Early Wednesday morning, Rudy met with Oscar in his office to bring the results of Steve’s latest physical.
“So?” Oscar asked expectantly.
“He’s in perfect health. He has the green light to go on his next mission,” Rudy reported with an approving nod of the head as he handed Oscar the folder.
“That’s a relief. I didn’t expect him back on his feet so soon after this last incident.” He flipped open the folder and skimmed over the file.
“Steve’s been through the ringer before and always managed to bounce back fine.”
“That’s true.” His reading was interrupted by a buzz on his desk. “Yes Callahan?”
“Mister Goldman, Agent Hayden on line 2,” came the filtered voice over the intercom.
“Thank you.” He picked up the phone. “Richard, what have you got?”
“Nothing. We combed everywhere she was reported being seen. No one heard or saw anything unusual.”
“Alright. Well keep on it. I expect another report in six hours.”
“You got it.”
Oscar returned the receiver into its cradle and stared at it absentmindedly.
Rudy cocked his head to study his friend’s expression. The vacant look translated into bad news. “No sign of her yet?”
Rudy’s question broke into Oscar’s deep thoughts. “No. It’s like she vanished into thin air.”
“Are you going to tell Steve?”
“Why should I tell him?”
“Because he and Cassandra are best friends.”
“Steve is acquainted with many other agents but I don’t go about informing him of their whereabouts.”
“This is different and you know it.”
“No I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?” Oscar griped on an implying tone.
“I don’t know anymore than you do.”
Oscar looked askance at Rudy who reciprocated with a hard stare. The rising tension was momentarily severed by Callahan’s announcement of Steve’s arrival to which Oscar responded without averting his gaze from Rudy.
“Good morning Oscar,” Steve greeted his boss before turning to Rudy. “Hi Rudy! Are you sitting in on this meeting?”
“No I was just leaving,” he replied sullenly. He shot Oscar a contemptuous look before exiting the office.
“Hum is it my imagination of is the good doctor in a churlish mood this morning?” Steve observed.
“He’s a bit sore because one of his projects is not getting the proper funding.”
“Ah!” Steve ambled over to the bar to pour himself a cup of coffee.
At that moment, Oscar received another call from Hayden who reported a possible lead in Cassie Miller’s disappearance. “Good job! Don’t lose it. I’ll be at my office all day. You have any news no matter how insignificant you deem it to be, you contact me.”
“Trouble?” Steve asked breezily as he walked back to Oscar’s desk.
“Yeah. A missing agent abroad.”
“Who is it?” Steve asked out of idle curiosity before taking a sip of coffee.
Oscar differed telling Steve about his agent 35’s disappearance but his sustained silence only contributed in arising Steve’s suspicions. “Oscar?” Steve’s eyes narrowed with annoyance as he moved closer to the desk. “Who is it?”
“It’s Cassandra Miller,” Oscar huffed out in defeat.
“Cassie? What happened?”
“That’s just it, pal. We don’t know. I dispatched a team of my best agents to track her down. Hayden just called with a possible lead as to her last whereabouts.”
“Chengdu in China where she was sent on mission two weeks ago. She was reporting to us every twenty-four hours until five days ago when she broke all contact.”
“Five days?” Steve scorned, his face flushing with indignation. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Steve you were recovering from a serious gunshot wound. Besides what can you do?”
“What can I do?” He angrily plonked his cup down on the desk. “I can go look for her that’s what I can do.”
“Absolutely not. I need you right here for your next mission.”
“The hell with the mission I’m going after her.”
“Steve! I will not…”
“Where was her last location?” Steve interjected abruptly, leaving no room for argument. When Oscar remained tight-lipped, Steve shot him a crazed look with lips curled up in suppressed fury. “Fine! I’ll fetch that information myself.” He crossed to the door with a thunderous step.
“Steve, are you in love with her?”
Steve swirled around and speared his boss with a withering glare. “Why are you asking me that question?” he snarled with a voice dripping with spite.
“I love her, yes. Aside from you and Rudy she’s the best friend I ever had. I resent the insinuation that there might be anything more than a platonic relationship.”
“All the signs are there, pal.”
“Your signs maybe, not mine”
Oscar sighed and sank into his chair. Steve turned around and stepped up to the door. His hand was on the knob when he heard his boss issue the warning, “I could make it an order.”
Steve summoned of his fortitude to suppress the growing urge to pulverize the doorknob with his hand. He took a deep breath to quell the anger rising within him before lowering at Oscar.
“But I won’t. Come back here. I’ll fill you in.”
SOMEWHERE IN CHENGDU…
I was lying supine in my bed in deep concentration with my hands laced behind my head, my eyes raking every inch of the room for the umpteenth time in search of a mean of escaping the ostentatiously furnished bedroom that had been my prison for the last four days. The barred windows were heavily boarded up, allowing a mere glimmer of sunlight to filter into the room and the ventilation shaft was too narrow for a hundred-twenty-five-pound body to squeeze through.
I swung my legs on the floor and stood to amble over to the window. A flickering smile hung on my lips at the touch of the cold iron bar against the palm of my right hand. “34 I would really need your help right about now,” I soughed despondently. “I really made a mess of things. I can’t figure out where I went wrong,” I pondered aloud. “I was heedful not to attract attention to myself. Made sure I was never followed. There had to be a snitch at the hotel. Then again who could have known who I was?” The jingling of keys abruptly interrupted my train of thoughts. The door opened and in came the head honcho flanked by his two beefy goons.
“Miss Miller I trust the accommodations are satisfactory?” he asked with a voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Oh yes. Five stars. However room service stinks,” I hit back with a crushing cynicism.
“I apologize for this inconvenience but it’s the best I could offer to someone who’s caused me so much grief.”
“This is only the beginning, de Rossi,” I threatened with bitter resentment.
He let out an amused snigger as he casually stepped up to me, hands folded behind his back. “You are lovely but impudent. I see your mother has failed to inculcate you with lady-like manners.”
“And was it your mother who taught you how to slaughter innocent souls?” I taunted back.
His face flushed with indignation at my bold comment. “She raised me to think for myself. My family was ground down by years of abject poverty. I rose out of that misery by my sheer wits and determination. I aimed to be a world power and I achieved my goal. Now that I’m on top I intend to stay there.”
“By stepping on anyone standing in your way?”
“Exactly. But I draw the line at killing women.”
“Well, how fortunate for me,” I mocked. “I doubt you’re just going to set me free.”
“You’re right. I like your spunk Miss Miller. Your razor-sharp skills could benefit my organization. I could use a mind like yours to increase my worldwide relations.”
“I will never cooperate with you, de Rossi.”
“That goes without saying.” He returned to the door to stand between his two burly bodyguards. “Once we’re through with the brainwashing you’ll be my humble servant.” He looked at me lecherously, making my skin crawl. “I certainly am looking forward to that.” He turned and left the room with his two hulky men.
In the hallway, de Rossi instructed his henchman to have the jet ready to take off for Amsterdam in two hours.
Back in America, Oscar reviewed the itinerary with Steve as he prepared to board a military plane bound for Europe.
“From there, you board a flight that will take you clear across to continent to Chengdu where you will land a Chi-Ung-Lai airfield. I asked Richard Hayden to meet you there and he’ll fill you in on the rest.”
“Okay,” Steve acknowledged and then folded the sheet to slip into his shirt pocket.
“Good luck Steve.”
Steve clasped the offered hand to give it a grateful handshake. “Thanks for letting go.”
“You didn’t exactly leave me any choice,” Oscar remarked with a smirk.
Steve flashed him his trademark lopsided grin. “I’ll bring her back.”
“I know you will. Have a safe trip. You report to me every twelve hours”
“Will do,” Steve saluted and boarded the jet.
De Rossi had my room permeated with a gas that rendered me unconscious in minutes. When the fumes dissipated, he ordered his two goons to go in with gas masks and carry me down to the limousine waiting to drive us to the nearest airfield, where his personal jet was undergoing a last check-up for the flight to Amsterdam.
I was barely conscious, swimming in a drug-induced haze, when they carried me to the jet and lay me down on a bed. I tried to struggle against the hands groping me to secure my wrists and ankles with leather straps.
When the aircraft reached its cruising altitude, I felt my arms and legs being released from their bonds. I blinked open my eyes to focus on the man hovering over me. “Hi there!” he greeted with a fake smile. “How are you feeling?”
As I slowly raised myself into a sitting position I grunted at the unbearable throb in my head. I asked for a glass of water when a wave of nausea threatened to spurt out. He poured me a glassful and assisted me in drinking a few sips.
“You’re welcomed,” he answered obligingly.
“Who are you?”
“Does it matter?”
“I thought since we were travelling together it would be nice to get acquainted. I’m sure you already know my name?” I breathed out with exhaustion as I fought to keep my eyes wide open.
“Of course. OSI Agent, Cassandra Miller. You will make a fine addition to our family.”
“I take it you work for de Rossi?”
“I’m his courier. Aside from insuring your safe arrival in Amsterdam he entrusted me with a very important mission.”
“To contact his associate with a list of his new agents.”
“You mean brainwashed agents?” I corrected sardonically.
“Whatever,” he shrugged then returned to resume his seat in an armchair across from my bed.
“Are you one of those guinea pigs?”
“No. I’m Terry de Rossi. Quinn is my big brother.”
“How nice! A family business.”
“That’s why it’s thriving.”
“I should warn you that I underwent a special training. Whatever brainwashing methods you intend to employ, you can never render me submissive. I’ll die first.”
“We’ll see,” he said with a sneer.
I heaved an aggravated sigh and looked out the window at the numerous snow-covered peaks. “We’re flying over the Himalayan Mountains, aren’t we?”
“That’s right. You scared?” he teased.
I shot him a glare before I lay down on the bed. Seconds later, the plane hit an air pocket that thrust Terry and I onto the floor. His gun shot out of his holster and landed at my feet. With lightning speed, I snatched the weapon off the floor and trained it on my enemy. “You go back to your seat nice and easy.” I eyed his every move until he resumed his seat. As I planned my next move, a second jostle had us both crashing to the floor. I managed to hang on to the gun and kept my prisoner at bay. As I risked a peek out the window my heart leapt to my throat at the sight unfolding before my eyes. The plane was obviously flying too close to the mountaintops. “Does this pilot know what he’s doing?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Look outside,” I motioned to the window next to him. “We’re dangerously close to crashing against one of those peaks.”
“He knows this region. He’ll navigate around them,” Terry assured. “Well Miss Miller. I do believe you are trembling.”
“You’re right. I….” I cut in mid sentence when a loud grating sound coming from below triggered an adrenalin rush. Before I knew it the plane plummeted towards a small plateau. The seconds felt like hours as I braced myself for the emergency crash landing. A loud thud resounded in my head then…nothing.
Upon his arrival at Chi-Ung-Lai airfield, Steve was met with Richard Hayden who had a car waiting to drive them to the Jinjiang Hotel. Hayden gave Steve the latest report on Cassie’s whereabouts before taking the wheel.
“A janitor at the Jinjiang Hotel where she was staying remembered seeing her exit the lobby with two sharply-dressed men. All three stepped into a limousine and drove towards east. He noted that she appeared somewhat surly at having to follow them.”
“Very good observation. Did you check him out? Is he on the level?” Steve asked without lifting his eyes from the file.
“Yeah. He gave us a sketchy description of the two Caucasians. We sent a composite to the OSI branch office for identification. We should get the results in late afternoon.”
“That’s good work.”
“I’m staying in the same room at the hotel. I combed it from top to bottom hoping to find a clue she might have left behind. If she did I assume the maid probably got rid of it.”
“Maybe. Maybe not,” Steve pondered aloud. “Cassie’s always heedful to cover her tracks. I wonder what went wrong.” Steve struggled to curb the flow of emotions simmering beneath the surface as his mind pictured the worse case scenario.
“Say Steve, mind if I ask you a question?” Richard asked casually, breaking into Steve’s stream of consciousness.
“I was wondering if you and Miller…well…you know…if you two are going together or anything?”
“You mean if we’re an item?”
“Yeah,” Richard answered, slightly ill at ease by his forwardness.
“No we’re not. We’re merely good friends.”
“The reason I’m asking is that I kind of want to ask her out on a date.”
“I think that’s wonderful.”
“Yeah? You’re okay with it?”
“Why should I disapprove?”
“Well word is you two are very protective of each other.”
“Protective not possessive.”
“Do you honestly believe she’ll go for a guy like me?”
“Why not? Listen I’ll try to put in the good word for you once we find her because we are going to find her.”
Richard veered off to the left to take the turn to the hotel. They both stepped out of the car and Richard handed the key to the parking attendant before he and Steve entered the lobby to go up to his room.
No sooner had they set foot into the room that Steve went straight for the dresser. “Did you check the back of the drawers?”
“Yes I did. Nothing.”
Steve adjusted his telephoto lens to scan every inch of the room. He squinted when his eye came to rest upon a tiny scratch mark in a corner of the wall. He zoomed in on the number ‘35’. With a knowing grin on his face he stepped up to the wall and squatted down to lift the carpet. Underneath was a neatly folded tiny piece of paper. “I think I have something Richard.”
“What is it?”
“A message from 35.”
“Sorry. Long story.”
“What does it say?”
“It’s written in code.” Steve noted the initials ‘PB’ in the upper right corner of the sheet. “Phone book. Is there a phone book around here? Preferably in English?”
“Yeah sure.” Richard opened the top drawer of the nightstand to retrieve the telephone directory that he handed over to Steve. “There you go. What do you want it for?”
Steve sat behind the desk and flattened out my message. “To decipher the code.” He reached in the top left drawer to pull out a large sheet of paper that he placed in front of him. He began scribbling down a series of letters and numbers at random that had Richard very puzzled.
“What are you doing?”
“It’d be too long to explain.” He wrote down on his sheet of paper the number 823 above the letters ‘VZX’ of the message. ‘V’ was the 22nd letter of the alphabet; ‘Z’ the 26th and ‘S’ the 24th. Steve opened the phone book at page 823 and read the first phone number at the top right started with: 239. He took the ‘2’ and subtracted it to the ‘22’ under the ‘V’, which corresponded to the letter ‘T’ ‘20’ that he marked down at the bottom of his sheet. He proceeded to subtract the ‘3’ from the ‘26’, which corresponded to the letter ‘W’ ‘23’. He did the same with the last digit ‘9’ that he subtracted from the number ‘24’ which was ‘0’ ‘19’. The first word was ‘TWO’.
Thirty minutes trickled down before Steve claimed victory. “Bingo! The address is two-fifty-Two Chieng-Ling Street.”
“That’s not far from here.”
Steve stood from the desk, stuffed both papers inside his shirt pocket and followed Richard out the door.
They reached their destination within ten minutes. They parked across the street from the address.
“That’s a dry cleaners!” Richard observed with puzzlement.
“Must be a front. You stay here I’ll go check it out.”
Steve stepped out of the car, looked both ways of the busy street before jostling his way through the throng of pedestrians crowding the sidewalk. Entering the run-of-mill establishment he made his way to the counter. After greeting the clerk in the traditional bow of the head, he casually asked for a list of the services offered with the price tags. The clerk excused himself to step into the back store leaving Steve to scan the premises with his telephoto lens. He quickly spotted three tiny holes in the walls behind which were hidden surveillance cameras. Once he was handed the leaflet, he returned to the car.
“So?” Richard queried with expectation.
“It’s a front alright. I spotted three surveillance cameras in the wall. Now what would a tiny dry cleaners need with such a sophisticated security system?” Steve wondered. “I doubt robbers would risk a jail sentence over smelly old shirts and crumpled pants.”
“Do you think Miller could be in there?”
“I don’t think so. My guess is that’s where she made a blunder and they caught it on tape. Or maybe they recognized her from somewhere. They wouldn’t be foolish enough to hide her where we are most likely to search first. Whoever’s behind those walls probably already cleared out the furniture leaving the concealed cameras behind. But it’s worth to check. Let’s go back to the hotel. I’ll notify Oscar in my room just in case yours is tapped.”
I lay prostrate on a thin blanket of fresh powdered snow when an icy cold gale force wind came to jar me out of unconsciousness. A formidable pounding headache met me at the gate of awareness. I moaned and groaned in pain as I struggled to pry open my eyelids. A shiver coursed through my spine as the biting cold hand of Mother Nature slapped my battered body. I painfully pushed myself up on my hands and rolled to sit on the wet hard ground where I took a few seconds to breathe away the fainting spell washing over me. I blinked heavily to dispel the haze blurring my vision and began assessing the situation. A few yards to my right sat the plane carcass.
“Plane crash,” I rasped out. “I must have been thrown out.” I held my head with one hand and pushed myself up with the other. I teetered to my feet and staggered towards the wreck to check for any survivors. The high altitude made it difficult to draw deep breaths, not to mention the strong winds that added a debilitating weight to my unsteady gait.
I dove to my knees and crawled through a tiny opening in the torn fuselage. Once inside the crushed frame I searched for my travelling companion I saw hunched over two seats. His body lying at a bad angle and the blood oozing from his face told me of his sealed fate. I dragged myself onto the floor over to him to check his pulse, which surprisingly registered a strong beat.
I went to check on the pilot. He was sitting in a pool of his own blood still strapped to his seat. He must have died on impact. I removed his headphones and put them on. I tried to work out the radio to send an SOS. It was dead. No sound, no static…nothing. I returned to the back of the plane to check on Terry.
“Hey, de Rossi,” I tried to goad him awake by tugging at his sleeve. “Get back here. Come on, wake up!” My coaxing was rewarded by a faint moan. “Come on! You’re not dead.” I stretched out my arm to pulled at a blanket stuck underneath the bed. I mantled his shivering battered shell with it before I tore off the edge of my shirt to make a makeshift bandage around his bleeding forehead. The numbing cold was gradually nipping at my limbs while I toiled away at tending to my patient’s numerous wounds. I didn’t need a trained physician to tell me this man was knocking on death’s door.
As Terry slowly regained consciousness, the moans grew into groans. The light flashing in his photosensitive eyes triggered a bout of coughing during which he spat steaks of blood. The signs were indicative of massive internal haemorrhage. I managed to yank open the tiny refrigerator door to take out a bottle of water. I assisted Terry is taking a few sips.
“Thanks,” he heaved out. “Why…why are you doing this?”
“Taking care of me. I’m dying; you’re free. You can go.”
“Go where? We’re in the middle of the mountains, away from any civilization.”
“He’s dead. So is the radio. But the airport tower must have a fix on our location. They’ll dispatch a search party.” I leaned my weary body against the bed as I struggled to draw in breaths. Little did I know that my forehead had a deep gash that was sweating trickles of blood. One streak eventually dripped into my eye, prompting me to poke at the injury that made me wince in pain. I ripped off a strip of fabric off my shirtsleeve to gently dab at the blood. During the task I casually glanced out the window to see the sun setting over the mountain peaks.
“Guess we’ll be spending the night together, de Rossi.”
“How ro…romantic,” he rasped out in a semi-conscious state.
“Got any sleeping bags, blankets, quilts, anything warm?”
I heaved out a shuddering breath and then crawled over to the back of the plane to rummage through the compressed cargo hold in search of anything that could be fashioned into a blanket to keep us warm come sundown, when the weather will drastically drop below freezing temperatures. As I went about my task I casually broached the subject of my capture.
“I’m curious to know about something.”
“How did you find me out? I was careful not to let anything transpire.”
“Som…some…someone from our org…organisation recognized you at the cle…cleaners.”
Terry remained silent as the fear of betraying his brother’s trust chilled him to the marrow.
“Come on, you can tell me. There’s no one around.”
“A man by…by the name of Pete Marteen.”
Shock registered on my face at the name of this trusted OSI agent. “My God that can’t be. Are you sure about the name?”
He nodded feebly. “Water.”
I crawled back over to him to bring the bottle of water to his lips. “Is he a tall brown-haired man with brown eyes?” I quizzed to make sure there was no mistake as to the identity of the man.
“Yeah, that’s him.”
“That means that bastard’s a double agent!” I spewed out between clenched teeth.
Back in chengdu, Steve was on the phone to Oscar relaying the latest findings when Richard went to answer a knock on the door. It was an OSI messenger bringing the results of the composite match.
“Oscar, hold on. We just received the results of the identification.” Richard pulled out the sheets from the large envelope and placed it on the desk in front of Steve. Both studied the report, taking in the bold prints. “Oscar we got it. Their names are Patton McCulloch and Alexander Grieco.” Steve reacted to the last name. “Grieco, didn’t he used to work for us?
“Yes he did. He was teamed with Pete Marteen on many missions before he was kicked out of the organization?”
“Marteen? Would you know of his whereabouts?”
“Not off hand but I can check. Why?”
“No particular reason. Just want to cover all bases. Grieco must have been the one who recognized her.”
“I doubt that. He was fired before Cassandra ever joined the OSI.”
“Then all the more reason to investigate Marteen.”
“I’ll get right on it. Any lead on Cassandra?”
“Not yet. But she’s still alive.”
“How do you know that?”
“Call it a gut feeling.”
In the hush of night, Steve was sleeping bare-chested on his stomach when his peaceful slumber was suddenly overtaken by horrid images of a plane crash. He startled awake and drew in a deep breath to fill in his lungs before rolling onto his back. He yawned his head off and he rubbed his strain eyes with his fingers. He propped his head in one hand and stared vacantly at the ceiling while his mind tried to summon the details of his dream.
He turned to the night table and fixed his gaze on the phone, debating whether or not to call Oscar with his outlandish request. ‘This is silly,’ he thought to himself. ‘Then again.’ He rolled over on his side and picked up the receiver to dial Oscar’s number.
In Washington, Oscar was on his way out to lunch when Steve’s call came through. He tossed his jacket onto the back of chair and walked back to his desk to pick up the phone. “Oscar Goldman.”
“Oscar? It’s Steve.”
“Steve!” He sat in his chair to brace himself for bad news. “Anything wrong?”
“I’m not sure. I just woke up with a strange notion in my mind.”
“What is it?”
“It may be silly but I feel the need to follow through on this just in case it leads anywhere. Could you run a check on all chartered aircrafts reported missing in the last forty-eight hours? Somewhere in the vicinity of mountains; I’m thinking the Himalayas.”
Oscar jogged down Steve’s request on a pad. “Sure. Any particular reason?”
“Call it a gut feeling. I just had a dream about a plane crash and somehow I feel it’s tied to our missing agent.”
“Do you suspect de Rossi’s men took her out of China?”
“That’s exactly what I think, Oscar. I know it’s a long shot but right now it’s the only thing we have to go on.”
“Alright. I’ll have Danny on it and I’ll contact you as soon as I have the results. Will you be at the hotel?”
“Yeah, I’ll wait for your call.”
“Alright. Now get back to sleep.”
“Yes Mother,” Steve grumbled before he lazily put the receiver back into its cradle. He rolled onto his back and heaved a sigh of despair. “35, where are you?”
Dawn was breaking in the horizon sending the first sunrays beaming through the plane’s window. The warm light tickled at my nose, goading me to open my eyes. The moment I became aware of my surroundings, I started to shiver. I was chilled to the marrow curled up in a ball. How I managed to fall asleep in the first place was beyond me. I stretched out my frozen limbs very gingerly for fear to tear off a muscle or crack a bone. I gently massaged the feeling back into my legs before I hazarded a push upward to stand on my feet. My thin polyester-made blanket provided little warmth but I nevertheless wrapped my upper body in it as I went to check on de Rossi. His livid complexion and deathly stillness were definite signs that he had rendered the ghost during the night.
I cleaned out his pockets of his personal items, hoping to find a microfilm of the list of agents he was bringing to his brother. I glanced on the floor and noticed an attaché case. I crouched down to open it and rummaged through its content. There was a false bottom but nothing of great significance was concealed. I nevertheless decided to fold the sheets and bring them with me. Before slapping the attaché case close, I caught sight of an odd looking clasp embedded in a corner of the frame. When I pulled it, out came a minuscule capsule. In it was a microfilm. I smiled inwardly at my stroke of luck and slid the capsule inside my shirt pocket.
I emptied the tiny refrigerator of its content and stuffed it all inside a duffle bag as fast as my numbed fingers would let me. I picked up de Rossi’s blanket and stuffed it in the bag along with the rest and slipped outside where I took a few minutes to warm my frozen body in the sunshine. While the numbing sensation was slowly wearing out I busied myself gathering twigs to use as markers on my path down to lower grounds where planes would be able to better locate me. It was obvious that the high altitude and strong winds were preventing any search party to fly over the crash site.
I had been walking nearly three hours straight when I finally took a respite to change the bandage around my head and nibble on some cold cuts and a slice of bread. Knowing this would be a long trek down I had to rationed what little food I had. Thankfully the sun was providing enough warmth to replenish my energy. After twenty minutes I resumed my journey.
Halfway down a steep hill, I skidded on a rock and twisted my ankle. I sledged the rest of the way down on my buttocks, heedful not to injure myself even more. When I reached the bottom of the slope, I sat on the ground an examined my ankle.
“Ah crap! Just what I needed,” I huffed out with annoyance. While rubbing my sore ankle, I scanned the surroundings in hopes to pick out a road or a trodden path that I could safely follow back to civilization. Instead I spotted what appeared to be the wreck of an airplane. I squinted to establish clear focus but the icy cold winds kept building up humour in my eyes. I drove another twig into the ground before I limped on toward my discovery. The pain in my ankle shooting up my leg hindered my pace. I stopped to pick up a branch to use as a clutch before pressing on.
Nearing the carcass severed in two my heart leapt to my throat upon noticing the name written on the side of the plane: ‘My Little Girl’. “My God! It’s the plane that Steve’s father piloted during the war.” I hobbled along to the other side to see the tiny wooden cross placed over a pile of rocks. I gently lowered myself onto the ground and sat on one leg to contemplate Carl Austin’s grave, remembering how Steve himself had buried his own father.
“What are the odds that I should crash in the same mountain?” I mused to myself. I heaved out a shivering breath and looked heavenwards. “Is this a sign?” I closed my eyes and prayed. “I think this is the end of the road for me. I’m already in the second stage of hypothermia. I can’t get warm enough. Knowing you’re here helps ease the pain of having to resign to my fate. I never thought I’d end up like this.” I opened my eyes to let the tears trickle down my cheeks. “My only regret is that I don’t get a chance to say goodbye to your son; he’s the best friend I ever had. I’d give my life to save his and I know he’d do the same for me.” I chuckled and shook my head. “Crazy Blue Eyes. A sweet and gentle man, he can raise Cain one minute and be meek as a lamb the next.” I smiled wistfully as I exhaled a long drawn-out sigh. “Take care of him.”