CHAPTER NINETEEN

Randy was sailing down the interstate. It had taken a little bit to get used to the steering; he'd almost lost it a couple times going around curves. But now he was grinning like a Cheshire cat, watching the sun slowly peeking over the horizon - behind him. He'd done it. He'd outwitted Sam, was driving a car, was heading out west. Nothing was going to stop him now.

He saw the highway patrol heading east on the other side of the median. Paid no attention. He was watching his speed, staying in his lane, paying attention to his driving. He felt a tinge of anxiety when another patrol car passed him. He tried to ignore it, although he saw the officer give him a good long look as he went by.

Randy was starting to wonder about the things Sam had told him. About that social worker. He couldn't believe she would call out the highway patrol just for him, but why else would they be so interested in him? He had to admit, she'd been a pretty determined woman, but geez.

The third patrol car didn't pass. He saw the lights flashing behind him. Great. Just great...


*****

Kurt was following somewhat closely behind the target car. It looked like there was only one occupant but he couldn't be sure. He hadn't heard anything from Daryl; his calls to him had gone unanswered. It concerned him, but not unduly. Since moving into the foothills they had had sporadic problems with the signal. He would just have to keep trying. Daryl had probably gotten delayed checking out the camp.

He noted the highway patrol. It certainly hadn't taken them long to pick up the trail again. He watched somewhat nervously as the second patrol car passed them. They were getting rather obvious. That was not a good sign.

It took almost an hour for the next one to show up. It passed Kurt's car and pulled in between him and the old bomber and drove in tandem for a while. Something about it bothered Kurt. There was something...wrong. He couldn't put his finger on it right away. And then he got it. Damn.

The insignia on the door had been off-center.

Kurt had no way of contacting Carla now. She had said repeatedly this was surveillance only. But a fake patrol car? And only last night she'd told them to make sure it was easy for them to get a different vehicle. He had the feeling Carla wanted these guys to get wherever the hell it was they were heading for, and this fake cop didn't look like a friendly escort.

When the patrol car's lights started flashing, attempting to pull the car over, Kurt made his decision. He sped up, pulling ahead of the patrol car. With a sudden, swift turn, he forced the patrol car off the road and into the ditch. The car spun wildly in the muddy terrain, coming to a sudden standstill facing the wrong way. Kurt was out of the car and had his pistol pointed through the passenger window in an instant.

"Don't move. Who do you work for?"

The fake cop stared stonily ahead. Kurt sighed. He hated this part of the business. Without asking again, he swung the butt of the gun, hitting the man just above and behind the ear. Kurt hurried back to his own car, pulling a small kit from the back seat. It took him only minutes to roll the finger prints. He would fax them to Carla at the earliest possible opportunity. Well, he had one of the bad guys. Now where the hell was...

He couldn't believe it. The targets had actually pulled over and stopped a few yards ahead. Not quite believing his luck, Kurt started walking slowly toward the car. Reaching the driver's door, he looked in and was surprised to see Randy alone in the car.

Randy rolled down the window, eyes wide. "Can...can I help you?"

Kurt looked down at the man, his mind miles behind them, on Daryl and Sam.

"No, I think I can help you, though."

Randy glanced quickly at the wrecked patrol car, then stared at Kurt again. "Why did you do that?" Suspicious. Curious.

Kurt thought about the report he'd gotten on Randy. Not quite right upstairs. He had a cousin like that.

"Your friend, Sam. He wants to keep you safe."

"Sam sent you? But...how? I just left him a little while ago." Confusion overcame suspicion.

"I've been following you guys for quite a while. Before today." Don't lie to him, then you don't have to keep track of the lies. "Kind of an insurance policy." He glanced back at the cars behind them. Thinking he'd have to move soon, before the fake cop woke up. "Look, we can't stay here. There might be more of these guys, trying to stop you. We also need to get rid of this car. They know it, they'll be watching for it."

Randy gulped. The excitement, the confidence of earlier was fading fast. He wasn't used to this stuff. Cops had rousted them before, plenty, but this...And this guy. Sam had never mentioned anybody else being in on things. But then, Sam had been acting funny all along. He'd known there were things he wasn't telling him. But he had said they had to get rid of the car. How did this guy know about that? Damn. He wished Sam were here. Why wasn't Sam here?

"Where's Sam? I need to talk to him. I need to talk to him now."

Kurt thought fast. Sam must still be back at the camp. Daryl must have found him. Was that why he wasn't answering? Was that good or bad? Kurt didn't want to think about that right now. Daryl could handle Sam. And then they'd be on their way to find Kurt and Randy.

"He's coming, Randy. My other friend is with him. They'll catch up with us. But we can't stay here. It's not safe for you. Let me take care of some stuff back there and we'll take off. We'll take it easy, give him time to find us. Okay?"

Randy looked at him, doubtful. Kurt had to come up with something. Something to make Randy believe Sam had sent him. Something he knew from the reports. It was a gamble...

"We aren't going to get too far ahead of him, Randy. We can't. Sam's got your pills."


*****

Daryl drove silently down the highway. He'd heard Kurt's repeated transmissions but hadn't replied. He'd wanted to, badly. But when the barrel of a .45 was pointed at your head, you did whatever the person holding it told you to.

By rights, the man sitting next to him should be out cold, at the very least. Daryl knew he was hurting. He'd cast a glance at him every few minutes, hoping for an opening. The guy was deathly pale and sweating like crazy. But he held the gun steady. Daryl had never seen anyone move as quickly as this guy had.

The Able had raced to the front of the car, expecting to find a dead body. It took him a moment to find the man, who had been tossed into the ditch. He reached down, pulling the man's head and shoulders out of the icy cold water, and was relieved to hear him groan. At least he was alive. Dragging him as gently as he could out of the wet ditch, he had started checking him for injuries. It was obvious he had some kind of injury to his right leg; he gasped with pain when Daryl ran his hand over it. He was still checking him over when he heard the definite sound of a cocking gun.

"Hi, there. My name is Sam, and you, sir, are in deep shit."

With the barrel pressed into his neck, Daryl had carefully maneuvered Sam into the passenger seat and driven back into the camp. While Sam stood leaning on the door, Daryl quickly gathered the essentials from the camp and tossed them in the back seat.

Back in the car, he'd looked at Sam, wondering how much his captor had guessed. "Look, mister, I'm really sorry about this. Let me take you to the hospital and..."

"No, that's not what we're going to do. Y'see, I don't believe in coincidence. Coincidences make me real nervous. Now I had an idea someone was following us. And I know I heard more than one car leave here. Put that together with that radio you've got there, and I figure you're going to lead me to my friend."

Daryl looked at the gun, pointed unwaveringly at him. Nodding his head, he started back down the road, to the interstate.


*****

Sam listened as the radio crackled to life once more. Good. They hadn't heard from this guy's partner for some time. It made Sam nervous, and he was already strung so tight he felt ready to blow. His leg, stretched out as much as possible in the confines of the car, was burning. He was pretty sure it wasn't broken, but what else was wrong he didn't even want to think about. His whole body ached, and he knew there was a lot more going on inside that he didn't want to know. It was foolish, what he was doing. But he had no choice. Not yet.

He watched the driver carefully. After the first radio transmission, he'd had to admit that they had been following him and Randy. But Daryl - if that was his real name - had claimed that they were only supposed to follow, not stop, them. At the mention of Dr. Barish, his face had gone completely blank. A few more questions and Sam had been sure the man had no idea who Barish was or what the doctor had been up to. Which only made him wonder who the hell these guys were working for. But on that, Daryl was a sphinx.

Now, Sam listened intently to what Daryl's partner was saying. Something about a fake highway patrol trying to stop Randy. God. When Sam heard what this guy, Kurt, had done, and that he now had Randy with him, Sam didn't know whether to feel relief or higher panic. They had to catch up with them before things got completely out of his control. Like they weren't already.

"Tell him there's a truck stop a few miles ahead of him. He's to stop there and wait for you. You even hint that I'm here and you're dead in the ditch, got it?"

"Loud and clear." Daryl picked up the radio and relayed the instructions to Kurt.

"Glad you're back on air, Daryl. Any trouble? Did you find Sam?"

Daryl glanced at the man holding the gun. He was starting to tremble, the gun shaking slightly. Daryl couldn't believe the guy was still conscious.

"Uh, it's complicated. I'll explain when I catch up with you."

"Roger. ETA?"

"Twenty minutes, give or take." Daryl broke the connection. Looked at Sam again.

"I wish you'd believe me, Sam. We're not the bad guys here. Just the opposite. We're supposed to make sure you get where you're going."

"On whose direction?" Sam asked again, knowing he wouldn't get an answer. Sure enough, Daryl just stared ahead at the road. Twenty minutes later, they pulled into the truck stop.