elgrey: Artwork by Suzan Lovett (DannyMartin)
[personal profile] elgrey

The base of the valley had leveled out to leave them walking upstream through a wider scoop of snow. Danny was very conscious of how visible they must be, he in his black coat and Martin in that petrel blue sweater, dark shapes against the whiteness struggling on as the snow dropped the occasional flake into their hair, but the going was so much easier here, on the level, than it would be if they climbed back up to the tree line.

Martin’s bruises were shocking by daylight, darkness had blurred them into vague shadows, but now every discoloration was painfully visible. Danny could see every different color of mottling, even the imprints left by Ryan’s fists, the edge of the belt buckle, the red and purple contusions across his cheekbone, and the livid redness around his left eye deepening swiftly into a blue black bruise. There were still flakes of dried blood on his face and Danny kept wanting to clean them off with snow but realized in time that Martin had probably reached his limit on being fussed over about six hours since. Martin had certainly told him to back off as he if he meant it when Danny had tried to monitor what color his urine was.

“I’m not taking a piss with you watching me.”

“I don’t trust you to tell me if there’s blood in it.”

“Tough. Go and work on your trust issues over there.”

Danny had unwillingly complied but darted back in time to see Martin kicking snow onto a steaming stain that certainly looked more yellow than red, and earning himself an eye roll of disbelief.

Every now and then Martin’s tongue would dart over the fragile scab holding his split lip together, tasting the unfamiliar metallic taste of his wounds, and there would be that look of slight surprise as he was reminded of the pounding he had taken. Even after his long slow recovery from the shooting, it was obvious that Martin still found it difficult to think of himself as a victim. Danny tried not to think of Martin that way either, but as the day grew lighter and his bruises came more and more into focus it was difficult not to gawp in horrified fascination.

“Can you stop doing that?” Martin flashed him a look of amused irritation.

“I’m sorry, but you’re just such a hideous offence to the eyes.”

“You’re no oil painting yourself right now.”

Danny snorted dismissively. “Nonsense. This face doesn’t know how not to be handsome.”

“Yeah right.” They grinned at each other stupidly and then Martin winced as his split lip began to bleed again and he had to lick the blood from his lip. He hid the wince quickly though.

Stumbling on through the snow, Danny took a moment to appreciate the way Martin wasn’t complaining. Annoying though it was the way he kept claiming to be ‘fine’ when he wasn’t, it would probably have been more annoying if he had whined constantly about how much everything was hurting.

He knew he was guilty of placing the people he loved on pedestals. Maybe that had been the problem with Rafael, too. Throughout his childhood, Rafi had been the one who was always kind, always reasonable, who headed off the pain that would otherwise have found him, and then just when he had needed Rafi most of all, the guy had run out on him; not physically abandoned him, but mentally and emotionally left Danny without any guidance or assistance while Rafi chased dragons along every aching vein. That had seemed like the greatest betrayal of all, far worse than Papi’s outbursts or beatings. His parents’ deaths had been no fault of theirs – although a part of Danny still thought that he was to blame – but Rafi had been his only ally for so long, and had chosen to leave him, could have stayed, could not have got high, could not have stolen and lied and cheated and despoiled himself, yet had chosen to do all of those things.

When Martin had made the same choice he had been so angry, so betrayed, and feeling doubly betrayed because Martin had been one of the friends who had been there for him when Rafi had gone missing and who had helped him look, seeing every step of the way what this was doing to Danny to have to go through this again. Martin should have known what it would do to Danny for him to become an addict too. It should have been enough to stop him.

Stated like that, really spelled out in the privacy of his head, Danny could see that it sounded a little crazy. Martin hadn’t done anything to Danny; he had done things to himself that had impacted on Danny, just like Rafael had done. Rafi had never breathed a word of reproach to Danny about the crash that had killed their parents, never blamed Danny, and dealt with his own grief and guilt in his own way. Just like Martin had dealt with pain and feelings of inadequacy and then the panic of his life getting away from him, in his own way. And it had been the wrong way and he wished Martin had never done it, but it hadn’t been done to hurt him. All the same…

“It’s one of the things about being in a team, you know.”

Martin looked at him in surprise. “What is?”

“That everything you do impacts on other people.”

There was a flicker of raw anxiety in Martin’s eyes in an instant. “What have I done now?”

It was a shock to discover that, under the surface layer of normal Martin, there was a sharp exposure of guilt-ridden confidence-eroded Martin, like a battle-scarred landscape barely covered by new growth.

“Nothing.” Danny rubbed his back in brief apology. “Just…I’m glad it’s you and me, that’s all. If we couldn’t get hold of Viv and Sam, I’d be imagining…”

“Don’t even go there.” Martin shuddered. “It’s bad enough worrying about Ryan being on his way to Wisconsin and knowing we’re the brain’s trusts who sent him there.”

They were moving better now. They seemed to have gone through the period of stiffening up and aching with cold and managed to come out the other side of it. Martin was still limping and breathing shallowly around the pain in his ribs, but he was no longer weaving from side to side like a drunk and Danny’s arm around his shoulders was more of a guide than a necessity.

“I’m good with blaming Jack for telling Ryan his brother-in-law is still alive,” Danny offered conversationally.

Martin thought that over for a minute and then nodded. “Me too.”

The snow spat a few flakes at them half-heartedly and Danny tried to think warm thoughts while the weather persisted in reminding him how cold and stiff and aching he was. He was remembering that moment in the kitchen where he had responded to Ryan, not as if the man was a husband and father who had cracked under the strain, but as someone crazy, someone dangerous. “Martin, when you were in the barn with Ryan…?”

“Nothing happened,” Martin repeated wearily. “Nothing like you’re thinking. You’re right that I wouldn’t tell you if it had, but I’m not that good an actor, so, trust me, you’d know, and it didn’t.”

“I don’t mean that. I mean…who did you think you were with? A guy who’d just flipped out because of his wife or someone who’d done it before?”

“Someone who’d done it before.” There was no hesitation. “He hardly mentioned his wife. It was all about me not being…disciplined enough. Needing to learn respect, needing to learn the rules. That’s why I’m sure you’re right about Nathan. I think Ryan would have beaten the crap out of him for sure.”

“All those guys in Indemnity who were abducted, and tied up, and beaten, and raped, and murdered, and we’re scoring a three out of five on a guy from Indemnity who still ‘keeps a cattle prod for special occasions’ – and he had a hard-on, Martin. I keep thinking about it and I think the only reason he didn’t rape you in the barn was because he wanted to make me watch him do it.”

Martin looked as disgusted as Danny felt, and Danny realized how much worse an experience that would have been, not just for him, but for Martin, too.

“I keep thinking that, too – about Ryan’s similarities to the mindset of that serial killer.” Martin stumbled and then found his footing again. “It’s too much of a coincidence for me, but the timing’s wrong. Ryan isn’t old enough to have done the earlier killings and he’s been around for the past eighteen years when there haven’t been any more. No one’s died around here and no one died for the six years in Indemnity before he and Mary moved here.”

“Maybe he got bored. Jack said that happens with serial killers.”

“He said they get bored and they get sloppy and sometimes they want to get caught. They don’t usually just stop, do they?”

They exchanged a glance and Danny shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe he’s the one that did. Just…stopped. But I think you were going to be his next victim, so if he was a serial killer in Indemnity, something set him off again.”

Martin snatched a breath that clearly hurt him all the way in and Danny thought again how much he would give to get him to a hospital and get his ribs x-rayed. Martin was clearly still thinking about the case: “Eighteen years is having some significance for me but I don’t know what it is. Can you think of something in this case that happened Eighteen years ago? When did Nathan get out of Juvenile Hall?”

“When he was seventeen. He’s thirty-four now, so that was seventeen years ago, not eighteen.”

“Okay. When did Ryan’s father die?”

“Sometime in the eighties. Twenty years ago, I think, maybe more.”

“And Margaret was born eleven years ago. Jake Gallagher died twelve years ago.”

“And Nathan was believed killed in that car crash twelve years ago.”

Martin shook his head. “So, if Ryan is a serial killer. What happened eighteen years ago to make him stop killing people? There has to be something.”

Danny went through the cases he had known where people had suffered an epiphany. “Maybe he saw the light? Was born again or something? Maybe he met one of the relatives of the victims?”

“He was always a churchgoer. I think someone who could walk into church and sing in the choir and go out and kill a guy the next day, as Ryan must have done if he was the killer, is going to take more than a really good sermon to understand that what he’s doing is wrong. And I didn’t get the impression when he was hitting me that he thought it was wrong, he didn’t ask God to forgive him before he took each swing at me, he was okay about doing it. He thought I had it coming.”

Danny tightened his grip on Martin as he felt him stumble again. “Okay, what did he say to you exactly? When he was hitting you, what was he saying?”

“It was all about how I needed to learn discipline and obedience and to realize that he was the one in charge and how all young men needed to learn that and their fathers should teach it to them and if he didn’t then it was his job to make them realize the error of their ways – that kind of thing. Nothing about it hurting him more than it hurt me.”

“So, if he was ever a serial killer, he’s an unrepentant one.”

“I’d say.”

“An unrepentant serial killer who nevertheless hasn’t murdered anyone for eighteen years but decided to fall off the wagon because…?”

Martin went through the possibilities without much enthusiasm: “Because he found out Nathan was still alive. Because he found out Mary left him willingly. Because there’s an ‘r’ in the month. Because…we’re the right type to start him back on the serial killing again.”

“You’re his type, I’m not,” Danny pointed out. “None of the Indemnity victims had Spanish as a first language.”

Martin’s gaze was level. “And he’s really going to know your ethnicity from your name, Agent Taylor. Maybe he was going to kill me first, but he would have killed you next.”

“He would have killed you slower.” Danny shuddered as he thought about that case file Sam had been looking through, all those young men, dead so very painfully, and Ryan had been in total control of both of them; he could have done anything to Martin and there was nothing Danny could have done to stop it except sit there and listen to the screams. Not that there would have been any of those, of course. Martin was too stubborn to scream, so, if Ryan really was the Indemnity serial killer, then what Ryan would have done trying to make him cry out would have been truly unspeakable.

Martin’s voice was gentle: “It didn’t happen, Danny. Remember?”

It was way too close for comfort. He didn’t say it aloud. Martin had probably passed the point where he could take any more nagging about four hours before. They had walked into the middle of something that had nothing to do with them and it was even possible – although he certainly would not be acknowledging that out loud – that whatever Martin had said or done, Ryan would still have beaten the crap out of him.

“Hey…” Martin tugged at his coat to get his attention and pointed up into the trees. “Does that look like a cabin to you?”

He had to blink to get it in focus through the low winter sun glinting through the trees, but then he saw the square darkness of the building nestled amongst firs.

They scrambled up there awkwardly. He was still hauling Martin up after him while Martin insisted he could manage, but thinking of Martin telling him he was ‘fine’ and just needed to walk off being knocked down a flight of metal stairs, when in fact he was in so much pain he was clinging on by his fingernails and was about to dive into the Vicodin so hard he was going to become an addict, Danny just tightened his grip and kept hauling.

He was hoping for a phone, blankets, a change of clothes, a gun would also be nice, but as he pushed open the door, Danny felt not much surprise when the interior of the cabin turned out to be musty, mossy, and almost empty except for an old table and a rickety-looking chair. There were shelves on the wall, but there were only a couple of cans on them. The roof looked relatively solid, so they could shelter in here if they had to, although it didn’t look much snugger than the forest outside, but on the whole it was disappointing. Martin limped to the window and wiped at the grimy pane. “I think there’s another mine entrance over there.” Danny peered over his shoulder and saw that blacker square in the green-dark shadows of the trees a few hundred yards away. Another possible hiding place if hiding places became necessary, although he was becoming more and more convinced that all Ryan had wanted to do, after all, was delay Jack realizing what had become of Danny and Martin so that Ryan could get after his wife. Except, no…

That would have been the logical response for a man thinking himself betrayed, but Ryan had taken the time out to beat the crap out of Martin for no very good reason, and that wasn’t logical or sane, and any way Danny looked at it, Ryan still felt like a serial killer to him. Although a guy presumably dropped a lot of points at Serial Killer School for not bothering to murder anyone for eighteen years. It worried him a lot more than he liked to think that Ryan could have been a recovering serial killer, someone who had kept himself away from murder until they had walked in and triggered something in him that had made him revert.

“Do you think we’re really that annoying?”

Martin glanced across at him from the window. “What?”

“That a guy who’s sworn off serial killing falls off the wagon after five minutes talking to you and me?”

Martin grimaced. “In fairness to us, it was more like half an hour.” He looked back out of the window, apparently making calculations of some kind as he glanced at the mine and then up at the far side of the valley.

“Have you got something?”

“If I’m remembering the map right we must be close to the campsite. It should be up there.”

Danny opened the door of the cabin and looked the way Martin was pointing. Very close to the campsite indeed, as the crow flew, but not having wings, they were looking at a scramble up more steep, rocky, wooded terrain. Groaning inwardly, Danny looked across at Martin who sighed and said: “I don’t think we have much choice.”

“Maybe you should stay here and I’ll go.”

“I think we need to stick together.”

Danny was glad Martin had at least a surface layer of his self-confidence back. It had taken a hell of a beating over his addiction; not easy for a guy who had known from birth what he had to achieve and by which time he had to achieve it, to suddenly find out he had gotten into something he couldn’t control; was way over his head and drowning fast. But it hadn’t been all bad when Martin had first started going to meetings, when he had been looking to Danny for affirmation and reassurance. On this particular trip, for instance, he could have definitely lived with it if Martin just did what Danny said all the time.

Martin was already leading the way back down the slope that led up to the cabin, each slip sending up small spits of snow. The cabin was tucked away in the trees, almost invisible from the ground, a good hide for a hunter, but was possibly visible from the air. Not that there was enough space around here to land a helicopter, but half a mile downstream there had been an area where it was definitely wide and flat enough. Martin was still shambling a little but looked slightly less as if he should be eating bugs and opening the creaking doors of a castle to let in the unwary travelers so they could be consumed by the guy sleeping in the coffin.

As Danny caught up with him, Martin gave him a smile that looked out of place on his bruised face. “Man, I am going to be so glad to see that campsite.”

“You do know we’re probably just going to find a few picnic tables.”

Martin held up a warning finger. “No raining on my parade. I want a cell phone. I want to tell Jack that Ryan is unbalanced so he can get the word out to the airports and, if Ryan has already boarded, get some of the locals up to Davidson’s place to help out Viv and Samantha in case he shows up. As soon as Jack knows what we know, I’ll be fine.”

Danny smirked. “Yeah, cause that’ll magically heal your broken ribs.”

The shot sounded loud in the silence, a clear zing of sound that had Danny reaching for his gun instinctively; even as his ears were ringing and the spit of bark from the clipped tree furrowing a cut across his cheek, he was still blindly grasping for a sidearm that was no longer there.

The next shot came with its own sear of pain along his left side, the impact spinning him round; even as he felt the flare of agony throbbing into his nervous system, he was slammed down into the snow by Martin, his painful impact with the ground coinciding with the whiplash crack of another bullet passing through where his head had just been. Moaning with pain as white fire spread up from his side, he teetered on the brink of consciousness like a bus over a cliff, while Martin whispered his name in shocked horror.

He forced himself to look up at Martin’s bruised face blurring in and out of focus, his eyes absurdly blue even in the midst of all those red and mauve marks. Martin wriggled back awkwardly, pulling back the coat to look at Danny’s side while continuing to shield him with his body. When Danny risked a look down he saw a red stain spreading out from where the pain had its epicenter. He put his head back and said a lot of very bad words. The first spike of pain had reduced from blackout-causing to simply unbearable. Through gritted teeth, he managed to say: “Looks like Ryan isn’t on his way to Wisconsin.”

“We have to get to some better cover. Sorry, Danny.” Martin rolled off him completely and the pain of that weight being lifted off him was almost as bad as it landing on him, more bolts of white fire lancing through him as Martin ducked low to grab him under the arms and haul him back into the cloaking darkness of the trees. He couldn’t stifle a cry as the wound in his side tore deeper, Martin still repeating how sorry he was and Danny wanting to hit him really hard right now for causing him all this pain and for apologizing when he had just saved his life.

Another bullet sang past their heads before Martin dragged Danny behind a tree, gasping with what Danny realized was as much pain as exhaustion. Being sat up against the tree was indescribably painful and they were both whimpering in stereo now. Martin pulled off his sweater, cursing savagely as he did so, as if snapping back at his ribs would stop them hurting quite as much, then pulled his shirt over his head. It was the first time that Danny had seen Martin’s torso in daylight, and it was such a shocking mess it pulled him out of his own pain for a couple of seconds. The strapping he had put on had loosened and bruises spread out from around it, a spilled sea of contusions covering his skin. Through the sagging white bandages he could glimpse deep red and black bruising radiating from the left side of his ribs up around his back He could see how Martin must have rolled to try to protect the ribs Ryan had just kicked and taken the next few blows on his back, before Ryan had pulled him up and punched him repeatedly down his left side.

“God, Martin…” Danny breathed, then hissed in pain as Martin wrapped his shirt around his wound, pulling it so tight that Danny thought passing out must surely be the only option. For some sick reason, his body decided that it wanted him to stay conscious, and he came back to full awareness to find the world graying in and out of focus and Martin still pressing on the wound while the pain spiked to unbearable levels. Martin bound the sweater around the shirt and pulled it so tight that it was all Danny could do not to scream. He made an inarticulate sound that in no way covered all the killing of Martin he was going to do if he didn’t stop doing that.

Martin grimaced at him apologetically. “Sorry, man. I know it hurts, but it needs to be tight. It’s a through and through but I don’t know if it nicked your intestine or your kidney and you’re losing a lot of blood. I have to slow the bleeding and I need to get you to that cabin.”

He could see it through the trees; even with everything turned granular with agony; it was a symmetrical darkness between the snow-glistening boughs, up an impossible slope an impossible distance away. “No….”

Martin already had his left arm around his back and was pulling Danny’s right arm around his neck, as he tried to haul Danny up onto his feet. “Danny – please, you have to get to cover.”

Danny had his mouth open to say how much better an option dying looked to him than moving right now, when the words were silenced by the look in Martin’s eyes; the tears in them of fear that Danny was already dying and that nothing he did would be good enough to save him. He looked at the blood all over Martin’s hands and remembered that feeling all too well, trying to stem wounds that just kept pouring more and more of that irreplaceable warmth.

Snarling in defeat, he nevertheless pushed off, trying to help Martin get him up onto his feet, even though the pain was terrible, then clung to him for a moment, trying not to sob as the white waves of it passed over him. He let Martin take his weight and took one agonizing step and then another; each movement sending a white flame licking outward from his perforated side, torn muscles screaming at him to stop fucking moving while his sense of self-preservation told him to pick up the pace. As he clung onto Martin, trying not to sob, curse, or snarl too loudly in his ear, he was waiting for the next bullet to blow out the back of his head. Martin was trying to haul them both from the shelter of tree to tree, and the woods were dark, but if Ryan had a telescopic sight he should still be able to pick them out and…

He flinched from the sound of the shot before he realized that neither he nor Martin had been hit and the trees weren’t spitting any sheared bark at them, nevertheless, Martin hauled them both behind another tree.

“I’m going to get you out of here.” Martin’s expression was a mixture of edge-of-panic and focused determination that Danny recognized all too well. He had probably looked just like this while he had applied pressure to Martin’s bleeding wounds and gabbled at the paramedics, determined to give them all the information there was so they could fix Martin, fix him now.

He would have liked to say something reassuring but everything was hurting too much for him to be able to focus on any word more complicated than ‘Fuck!’ – but he tried to take some of his own weight and to stifle his moans of pain into cursing as Martin hauled him up the slope. The blaze of pain in his side was making him want to bite now, as well as curse, but he forced his legs to keep moving, trying to focus as the cabin went from sharp to blurred and back again.

His legs went out from under him and he pulled Martin down too, both of them crying out as their knees hit snow-covered rock and the impact juddered through their wounded bodies. The flare in his side was a supernova now; he could feel it bursting out through the rest of his body, white waves of escalating pain, as he clung to Martin helplessly, fingers digging into his arms as he tried to get through the pain. He could barely hear Martin’s sobs of agony above his own. He could not get up; there was just no way he could…

“Please, Danny… Please…”

Damn. The full force of the Fitzgerald blue eyes coming right at him, pleading with him not to die. With a Herculean effort, Martin staggered to his feet and Danny found himself reaching for a tree branch and hauling himself up after him. The pain was indescribable, but Martin was pulling Danny’s arm back around his shoulders and stumbling upwards, grabbing at tree branches, thin fingers of wood that seemed to be offering them a helping hand, groaning as he clawed his way up another foot of slope. With his right wrist held onto by Martin as if he were a lifeline, and his left hand clasped to the sodden knot of the sweater, trying to keep it tight against his bleeding wound, Danny was trying to take some of his own weight, but his legs felt like rubber, and it was all he could do to stay upright. They lurched up another few feet, both of them shaking with the effort and pouring sweat. He felt impaled – it was almost impossible to believe there wasn’t a red hot poker jammed through his body – every breath hurt, every movement hurt; there was nothing, in fact, that did not hurt. He could feel Martin teetering with exhaustion, the effort of trying to hold them both up almost too much for him; Danny cringed as he imagined them both hanging by the creaking thread of Martin’s broken ribcage.

Danny let go of his wound for a moment to grab a branch, and pulled, trying to throw his weight forward to help them both out, and Martin snatched another breath, grabbed a branch of his own and hauled them up another foot, and another, and another… And there was the cabin, a last agony of effort and they were level with it, stumbling towards it… Martin kicked open the door, and the mossy darkness had never seemed so welcoming, as Martin helped him limp across to that rickety table and finally, thank God, he could lay down.

Even that hurt like hell, ripped muscles screaming at him, but Martin seemed to know all about that and lowered him carefully, inch by inch. Danny could feel the shivers tearing through them both, his shudders mirrored by Martin’s bare torso, cold and shock coursing through them both in place of blood. Martin was fumbling in the backpack he had evidently tugged from him, looking for the medical kit, Danny presumed, but Danny grabbed his wrist, trying to breathe around the pain and get the words out in between each gasp. “No, you’ve got it tied up tight. I don’t think it’s a good idea to take the pressure off.” He didn’t think either of them could deal with seeing that wound again right now and he was afraid that if they undid the makeshift bandages his insides would fall straight out.

“I have to get help.” Martin’s eyes were blue pools of shock. He pulled out the blanket from the backpack, cursing as he realized how wet it was, turning around to try to find something in this cold, moldy, neglected place that would magically make Danny warmer and safer and better. His teeth were chattering with either cold or shock as he said: “You’re losing a lot of blood and in this weather that’s really not a good idea…”

It was like listening to himself the night before, that terror spike for a wounded comrade. Martin’s hands were shaking as he pulled Danny’s coat more warmly around him, and felt Danny’s brow, chafing Danny’s hands between his own freezing ones as if that would somehow keep him warmer. Danny could feel himself getting number and colder with every passing moment, the life going out of him as death began to trickle in. Martin seemed to know about that too. “I have to find a phone from somewhere. We need to get you to a hospital.”

Danny tried to catch hold of his wrist, keep him anchored. “It’s not safe out there. He’s got a gun, remember?”

But Martin just folded Danny’s hands over the knot of those sweater sleeves tied so tightly and said gently: “Keep the pressure on.” Then, as Danny reached for him, he moved out of range.

“Martin…” Danny tried to put a whiplash crack of warning into his voice to let Martin know that he had better not even think about going out there where the killer with the gun was; but it was muffled by the pain, the effort it took to just breathe in and out right now with his whole body a transmitter signal for a wound trying to demand all of his attention.

Martin eased open the door and gazed out, then flinched violently at the crack of another gunshot. It sounded further away and had certainly not been aimed in their direction.

“Who the hell is he shooting at now?” Danny demanded. He wanted to sit up and see what was going on, but moving had become an impossibility.

“Not us.” Martin looked over his shoulder at him. “If he’s busy dealing with someone else, I may not get a better chance.”

“You’re half dead and he has a gun,” Danny retorted angrily.

Martin held his gaze. “He’s going to come and find us if I don’t get some help. And you’re going to bleed to death. If he’s shooting at someone there must be someone over there to shoot at – and they may have a phone.”

“Martin, don’t…” He opened his mouth to play dirty. He knew if he said ‘Don’t leave me to die alone in this hut’ that Martin would stay, and he would bleed to death, and then… And then – if Ryan was the Indemnity serial killer – he would probably kill Martin – slowly. Danny closed his mouth again and found that Martin was still gazing at him, eyes full of agonized anxiety, while all his commonsense told him to get over to where the people with cell phones may be, and all the rest of him was finding it impossible to move away from his wounded teammate.

That was when they both heard the sound of a car engine turning over and faltering. Not Ryan’s car, a different vehicle. Someone on the other side of the river, down, across, and up that agonizing scramble of rocky woodland, was trying to start his or her car. They exchanged one look of shocked recognition and then Martin said, “Don’t you dare die on me, Danny” and ran for that proof of other people, every breath no doubt torturing his cracked ribs, sweat slicking his chilled bare skin, running towards the man with the rifle, because this was the only chance they had.


The car flew on wings of snow, sending up fans of wet whiteness to spatter on the windshield of the vehicle following it. As the driver of the vehicle following it, Sam peered through a windshield the wipers were barely clearing, fought the ridges of slush trying to send the car into a skid, and concentrated on keeping Nathan Gallagher and his passengers in sight.

“Slow down,” Vivian said quietly.

Sam glanced at her. “Viv, I can drive in this weather.”

“I know, and perhaps he can, too, but there’s a pregnant woman in that car and we don’t want to push them off the road. Pull back. Give them a chance to slow down.”

As Sam lifted her foot from the gas pedal she said conversationally: “You know being right all the time – not a very attractive characteristic.”

Vivian’s smile was as enigmatic as the Sphinx as she went back to speaking very clearly into her radio, letting the locals know what was going on. “No, we don’t want any assistance with the chase….”

Even as she concentrated on keeping the car going straight, when buffeting winds and unstable drifts wanted to push her into a ditch, Sam was aware of Vivian asking the locals to secure Davidson’s place but not, repeat not, to take anyone into custody; that there should be someone from Social Services to check up on the girl Davidson was calling Megan but whom she was sure was Margaret Ryan, but to take no further action.

“You think Ryan’s the bad guy here?” Sam had to fight the impulse to floor it as Gallagher’s car flew further away from them, sending back those snow spumes to mist in front of her, yet still visible through the whiteness.

Vivian didn’t answer but when Sam darted a glance at her she noticed that her calm was a disguise, she was gripping the cell phone a lot harder than necessary. “Jack, this is Vivian. We’ve found Margaret. She’s alive and well and living under a false identity at Davidson’s place. We’re in pursuit of Nathan Gallagher who has Mary and Clare in the car with him. No idea if he’s armed or not.”

“She’s alive…? You’re sure it’s her?”

“Positive. Where are you?”

“At Ryan’s place.” There was a pause before Jack added quietly yet clearly enough for Sam to hear: “It’s not looking good, Viv.”

Sam felt her heart catch, panic trying to roar up like a fire fuelled by too much gasoline; she fought to breathe evenly, to stop her heart rate from racing.

“Ryan’s car is gone. His kitchen garbage can has been emptied but we can’t find the bag it was in so it looks as if he took it with him. There’s some blood and fragments of cloth in the barn which are on their way to forensics. Ryan’s guns are gone even though the hunting season is over. The good news is that there’s no evidence of the kitchen having been wiped down; there’s still dust around and footprints. No signs of any major blood loss being cleaned up there or in the barn and no spatters in the snow around the area where his car was standing. Danny and Martin may be handcuffed in the back of Ryan’s car while he drives around and decides what to do with them. There’s no evidence of him having killed them here anyway.”

“But you think he’s kidnapped them?” Viv rasped and her voice sounded as painful as Sam’s felt.

“It’s my best guess, right now. The locals have brought in some tracker dogs to see if there’s a trail to pick up but I’m not expecting…” The loud baying of dogs made Samantha start and Viv almost drop the phone. They exchanged a glance.

“Sounds as if they’ve found something?” Viv said.

“Hold on, Viv.” They could hear Jack walking outside and the rapid gabble of information being exchanged and then he came back on line. “There’s a trail – two sets of footprints, neither of them big enough to be left by Ryan. It looks like Danny and Martin’s footprints. One of them seems to be helping the other, no blood trail, so if one of them is wounded it’s not enough to splatter. I’m going to follow the trail with the trackers. But we need to know what Ryan’s really like, what he’s capable of, and his wife could be the best person to tell us that, so…”

“We’re not going to lose her, Jack,” Samantha called across. “You find Danny and Martin. We’ll find Mary.”

As Vivian closed her phone they exchanged another glance. “Could be worse,” Vivian was clearly trying to sound calm and Sam appreciated her making the effort.

“Yeah, he could have found them dead. They could be in the trunk of Ryan’s car running out of air. Whereas it sounds as if they left there on their own two feet.” She was pleased with how calm she sounded right up to the moment when she found herself adding: “If he’s hurt either one of them I’m going to kill him.”

Vivian glanced across at her, the glimmer of a smile on her face. “If he has – do you really think Jack is going to leave you anything to kill?”

Nathan’s car was scudding ahead of them now, its speed reduced as Samantha pulled back and let him regain control after that first panicked flight. Her headlamps reflected off sheets of spray, the air thick with the flurries of snow, the road ridged with slush their wheels were turning gray. The land was level here, thickly misted with fallen snow and coming snow and the snow still falling, the metal-gray sky so low it seemed to be brushing the roof of the car. Vivian was on the phone to Elena, asking her to map their route for them, to tell them of any landmarks that might be coming up. A part of Sam’s mind was entirely focused on the car whose lights were a dull yellow amidst the swirl of snow, thinking of the pregnant woman whose safety they were all focused on – pursued and pursuers – but another part was thinking of Danny and Martin stumbling through the snow in the wild white shadows of the freezing forest.


Martin’s chest was a furnace. Every pace stabbed him straight into the ribs, a double- pain as the impact of his feet hitting the ground jolted through him, and the inevitable inhalation made his ribcage expand agonizingly. Nothing other than Danny bleeding to death could have made him do this. His teeth had been gritted against the pain for so long that they were in danger of fusing. He grabbed at a branch and hauled himself up the slope, cursing as that action sent another stab into his ribs. Being shot in the gut had taught him how many muscles connected up in the human body, how difficult it was to do anything without it hurting when a bullet had lodged itself, however temporarily, in one’s small intestine. He could feel the imprint of every impact from Ryan right now, the pile-driver fist to his guts, the rabbit punches to the kidneys, and most of all, the stabbing pain in his side from his cracked ribs. But more powerful than any of those points of pain was the memory of Danny’s terrifying pallor, the gush of blood from that bullet wound, the feel of his legs going out from under him as there was not enough strength in his body to hold him up.

He flinched as he felt the blood gush over his hands again, Danny’s blood intermingling in his memory with his own blood as he plucked at his crimson shirt, trying to make sense of the agony he was in, the cold chilling him along every vein. Danny’s horrified whisper of his name. He knew how that felt now, and it felt equally terrifying from either side of that bullet, victim and spectator. When he had been bleeding to death in that car, Danny had kept him alive until the paramedics came; somehow or another, he was going to return the favor.

Snatching a breath, he realized his skin was wet with sweat despite the wind cutting into him like a flail; he ducked under a snow-laden branch, shivering as it deposited a freezing fall onto his bare back. He could see the way ahead of him, rocks half concealed by snow, bracken and fallen branches, darkness dappled with the occasional intrusion of daylight, the twigs thin whips that lashed at him as he ran, but in his mind’s eye he could just see the terrifying speed with which the blood had come through his makeshift bandage and the look in Danny’s so-expressive brown eyes that told him how much pain he was in.

The car engine sounded again. He could hear it had started at last – was moving – faster – and now faster still – a vehicle coming this way at speed, tires spitting road metal, gears grating. He had to get to the top of the ridge before it passed; had to flag down whoever was fleeing this scene at such a frenzied pace and enlist their help. Even though he had thought it was impossible for him to run even this fast, he found that at the thought of that car passing by he could move with the speed of a sprinter when the victory tape was in sight, ignore the pain in his ribs completely, drag lungful of air in and gasp them out in a white mist of panic at this one chance getting away. He hauled himself up the last few sheer feet of bank, fingers digging into earth and roots and rocks, clutching at any handhold he could reach with panicked determination as the car sped closer, sped past in a flurry of debris its tires spat down on top of him –

He flung himself over the ridge and onto the track, yelling and waving his arms in the air, the car still visible as it took the next bend on two wheels. “Stop! FBI! Stop!”

It disappeared around the twisting forest road and he ran after it, still shouting for it to stop. He rounded the next bend in time to see it disappearing around another one, getting only the last whisk of bumper, a last gleam of tail light as the car sped away from him. He ran after it still, unable to believe that he had screwed up Danny’s only chance of rescue, yet feeling that same terrible sense of physics being against him that he had experienced when chasing Brian Stone’s car through the New York traffic and realized that he was not going to catch it. When he rounded the next bend there was no sight of the car, and its engine was already sounding fainter. He peered down through the trees desperately, waving his arms and shouting, but the car roared on down the zigzag path, leaving him with his lungs heaving and wanting to weep with frustration.

He turned and tried to run back the way the car had come, but his lungs were laboring, each deep, deep inhalation agonizing. He could feel the coughs building up, volcanic tremors that could not be controlled, and then they were tearing through him, a white heat in his ribs as he wheezed and heaved, making inarticulate sounds of pain as his chest callously insisted it was full of fluid that he needed to cough up now. Spitting out the last of what felt like at least one of his lungs, he stumbled with exhaustion, finding he could only manage a painful jog, each impact of his feet on the snow-covered track jolting straight up into his ribs. The people in the car had clearly left in a hurry. Perhaps they had left their cell phones. Perhaps they had left a world class first aid kit and a cellular blanket, not to mention a field-ready injection of morphine.

The tire tracks were easy to follow. Two sets of tracks. The car that had fled the scene, and another vehicle, possibly Ryan’s, although, as he tried to remember the map, Martin recalled a horseshoe loop that went up from Ryan’s track to the east and made its way around here to join up with the park trail from the opposite direction. Ryan had the road closed with a gate but he presumably had a key to it. If he had worked out where Danny and Martin were heading, he would have had no need to follow their trail through the snow, he could just drive around here and set up in readiness for them to step into view.

“Stupid…” Martin breathed aloud, hating himself for not having thought of it before. He was the one who had studied the map so carefully before they set out on the journey because he was the one who had insisted on driving, and then told Danny he didn’t need anyone to map read for him, he knew the way. He was the one who should have realized what Ryan was most likely to do. The man was a hunter, after all. Hunters didn’t follow their prey; they set up at a likely spot and waited for their prey to come to them.

He followed the tire tracks to the point where they tore onto the track, deep gouges cutting through the snow into the earth beneath, a scattering of stones sprayed everywhere from the traction. Other tracks led off to the right as these curled sharply to the left. Holding his ribs but still panting too hard not to breath deeply, he stumbled after the first set of tracks, heart-rate lifting when he saw the tent still standing. The campsite fire was smoking from being doused in a hurry, clothing scattered as people had run to their car, dropping what they were carrying. He approached the tent cautiously, wondering if Ryan had set up inside it, risking a quick glance before yanking his head back. It was empty. He cautiously ducked his head to take a better look, and then scrambled inside. The warm air had already escaped, but the sleeping bags still had some residual warmth when he touched them. No bloodstains, so whoever Ryan had been shooting at had not been in this tent.

He found a man’s gray t-shirt and pulled it on without thinking, even though, twelve hours before he would have shuddered from the thought of wearing a stranger’s unwashed clothing. As he hunted in the folds of sleeping bags, he found a woman’s discarded panties, which he dropped as if they burned his fingers, and a man’s zip neck pullover, which he gratefully pulled on over the t-shirt, relieved that the guy who had fled this scene had been a large rather than a small, all the while searching desperately for a cell phone. It took him a few minutes to admit that despite the things they had left scattered, the half-empty back pack, the hairbrush, the tube of toothpaste, these people had taken their phones with them.

All the time the invisible elastic between him and Danny was getting stretched tighter and tighter. The minutes would be crawling by for Danny and with no one to keep him conscious, to try to keep him focused and aware, he could slip into a coma. Martin hastily emptied out the backpack, bundled up the sleeping bag and stuffed it into the pack, slipping it over one shoulder as he realized in time how painful it would be to pull it on properly.

As he stepped back out into the morning cold, it felt as if hours had passed since he had last seen Danny, the minutes bloating in his mind like maggots, fat with too many seconds. He hurried towards the other set of tracks, looking around for a weapon as he followed them, ready to beat Ryan’s head in with a branch if there was no other way to get help for Danny. The third branch he found seemed the most suitable and he hefted it with some difficulty, reminded again that every muscle in his torso seemed to be connected to his broken ribs.

He stumbled after the tracks, knowing he should be more cautious than this, keeping to better cover, but there was so little time… He had to force himself to remember his training, using the trees for cover, advancing carefully. Then he saw the vehicle – a park ranger’s jeep, parked neatly- no sign of panic here. The doors were locked, but he saw that the window on the passenger side had been smashed, broken glass glittering on the seat. Approaching cautiously, he saw an empty rifle case, the weapon taken; and the radio in the jeep had been ripped out. He was starting to be able to put this together, too. The ranger had driven up to see how the campers had fared through the blizzard, he had parked, got out of the jeep and then…

For the first time, Martin had cause to be grateful for the snow that had done its best to freeze him and Danny to death all night; the footprints were still clear and easy to follow. He followed the ranger’s trail: the man had jumped down from the jeep and then, instead of turning towards the campsite, his eye had been caught by something else. Martin kept off the footsteps, aware that this was part of a crime scene. He wanted Ryan to go to jail for shooting Danny and hoped he’d left his shell casings lying on the ground where there could be no confusion.

Looking up from the trail to see where it ended, his heart lurched as he saw the ranger lying in the snow. Running awkwardly, with still laboring lungs, holding his side to ease the pain of each footfall, he hurried over to him and then slowed as he gazed down at a man lying prone, a bloody hole in the back of his jacket. He dropped the branch. He still crouched down and felt for a pulse, but knew the man was dead and had been dead the instant the bullet hit him. A breeze fluttered the man’s hair while Martin wondered if he had a wife, if he had a family; if he had kissed them goodbye before he left this morning, how many regrets he had left behind. Whatever Ryan had been before – a good man pushed over the brink by the abandonment of his wife or a serial killer who had escaped undetected for decades – he was now undoubtedly a murderer. And Martin was all that was left to prevent Danny from becoming his next victim.

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elgrey: Artwork by Suzan Lovett (Default)

March 2009

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