edited by: JAC and Eagle Eye
Major Crime, Friday Evening
The week was winding to a close and all were grateful for it. An outbreak of arson had kept Major Crime's detectives on their toes, particularly Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. Jim had been treated for smoke inhalation twice since Tuesday afternoon. They had it all planned out: go home, order a pizza, crash on the couch, and not set foot out of the loft until Monday morning.
Funny how things never work out.
"Ellison, Sandburg!" Simon Banks bellowed from his office door. "My office."
The pair froze in their tracks, halfway out of the bullpen. Jim shot Sandburg an "I knew we should have left five minutes ago" look as they pivoted and walked towards the captain's office. They passed Rhonda's desk, where the blonde secretary was staring intently at her telephone, eyes wide.
"Important phone call?" Sandburg quipped as they passed.
"I'm waiting for Sean Davis to call me back," Rhonda said.
"From Park Services?" Jim asked.
"Yeah," Rhonda said. "He's double checking my booking of Frasier Park for tomorrow. If the paperwork didn't go through, I don't know what I'll do."
Rhonda sighed and rubbed her temples. "My sister Paula just came down with bronchitis and was supposed to do this big fundraiser for my niece's Girl Scout Troop this weekend. Since she's sick, I agreed to take over for her."
"That's really cool," Blair said.
She nodded. "I've already shanghaied Megan and Rafe to help out tomorrow."
Jim and Sandburg looked at each other for a moment. Blair's eyes danced with interest and Jim could tell his partner wanted to volunteer his time; which would make it impossible for Jim to say no.
"Do you need any more volunteers?" Jim asked.
"Thank you, guys, so much," Rhonda said. "But I have a feeling you're busy this weekend."
Before they could question the cryptic remark, her phone began ringing, a cue for the pair to leave. They strolled into Simon's office and settled into the chairs across from his desk. Simon looked up from his coffee mug, his mouth set in a grim line.
"Nice of you two to join me," Simon said. "I know you two have had a hard week. Be that as it may, I really hate to do this to you."
"That doesn't sound good," Sandburg said.
"I need you both to go to Louisiana tomorrow," Simon said. "To extradite a prisoner we've been after for four years."
Jim groaned inwardly, but was also intrigued. "Who is it?"
Simon slid a folder across his desk. Jim picked it up as Simon said, "Cort MacGeorge."
Jim glanced up sharply. "When do we leave?"
"Leave?" Sandburg echoed. "Wait a second, we just got back. And who is this guy, anyway?"
"A techno-thief," Simon said. "He's wanted in several states, but we get first crack at him.
Your plane leaves SeaTac at seven a.m., gentlemen. Be on it."
"Yes, sir," they chorused.
Simon waved them out. "Good luck."
The Loft, Later
They did order the pizza. Jim called Mario's Pizzaria as they left the precinct and it arrived five minutes after he and Blair did.
As they settled on the couch with the pizza and two beers, Blair decided enough was enough.
"So who is this guy we're going to get tomorrow?" Blair asked. "You sounded like you knew him."
"So to speak," Jim said, popping his beer tab.
"About four and a half years ago, he orchestrated a series of high-tech break-ins all over Cascade. Loved to taunt me and Jack Pendergrast about them. Then MacGeorge went under for a while. Jack disappeared, I married Carolyn, but the case was never closed."
Blair digested all this information. It all happened a long time ago, but he knew how personally Jim could take things.
"Is that the last you heard from him?" Blair ventured to ask.
Jim stared straight ahead, the pizza slice forgotten in his hand. "I saw him one more time," he said then fell silent once more.
"I was working a late stakeout," Jim finally said. "I got home and MacGeorge had broken into the loft while Carolyn was home. He -- she fought him off, but he broke her nose before he left. I missed the son of a bitch by less than five minutes."
"Jesus," Blair muttered.
"He really went under that time," Jim finished. "This is the first I've heard of him since then. When I see him I'll have to say hi."
Jim smiled. "Then I'll break his nose," he said calmly.
Rafe's Apartment, That Same Hour
As he entered his apartment, L.T. Rafe was greeted by the tangy aroma of roast beef. He paused just inside the doorway, inhaling the scent of meat and baking potatoes. Rafe tossed his keys onto the coffee table and walked into the kitchen.
David was hovering over a boiling pot, oblivious to Rafe's presence. Rafe momentarily toyed with the idea of trying to stay in David's blind spot and see how long it took to be noticed; he decided against it, since he was going to ask David for a favor tonight.
In fact, Rafe probably owed his half-brother a great deal. Ever since David had moved in with him in January, he'd become an integral part of Rafe's daily life. As his sight returned slowly over the weeks, David had assigned himself the daily tasks of cooking and cleaning. No matter what Rafe did, David saw his living situation as charity and would not accept it without earning his keep. That pride was something Rafe knew David had inherited from the late Carl Dawson.
But with his sight seventy-percent back (a small miracle by Dr. Robbins's standards), David was looking eagerly toward the fall semester. In his eyes, it was a chance for a return to normalcy.
"Hello?" David said, waving a hand in front of Rafe's face.
Rafe took a step back, realizing that he'd been staring right at David and not seeing him.
"Hi," Rafe said. "Dinner smells great."
"Thanks," David said, turning back to the stove.
Rafe leaned against the counter next to the stove. "Do you have plans tomorrow?" he asked.
He took that as a no. "Listen, I told Rhonda I'd help her out with a fundraiser in Frasier Park tomorrow. She's still looking for volunteers if you're interested."
"Working booths," Rafe said. "Helping with the kids."
"Yeah, kids." Rafe grinned. "Her three nieces are Girl Scouts. It's their annual fundraiser and Rhonda's sister is too sick to do it herself. Interested?"
Again, David shrugged.
Rafe arched an eyebrow. "Should I assume that's an affirmative response?"
Now he was getting a little perturbed with the one-word replies. Rafe took the wooden spoon David was using to skewer the string beans and asked, "In the bean's defense and out of my own curiosity, what's wrong with you?"
"Nothing," David said flatly. "Look, the roast is in the oven. I'm really not hungry."
Without another word, David marched out of the kitchen. Seconds later Rafe heard a bedroom door slam. He should have known better than to push. When David didn't want to talk he didn't talk.
Louisiana Back Road, Saturday Morning
"They do what?" Jim asked.
"Drink chicken blood," Sandburg replied. "It's part of the ritual."
"That's disgusting, Chief. You want to save some of the more graphic stuff for after breakfast?"
Jim wiped several beads of sweat from his forehead and leaned back against the seat of the yellow cab. The plane had arrived in New Orleans two hours ago, but the ride out to Backstone seemed endless in the humid Louisiana spring. The dirt road they were on led a pretzel-path through the bayou; all around was the constant chatter of insects and gentle lapping of water. Blair had been reciting an encyclopedia of information about local voodoo and the ilk. While most of it had been tame, the current subject of exorcising ghosts and drinking chicken blood had Jim hoping to leave before experiencing any local "customs."
Their cab driver, a pleasant looking man named Tooley, watched Sandburg with an expression akin to amusement. Tooley caught Jim's eye once in the rear view mirror and winked, obviously amused by his partner.
"How much farther?" Jim asked.
Tooley cleared his throat and spoke in a thickly-accented voice. "Dunna tink is more den five miles, suh."
"This Sheriff Gabelle is ready to hand MacGeorge over," Jim said to Blair. "Something about this place--" he spared a glance at Tooley, then lowered his voice, "--feels wrong."
Sandburg watched him, puzzled. "Anything specific? A particular feeling, or when you look at something?"
Jim groaned. "No tests, Chief. This is not an experiment in the sixth sense. We're out here to bring a criminal back to Cascade."
"Granted," Sandburg said. "But if something happens--"
"Nothing will happen. We will not be here long enough for anything to happen."
Sheriff Harry Gabelle regarded his northern visitors with more amusement than contempt. He wasn't used to strangers, especially not cops from Washington State. Forty-five and beefy, Gabelle was accustomed to the tranquility of his tiny town.
His entire county numbered at only one hundred and twelve souls, the least populated area in this part of the state. The main reason for that was eighty-percent of the land was swamp, making settlement nearly impossible. But Gabelle liked it -- life was predictable.
That is, until a wanted fugitive made the idiotic mistake of not filling his gas tank and got stranded in Backstone. Identifying Cort MacGeorge had been the easy part. Arresting him practically tore apart Gill's Tavern. Gabelle was more than ready to turn the jackass over to the CPD.
Sheriff Gabelle trundled down the office steps and stopped by the fender of the cab. He watched two mismatched men get out, pay old Tooley, and take in their surroundings. The cab pulled away in a cloud of dust that left the policemen coughing.
"Guess Tooley didn't want to hang around," the shorter man commented.
Gabelle smiled. "Tooley likes to get back to the city as fast as possible," he commented. "Always looking for his next fare."
"I'm Detective Jim Ellison," the taller man said, showing his badge briefly. "My partner, Detective Blair Sandburg."
"Harry Gabelle," he said, shaking the men's hands. "Sheriff in these parts."
"I guess it keeps you pretty busy," Ellison said dryly.
Gabelle chuckled. "Your man, MacGeorge, has been the most excitement we've had since Petey Lance got drunk and starting shooting his stuffed deer."
Sandburg smiled. "You don't sound like you're from around here, Sheriff."
"I was a cop in St. Louis for a while," Gabelle said. "Got tired of it all, so I retired early and moved down here. It's peaceful."
He turned and led the pair up the steps to the Sheriff's Office. The front door was propped open, letting hot air drift into the even hotter office. Miss Turiss, his secretary, was at her desk. She smiled at the strangers and returned to her romance novel. Two other desks filled the main room -- Gabelle's and his deputy's.
"Mike!" Gabelle yelled, his strong voice echoing through the tiny room. He noticed Ellison flinch ever so slightly.
A toilet flushed to the left and a harried, skinny young man hustled out ten seconds later. His face was flushed and covered with acne scars. Mike Donnelly was only twenty-four, but he took his job seriously and was a trusted confidante. Mike came to a skidding stop in front of his boss, his eyes jumping from one detective to the other.
"Sorry, Harry," Mike said.
Gabelle successfully prevented himself from laughing. "Don't worry. These are Detectives Ellison and Sandburg. My deputy, Mike Donnelly."
"Did I hear the name Ellison?" a nasal voice called from the back room.
"Cells are in back," Gabelle said. "That's where you'll find your prisoner. Deputy Donnelly will drive you back in his car whenever you're ready."
Ellison reached into his back pocket and handed over his transfer orders. "We're ready now."
Gabelle nodded and reached for his keys. "Good enough."
Louisiana Back Road, Fifteen Minutes Later
Blair sat with his back angled towards the passenger window so he had a better view of the back seat. Jim was in the back with MacGeorge, who was still in cuffs but brandished a nasty glare. It had been a staring contest between the two men ever since their reunion in the sheriff's jail.
"How long's it been?" MacGeorge had asked when they had walked into the cell block. "Seven, eight years? How's yer perdy wife's nose?"
Jim had shown remarkable restraint in not breaking MacGeorge's nose that very second. Instead, Jim had cuffed the man and bodily shoved him outside to the waiting sheriff's car, aware of Sheriff Gabelle's obvious disapproval.
"It weren't you that caught me," MacGeorge said as he was shoved into the back of the car, obviously pleased over this bit of trivia.
"Maybe not," Jim had said, "but your ass is mine now."
The two had remained silent for the beginning of the trip. Deputy Donnelly kept the chattering going, talking to Blair about life in the swamps and local legends.
"There's supposedly this woman who lives in the swamps," Donnelly said. "She helps wounded animals and brings people back from the dead for the right price."
"Yeah," MacGeorge said, breaking into the conversation. "And if you believe that, there's this bridge I can sell you."
Before Jim could tell him to shut up, Donnelly slammed hard on the brakes. Blair braced his hands instinctively on the dashboard. He felt Jim press against the back of his seat. MacGeorge, apparently unable to balance, waffled his face against the grilled partition with a loud grunt.
"What in hell was that?" Jim asked.
"Something's in the road," Donnelly replied.
A large, rotting tree had fallen across the dirt road, leaving no room to pass. It would have to be moved before they could continue. Blair and Donnelly climbed out of the car. Blair reached around and opened the door for Jim.
"Hang here and watch him," Jim said as he slammed his door shut. "Keep an eye out while we move that thing."
"Something wrong, Jim?" Blair asked.
"I don't know," Jim said vaguely. "That feeling again. Just stay alert."
Blair leaned against his open door and watched Jim and the deputy approach the felled log. It looked impossible to move and the road was too narrow to turn around -- there was swamp on all sides of them. Jim studied the log, then froze. His head twitched to one side.
Inside the sheriff's car, MacGeorge chuckled.
Then the gunfire began. It rained down from the swamp, anonymous shots that bounced off the car and the log. Blair ducked behind the car door, but not before watching Donnelly fly back with crimson blossoming on his chest. Bullets flew around in a scattered hail and Blair could not tell from which direction they came.
Just once, why can't things go as planned, he wondered, fumbling for his own gun.
He heard Jim cry out and Blair's body jerked. MacGeorge's cackling laughter sent a shiver up his spine.
"Jim!" he shouted.
The gunfire stopped suddenly. Blair looked up in time to see something long and dark swinging at his head.
He came to face down in the dirt. His whole head ached. Blair coughed, making his head pound even harder.
He opened his eyes and found himself staring out into the swamp. Nothing moved, nothing made a sound.
"Jim," he croaked.
Blair lifted his face off the ground. The left side of his face was stiff with drying blood.
"Jim," he repeated.
Grabbing onto the car door, Blair pulled himself unsteadily to his feet and looked around. The back door of the car was open -- MacGeorge was gone. The car itself was riddled with bullet holes. Jim was nowhere in sight.
"Jim!" he yelled, hearing his own voice bounce off the trees all around him. Blair winced as the sound increased the throbbing behind his eyes.
He heard a groan. Blair turned and trotted over to the fallen tree. Mike Donnelly was lying on his back, both hands pressed to his chest. He was breathing hard, trying to staunch the flow of blood from his wound. Blair fell to his knees. Ripping off his overshirt, Blair pressed it against Donnelly's wound.
"You're going to be fine," Blair said. "Did you see what happened to Jim?"
Donnelly shook his head. "Radio," he mumbled. "Two Mike two."
"Okay," Blair said.
He stood up and sprinted back to the car, praying the radio was not damaged. He whooped inwardly when he saw it was all in one piece. Blair grabbed the mike.
"To anyone on this frequency," Blair said. "This is two Mike two, deputy sheriff's car two Mike two. This is an emergency, please respond. Over."
His eyes swept over the swampland that seemed to press in on him from all sides.
I know you're out here, Jim. Help me find you.
Frasier Park, Cascade, Same Time
The Girl Scout Fundraiser was already in full swing by the time Rafe and David arrived at the park. Rhonda was rushing around, harried but in her element, barking orders at random people. A dozen tables had been set up in a semi-circle with posters advertising their wares. Twenty young girls decked out in Scout uniforms sat behind folding tables with one or more adults. Two tables were loaded with boxes of cookies. One table was covered with face paints. Megan was already there, letting a ten-year old give her whiskers and a black nose. A dunking booth was set up at the far end, selling three shots for a buck. At the open end of the semi-circle, a small pen full of goats, sheep, a pony and a pot-bellied pig was set up, courtesy of the local chapter of 4-H.
Rhonda finished giving a cookie seller information, then dashed over to Rafe and David.
"I'm so glad you guys made it," she said. "Rafe, you'll be helping at the Sand Art table with my niece Elisa. David, I've got you at the Dunking Booth."
David's eyebrows shot up. "The what?"
"Don't worry," Rhonda said with a bright smile. "You won't be in it. Just hand out the balls and take money."
"How did you get all this stuff?" Rafe asked. "I mean, a petting zoo?"
Rhonda grinned. "It's nice to date important people."
Rafe laughed, watching David wander down the rows of tables. "So who's the dupe in the dunking booth?"
"Dupe?" a deep voice said from behind.
Rafe colored. "I've got to, um, later." He hurried off.
Simon stepped closer to Rhonda, dressed in old jeans and a T-shirt. "I don't know how I let you talk me into this, Rhonda," he said.
She just smiled brightly.
Louisiana Swamp, Noon
Jim stumbled along behind MacGeorge, flanked on both sides by men with automatic rifles. His wrists were cuffed in front of him, making it easier to balance as he fought his way through the muck and mud. A bullet from one of the rifles had passed through the fleshy part of his right calf, sending darts of pain through his body. Already the heat and stagnation of the swamp had merged with the pain, settling a deep fog over his senses. He found it hard to concentrate on where he was going. If he tried to run, he would either fall in five steps or be shot down by one of MacGeorge's men.
The worst part was, he didn't know for sure if Blair was alive or dead. He'd seen a man approach Sandburg, but he had been unable to focus his hearing as MacGeorge's accomplice dragged him into the swamp.
"This is ironic, isn't it?" MacGeorge said as he picked his way across a bed of moss. "You come all the way out here to take my sorry ass to Cascade and here I am, dragging your sorrier ass through the backwaters of Louisiana."
Jim tried to come up with a thorny reply, but the pounding in his head prevented logical thought. So he said the only thing he could muster.
"Go to hell, MacGeorge," Jim muttered.
MacGeorge paused. "Now is that nice? I don't think that's nice."
Jim remained silent.
"Well, boys, I hate to do this, but I don't like the uncooperative nature of our hostage," MacGeorge said.
He opened his mouth to speak again, then froze. His eyes were glued to a spot just below Jim's kneecap. The men on either side of Jim also came to a sudden standstill.
"Guess I won't have to shoot you," MacGeorge said.
Jim's stomach sank. He heard the soft hiss. Before he could move, he felt a stinging pain in his right calf, just above the bullet wound. Jim lost his balance and fell face-first to the soft ground. From the corner of his eye, a brown snake slithered into the water and away. The pounding in his head became more insistent.
MacGeorge was suddenly towering over him, smiling. "Watch out for snakes, Jimbo," he sneered. "And the crocodiles."
MacGeorge laughed loudly, inviting his companions to do the same. They laughed as they walked on. Jim watched them go, trying desperately to stand and finding himself unable. Their laughter faded and the silence of the swamp settled in around him.
Louisiana Back Road, Late Afternoon
Three hours had passed since Blair had regained consciousness.
It had taken several minutes to reach someone on the radio frequency and almost thirty more to get any kind of vehicular response. Deputy Donnelly had been rushed to an emergency medical center just inside the county.
Blair had refused to go along and paused only long enough to get a bandage put on his forehead. Sheriff Gabelle had arrived as his deputy was spirited away, and now he and Blair were organizing search parties to go into the swamp.
"We've got five boats coming in," Gabelle said. "We'll have a helicopter tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Blair repeated. "Why not today?"
"Because we've only got a good two hours of daylight left and it would take forty-five minutes to get here. It's a big swamp, Detective."
"No kidding," Blair said. "Are there spotlights for the boats?"
Gabelle paused. "We're a tiny operation out here, Detective Sandburg. Search and Rescue will be here tomorrow with the chopper, but until then, there isn't a whole lot we can do except piddle around this area. You don't even know what direction they went in."
Blair realized the odds they were facing in finding Jim and MacGeorge. The nearest town was Backstone, twenty miles away. It was doubtful MacGeorge would head in that direction. There were several small islands of solid ground in the swamp where helicopters could land or Jeeps could drive, but those places were out of range of their small boats. To top it all off, it would be dark soon. Not good odds at all.
"I realize this, Sheriff," Blair said evenly. "We'll search as long as we can tonight, then come back with S&R in the morning."
"I know you're worried, son," Gabelle said softly. "It's a hard thing, not knowing."
Blair watched Gabelle walk towards one of the waiting boats. There had been a hint of sadness when he'd said that, and a hint of knowledge. Blair glanced down at his watch. Sooner or later, he had to call Simon with the news.
Frasier Park, Cascade
It took about three soakings for Simon Banks to get his fill of being in the dunking booth. In order to sneak away for lunch, he'd convinced one girl's father to sit in for him. Simon didn't feel too bad when he heard the first splash. He bit into his hot dog and watched the young people playing around him.
He had to admit that he was impressed. This was a first-class fundraiser. Although Commissioner Mathews was out of town for the weekend, Simon was sure he'd had a small hand in some of the day's preparations. A pair of boys with tiger-painted faces ran by, each holding helium balloons and a bag of popcorn. They paused, growled at Simon, then kept on running.
Simon laughed. It was good to be around children for a little while. And apparently, he wasn't the only one who felt that way. Simon had been watching the way David Dawson interacted with the children at the dunking booth. He was patient, helpful and caring. Simon vividly remembered a tiny girl of three who tried and tried to hit the target, but she just wasn't strong enough. David had let her come to within three feet of the target, and then he stood just behind the lever. When the child tossed her ball and barely clipped the target, David pulled back on the lever ever so slightly, sending Simon down into the cold water. But the look on the little girl's face was priceless.
David was also taking a break. He sat at one of the picnic tables, eating hot dogs and talking with Rhonda's twin nieces, Jenny and Julie. David whispered something and the identical eight- year olds dissolved into giggles.
Simon turned. Megan Connor was towering over him, her brow creased with worry. She handed him her cell phone.
"It's Sandy," she said. "He sounds upset."
He groaned softly and accepted the phone.
"Simon? It's Blair."
Simon frowned. He did sound upset. "Shouldn't you be on the plane back to Cascade by now?"
"See, sir, that's the problem. Jim's been kidnapped."
"What?" Simon shouted, leaping to his feet. Several people, Megan included, began to stare. He was suddenly aware of Rafe and Henri converging on him. "This was a routine assignment. What in God's name is going on down there?"
He was silent for several minutes while Sandburg explained himself in what seemed like two very long breaths.
"...And we're getting ready to head out right now."
"Be careful out there, Sandburg," Simon warned. "And keep me posted every hour. I want to know what's going on."
"Will do, Captain. I have to go."
Simon hung up without saying goodbye. Saying it seemed like bad luck at that particular moment in time. He handed the cell phone back to Megan and sighed.
"Bad news," Simon said. "Jim's missing."
A bird flapping its wings roused Jim from his stupor. His head weighed thirty pounds and was impossible to lift from the mud. His right leg ached. Something plopped into the water somewhere to his left, but he couldn't see what. The tall, dead-looking cypress trees loomed over him in a creepy canopy. Animals he couldn't see made sounds he couldn't identify.
A large, green-eyed fly landed on Jim's hand. He weakly tried to flick it away, but the fly held fast. It sat there, staring at nothing and seeing everything. Jim watched the fly until it got bored and flew away with a tiny buzzing sound.
Chief, where are you?
He tried to shout, but the words stuck in his throat. His mouth was dry, his tongue like sandpaper. He couldn't remember how to make words anymore.
Jim heard a new sound, a gentle lapping. It grew steadily closer, then stopped altogether. Jim gently turned his head to the left and found himself staring at the bow of a small wooden boat. Two bare feet stepped out, making no sound on the soft earth as they moved toward him.
Darkness began to encroach on his vision. Jim fought to stay awake. He looked up, only able to register shining red hair before his sight blurred completely.
Can't be Cassie, he thought as he lost consciousness. She's dead.
Gabelle Residence, Evening
The ancient Mr. Coffee sputtered out its last drops of brew into a cracked glass pot. A car rumbled down the driveway and the headlights of the sheriff's cruiser spotlighted the kitchen windows for several seconds before switching off. Blair placed two mugs on the stained counter and poured the coffee as Gabelle walked in, slamming the front door behind him.
He appeared in the kitchen doorway an instant later.
"Smells good," Gabelle said, tossing his hat into the corner.
"How's Deputy Donnelly?" Blair asked, handing a mug to the sheriff.
"Still in surgery," Gabelle replied. "Bullet missed his lungs, but he lost a lot of blood. The doctors are optimistic, though."
Gabelle spoke with a bitterness Blair didn't anticipate, as if the older man expected the worst to happen. Blair remembered Donnelly saying something about Gabelle being somewhat of a cynic since he'd known him. Gabelle eased himself into a chair and sipped at his black coffee.
"Thanks for letting me use your shower," Blair said, still trying for conversation.
"You smell better," Gabelle said with the slightest hint of a smile.
Blair had taken an unceremonious dunk in the swamp that evening reaching for something that looked like Jim's wallet. He'd lost balance and ended up in the muddy water. The force of his splash sent the object over to another boat, where a tracker identified that it was, indeed, a wallet. An old, rotten wallet with nothing inside. Once darkness had settled over the swamp, Gabelle had left Blair at his house with a change of baggy clothes and driven up to check on his deputy.
"I feel better," Blair said. "The water out there is kind of slimy."
"Thanks for the coffee," Gabelle said, finishing off his mug. "There's no hotel for thirty miles. My couch is comfortable if you don't mind a couple of springs in your back."
Gabelle stood up. "I'll get you a spare blanket. The S&R team will be here at the crack of dawn, so early to bed..."
He walked to the kitchen door and paused. "I'm real sorry about your partner," he said before walking out of the room.
Blair frowned. He had faith that Jim was out there alive, so why was Gabelle so negative about it? It was starting to get on his nerves, writing the rescue effort off before it really got started. He walked into the living room and waited until Gabelle emerged from his bedroom with a white wool blanket.
"We're going to find Jim," Blair said.
"Of course we are, son," Gabelle said evenly.
"You know, Sheriff--"
"You know, Harry, your tone of voice is not upping my confidence any. Do you really believe we'll find him?"
Gabelle held eye contact for several seconds, then sat down in an over-stuffed armchair. He tossed the blanket onto the couch and stared at the fireplace.
"I don't think so," Gabelle said without raising his gaze. "We found your partner's blood at the scene and if MacGeorge had the sense God gave ants, he'd make sure he was dead or dying in the swamp before taking off. If Detective Ellison is already injured, he'll have a hard time fighting off snakes. I won't give a false sense of hope where I don't see any."
Blair felt an overwhelming sense of pity for this man. Sometimes hope was all a person had and if you weren't willing to give that...
"Jim's strong," Blair said firmly. "I won't think him dead until I see it with my own eyes, do you understand? Maybe I don't know these swamps like you do, but I know my partner."
Gabelle finally looked at him, his eyes filled with a mix of amusement and sadness. "You remind me a bit of my partner," he said.
"Deputy Donnelly?" Blair asked.
Gabelle shook his head. "Jesse Bartlet, my old partner from St. Louis. We both worked out of Precinct 23 for thirteen years."
Blair sat gently on the edge of the couch. "Were you partners the whole time?"
"The last nine years. We didn't agree on anything, politics, women, anything."
"How did he take your moving out here?" Blair asked cautiously.
Gabelle didn't blink. "Better than expected," he replied, standing up. "Goodnight, Detective."
Gabelle nodded and walked down the short hall to his bedroom. Blair heard the door shut softly, wondering if that was a can of worms he should have left alone. Harry Gabelle didn't really seem like the type to discuss his personal life with a stranger. But Blair was curious about the man and his evasive statements.
At this moment, Blair was anything but tired. He crept outside and stood on the front porch. To his immediate right was a dirt road that led to Backstone. To his left was the swamp, dark and uninviting. Crickets chirped their song in a magical cadence that made the backwater seem almost alive. A soft mist had settled over the standing water at the edge of the property.
"So beautiful," Blair whispered. "And so deadly."
He thought about the woman Donnelly had told him about, the woman that practiced black magic in the bowels of the bayou. There were hundreds of stories like that, but Blair found himself hoping they were true. That there was someone out in that bog that could protect Jim until he got there.
"Take care of him," he said to no one.
Rafe's Apartment, Cascade
"Right. See you Monday. Bye, Rhonda."
Rafe hung up the phone in the living room and walked down the hall to David's room. He knocked softly on the door.
"Yeah," came the muffled voice within.
Rafe opened the door slowly. David was sitting at his desk, typing something on his computer. His head was at a slight angle -- the pixels always gave his returning vision a workout. He was smiling.
"You look pleased with yourself," Rafe said.
David looked up. "I was emailing Lewis, telling him about today."
"Should I take it you enjoyed yourself, then?"
"Yeah, sure," David replied, concentrating on the computer again.
"Rhonda said they raised over five hundred dollars, a record for the troop."
"Jenny and Julie are quite taken with you, she said," Rafe added with an evil grin. "And you know about eight-year olds and crushes."
David smiled, but didn't look up. Rafe sighed and turned to leave when David's voice stopped him.
"Do you think Detective Ellison will be okay?" he asked.
"They've gotten out of worse than this," Rafe said.
David nodded thoughtfully. "G'night, L.T.," he said.
"Night," Rafe said, as he shut the door behind him.
Louisiana Swamp--A Cabin, Early Sunday Morning
Heat, dry heat. A crackling fire. And something cooking that smelled so good. These first few impressions were what greeted Jim as he struggled back to consciousness. He tried to move and groaned. That was a bad idea.
"Don't move," a soft voice said. "You're still too weak."
Jim cracked his eyelids, peering into a semi-lit cabin. A girl, young and beautiful, moved into his line of sight. Her pale face was framed by long, red hair. Her green eyes, almost too big for her small face, glowed with the sorrow of someone ten times her age. She placed a cool hand on his forehead and Jim felt the dull headache fade away.
"Who... are...?" Jim struggled to find words. His tongue felt swollen to the roof of his mouth.
"Merry," she said. Her voice seemed to dance around the room. "You'll be fine, Jim. You just need to rest. Let the poultice work."
Merry smiled, but the smile never reached her eyes. "The poultice. It will heal your wounds and cleanse your blood from infection."
Jim struggled to look down, but his body was covered with a thin, brown blanket. He saw a large lump where his right leg should be.
"Alone?" Jim asked.
"Daddy's gone hunting," Merry said in a hollow tone. "He'll be back in the morning."
"We can't call anyone from out here. Don't worry, Jim. Your friends will come for you."
He believed her and he didn't know why. Maybe he was still too delirious not to. Jim wanted to ask a dozen more question -- Who was her father? Had she seen MacGeorge? How do you know my name? -- but didn't. Sleep was fighting for his attention and he began to lose that battle.
"Sleep, Jim," Merry said, stroking his forehead. "You'll feel better in the morning, I promise."
"Promise," he muttered as he closed his eyes.
Louisiana Swamp--East of Backstone, Morning
Blair hoped he was doing his best suppressing his fear of heights as the helicopter circled the swampland twenty miles out. Gabelle had stayed on the ground, coordinating the search effort with the State Police and their Search and Rescue team. An officer named Marco had gone up with Blair and both men had their eyes glued to the land below, seeking out any sign of Jim and their fugitives.
"Bird One, this is Base One. Over," Gabelle's voice said over the radio.
The co-pilot picked up his handset. "Base One, this is Bird One. Come in."
"We had a report of lights over by Potter's Bog late last night. That's five miles west of you. Over."
"Copy, Base One. Changing course to Potter's Bog. Bird One, over."
Blair held on as the helicopter made a sharp turn to the left.
"Get your ass into the chopper," MacGeorge ordered.
His pilot, Marty, glared at him, but climbed inside. MacGeorge returned the glare, not in a good mood at all. They had arrived at the bog in the early morning and found the engine invaded by a nest of swamp rats. Several wires had been eaten through and needed to be replaced before they could take off.
Three hours later, their escape vehicle was ready to fly.
His other accomplice, a hefty man named Sam, slammed the engine hood down and opened the back door. MacGeorge climbed in, hoping the ancient hunk of metal was air-worthy. Sam jumped into the front passenger seat and shut the door. Marty started up the engine. It choked, then whirred to life.
If we get out of this, I am definitely reconsidering their share of the loot, MacGeorge thought, watching the ground move away.
The loot in question was the bag of jewelry he had heisted and hidden just before his arrest in Backshit, or whatever the town was called.
His recent escape had only been a mild surprise. Only he knew where the jewels were, and Sam and Marty were greedy sons of bitches. They wanted their cut no matter the risk. Of course, leaving Ellison to rot in the swamp had been an unexpected bonus.
The chopper rose steadily and Marty turned it towards Alabama.
"Uh oh," Marty muttered. "We've got company."
"What?" MacGeorge screeched, leaning forward.
A dark shape loomed in the east, moving steadily closer.
Blair saw the helicopter through his binoculars. "There!" he said, pointing out the pilot's side of the chopper.
The co-pilot nodded and grabbed the handset. "Base One, this is Bird One. We have a possible visual on suspects. Stand by."
"Bird One, report your position. Over."
"We are directly one-quarter mile east of Potter's Bog and closing."
Blair squinted into the binoculars, hoping the helicopter ahead was not armed. If they had to shoot the chopper down, Jim could be hurt. Conversely, Blair's helicopter could be shot down. Neither prospect was exactly thrilling.
The co-pilot switched on the speaker and handed Officer Marco the handset.
"This is the Louisiana State Police," he said, his voice echoing out into the swamp. "Land your helicopter and exit with your hands above your head. Repeat, this is the police. Land your helicopter."
The rogue chopper responded by swerving wildly to the south and picking up speed.
"Hold on," the pilot said.
Blair gripped the seat in front of him as their helicopter changed course to follow. In a stomach-lurching move, they rose high into the sky and zoomed forward. Blair watched the other chopper move below and finally behind them. Without warning they dropped back down to their previous altitude, now less than thirty feet in front of the rogue.
Marco depressed the handset and repeated his order for surrender.
"Get us out of here!" MacGeorge said, his hands gripping the back of Marty's seat.
"I'm trying, dammit," Marty returned.
In the passenger seat, Sam was searching through his backpack. He grunted and pulled out a semi-automatic rifle.
"What do you think you're doing?" MacGeorge bellowed.
Sam glared at him. "What do you think? I'm getting rid of our little pest problem, you moron."
"Do not fire that weapon!"
"Or what?" Sam scoffed. "I won't get my cut? Screw you, man. I ain't going to jail for a couple thousand in jewels."
Sam whipped around, bringing the butt of his rifle over the back of his seat and down on MacGeorge's nose, producing a jet of crimson blood. MacGeorge fell back against the seat, howling in pain and clutching his broken nose. Sam turned his icy glare to Marty.
"Get closer," Sam said.
Blair was twisted backwards, trying to get a better view of the other helicopter. He peered through the binoculars.
"I don't see Jim," he announced. Blair turned to Marco, his eyes wide. "Jim Ellison isn't with them."
The rat-tat of gunfire cut off Marco's reply. The pilot cut sharply to the left and rose up. Marco pulled out his pistol and leaned out the side of the chopper. They angled slightly, giving Marco a clean shot.
Marco took his shot. Fuel sprayed from the puncture in the rogue chopper's tank.
The co-pilot took the handset. "Base One, target is going down. Repeat, target helicopter is going down."
Blair watched the rogue chopper lose altitude.
Please don't let Jim be in that thing, he pleaded as the rogue disappeared into the Louisiana swamp.
Louisiana Swamp--A Cabin, Mid-Morning
Jim sat up straight, panic coursing through his body. A wave of dizziness rocked him and he fell back against the pillow, watching shadows dance in his vision. He tried to remember where he was. The shapes of the cabin came into focus and suddenly Merry was there, smiling calmly at him.
"You look better," she said, her voice dancing around the room in its mysterious way. "I have broth. You need to eat and regain your strength."
"What time is it?" Jim asked, amazed to find his voice had returned fully. In fact, he felt better all over. The headache was gone and his leg no longer throbbed.
"It's still morning," she replied. Merry reached for a steaming brown bowl resting on a wooden crate and stirred it gently with a spoon. "Drink this, Jim."
Merry lifted the spoon to Jim's lips. He sniffed it, but recognized only the faint odor of herbs, nothing he could identify. Without realizing he had opened his mouth, Jim felt the warm liquid swirl down his throat. It had no discernible taste, but was not unpleasant.
"What is this?" he asked.
"It will make you feel better," she said.
She fed him half the bowl, then set it back on the crate. Jim watched her pull back his blanket and lift the bandages on his right leg. She smiled and pulled them off completely. Jim craned his neck. His jeans had been cut off at the knee. The skin on his calf was pale and somewhat shriveled, but his wounds were almost completely healed. The bullet hole was a red spot the size of a quarter, the snakebite two tiny pock marks. He flexed the leg and felt only slight tenderness.
"What did you do?" Jim asked, looking up at Merry.
The young girl just smiled. "You ask many questions, Jim, but you will be fine. Just rest now."
Jim leaned back on the pillow and let his eyes close. As his mind drifted, he tried to extend his hearing to find out if he and Merry were alone. He was asleep before he could locate Merry's heartbeat.
Six Miles South of Potter's Bog
The rogue helicopter had gone down in a grove of trees. The trees were surrounded by water with no actual land for almost a mile. The S&R chopper hovered above the stranded helicopter until three State Police boats made it to the wreckage. It was another hour before they had landed and acquired their own transport back.
Blair watched from his rowboat as two policemen pulled MacGeorge out of the helicopter. His accomplices were already cuffed and in a swamp boat. Blair and Marco maneuvered their boat closer. As they neared, Blair dropped his paddle into the bottom of the boat and carefully stood up.
"Where's Jim Ellison?" Blair demanded.
MacGeorge blinked and looked at him quizzically. A sly grin spread across his face.
"Seems we lost yer buddy in the swamp," MacGeorge drawled. "Too bad about those snakes, though. Some of them are poisonous, especially that copperhead who bit yer friend."
Blair's jaw twitched. He wanted to lunge for MacGeorge's throat, but six feet of water stood between their boats and Blair didn't relish the idea of swimming again. Instead he fixed icy eyes on MacGeorge.
"You'll be coming back to Cascade with me soon," Blair vowed. "So don't get too comfortable."
He scanned the other officers until he found Sheriff Gabelle. Gabelle stared back at him with a mix of sadness and anger. He walked over to the edge of his motorboat and helped Blair aboard.
"We're limiting the search area to the twenty miles between Backstone and Potter's Bog," Gabelle said.
Blair nodded. "Let's get going," he said.
Rafe's Apartment, Cascade
David walked into the kitchen, his bare feet padding lightly on the linoleum. Rafe was already at the table, sipping a mug of coffee and reading the financial section of the Times. David grinned. His brother was still in his pajamas, hair askew and uncombed. It always amused David to see the messy side that Rafe never showed to his friends. David poured a glass of orange juice and sat down opposite Rafe.
He stared at the back of the newspaper for several moments. David had something to say, but hesitated to bring it up. It had to be said sometime, but putting it off seemed easier. Rafe dropped a corner of the paper and caught his eyes.
"There are fresh bagels if you're hungry," Rafe said.
David nodded and dropped his gaze. "Okay."
Rafe put down his newspaper, refolding it carefully. "You know you can tell me anything, right?"
"I do know that, L.T.," he replied. "I'm sorry I've been in such a funk lately."
"Are you nervous about your doctor's appointment tomorrow?"
David bit his lower lip. "Actually, I had that appointment on Friday."
"You already went?" Rafe asked, sounding hurt. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I wanted to go alone," he replied. "I wanted to hear what the doctor had to say without someone there telling me it's going to be okay."
When Rafe didn't respond, David breathed deeply and continued.
"He said I would always have a twenty percent loss of peripheral vision in both eyes," David said. "It's permanent, there's no surgery or therapy available right now. That's why I was so angry all weekend."
"And now?" Rafe ventured.
David half-shrugged and grinned. "Now I'm not angry. I've had months to think about what to do with the rest of my life and still hadn't come up with anything... until yesterday."
"Yep. I had a great time with those kids. I've always liked kids."
Rafe smiled. "You want to be a teacher."
"I think so," David said. "I want to take some Elementary Education classes at Rainier this fall, maybe volunteer at one of the local schools to get my feet wet. Teachers aren't so particular about peripheral vision. It would have been great to go to the Academy, but that's not my future, I guess."
"No," Rafe said thoughtfully. "But your future is looking pretty good right now."
Louisiana Swamp, Afternoon
Blair and Gabelle were searching a muddy section of the swamp ten miles east of Backstone. The motor didn't work in the muck and they'd resorted to paddling. They had gotten stuck in the low water several times and almost lost their paddles in the mud twice. It was slow going, but the ground was good for foot travel in most places. His stomach rumbled and Blair suddenly realized how late it was getting.
"There," Gabelle said.
Blair turned and followed Gabelle's finger. Something was floating in the water ten feet from the boat. Blair stuck his paddle in the water and pushed. They maneuvered over and Blair pulled the object into the boat. It was a ripped section of a pair of jeans, a piece of the leg with a torn hole and black stain. There was also a familiar patch of white near the cuff.
"They're Jim's," Blair said, pointing to the white. "We helped a friend repaint her apartment a month ago and Jim got paint on his jeans right there. It wouldn't wash out."
Gabelle eyed the fabric, his expression grim. "Gator could have done that," he said.
Blair's heart began to pound hard as fear coursed through him. That fear instantly changed to anger.
"Why are you so quick to write Jim off as dead?" Blair asked, his voice rising indignantly. "Until we see a body, there is still every chance he is alive out here somewhere. How can you be so ready to give up?"
"Because I am realistic," Gabelle shot back. His eyes danced with some hidden emotion he'd kept bottled up for too long. "I've been sheriff here long enough to know what a night in the swamp, unarmed, can do to a person. I've found my share of body parts that couldn't be identified. And I've sure as hell lost my share of friends, so don't act as though I've got no sympathy for what you're going through."
"I don't need sympathy, Harry, I need your confidence. I know my partner and he's out there. He deserves to be found."
Gabelle shook his head. "I was exactly like you, Blair. I believed in my partner, that he was strong and would always be there for me. But you know what? He's just human."
Blair's grip on his paddle tightened. "What happened to your partner?"
"Jesse was mugged and shot at an ATM machine four years ago," Gabelle said hollowly. "He was off duty, meeting me to go bowling that night and needed cash. It was stupid and pointless and we never did catch the bastard that did it."
"I'm sorry," Blair said.
"I don't want to make you think the worst," Gabelle said. "But I can't give you fake optimism. I've never been a good actor. I'm not a very good liar, either."
Blair snorted. "Maybe I'll rub off on you. Obfuscation is my specialty."
"I believe you," Gabelle said with a half-smile.
"We've got more ground to cover before it gets dark," Blair said. "Shall we?"
Gabelle nodded and picked up his paddle. "We shall."
Louisiana Swamp--A Cabin
Jim awoke to the warmth of the sun on his face. He squinted against the glare, surprised to find himself outside. Jim blinked and tried to sit up, only to feel the world wobble. His hands flailed out and grabbed two wooden planks. He was in a boat.
"Merry?" he called, pulling himself to a sitting position.
He saw the outside of the cabin for the first time. It was in sad shape, built on stilts in the middle of the bayou. The roof was rotten and the boardwalk surrounding the place didn't look safe enough for a mouse to walk across. It was absolutely silent.
She stepped out of the cabin, her silent footsteps not even rattling the wood beneath her. Her pale skin glistened under the sunlight, appearing almost translucent. Merry walked over to the boat and crouched next to him.
"You have to go now, Jim," she whispered. "Daddy will be back soon and he won't want to see you here. Besides, you're better now."
Jim had to admit he felt great, if a bit disoriented. His senses didn't seem to want to cooperate fully, but that could just be a side affect of whatever natural medicines Merry had given him. He just didn't know how to thank her for saving his life.
"Thank you," he said.
Merry smiled and kissed his forehead, a gesture he barely felt. "Your friends miss you, Jim. They'll be glad to see you."
She placed two fingers over his lips. "Hush, Jim. Sleep now. Awake in the company of friends."
Jim eyes grew heavier and he slumped back in the boat. His head had barely touched the wooden plank before the gently lolling of the boat rocked him to sleep.
Louisiana Swamp, Evening
As the hours wore on, Blair was beginning to lose hope. The sun would set in another hour and they would call off the search for the night. He didn't want to think about Jim spending another night in the swamp alone.
Gabelle's walkie-talkie crackled to life. "Bird One to all teams. We've got nothing and gas is low. We are heading in. Over."
"They're giving up," Blair said.
"They're outta gas," Gabelle replied.
"They're giving up."
A dark shadow flitted past the periphery of Blair's vision. He spun around to the stern of the boat and squinted into the gloom of the bog. Something dark floated in the water a good fifty feet away, making it hard to identify. Gabelle also turned and followed his gaze.
"What is that?" Gabelle asked.
"I don't know." Blair picked up his paddle and dipped it back into the water. "Let's check it out."
As they moved closer, the shape of a tiny boat began to materialize. It had caught itself on a root and rocked gently as the waves from their paddles reached it. When they were within ten feet, Blair saw a familiar form lying in the boat.
They came up alongside the tiny craft. Blair grabbed the edge of the boat, his fingers immediately reaching for Jim's throat. He found his pulse strong and steady. Jim's pant leg was torn and his leg had three small red marks, but he was otherwise unharmed.
Gabelle picked up his radio. "Boat Twelve to Base, we have found Detective Ellison. He is alive. Repeat, we have found Ellison alive. Requesting immediate airlift--"
Blair blocked out what Gabelle was saying, concentrating on his partner. He gently shook Jim's shoulder.
"Jim? It's Blair. Wake up, man."
Jim grunted and stirred.
"Chief?" Jim mumbled. He blinked and slowly opened both eyes. "Good to see you."
Blair exhaled deeply, his worry evaporating. "You, too."
Simon Banks swiveled listlessly back and forth in his desk chair. A full mug of hazelnut coffee cooled on his desk near the phone. He'd spent all afternoon taking hourly progress reports from the Louisiana State Police and fielding questions from the brass. It had been a tiring afternoon and now he was worried. It was fifteen minutes past when Sandburg said he would check in.
He knew the odds of finding Jim alive after all this time were virtually nil, but if this particular pair of partners were good at anything, it was beating the odds.
Simon reached for his coffee and nearly spilled it when his phone rang. He snatched up the receiver.
It was Sandburg, sounding out of breath.
"Simon, we found Jim. He's alive and he's okay. In fact, he's better than okay. It's like he was never hurt, but he said he was shot and snake bitten and--"
"Sandburg! Take a breath, will you?" Simon ordered, barely able to keep up with the young man's rambling. A wave of relief flowed over him.
"Sorry. Sheriff Gabelle and I found Jim floating in a boat an hour ago, but he wasn't hurt. At least, he had been but it was all healed. The bullet wound where MacGeorge shot him and two tiny marks where he said a snake bit him."
"Yeah, but the doctors down here didn't find any venom in his bloodstream and his bullet wound is healed already."
"How can that be?" Simon asked, leaning back into his chair.
"I dunno, Simon. Jim said he was found by this girl, that she took him to her cabin and took care of him. But no one around here knows who she is."
"You know, strange things follow you two around like a shadow."
Sandburg laughed. "I know. The doctors are keeping him overnight for observation, but he's free to go tomorrow. We should be back in Cascade by lunch."
"That's good news, Sandburg."
"Yeah. Listen, I have to go. I'll talk to you later, Simon."
Simon hung up the receiver and rested his elbows on his desk. He shook his head. If he had learned a lesson from this, it was never underestimate the survival instinct of a sentinel. Simon grinned and picked the phone back up. He had a lot of calls to make.
County Hospital, Louisiana
Blair hung up the phone at the Nurse's Station and nodded thanks to the elderly woman behind the counter. He pivoted and walked back down the hall to Jim's room. Blair paused when he saw Harry Gabelle turn the corner in his direction.
"Harry," Blair said, trotting up to the older man. "How's Donnelly doing?"
Gabelle smiled. "He's awake. He was asking about his bullet. Wants to keep it as a souvenir to show his grandkids someday."
"Sounds like he's going to be fine."
"He's a strong kid," Gabelle said. "He has a good heart. Can't wait to get back to work."
Blair chuckled. "Too bad he'll be recuperating for the next few months. And thank you for all your help."
Gabelle nodded and shook Blair's hand. "Take care of your partner."
"You, too," Blair said, returning the handshake. "If you're ever in Cascade, look me up."
"Will do." Gabelle turned and took a few steps down the hall before stopping. He looked back, a teasing smile on his face. "Hey, Detective. Keep your criminals in your own city."
"Deal," Blair replied, watching his new friend walk away. Blair sighed and continued toward Jim's room.
Louisiana Backwater, Monday Morning
Jim scanned the swamp around him, trying to reorient himself. He had been so out of it the entire time he was in the swamp, finding the cabin he'd stayed at became doubly difficult. A grizzled old man had taken Jim and Blair out that morning to find the cabin, and so far they'd had no luck.
At least his senses were back to normal. Jim spent his time sweeping the swamp for human heartbeats, hoping that he could locate Merry and her mysterious father.
"Are you sure this is the right spot?" Sandburg asked.
"I only walked about three miles with MacGeorge," Jim said. "You found me twelve miles from town. Considering the tides, this should be the right area to look."
"Don't nobody live out here, though," their guide said. "Least not fer thirty years."
Before Jim could ask for an explanation, Blair said, "I see something."
Jim followed his partner's gaze and zeroed his sight in on the blackened remains of a cabin. His jaw dropped.
"Jesus," he muttered. "Over there!"
The old man cranked the motor and sped the small boat over. As the cabin came into full view, Jim stood up, unable to completely process what he saw.
The cabin was a burnt-out shell with no roof or front door. Most of the boardwalk had collapsed into the swamp. Native plants had taken root between the surviving boards and a sapling grew up from the center of the cabin.
"This was it," Jim said. "This was where I was."
"Ain't possible," the old man said. "This here was the Derkin's place. It done burned down a good twenty-five years ago. Legend is old Derkin came home from hunting and found his daughter with a local boy. Burned the cabin down with all three inside. Course, no one ever proved it. Just a local ghost story."
Jim's brow furrowed in disbelief. "What was the daughter's name?"
The man shrugged. "Marie, Mary, something like that."
"It can't be," Sandburg said. "Jim--"
"Let it go, Chief."
"Let it go."
Sandburg nodded. Here wasn't the place. Jim had no explanation for what had happened to him. But he knew that he was alive and for that, he was grateful.
"Let's go home, Chief," Jim said. "Where things are normal."
Sandburg snorted, then nodded.
The old man turned the motor and headed for Backstone. Jim watched the swamp rush by, realizing how much he would not miss this place. The swamp was a mysterious place to be. He caught a flash of red, possibly hair, from the corner of his eye. It was gone when Jim turned his head. Yes, he would be glad to leave the backwater behind.
Beautiful, but deadly.
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