“You see him?” Blair asked, squeezed in next to Jim at the window closest to the pier. He peered through the blinds to where a cluster of men was gathered on the dock.

Jim answered quietly, “Yeah. I recognize him from his mug shots.”

Rucker moved up behind the two men. “Jim, how many guns?”

Blair looked behind him in surprise. He started to cover for his friend and deny Jim’s ability to make out weapons from their distant vantage point, but Jim’s hand descended on his shoulder.

“It’s all right, Chief. Ruck's okay with this.”

Their eyes locked as silent understanding passed between sentinel and guide. Blair nodded his acceptance. He wasn’t sure how much Rucker knew about his cousin’s abilities, but if Jim trusted Rucker, that was enough for Blair.

Looking back out the window, Jim replied, “I make six. Plus Guzman and some other tough guy.”

Monique whispered, “That’s Raoul. He’s the worst of them.”

<“Coast Guard! We have your island! You are surrounded. If you send out the woman, we let you live. You have two minutes.”>

Her voice shaking, Monique suggested, “You better let me go.” She began to move toward the door.

“What do you mean?” Blair protested. “What are you doing? Are you crazy? That guy’s going to kill you. No! Hey, Jim, what are our options here?”

Rucker handed Jim an M-16. “Well, we could make a break for the launch and set up the deck gun.”

“We got eight guys on full auto between us and the water,” Jim pointed out calmly.

He sounds like he’s discussing tonight’s TV line-up, Blair thought wildly. We’ve got men out there with guns who want to kill us, and Jim and Rucker are talking like nothing’s wrong. What is it with these Ellison's?!

Jim continued calmly, “What about that trap? Any way to get through the crawl space?”

“Yeah, we could kick out a vent screen,” replied Rucker thoughtfully. “That would make us come out under the north side of the station.”

<“Coast Guard! Your time is up. Senor Guzman wants you to look out the window.”>

Everyone moved to peer through the blinds. A man came up to Guzman and handed him some kind of device. A moment later, Rucker’s launch exploded in a blast of flames.

“Son of a bitch!” Rucker shouted, pounding the windowsill with his fist.

Blair stared at the burning remains of what had been their best hope for escape from the island. “Well, so much for Plan A,” he muttered.

“There’s got to be some way we can get an SOS out,” Jim stated flatly.

Rucker looked at his cousin thoughtfully. “There’s no phones with the power still out. We’re way out of cellular range.” He paused, then glanced up toward the lighthouse tower. “The lighthouse still has power. There’s a radio there in the shed. I’ll have to take the back trail up and around through the woods.”

Jim shook his head. “I should be the one to go. I’ve had more training in Covert Ops, and I can get up there without being spotted.”

“I know the territory, Jimmy, and don‘t forget, I'm military, too. It's my turf. My responsibility.”

“But I…”

Blair raised his voice in frustration. “Would you two macho types please cut it out? It doesn’t matter who goes, guys, just so one of you reaches that radio!” Turning to Jim, Blair pointed out in a reasonable tone, “C’mon, Jim. Rucker’s got a point, man. He knows the turf here. Let him go. You’d be better off dealing with Guzman anyway, right? Rucker‘s got no experience in negotiations.”

Jim spread his hands in surrender. “All right. Maybe we can create a diversion somehow.”

Monique asked, “What can we do?”

The clock on the wall relentlessly marked the seconds ticking away.

Down on the pier, Guzman and his men waited behind stacks of crates. “Their time is up,” Guzman growled. “Raoul, take your men, and…”

“Look, jefe!” Raoul pointed to the station window and smiled broadly. A sheet hung out bearing the words, ‘Drugs for Monique’. He glanced over at Guzman who granted permission with a barely discernable nod.

Raoul murmured, “Jefe, mira…” Raising the bullhorn, he announced, “The jefe says he’ll talk to anyone with the cajones to come out here and face him.”

Impatient eyes focused on the Coast Guard station as they waited.

Rucker nodded to Jim. “Big cajones, huh? That’d be you, boss.”

“Got that right,” Jim agreed with a grin that quickly faded. “I’ll hold him off as long as I can. You get to that radio. Call Captain Simon Banks at Cascade PD, then get hold of the Coast Guard, all right?”

“Roger that,” Rucker acknowledged. He quickly moved into the crawlspace and disappeared.

Jim turned to Blair, holding out the M-16. Sandburg held out his hands and backed up a step, shaking his head. “I don’t know about this, Jim.”

Jim’s frustration flared. He knew full well of Sandburg’s aversion to guns, but he didn’t have time for a discussion of principles. Running his fingers through his hair, Jim struggled to keep his temper under control. “Look, Chief. I’m about to walk out that door unarmed to face a major drug lord who doesn’t give a damn about killing anyone - anywhere, anytime! He’s got us outnumbered, outgunned, and to this point, outmaneuvered.”

Blair was looking up at him with eyes filled with doubt and more than a trace of fear. A part of Jim hated playing his trump card, but it was necessary. His time was quickly running out. “I know you hate the thought of using a gun, Sandburg, but are you going to let your personal beliefs get us all killed? If not for me, then think about Rucker and Monique. Putting my life on the line’s part of my job, but…”

“Okay,” Blair interrupted, his hands raised, palms up, in surrender. “I’ll do it. Give me the gun.”

Their eyes held for a long moment, and in that brief space of time, Jim knew exactly why Blair had agreed. Slowly, he nodded. “Thanks, Chief.” Clearing his throat, he added, “It’s time you learned how to use this thing.”

“Yeah, right. Show me how to use the gun.” Rolling his eyes, Blair smiled a bit sickly as he added, “Damn. Never thought I’d say those words.”

Jim nodded. “I know, and I wouldn’t ask if we had any choice.“ He saw the glint of gratitude in the younger man’s eyes. As long as they understood each other. Demonstrating, Jim explained, “All you got to do is rack the slide…hold down the trigger and point. You probably won't even have to fire.” He added, only half jokingly, “At least I hope you don’t. I’d like to avoid landing in the middle of a firestorm.” He held out the gun to Sandburg.

Blair took a long breath and nodded, staring at the M-16 in his hands as if it were a snake. “All right.”

Jim turned to go.

“Hey, Jim?”

The sentinel turned around. Blair was looking at him, his wide blue eyes filled with worry. “Be careful, man. Okay?”

With a last look at his partner and friend, Jim nodded, then he left the station to meet Enrique Guzman.

Jim could feel the eyes upon him as he descended the hill - the eyes of Guzman and his men from below, and those of Blair and Monique watching from above. As he approached, Raoul ordered, “Stop there. Where is your uniform?”

“I’m not in the Coast Guard. I’m a cop.” Jim tried his bluff. “Right now, half of Cascade PD is on its way out here.”

He knew immediately he’d failed as Raoul laughed heartily. “How do you call them? We knocked your radio tower down.”

Guzman stepped forward. “I want Monique. Bring her to me.”

Jim bristled and demanded, “So you can beat her again? Maybe break her legs so she can’t run away this time?”

A quick motion from Guzman brought Raoul’s gun down hard on Jim’s head. The sentinel felt a blinding flash of pain and quickly fought to remain standing. He staggered forward, but kept his feet. For a second, his senses spiked almost out of control, as he heard Blair’s worried voice from the station, <”It’s all right. He’s going to be okay.”>

I sure hope you’re right, Chief, Jim thought dizzily.

Guzman’s reply was indignant. “Beat her? I loved her. I gave her everything, but she’s a whore, a liar, and a thief!”

Jim straightened painfully. “You got the dope. Why don’t you just let her go?”

Guzman picked up the briefcase and slammed it into the water. “I do not care about the dope! I want my book!”

Jim was totally confused. “What book?”

Guzman spat, “Ask Monique! Ask the whore! If you do not bring her out here with my book, I burn this whole place down to the waterline!”

Jim stalked inside the station. He was definitely tired of this woman’s little games. Blair greeted him anxiously at the door.

“Hey, Jim. How are you doing? What did they say?”

Jim ignored Sandburg’s questions, focused instead on finding the truth. He grabbed Monique’s small backpack, dumped the contents on the table, and began searching through them.

“What are you doing?” Monique’s voice rose in anger. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Jim flipped through her passport quickly. No book. He strode over to her coat and patted it down. Nothing.

“Where’s the book?” Jim angrily asked.

“What book?”

“Raise your hands,” he ordered sternly.

Blair protested, “Hey, Jim…”

“Give it a rest, Chief. Come on, let’s go. Bring them up.” Carefully, he patted her down but found nothing. “All right.” Monique slowly lowered her arms.

“Jim, what the hell is going on here?” Blair was quieter now, looking at Jim with wide eyes.

“Guzman accused her of stealing some book.” Looking back at Monique, Jim added, “If you know anything about this, you gotta say something. Now.”

Monique hesitated. “Enrique doesn’t believe in computers. He puts everything in little books…”

Blair interrupted her. “What do you mean - ‘everything’? Like what?”

“Um…he left one open once. It had numbers and names…stuff…I don’t…”

Suddenly, the picture was becoming all too clear. Jim demanded, “Phone numbers? Accounts? What?”

Monique’s voice quivered. “I don’t know. I didn’t understand it.”

“Whatever it is,” Jim said quietly, “he thinks we have this information.”

Blair pointed out, “That might not be a bad thing, right, Jim? We can use it as a bargaining chip. Buy us a little more time?”

Jim considered his friend’s idea. “Maybe.” Seeing the worried look on Blair’s face, he added, “It’ll be all right. Once Rucker gets to the lighthouse, help’ll be on its way. In the meantime, stay away from the windows and doors.”

Rucker had made it to the hill just below the tower. He’d been crawling most of the way, staying low to avoid detection. All that remained was to make it the final few yards to the tower door. He pulled out his binoculars to get a fix on Guzman’s men and their positions.

As he raised the lenses, the sun emerged from behind the lingering clouds. Rucker knew immediately what had happened and his heart sank. Below, on the docks, Guzman’s men began scurrying like ants at a picnic. Three men started up the hill toward the light.

“Damn!” Rucker slammed down the binoculars and scrambled up the hill toward the tower.

He made it inside and bolted the door behind him. Running to the radio, he began searching for a channel. “C’mon!” he muttered as his fingers flew across the dials. “C’mon!”

Finally, he heard a clear channel just as Guzman‘s men began pounding on the door. “Mayday! This is Coast Guard substation tango, bravo, delta on Storm Island to all open police channels. We are under attack from a heavily armed drug gang. Repeat, we are under attack…”

The door gave way and two men barged in. They lifted their weapons and began firing. Rucker ran low across the room and spotted the open window. With a quick prayer, he dove through and disappeared.

It was time to prepare for the attack. Jim handed the M-16 back to Blair.

“I don’t know, man. The idea of actually killing somebody…”

Jim tried to control his impatience. “All you got to do is spray a burst over their heads. Anything to keep ‘em back, okay?” Once more, he played his ace. “I’m counting on you, Chief.”

Blair nodded, still staring at the gun in his hands.

Jim called to Monique. “Come over here. Anybody gets inside this door, you shoot them with the flare gun. Can you handle that?”

“I think so.”

Guzman’s voice shouted, “Monique!”

Their time was up.

A blizzard of shots sprayed across the small station, breaking windows, splintering wood, and destroying everything in sight. Jim and Blair ducked low, while Monique dove behind the couch.

Jim glanced over at Blair, crouched beside him. The young anthropologist quipped, “Hey, Jim! I just want you to know that this doesn’t change my opinion on gun control!”

Smiling tightly, Jim replied, “I’ll keep that in mind! Now, fire, Sandburg!”

They began firing out the window toward the men on the docks. Jim counted several men go down. The return fire from the docks ceased, and Jim and Blair quickly pulled back inside.

“Jim! I’m out of ammo, man!”

Checking his own weapon, Jim answered grimly, “Me, too.” He slumped back against the wall.

Act II

Act IV