When Steve woke up, the first thing he felt was the cold surrounding him. It was everywhere, creeping into every corner. Taking a deep breath in order to drive away the fog that took his side and the dizziness, the icy air invaded his body. He could sense it make its way through his windpipe and finally fill his lungs, which immediately answered with a stitching pain.
Moving his head, he was overcome by nausea as his head and left shoulder sent waves of pain down his spine. He lay still and tried to concentrate on keeping his breath steady, watching clouds of condensation form as it met the cold. Steve glanced around and realized that he was lying in a small bed, located in a cabin with nothing but a thin blanked saving him from the freezing air. There was a fireplace to his left but only a little heap of ashes was left and judging from the temperature, it had to be extinct hours ago. Two dirty windows let only few light in.
After a minute he felt his respiration go steady and suddenly a terrifying thought crossed his mind. But to his surprise, he managed to lift his bionic arm a bid. He coiled himself up until he was weakly sitting on the bed. Trying to stand up, his legs gave out on him and he almost fell back on his knees, regaining his balance just in time. His legs were just on the edge of breaking down, he thought, but he succeeded in walking some steps, and leaning himself on the table, he waited until
the tremors in his legs subsided.
Steve still felt weak but decided to leave the cabin and take a look around, as he seemed to be all alone. He still didn’t know where he was or how he got here, he was in fact quite confused. Opening the door, a new wave of cold draw into the small room. He stumbled outside and tried to remember what might have brought him into this dilemma. He found himself amid a dense forest with only a small grown path leading toward the wooden house. Through the top of the trees, Steve could make out the sun. From its level, he estimated that noon had already passed and as it was winter, the light would disappear within the next two hours.
Weariness overwhelmed him and closing his eyes, memories began to flash in his mind. Among the pain in his head, there appeared a sudden fear and Steve felt as if his throat was tied up as he remembered...
Two weeks prior…
It was early afternoon when Steve drove back to his house after bidding Oscar farewell for the next two weeks. He was officially on holiday vacation and intended to make the most of it. Tomorrow he planned to shop till he dropped for his folks but for the rest of the today he was to lounge around in his living room in front of the television.
He was in his kitchen fixing himself a light snack when the doorbell rang. He bit a chunk out of his tuna fish sandwich, wiped his mouth clean on a napkin and walked over to answer the door. Before turning the knob he peeked out the window to identify his surprised visitor. His face broke into a wide grin at the sight of his old buddy Harry Donner.
“Why Harry Donner!”
“Steve! Old buddy!”
Both men felt into a bear hug and clapped each other heartily on the back.
“How you doing?”
“Fine. Come on in.” Steve widened the door to usher his friend in. “What bring you to Washington?”
“My folks. I’m here to spend the holidays with them.”
“Same with me. I’m flying to Ojai next week.”
“How are Helen and Jim?”
“Couldn’t be better. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. You want something to drink?”
“No thanks. I just drop by to say hi! and asked if you’d like to join me and some of the OSI guys to Montana next weekend. I want to bring you all ice fishing. My parents own a huge cottage up north and I thought it’d be great for all of us to get together. A weekend with the guys before Christmas.”
“When you say guys, who do you have in mind?”
“Besides you and me; Oscar, Rudy, Barney Hiller and Clark Templeton O’Flaherty.”
“O’Flaherty is coming?”
“Yep! And he’s mighty looking forward to it. Barney is in and Rudy is thinking about it. I haven’t got around to asking the boss yet.”
“It’d be good for him to get out of Washington.”
“I know. I intend to ask him tomorrow. So you’ll come?”
“Count me in. When is it?”
“We leave next Friday bright and early. We fly up to Montana and thereafter we drive up to Boulder.”
“I’ll call you this week with the exact itinerary” Harry made his way back to the door.
“Sure you don’t want to stay a bit and catch up? It’s been a while.”
“We’ll have plenty of time up there in the woods. See you on Friday, friend.” Harry shook Steve’s hand and walked back to his car.
The days breezed along with Steve hardly noticing, as he was busy shopping for the perfect gifts for his parents. It was one mare’s nest after the other. The sought after items were either too small, too big, in back order or outright ridiculous. Miraculously he managed to buy everything by Thursday afternoon. He spent the rest of the day shopping for his trip to Montana.
The next morning, the alarm clock jolted Steve out of sleep at 5:00AM. Without a moment’s hesitation he leapt out of bed and jumped into the shower to get ready for Harry’s arrival. He had showered, shaven and eaten by the time Harry showed up at the door to pick him up.
“Steve, you ready?”
“Just about.” Steve cast one last look around the house to insure every electrical appliance was unplugged and all the doors and windows bolted. He picked up his luggage and satchel and followed Harry out the door.
On the drive to the airport, the two friends idled the time away by catching up on the last year.
“It’s been one mission after the other. Hardly had time to take a breather than the next one awaited,” Steve explained with a touch of sullenness.
“Good ol’ Oscar. I sure keeps you on your toes.”
“I’m not really complaining. I like to keep on the move. It’s just that sometimes I feel I’m wearing myself thin and that life is passing me by,” Steve explained with a tinge of melancholia.
“I know what you mean, friend. That’s why I organized this little weekend getaway. It’s be good for all of us guys to just live it up.”
Steve cracked a lopsided smile at the thought of three carefree days of getting reacquainted with Mother Nature and drink in her cleansing aroma.
Minutes later they met with Oscar and Rudy at the airport. Clark and Barney had taken an early flight. They were given directions to the cottage and instructed to meet them there with coffee brewing.
Bundled up in warm winter attires, the four comrades ploughed their way through the fresh powdered snow up to the front door of the split-level western-style cottage. Barney Hiller and Clark O’Flaherty who offered to relieve them of their luggage as they crossed the threshold greeted them.
“Someone ought to sweep up that driveway. We almost drown in that heap of snow coming here,” Oscar squawked, bending over to catch his wind.
“Oscar we’re not here to get orders from you,” Barney retorted. “You don’t have any authority up here. You want something done you do it yourself.”
Clark, Harry and Rudy let out a chuckle at Oscar’s expenses. The boss flashed them an irritated look before joining in the fun. “I think I will do a little shovelling; snow that is, not legal papers.”
“Smells good,” Steve commented at the sweet coffee aroma wafted from the kitchen.
“Coffee’s on the stove. Want some?” Clark offered.
“I wouldn’t mind a cup.”
“Get out of your clothes first and make yourself comfy in the living room. We’ll bring you a cup.”
“We?” Steve asked quizzically.
“Hey 34! Good to see you!” Cassie greeted with ebullience as she walked out of the kitchen.
Steve reacted shockingly at his friend’s presence. “35? What are you doing here?”
Barney wrapped a friendly arm around her shoulders. “The little lady asked us if she could come with us.”
“Ask? More like blackmailed into it,” Cassie replied on a biting tone with her eyes narrowed in contempt.
“I thought this weekend was for guys only?”
“It is Stevie boy,” Barney answered. “But you know Cassie here’s considered one of the boys. She may not be built like a man,” he said while giving her a lecherous once-over, “ but she can make ‘em and break ‘em with the best of us.” Cassie elbowed Barney in the side before she stepped up to Steve.
“Let me take that from you 34.” She took Steve’s coat, scarf and mittens. “I’m here at your service to do the cooking, the cleaning and the serving.”
“35 come on! You’re not serious?”
“Sure I’m serious. It’s going to be fun waiting on six handsome bachelors. Well technically it’s five. Barney is married and not all that handsome,” she teased to throw the ball back into Barney’s court.
“Say you two when are you finally going to tell us the story behind this 34, 35 bit?” Harry queried.
“Forget it, Harry,” Oscar piped up. “It’s a lost cause. You’d have better luck breaking into the National Defense plans for a global warfare.”
“That tight, heh?” Clark pondered.
“Don’t you get any ideas, O’Flaherty,” Steve warned with a suspicious frown. “I’m keeping an eye on this little lady this weekend; make sure none of your corrupt her.
“Steve, buddy, come on! What do you take us for?” Barney bantered with an elfish wink directed at his partners in crime.
Steve shook his head in disbelief and followed Cassie into the kitchen.
“You’re disappointed, aren’t you? Cassie asked as she poured coffee into cups.
“That there’s a woman in your rat pack?”
“No on the contrary. I’m glad you’re here.”
“Really? You’re not just saying that to make me at ease? Because I can take care of myself. I knew what I was getting myself into when I accepted Harry’s invitation.”
“Harry invited you?”
“Yeah. To be honest I don’t think I would have agreed to come had it not been for the fact that you were going to be here. Aside from Oscar and Rudy I don’t know these guys.”
“I’m curious as to why he asked you in the first place?”
Cassie glanced over Steve’s shoulder to peer at the gang settling in the living room and then leaned over the counter. “I think he’s hoping you and I will get better acquainted over the weekend if you get my meaning,” she hinted with a wink.
“I don’t believe it,” Steve shook his head in despair.
“Didn’t you know there was a poll circulating at the OSI as to when you and I would finally get together romantically?”
“Where did you hear that?”
“I got wind of it by Callahan. She’s wired into everything. She denied having placed a bet but I have a feeling she squeezed in her own date as to when it would happen.”
Steve folded his arms on the kitchen counter and dropped his head heavily on them. Cassie reached out to him and playfully ruffled his hair. “Come on 34. We’ll humour them. Make them suffer a bit.”
“Now you’re talking my kind of revenge.” He gave her a mischievous smirk before taking the tray with the cups.
After feasting on Cassie’s gourmet dinner, the six friends adjourned to the living room for a friendly game of poker. The little lady ensured her men were satisfied in the way of drinks and snacks before she retreated to her room for the night.
“Well, that’s it for me guys. I trust you can manage without me?”
“Come on, stick around Miller. We might need you to replenish our mugs,” Barney joked.
Cassie crinkled her nose and sneered, “It won’t hurt you to get off your buns if that happens. You could stand to loose a few pounds,” she ribbed back.
The other men stifled their laughs at Cassie crisp witticism.
“I’ll be a good sport, though. If you should need me for an emergency…just whistle. You know how to do that, guys? Just pucker your lips and blow,” she finished with a syrupy voice and a sugary smile. “Goodnight.”
“She is one alluring siren,” Barney drooled as he watched her waltz to her bedroom.
“She’s off limits, Barney. Remember you’re married,” Steve reminded caustically with eyes focused on his cards.
“But you’re not, buddy.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“How long you and Miller have known each other now? Two, three years?”
“Two and a half,” Steve said nonchalantly as he raked the table for Oscar to deal him two other cards.
“I believe she’s the only chick at the OSI you haven’t dated.”
“So?” Harry piped in. “When are going to make your move?”
Steve rolled his eyes and let out of sigh thick with exasperation. “Speaking of moves, it’s your turn, Harry.”
Harry asked Oscar to deal him three cards.
“Cassie and I are just friends, nothing more. We have a brother-sister relationship,” Steve explained plainly. “Besides I already asked her a couple of times and she turned me down. Whose turn is it to bet?”
“Ummmmmm she’s playing hard to get,” Clark added in his grain of salt.
“O’Flaherty, it’s your turn. What do you bet?” Steve asked quickly to veer off topic.
“I bet ten.”
“He’s trying to change the subject here,” Harry needled Steve into retaliating.
“Oscar, Rudy, can you help me out here?” Steve begged with an expectant look.
Oscar and Rudy shook their heads. “Sorry, pal. You’re on your own,” Oscar spoke for Rudy.
“Alright, alright. We’ll lay off for now. But don’t think you’re off the hook.” Barney said before he folded.
“I’m out too,” Clark followed suit.
“I’m still in,” Harry said, tossing an extra ten dollars in the pot.
The friendly game of poker lingered well into the early hours of the morning. Before retiring to his room, Steve decided to talk a cleansing walk outside to clear the cobwebs away.
“Steve you’re crazy, man!” It’s below freezing out there!”
“I’ll be okay, Harry. I won’t stray far. I just need to get some lungful of fresh air before I hit the hay.”
Steve donned his ski jacket, boots, hat and mittens and headed out in the cold.
“He seems upset,” Harry observed with concern.
“I should have warned you that Cassandra Miller is a touchy subject. He deeply cares about that woman but not in the way you think. He doesn’t like to be teased about their relationship. I should know.”
“Then I guess the mistletoes are out of the question?” Clark said rhetorically.
“Definitely,” Oscar agreed.
“I’ll go talk to him. Make sure he knows we were only joshing.” Harry grabbed his winter gear and walked out the door. He caught up with Steve a mere fifteen feet away.
“Hey Harry! Came to check if I wasn’t turning into a Popsicle?”
“Something like that. Say Steve…euh…you know the guys and I teased you in there but we didn’t mean anything by it. That’s how we are when we get together.”
“I know, Harry.” Steve assured with a friendly clap on Harry’s back. “Why are you so interested in my love life anyway?”
Steve chuckled at that statement. “You? Harry Donner, the incurable ladies man? Jealous?”
“That’s just a rumour, buddy. Contrary to popular belief I do not have a girl in every country. I heard that you and Miller were seeing a lot of each other and I naturally figured she was your steady girl.”
“Contrary to popular belief, we’re merely good friends.”
“Then would you mind if I tried asking her for a date?”
“Good luck. She’s not the dating kind.”
“Is it true you asked her out?”
“Yeah but just for fun. We date without dating. By that I mean she comes over at my house for dinner or she invites me to her apartment to sample her cuisine. We watch movies; we do fun activities together. All in the spirit of good fellowship.”
“Still I envy you.”
“Ah don’t despair Harry. You’ll find your Cassandra Miller. Just remember to be a gentleman.”
“You’re asking the impossible!”
The two friends broke into a hearty laugh as they walked back inside.
The next morning, Rudy woke up with the sniffles. Cassie offered to play nursemaid and tend to his cold while the five comrades drove to the lake to rent a small shack for the day. Before the end of the afternoon, Oscar had caught all of the fish as well as a nasty cold.
They returned to the cottage in early evening after dropping by the pharmacy to pick up some medicine for their ailing friends.
“Cassie!” Steve shouted as he assisted a haggard-looking Oscar to the sofa.
Cassie was in the kitchen drinking hot chocolate with Rudy when she heard the friendly call. “Ah! the boys are back.” Rudy followed her to the living room where they saw Steve and Harry help a weak Oscar out of his clothes.
“We brought you another patient, Nurse Miller,” Barney teased.
“What’s wrong?” Her answer came in the form of a hacking cough. “Oh I see.” She felt Oscar’s forehead. “Bring him to his room.” She ushered the way to Steve and Harry flanking the grouchy man who kept insisting he was fine and could make it up the stairs on his own. He waved them away but they followed at a safe distance all the way to the room where they helped the feverish man lie down on the bed.
“Let me guess. His coat was wide open and he refused to wear his hat,” Cassie surmised as she raised the quilt up to Oscar’s shoulders.
“That’s right. We warned him about getting a severe tongue-lashing once you’d find out.” Steve said.
“Stool pigeons!” Oscar spat weakly at the two tittering men.
“He did catch dinner,” Harry defended.
“Good! I was in the mood for fish.”
“Don’t speak of food,” Oscar grimaced.
Cassie popped an aspirin out of the bottle and asked for Steve to get a glass of water. Seconds later he came back into the room and handed Oscar the glass. He tossed the pill down his throat and swallowed it with a gulp of water before settling back onto the bed. “Let’s leave him be to get some rest. We’ll check back on him later.”
Following a luscious fish dish, one of the bunch slipped out the back door to fetch some firewood. During his task, he felt a strange presence peering at him. He turned around and scanned the pitch-dark woods. He shrugged at what he believed was a wild animal and then resumed his chore. He yelped in shock at the hand gripping his shoulder. “You?”
“Yeah me. Everything set for tomorrow night?”
“So far so good. We have a sick one on our hands, though.”
“Do you foresee any problem?”
“No. It’s just a cold, as far I know. He’ll be leaving with the rest of the gang.”
“Good. I don’t want anything or anyone wreaking havoc in our plans. We’ve come too far to back out now.”
“Don’t worry. Everything is proceeding accordingly. I even did a bit of ferreting about into Austin’s personal life. I have all the information we need.”
“She’ll be ready.”
“Now get the hell out of sight before we’re seen together. You meet me back here tomorrow night at midnight and we’ll moved into phase two.”
The smell of freshly crisp bacon wafted up the stairs and tickled at Steve’s nose. He pried his eyelids open and with a stretch and a yawn, hauled himself out of bed. He slipped on his bathrobe and slippers and followed the tantalizing aroma down to the kitchen where he found Cassie preparing breakfast.
“Cassie!” he exclaimed through a yawn.
At the stove she forked a slice of bacon sizzling in the pan to turn in over. “Hey 34! Hungry for some nourishing breakfast?”
He looked up at the wall clock. “Do you realize what time it is?”
“Exactly. Since when do you get up before eight?”
“I do on special occasions,” she laughed.
“And this is it? Slaving a hot stove to feed six hungry men?” he asked sarcastically with an amused grin as he sat at the counter. “Well, technically it’s five since one is on liquids only.”
“Of course,” she replied with a smug. She picked up a slice of bacon and dangled it in front of Steve’s nose. “Open up. Tell me what you think?”
Steve snatched the piece with his teeth and began munching on it. “Hum, not bad.”
“The word is succulent.”
“Ah that’s better,” she teased.
“But don’t ask me. You know I’m partial to your cooking.”
“You’re my biggest fan and I love you for it.”
“Did someone mention love?” Barney ribbed as he slouched over to the counter to sit on the stool next to Steve. He was clad in pyjama pants only.
“Barney, man! Don’t you think you ought to put something on?” Steve chided with disgust. “There’s a lady present.”
“Ahhhhhhhh come on! Cassie’s on of the guys.”
“She may be one of the guys but she’s definitely not built like one.” Steve sassed.
“Oh! So you noticed?” Barney playfully elbowed Steve in the side.
Cassie rolled over her eyes and sighed. “Don’t worry, Steve. I’d take your bathrobe-clad well-toned body over this hairless flat chest any day.”
“Ouch!” Cassie’s witticism elicited a chuckle out of Steve and an irritated pout out of Barney.
“I’ll go put on a robe,” Barney grumbled. He slid down the stool and moved to the living room where he crossed paths with Rudy, Harry and Clark. “Hey Doc! How’s the patient this morning?”
“Oscar’s still sleeping. The good news is that he doesn’t have a fever.”
“Darned! There goes my chance to sit in his chair,” Barney joked with a friendly clap on Rudy’s back.
“You couldn’t handle the stress that comes with the job.”
“Yeah. Maybe not.”
“Good morning guys!” Cassie greeted.
“Morning Cass,” Clark reciprocated. He seated himself on the stool next to Steve who was sipping his orange juice.
“What’s for breakfast?”
“I have bacon, sausages, ham, eggs, pancakes, French toasts…you name it.”
“Wow! What a feast! Glad you brought her along Harry.”
“How’s Oscar this morning?” Steve asked Rudy who leaned against the end of the counter.
“Another day of rest and he should be fine.”
“Poor guy,” Harry lamented as he picked up a fresh apple from the fruit basket. “What a way to spend the weekend; flat on his back.”
“If you ask me that’s exactly what he needs; complete bed rest to make up for all those lost hours of sleep he’s been accumulating over the years,” Steve opined.
Barney returned to the kitchen with a fancy bathrobe. “Does this meet with your approval, Steve?”
Steve turned around and gave his friend the once-over. “Much better.”
“What?” Did we miss something?” Harry asked, puzzled by the weird question.
“Not much. Only a flat chest,” Steve chortled over the rim of his glass before he swigged down the last of his juice.
While the men were having fun at Barney’s expense, Cassie was grumbling and cursing underneath her breath at an uncooperative lid on a jar of jam.
“Having trouble there, Cass?” Harry asked the young woman turning crimson with rage.
“Yes! This lid won’t open,” she spat angrily.
“Here,” Harry stretched out his arm to take the jar, “ let me try it.”
He grunted and cursed as he vainly attempted to twist the lid open. Clark and Rudy both tried their luck with the same poor results.
“Let me,” Barney huffed out as he took the jar from a flushed Rudy. With a knowing smile and a teasing wink at Cassie he twisted the lid effortlessly. “It’s a cinch, guys,” he taunted, raising everyone’s hackles.
“Sure! It’s easy after we all loosened the lid for you!” Clark remarked sulkily.
Steve knitted his brows at Barney who answered his obvious question with a slight nod of the head.
“A month ago. Oscar needs me to get back behind the wheel to infiltrate a smuggling operation.”
Their hushed conversation went unnoticed by the three other men who were busy admiring Cassie’s culinary skills and teasing her about making a great wife for a certain bachelor. All laughing eyes turned to Steve to gauge his reaction.
“What?” Steve’s inquisitive eyes darted between the three grins staring at him.
“Guys, leave him alone or I’ll send you all up to your rooms without any breakfast,” Cassie threatened humorously.
“Yes ma’am,” they all chorused.
It was past midnight when a gloved hand applied a chloroform-drenched rag over a slumbering Steve’s mouth and nose. Barely had he realized what was happening to him that the ether rendered him unconscious.
“Hand me the syringe,” the glove-handed man asked his partner. After administering the drug into Steve’s left forearm, he turned to his second cohort. “That should knock him out for a good eighteen hours. He’ll sleep like a baby.”
“That’ll give us enough time,” replied the woman.
“You know what to do?”
“The plan’s in motion and it’s working like a charm.” He smiled malevolently, his face lighting up in triumph before he pulled the woman to him and hungrily plunged his mouth into hers. “Ummmmmmmmm Austin doesn’t know what he’s missing,” he purred.
“Maybe I’ll remind him,” she mewled seductively.
“Don’t you dare do anything that will jeopardize this operation,” he snapped at her with a smouldering stare.
“I won’t. Don’t worry. He’s not interested anyway.”
“I don’t believe that. Come on you two. Let’s go check on our second unsuspected partner.”
A beehive of activity began early the next morning as the gang busied themselves packing for their flight back to Washington. Rudy offered a still feeble Oscar to handle his suitcases while he tackled the arduous task of showering, shaving and slipping into his clothes.
Cassie was already slaving a hot stove when her boys came thundering down the stairs to wolf down a hearty breakfast before heading out to the airport.
“Everything’s set, boys?” She asked as she handed each one a glass of orange juice.
“All packed and ready to go,” Barney said before taking a draught of juice. “Say Harry I want to thank you for this weekend. Felt good to do some male bonding away from the little lady at home.”
“My pleasure,” Harry replied with a hearty clap on Barney’s back. “We ought to do this more often.”
“I’m game,” Clark agreed. “That is if our great cook doesn’t mind coming back with us?” He made sheep eyes at Cassie who in turn flashed him a teasing grin. “O’Flaherty, flattery will get you far with me. But next time let’s make it during summer so no one gets the sniffles,” she motioned to puffy red-nosed Oscar whose stuffy head was hanging heavily on his fist. She stretched out her arm to pat his shoulder. “Don’t worry Oscar. You’ll be up and bossing people around in no time.”
“I don’t boss people around!” He whined raspingly with a loud snivel, giving her an indignant look through glassy eyes.
“Of course you don’t, Oscar,” Barney humoured with a conniving wink directed at Cassie. “You just make people want to hurl you through a window.” Barney’s ribbing won him a peeved look from Oscar, one that he quickly shrugged off. “Speaking of such people, where’s Steve?”
“He’s still asleep,” Cassie informed gravely.
“Asleep? He knows we’re leaving this morning?”
“He does. My guess is he’s had a rough night.”
“How do you know?” Harry asked expectantly, prompting the others to listen intently.
“My room being adjacent to his I heard a lot of tossing and turning. He got up a couple of times to go the bathroom.”
“Is he sick?” Rudy asked with concern.
“I don’t think so. I checked on him a couple of minutes ago. There was no sign of any fever. I tried to wake him up but no luck. He’s sleeping like a log. So I was thinking that with your permission, Harry, we could stay here a few more hours to allow Steve time to catch up on lost sleep and then we’ll take a later flight.”
“Sure, no problem.”
“But don’t do anything we wouldn’t do, children.” Barney couldn’t help put in his two cents worth.
“Ah put a sock in it, Barney! You’ve got such a dirty mind,” she mocked his insinuation with an exasperated look. “Besides when and if that ever happens, you’ll be the first one to know.”
“Promise?” he said with a broad toothy smug.
Once breakfast over, the gang started hauling to luggage into the back of both vans, except for Oscar who kept warm inside by the crackling fireplace.
“I’m going to check on Steve,” Rudy told Cassie.
“I won’t disturb him.” The good doctor’s conscience was prickling at him, prodding him to run a quick examination of his friend before leaving him. His instincts were screaming conspiracy; that someone was pulling the wool over their eyes but couldn’t quite figure what or why.
With Cassie close on his heels, Rudy padded up to the bed where a slumbering Steve was lying in a prone position. He brushed his hand against the forehead to feel for any sign of a fever. His hand travelled down to Steve’s left wrist and flinched at the weak pulse rate. “His pulse is slow.”
“Isn’t that normal when people sleep?”
“No that slow. Would you happen to know if he took any medicine, like a sleeping pill?”
“Not to my knowledge. I didn’t leave my room. But Harry keeps an ample supply of prescribed Ativan in the medicine cabinet. Perhaps he took one.”
“That very likely he did.” After pulling the covers up to Steve’s shoulders, Rudy turned to Cassie with a troubled expression and spoke solemnly, “Keep an eye on him. Call me if you suspect anything remotely wrong with him.”
“I will, Rudy. “ Cassie’s airy reply disturbed him slightly. She was usually very concerned about her Blue Eyes but somehow she left him with the impression that she didn’t care.
She left the room with Rudy and walked him downstairs to the front door where Harry and Clark were assisting the patient out to the van. “Have a nice flight!”
A chorus of goodbyes resounded in the wintry air as both woman and men slowly parted ways.
Nearly thirty minutes elapsed before a shady figure snuck inside the lodge and crept upstairs to Steve’s room where his cohort was busy mummifying their scapegoat in blankets.
“Everything’s set?” she enquired with a slight quaver about her voice.
“Yep! The cabin’s ready to welcome its guest.” He pulled a small vial and a syringe from his coat pocket and prepared the injection. Once the right dosage was measured, he handed the syringe to the woman who proceeded to administer the drug into Steve’s neck.
“That ought to keep him in Dreamland for a while longer. Be sure to give him another dose once you settle him there. And remember, we want him alive or the plan will backfire in our faces and it’s unlikely we’ll get paid. And for God’s sake don’t put him in with the other!”
“I’m not stupid!” the man retorted with crushing cynicism. “Why don’t we kill the other now?”
“Because that one could be our other patsy if things go sour. Don’t let anything happen to those two precious commodities,” she warned with a stern look.
“Don’t worry. I checked with the boss earlier. Everything’s set to go down tonight after the bank closes.”
“Good. Do the boys have the stuff to perform the task?”
“Yeah. They were provided with a few grams.”
“Can you believe it? Five hundred million dollars?” she crowed with malicious glee before staring down at the unsuspected victim. “And he’s going to shoulder the blame for one of biggest heist in the history of man kind” She leaned over Steve and brushed her lips against his. “Sweet dream, 34.”