“Shades of Justice” Chapter Sixty-two

The next day at noon, Buck Dawson and his nephew co-pilot had the Lear ready to go. When the Lear reached its cruising altitude of 30,000 feet, Jack gathered Kelly and Sally around the conference table. Shadow was in a seat across the aisle trying to sleep. Jack said, “I know you must have some questions, but let me go over the general plan first. Kelly, I’ve made a few changes since our last trip to Big Timber. It’s a very small place. I doubt the daily air traffic at the airport gets too many planes like this one outside of hunting season. The airport could be watched by a friend of the Marshalls’. A simple phone call from a mechanic would be enough to give us problems. So Buck is landing the Lear at Billings and renting a Cessna to take us to Big Timber. A rented car in Buck’s name will be waiting for us. Buck will wait in Big Timber for our pick-up call. Then we retrace our steps. Go to Billings, pick up the Lear and our co-pilot, Elliot. We avoid leaving a record of being in Big Timber.

“Once on the ground in Big Timber, Buck will drive us to within a four-hour walk of a remote cabin Kelly and I used on our last trip. If someone is in the cabin we’ll have to adjust. If not, we move immediately overland to the Marshalls’ camp. Both Kelly and I know the trail. We’ll try to get within a couple of hours of the Marshalls’ before we camp for the night. The next day we want to be able to observe the camp from a concealed area at least two hours before dark. Maybe we’ll move against the Marshalls and rescue any captives then or wait until the next day. I would like to find out where the captives are or were being held the first day we reach the camp.”

Moving from the Lear to a Cessna six-seater didn’t bother Buck. He put the Cessna smoothly on the ground in Big Timber. Shadow wasn’t happy with the cramped space and yipped a complaint a few times. Jack said, “Shadow, be quiet. The whole world is not first class.”

Buck pulled the Jeep Wagoneer rental up to the Cessna. Kelly got in beside him to give directions to the fire road. Sally, Jack, and Shadow sat in the back. Thirty minutes later Kelly showed Buck where to pull over. Shadow was first out and ready to go. Jack helped Buck do a tight three-point turn in the jeep wagon. By the time he was out of sight, the Brandon team had melted into the growth of scrub pine bordering the fire road where they paused to load their weapons. Jack and Shadow took the point and Kelly brought up the rear. They made good time, reaching the creek crossing point in less than four hours. After a short rest, they moved quietly and slowly across the small creek below the cabin, Jack stopped them below the steep bank. He scanned the cabin with his binoculars. He saw nothing and handed them to Kelly, who carefully searched the cabin and surrounding area. It was cool enough for a fire but no smoke drifted out of the chimney. Jack nudged Kelly and said, “Cover us. Shadow and I are going to check the cabin out.”

Shadow scrambled up the bank and waited for Jack. Jack released him and Shadow bolted up to the cabin, sniffed at the door and ran around to the back. When he reappeared, Jack said, “Good boy, Shadow, go get Kelly,” and pointed down toward the stream. Shadow ran down and greeted the girls. When they came up to the cabin, Jack was already inside. It looked the same as it was when they left two weeks ago. Kelly said, “I don’t think anyone has been here since we left. Wonder if Jake Morgan’s body is still on the steep slope behind the cabin?”

“I hope not,” Jack said. “We’ll see on the way up the ridge. We’re not going to cover much of the trail today. It will be dark in three hours. I’m counting on using this cabin on our way back if we have any rescued women. It’ll take us two full days to get here if we are traveling with rescued captives. Okay, first a weapons check and then a foot check.” All three were carrying SOCOMs sidearms. Jack and Kelly carried Stoner SR-25s. Sally selected a .30 carbine. She knew the weapon and had fired it frequently. Its range was limited to less than 200 yards. When Jack was satisfied with the weapons check, he said, “Time for the foot check. Kelly, you and Sally check your feet. You know the drill.”

Sally said, “My feet feel good. I’m okay.”

“Off with the boots and socks, girl!” Kelly said anyway.

Kelly took one look at Sally’s left foot and reached for the tape. “You got a nice blister starting on the outside of your big toe. Don’t take this piece of tape off until we get back on the plane. I’ll check your tender feet after two hours on the trail.”

After the foot checks were completed, Kelly and Shadow led off. From Jack’s rear guard position he could keep an eye on Sally who hadn’t done much distance hiking since leaving her home state of Montana. Going up the ridge, Kelly noticed the remnants of Jake’s body and clothes mostly concealed by the scrub pine growth. It was obvious the animal inhabitants of the forest had been at work. She didn’t point out the scene to Sally. Sally was tough but she didn’t want to push her now. Everyone needed a clear head focused on the target. She was pleased Jack put her in the point position. Kelly had a clear recall of their reverse journey on this trail to the Marshall camp. She used her compass but really didn’t need to. Two hours had passed and Kelly moved them into a thick growth of pine surrounding a small clearing. They shucked their packs and Jack checked with each of them to see how they were doing. It was also time for another foot check. Jack kept watch on Shadow’s legs and feet. A thorn or small pebble stuck between his pads could cause a problem. Shadow saw Jack coming toward him with a small rag in his hand, flopped down, and rolled over with his feet in the air. Jack laughed and asked, “Where did that come from?”

Sally said, “He got that from Gideon, who must have learned that when he was on the dog show circuit. Shadow saw Gideon do that when Kathy was cleaning his feet before he came inside.”

Jack said, “I guess Gideon has some things he can teach Shadow. Even old dogs, if they’re as smart as Shadow, can learn. I think there is a small stream about 60 yards down this slope. The water should be good. It’ll be dark in an hour. We might as well set up camp here. Good choice, Kelly.”

“Same as last time, no fire?”

“No, we can have a small, near smokeless fire for coffee and hot soup. You two top off our canteens. Take Shadow with you. He’ll need a drink. One of you keep watch from cover while the other fills the canteens. Those precautions probably aren’t needed here. But, I want you both to learn them and realize that it is easier, quicker, and safer to always apply careful procedures than to guess whether they are required. Don’t worry about being paranoid. Being careful is good.”

On the way down to the creek Sally asked, “How does he know there is a creek 60 yards down this slope?”

“Jack has very heightened senses. He may have heard it or saw birds dipping low or remembered it from a topo map. Even a game trail running down the slope would have caught his eye. I’ll bet there is water down there. Any bets?”

“Not from me. I’ll never forget Shadow and Jack moving down the ladder of the kidnapper’s boat. They were like streaks of darkness swarming over the guy who was trying to kill me. He never had a chance. I think he died without knowing it. Also I’ll never figure out how he found me below decks in a luxury cruiser hundreds of miles from where I was kidnapped.”

“When they were holding me in that pit under the barn floor, I kept thinking, ‘if he found Sally, he can find me.’ That thought kept me going. Come to think of it, I wasn’t even surprised when he pulled the blanket off my head and helped me up.”

“What do you think happened to those people?”

“I don’t know but I do know they will never kidnap or imprison people again. The Brandon law of justice is hard, not many shades. You’ll note with my reputation of having a smart, quick mouth, I never opened my mouth when Jack was lecturing me unless asked. I know if I make another bad mistake, I’ll be benched big time.”

“I know about the second mistake. What was the first?”

“I went someplace without any backup or weapon. It was a real dangerous situation and I messed up. Kathy came just in time to save me. She explained to me in choice words how dumb I was. Speaking of mistakes, let’s tighten up here. Less chatting and more looking. I think I hear running water.”

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Filed under Action thrillers, Barry Kelly, Books, Spy novels

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