just been the wind, Chris answered. Its really starting to pick up.
Chris, get over here now! Nathans voice cackled on the radio. Were on the north side of the camp!
Chris looked like he was about to take off at a sprint, but Buck put an arm out to stop him.
Careful, this whole place is full of shafts. No telling when something might cave in.
Chris nodded his head. Both men took off at a fast, but cautious pace. When the men finally reached Nathan and Ezra, they gasped at the scene in front of them.
Ezra was pulling a distraught Natalie out of a hole.
Shit, Buck swore as they rushed over,
Natalie was clutching Ezra around the neck, gasping for air.
Shhh, he soothed, rubbing her back. Its okay; just take deep breaths.
I dont think shes hurt real bad, Nathan stated. Just shook up pretty hard.
The ground must have collapsed right beneath her, They looked down into the hole where Ezra had pulled Natalie up from, revealing an old mine shaft
Wheres Luke? Chris asked.
I dont know, we just heard Natalie scream. Nathan answered.
He was ahead of me, Natalie sobbed, trying to break out of Ezras grasp. Oh God, hes still down there!
Easy sweetheart. Ezra pulled Natalie gently back towards him. She collapsed onto him. Ezra gave Chris a concerned look, but didnt say a word.
Nathan pulled his headlamp out of pocket and began shinning it inside the hole. The hole was about twenty feet down. Several old timber frames had collapsed. He continued to shine his light around, looking for any trace of the youth.
Go back! Buck demanded. Nathan went back with his light.
Oh God, he gasped. The pieces of timber were so big that he had almost missed it the first time. Two legs clad in brown were lying unmoving beneath one of the large frames.
Luke! Buck called, but received no response.
You got to lower me down there, Chris responded. Buck opened his mouth to protest, but soon realized there was no other way.
How we going to do that? he asked.
Chris had pulled out his own headlamp was using to look down the shafts.
These walls look okay to climb down. There are enough roots and sticks to use as holds.
Buck walked over to their packs and pulled out a climbing harness and rope.
.Nathan went to talk over the radio to Josiah as Chris and Buck readied the gear.
Chris quickly slid into the harness and Buck tied the rope to it.
You realize this breaks about every rule and procedure in the handbook, Buck stated as Chris began to lower himself down.
So? Chris asked right before he disappeared down into the hole.
Buck watched as Chris carefully made his way down into hole and carefully crept over to where Lukes body was stuck under the log.
Chris squeezed his way through the beams so he could get a look at Lukes face, hardly daring to breathe. He was terrified about what he would find.
He let out a loud sigh of relief when he heard a loud groan escape from the young mans lips. The older man was by his side in a second.
Hey bud, can you open your eyes? Chris asked gently, performing a quick assessment for injuries.
A few seconds later, Lukes eyes fluttered open.
Yeah Bud, its me, Chris smiled, stroking the teens shaggy bangs out of his face. Luke had several cuts on his hands and face. The kid had been lucky. The beam that had collapsed was resting against the wall. It was at least a foot above Lukes legs.
What happened? Luke asked.
Im guessing you and Nat were trying to find shelter at this old camp when the ground collapsed beneath you, Chris explained, pulling his water battle off his hip pack.
Natalie?! Where is she? He gasped trying to get up.
Easy kid, Chris soothed gently pushing the kid back down. Ezra already pulled her out. Shes scared and scratched up, but theres nothing really wrong with her. Youre hurt a lot worse. Chris put the water bottle close to Lukes mouth. Here drink some of this.
Luke drank some of the water.
What the hell is going on down there? Bucks voice echoed through the hole.
Were okay, Chris answered, knowing that answer wasnt completely true. He was relieved that Luke and Natalie were okay. Part of him wished there was a way they all could just stay out here and avoid heading back into town.
A few hours later, Buck, Chris and Ezra were sitting in the hospital waiting room with Natalie. Both kids had been slightly hypothermic and their bodies bore several scrapes and bruises. Luke had sprained his ankle pretty bad. Josiah and his mother were waiting in his room while the doctor put on the cast. Josiah had called the kids
parents as soon as they were on the road. Lukes mother had met them at the hospital. Neither of Natalies parents had arrived yet.
So how old do you have to be to legally declare yourself independent of your parents? Natalie asked Ezra.
Buck and Chris shared a look. They had both reached the same conclusion on their way over.
Seventeen, but I dont think that will be necessary. You see I acquired some interesting
Where is my daughter? A voice growled.
Everyone looked up to see Royal storm into the waiting room. Natalie cowered back against Buck who instinctively put his arm around her.
Chris stood up.
Royal, Chris greeted, but his whole body was tense.
Lets go girl, your mother is waiting for you at the hotel. Im supposed to drop you off.
You wouldnt be interested in her well being after her whole affair would you Mr. Royal? Ezras voice was sugary sweet, but the hostility was unmistakable.
Shes looks just fine to me. Besides I want her out of here before the press gets down here to interview her.
Press? Buck asked.
Nathan said that he was going to call Mary Travis, Natalie whispered in his ear.
Lets go Natalie! Royal yelled again.
Buck could feel Natalie start to get up. He tightened his grip.
Natalie, stay where you are! Chris ordered. A confused look covered Natalies face, but she followed Chriss orders.
Natalie, Its about time you listen to your damn father! Lets go!
What the hell are you trying to pull Larabee? Royal had lowered his voice when he saw that several of the hospital staff had turned their heads towards the noise.
You could give a damn about what happens to the girl, Chris hissed. She never had a real home with you. Well you know what, she finally found one and Ill be damned if I let you take it away from her!
I can have you arrested for kidnapping, Royal responded.
Chris looked over at Buck. This had been what they had discussed.
You do and youll make bigger news outlets then the tiny Clarion News. Pretty sure this story will be broadcast throughout the country.
The room was silent for a minute.
Natalie tried to stand up again.
I dont think so missy, Buck whispered in her ear.
Chris is going to get himself arrested, she hissed back.
Yup. Thats the plan. Reckon it wont be long before Travis has to come slap cuffs on me too.
Youd do that for me? Natalie asked in disbelief.
You better believe it darling cause real family takes care of each other.
Gentlemen, I believe that I have an arrangement that would prevent either of you from ending up behind bars, Ezra stated standing up and walking over to stand beside Chris.
I wouldnt get involved Standish, Royal growled.
You are probably right, Standish answered. But I find that I am have involved myself a little too much. You see I had a very interesting discussion with a hotel patron of mine, a Miss Lynne Gordon.
The transformation in Royal was phenomenal. His face drained of color until is was almost completely white.
I obtained information that Miss Gordons illegitimate daughters actual son
may be somewhere in Four Corners.
How did you Royal gasped.
Well you see a few On the House Long Islands will loosen anyones tongue. Ezra answered shrugging his shoulders.
:You cant prove anything, Royal hissed between his teeth. Looking around to see if anyone else had heard.
Quite true Mr. Royal, answered pleasantly. But I would hate to think what would happen if even the mere rumor of another affair passes through this town. It would not be good for business.
I will destroy you! Royals face was bright red.
Then perhaps we can go to the unemployment office together, Ezra responded calmly.
Chris, Buck and Natalie looked at Ezra with awe.
So whats it going to be Guy? Chris asked. Either Natalie stays in Four Corners or you see your face plastered all over the news.
Fine! Girl you stay here, but dont you expect anything from me! Royal yelled before storming out of the office.
Before Ezra knew what hit him, Natalie had wrapped his arms around him. At first, he looked a little hesitant at the public display of affection, but a smile lit up his face. He returned the hug. After a few seconds, she let go.
Im going to go tell Luke! she stated, before running down the hospital hallway.
Wow, Ezra how did you get the that tight lipped broad to admit to having an affair with Royal? Buck asked.
She didnt, Ezra answered.
But you got her drunk and
Oh she was intoxicated alright, Ezra answered disgusted. She was singing Frank Sinatra all the way up to her hotel room, but I couldnt get her to admit anything.
Ive always had my suspicions about Royal. Looks like I was correct.
Buck and Chris just laughed.
Buck looked around the table Everyone at the table had a faraway look on their faces. They obviously had been recalling the story as well.
So when do we leave? Nathan asked, bringing everyone back to reality.
As soon as possible, Josiah answered. The wind was starting to blow my truck around. If those kids are out in this weather too long he didnt finish his sentence. He didnt have too.
That means everything needs to be set up, Buck stated, getting out of his chair.
Already done, Nathan stated. First aid kits have been refilled, radios have been charged, All our packs are set to go...
Climbing gears been checked, Natalie interrupted.
Nat, were about to have a blizzard outside, Nathan protested. Were not climbing. Besides these boys probably arent even in the park...
Jacksons Search and Rescue Most important rule, Natalie stated in a regal voice. Everything should be checked, because you never know when you might need it.
Nathan glared at the woman, but he got up and walked up the stairs.
None of us will be climbing, no matter how much faster it is Chris stated. I was out at Moose two days ago and...
Ah Mr. Larabee, please enlighten us to what you were doing at the park? Ezra asked, with a mischievous smile.
Were missing two static ropes, Nathan called from the top of the steps.
Theyre in the back of my truck, Chris stated. He turned to see his teams smiling faces. I was checking the conditions, he stated defensively.
Right, Luke answered, rolling his eyes.
Chris started rustling through the papers, pulling out a large map of Moose Park.
How did you find that so quickly in all that junk? Luke asked.
Sixth sense, Chris answered with a smile. He opened up the map and grabbed a pencil. Alright, lets do a quick probability grid.
I already did it on the way over here, Josiah answered.
Chris and Josiah were referring to a common search and rescue technique.
A search area was split into each section. Each section was given a percentage of the likelihood of finding the victim in that area. The higher the percentage the more likely the victims were to be in that area. Many things factored into determining the probability. Distance, availability of resources, the terrain, ect. The areas with highest probability would be the ones searched first.
Josiah began drawing circles around parts of the park. The circles with the highest percentages were nearest to the boys house.
I basically based it on the assumption that the boys will not be able to make it very far into the park, I should have taken other conditions into consideration but there simply wasnt time.
It will suit our purposes just fine, Chris answered. So heres what Im thinking. We approach the first section in teams from different locations. Nathan and Luke will come in from the north. Josiah and I will take the east side. Natalie, Ezra and Buck will come in from the west. If we dont find them in our initial search, well reassess and go from there.
He didnt need to state that there would probably be nothing more than an initial search. If they didnt find the kids soon, they would be looking for bodies. Chris wasnt about to risk his team for that.
The team nodded their heads in agreement.
Alright, lets go, Chris answered. Well take Natalies, Nathans and my vehicles.
Why not mine? Luke asked.
Is there gas in it this time? Josiah asked, referring to a time when he had tried to drive Lukes truck out to a search site only to discover the Ford was already running on fumes.
Dont you remember why you needed to drive my truck in the first place? Luke countered. It had been one of the many times Josiahs old truck had broken down.
Which is why we are going to take the most reliable vehicles, Chris answered.
I think we should take Ezras, Natalie suggested, playfully punching the man.
Ezra shot her a disgusted look,
And run the risk of denting it again? Ezra asked. My poor Jag is still recovering from the time Buck and Nathan drove it to rescue that hunter on Byres Cannon,
It was the only thing available at the time! Buck protested. Besides that branch came out of nowhere!
Just get it in the damn trucks already, Chris growled.
Fifteen minutes later, the team was on the road. The howling wind filled the car with its eerie sound and visibility was getting worse by the minute. Buck looked at the digital clock. It was almost twelve. It had only been an hour since Chriss phone call had taken him away from his nice warm bed, but it seemed like much longer.
Buck noticed that Natalies hands were clenched on the steering wheel as she followed Chris and Nathan. Even her trusty Subaru was threatening to blow off the road. The radio was playing in the background merely to provide background noise.
Ezra was sitting in the back seat, using his headlamp to look over the map and aerial photos he had found before they left.
Buck looked up to watch the taillights of the vehicles in front of them disappear as they went to their respective locations.
Go up about another three miles, Ezra told Natalie. You should see a large oak tree that should provide excellent protection for your car.
How thoughtful, Natalie answered snidely.
My intentions are purely self serving, Ezra responded. I want to find these boys and get out of here and back into my warm bed as soon as possible. I dont want to spend any extra time shoveling off your car.
Buck rolled his eyes at the banter between his two teammates. A few minutes later, Natalie pulled into the spot Ezra had told her about.
You two get the packs set up, Buck answered. Ill radio Chris.
Ezra looked like he was going to protest Bucks desire to remain in the warm car longer, but closed it and hopped out of the backseat.
Buck picked up the radio and pushed the call button.
This is Eagle One, were about ready to head out.
You got your packs all set? Chriss cackling voice responded.
Natalie and Ezra are checking them over right now, Buck answered.
Make sure you got gear if you get stuck out in this weather, Chris answered. I dont plan on it, but I want everyone prepared.
Buck heard the hatch open and his friends begin pulling out the packs.
You get that? He asked.
Make sure theres a tent in the pack this time, check, Natalie answered with a grin.
Please, I dont plan on having to pull you out of another collapsed mine, Ezra answered.
Once your packs are set, you are cleared to start searching. Keep us posted if you find anything, Chris answered. Over and Out.
Buck got out of the car and attached the radio to his belt. Natalie and Ezra already had their packs on.
He groaned when he saw the tent bag attached to his pack.
How would Luke so elegantly put it? Ezra asked sarcastically. You snooze you lose.
Buck sighed and heaved his pack onto his back, not appreciating the extra weight of the heavy duty tent. There were definitely lighter winter tents, but they were expensive. The team did not have the money to spend it on such luxuries.
Here, Natalie said, handing his some orange packets. Youve got some others in your pack, but I pulled them out so you dont have to go digging through all that canvas to get to them.
Thanks, Buck answered, stuffing the hand warmers in his coat pocket. The three spread out and began walking quickly. Their movements were out of habit. During a normal search and rescue mission, searchers would stay close enough together so every single section in a search grid was looked over, checked by another, and sometimes rechecked. He and his friends did not have the time or manpower to do such an extensive search.
Buck could feel his breathing start to get heavy as he trudged through the snow. There was not enough snow on the ground to use snowshoes, but there was enough to make the walk tiring. The increasing wind speed and dropping temperature were not making it any easier either.
Water break, he called. Natalie and Ezra walked over to join them, their orange jackets very visible even in the dark and the snow. They set their packs down on the ground almost instantaneously and began drinking from their thermoses.
Buck took a sip from his own bottle and grabbed the radio.
Anyone find anything? he asked.
Nothing, Chriss voice answered.
No luck over here either, Josiah chimed in.
Everyone doing okay? Chris asked.
Buck looked over Ezra and Natalie. He could feel them doing the same to him.
One of the most important rules for a searcher was to keep yourself safe and alert. A tired and cold search member could quickly turn into a liability.
Were all good here, Buck responded..
So are we, Josiah responded.
Alright, we keep searching until we reach our meeting point, Chris answered. Ezra put his water bottle and stood up.
So many places for two little bodies to hide, he said shaking his head. Anyone of us could easily miss the place where they are hiding.
Especially if they dont want to be found, Natalie answered. You remember that one time we were searching for that one little girl who heard us calling but stayed hidden because she thought she shouldnt talk to strangers?
Buck nodded his head.
This isnt boding well for our little lost friends, Ezra responded.
No, Buck answered, But we have to remember that kids have the best survival rate out of anyone. Theyre much better at following their natural survival instincts
Natalie nodded her head.
When they are hungry, they find something to eat. When they are sleepy, they stop running. When they are cold, they find a warm place to cuddle up in. Stupid adults ignore all this stuff and panic until they fall and break a leg or get so hypothermic and exhausted; their bodies just give up on them.
Well lets hope those natural instincts told those little boys find a warm place to cuddle up in, Ezra answered. He heaved his pack back onto his back. The others followed suit and continued their trek through the snow.
Fifteen minutes later, Buck was forced to slow his pace even more. The temperature had dropped at least five degrees and the snow had reduced visibility to a few feet.
Ezra tried to say something to him, but the howl of the wind drowned out his voice.
What? Buck hollered.
Instead of trying to yell over the wind, Ezra pointed to the wooden sign. They had reached the trailhead where they were supposed to meet the others.
Damn, Buck swore. He looked over to see Natalie snooping around the snow beneath a set of ledges. Buck walked over to join her. He found that the ledges offered good shelter from the wind and blowing snow. At least he could talk without having to shout.
You find anything? he asked desperately.
She shook her head sadly, then stopped. She pointed with her gloved hand to something in the snow. She and Buck almost tripped over each other trying to get to it.
The bright red hat in the white snow was unmistakable despite the weather conditions.
They both looked around the area. They were standing in a large pine plantation with very few spots for a squirrel to hide. Certainty no spots big enough for two little boys.
Buck and Natalie looked at each other then at the top of the ledge.
It must have blown down, Natalie stated. Theres no other way it could have gotten down here.
Are you sure its from one of them? Buck asked.
Natalie held up the tiny hat and tried to put it on her head. She raised her eyebrows at Buck.
Okay, Okay, Buck answered. Shit! The top of those ledges arent in our first section. Its at least a two mile hike to go around.
Its not that high Buck, I could free climb in it in
No freaking way darling. Its too big of a risk, besides Chris would have my head if he found out.
Natalie looked as if she were about to protest when her jaw dropped. Buck turned around to look at what had caused the surprise on the young womans face. He felt his own jaw drop.
Damn Standish! He growled.
Ezra was already halfway up the ledge when he heard Buck curse at him. The man didnt say anything back. Every ounce of his concentration was focused on the climb. The rock was a lot slicker than he had originally thought. It wasnt a real high climb, less than thirty feet, but certainly high enough that it would hurt quite a bit if he fell. He knew he was climbing fast, partly because of the needed urgency and partly because he knew this ledge so well. He had climbed it countless times before. He reached for the hole in the rock, the natural hold, he knew would be there. The agile man pulled himself up, reaching for the rock ledge. The next step was easy. He pulled himself up and over. It was not as graceful as he had done in the past, but he saw sure no one was watching. At least that is what he thought.
What are you doing here? A surprised voice yelled, before Ezra could pull himself to his feet.
Ezra looked up into the blue eyes of a gangly teenage boy. The teen had on a threadbare jacket and was missing a mitten. The teens skin was red from the cold and he was visibly shaking. Ezra knew that he had found Vin Tanner.
My friends and I are here to rescue you my friend. We would like to take you to
back home so they can take my little brother away from me? I dont think so!
Before Ezra knew what had happened, he felt himself topple over. He put out his hands to stop his tumble but he discovered he was reaching for air.
Oh shit, was the only thought he had time for before he felt himself land hard on the ground.
Ezras landing wasnt quite as hard as he had originally anticipated. In fact, it was actually quite squishy. He laid there for a moment, still dazed. He could feel a burning pain around his abdomen
Damn Ez, youre, a muffled voice groaned.
It took Ezra a moment to realize he was on top of Luke. Ezra instantly rolled off and was rewarded with a jolt of pain to his stomach.
I apologize Luke, he wheezed. Are you hurt? he added, concerned. He felt nauseous and wasnt thinking clearly, but he knew he had to check on the youth.
You knocked the wind out of me, but I think Im okay, Luke asked.
Neither one of you are moving until I make sure you idiots are fine, Nathan stated.
Ezra looked around to see the whole team standing around him.
When did you get here? he asked, wincing when he felt Nathans hand around his stomach.
About the time you fell off the ledge, Josiah answered.
What the hell were you thinking Standish? Chris growled. If fool Luke hadnt been here to try and catch you
I wasnt actually trying to catch him, Luke answered, sheepishly. He just kind of fell on top of me.
Geez, thanks, Ezra answered, trying to push Nathans hand away, but the motion hurt his head and brought on a fresh sense of nausea.
Nat, can you bring me my pack?: Nathan asked. Natalie obediently brought it over. The ex-medic reached into his pack and pulled out a small box. Looks like youve got a couple bruised ribs and probably a minor concussion. He opened up the box and took out a bottle..
What about me? Luke asked.
You are just fine, at least theres nothing that I can do to fix your problems, Nathan answered.
Hey, Luke yelled, as he pulled himself to his feet. I resent that!
Nathan ignored him and handed a few pills and a water bottle over to Ezra.
I recommend you take these.
Ezra was vaguely aware of the conversations that were happening around him.
What I dont understand Ezra, Josiah asked, sitting down next to him Is how you managed to fall. That climb should have been a piece of cake for you.
The pain killers had begun working and Ezra felt his head clear.
I didnt fall, he stated indignantly. I was pushed!
The conversations stopped instantly.
What do you mean pushed? Chris asked, his eyes narrowing.
By a tall, entirely too skinny youth, that by my assumptions, is probably the one of the boys we are trampling through the woods in a blizzard to find.
Well you know that he must be okay, Buck stated. Hes talking all fancy again.
You sure he pushed you? Chris asked for clarification.
No, I decided to jump off the ledge to try and defy gravity, Ezra stated, sarcastically. I suggest we stop worrying about me and start figuring out a plan for extracting our young friends.
I wouldnt call them friends if they pushed you, Buck stated, then looked at the rest of his team. How the hell are we going to get up there and get em?
That trail up there connects with a route that will eventually take you a lookout tower. Its cuts by that spot, Josiah suggested.
Yeah, but its at least five miles long, Natalie stated. I dont think weve got that much time.
Chris shook his head and rubbed his hand over her face.
Shit, he stated. He looked up at the ledge and at the rest of his team.
You all have a decision to make, Chris stated. I reckon weve got just enough time to make back to the cars and make camp until this storm clears. Its not an ideal situation, but its better than being stuck out here. The other option is to stay out here through the blizzard and come up with a plan to get the boys.
What the hell are you thinking Larabee? Buck scoffed. Of course Im going to figure out a plan to get those boys.
There was a chorus of agreements.
What about him? Chris asked, motioning his head towards Ezra.
I am quite capable of speaking for myself, Ezra answered. And I am staying with everybody else.
Chris kept his gaze on Nathan.
He bumped his head pretty hard, Nathan answered, but I reckon hell be fine if he rests a little while. The walk out is going to be hard enough on his ribs as it is. Id rather have him not have to worry about his head as well.
Chris shared a secret look with Buck A huge smile lit up the mans face. Chris had had to ask the question. Staying out in the storm was dangerous and officially nobody could expect them to risk their lives like this. Unofficially, it was a different story. The willingness of each person to sacrifice whatever was necessary to finding a victim and bringing them home was one of the reasons the team had one of the highest success rates in the country.
Alright team, Chris stated with a smile. Lets come up with a new plan.
You ready for this Pard? Buck asked, looking nervously at Chris. Chris nodded his head. He was clenching his jaw and wearing his familiar expression of determination on his face. Chriss eyes were not on him. He was looking at the spot where the rest of the team had pitched their tents. They had tried to pitch their tents as close as they could to the ledges without running the risk of having something fall on top of the tents. Buck knew they had all wanted to watch them climb, but everyone was starting to show signs of having been out in the blizzard conditions for a long time. They didnt need to deal with a hypothermic rescuer right now, that is why Josiah would be the only one watching their assent.
Buck took the spare time to check the pack on his back containing first aid supplies, food, and water. He glanced over to make sure Chriss pack was also tightly closed. It would be awful if they got to the top only to discover that they had lost their tent.
Be careful boys, Josiah stated, behind them. Both Buck and Chris turned to look at him. These boys may be tough, after all one of the already pushed Ezra off the cliff.
Thats why were both going, Chris stated. I doubt that theyll be able to take the both of us. Besides, they caught Ezra by surprise.
It still makes me nervous, Josiah said shaking his head.
Natalie, get out of my sleeping bag! Lukes voice could be heard from the left where three tents had been pitched.
Then quit eating all my chocolate you beast, Natalie yelled back.
Mr. Jackson, would you kindly do something to shut them up? Ezra answered.
They are making my head hurt worse.
If you would take some more pain killers it wouldnt hurt as much!
Josiah looked at Buck and Chris.
Are you sure theres no way we can get out of here tonight? He asked playfully.
You could always climb up with us, Buck stated, knowing Josiah would decline. The issue had already been discussed. It was best to send as few people as possible so not to scare the boys, but there needed to be at least two just in case they were hostile. It was decided that Chris and Buck would be best for the job, after all this was their line of work. Nathan had wanted to go too, but Chris had thought it best he stayed with Ezra, and be ready to climb up if he was needed.
At least I get my own tent, Josiah laughed. Then added, take care of those boys. I have a feeling theyre going to need a lot more than food and water.
Were on it, Buck answered, then looked over at Chris.
Ill follow you, Chris answered.
Buck nodded his head and started to climb, using his leg muscles. He did not climb as much as other members of his team, but the ex seal was still very capable. The trick was to use your core and the muscles in the legs. Too many people wore themselves out trying to put most of their weight on their arms.
After about ten minutes, Buck could see the top of the ledge. He reached up and grabbed the ledge with his left hand. He paused a moment before pulling himself up all the way when the image of Ezra falling through the air clouded his mind.
Quit being such a wuss, he said to himself, before pulling himself up all the way up. He half expected to feel a small set of hands push him off balance. He used the beam of headlamp to look around but saw nothing. A big gust of wind nearly sent him flying backwards onto Chris who was pulling himself up.
Watch where youre going or well both end up like Ezra! Chris growled, catching his own balance. Chris looked around.
I dont see any sign of them, Buck responded shining his headlamp around. Chris began shining his own light around and stopped at a spot on the ground about fifteen yards in front of them.
That look like what I think it is? he asked.
Buck moved his head so his light was double illuminating the spot.
Well Ill be, he smiled. Do you think they built that?
Dont know who else would build a snow trench in the middle of the woods, Chris answered, beginning to walk towards the hole covered with pine boughs and clothes.
Go slow Pard, Buck stated, putting a retraining hand on Chriss shoulder. We dont want to scare them.
Chris nodded his head, slowed his pace, and began walking towards the hole. When they were about ten feet away, a small head stuck out of the hole and looked at the two men with desperation.
I need your help! I cant get him warm!
Both men looked at each other and raced over to hole. The teenager Vin was standing up, the younger boy, JD, was curled up in a sleeping bag with several layers of clothes wrapped around him.
Chris looked at Buck, who nodded his head.
I got it, Buck answered.
Come on Pard, Chris stated, reaching out his hand to pull the teen up.
I promised I wouldnt leave him! Vin cried.
You arent leaving him kid, Buck answered, pulling a bag out of his pack. I just need some room to work. You and ole Chris and wait right here.
Vin looked at Chris as if trying to assess the honesty of the man. Chris waited. After a few seconds, the boy grabbed Chriss hand and let him pull him up.
Buck jumped down into the hole and began peeling the layers away that covered the little boy. As soon as the blankets were pulled away, Buck could see the boy wasnt shivering at all. That was not a good sign. In fact the poor kid was barely even conscious.
He moved the little body so he was lying on his back. Buck reached out and stroked his check.
Hey there kid, he said softly. Buck was surprised at how cold the kids face was too the touch.
The kid opened his mouth but the only word that was intelligible was Vin.
Shit, Buck cursed.
Hows it going down there? Chris hollered. Buck looked up to see Chris and the other boy peering over the edge of the trench.
Hes hypothermic, Buck called back. Pretty severe, Im guessing. Ill start working right now.
Chris gritted his teeth, not liking the sound of that. Hypothermia was never a thing you messed around with. In an ideal situation, He wished he could jump down into the hole to help Buck, but there was not enough room for the two men. Besides, he had another kid he needed to worry about.
Chris knew thats Vins shakes were probably mostly from anxiety, but he wouldnt doubt the kid was slightly hypothermic himself. He walked over to his own pack and began pulling things out.
He pulled out a tiny plastic bag and wrapped the space blanket around Vins shoulders.
I dont need this, Vin answered, trying to shrug it off.
Okay Big Shot, Chris answered, taking the blanket off. A lot of good youre going to be to your little brother in there, if you become hypothermic yourself.
Vin gave him a resigned look and let Chris put the blanket back on him.
Hes not my real brother you know, he said softly.
No? Chris asked, although he knew the real answer. I couldnt tell. He opened up a bag of granola and offered it to Vin.
Vin scrunched up his nose in distaste.
Yuck, he responded.
Well youre going to eat something, Chris responded and pulled out a Hersheys chocolate bar. He held it out questioningly to the kid.
Vin sighed and took the bar.
Youre worse than my ma ever was, he stated, looking at Chris and then he closed his mouth fast. He lowered his head busied himself with trying to open up his candy bar. Chris saw him fumble with it and reached out to take it from him.
I got it, Vin almost growled.
Alright, you open it, Chris answered, trying to keep the frustration from showing in his voice. Im going to set up the tent.
Chris, can you throw down my sleeping pad? Bucks voice called. Chris ran over to Bucks pack and grabbed the foam pad. He threw it down to Buck.
He saw Vin glance down the hole that was now illuminated by the glow from Bucks headlamp and a cook stove. Chris felt his frustration leave him as quickly as it had popped up.
Dont worry about JD, Chris stated, putting a hand on Vins shoulder. Buck will take care of him. He was surprised when the boy did not try to shrug his hand off.
By the way, my name is Chris Larabee.
Buck could hear Chris and the other boy moving around above him. He finished tucking the sleeping pad around his patient. He had placed the heating packs around the boys shoulders and stomach and wrapped him in the pad to create a hypo wrap.
Buck sighed nervously as he reached over and grabbed the small kettle of hot water he had been heating up. In all his years doing search and rescue work, he had only seen one person with a more severe case of hypothermia, and that man had died fifteen minutes after being brought to the hospital.
He poured the some water into a small cup and began mixing in some Jell-O mix. He knew better than to try and get JD to eat anything. JDs stomach had probably shut down to conserve the little heat that was left in his body. Buck hoped the Jell-O solution would start to warm up the kids insides and give him some needed nutrients.
JD tried to turn his head when Buck offered him the cup.
Come on kid, he pleaded, Youve got to drink some of this.
Vin? the boy asked, his eyes fluttering open for a few short seconds.
Vin would want you to drink this buddy, Buck answered. JD closed his eyes again, and Buck thought he had lost consciousness again before he felt slight pressure on the cup.
JD took a few sips. It wasnt very much, but at least it was a start.
Hows it going down there? Chris called. Buck looked up to see Chris and Vins heads peering down into the hole.
Buck wondered if he should sugar coat his answer, but decided against it.
He started drinking some solution, but his core temperature was around 90 last time I checked, Buck called back. Its going to be a long night.
Vin looked down the hole then up at Chris.
Why dont we head into the tent and Ill explain everything better to you? Chris asked.
Vin looked down hole. Chris thought he could see tears springing up in the young man eyes.
Vin, I know its tough, but weve got to let Buck do his work. The best thing you can for JD right now is to keep yourself safe. You sit out here much longer, youre going to end up just like him.
Vin sighed and looked down the hole on more time. The words that came out his mouth almost broke Chriss heart.
Im so sorry JD; I didnt know this would happen when I made you leave with me today. I promise Im not leaving you. Im just going to go keep myself warm so I can help you when you need me. Make sure you get better, okay?
Chris opened up the tent flap and crawled in after Vin. He immediately wrapped his own sleeping bag around Vins body. He was dying to know what had happened to the two boys, but now was not the time. The teenager needed answers first.
Do you know what hypothermia is? he asked.
Vin nodded his head.
When the body gets so cold, it cant function normally, Vin answered. Doesnt it start when the bodys core temperature drops a few degrees or something like that? People start shivering to produce heat to raise their body heat.
Chris nodded impressed.
JDs core body temp is so low that his body has stopped shivering. He cant warm it up by himself. Buck is trying to do it for him.
Vin pulled the blanket tighter around him.
I told him not to eat that stupid snow, he said with a sigh.
Once again, Chris was impressed. He had seen many people try to hydrate themselves using snow. Snow was only good if you could melt it first and warm it up. Otherwise it would rapidly cool down your body temperature.
I went out to make sure nobody had followed us, Vin continued. I saw a man who He stopped and looked at Chris.
His name is Ezra Standish, Chris answered, trying to keep neutral.
Is he okay? Vin asked. I didnt mean to push him down the hill! I just thought that he was going to take me back to Mike and they would take JD away from me.
He hit his head pretty hard, Chris stated, trying to prevent the smile from creeping up on his mouth. but I think hell be just fine, he paused. How is that you know so much about wilderness survival?
My mama taught me a lot before she died, Vin answered. She said all the Tanners had been good outdoorsmen. Wasnt no reason for me not to be one as well.
Vins voice was barely more than a whisper. Chris was sure this story hadnt been told very often. He moved closer to Vin.
When she died, my first family continued to teach me how to live and hunt in the woods.
Youre first? Chris asked, already guessing that the kid had been with numerous families. He knew how the system worked.
Misty and John were good people, Vin stated. They didnt have a lot of money and it wasnt a big deal that me and the other kids didnt have nice clothes or toys or anything. I enjoyed living there.
Why did the state take you away? Chris asked.
Said I had been living there too long for them not to adopt me, Vin answered. I think they really loved me, but they couldnt afford to officially adopt me and not get money from the state. Misty said I would find a good home someday.
Chris felt his fists and jaw clench. He had dealt with the state adoption and foster care agency many times and very few of the occasions had been good experiences.
How many homes have you been in? Chris asked.
This is my seventh in the last six years, Vin answered, shrugging his shoulders as if it were no big deal. They fed me and gave me what I needed, thats about it.
Chris wanted to reach out and pull the kid into his arms. He had witnessed this attitude many times in his teens numerous times. He had never accepted the nonchalant attitude. He knew it was a cover-up for a desperate plea for love and affection.
But things have been better for the last two years, Vin continued. When I was at a home in Boulder, I met JD. At first I couldnt stand him. He kept following me around and wouldnt leave me alone. One day some older boys were picking on me. They always did that and I stopped letting it bother me. I guess JD told them to stop and they ended up beating him up, the stupid kid.
Chris could see Vins face light up at the mention of the boy.
From that point on, I didnt mind him following me around so much. In fact he kind of became like the little brother I never had. He became the only family I had. When they started to split all the boys up I thought I was going to lose my family again, but then I met JDs case worker, Mrs. Wells.
Chris was caught off guard for a second.
Nettie Wells? he asked.
Vin nodded his head, surprised.
You know her?
I have worked with her lots of times, Chris answered. Keep talking Vin.
Well, I talked with her and found out that I really liked her a lot. She asked me lots of questions and said shed try to find a place for both JD and me. She found Mike and Kathy.
Your foster parents right now? Chris asked.
Vin nodded his head.
Chris noticed that Vin shuddered when he said the mans name. He had seen this reaction from kids before. He put a hand on Vins shoulder.
Vin, did Mike hurt you or JD? He said, his voice rising in anger.
Chris could see Vin get defensive and back away from his grasp.
Vin, you can tell me.
Vin looked at Chris nervously. He pulled off his glove and pushed up his sleeve. Chris bit his lip when he saw the hand marks and bruising around the boys thin wrists.
Is there any more? Chris asked, trying hard to keep his voice down.
Vin pulled off his jacket and lifted up his shirt.
It took all off Chriss will to prevent from yelling out. The teens back covered with bruises. Vin quickly pulled down his shirt and put his jacket back on.
Does JD look this too? Chris asked.
Vin shook his head.
Mike didnt like all of the noise JD made, but when he was drunk he didnt see too well. I was usually able to get in the way before he could get to the kid.
Didnt you ever tell Mrs. Wells about this? Chris asked.
And have them split JD and I up? Vin asked. Who would take care of JD if I wasnt there?
Chris felt his own eyes fill up with tears. This kid was willing to take getting beaten so he could be there to protect his little adoptive brother.
I never told Mrs. Welles, but I think she figured it out. Thats why we have to leave Mike and Kathys.
This time Vin wasnt able to prevent the tears from falling from his eyes. Chris reached out and pulled the boy to his chest and let the tears fall from his own eyes. He had worked with many kids in his lifetime, listened to their stories, counseled them, gave them love, but this was something different. He couldnt place his finger on it, but there was something special about Vin Tanner. He vowed at that moment that he would do anything he could to never see the boy wrapped in his arms never cry again.
Buck had already vowed that he was not going to lose this little boy. The team had yet to witness the death of a child and he was not about to start now. It was proving harder that he had thought. Buck had peeled back the wrap so he could check the boys vitals. JD has stopped shivering. That meant that JDs core temperature was probably below ninety degrees and dropping fast. This was not good. That meant he was no longer producing heat on his own The boy had immediately curled up into the fetal position. He tried to peel the boys arms away from his body but they immediately snapped back around his body.
Well thats a good sign, Buck said to himself. There was apparently still enough blood flowing through the boys limbs for the rapid movement. It did little to make him feel better though. If Buck hadnt put his face by JDs mouth and felt the light touch of air, he wouldnt have known the boy was still breathing. Buck reached out and felt for a pulse. It had dropped even lower since the last time he had checked.
Shit, Buck swore. He put his hands to his mouth.
Chris! he yelled. Get down here now!
Buck heard the zipper of the tent being opened. A few seconds later, Chris was in the hole. Both men were basically on top of each other in the cramped space.
Weve got to him to a hospital, Buck stated. I cant stop his temperature from dropping!
How are we going to get him out of here in this weather? Chris stated. I dont think Tiny would even try to land a plane in this weather.
We have to try and see if he will, Buck stated. I dont think the kid will make it otherwise.
Chris nodded his head and pulled himself out of the hole. Vin ran up to him.
Whats going on? he asked.
I think your brother needs you down there now, Chris stated.
Vin didnt hesitate. He jumped down into the trench.
Chris raced over to the tent and un zippered the rain fly. He grabbed the radio.
Natalie, I need you now!
It didnt surprise Chris that she answered right away. She expected that all of them were still wide awake. He regretted not keeping them more updated.
Nat, did you bring your cell phone with you?
Yeah, but I dont have it turned on, honestly, she answered defensively. If it would have been a less serious situation Chris would have laughed.
Ten years ago, it would have been completely useless to have a cell phone in the wilderness, there was no reception. Now with cell phone companies putting towers up pretty much everywhere, it was hard to find a spot where you didnt get reception. All of Moose Mark had coverage. Chris was a traditionalist and hated the thought of people caring around cell phones. People became reliant on a piece of technology that could easily break instead of learning simple survival skills. Natalie often brought one in case of emergencies. Chris had often ridiculed her for it.
I need you to call Tiny and see if hed be willing to take his chopper out for an e-vac.
Chris, is one of the boys bad? she asked.
The little one has hypothermia bad enough for Buck to say that we need to get him out of here.
Chris knew that would be all the answer she would need. If Buck admitted that there was nothing he could do, that meant they needed to get their victim to a hospital pronto.
Let me call him. Where do I tell him to land if hes willing?
Youve got the map. Have somebody pick a spot. Well figure out a way to get him there.
Okay, let me make the call.
Chris held the radio in his hand and began pacing. God, what were they going to do if Tiny wasnt willing to go out in the storm?
Chris felt like he had been waiting for hours.
Chris? the radio sprang to live in his hands.
What is it Nathan? Chris asked.
Natalies on the phone with Tiny right now. He said hell try and land, but hes not making any promises. Hes on his way out to the garage right now to get the helicopter going. He and the others are trying to find a good spot to land right now. How are the boys?
JDs not looking so hot Nathan. Im afraid about what will happen to the other one if he doesnt pull through. Chris waited for Nathans response.
Do you need me to come up there?
Honestly, I dont think theres really anything you can do. Theres only so much you can do for hypothermia.
Chris, this is Luke. We think we figured out a spot that Tiny can land. He looked at his satellite photos and theres an open spot about a quarter of a mile to your north. Chris looked to the north and could see the trees thinning out. Tiny thinks the spot is big enough for him to land. Do you think you can get the kid there?
Chris thought a moment. It would be a hard trek, but they would make it. One of them would just have to carry JD though the snow.
Okay, Tiny says hell be there in about twenty minutes. He gave us an updated weather report and said the snow should be letting up in about two hours. We should be able to start tramping out of here by six. Keep us posted about whats going on, Luke stated.
When Luke finished, Chris attached the radio on his belt and knelt down by the trench.
Good news, he called. I may have found us a ride out of here.
Alright Vin, head on up, Chris heard Buck say to the teen. Chris reached for Vins outstretched hand and pulled him up.
Give me a second while I bundle JD up, Buck called.
Chris looked at Vin.
It would be best if you waited in the tent for one of us. We should be able to hike out of here in a few hours.
No way! Im not leaving him alone right now. Vin looked pleadingly at Chris.
Chris sighed. He had expected this response.
Ive got an extra headlamp in the top flap of my pack. Why dont you go get it?
Vin raced over to the pack.
Coming up!: Buck called.
Chris reached down and grabbed the bundle. It was hard to tell there was a little boy beneath all the layers.
Buck pulled himself out, brushed off the snow and reached out for the little boy.
I can carry him Buck, Chris stated. He looked at the face of the man next to him. He put the boy in Bucks arms. Buck instantly pulled the boy close to his chest.
We arent going to lose him, Buck stated determinately.
No we arent going to lose either one of them, Chris stated.
The smile on Bucks face let Chris know that his friends had caught the true meaning behind his words.
It didnt take nearly as long as Chris thought to reach the clearing. It helped that the snow was beginning to taper off by the minute. The beginning rays of the rising sun was making it much easier to see.
They had been waiting for the last five minutes.
Where is the helicopter? Vin asked, impatiently.
It should be here in Buck didnt get a chance to finish his sentence. The echo of chopper blades cut him off.
Stand back, Chris told Vin as the chopper came into view and began making his descent.
Chris gritted his teeth as he felt a huge gust of wind force Tiny to stop his desent and bring the helicopter back up.
Shit, Buck swore under his teeth.
Hes going to try again, Look, Chris answered. They watched as the helicopter made a circle and hegan to decend once again.
Come on, youve got to make it! Vins voice was quiet, but Chris could hear him perfectly. He reached out and pulled Vin close to him.
A few seconds later, the chopper hit the ground hard.
Buck was already taking off at a run with JD in his arms,
Lets go, Chris answered, pushing Vin in front of him. Watch out for the propellers and keep you head down!
Buck had managed to get the door open by the time Chris had gotten there.
We all set ot go? The large man with the greying beard asked. Chris looked down at Vin whose eyes were glued on his little brother.
How much wieght can you carry? Chris yelled back.
Not more than antoher 150 pounds in this wind, Tiny yelled back. Any more and I wont be able to take off again.
Chris looked at VIn.
Do you want to go with them? he asked.
What about you? Vin asked.
There isnt enough room for me, Chris responded. There is for you though.
Vin looked torn. He looked from Chris to JD several times.
Come on Pard, Buck patted the seat next to him.
Vin looked questioningly at Chris.
Ill meet you at the hospital, Chris stated. I can be there in a few hours, three at most.
Are you sure? Vin asked.
Better decide quick kid, Tiny called. My take off window is quckly shrinking.
I promise, Chris stated. Your brother needs you right now.
Vin smiled slightly and pulled himself into the helicopter. Chris slammed the door and ran back to the treeline. He breathed a sigh of relief as he watched the helpicopter raise up in the sky and fly through the sky without a problem.
Chris turned toward the two mile trail that would lead him down the ledge to his team. He couldnt help but feel a little lonely without Vin by his side.
Chris raced into the small hospital waiting room as fast as he could. He felt Nathan step on the back on his foot in his atempt to keep up.. It had taken longer than Chris had thought to get through the woods. He had Josiah drop them off the doors before he parked the car.
Both Vin and Buck, the rooms only occupents, looked up when Chris raced into the room.
Chris! Vin exclaimed, getting out his seat and racing to the man, then stopped awkwardly in front of him. Chris knew the kid was thinking the same thing he was. He realized that none of them were quite ready for a full on hug. Instead, he put a hand on the kids shoulder and squeezed. He could feel Vin sigh in realief.
Hows JD? Chris asked, looking at Buck.
Rain is still in there with him, Buck answered, the worry lines evident on his face. Its been at least a half an hour since she has come out here. I already tried to go in there and she nearly bit my head off.
Four Corners Hospital was really a small clinic to help local residents and provide initial care before patients could be taken to better equipped medical facilities. Dr. Rain Williams was in charge of the clinic..
Ill go ask, Nathan answered. She wont turn me away, he added with a a twinkle in his eye.
Chris saw Vin eyeing Nathan nervously.
Vin, this is my friend Nathan. Hes kind of like a doctor and was part of my team that helped find you guys.
Hell Vin, Nathan smiled.
Hi, Vin answered. The mans smile put the youth at ease.
Ill be back shortly, he stated before walkind down the small hallway containing the three examination rooms.
Where is everbody else? Buck asked.
Josiah is in the car trying to convince Ezra to come in and get his head checked out. Natalie and Luke went to get something to eat, I think. What have you been up to here here?
I was just explaining to Vin what Rain is probably dong to try and get JD warmed up, Buck stated, then continued. Im sure JD is probably hooked up to an IV right now that is pumping war liquids through his blood. I bet hes also on a resporator thats helping him breathe warm air.
Is it going to work? Vin asked.
Itusually does, Chris stated, not wanting to lie to the kid.
Before Vin could answer the door to the clnic opened and Josiah walked in pulling Ezra behind him.
Convinced him to come? Chris asked with a smile.
More like threatened me with great bodily harm, Ezra answered disgustidly. I do not deserve to be treated like this.
He plopped down in a chair.
And this must be the michisous Mr. Tanner, Ezra stated.
Vin had slowly been trying to hide behind Chris when he saw who had just entered the waiting room.
Ezra smiled when he saw the terrified look on the teens face.
Please do not be alarmed my friend. If I thought that someone was coming to take one of my friends away from me, I would have behaved in a similar manner. He leaned forward and held out his hand.
I believe a more proper introduction is needed. My name is Ezra Standish and you are?
Vin looked up at Chris with a confused look on his face.
I think hes trying to say that he forgives you for pushing him off the cliff, Chris laughed.
Indeed, Ezra responded with a twinkle in his eyes.
Vin walked forward and took Ezras hand.
Vin Tanner, he answered.
VIn, my name is Josiah, the older man stated walking forward slowly. I dont know if you remember me.
Yeah I do, Vin answered. You come to the school every once in awhile and help me with my reading.
Josiah smiled, pleased that the teen did remember him.
A few minutes later, footsteps echoed against the linolium floor. The men looked up to see Nathan walk into the room followed by a dark skinned beautiful woman. Before she addressed any of the men, she walked over to Vin.
Vin Tanner? she asked.
Vin nodded his head.
Vin, my name is Dr. Rain Williams. I am your little brothers doctor.
Well, hes not really my brother. You see Vin started to see.
What do you mean? Rain asked, a smile creeping to her lips. JD keeps asking for his brother Vin.
Hes awke?! Vin almost jumped.
Yes, a few minutes ago. Why dont you go see him?.
Vin raced down the hallway.
Second room, Rain called after him. She turned to look at the men wating expectantly.
His temps at ninty three and gong up pretty fast, she stated. Its luckly you brought him in here when you did Buck. I dont think he would have lasted much longer.
You did good sweatheart, Nathan answered, pulling her close to him and kissing the top of her forhead.
So whats going to happen to JD? Buck asked nervously.
Well, Id like to keep him here at least for a day. I think we can get his core temp back to normal by then. Kids always seem to rebound fast. He will probably be able to leave by tommrow morning.
Just then Josiahs cell phone went off.
Excuse me, he answered and walked outside. As soon as he exited, Natalie and Luke walked in each holding a holder with several cups of warm liquids and a bag of food.
Compliments of Inez, Luke answered. Natalie and I were just going to use the key and brew up some coffee, but she was already starting to get ready for the day. She insisted on making us all breakfast.
The small diner was a favorite of the Search and Rescue Team. Many times when the team needed coffee or a snack, the diner was closed. Inez had given them a key so they could get inside whenever they needed.
Well isnt she a darling, Buck answered, reaching for a coffee cup.
She said to make sure to tell you that she spit in yours, Natalie answered with a smile. Where are the boys? she asked looking around.
In back, Nathan answered. Vins with JD right now. Looks like the little guy is going to be just fine.
We figured the older one would be hungry so Inez toasted him a bagle and make some homemade hot choclate for him, Luke answered motioning to the biggest cup.
Want to take it back with me? Chris asked Buck. He took the bagle and cup from Natalie.
Buck shot out of the chair. As they started to walk down the hall, Chris laughed at the conversation behind him.
I suppose I can stomach some of the deepfried hearttack on a plate, Ezra stated.
Not until I check you r head out first, Rain ordered.
I assure you maam that I am quite alright!
Get your ass into the examination room right now or Ill have Josiah drag you there!
Well, since you stated it so elegantly, I am more than happy to oblige.
Chris and Buck exchanged a smile.
Chris and Buck crept up to the door.
Are they really going to take me away? JD was stiing up in bed. Vin was sitting at the end of it, holding on of JDs hands. JDs eyes were moist with tears.
I dont know whats going to happen now, Vin answered.
Chris could see that the boy was trying to stay strong for his little brother, but was on the verge of breaking down himself.
If I hadnt been stupid and starting eating that snow, JD cried. I never would have gotten sick. This is all my
Listen to me JD, Vin grabbed hold of JDs other hand and moved foreward so he was only inches away from JDs face.
None of this was your fault! Ill figure something out okay? I promise they arent going to take you away from me!
Cause were brothers right? JD asked a smile lighting up his face.
Yeah brothers, Vin answered.
Chris knew this was not the moment to walk in on the boys. He felt his heart almost break.
The hand on his shoulder told him that Buck felt the same way. He looked over and saw the tears welling up in his friends eyes.
Chris, we cant let
No,Chris answered, knowing exactly what Buck was going to say. We are not going to let those boys be split apart ever again. Im going to .
Bucks cell phone began ringing.
Ill be right back, Buck stated.
Whos calling you right now?
Well, he answered kind of sheepishly, I started making some calls about the boys while you were still out in the woods.
Buck left through the back door.
Chris! Natalie called. You might want to get in here now!
Chris heard a loud door slam and a deep angry male voice call out
Where the hell are they? I
Excuse me sir, but you cant just
Out of my way you little bitch
Chris and Buck made it to the waiting room just in time to see a burly, bearded, dark haired man push Natalie out of the way. She stumbled and crashed into the floor.
After that Choas erupted. Rain and Ezra came flying out of the othe examination room. Luke and Nathan along with a petite blonde woman came flying through the front door.
It didnt take a genius to figure out who this man were.
Where are my damn kids? the man growled, racing forward. He would have made it all the way into the hallway if Chris hadnt stepped in his path. He had to take a step backwards when the pungent odor of alchol ridden breath reached his nostrils. My wife and I are here to take them home. He motioned his head towards the blonde woman who had a terrified look on her face.
I dont think so, Chris growled. He helt Ezra move behind in support. He looked over his shoulder to see Nathan helping Natalie to her feet. She looked fine.
Who the hell do you think you are? the man growled.
.A man who met JD Dunne and Vin Tanner a few hours ago and already loves them more than you ever will, Chris answered. Deja vu hitting him hard.
Yeah, those boys are legally mine and theres not anything you can do about it!
Chris knew arguing with the drunk man was ridiculous but he couldnt help himself.
I saw the marks on Vins back you sick son of a bitch. Why did you do it? Not tough enough to take on a real man? Are you so weak you have to prey on children?
He should have been prepared for it, but Chris let his emotions get in the way. A few seconds later, Chriss face erupted in pain and his vison bcame blury. He would have stumbled backwards if Ezra hadnt been there to catch him.
After that choas erupted, he launched himself at the man and began throwing his own fists. The man continued to return blows. Nathan and Buck managed to pull the other man off of him.
Chris felt arms pull him back.
Get off of me, Chris growled.
Chris, Buck whispered in his ear. Vin is watching.
Chris turned around to see Vin and JD standing in the hallway. Vin had a look of horror on his face. JD was looking around looking clueless.
JD, get back into bed now! Rain yelled,. Youre going to get sick again..
But I have to go with Mike, JD stated, his lower lip quivering. Its the only way that Vin and I can stay together.
Buck raced forward and scooped JD up into his arms.
Hey short stuff, youre not going anywhere but back to bed.
But I have to go with Mike! JD protested, fighing in Bucks arms
See! Mike smirked as he shrugged off Nathans restraining arms. The boy wants to come with me because he loves me!
Youre lucky Im holding a kid right now, Buck growled. Or youll have to fight me off too.
Its okay Buck, Vin stated, stepping forward. JD never really gets hurt. I can handle Mike.
Most of the people were so caught up with what was happening in the wating room. They didnt notice the two elderly people walk into the office. Rain was the only one who noticed them. The older man held his finger up to his lips to ask her to remain slient.
Vin! Chris yelled. This bastard hits you. You dont have to put up with this anymore.
I will if that means that JD I can stay together, Vin cried I wont let them take him away from again.
I think Ive heard everything Ive needed to!
Everyone turned around to look at the new vistors.
The old man walked over to Vin.
Vin, I am sheriff Orin Travis. The man saw Vin start to cower. I want to help you son, but I need you to tell me what has been going on.
Vin looked at Chris who smiled encouragingly.
He reached down and pulled up his shirt.
Everyone in the the room gasped. The blonde woman started crying.
Come with me Mrs. Shultz, Rain stated, pushing the woman gently towards the examination room.
Where are you taking her? Mike growled, starting to walk after the two woman.
I would be more concerned about where you are going to end up Mister, Travils growled. You are heading with me to the county jail.
The man lunged forward, but this time Chris was ready for the movement. He easily caught the man and twisted him around so his face was shoved against the wall.
Travis slapped cuffs on his wrists.
Lets go you stinking son of a bitch, Travis growled as he pushed the man out of the hospital. The others stepping out of his way.
Alright little one, its time to get you back into bed, Buck stated, walking forward with JD in his arms.
But, JD protestested, looking around the room. What is going to happen to us? The tears starting flowing down his face.
That simple question left the room in dead silence.
That is something that we need to talk about, Nettie Welles stated, walking forward. She put a comforting arm around Vin. After you get back into bed JD. Vin will you go with him? Although she was aksing a question, the tone revealed that she expected to be obeyed.
Come on kid, lets put JD back to bed, Buck stated, pushing JD forward.
Whos hungry for some breakfast? Nathan asked, motioning for the others to follow him out of the waiting room.
No Nathan, I would prefer it if you stayed. I think ths probably concerns you as well.
Nettte waited until Buck was back in the room.
I suppose you can all see the dilema Im in right now. Obviously, I cant send those boys back to the hell hole they were in, but I cant find a home that will take the two of them together. Believe me Ive tried. I even thought about taking them into my home while I searched.
What are you trying to say Nettie? Buck asked.
I hate to think about what would happen to those boys if they had to lose the only family they have once again.
Nettie Chris tried to interupt.
I know its asking a lot .
:Nettie! Chris and Buck both said at the same time.
Nettie stopped talking and looked at them.
I would be happy to take the boys, Buck stated. Pretty sure Chris here wouldnt mind having them around either.
Buck nodded his head in agreement.
I know you to are busy, Nettie stated.
Hell Nettie, Josiah laughed. Theres plenty of us here to make sure those boys are taken care of. Chris and Buck arent the only ones who taken a liking to em.
Agreed, Ezra stated.
The others nodded their heads in agreement.
Netties face lit up into a huge smile.
I had a feeling you would say that, Nettie stated. Josiah?
Josiah walked forward with the envelop. Nettie reached inisde and pulled out a stack of papers.
I brought everything you need to sign with me, she stated.
Buck shook his head and chuckled.
You knew all along wed say yes, didnt you?
Nettie just smiled.
I know you boys too well, Nettie answered. Youre not nearly as tough as you want everyone to think you are.
Well they do kinda of have a reptuation, Josiah answered looking over at Natalie and Luke.
Next time you decide to play superman man, could you try not to throw punches? Nathan asked.
Can you take care of the paperwork? I have a feeling Mrs. Schultz may be needing some representation as well. I wouldnt doubt if she has some of the same marks as Vin does.
No problem, Chris answered.
Nettie began walking towards the waiting room.
Nettie? Chris called.
She looked over her shoulder.
Theres no hurry, he said.
Nettie just smiled and kept on walking.
Buck watch this!
Buck watched as JD, dressed head to toe in snow gear, held a ball above his head to try and keep Vesper from getting it. Vesper tried to jump up and grab it. She lost her balance and toppled into the boy, knocking both of them into the snow bank. JD just laughed and wrapped his arms around the dogs neck. Vesper returned the lick with a wag of her her tail and a big wet tounge kiss on his cheek
Very nice JD, Buck laughed as he plopped down on the last step of the back porch. Are you ready to head in yet?
Nope, JD as he continued to wrestle with the dog in the snow.
JD you just got out of the hospital a few days ago, you really need to be Buck started to say when he felt something cold and wet slam into his face.
He turned to see Chris and Vin standing on the side of the house.
Who threw that? he asked. Trying to sound menicing. Vin looked from Chris to Buck, then pointed at the man standing behind him.
You werent supposed to tell him you little Chris laughed pulling Vin into a headlock. Vin managed to reach down and grab a wad of snow that he threw into Chriss face. The action caught Chris off guard and Vin was able to escape. He ran off across the backyard only to find himself caught up in the arms.
I got him Chris, free shot!
Vin tried to break free, but Buck held firm.
Nobody attacks my brother! JD squealed and jumped on top of Buck knocking him over. Buck landed face first in the snow. He could hear the three chuckling voices as he rolled over.
Argggg, he roared as he lunged for the two boys.
Chris and Bucks backyard had seen many snowball fights, but the fight that ensued was arguably one of the most intense ever experienced.
I thought they wanted to take the horses out, Nathan laughed watching Vesper run around the two men and boys barking happily. The window in the barn gave him the perfect view of the action.
Somehow it doesnt look like that will be happening any time soon, Josiah laughed. Im sure they will find find time eventually. I have a feeling Vin and JD will be around for a long time.
Any bets that those boys will never leave? Ezra asked, appearing from one of the stalls.
Nathan shook his head.
Not a fair bet, he answered.