Alternate Y2K Universe
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The ski was wedged awkwardly into the cliff face, but the boy knew that was the only reason he was still alive. He was scared and he was cold. He knew he couldn’t move or risk falling completely, tears fell onto his cheeks. He was shocked when he felt himself grabbed by his belt from behind. A voice said, “It’s okay now, I’ll stay here with you.” The boy didn’t recognize the voice, but he didn’t care, now he wouldn’t die alone.
+ + + + + + +
The Park Ranger walked up to the podium, not liking what he had to do, only knowing it was the correct decision. His badge reflected the sunlight that his flathat kept out of his eyes as he took off his sunglasses. He tapped the microphone and it responded with a static buzz. “Ladies and gentlemen ……please. May I get your attention….please.” Superintendent Lagos waited for the assemblage to quiet down. “Due to the high velocity of the wind and imminent danger of avalanche, any rescue attempt at this time would only prove fatal for the rescuers. We will wait for the winds to die down before we can reevaluate the situation.” He turned away from the podium and stepped down to avoid any questions from the press.
The tall, blonde man dressed in all black threw his cheroot down in disgust. “Bull’ he thought to himself as he looked through his binoculars again. He let them rest on his neck as he scanned the crowd of people preparing to depart. His eyes rested on a younger man, dressed almost as a mountain man, whose expression mirrored his in disgust. Their eyes met and exchanged a silent message that their brains were unaware of. The long haired man squinted at the man in black, and he gave a slight nod in return. They both gravitated toward the edge and ended up side by side.
“It can be done,” the taller man said.
“Easy as lickin' butter off a knife," the younger man replied.
The man in black raised one brow in disbelief.
The younger man turned his head and with a lazy smile added, “…well, after you wrestle it out of the grizzly’s mouth.”
The blond man smiled and put out his hand as he said, “Chris.”
The long haired man clasped the hand as he said, “Tanner, Vin Tanner.”
“So, how you’d retrieve him?” Chris asked.
“Set the avalanche off in a safer place, then ski down and get ‘em.” Tanner said matter-of-factly.
Larabee nodded, then asked, “How accurate?”
“On the nose, it’s what I do.” Tanner replied objectively, no conceit in his voice.
“The face is too rough for conventional skiing. Can you direct the fall to right of cliff?” Chris looked at Tanner as he studied the mountain side. Tanner nodded. “Then we’ll ride it down to the kid.”
Tanner thought, ‘wow’, as he looked at Larabee, then just nodded his agreement. “Got what I’ll need in my truck.” Larabee nodded and went with him to it.
Governor Travis watched the silent exchange and further discussion with interest. He approached the two men as they reached the Chevy 4x4. “Gentlemen, I have formed the impression that you are going to attempt a rescue by yourselves.” His raised eyebrows made it a question.
Larabee sized up the man before quickly, honorable and fair. He nodded. Travis felt the fear leave his body, “That’s my god-son out there, and anything you need, it’s yours.”
Larabee looked at Tanner, he had a crossbow, clothes and skis. He looked back at Travis, “It’d save a lot of time to get some skis and a litter right here. My stuff’s down the hill.”
Travis pointed to the ski shop at the lodge. “My position will come in handy,” as he headed in that direction.
“Can you use your position to clear most the people out of here. Don’t need the press trying to take pictures and put the operation in danger.” Larabee’s impression of the press was evident in his voice.
“As this states Governor, think I can arrange that.” Travis almost smiled.
Larabee replied with a straight face, “Thought’s that who you were.”
Travis shook his head a bit, then talked with the store owner and signaled to Chris to take what he needed. Larabee and Tanned collected first aid supplies and rope. Chris picked out skis, boots and pants. Tanner carried the supplies to his truck as Chris approached the Governor. “Get these people out of here as quick as you can. Have an ambulance/helicopter meet us at the bottom.” Chris turned away after Travis’ nod. He didn’t even explain their plan. Chris got into Tanner’s truck and he took off down the road. He stopped at the first scenic turn-off. Vin reached in back and took out his crossbow. Not a store bought edition, but a specially constructed tool for his work. Chris looked on puzzled, but asked no questions. Vin’s binoculars had longitude and latitude readings and he set the crossbow accordingly. He set the remote and said to Chris, “Let’s go pard.”
Vin had put the truck in drive as a green Park Ranger vehicle blocked them. Larabee calmly exited the truck.
Superintendent Lagos jumped out of his vehicle, his passenger, Travis opened the door to listen.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing Larabee?” Lagos yelled.
“I’ve already deemed that it was too risky. You’re not going out there to make me look bad. You always think your way is the only way….well not here.” Lagos shouted even though Larabee was standing in front of him. Larabee was pissed, and he was a very dangerous man when angered. He squinted his eyes and with a controlled voice, pointed out at the cliff, “That is a child out there, he will freeze by morning. There is no way I’m gonna leave him out there to die. Just move your ass aside and we’ll be on our way.”
In the truck, Travis smiled, in the other truck, Vin smiled. Outside, Lagos frowned, “You’re fired Larabee. You will no longer consult for the Park Service. Now get the hell off Park land.”
Larabee stood calmly, but his look was lethal. “As soon as I get that kid. The only way you’re gonna stop is to shoot me.” With that Larabee went back to the passenger side of Tanner’s truck.
To Travis it looked like Lagos was considering just that, shooting Larabee. He intervened. “Back off Sam. Larabee goes.” Travis nodded to Larabee as the truck passed them.
+ + + + + + +
They reached the top of the slope without conversation. Both men focused on the current situation. They put on their skis, their packs of equipment and Chris hooked the litter to his back. He looked over to Tanner with complete confidence. “Whenever you’re set.”
Tanner nodded once, rechecked their positioning and hit the remote button. Within seconds a quiet rumble started that quickly erupted into massive avalanche. The snow fell just where Tanner planned, and the rumble of snow cascaded down the mountainside. The two men placed their goggles over their eyes, nodded and rode the quiet aftermath of the snowslide.
Both men were equally skilled in the art of riding the snow to where they wanted to go. The avalanche provided a table of snow to be deposited close enough to the cliff face that the two rescuers were able to reach the near freezing child with little difficulty. Vin thrust his pole into the ground to anchor himself. Chris clipped the rope to his body straps inched forward to the boy. Calling out to him, not expecting a response, but hoping for one anyway.
“Glad you guys could make it.” That was not what Chris Larabee expected to hear in a low, adult voice. “I’ve got a hold of the boy’s suit. He’s still alive.”
Chris said honestly, “Didn’t know anyone was out here with him.”
“Saw him go over. I’m a paramedic, had to do something. Couldn’t get him out, so I stayed. Nathan Jackson.” A smooth, black face looked around the boy and grinned. “Really am glad you guys chanced it.”
Chris returned the smile. “Chris Larabee, Vin Tanner’s just below. We only have the one litter, though.”
“No matter, have my skis here. I’ll just follow you all.”
Chris anchored the rope, and Vin joined them. They extracted the youth, wrapped him up in a wool blanket and strapped him into the litter. The two rescuers secured the litter between them, ready to head down. Chris looked to Nathan, “How good are you on skis?”
“Better than average.” Nathan replied.
“You willing to lead, give us a safe path?” Chris asked sincerely.
Without hesitation, “You bet.” Nathan turned, placed his goggles and headed down. With a nod at Vin, they followed together. Staying in sync with one another they managed the litter easily all the way to the bottom.
Forty minutes later, they were loading the youth into the ambulance chopper, paramedics checking his vitals. Travis made room for the three men to enter the helicopter. They stored their gear and welcomed the warm interior. It was hard not to notice the two Secret Service men also seated inside. But the men didn’t ask, just rested their heads back. Travis leaned forward and spoke with Nathan, finding out where he came from, and shook his hand with heart felt thanks.
“Men, I can’t express how grateful I am that at great risk you saved my god-son’s life. He would not of made it till tomorrow alive. I know that his grandfather will also wish to express his appreciation.”
Vin just put up his hand as if to say, no biggie. Chris using almost same gesture, said, “Not necessary. It was something that had to be done.”
“I don’t think the President will feel that way.” Travis smiled.
Nathan asked, “President of what?”
Travis grinned whole heartedly, “The United States, son.”
Three pair of eyes opened wide, and the Governor nodded.
Chris leaned back and thought ‘shit’ to himself. Aloud, “Still not necessary.” Vin grinned at Chris, liking him more and more.
Travis found himself liking Larabee too, “You’ll find it hard to avoid.”
“Just prefer to avoid the press. They make too much out of everything.” Bitter memories crossing his face for a moment.
“Now that can be arranged.” Travis said resolutely.
Two Weeks Later
Chris Larabee walked up the stairs to the capitol building. Tugging a bit on his tie reminded him of how much he hated them. Now twice in two weeks he had to put one on. Meeting the President of the United States seemed to warrant it. Now, entering the Governor’s office, seemed appropriate also. He spoke his name to the man at the desk and he was ushered around to an almost invisible elevator. It was carded and opened and he stepped inside and rode up alone. When the door opened, Travis was waiting for him. “Glad you could make it. Come on in here and sit down.” He ushered Chris into a room that looked just like a study in any home. He saw Chris’ look and commented, “This is my private study. A person needs someplace to go out of prying eyes. Can I get you some coffee?”
Chris waved it off, felt weird to have the Governor of Wyoming wait on you.
Travis smiled knowingly, “In here I have to do everything for myself. How you like it?” He poured two mugs of coffee. He pointed at the creamer, and Chris shook his head no. After handing Chris his coffee, Travis sat down in a chair opposite Chris.
Chris took a sip of his coffee, enjoying the strong brew. He waited, Travis called him, and in his own time let him know why.
Travis picked up a folder, just taking a cursory look, he already knew the information contained in the sheets. “Navy SEAL during the Gulf War. Impressive record. Makes one proficient at a lot of things. See, you’re also a climber, rappel, kayak, skier and have done search and rescue work before. Also see you use your Masters in geology, consultant in avalanches and rockslides. But you just lost your contract with the National Park Service.”
“Only till the next time they need me.”
Travis smiled, “Well, yes, most likely.” He sat back, stared at Chris, who was not unnerved by it at all. “Chris, how married are you to all that?” Indicating the folder.
“What are you asking?”
“Can you see yourself doing something else with those same talents?”
Chris unwilling to commit either way without more facts, just sat patiently.
Travis smiled inward, wouldn’t want to play poker with this man. “I have an opportunity for you…” still Chris waited, “I liked what you did there on the mountain. We have a lot of open country that’s not part of the National Park. A lot of people use that land and some need rescuing…. some of those don’t get the chance. What I want is to have a specialized team for search and rescue in the back country. Functioning as your own complete unit. The funding is private, whole different kettle of fish as far as rules and regs go.” He knew he had Chris’ attention. “I’m not talking just seasonal, this would be year round. You’d be working directly for the Governor’s office. Whatever equipment you need, we’ll get.”
Chris Larabee sat back in his seat. He was interested, but it didn’t show on his face. “Who’s we?”
“The President, he’s not using the country’s money. Only his personal moneys. He’s from Montana, he understands the importance of an effective crew, knows that could be the difference between life and death.”
“Who’s going to be on this team?” Larabee asked casually.
Now Travis sat back, hope growing in his belly, “Whomever you choose. Your call.” Travis couldn’t help himself, he smiled.
Chris sat pensively, mulling over the possibilities. “No interference on the choices?” Travis shook his head. “Where would we work from, home base?”
“About forty miles northwest of Casper, is a deserted inn. With some work could it be used as living quarters and station.” Travis waited now, knew he couldn’t push this man. He had plenty more information on this man. He knew if he could get him to undertake this project, it would have a solid chance.
“To put a team together, it would take some time. What time frame is at work here?” Chris wanted to do this, but he didn’t want to get caught up in some bureaucratic game. His poker face prevented the Governor from gauging the degree of interest.
“Can’t see this even being ready to launch for six months. But that will be your call. Chris, you will be in charge. I’m the figurehead where the buck stops. But I’m certainly not going to tell you how to do your job.” He tossed another manila folder on the table, “Thought you might want to know something about that other man you worked with.”
Chris picked up the folder, he couldn’t help himself. He was interested in Vin Tanner, he’d left a strong impression for such a short stint together. He smiled faintly as he looked at his picture, experiencing again that feeling of connection. He read through his history. Orphaned early, but wasn’t allowed out for adoption. But he was fostered at the Cheyenne Reservation. Left when he was nineteen. Was a wild-catter in Texas for three years, before becoming an avalanche trigger. But it was some of the side notes that told more of the tale. Arrested for free climbing Mt. Rushmore, Chris almost laughed aloud. Seems he’d free climbed most of the significant points in the US. He’d even competed in the Alaskan dog-sled events.
Chris closed the folder, setting it down atop his folder. When he met the Governor’s eyes, there to be read, was a look of anticipation. He smiled as he said, “I’ll do it.”
Travis took a sigh of relief, then felt his own excitement growing. He extended his hand to Larabee, who accepted gladly. “I’ll put my plane at your disposal for the next few months.” Chris nodded his head gratefully. Travis smiled a bit as he asked, “You thinking of seeking out Vin Tanner?”
Chris nodded, “Didn’t see a home address.”
Travis was pleased, “Just so happens…” he picked up the phone, saying into it. “Dorothy, would you send him back, thank you.” He replaced the receiver and faced Chris, “Hedged my bet. I’ll go see to the plane.” He got up as the door opened and Vin Tanner walked in. He shook his hand as he exited his study.
Vin Tanner walked in slightly bewildered, he had been waiting about forty five minutes at the Governor’s request. He hadn’t a clue. What he did know was that he wanted to trade his beige slacks and a pale yellow shirt for jeans and a t-shirt. But he smiled as he saw Chris Larabee in the middle of the office with a matching smile on his face. Instead of shaking hands they both instinctively grasped forearms in greeting.
“So, what this? Another one of them thank-yous?” Now hoping he wasn’t under dressed.
Chris indicated that he sit down, and he smiled as he began, “No, what I have in mind is a whole lot better.”
+ + + + + + +
Vin genuinely thanked the Governor as he preceded Chris out of the office. Chris shook Travis hand and with sincerity said, “Thanks for this opportunity. I call with updates.”
Governor Travis looked sad for a moment then said to Chris, “No, thank you. I lost my son, grandson and daughter-in-law due to inadequate rescue and this is for them.” Chris shook his hand again, understanding the man’s grief.
Chris looked over to the elevator and saw Vin leaning there, waiting for him. Vin then pushed the button and they both stepped in and headed down. Chris looked over some of the additional paperwork the Governor had given him and wasn’t all that surprised to see Nathan Jackson’s address included. He turned to Vin, “How about dinner in Atlanta?” Vin turned his head as if to say, why not, and smiled.
The four car accident had three ambulances and one fire engine responding. The engine put out the car fire as the paramedics naturally formed a triage. Nathan Jackson immediately identified the two life threatening cases. Two units worked on the serious cases as the third unit took care of all the minor injuries and shock. Nathan set up the IV as his partner Rick manned the ambue bag. Getting their victim mobile, the wheeled him into the back, secured him and the driver took off for Atlanta General. Nathan thought to himself, as the pulled into the emergency bays, ‘this is the only part the TV show “ER” got right. Detailing the vital and condition of patient. As the doctors take over, the paramedics are relieved of their obligations. That was always the hardest part.
They replaced the used supplies and headed back to the station. Nathan and Rick were at the end of their shift and were restocking the vehicle. The next shift was already under foot and Nathan was looking forward to his days off.
“Mr. Jackson, I don’t know if you remember me….” Chris began as Nathan entered the living quarters.
Startled, Nathan looked up and smiled, “Then you must think I lead a real exciting life, if you think I could forget you two as we stood together talking with the President just two weeks ago.” Nathan grinned and it lit up his face. He put out his hand and grasped Chris Larabee’s and Vin Tanner’s hands. He turned to his partner and introduced them, adding, “These are the men I met the president with.”
Rick smiled and left to change. Nathan turned and asked, “What’s brings you two here, to Atlanta?”
Vin smiles mischievously, “Dinner.”
“Care to join us? I’d like to talk with you.” Chris asked on a serious note.
“Sure, let me change.”
Several hours later, the three men sat drinking coffee, while Nathan pondered Chris offer.
Nathan looked at Chris Larabee quizzically, “You can set this team up however you want?” Larabee nodded. “Then, why me?” Nathan meant it.
“We have an opportunity to do something different. This team will not be run-of-the-mill, so none of it’s members can be.” Chris sat back and took a hard look at the man in front of him. “What I see is a hard workingman. On vacation, amid avalanche warnings, you put your life in danger in order to comfort a young man that would have died. That is an action of an exceptional individual, and that is exactly what I’m looking for.” Chris picked up his coffee, “How ‘bout it?”
Nathan thought on it for a few moments. He liked this man, a gift for leadership. An ability to communicate just what he wanted. And his own instincts told him to trust him. Nathan smiled, including Vin Tanner in it as he said, “Okay, I’ll do it.” Chris and Vin grinned back.
Buck Wilmington loved the rapids, they were exhilarating each and every time. He’d have a new girl each and every trip. He was out here seven months a year and couldn’t imagine giving it up. One or two white water trips a week, a new group each time to share his stories with and Buck loved to talk.
He had just finished the last drop, and the rest was a cake walk. Sandy, Buck’s girl of the week, sat herself real close and asked about the one story Buck never told. “Buck?”
“You loved being a SEAL, didn’t you?”
“Why you quit?”
Buck’s whole demeanor changed and a Buck she’d never seen sat beside her, a distant look on his face. “We’d just finished a mission, Chris, the team leader and my best friend, was planning on leaving straight away to see his family. Instead I convinced him to get them to meet us at a fancy place, my treat.” Buck grew silent and thoughtful. “His wife and son were on the way when they were hit by a drunk driver, both died instantly. My fault….I talked Chris into staying….” His voice trailed off. “Turned out that was our last mission. Chris was pretty broken up and I took my leave plus to get him through it.”
Sandy patted him on the shoulder, sorry she asked. Buck got them back skillfully, but somberly. He headed to the mess for a beer. He thought he was seeing things, conjuring up an image that he had just talked about. But sure enough, as he lived and breathed, Chris Larabee stood talking to his business partner.
Buck went straight to him, “Why you ol' war dog. How in the hell are you?” Buck exclaimed and he drew him into a big bear hug.
Chris smiled at his oldest friend, whispered in his ear, “Ya hang on any longer, folks’ll talk.” But he hugged him back before letting go. As Buck drew back, Chris introduced Vin, “Buck Wilmington, Vin Tanner.” The two men checked each other out as they shook hands.
Before Buck could get started reminiscing, Chris asked, “Got some time to hear an idea?”
Buck grabbed a couple more beers and led them to his cabin. “What you got yerself into now?” Hoping Chris was okay, he hadn’t seen him in a while.
Chris smiled at his old friend, “I’m putting together a unique search and rescue team, could use your talents. Interested?”
Buck Wilmington sat, staring at his best friend, the smile on his face masking all his thoughts. ‘Lordy, after six years, Chris is asking me to work with him again.’ Buck didn’t think he could pass on the chance to work with his old friend again. He didn’t want to look as though he was jumping at it, “Any females where we’re going?”
Chris smiled, recognizing what he was doing. “Hell, Buck, your antenna will find em, no matter where we end up.” Thinking of several missions. “Home base is gonna be Wyoming, probably get pulled into Montana too.”
Buck looked at Vin, he could tell by their relaxed postures that they had made some kind of connection. He was relieved that Chris had healed enough to be part of the living again. He looked his old friend in the eye, “I’m there.”
Chris grinned, “Good. How long will you be tied up here?”
“Two weeks, need to break in another guide.”
“Okay, you’ll fly into Casper. Here’s my cell and email. Let me know exacts and I’ll pick you up.”
“Two weeks, pard!” Buck shook hands with Chris and Vin, smiling.
+ + + + + + +
On the flight back to Wyoming, Vin smiled to himself. Puzzling on his feeling of having found kin. He studied the man next to him. He could communicate well one minute, then not talk for hours. Oddly the silence was just as comfortable. His thoughts drifted to Buck, “Chris..”
Larabee looked up from the papers he’d been studying. Turned his head to face Vin.
“Nathan, I understand, watched him myself. So, why Wilmington?” Vin wanted to know something about the fellas he’d be working with.
Chris rested his head back against the rest. “Buck served in my SEAL unit. Behind that devil-may-care exterior is a reliable individual. He climbs, rappels, skis, and kayaks, but he excels in systems knots. You can trust your life to the systems he anchors.”
Vin nodded, then asked quietly, “Friend?”
“Yeah, long time.” Chris didn’t expand, but Vin could hear that their path had contained sorrow.
“So, can this fancy plane swing by Texas, get my stuff?” Vin asked with a mischievous smile.
Chris raised his brows and answered with a smile, “Think that can be arranged.”
+ + + + + + +
Chris ordered the lumber and other supplies for converting the inn into living quarters. As he had to wait for the order, he put the time to good use and accompanied Vin to Texas. Vin didn’t have much stuff, having lived a vagabond lifestyle for so long. Oddly though to Chris, it seemed Vin didn’t have a lot folks to say goodbye to. Vin’s landlady and the kids of the rundown neighborhood though, apparently would miss him a great deal.
As Vin went upstairs to collect the last of his belongings, Marguerite spoke to Chris quietly, “That man has a good heart. He will be missed.” She looked at the tall man whose dark clothes contrasted well with his light hair. She made direct eye contact, “You take care of him, he is a special one.”
On some gut level, Chris understood what she meant, he nodded, “I know.”
Marguerite heard what she needed in his voice and knew that her Vin had found a kindred spirit. She smiled at the dark clad man, then hugged him, silently thanking him.
Vin hugged her goodbye and kissed the top of her head. “Thank you.”
She smiled at him and cupped his cheek as she told him, “Keep in touch, me hijo.” Vin nodded. She watched as he got into the truck with the tall man and as he waved bye, she knew she watched him ride off to his destiny.
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