My fiftieth birthday was in just three months. I had a wife and three children, still do, and the same job I d had since my graduation from Quantico. We were living just outside Portland. My oldest son, John jr., was in his third year at Washington. The twins were high school seniors at this time and my pride and joy, daddy s little girls. Carolyn and I had celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary, that s the silver one I think, the previous Thursday night.
That warm July morning, I dressed for work as I had every other. Black socks and slacks, a pin striped white dress shirt, and a black jacket. I slipped on my loafers but was lost in the search for my tie. Coffee stained and still unwashed, I found it laying on the laundry room floor. I swore to myself to let Carolyn know about that. I walked into John s empty room, knowing he owned some ties. It was just as he had left it, I guess, because I d never really gone in his room. I picked the red one he wore in his graduation pictures and slipped it over my head. I stepped into the bathroom, combed back my whitening hair, and left for the office.
The early morning sun shone in through the broken blinds that I noticed hadn t been replaced as I asked. I looked over the pile of paperwork awaiting me. Why the hell do I gotta do all these damn reports?
Actually, you don t, not today. I turned to see a man much like myself, but older and with his piece on. He was a little taller, but with the same sagging features and large belly of my body. I ve come here to give you something new. With that, I was handed a thick manila folder. It felt like it contained a video cassette. All you need is in there, including my card. This is top priority, Agent Caulsworth. You will report to me on the hour with your progress. The paperwork here will wait. The man turned and left. Outside, I heard a jet-copter quietly lift off. Funny I hadn t heard it land.
I poured out the contents of the folder, the federal statement, a case history, vid cassette, and a dossier. The card that fell to the floor read Federal Marshall Wilson R. Franklin . He was from the Boise office.
Must be real important for him to come all the way out here. Steve Menschke was my oldest friend at the office, and a fine agent. I d known him since our days at Quantico. An hour s flight out here, even in that thing. He went on while I began to read the dossier.
At quarter till nine, I called a full meeting, all department heads. We seem to have ourselves a little situation here. I know you are all familiar with that case in the papers, the Dean Brown thing. This S.O.B. killed not only the Portland mayor, but two of his security, in case you are unfamiliar with all this. He used to work for the mayor s office. The court sentenced him just two days ago, life without parole. I guess he didn t like the decision, because Mr. Brown escaped last night in transfer to the Oregon State Penitentiary. His whereabouts are presently unknown and I have been instructed to find him. As of now, the entire department will concentrate on this situation, all others suspended. This is the video, courtroom and escape. I shut off the lights and pressed play.
A small thin man, caucasian and under 5 10 , entered the courtroom. He wore a wrinkled suit, dark blue with a white kerchief. His hair was slicked back, still wet and he was unshaven. He wore no expression, as if he were dead. The judge spoke slowly, pausing for breath as she read the sentence. After the announcement, the defendant simply rose and extended his hands so he could be detained. Still the face of the small figure on the screen did not change. He was hand-cuffed and led away. The scene abruptly shifted to the penitentiary grounds. A line of orange clad men, heads low, lurched forward into the penn. Another group of like dressed men filed out, toward a waiting bus. In a flash, a man jumped from one line to the other and boarded the bus. Then the screen went blank.
I played the end back in slow-motion, pointing him out. Steve flicked the lights on. He escaped unnoticed. As you could tell, he was not chained at the ankles, allowing this move. One guard monitoring the cameras, he just wasn t watching. The bus destination was Portland. It arrived on time, the prisoners released. This tape wasn t found until after he was gone so the state is helpless. That puts the ball in our court. As always, we get the clean up job. Menschke, you will head one of three groups, as will Hendricks. I have the third, here. Be ready to move in an hour.
As they assembled, I returned to my office and read the dossier again. Dean Brown had lived through hell. He had a psychiatric history full of problems. His parents abused him sexually, but he didn t admit it till he had grown and left. He overcame that, fixed his life. He had the standard wife and two kids, an accounting job, the whole schmeer. One day, they cross the street and a pickup streaks from a standstill at the light. Smashed right into them. Killed everyone but him and the son and sped away. Brown was submitted after the hospital, the boy went to the grandparents. He escaped the institution and committed the murders. Waited for trial five months, it took a week to convict him. Life was upside down in less than a year.
Hey, John, I m ready to move. I got two choppers lined up but no destination. Where to, boss?
Hendricks, is your party ready? You re heading for Washington, Menschke will go south. There s no way this guy is heading east. We ve got him, its just a matter of time. I m giving you full jurisdiction, take what you need. Just make sure the border is tighter than your asshole this time. I still haven t forgotten the last time I put you in command. I m trusting you with this, don t make me kill you.
Yeah, I got it Caulsworth. Just you back off too!
I returned to my office, Steve still reading. What do you think?
Both of you are nuts. Hendricks? Come on, you know he won t find the guy. Especially not this one. Brown is not dumb. He could do anything. He might be in a Portland hotel or on a fishing boat by now, there s no way to know. He s too smart to get back into his life, he s a runner.
Get on the horn to Thompson in California, he ll give full assistance. Cut offs at the border and in the bay area. Go with whatever you feel, you know you ve got full j.d., just find this guy for me. I ve got ops here and I ll let you know about anything that arises. I ll also crunch some figures, give you any new leads. Now get going, I m on an hourly check-in. Hell, I already gotta call him. I ll buzz you.
Steve was already out the door when I finished talking. I lifted the receiver and began to dial the number on the card. I heard the ring on the other end over the engines roaring outside. Steve and Hendricks were moving out.
This is Franklin.
Yeah, this is Caulsworth, in Portland. I explained the situation to him, though he didn t seem interested anymore. Just grunted and sighed as I spoke. I m heading up to see the parents, get some insight. I ll miss the next two calls, but wouldn t have anything to check in with anyway. Franklin grunted again and hung up.
The air whipped through my hair, tangling it, as the helicopter warmed its engines. When I was in, the pilot gave me a nod then looked to the ground crew and we lifted off. I hadn t been flown in a helicopter for over five years and the effects were taking their toll on my stomach. My ears ached, the rhythmic thump of the blades louder than I remembered.
Once we left the city s limits, I began to enjoy the flight. We skipped over the pine forest, an endless field of green. I had forgotten the world outside my office and I began to wish I was home. The sunlight created a glare as it passed through the plastic window of my door, but I could still see the treetops speeding beneath me. Watching the scenery pass, I failed to notice the time. The fog-covered Seattle skyline lay before me in no time.
The streets were slick and shiny black, the rain having subsided. Agent Hill, of the Seattle department, drove me out to see Brown s parents. The fresh scent of rain filled my nostrils and my thoughts again drifted toward home. It was cool, about sixty-five degrees with an overcast sky. It was a short drive, only ten minutes. We arrived at a homey, two level house at the back of a cul-de-sac that looked like all the others in the neighborhood. I stepped out of the car and hurried up the drive through the fine mist.
The doorbell played a bar of a song I couldn t quite recall the name of. After a moment, I heard the metallic click of the locks being undone and the door opened to reveal a small boy, his eyes on the floor. He looked a lot like John jr. when he was seven. His dark hair was combed over his forehead, shading his eyes from view. He was slight in stature and held his left arm still and tense, grasping the knob with his right. In a quiet voice, barely audible, he invited me in. Then the boy ran inside and up the stairs. The small front room reminded me of my parents house, flowered curtains and brown furniture. It smelled of moth balls and potpourri. A large wooden television with a small screen stood across from the couch. I seated myself in the worn recliner, humming the tune the doorbell played.
After a few minutes, an old man came down the stairs, leaning on his cane. He adjusted his glasses, coughed twice, and shook his cane at me. What are you doing in my house? Get out now! He wore a tan sweater, unbuttoned, over his white tee shirt. He adjusted the belt on his trousers, pulled them up.
Sir, I am John Caulsworth, Federal agent. I am here to ask you a few questions, if you please. It won t take long. At the top of the stairs, hidden by a shadow, I saw the boy and pointed. Your boy let me in. With that, the boy receded back into the shadows.
The old man poked me with his cane. Get out of my chair and I ll talk with you.
I seated myself on the couch. Mr. Brown, I have to ask some questions about Dean. How recently have you seen him?
Not since he moved out. Damn him. His mother worries about Dean so. He lost custody of his boy and we still haven t heard from him. He scratched his chin, then his neck. He loved that boy, still should. He hasn t even tried to see Davey. Do you know where he is? Why do you have to bother me about my pain?
Hendricks, this is Caulsworth, I m coming down to join your party. I have a feeling Brown is coming this way. Did you secure the border? I barely heard him reply over the fury of the blades above me. I shut off the phone. Damn Hendricks. It was past one and Brown had plenty of time to have made it across the border. Hendricks let him by. I d have to deal with him later. It was time to find Dean Brown.
The helicopter set down at the Washington border, at the weight scales. I ran out from beneath the whirling blades and met Hendricks. Down the road, I saw the line of cars and trucks, each awaiting inspection before passing into Washington. In the southbound lane, the cars sped by. Inside I dialed the number of Steve s mobile. I asked if there were any developments; there weren t. I hung up and dialed Boise. Franklin was not in.
Hendricks, get over here. I wrapped my arm around his shoulder. I have a feeling he s gotten by you. He s got to be in Washington by now, so call back the border guards. Concentrate our forces in the state. Meet me outside in five, after you spread the word.
The helicopter blades were still turning, the engines cooling. I climbed in and sat in the copilot s seat. Hendricks came out shortly after, looked around, finally spotted me. I opened the door.
What do you want?
As we lifted off, I looked at my watch. Quarter after two. At least nightfall wasn t for another six or seven hours. After that, we d have to wait for morning. Clouds were blocking most of the sunlight and my skin cooled.
It was silent for ten to twenty minutes. Then Hendricks spoke up. John?
Why do you get on my ass like that? What the hell did I do?
I tried to find the words, but couldn t. You don t do things like I like. Hendricks, You always have to get in my face, to do your own thing. That does not help the team, it doesn t help us succeed. I m gonna put you up for transfer: either California or Nevada.
I lurched forward when the chopper sharply jolted, hitting my head on something. I felt as if I were falling and everything went black.
I could tell I was laying face down. I kept my eyes closed and tried to feel all my body. My skin was chilled and I could feel my damp clothes sticking to my body. The scent of pine overwhelmed my nose and I tasted blood. I lifted my head and opened my eyes. Night had fallen but I knew I was laying in a thick evergreen forest. Stars shone from behind the thick canopy of the forest. I tried to get up, but fell in pain. My left arm and side felt like they were on fire. I rolled over in the brush and did a situp. I glanced at my shoulder to see my jacket and shirt were shredded and replaced by a sheet of blood. My fingers slipped under my left arm for a feel. It felt like jelly in a plastic bag might.
My shirt and jacket barely clung to me, torn down the left side. My tie twisted around my neck and hung behind me. I worked my way onto my knees, noted my legs were fine. It occurred to me that I was supposed to be airborne. I slowly stood and turned to see the wreckage of a helicopter. Behind it, trees were toppled and the ground had a wide gash in it. I stumbled around the smaller debris toward the frame. The metal was bent and broken. Amid this maze, I saw the slumping form of Hendricks, his back to me. I could not reach him and tried calling his name. He did not respond. I walked around to the other side, knelt to peer inside. A thin slice of metal stabbed into his chest. His eyes and mouth were still open in mid-scream.
I sat to think. All I wanted was to make it home. I knew the chopper had a first aid kit and a crash kit. Walking slowly among the ruins, I found parts of the crash kit. Armed now with a flashlight and flare gun, I searched for the first aid. I found the broken plastic case protruding from beneath the frame. The contents were undoubtedly underneath also or inside. Either way, I had no help. Still dizzy, I fell to the ground and leaned on the frame, winced in pain. I withdrew the gun from my side and pointed it skyward. The flare shot out bright orange and it was bright as day for a moment. I watched it arc over the trees and fade as it fell. Sparks flew as it crashed into the soft ground.
The flashlight s beam bounced around the newly made clearing. It bounded off glass fragments, twisted metal, and broken lumber. The beam stopped on a scrap of material hanging from a treebranch. It looked like a shirt, but I was the only person around. I rose and walked over to the tree, inspecting the garment. I grabbed the size medium white tee, soiled with mud and torn on the sleeves and pocketed it. Surveying the clearing more, I found some kindling and a set of footprints too small to be my own. They led into the forest, up the slope. By their depth at the toe and the slide at the end of each step, I could tell the person left in a hurry.
I had been heading up the slope almost an hour when my legs began to scream for a break. I stopped, hunched over in pain. Breathing came heavily, each attempt a hot knife in my chest. My head was spinning and I felt my side again, found fresh blood still pumping. My tie slipped over my head and into my front pocket. I removed the tee from my back pocket, tore it in two, and wrapped my body with it. Tears filled my eyes as I staggered. The soft earth caught me forgivingly. I remained there for a while, I m not sure how long because it felt so good. I lifted myself, knowing I had to go on. I knew the footprints would lead me to safety or to Dean Brown. Either way, my path lay along theirs.
I struggled against the terrain and my body to go on for hours. The shirt had stopped my bleeding and the fog in my mind cleared. Clear headed, the pain intensified. My vision was blurred by tears and I had a hard time finding my way through the dark. I stumbled over countless rocks, fallen trees, and other impediments along the way. I never lost the prints, though. I m not sure when it was, probably early morning, I fell over a rock into a clearing.
It was about twenty feet across, lit by the light of the now visible half moon. At the other end stood a pile of dirt and rocks. I noticed a specific dark spot. It was not a shadow, but a hole. I followed the trail across the clearing and it led me to the hole. I knelt, trying to see inside. It was about three feet across, probably an old fox s burrow. I circled the mound slowly searching for continuation of the trail, thinking the person might have walked over the burrow to throw off followers. I returned to the mouth of the opening and dropped to my knees.
I started in head first. The passage was tight and painful, jagged stone scraping my already abused body. I paused, my heart racing and dizzy from straining to see in the pitch black. My body grew warmer as I went deeper into the hole. About ten feet in, my fingers felt thin, dry stalks of straw on the floor. I crawled further in, until my knees felt the same. I lifted myself into a kneeling position and pushed the button on the flashlight.
A man was curled up in the corner. The light woke him and he shot up, eyes blinking. The absence of his shirt revealed his pale white skin, criss-crossed with crimson lines. His hair was no longer slicked back and his face now showed the emotion of fear, but I could still see it was Dean Brown.
I backed myself up to the mouth of the hole, held the flashlight at him like a sword. I ve been looking for you, Dean. I set the flashlight down beside me and pulled out the flare gun with caution. Just stay calm, I am not going to try anything, look at me. I kept it pointed at him, but relaxed a little. Why did you run, Dean, why are you here?
His brown eyes were wide, unblinking in an intense stare. Who are you?
I am John Caulsworth, a federal agent. I was assigned to find you and bring you in. What happened?
The bastards deserved to die! Tears came to his eyes, his face red as a stoplight. He sniffled and the words tumbled out in a rush. They ran us over, I barely got him out of the way. It was the mayor s security. As his accountant, I discovered he was corrupt and refused to bury it. He fired me on the spot. He shuddered and took a breath. They could have just taken me, but left me instead. I couldn t let him live after that. He stole my life! And I can t let you stop me. Brown let go of his tension, and sat down. I ve got to get my son and you re not going to get in my way, nothing will. I looked again into his eyes, swollen and wet as a boxer s. I broke out for my son, I need to save him.
Save him? What do you mean?
I know he is in my parents custody. They re beating him, just like me. I almost died, I can t let that happen to Davey. He s all I ve got left. Brown held out a picture from his pocket. He s what I live for and this is all I have of him. I can t let him hurt again.
I set the flare gun aside and accepted the photo.
A man lay in a hospital bed, bandaged and casted. Beside him stood a young boy, on crutches. They were holding hands and each managed a smile. The photo was torn on the top corners, a crease down the middle. The back read My only son .
I reached into my pocket and withdrew the tie. Mud concealed the red fabric. I tried to think of John. My mind strained to see his face, hear his voice. A tear rolled down my cheek and fell off my chin onto the tie. I loosened the knot and slipped it back over my head. With my sleeve, I wiped my face.
I lifted the flashlight, switched it off and tossed it to him. Take it. I turned away and started back into the world.
Hendricks team found me a few miles west of the hole. They airlifted me to the Olympia hospital. I was treated for a broken clavicle and shoulder blade, along with my ribs. The tissue damage to my back and side was extensive and I have little use of either. After two days they released me.
The next day, I received a call from Franklin, in Boise. I was commended by him for putting myself on the line. He granted me early retirement, and a bonus for being injured. He asked if I might know anything about the disappearance of David Brown from his grandparents house in the middle of the night. I told him I did not. I bid him farewell, hung up, and dialed John s number at school.