He stared absently out the small window wondering if they would find her in time. Jamie had not been seen or heard from in 48 hours and as Rudy had estimated, they had 10 hours to find her before her condition would be fatal. Oscar sighed heavily and stretched his long legs out as far as he could. They were hitching a ride to Nellis AFB in Nevada on a C-131 to try and find Steve. If anyone could find Jaime it would be him. They were running out of time and she could be anywhere. He knew Steve was spending a month at Jackson airfield in Nevada helping an old Air Force buddy get his vintage airplane refurbished. Once the plane was completed Sam was to travel with an air show in the coming months. Sam Maynard was Steve’s former aircraft mechanic many years ago. He was a little younger than Steve but they had formed a strong friendship. Steve encouraged Sam to complete his pilot training once in the civilian sector. Oscar closed his eyes and tried to relax as the drone of the aircraft hummed around him.
Oscar and Rudy arrived at Nellis, AFB and were provided a car to travel to Jackson airstrip about 30 miles to the west. They arrived at the airfield only to find out from Sam they would have to await Steve’s arrival. He pointed up over the airfield at the aircraft doing unbelievably graceful acrobatic maneuvers. Oscar was not comforted by the site. Sam went on to explain that he and Steve had just finished most repairs on the airplane and Steve was completing the first test flight. Seeing Oscar’s look of concern he added, “Don’t worry I have complete faith in Steve’s flying skills.” Oscar just threw Sam a weak smile.
“Most repairs?” Asked Rudy
“Oh yeah, we still have some instrumentation work to complete then she’ll be ready to go.” Sam couldn’t help but feel proud of their accomplishment.
The three men stood as the small plane completed an outside loop. Not knowing he had an audience of more than one and enjoying himself he took the aircraft dangerously close to the ground before pulling up and spinning her into an inverted attitude about 100 feet off the ground. Oscar’s stomach couldn’t take anymore and requested Sam call him down explaining they had an urgent matter to attend to. He leaned toward Rudy and stated, “I really need to have a talk with that man.”
Sam had his radio clipped to his belt. He brought the black box to his mouth and called his friend.
“Steve this is Sam, do you read?”
“Go ahead Sam,” They could all here the joy in his voice, like a kid on Christmas morning.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to cut your test flight short, you have important visitors waiting down here to talk with you.”
Steve knew it couldn’t be anyone else but Oscar that would track him down. He allowed his annoyance to funnel through the radio, “And I bet one is wearing a suit and tie.”
Sam smirked at Steve’s comment, “How’d you guess?”
Being a private airfield without a tower Steve did not need traffic control’s permission to land. Steve pointed the plane toward the runway as he eased off the throttle, “Because he can never stand to let me have any enjoyment in my life!”
The plane gently touched down and Steve taxied it to the hanger. He was surprised to see Rudy with Oscar and wondered what was going on.
He quickly shut down the plane as Sam opens the cockpit door, “How’d she do?”
“Great! I’ve signed her off on these items so far,” Steve handed him the paperwork.
Steve looked up and saw Oscar and Rudy standing in front of the hanger doors. Steve greets them each with a handshake and an inquiring look. Oscar quickly pointed out that he did not like the fact the Steve had such dangerous hobbies. Steve just chuckled and replied that the assignments Oscar sends him on were much more dangerous than what he was just doing. Oscar conceded, point taken.
“So what’s up?” he asks feeling his flying days may be shorter than he expected.
Oscar begins explaining the reason for their unexpected visit and urgent need for his help. “Steve, Jaime is missing and maybe in serious trouble.” Throughout the dissertation Steve’s cheerful facial expression begins to transform into one of deep concern.
Rudy took over, “She’s been having episodes of personality changes and violent outburst. It is similar to the time she was rejecting her bionics. You remember that? I don’t know how long it has been going on. She only confided in me three days ago. I ran some tests and it seems there’s some scar tissue from her earlier surgeries that is causing pressure on the part of the brain that controls rationality, temperament and some memory. She was scheduled for surgery when she just left the hospital without telling anyone. I think she’s in trouble and we are working against time.
Oscar stepped in, “We haven’t had any luck finding her and we aren’t sure where else to look. We hoped you could help us in locating her before time runs out.” Steve did not trust his voice as he remembered that night when he watched her die. He searched Rudy’s face for an answer to the unspoken question. Rudy stated plainly, “We have about 8 hours to find her or it will be fatal.”
Seeing Steve’s shoulders sag as he eyed the ground, Rudy did not want to share the possibility that Jaime may become suicidal if the condition was not brought under control soon. Eight hours was a hopeful estimation. They needed to find her as soon as possible. Steve mind raced with possibilities. He turned and yelled to Sam that we was taking his Piper aircraft that he knew was already pre-flighted for Sam’s next trip. Sam never questioned him, sensing urgency in Steve’s voice; he just nodded stating he would take the Cessna. “Let’s go,” was all Steve said as they headed out to the tarmac and boarded the small 4-seater aircraft.
As soon as they were at altitude and level Steve activated the auto-pilot and became lost in thought trying to decide where Jaime may have gone if she was paranoid and irrational. Two options immediately came to mind: his parent’s home and the home Jaime grew up in until her parents passed away. Through the radio headset he shares this information and Oscar explains they have already checked with Helen and Jim and they have not heard from her recently. Okay, next option – the house. He tells them the last he had heard Jaime’s childhood home was vacant and up for sale. She may very well be there. Glancing at his watch Steve realizes they are down to 6 hours and decides to get ahead as many steps as possible while still en-route. Clicking the mike he makes radio contact.
“Ojai FBO this is Piper 9875. Do you read?”
“Piper 9875 we read you. How can we assist you today?”
“This is Steve Austin, I’d like to speak with A.J. if he is available.”
“Piper 9875 this is Ojai FBO. Steve, is that really you?”
“Yes A.J. it’s me and I need your help.”
“Name it buddy.”
“I have a family emergency and I’m in a time crunch. I’m going to need your guys to tie-down my plane after I park it and I need a car fueled up and on the ramp when I arrive in 23 mins.”
“Sure no problem it will be waiting when you arrive. Anything else?”
“Yes, I need to know if you’ve seen Jaime Sommers recently.”
“That’s weird you should ask. She came through here this morning. She rented a car and took off but I don’t know where. Why?”
“I need to talk to her. Did you notice anything unusual about her?”
“Yes, she seemed very quiet and distant not like the outgoing Jaime I remember. There’s another thing that struck me as odd. She dropped her purse while she was paying for the car and a handgun fell out. I thought Jaime hated guns but I figured a young woman traveling alone, maybe she needed it.”
“Thanks A.J. I owe you one. I’ll talk with you when I return the car. 9875 out.”
“Roger, Ojai FBO out.”
Steve changed the radio frequency to notify the tower of their arrival.
“Ojai tower this is Piper 9875 with you, 10 miles out, at 1,000 ft in-bound for landing.”
“Roger Piper 9875, on radar with no other traffic, cleared for short final to runway Two Five.”
“Roger short final to Two Five, 875 out.”
Oscar and Rudy were amazed at his efficiency during their flight. This was one of the rare attributes that made Steve such a good operative. Steve got them to Ojai in record time with ground transportation waiting for them and they had a lead on Jaime’s whereabouts. He probably saved an hour of time already. No wasted time anywhere. They may just find her in time after all.
Rudy asked Steve if Jaime knew how to use a gun. He, too, thought Jaime hated guns. Steve nodded and his voice turned ice cold. He sadly admitted to teaching her how to load and fire a hand gun in case she needed to on a mission. He never anticipated an event that would cause her to turn a gun on anyone.
Steve took the plane into a steep decent on short final and landed. Within minutes they were taxied, parked and in the Chevy sedan heading off airport property. Their destination was just on the outskirts of town. Luckily Ojai was a very small town and they quickly arrived at the address. All of them were out of the car in record time. Oscar and Rudy ran to the front door of the cedar-sided two-story home as Steve ran around to the back. All the doors and windows were undisturbed and there was no car near the house other than theirs. Oscar and Rudy could hear Steve calling her name but there was no answer. The three quickly regrouped at the car. Feeling defeated Steve leaned his muscular frame against the side of the car and folded his arms across his chest. He was deep in thought staring at the familiar house and no one attempted to interrupt him. Steve let the same questions travel repeatedly across his mind: ‘Where else would you go? Where are you Jaime? Where else would you feel safe?’ He quickly shifted his weight back to his feet and opened the car door. Sliding into the driver’s seat with the initial thought of driving off again but he forced himself to take a slow, controlled breath, rested his head against the headrest and closed his eyes. Oscar and Rudy entered the car and exchanged concerned looks as the silence continued. ‘Just stop for a minute and think Steve.’ he whispered more to himself than his friends. He reminded himself that well thought-out, purposeful actions were more beneficial than random, blind attempts at solutions. His head was beginning to pound in time with his heartbeat. The weight of the situation was enormous. He knew he could let her down when she needed him. ‘Where are you Jaime?’ The question swirled around his head again and again. Suddenly his eyes flew open and his head jerked up. “I know where she is.” Steve started the car, slammed it into gear and stepped on the accelerator.
“Where?” Oscar asked.
“Her family had a cabin they used a lot during their summer vacations. I don’t think anyone has occupied it for many years but I think it’s still standing.”
Rudy inquired, “Where is it?”
Steve sighed, “It’s about 2 hours north of Ojai.”
Oscar bluntly inquired, “Steve, are you sure? I mean we are getting short on time. If you’re wrong we will be out of time to look other places.”
Steve turned to Oscar and with a cold, calm voice repeated himself, “I said I was sure she was there.”
At that moment Oscar and Rudy realized the immense pressure Steve was shouldering now. They came to him because he was the only one who could help. They knew if they didn’t find her in time Steve would be devastated and carry the guilt until his last days. Even if they did find her, get her medical help and it still didn’t turn out well Steve would blame no one else but himself. Jaime was the love of his life. Steve would go to the ends of the earth to find her and he would die before letting anything happen to her.
During their two hour drive Steve had serious questions for the doctor, “Rudy, what condition do you think we will find her in?”
“Well, I think by now she’s very scared and paranoid. She may be so irrational that she doesn’t recognize us, not even you.”
“Do you think she could be suicidal?”
“Yes. In fact, depending on her level of confusion and paranoia she may even be homicidal.”
Steve shot Rudy a shocked expression in the review mirror. He shook his head and whispered, “This can’t be happening.”
Steve continued his questioning, “How do you plan on handling her when we find her?” He had to remain optimistic.
“Well if she is responsive and recognizes us I have a sedative with me that I plan on using to keep her calm until we can get her to the Air Force Hospital.”
“And what if she doesn’t recognize us and is………violent,” He had much difficulty using that last word in characterizing Jaime.” There was silence when Rudy did not know how to answer.
Oscar spoke quietly, “then we will have to get additional assistance from the local police force.”
“No way. There is no way I will allow you to send armed police officers in there after her. Aside from possibly getting her shot or killed, think of the damage to her reputation. Ojai is a very small town where everyone knows who Jaime Sommers is and I won’t stand by and let her be put on the front page of every local paper. And you know that’s what will happen in a town that is always looking for juicy newspaper gossip.”
“Steve we may not have a choice.”
Steve looked at Oscar. “No YOU don’t have a choice Oscar because I am telling you the police will not be called. I will do everything in my power to prevent that. Do you understand what I am saying?” Calming himself he continued, “Besides I don’t think you want reporters investigating Jaime and how she may have gotten in such a condition.” There was a pause and Steve sighed, “Gentlemen I think we can consider that matter closed.”
Oscar and Rudy sat the rest of the trip in silence. Steve was right; they could not call for assistance from local law enforcement. Neither of them wanted Jaime’s reputation smeared either. They would just play it by ear and let Steve call the shots since he knew her best and would never relinquish responsibility for her well-being to anyone.
As they drove the winding mountain road up toward the cabin they took in beautiful views of a pristine lake and well-kept log homes. Steve thought, ironically, what a peaceful place this had always been. Short flashes of past memories rolled through his head. Memories of Jaime and him before they were teenagers flying off a rope swing into the lake, racing their bikes down the gravely road, hiking through the woods and talking about everything under the sun. Steve couldn’t help but smile at the warm feeling these rarely thought of memories produced. Oscar and Rudy noticed Steve’s change in demeanor. He didn’t even hear Oscar’s questions until he repeated himself louder breaking Steve’s reverie.
“What did you say Oscar?”
“Rudy and I were wondering if you have ever spent time up here.”
Steve shared some of the simple childhood memories he was revisiting. He explained that many times in the summer Jaime’s parents would invite him and his parents to stay with them at the cabin. It was all so predictable every time they came. The fathers would go fishing together and talk about their wives, the mothers would sit on the porch and talk about their husbands, and Jaime and Steve would take off on their own and talk about everything but their parents. He also shared that it was here where he found her after she heard of her parent’s unexpected death in a car accident. Jaime had disappeared for 16 hours and Steve found her here in her old room trying to quell her overwhelming grief. She was only 15 years old at the time. Once again Rudy and Oscar understood the depth of the long standing friendship between Steve and Jaime. Steve felt a sadness building in the pit of his stomach and he urged the car faster.
Steve brought the car to a stop at the end of the long dirt driveway. He spotted a car through the densely treed lot with his bionic eye. As they exited the car he also scanned the windows of the cabin for movement. There was none. Maybe we are too late. “Let’s walk from here,” he directed. “Rudy, do you think Jaime already knows where here?”
“Maybe not. If she is that confused she may not even remember she has a bionic hearing.”
As they trotted to the cabin Rudy made sure the sedative-filled syringe was ready. He and Oscar followed Steve to the front door which stood open inviting any passers-by to enter. Steve walked cautiously inside followed closely by the others. The sun was setting and they would lose the light in an hour or so. As luck would have it a full moon would be hung tonight helping their situation. Steve waved for his friends to follow him upstairs whispering that Jaime’s room was upstairs at the back of the cabin. Although they tried to walk quietly the groaning, aged lumber beneath their feet refused to cooperate.
Jaime heard voices. These were different from the voices that had been whispering to her recently. One voice sounded terribly familiar but she couldn’t place it. She heard the creaking of wood in an ascending pattern. They were coming to get her. There was no where to hide. She felt like a trapped animal. Sitting silently on the floor of her old bedroom with her back against a small window seat, she faced the locked door with the gun cocked and pointed toward whoever should enter. She would not let them get her.
Steve’s heart pounded in his chest so loud he thought everyone could hear it in the deadly silence of the cabin. He knew he would find her in her room.
He began to question, ‘What would he do if she was armed and prepared to defend herself? What if she already used the weapon on herself?’ Steve forced the horrifying thought from his head. They were moving slowly down the hall to the second door on the left. It was the only one that was closed. That confirmed Steve’s suspicions. Rudy and Oscar glanced at on another relieved that they had included Steve in their search. Steve assumed Jaime had already heard their approach with or without her bionic hearing.
He held up his hand for his friends to stop half way down the hall. No need for her to feel outnumbered. Standing with his back against the wall next to the doorframe Steve reached across the doorway and gently tried the doorknob with his left hand…locked. He called her name praying she would recognize his voice and respond, “Jaime? It’s Steve are you in there?”
They waited but there was nothing. “Jaime please talk to me.” Silence was the response he received. Steve looked back at Rudy and Oscar over his shoulder and shrugged. Feeling no threat he turned to face the wall reach across the door for the doorknob with his right hand. He honestly never thought Jaime could ever be so irrational as to point a gun at anyone, especially him. He slowly turned the knob breaking the age-worn lock. ‘Please don’t let her be dead’, he thought. He slowly opened the door and once again tried to make contact. “Jaime it’s me, Steve.”
A loud gunshot was deafening to all on the second floor. Steve immediately felt the burning sensation in his right side. Oscar and Rudy watched the scene as if it was in slow motion. The impact of the bullet threw Steve’s body into the wall across from the half open doorway. Steve bent forward and gasped but remained on his feet. He grabbed at the wound with his right hand and felt the blood already oozing outward. His friends initiated steps to reach him when Steve eyes and free hand both came up to halt them in their tracks. They both witnessed him trying to subdue the pain. His eyes returned to the bedroom where they fell upon a terrified woman sitting on the floor pointing a .38 revolver in his direction with trembling hands. Steve took a long shuddering breath and tried to calm himself for what had to be done. Ignoring his pain he slowly made steps into the doorway hoping she would not fire a second time. She stared wide-eyed at him. He could see her blue eyes were weary and clouded with tears. She seemed torn between firing a second shot and allowing him to step closer. Steve was hoping for the later.
Oscar and Rudy remained out of sight but not out of earshot. Relocating to just outside the door they stood ready to intervene. Rudy stood staring at the bloody bullet hole in the wall in front of him. As he listened to Steve interacting with Jaime he realized she was not the only one on borrowed time here.
Steve entered the room cautiously and Jaime frantically slid back into a corner. Steve left a bloody ribbon as he slid along the wall opposite her before allowing gravity to slowly introduce his backside to the floor. He kept his raspy voice calm and reassuring. “I hope you don’t mind if I sit down. I suddenly feel very tired. You know what I mean Jaime?” He thought if he used her name enough times he might connect with her on some level.
“I bet you understand since it looks like you haven’t had much sleep lately either. Have you Jaime?” He eyed her intently for any subtle signs of recognition.
Her only response was to keep the gun pointed at him. He shifted his weight a few times to the left moving along the wall closer to the corner across from her. He continued his one-sided conversation mostly to let Rudy and Oscar know he was still working the problem. Jaime could not silence the voices whispering in her head. With her hands still shaking she accidentally fired towards him again. Steve felt the bullet wiz past his head and imbed itself in the wall. Rudy and Oscar began to move in when they heard Steve’s voice. He wanted them to remain out of sight. There was no telling what she would do with the gun or her bionics if she felt out numbered. Steve knew he was in no condition to defend himself let alone Oscar and Rudy.
“Jaime, look at me! I’m the only one here. Now quit firing that gun in the house!!” He expended a significant amount of his limited energy as he tried to sound like her father when he scolded her for throwing things in the house.
She snapped her eyes towards him and they made eye contact. Steve went with it knowing they were both running out of time. With another ragged breath he began to talk as he looked about the room. He hoped the reminiscence would strengthen his connection to bring her back to the present. The moonlight began to filter into the room through the dirt-hazed window.
“Your room looks almost the same Jaime. I can see where your dresser stood against the wall over there. The paint is darker.” He sensed her relax a bit. “There was your desk”, and then he pointed to the wall to her left, “There was the headboard of your bed. See the silhouette Jaime?”
Jaime blinked and turned her head to view the wall. Steve thought it would have been his chance to jump across the 12 feet between them and grab the gun but he was too weak from blood loss for stunts like that so he just slid closer to her. When she looked back towards him he was now sitting only 6 feet from her with his back against the same window seat she was at when she shot him. He now faced the doorway. Out of the corner of his eye he watched her fingering the weapon. She didn’t look afraid anymore, just very sad. As she looked up at him the tears flowed freely down her cheeks. She looked distracted, as if she was hearing a separate conversation in her head.
He reminded himself of the time passing and glanced at his watch. An hour had passed since they had arrived. He looked down at his wound and was relieved to see the bleeding had slowed considerably. He saw her move in his periphery. She was moving the gun to her head. He fought off the panic that suddenly rose within him and forced himself to be calm. ‘We’ve come this far dammit, we are leaving here together.’ He knew Oscar and Rudy were probably ready to burst into the room if he didn’t speak soon.
“Jaime please put the gun down. I know you hate guns as much as I do. We’ve been best friends since my first day in third grade. Remember when we first met Jaime?” He looked straight at her and was rewarded when her eyes met his. He chuckled at the recollection. “I remember you were a tomboy. You were wearing light blue pants and a light pink blouse with roses on it.” He saw he held her attention and was relieved to see the gun back on her lap.
‘Keep talking Steve. The more she pays attention to you the less she pays attention to the voices in her head.’ His thoughts mirrored Rudy’s outside the room.
A whisper came from her lips, “They were tulips”.
Shocked, Steve looked at her and she was staring at the gun. Overjoyed at finally hearing her voice Oscar and Rudy sighed in unison that this situation may finally be ending. Rudy placed his hand in his pocket fingering the syringe.
Looking around the room again Steve continued, “I remember spending many hours in this room. Remember that July 4th weekend? We lied and told our parents we finished our chores so we could go watch the fireworks and the next morning we got up before dawn to get them done before they found out we lied.” He paused but there was no response. “That was a close one. I felt so guilty when your mother came in with her famous chocolate chip cookies telling us what wonderful kids we were. I still say both our mothers knew we lied and they were trying to make us feel guilty and confess. Anyway we never did get to eat the cookies since your dog, what’s-his-name, ate them for us.” He sighed and rested his head against the wooden seat behind him. He suddenly felt very sleepy.
“Rags,” She said softly.
“What?” His head snapped forward.
“My dog’s name was rags.” Her eyes met his and they looked a little clearer. He took his shot.
“Jaime it’s getting awfully late. We need to go home. Will you come with me?” He moved closer and she hesitated.
“They say I can’t leave.”
“The voices in my head,” She acted like this was a normal experience for her.
“Jaime would you like me to get rid of those voices that are bothering you?”
“Yes. I don’t like what they make me do.” She eyed his blood-soaked shirt.
“Okay Jaime,” He knelt in front of her. “But I’ll need help. I have two friends outside who can help us.”
“Jaime you need to trust me. You know deep down inside that I would never, ever let anyone hurt you.” She looked at him unsure.
“Wasn’t I the one who took the blame for breaking your parent’s dining room window when you threw a baseball threw it? Wasn’t I the one who covered for you at the senior class dance when you wanted to leave with the quarterback? Wasn’t I the one who rescued you after you ran away from home and broke your ankle?” All the time Jaime was crying and nodding her affirmations.
She let him place his right hand on the gun and slowly lift it from her lap. As he moved it behind his back he squeezed it into an unrecognizable lump of metal. With a hand on each arm he pulled her to his chest as she sobs uncontrollably. “It’s going to be okay I promise. I have to ask my friends to come in here, okay?” She nods against his chest.
“Rudy I need you.” He squeezed out between ragged breaths.
Oscar and Rudy slowly entered the room and saw them in each other’s arms. Jaime held onto Steve tightly as they both stood on unsteady legs. Steve nods to Rudy to come closer as he holds Jaime’s head to his chest so she doesn’t notice the syringe. The doctor quickly delivers the sedative as Steve heaves a sigh of relief. He turns with her and exits the room. He asks over his shoulder, “How long Rudy?”
“She’ll be out in 20 minutes.”
“Let’s get her to the car.” Oscar says as they move down the stairs.
At the AFB hospital Steve awakes to find Jaime sitting in a wheelchair next to his bed. He blinks and tries to figure out how long he has been there. Jaime reads his thoughts, “12 hours”.
“According to Rudy we both were unconscious when we arrived here last night.”
Steve thought back and remembered the whole terrifying ordeal.
“Steve I am so sorry.” Her eyes welled up with tears.
“Jaime its okay I don’t blame you. I know you weren’t in your right mind. I’m just glad it all turned out okay.” His speech was slowing as he faded back to sleep.
She smiled at his sleeping form. His face was so peaceful. She held his hand. Even though she couldn’t remember what it was like to be in love with him she understood how easily it might have happened. He was a true knight in shining armor. He risked his life to save her. She had no doubt as to how deeply he cared for her. She wondered how quickly she could fall in love with this charming, handsome man again.