CHAPTER EIGHTTEEN

They had settled in for the night, campfire shielded as much as possible from view, pop-up tent set up with their sleeping bags. Sam had opened some canned goods and was heating them over the fire. Randy sat to one side, watching. He hadn't liked it one bit when Sam had pulled off the highway, but hadn't said anything. Sam would just have some clever answer that he wouldn't be able to argue with. He'd tried a couple times to fight with him over their direction, and he always lost.

Sam wasn't saying anything right now, just stirring whatever it was in the frying pan. Randy kept watching, felt the anger rising in him. Why couldn't Sam just drive straight through? Why did he keep lying to him all the time? If he didn't want to go, he should've said so and stayed in Florida. Randy would've gotten there just fine on his own. He wasn't stupid. He wasn't helpless. He could find his friends without Sam. He didn't need Sam.

He could get to California without anybody.

*****

Team One - aka Kurt - was watching quietly from a distance. He didn't need to be too close - only enough to make sure that both men were where they were expected to be. He would stay there until they put out the fire and crawled into their tent. Then he would retire to his car, parked off the road but within viewing of the target car. Team Two - Daryl - would relieve him in a few hours. Kurt was hoping Sam and Randy would switch to night driving soon. Once they did that, Kurt and Daryl would be able to switch to just one car. At least that way, they'd have a little company during the long hours.

It seemed as though there was something wrong with the two men tonight. Usually he could hear their voices, faintly, as they conversed. Tonight there seemed to be almost no conversation between them. Or if there was, it was very, very quiet. And instead of staying up talking after the meal, the one, Randy, went almost immediately into the tent. Sam had buried the campfire in dirt and followed shortly after.

Kurt watched for a few more minutes. Something definitely going on between the two. He moved quickly and quietly back to his car. He had the feeling he needed to stay extra alert tonight. He quietly alerted Daryl, giving him a heads up. It could be a long night.


*****

Randy heard Sam come into the tent, slide into his sleeping bag. He waited, listening to Sam's breathing become slower, regular, deep. He kept his own breathing even and regular. He started counting to sixty. Curled his thumb in. Counted to sixty again. One finger curled. Sixty again. Another finger. When he'd curled up all his fingers and both thumbs, he told himself, five more times. And started counting again.

Finally, he finished the last sixty. Six times sixty times ten. About an hour. Sam's breathing hadn't changed for the last three sets of ten. Good. He slowly eased himself out of the sleeping bag. It was hard, because of his shoulder. Everything was hard because of that. But he'd manage. He'd move a bit, stop, listen, move some more. Eventually he was outside the tent. He listened for a long time. Nothing. Good.

He moved as quickly as he could through the woods, back to the car. Carefully opened the drivers door, slid carefully in and drew the door shut. He sat for several minutes, letting his racing heart slow, watching for any movement in the tent. Nothing. Okay. This would be the hard part. Randy had no doubt that the minute he turned the key, purloined from the tent before Sam had come to bed, Sam would be up and running. He would have to move fast then. It would be iffy then, getting through the trees, backing up, fast. It wasn't that far. He could do it.

He thought.

He wasn't even sure he knew how to drive. He'd been watching Sam the last couple of days. It didn't look that hard. He could do it, he was sure. His hand moved over to the passenger side, where he'd left the map. Touched it lightly, reassured. Sam thought he'd been keeping track of where they were; he'd actually been watching where they should have gone. He knew the numbers of the roads he had to take. He had them all in his head. He didn't know how he could keep all those things in his head like that; he hadn't been able to keep anything up there before. Now, it just seemed to happen. No time to wonder about that right now. Right now he had to get this car moving.

He turned the key and listened as the engine roared to life. Slipped it into reverse, hit the gas. Swerved dangerously around trees, sliding past some, nicked a couple. Found the road. He swung the wheel wildly, shoved the gear to "D" and hit the gas once more. Headed back toward the highway they had left only a few hours before. Grinned widely.

California, here I come...


*****

Kurt snapped to attention when he heard the car start and almost immediately come roaring backwards out of the woods. He started his own car, grabbing his radio, as the target's car screeched out of reverse and headed back down the road toward the highway.

"Team Two! Team Two! Target moving! NOW! Heading back to the interstate!"

Kurt had no idea if he was in surveillance or pursuit mode now. But he was going to have to catch up with the other car regardless. Damn.


*****

Sam heard the car starting. What the hell?! He pulled himself out of the sleeping bag, half-awake, and shoved out of the tent. He had seen at a glance that Randy was gone. The headlights of the car, jerking across the trees, were receding fast.

"Randy! Randy, wait!" He was practically screaming as he ran. This can't be happening! Sam was close to panic. He tore through the brush, trying to catch up to the car, knowing he was already too late. But he kept running anyway, ignoring the pain of bare feet on rough ground. He shoved branches aside as best he could, many striking him in the face and body before he even saw them.

Finally he reached the road, the dust from the gravel thick in the air. He'd missed the drive, slipped down into the ditch, shin deep in cold water. Breath coming in ragged gasps, he pulled himself up the other side of the ditch, onto the roadbed. He couldn't see anything for dust. Disoriented, he looked around, trying to get his bearings. He saw headlights coming through the cloud. Randy?


*****

Daryl, half asleep in the other car, further down the road, jumped at the excited radio transmission. His car started and he made a quick u-turn, heading back down the road, toward the encampment.

"Team One - status at the camp?"

"Team Two - unknown. Have target's taillights in view - check the camp then follow. Still heading toward interstate."

"Roger." Daryl sped up. He was worried. Kurt surely would have noticed if they were breaking camp. So what would make them leave so suddenly? So suddenly they must have left most of their gear?

He continued down the road, searching for the rural drive that marked the camp 'entrance'. It was hard to see with just the headlights. The tall grass along the roadbed didn't help. He came up on a patch of still settling dust, realizing almost too late that this was where the cars had made their sudden departure. He started braking, and then stared in horror as a figure popped up out of the dust cloud. Too late, he slammed on the brakes and heard the sickening thud of a body hitting the car.