Act IV


Guzman followed his men into the station. As he walked slowly around, Raoul and the others searched every room. The drug lord’s right-hand man returned, shaking his head. “Jefe…?”

Another man pointed toward the open hatch door. “Que paso?”

Gesturing around at the bullet-ridden room, Raoul pointed out, “No one could have survived this!”

Guzman angrily spat out, “Then where are the bodies? Where is Monique?”

No one had an answer for him.


The rain had set in once more. Jim was at point, ahead of Blair and Monique, scouting the area for danger before signaling them in. The woods were dense, and Blair was grateful for his sentinel’s senses. It was have been almost impossible to spot Guzman’s men otherwise.

Jim whistled quietly, and Blair and Monique emerged from their cover. Monique cradled one arm carefully.

“Are you okay? Oh, hey, Jim, she got hit!” Blair stared at the growing stain of blood on the young woman’s shirt.

Jim came over to inspect the injury. “Looks like a surface wound.”

Monique nodded. “It’s okay. I’m just…” She wavered on her feet, and Blair grabbed her arm.

“Uh-oh. Come on.”

Jim supported Monique’s other arm, and they led her carefully to a tree to sit down.

“Ow!” Monique protested as Jim probed the injury.

“All right, take it easy,” Jim reassured her.

Blair pointed out, “We need to bind that and stop the bleeding.”

“I’ve got a bandana in my day pack,” Monique suggested with a low moan of pain.

Jim stood up. “Let me have the pack. Take her jacket off and cover her up. Keep her warm. Keep taking deep breaths.” He removed the bandana from the pack and handed it to Blair. “Here you go. I’m going to make sure we weren’t followed. You stay with her.”

After Jim had disappeared into the woods, Blair dressed the wound. “Why in the world didn’t you tell us you were shot?”

Monique bit back a cry. “What would you do, stop and give me first aid? Oh, God…”

Blair grimaced at her pain. “Don’t worry. Don’t worry, okay? We’re going to get out of this.”

A small smile broke through the pain on Monique’s face. “Thank you. Not just for today, but…” She hesitated, then added, “You were the one who wanted to believe me all along. It’s funny.”

“What is?”

“Well, here we are on what is really a very beautiful little island, and…I just keep wondering when I’m going to get one of those little drinks with the umbrellas in it.”

Blair chuckled, then turned his head to see Jim returning.

“We’ve got to move,” Jim ordered, “and get to the lighthouse. We’ll go through the brush to avoid the chopper. If he made it, we’ll hook up with Rucker.”

“What if he didn’t make it?” Blair questioned. He immediately caught his mistake. Stupid, Sandburg. Really stupid. The guy’s Jim’s cousin! After a moment’s silence, he looked up at Jim apologetically and added, “Sorry, man. He made it. Rucker’s a lot like you - a real survivor.”

Jim acknowledged the apology with a slight smile, then he looked at Monique. “Think you can keep moving?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“All right,” Jim said. “Let’s go.” Helping Monique to her feet, he added, “Watch it now. Here we go.”

“Thank you,” Monique said softly, and she moved on out ahead of the two men.

Jim caught Blair’s arm. “Just watch yourself around her, Chief.”

Blair couldn’t believe his ears. “What? Oh, come on! You still think she’s trying to scam us, Jim?” He tried to get a read on Jim’s emotions, but the sentinel’s face remained set and unreadable.

“Wouldn’t be the first time one of us got hung with a good line, Junior,” Jim pointed out. “Let’s move.”


Jim scanned the area in front of the lighthouse carefully. There were two guards posted, but he didn’t see them as much of a threat. Motioning to Blair and Monique to follow, he began to creep closer. He could hear the men talking, unaware of his presence.

Moving slowly, with absolute silence, Jim crept up behind them, then he struck like a viper. Grasping both men on the back of the neck, he slammed their heads together. They sank unconscious to the ground and were still.

Blair popped up at the edge of the walkway, a huge grin plastered across his face. “Where’d you learn that move? The Rangers?”

Jim returned his friend’s broad grin. “Hope and Crosby,” he quipped. “Get up here, Chief.”

Blair clambered over the railing. “It was a thing of beauty, man.”

Jim began collecting the guns from the unconscious men. From beside him, Blair warned, “Jim! Look out!”

Another Mexican had appeared, holding a gun. Jim rose slowly, eyeing the new intruder. Before he could act, Monique appeared from behind, holding the flare gun at the man’s neck.

“Drop it, Hernando, or you’re dead.”

Hernando froze, and Jim quickly confiscated his gun. Blair moved to Monique’s side, speaking softly as her breathing grew rapid. “It’s okay. Take deep breaths, now.”

Blair whispered in a voice only a sentinel could hear, “See? She’s okay, Jim. Relax.”

Jim didn‘t reply, but he cast a cautionary look at his guide. Not yet, Chief. Not until this whole fiasco is over.


In the station, Raoul shouted into his radio, his patience at an end. “Jorge! Ramiro! Do you copy?” No reply. “Hernando!” Turning to Guzman, he could read the storm clouds of anger building on the older man’s dark face. “No one answers, Jefe,” Raoul said softly.

“Then we ourselves we find them!” Guzman shouted. “I will track down that bitch and kill her myself!”


The climb to the lighthouse over, Jim stepped inside and quickly checked it out. His heart sank at the sight of the blasted radio. “All clear,” he called to Blair and Monique.

“Where’s Rucker?” Blair questioned, looking around.

Jim shook his head, then extended his hearing. He followed a faint sound to a broken window and listened. Heavy breathing…a heartbeat.

“This way!”

He led the way down the rocky slope to the edge of a large rock. Just on the other side lay Rucker, obviously injured and huddled out of sight.

“Damn!” Rucker said quietly. “Took you long enough. Tried to get a message off, but I don’t know if it got through.” He grinned up at Jim. “Not as bad as it looks, right?”

Monique wandered farther off, the flare gun held down at her side. Blair and Jim knelt beside Rucker. Jim commented with a grin, “Well, you’re probably going to walk a little bit funny, but you’ll be all right. We’ve got to get you out of here, though.”

Before Rucker could reply, there was a loud blast nearby and an orange flame shot into the sky. Jim glared at Monique, who held the smoking flare gun, a look of panic on her face.

“What the hell did you do that for?”

Monique stammered, “I…I’m sorry! I…I was scared, and it…just went off!”

Jim helped Rucker to his feet, ignoring his cousin‘s painful grunts. “Come on! Let’s go!”

They took off to the cover of the forest just as the helicopter circled overhead, guns blazing at their heels.


Jim wasn’t sure how long they’d run through the forest, but he knew Rucker needed a break. “Over here, Ruck. Take a load off your feet for a second.” He helped his cousin ease down on the soft ground.

Monique was still distraught. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I never meant for any of this to happen.”

Jim had had enough. Turning slowly to face her, he asked coldly, “Is that so?”

Blair confronted him immediately. “Come on, Jim! Give it a rest, man. I mean, she was running for her life. She didn’t ask to come to this island, right?”

“She sure as hell ain’t helping us get off of it, Chief!” Jim rubbed his face in exasperation.

“Why won’t he believe me?” Monique moaned.

Blair looked at Jim with the same question in his expressive eyes. Jim turned away and barked sharply, “Let’s get moving!”


In the helicopter, Guzman was running out of patience. No woman could humiliate him and live. “Get this thing down!” he ordered. "We’ll take them on foot.”

“Roger that,” the pilot acknowledged.

Once the copter touched down, Guzman and Raoul sprang out. Signaling to his pilot, Guzman called, “Get out of here! Go on!” When the aircraft had lifted into the skies, he turned to Raoul. “Come on. We stay 50 meters apart. Now, go!”

Raoul nodded. “Yes, Jefe.” As he turned and headed into the forest, Raoul smiled. Surely, this nightmare would soon be at an end.


Their progress was slow. Jim could tell that Rucker’s pain was growing by the minute. “Hang in there, Ruck. Hang in there.” He inspected the wound carefully. “That’s bleeding pretty badly,” he acknowledged at last. “We can’t keep walking on this any longer. Sit down by that log over there.” He helped his cousin sit down. Rucker was breathing heavily, and his face was pale and covered in a sheen of sweat.

“I’m…only going to slow you down,” Rucker panted. “There’s thicker forest north a ways.”

“Easy,” Jim cautioned.

Blair knelt beside Jim. “Come on, what are you talking about? We can’t leave you here!”

Rucker smiled weakly up at Jim’s partner. “You have to, kid.”

Jim spoke calmly. “He’s a military officer, Sandburg. He knows it gives us our best chance to survive.”

“Jim!” Blair’s face reflected pure disbelief. “You’d leave your own cousin?” His voice turned bitter. “I suppose you’d leave me, too, then, right?”

“Come on, Chief!” Jim was tired and frustrated and Sandburg wasn’t helping matters any. “It’s not…”

Monique interrupted. “We should stay here with him.”

His patience evaporated at the young woman’s words. “Oh, that’s a great idea,” Jim said sarcastically. “Just sit here and wait until they find us and shoot us to pieces! Why the hell are you trying to stop us from getting rescued?”

Blair jumped in to defend Monique. “Hey! Lay off, Jim! Where’s all this coming from, man?” He moved to stand closer to the injured woman.

Jim stood up and faced his partner and Monique. He’d held off long enough. It was time to force the truth. “Oh, lots of places, Chief. Try Rome…Athens…Bangkok.”

Blair’s eyes widened. “What?”

“Those places are stamped on her passport.”

“Her passport?” He stared at Monique. “I thought you said the only place you’d ever been was Mexico.” Turning to Jim, he asked, “What else?”

Jim pressed on with what he’d learned. “Guzman looked surprised when I accused him of smacking her around. He even denied it.”

Monique cried, “And you believed him?”

“Maybe now is a good time to show us those bruises on your back,” Jim suggested pointedly.

Blair turned to face her and demanded, “Yeah. Why not?”

“Come on,” Jim pushed.

Monique shouted, “Go to hell! All of you!”

“You know,” Jim said, “your friend was no choirboy, but he nailed you on two things. Being a thief and a liar.”

“Look,” Monique protested, “I already told you. I don’t have his damn book!”

“Of course you don’t,” Jim agreed amiably. He smiled quickly at Blair as he held up an audio tape. “Because you transferred it onto this. I got it out of your Walkman.”

“What’s on it, Jimmy?” asked Rucker from his position on the ground.

“Haven’t played it yet, Ruck,” Jim responded smoothly.

In once swift motion, Monique picked up the gun Jim had placed on the ground near Rucker. She moved quickly behind Blair and pointed the gun at his head. “Hand it over!” she demanded.

Blair’s wide eyes fixed on Jim. “Oh, man…”

“Do it!” Monique shouted, “or I blow him away right now!”

Jim tossed the tape easily to Monique. “You know, there’s other pieces to the puzzle. I just haven’t been able to put it all together.” He kept his eyes trained on the gun.

“You just weren’t smart enough to figure it all out, were you?”

“Smart enough to get you to show your true colors.” Jim took three quick steps toward Monique, and she screamed.

Her face contorted in rage, Monique pulled the trigger, and Blair flinched backward, his eyes squeezed shut. Nothing happened.

Jim grinned as Blair opened his eyes to stare at his partner. “Smart enough to put a blank clip into that Tec-9,” he drawled calmly.

Monique screeched in frustration and hurled the gun at Jim. She took off into the woods. Blair moved to follow, but Jim reached out an arm to stop him. He’d heard the sound of guns cocking. “Freeze, Chief,” he warned. “They’re here.” He bent to pick up a gun, but he never got the chance.

Raoul emerged from behind a tree, his gun aimed directly at Jim. “I wouldn’t do that.”

Jim backed up, easing Blair behind him, as Raoul came at them with his gun. Guzman entered the clearing with Monique. He spoke into his radio as he shoved Monique down to her knees on the ground. “We have them. Robert, come on and take the chopper down to the beach and wait for us.” He glared at Monique. “Did you really think I would not find you, Carita? Why did you take my book? Blackmail? Extortion? Insurance? No matter. Now you will tell me. Where is it?” He placed the sharp edge of a knife at her throat.

A gunshot rolled off the hillside, and Guzman crumpled to the ground, his eyes shocked and staring. Raoul turned the gun on Jim and Blair as Monique ran to his side. She lifted her head, and they kissed.

“We did it, my love,” Raoul said softly.

“You did what?” Blair asked, still staring at the dead body of Guzman.

“You don’t get it, huh, Chief? Monique gets tired of the old jefe and throws in with Raoul. She takes off with the boat, heads to a remote island where she can kill a very heavily protected man. Figures there can’t be any cops around. Just a couple of Coast Guardsmen that won’t be a problem to take down. Guzman tracks her with the hidden transponder. She probably was going to drop him soon as the helicopter lands, only we showed up.”

Blair looked up at Jim. “What about Guzman’s book?”

Monique smiled smugly. “Can’t take over a man’s business without his contact lists. You’ve got dealers, informants, bribed officials, delivery routes, drop-off points…very complicated.” She tilted her head up at Raoul. “I’m about tired of this backwoods stuff, baby. Let’s get this over with and get the hell out of here.”

Jim smiled as he heard the sounds of an approaching helicopter. Definitely not Guzman’s. A few moments later, he looked up to see a Coast Guard chopper flying over. Taking advantage of Raoul’s distraction, Jim charged forward, knocking his gun up and out of the way. Rucker scrambled painfully to his feet and moved to help Jim fight Raoul.

Monique took off at a full run through the woods, and Blair rushed after her. As she looked back hurriedly over her shoulder, Monique tripped over a fallen log and fell hard to the ground. Quickly, Blair pinned her to the ground, but Monique continued to struggle hard. From the corner of his eye, Blair spotted the tape and tried to grab for it with one hand, losing his grip on Monique’s shoulder.

“No!” the desperate woman cried. Pulling back her right arm, she caught Blair in the nose with her fist. Sandburg rolled away, holding his face and moaning as the blood flowed through his fingers.

Monique grabbed the tape, then seized a large rock. Hurrying to stand over Blair, she raised the rock high above her head. Blair rolled over, his eyes growing large at the sight of Monique looming above him. Seizing a stick, he brought it hard against the back of Monique’s knees. She fell, dropping the rock, and Blair rolled safely away. Immediately, he sprang back toward the woman, pinning her once more to the ground.

Blair didn’t realize Jim had arrived until he heard his friend’s voice. “You okay, Chief?”

Blair looked up and smiled as the blood dripped down his face. “Yeah…Yeah, I got everything under control, partner. Give me a hand here.”


At last, it was over. The Coast Guard arrived to escort the surviving members of Guzman’s gang back to shore. The bodies of the drug lord and those who had fallen to Jim’s gun on the dock were in body bags awaiting transport as well. Monique averted her eyes as Guzman’s bag was lifted past her.

Jim and Blair strolled down the dock. Blair held a white cloth to his nose, which was already swollen and bruised.

“How’s the nose?” Jim asked.

“Oh, it’s all right. Hey, by the way…” He handed Jim the tape.

Jim looked at the tape, then at Blair. As Monique walked by on her way to the Coast Guard boat, he dropped it in her hand. “Here you go. Happy listening.” As the Coast Guardsmen passed, he added, “Thanks, guys.”

Blair stared at Jim. “What the hell did you do that for?”

Jim grinned knowingly. “Relax. She never had the real one. I switched them.” The grin broadened. “I hope she likes David Copperfield. In Chinese.” Blair’s delighted expression made him chuckle.

A Coast Guardsman came over and handed Rucker a radio. “Rucker, it’s the mainland relay. Your first mate.”

Blair shot Jim a knowing look, but Jim chose to ignore it. Let the kid hang himself, he thought with a hidden smile. “Let me see that nose,” Jim commanded, reaching to inspect the injury. Sandburg batted his hand away.

“Andy, how’s your dad?” Rucker asked.

A voice made tinny from the radio transmission replied, “He’s fine. Out of ICU.”

Rucker smiled. “Good.”

The voice asked, “What happened out there? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. It’s the station that’s a mess. I miss you, too. Can’t wait to see you. I love you. Bye.”

“I love you, too. Bye.”

Rucker returned the radio to the Coast Guardsman.

Blair snickered behind the cloth he still held to his nose. “Now that explains a lot.”

Rucker approached him, stopping only inches away. “Sandburg, Andy is my fiancée. Short for Andrea.” He held out a photo of an attractive brunette.

His eyes twinkling, Jim tapped Blair lightly on the head. “Gotcha, Chief.”

“I knew that!” Blair protested. “I did! I knew that. Come on, guys!”

Laughing, Rucker headed back toward the station. Still grinning at his friend’s discomfort, Jim patted Blair on the stomach as the younger man turned.

“Hey, Jimmy,” Rucker called back. “What about my birthday present? You about ready to try out that reel?”

“Any time, Cuz. Any time. Oh, and next time we celebrate your birthday, how about you come over to Cascade? This place is way too dangerous.”


Eddie’s plane was due to arrive at any time. Jim and Blair sat by the water, their bags already at the pier, waiting for his arrival. Rucker was in the station, completing the last of the clean-up chores. All signs of the storm were over; the day was bright and clear.

“It’s been quite a trip, hasn’t it?” Blair said quietly.

Jim welcomed the statement. Blair had been subdued ever since the Coast Guard had departed with Monique and Raoul, and quietness was normally not a Sandburg trait. As much as Blair’s chatter sometimes irritated him, the young man’s quietness bothered him more. Jim had a pretty good hunch what was eating at his friend. “You did good up there, Sandburg,” Jim said, not looking at his partner, but keeping his eyes on the water instead. The waves were calmer now. Peaceful.

Jim felt Blair watching him, and his words were hesitant. “I don’t know, man. I never thought I’d have to…you know…actually fire a gun. At people.” Blair fell silent, and several minutes passed before he spoke again. Jim waited patiently, knowing there was more that needed to be said.

“What bothers me is…” Blair took a small rock and tossed it into the water. “I would have killed them, Jim. If they'd come up to the station, I knew at that moment that I would have lowered my aim and…” He didn’t finish the sentence.

“Why?”

Blair stared at Jim as if he‘d spoken in Greek. “Why, what? Why would I have killed them?”

“Yeah. Why do you think you would have been willing to shoot one or more of Guzman’s men if they’d made it close to the station?”

“Because,” Blair explained impatiently, “they would have killed us, man! It was obvious they didn’t care who they killed to get at Monique.”

“So,” Jim pointed out calmly, “you were protecting yourself. Protecting me. Do you have a problem with knowing that you’d be willing to kill to protect yourself and your best friend?” He waited for Blair’s delayed response patiently, tossing a rock of his own into the peaceful water and watching the ripples spread out in concentric circles.

After a long minute, Blair chuckled softly. “You really have a way of cutting to the chase, don’t you, Jim? No, I can live with that.” Tossing another rock, he added, “Thanks, man.”

The nearly inaudible sound of a plane’s engine drew Jim’s attention. “Eddie’s almost here,” Jim said, rising to his feet. Reaching down, he extended his hand to Blair. “Let’s go home, partner.”

Blair grasped the offered hand and let Jim help hoist him up. “Any butterflies fluttering in your stomach at the thought of the flight home?” He dusted off his jeans and watched the red and yellow plane as it touched down on the water.

Jim smiled down at Blair. “What we’ve been through makes dealing with a phobia seem like a walk in the park, Chief.” They turned and headed toward the seaplane, now taxing in to the pier where Rucker waited.

Blair nodded. “Good. Just let me know if you get nervous, though. We'll try another meditation technique.” A frown knitted small wrinkles between his eyebrows, and Blair caught Jim’s arm, holding him back. “I’m sorry,” he said softly.

Jim cocked his head as he looked at his friend. “For what?”

“I totally misjudged Monique, man. I let her play me from start to finish, and…” Blair’s voice faltered. “It…almost got us all killed.” He shook his head. “You tried to tell me, but I wouldn’t listen.”

Jim dropped an arm across the younger man’s shoulders as they walked slowly toward the waiting plane. “It’s okay. She fooled me at times, too. I told you once about checking your feelings at the door, but I’m not sure that’s such good advice, Chief. Just keep doing what you’re doing, okay? You’re doing fine.”

Rucker waved to them as they approached. Jim took a last look over his shoulder at the lighthouse, standing sentinel high above them. It was time to go home.


The End


 

Act III