Author Archives: starediting

“Shades of Justice” Chapter Sixty-four

Jack went over the top of the ridge and disappeared. When Kelly and Sally were close to the top of the ridge, they went low and slowly crawled up to where they could see Jack’s boots. Shadow moved into the brush and lay down. With Sally on one side of Jack and Kelly on the other, they took in a panorama of the camp. Jack told them it was 150 yards away. He pointed out where he wanted them to set up in a good concealment. He passed out short-range communications gear and said, “Use this stuff sparingly. Can’t be worrying about low batteries. The guys down there probably won’t have any intercept capability but let’s be safe and keep our messages short. Stay here until I get a good look at the people in camp. Remember to keep your binoculars lenses out of the sun.”

Jack watched the activity intensely and then motioned for the girls to come in closer. Once they were close, keeping his voice low, Jack said, “First complication, three of the men down there don’t belong. Their footgear, clothing, even their jackets and hats, wouldn’t be worn by any respectable hunter or mountain hiker. Now the kicker, they’re wearing what I think are badges on their belts. I can’t make out the badges but those are not local cops and certainly not sheriffs. They are probably from the east and I would bet on Baltimore where the head or at least the regional head of the kidnappers is a Baltimore chief of a police unit.”

Kelly asked, “Can we shoot a cop?”

“Not unless we have to. Those cops are bad. No way a legitimate chief would send three detectives to a Montana shooting camp. We can’t wait them out. They’ll be here until the captives are shipped onward and/or Jim closes the place up and moves out. They might not even be cops. We’ll have to watch for the doughnuts.”

Sally said, “Don’t make me laugh out loud. I’ll wet myself. I’m struggling now.”

Jack smiled. “It will soon be dark enough for secret pissing. An old problem for snipers lying motionless in a hide. While we have the light, memorize the camp layout. We’ll move tonight or tomorrow morning early. Move out to your locations. Be alert for Bobby and maybe one guard going to check on and maybe feed the captives, if any. I’m sure they’ll carry a light. Before we move I want to know if there any captives and where they are. We need to locate all the guards. They may not believe we would be here yet so they may be careless. I like our odds. Jim is the only one to worry about. He can shoot, has and will kill, and has good outdoor tracking and moving skills. The other three will probably just get in his way. You’ll probably never hear me say this again, shoot to wound the cops. A wound or two will stop all of them. Did you hear that, Shadow? Bite but don’t kill.”

Shadow, lying like a lion ready to pounce, looked at Jack and then turned back to watching the camp. Nightfall came and the activity and the players on the stage went inside. An hour after dark, Jack heard the back door to the lodge open and bang shut. In the light spilling from inside he could see two people. One is certainly a woman, most likely Bobby. The other is too small to be Jim and must be one of the eastern cops. Jack asked Kelly and Sally to stay put and watch the lodge and call him if anyone else came out. When Bobby and the guard passed in front of Jack high on the ridge, he and Shadow kept pace with the light. A slightly used game trail ran along the top edge of the ridge making the going easy, even at night. No need for any night vision optics. Twenty minutes later the light stopped and went out. Jack moved until he and Shadow were directly opposite where the light disappeared. Shadow’s ears perked up and, focusing, Jack could hear some sounds coming from the darkness below them. Jack took out his compass and shot an azimuth down the ridge to the activity below. All was quiet for ten minutes, then the light appeared headed back to the lodge. Jack waited and Kelly’s voice said, “Both of them are back inside.”

Jack stroked Shadow’s head and said, “Let’s go big guy.” Shadow led off down the ridge. Jack could hear him maneuvering through the brush. He knew Shadow would find the exact spot where the people moved off the path. Jack thought, They can’t be dumb enough to have a path leading directly to their prison. It must keep going somewhere else. We need to know where.

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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Sixty-three

Shadow was already looking for the release signal so he could check out the area. Kelly let him go. He ran to the end of the cover, stopped, and looked over the scene with eyes and nose. Then he moved quietly and slowly to the stream bank. He didn’t drink until Sally filled the canteens and started back.

They were almost in the clearing before they smelled the faint smoke and coffee. Jack had a small fire of dry wood that gave off little smoke. When they were sitting around the fire as darkness fell, Jack said, “There is much to teach you if you’re going to follow this line of work. So I’ll be telling you bits and pieces of lore that you may already know and telling you more often than you might like. Neither one of you has anything in your pack to cut wood. On a short trip like this you could get by. Most people will pack a hatchet or ax. A fine tool for chopping. But chopping makes a lot of noise and leaves many marks. A small saw like this one is quiet. Leaves marks easy to conceal. Is lighter and packs better than a clumsy ax and won’t need frequent sharpening. In a forest, dry wood for starting fires is not found on the ground. Note that on tall pine trees, the lower branches die and dry when the larger overhead ones cut off the sunlight. This wood came from within 20 feet of where you are sitting. Few other details. We all need a good rest tonight. Shadow will keep watch. When we leave this campsite, I want it to look like no one was here, especially recently. Okay, let’s get supper going.”

 

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First light came as Jack had coffee on the fire and Shadow’s favorite kibble on a flat stone. The girls awoke slowly. Jack handed each of them a cup of hot black coffee and said, “Good morning ladies, I hope you enjoyed your beauty sleep. It will probably be your last long one for a while. Here, take this trench shovel out to your latrine area. We’ll have some hot oatmeal and honey and get on the trail. Sally, take the point for a bit. Kelly can give you some pointers. Even a girl raised in this state can learn a few things about walking point. The closer we get, the slower and more carefully we move. For the first hour we can move fast. A good foot check before we start. You too, Shadow.”

For the first hour Kelly walked behind Sally giving her Jack’s way of walking point. She said, “Sally, walk like no one else is here. It is up to you to see and hear everything in front of you. You are in charge. When you stop, we stop. If you step off the trail, we all do. Speed up or slow down, we follow. Think like the bad guys. What would they do to kill us? Check out the likely ambush sites. Making good time is not the total goal. Staying alive is. Now you know everything Jack taught me about walking point. I’m dropping back. You got it.”

After four hours Jack passed the word for Sally to find a safe place for a rest stop. Sally took them 20 paces off the trail behind a clump of boulders. After packs off and a foot check, Jack said, “We’re within a couple of miles of the camp. Lunch is trail mix and chocolate bars. Empty your bladders and hydrate. From here on we move slowly and quietly off trail. I want to approach from the south. Begin to camouflage your clothes, especially the hats. All we need to do is break up the lines of the body and provide coloration to blend into the environment. Check your pockets and packs for any thing rattling or making noise when you move. Rifles locked, loaded, and safed. Carry them across the front of your body or in your right hand. Nothing shiny on clothes. I’ve enough camo stuff for your hands and face. Use it. Skin can glisten and reflect. Okay! Get ready. Inspect yourselves and each other, including me. I’ll take the point from here. Nice job, both of you. Good team work. I like it.”

Jack swung his team to the southeast for nearly an hour then straight north to the Marshalls’ shooting camp and prison for kidnapped young women. Jack still had a hard time believing that Jim Marshall’s character flaws had been so well hidden from him and his father. Well, Jim, now it has caught up with you. These young women with me are deadly and smart. That’s a good combination. You are probably in the last day of your life. Jack smelled smoke and heard the sound of gunfire. He figured they must be within a quarter mile of the camp. On the current compass azimuth they should come out slightly to the east of the camp on the high ridge overlooking the complex. Jack decided late this afternoon or early tomorrow morning they would make the rescue.

Kelly and Sally had first picked up the scent of smoke and then the sound of gunfire in the rhythm of a firing range. The going got steeper and Sally could feel she needed more conditioning. She was looking forward to resting in a sniper hide. She looked to her left and saw Shadow keeping pace with her. Sally reached down and held Shadow’s loose-fitting collar. Shadow dug in and Sally felt herself being dragged up the slope. She thought, How can so much power be packed into a 120-pound body? Kelly moved up close behind her and said, “Keep going, you can breathe later.”

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“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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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Sixty-one

Jack and his canine friends were back from the cabin before nightfall. Jack asked Kathy if she could sit in on a pre-mission planning session with the girls, including Storm.

“Yes, if you do it right now.”

“See you in the conference room in ten.”

Jack got Storm on the intercom and asked her to get Kelly and Sally and come to the conference now.

Kathy was waiting as the others filed in clutching cups of coffee. The girls were looking a bit puzzled. Kelly was trying hard to act normal after hearing Jack’s critical remarks last night. Jack said, “I’m leaving for Montana in the morning. Shadow, Kelly, and Sally are coming with me. Storm, I want you to do a quick research on these people and their business, include some satellite images of their shooting camp and maps of a half-circle 15 miles out to the west and south of the camp. I want to get in and out without a paper or digital trail. Kelly and Sally, 40-pound packs with everything you need. Your favorite rifle, handgun, and 50 rounds each. Include enough trail food for three days for yourself and up to four captives. Include extra blankets. If there are captives, they may not be able to walk out. We’ll need to establish a safe campsite where they can rest and we can get what they need to move on. Remember, it might be cold and wet but no tents, just tarps we can put up. I’ll carry what Shadow needs and any extra gear like medical kits and short-range person-to-person communications. Sally, follow Kelly’s lead. She’s done this before. That’s it, let’s go.”

On the way back to their rooms, Sally said, “We need to get three or four pairs of light shoes. If we find captives, they will need shoes. They’ll still be wearing what they were wearing when grabbed off the street. A good chance those shoes won’t hold up for an all-day walk in rough country.”

Kelly said, “Okay, you get the shoes. I’ll start getting the other stuff together.”

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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Sixty

After a good night’s sleep, Kathy felt like a new woman. Still in her bathrobe, she went down the hall to see Jody. The door was ajar and looking in she saw Gideon on the bed. Jody was still asleep with her arm around the big pup. Gideon saw her and raised his head but made no move to get up, as if saying, It’s okay, I have her. Kathy turned and went to the kitchen where she found Mrs. Minh drinking a cup of green tea. Kathy thought, This is one tough woman. I’m glad she is on our side. In the kitchen, running the house, or in a gunfight she could more than hold her own. Mrs. Minh had been fighting the Viet Cong at an age when most kids were in the sixth grade. Her husband was no different, except a few years older.

Mrs. Minh got up and poured Kathy a cup of freshly brewed French roast. Kathy asked her to pour one for Mr. Brandon then carried the coffee back to their bedroom and found Jack shaving. She perched on the edge of the tub and told him what she knew about Jody. When she finished, Jack said, “I’ll ask Lou and Storm to find out what they can. Obviously she’ll have to stay here for several weeks to get her health back. Once we know a little more about her, we can find things for her to do. Otherwise she’ll go bonkers.”

“I’m glad you came to the same conclusion,” Kathy nodded. “Gideon has adopted her as his charge. I peeked in her room. She was sleeping with her arm around Gideon. He raised his head and gave me this look like, ‘I got it.’ So I left him there. With us gone so much, with the Minhs and Gideon she’ll have some friends here.”

“Speaking of being gone, before Jim Marshall can disappear with his blood money and perhaps some female captives, I have to go out there. Please stay here with Jody and run the place while I’m gone. We need to get the office space Storm and Lou will need set up. We also need a dependable smart lawyer. You know, Sally McGovern just might like to fill the lawyer slot. Think about it. I’ll take Shadow, Kelly, and Sally with me. Kelly is shooting almost as well as her mother and Sally is coming along. I read Kelly the riot act last night over her walking to her parked car by herself. She needs a chance to redeem herself.”

“Okay. I’ll stay. I hate staying and worrying. With Jody here, there is little choice. Promise you will call every day.”

“Sure, but before I go I want to empty this house of everything incriminating. I’ll take the Flex into the garage and load nearly all our arms and ammunition and sniper stuff and take Shadow and Gideon to the cabin. No one should be able to associate it with us. The hidden room there would be hard to find. I can be there and back in nine hours. Anything you think should go to the cabin put in the garage and I’ll load it. I’ll need another throwaway cell. I don’t want any phone records of me being in Montana or in the area of the cabin, especially when we take the Marshalls and their prison down.”

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