Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be
Note: This is an answer to TwyalJane's July challenge: Show me Mother Nature, at her best, her worst, the raw elements must figure into the storyline almost like a character unto itself. Whether it is heavy rain showers, twisters, flash floods, heat waves, hurricanes, mud slides, earthquakes, fish falls, plague of locust or even a blizzard the choice is yours.
Note: Blame watching too much Discovery Channel lately for this one.
WARNING: For the rigid grammar police…read at
your own health risk. You are about to go nuts! Spellcheck and me did my
betaing. FOR THE REST OF YOU!! Forgive the `Angelaisms'…brain working at
Chris Larabee was boiling angry and anyone with a half-bit of common sense was staying clear of the man. The captain of the Search-and-Rescue team had already learned that lesson, the hard way. Unfortunately, there had been no one else to break the news to the leader of the ATF team camped out at his headquarters. His two missing men had so far remained missing and would be until the next morning
Ezra looked over at the sharpshooter, shooting daggers at the man while he clung to the boat seat. The undercover agent was about as angry as the leader, but for different reasons. "Simple," he spoke hotly. "Piece of cake," he continued rattling. "Don't worry, Ez. What could go wrong?" he mocked, repeated the same words Vin had quoted only hours earlier. "Well, Mr. Tanner," he began, "Let me tell you what could go wrong and why I should worry," he said in disgust. The tracker simply rolled his eyes and took the sputtering of the undercover agent. After what he as about to say Ezra was going to be even less happy.
Ezra had to admit that when the sharpshooter had first mentioned the idea of taking a boat down the Colorado River for some enjoyment, it had sounded like fun. They would rent a motorboat; take it down the river, stop for lunch and be at the rendezvous point by evening and meet up with the rest of the guys for a night of camping out.
Normally camping out was not on the top ten things the undercover agent liked to do. It wasn't even on the top one hundred, but after the case he had been on for the last four months, Ezra was all for open spaces and relaxing with the guys. He had been in a dour mood when Tanner had mentioned getting away from it all for the weekend and Ezra had quickly agreed with the plan. The two of them had left the next morning and traveled the twenty miles to the starting point.
After getting their safety jackets on, they were adventurous not dimwitted, they started up the boat and began puttering their way downstream. The day was a glorious one; blue skies with just enough cloudiness to cover the sun ever-once-in-a-while. Vin had sat at the rear and handled the steering while Ezra leaned back on the wooden seat and relaxed. It had not escaped any of theirs attention how bad Standish had looked when they retrieved him at the bust. The sharpshooter figured a little piece and quiet would go a long way in restoring Ezra's equilibrium amongst the world, afterall it did wonders for him.
The two men sat in silence. A couple of times they spotted some type of wildlife feeding at the edge of the river. Vin had cut the motor at one point after seeing a mother bear and her three cubs, so as not bother the animals. The boat drifted lazily by the watering mammals. Ezra had turned around and grinned appreciatively at the other man. Already, he could feel all the knots loosening their stranglehold on his nerves. The clear day, the beautiful landscape and occasional wildlife animal had been making for a very enjoyable day.
They had stopped for lunch, Vin guiding the boat over to the edge. Ezra had jumped out and together the two men docked the boat and tied it up. Spreading out their food, the two friends lay on the cool ground and simply observed their surroundings. Vin had a feeling that something was laying heavy on the other man's shoulders, but it would do no good to inquire.
Ezra heard a soft sigh escape from the friend beside him. "It's quite tranquil here. Don't you concur?" he asked softly.
"Hmmm," Vin responded, which Ezra took as an affirmation.
Glancing down at his watch, Vin stated, "Well, we best be getting I few make camp on time."
Ezra lacked a response and simply stood up and began cleaning up. Packing up the evidence of their lunch, Vin and Ezra made sure they left nothing behind before Vin climbed back in the boat and Ezra cast them back out into the water. Quickly scrambling into the boat before it drifted to far, Ezra held his complaints about getting wet to himself. He was having too good of a day to ruin it by griping.
As the afternoon passed, the two men watched the sky wearily as
thunderclouds began forming overhead. Ezra glanced at the man behind him and saw Vin looking completely relaxed. He took it as a good sign and forced his shoulders to decrease in tension. He rolled his neck around a couple of times to disband the knots in his muscles. This was not his thing, so he left it completely up to the man in the back of the boat to keep them from harm.
Vin watched the thunderheads and began calculating how close they were to their rendezvous spot. After a moment, he figured they would be fine for at least another hour. If they had to, they would begin looking for a landing place and call the guys to come get them. He had placed his cell phone in a plastic bag and tucked inside his pocket on his life jacket. He unzipped the pocket and felt for the phone, reassuring himself that it was still there. Since he enjoyed outdoor activities, he purchased good sports equipment, one of them being his lifejacket. It had a metallic reflector with a cord attached to the vest, to attract other boats or aircraft in case of emergencies. Also, attached to the lifejacket was a small flashlight that had a strobe light attached to one end. Though small in size, the outputted light could be seen for miles. He had, also, gone for the traditional orange-colored life vest and not some of the fashionable colors that were coming in style. Knowing that the bright orange was best recognizable in the water. He had seen some blue and purple ones in the store and had simply shook his head at the manufacturer's; or for that matter the buyer's thinking; how was anyone suppose to be able to spot a dark vest in dark water? Ezra had received his vest when they rented the boat. Though, not as sporty as Vin's, it was quality and in a jamb would do the trick.
Vin noticed the thunderclouds turning darker, as did Ezra, making it appear as night had come early. It was mutually agreed, though no words were spoken, that they would disembark from their journey and find shelter. Vin was looking for a safe spot to dock when the first drops of rain hit. Forcing himself not to speed the boat up and therefore get careless, Vin kept a steady speed and hoped for the best.
Ezra would later look back on the journey and think it had all the makings for one of those made-for TV-movies. They were still searching for a place to land when they sky opened up and the rain fell; like buckets being poured down on them. They were soaked within moments. Vin wasn't worried about the rain as much as he was the lightening that had begun lighting up the dark skies. As the light streaked through and across the black clouds it appeared to them that the clouds had some type of globe light, itself, inside of them. Ezra held his tongue and tried to peer through the curtain of downfall for a place they could even jump ship, so-to-speak, and make it to land. In the next instance catastrophe hit.
The were passing by a row of low lying branches that were stretched out of the water; when lightening hit one of the said branches. The sparks were magnificent, if not a little nerve-wracking for the two men. The limb crackled and hissed, as it broke loose, hitting the very edge of the stern of the boat as it fell into the water. Before either man could think, they found themselves and the boat going over.
Whether it was Lady Luck, blind intervention, or destiny, both men managed to be caught under the overturned vessel. Ezra came up out of the water, banging his head on the roof, which was actually the bottom, of the boat, sputtering and spewing water. The roar of the rain hitting the boat was deafening and a little disorienting. Clamping his hand on his dazed head and wiping the rivulets of water from his face with his other hand, he immediately looked about for Vin and noticed the man was at the other end of the boat holding on to one of the wooden seats. Ezra made his way down towards the man, thanking the deity to be for the air pocket the boat had formed when it capsized. Ezra looked over at his friend and began his tirade.
Vin looked at Ezra and waited for the man to finish before saying, "Ez,"
"What?" Ezra asked hotly.
"We got get out from under here," the sharpshooter said calmly.
Staring incredulously at his friend, Ezra wondered briefly if the man had been struck on the head. "WHAT!? Are you nuts?" Ezra asked, his voice rising to be heard over the torrential rain beating down on their cover.
"The air isn't going to last much longer and besides we're poising it," Vin said, remaining calm for his friend's sake.
"Excuse me? Poisoning it?" Ezra said, repeating what he heard rather than actually questioning Vin.
"Yeah," Vin said. "Carbon Monoxide. There is no fresh air. We're simply breathing our own air over and over," Vin explained.
Ezra hung his head down as far as it would go and thought over Vin's explanation. It made sense of course and if he could get brain going in the right direction, he would have realized that without Vin's explanation. Looking back up at his friend, he realized with clarity that that Vin was in as much trouble as he was and it wasn't the man's fault. "Sorry," he said softly. Ezra lowered his head and wished life would stop its roller-coaster effect for a while, he was getting quite tired of it.
Vin noticed the sudden change in his friend's behavior and was surprised by the apology. Another look at the slumped form and Vin really began wondering what had happened during Ezra's case. Shrugging it off for the time being, he replied, "No problem."
Ezra raised his head and asked, "Okay, so now what?"
Vin thought for a moment before telling Ezra exactly what the needed to do. "Lifejackets are made to keep us afloat. Since we need to go under water in order to get out of from under here, we're going to have to take them off. BUT, don't let go of it," he said, punctuating the last tidbit of information.
Ezra nodded his head and began stripping out of the jacket.
"Now once you're out and you've popped to the surface put it back on," Vin instructed as he wiggled his way out of his own lifejacket.
Ezra once again nodded his head and gripped the life vest to his chest. Looking over at Vin, he waited for the countdown.
"One...two…three," Vin counted. On three, both men took a lungful of air and ducked under the water. Each using one hand to guide them, they swam under the edge of the boat. Ezra felt with his hand which way was up and kicked his way to the surface. Rain pelted him with brick-like ability as he struggled into his lifejacket, while the river battered him from the side, rushing him forward. Once his vest was on and he had the first snap in place, Ezra looked about for Vin and the boat. He had remembered from Vin's mini-lesson at the beginning of the trip that was important to stay with the boat as long as possible. A boat was easier to spot in the water than a person and if possible, he was to climb on to the top of the boat and stay put. It would only increase his visibility.
Spotting the boat, he struck out for it and was relieved indoably when his hand hit the side of it. The storm made it impossible to get aboard of it, but he clung to the side. Now all he had to do was spot Vin.
The five remaining teammates had reached the campsite as pre-arranged and set up camp. It had lasted exactly four hours before the thunderstorm began forming and forced the men to break camp and find shelter away from the trees. The men had climbed inside of Chris' truck, drove back to the main road and headed for the small café they had passed coming in. Chris had no doubt that the men out on the river would have been watching the weather and had probably anchored somewhere until it was safe to move on. He didn't really expect Vin to try and use his cell phone with all the lightening. He valiantly pushed away the nagging little voice reminding exactly which two men were out there on the river, in a boat, during this storm. He had kept telling himself, they were smart men, and they would be fine. "Everything will be fine, " he had muttered to himself as he twisted yet another napkin into a hangman's rope.
"Say something there, pal?" Buck had asked with a smile plastered on his lips.
"Shut up," Chris had growled.
They had waited out the storm, which had lasted for almost five hours. Although it was only about seven, the sky had given the appearance of it being much later. When the lightening and rain had ceased, Chris had turned his cell on and waited impatiently for the phone call he was sure to come. After another hour and no phone call and considering the type of luck his agents usually had, he had decided not to wait any longer and had placed the call to report his men missing. Now he was standing in the middle of the command post and being told the searchers were calling it a day. They were on hold for another six hours, night having dominated their search abilities.
Ezra couldn't keep his teeth from chattering no matter how tight he gripped them. Behind him sat Vin, chattering just as hard as him. Together their teeth making a macabre kind of music that belonged in a synthesizer. The thought made the undercover agent laughed at the idea. "Wanna share," Vin had asked. Ezra shrugged and replied, "Fleeting thought, no doubt bought on by the fact that my body and mind are suffering the beginning ill of effects of hypothermia."
Vin nodded and looked back at the river flowing past them. By snaking their hands under the rim of the boat and grabbing to the under edge, they both had, by some miracle, managed to stay with the boat. The river had dragged them under countless times. Each time one went under, the other would help pull his head up. They had encouraged and berated the other to simply, "Hang on."
Their only salvation had been their vests and the boat. Once the storm had lessened, they had managed to make their way to the lowest point of the boat in the water and, edging their way up onto the craft, crawled to the highest point. They rode their transport in such a manner for a long ways, letting the rough, rolling waters push and guide their makeshift carrier downstream. Vin had immediately snuck his hand into the pocket with his cell phone, realizing belatedly that he had not zipped the pocket back up earlier and pulled out the baggie. Ezra showed great restraint, when Vin held up the sandwich bag full of water and a floating phone.
Though neither man said anything they were both thinking the same thought. "When would they learn to stop going unchaperoned on their outings?"
Vin finally broke the silence. "Need to find a way to get to land," he spoke calmly.
Ezra had a lot to say about that, but now was not the time to start an antagonistically debate. He simple nodded his head. He acquiesced to Vin's knowledge in this field. As mad as he was at the moment, he had no doubts about his friend's capabilities in keeping them alive until help could reach them. After many more long minutes dragged by, Vin shouted, "There!" Pointing to a small patch of land not inhibited or obscured by vegetation. Both men leaned over on their stomachs and began paddling with their hands, much like a surfer trying to get ahead of the big one.
The one fact Ezra did know about water and land relation is that when in the water, land always looks closer than in actuality. Where land may look relatively close, when one started swimming for it, they would find themselves swimming more miles than it appeared. Luckily, the river wasn't miles wide; it just had the feel it was. Adding to their problem was the current. All moving water had current, though most people forgot the fact that just because one couldn't see it; it didn't mean it didn't exist. There was also the undertow to deal with. It took another hour, but the two men finally made land. Ezra, being in front, jumped off and waded onto land, pulling the boat ashore. Vin slid off the side and pushed. By the time they secured the boat both had cuts and abrasions marking their hands and wrists. Taking a moment, both men flopped to the ground to catch their breath.
Taking inventory of their surroundings, Vin and Ezra found several strong branches and began leaning them up against a stout tree, making a crude, but effective lean-to. It wouldn't do much about keeping out all the rain, that had begun falling in a fine mist again, or blocking all the wind, but it would help. Vin went to scour for something edible the woods had to offer, while Ezra began gathering wood. Hopefully, with a little luck and Vin's skills, they could have a fire.
Ezra began to strip out of his wet shirt, but was stopped by Vin, returning with his life vest full of leaves and berries. "Don't take your clothes off," he gently, but sternly said.
Ezra had thought he had been quite congenial up to this point, always deferring to Vin's knowledge, but this was the last straw. "I have been most appreciative of your erudition on the manners in which we must abide to survive, but THEY"RE WET," he said heatedly, through chattering teeth.
Vin wasn't sure of the words, but he knew there had been a backhanded complimented mixed in with the complaint. "I know, Ez, but they will still provide you with some warmth. Besides, they'll protect your body from the full impact of the wind and any flying debris," he said slowly, feeling like he had just been marooned with a two-year old. And a grumpy one at that.
Ezra gave him a full glare before turning his back on the man. Vin ignored the slight and began working on getting a fire going. He sighed at the pile of wet wood. He had hoped there would be some dry kindling to help get it going, but knew with the downpour it would have been unlikely.
Ezra had always been good at slight-of-hand, but he would have bowed down to the sharpshooter as the grand master when he felt a faint glimmer of heat penetrating his back. Turning around, he noticed Vin had once again worked his own brand of magic and gotten a fire started. Ezra stared at the heat and sighed deeply.
Vin looked at his friend's sad countenance and did what he could, by offering his friendship. "Found some berries and though they're not something you'd find in those fancy restaurants, the leaves are edible as well," he said pushing the food closer to the other man.
Ezra accepted the offering without his normal verbose thoughts on the subject. The action troubled Vin more than when the agent had turned his back earlier. Taking a handful of berries and popping them in his mouth, he leapt into the deep end. "Want to talk about it?"
Ezra looked up. He couldn't deny that he knew what Vin was talking about. With a heavy sigh, he shrugged and said, "Nothing specific happened. No earth shattering revelation or horrific subplot uncovered."
Vin held his peace and waited.
"Just tired," Ezra said, relinquishing that little bit of truth.
Vin figured there was more to it than that, but let it go. Ezra was a man of his own, when he got ready to talk, he'd listen.
Desperately trying to change topics, Ezra asked, "You think they'll find us tomorrow?"
"Count on it. If I know Chris, he'll have these woods crawling with men before the sun peeks over the horizon," Vin answered, allowing the change in topics.
Ezra rolled his eyes. "Oh joy. Something to look forward to…seeing the sun rise," he said mockingly.
Vin laughed. "Ought to try it sometime, Ez. You never know, you might just enjoy it," he said with a smile.
Ezra rolled his eyes and ate some more berries.
Later that night the rain and wind picked up in velocity. Vin and Ezra deserted their fire and made for their meager shelter. Huddling close together to save heat and to get them both out of the weather, the two men didn't sleep, but kept a vigil throughout the night. Rain pelted them from the front and sides, while the wind blew threw the blockade like it was tissue paper. Neither man tried to talk, it was too taxing nor they couldn't have been heard above the pounding of the storm anyway.
The Command Center was squirming with activity. Just as Vin had predicted, Chris had the Captain of the Search and Rescue deploy his men into action at the first hint of the sky lightening out of darkness. No one had really slept the night before. Chris' pacing had pretty much seen to that.
The helicopter was up and backtracking the river as the day began in earnest. Following the waterway upstream, the crew; plus Chris kept sharp eyes out for the missing men. It took only an hour for the crew to spot their victims.
Vin and Ezra had heard the hum of the rotating blades and the sharpshooter held his metal reflector ready for a sighting. The second the chopper came into view, he began signaling. With a tip of the wings, Vin knew they had been spotted and rescue was imminent. A harness was lowered and Vin helped Ezra secure himself in. Once Ezra was aboard, the harness was lowered and Vin was retrieved.
Chris sat on the hard seat staring at his two agents, wrapped in thermal blankets, He couldn't decide whether to strangle them or clap them on the back for coming out their ordeal alive. Staring at the two men, still shrouded in wet clothes and guessing at what it must have been like for the two men during their escapade, he reached over and slapped both men on their knees and gave them a smile. He could always yell later. Right now he was just happy to have them back.