When they stopped four hours later for a quick lunch, Jack said, “Until you and your feet are trail hardened, you must, repeat, must stop every four hours for a foot check and whenever you feel the slightest twinge of foot discomfort. So off with the boots and socks.”
Kelly had a small red spot on her left heel that Jack covered with a piece of tape right over the red spot. Fifteen minutes later they were back on the trail. So far Kelly was able to follow the trail Jack had marked on the map. There were several places when the route required trail changes and one where they needed to make their way cross country to connect with another trail. Kelly paused before moving off the trail and asked Jack for help. He said, “Good. Never be too proud to ask for help. Shoot an azimuth, estimate the distance, and then just follow your azimuth. If the terrain causes us to deviate, keep track of the paces we moved off the azimuth and then count back to the planned route. Orienteering is simply about trusting your compass and keeping track of where you are.”
An hour before nightfall, Kelly led them to the small valley Jack had marked on the map. Jack refused her first two choices for a campsite. When she asked what was wrong, Jack said, “The first site you picked was too close to the trail. People besides us may be using it. The second site is an excellent campsite. It is too good. Several people may know of it and use it. Pick a place off the trail that most people would not even consider.”
Kelly picked a site Jack liked and asked, “Should I gather some firewood?”
Jack laughed and said, “No fire. The wind is steady west to east, smoke and sound will move toward our target, Jake’s cabin. The smell of smoke could easily be picked up as far away as his cabin. People who live in isolated places like this will notice the smell of smoke and its direction while city dwellers would be oblivious. But you can go down to the small stream we crossed and fill our canteens.”
Jack gave Kelly a ten-minute start, then shucked his pack and started after her. He wanted to see if she had any of her mother’s uncanny ability to be aware of everything going on around her. He hadn’t yet decided on the role he wanted her to play to tomorrow. The east slope of the tiny valley caught the afternoon sun and mixture of stunted cottonwoods and larger pine trees was thick enough to give good cover. From his concealed position, he watched Kelly pause before she walked from cover to the bare creek bank. Keeping her rifle in her right hand she filled both two-quart canteens, dropped the purifying tablets into each canteen, looked around carefully, and moved back into the cover of the scrub growth. Jack left his position and hurried back to the campsite. He was sitting, leaning back against a tree when Kelly moved quietly into camp.
Kelly handed Jack his canteen and said, “You followed me. I heard movement in the bush a few times. You weren’t resting here. Your breathing is faster. Like maybe you hurried up the slope to keep ahead of me.”
“You are amazing. I made very little noise.”
“I had an advantage. When Kathy was teaching me about surveillance. She followed me once without my seeing her. I swore that wouldn’t happen again. So I expected the trip to fill the canteens was a test of some sort. Right?”
“Did I pass?”
“Yes. Very good. Only one observation. When you are out in the open, like filling canteens from a creek bank, pick a place where you don’t have to bend down and reach. Pick a spot where you can squat and look around while filling the canteen. You still get an A+.”
Jack produced a small can of sterno, a jellied substance, that burned without giving off much of a smell or light. “We can have some hot soup and tea with our trail mix while we talk about tomorrow.”
Jack mixed up the soup and gave Kelly a cup. Jerky and dried fruit with the trail mix would keep them going. When the soup was replaced with a cup of Lipton’s tea, Jack said, “We need Jake alive. I don’t know any other way we can find a link up the chain to the people behind this ring of snatchers.”
Kelly said, “Before we left McLean, Kathy said to keep my eyes open for the tracks of someone powerful and rich enough to control an international ring. I think she is right. Just look at the organization that is required. People in several cities to spot and report on likely victims, watchers to provide the snatchers with information about the victims, the snatchers themselves who are not easy people to control, the people who move the victims to some international transportation. Add to that the marketers who find the buyers and deliver the product. A large, efficient logistical organization is needed. Lastly, where do you find people with all the skills required? Some training is necessary. They would even need bookkeepers and bankers. To manage the individual pieces takes management abilities. Just think what it would take to run the whole thing. What Kathy said started me thinking and I’ve a strong minor in business from Pitt.”
“Again you amaze me. Your mother would be so proud of you. She hated big-picture thinking. It bored her. You’re a natural at it. I have believed from the start that law enforcement officials had to be part of this group. Recruiting cops, especially those who have a bad reputation or are in deep debt to gamblers or drug organization, can be done. But to get back to tomorrow. We leave at first light and slowly work our way toward the ridge behind the cabin.
“Jake is an exceptional shooter. I don’t think he is skilled or experienced in dealing with people who are probably better shooters than he is. Our weapons give us a distance advantage. But if we get into a firefight things can go wrong very quickly. A lucky shot or ricochet could hit one of us. The mostly likely outcome of a firefight is we will have to kill him. Our chance of using Jake to work our way up the chain is gone and the cops are not going to cut us much slack. Our badges are gone and our ace backup in Pittsburgh has retired. One more problem. We don’t know if he has a dog. If he does the scene gets even dicer. We will not be able to sneak up on dog and I don’t want to kill an animal doing its job. I have an idea but want to hear you first.”
“I don’t think he has a dog. He has to travel so much he would have to have some place to leave the dog or someone to stay in his cabin. If he’s responsible for all the shooting for the kidnappers, he would be gone more than half time. And Jim said nothing about a dog. You think if he walked over to Jim’s shooting camp he would have brought his dog with him. Maybe he doesn’t live alone. Another unknown.
“I think to capture him we have to fool him. Take away his fear of armed strangers by showing him an unarmed young girl with a plausible story why she is there alone.”
“You will be taking a big risk. Do you think you can handle him?”
“Not if he just shoots me. But I can handle him in hand to hand. We don’t know anything about any training he’s had except shooting. I doubt his martial arts skills can match mine. Jim said he was about 5 foot 8 inches and 150 pounds. I’m as tall and probably stronger. So, yes, I can handle him. I won’t let him take me inside the cabin. I assume you will have him in your sights and I’ll be careful to stay out of your line-of-sight.”
“Okay. Not a bad plan but it needs some refinement. You can carry a knife but not the SOCOM. You got a good body. Let’s show him as much as we can. Nothing like the scent of sex to put a young man off his game. You’ll hang back out of sight until you see my signal. Do not move before I’m ready. Your signal to me that you want me to move in is to use your left hand to fuss with your hair. If you need me to shoot, put both hands to your hair and keep them there. When you signal me to move in, pick your opening and put him down. I’ll be there in seconds. Got it?”
“Got it. Sounds good.”
“Okay. Get some sleep. We need to be sharp tomorrow.”