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They normally went to the Cascades National Forest when they had time off and wanted to get away from the pressures of urban life - a several-times-a-year escape that was a lifeline for Jim Ellison. Sentinel of the 'Great City' though he was, instinctively driven to protect the tribe though he was, the sheer weight of input his senses received in Cascade made the occasional time away from the city vital, and Blair - with the willing support of Simon Banks - made sure that Jim was granted some, though all-too-few, relaxing breaks.
Although Blair was still considered a rookie despite his four years of experience riding with Jim, Jim certainly had the seniority and length of service to be entitled to regular weekends off (and as his partner, Blair would have been granted those too) and the maximum holiday entitlement (which Blair didn't get, whatever jobs he might be given while Jim was off); but his sense of responsibility to his tribe meant that he often chose to work instead of taking the time off, especially if he was in the middle of investigating something really serious. Of course, all his cases were serious or they wouldn't have landed up with Major Crime, but some were always more serious than others. In any case, he didn't really want to take time off when Blair had to work.
They had just finished dealing with two bad cases; one the murder of two young children and their mother - which they had, after several days, managed to prove had been done by the husband. The other was an arson case where several workers had died, trapped between the flames and a locked fire exit. They had finally been able to prove that the fire had been started by an ex-employee with a grievance, but the factory owner was also facing a charge of failing to maintain a safe environment for his staff - the fire door had been deliberately locked so that it couldn't be used as a shortcut to the parking lot, and the owner - the only man on the premises who held the key - had been in his office on the other side of the building when the fire started. There was also some evidence that after he got out, he hadn't even tried to help the trapped workers - without risking his own safety, it would have been easy enough for him to have gone around the outside of the building and unlocked the door from there.
Both Jim and Blair were more than depressed although the outcome of both cases was positive. Simon, recognizing that, insisted that they take two weeks off, suggesting that for once they should go further afield than the Cascades.
That evening, Blair started his computer, called up a map of Washington state and began to study it while Jim was preparing dinner.
"How do you feel about heading for the eastern side of the state?" he asked just as Jim began serving the meal. "We were only over that side once, when we took Simon to Rossberg - and that was cut short - "
"Because you took us forty miles in the wrong direction," Jim said, but his voice was affectionately teasing.
"To help Simon, we'd have had to turn back anyway even if we'd gone in the right direction," Blair pointed out. "Going the wrong way gave us a helluva good excuse to go back. What was our excuse going to be if we'd gone the right way?"
"That we'd gone the wrong way?" Jim suggested as he put the plates on the table. "Come and eat," he said. "You can carry on checking out the map afterwards."
Blair joined Jim at the table. "Well, I already have a sort of idea where might be a good place to go," he said, continuing to talk between mouthfuls. "Boundary Dam. It's pretty well due north of Spokane, in Pend Oreille County, close to the Canadian border. There's a small park there, Crawford State Park. Overnight camping isn't allowed in the park itself; it isn't big, just forty-nine acres - that's only a fraction of a square mile. But there's a campsite beside Boundary Dam - it's not far from the park, and staying there increases our options. There should be fishing on Boundary Lake or the Pend Orielle River - we might even be able to get in some of the canoeing we didn't do that other time. It's limestone country - the main point of interest in the park - well, the only one, really - is a big cave, open to the public, though you have to go in on an organized tour. I can't find any mention of any other caves, but in limestone country there must be more, even if they haven't been discovered yet - Gardner Cave itself was discovered less than a century ago. And there could be some good 'wild' hiking in the area. But, basically, even though all there is to the park is Gardner Cave, well, there's still the fishing."
"You want to see this cave, Chief?" Jim asked.
"I wouldn't mind - it sounds well worth seeing, though apparently there was quite a bit of damage done to the limestone formations over the years with people knocking off pieces as souvenirs - until the parks department made it trips with a tour guide only."
"What do you bet there's some graffiti there too?" Jim asked.
Blair grinned. "I might bet that there was; I sure wouldn't bet that there wasn't. Universal literacy has its points, but it also has its downside. If people can't write... though I wouldn't like to bet that people who didn't have a written language didn't leave graffiti. How do we know that the Neolithic cave paintings archaeologists admire so much weren't the graffiti of that era? The equivalent of the graffiti wall some cities have?"
"A lot of it is too good to be just graffiti, Chief."
"Jim. There are two kinds of graffiti. One lot is just unskilled paint-sprayed 'I was here' or carved initials that deface everything. The other is a highly-skilled form of art. I'd imagine that was always the way of it. If the cave paintings were just graffiti, I'd expect some of it to be good and some just saying 'I was here' - like the outlines of hands in a lot of places; there's no skill involved in putting your hand up against a wall and blowing paint at it."
"I don't suppose archaeologists would agree that any of it is just saying 'I was here'. They seem to think that all the cave paintings have some deep significance, probably religious."
Blair looked thoughtfully at him for a moment. "Sometimes you surprise me, Jim. You're good at hiding how much you really know."
Jim grinned, but said nothing.
Two days later saw them booking in to the campsite at Boundary Dam. The main vacation season was still some weeks away; they didn't have the place to themselves, but it was fairly quiet. Most of their fellow campers seemed to be older people, possibly retired.
They spent the first day just relaxing beside their tent, talking spasmodically - even fishing seemed too much effort. Early in the afternoon, Jim lay back, closed his eyes and went to sleep. Blair nodded to himself; he was tired - so how much more tired must Jim be? Keeping the sentinel centered, while important, was hardly as strenuous a job as the sentinel's. No matter how easily Jim now used his senses, no matter how automatic much of his control of them now was, he still had to concentrate in order to ignore sounds and smells that threatened to overwhelm the often subtle ones that would help him identify the kind of evidence that could be presented in court.
Blair reached for his journal and wrote in the previous day's journey and a quick description of the countryside around them, put it away and picked up one of the books he had brought in case of a day so wet they didn't want to leave the tent. Soon he was deep in the adventures of Allan Quatermain as he searched for King Solomon's Mines, acknowledging, but ignoring, the political incorrectness of some of the ideas expressed, reminding himself that Rider Haggard was simply reflecting the cultural attitude of the era when the book was written, and was possibly less extreme in his views than many of his contemporaries. Indeed, Blair had long been of the opinion that a lot of the books of that period were anthropologically fascinating simply because they so clearly did express the beliefs and prejudices of their time - although he was well aware that some anthropologists, especially among the older generation who were anxious to be seen as 'modern', were reluctant to accept that viewpoint.
Perhaps it was just as well that he was no longer pursuing a career in anthropology, he decided. He had always been very tempted to give a class two or three books that were written in the nineteenth century as required reading, then getting them to write an essay on what the books told the modern reader about the lives, beliefs and expectations of people living in that era, comparing that with the present day. The only reason he hadn't done it was his awareness that asking them to add the price of some fictional books to the already high cost of required non-fiction ones was increasing the financial burden the students had to carry, even if it was only by twenty or thirty dollars.
From time to time Blair glanced over at his sleeping friend, watching for the first signs of sunburn, but there were enough clouds drifting across the sky to block the sun much of the time, although it remained fairly warm even when the sun was hidden. He checked his watch, put the book down and began to prepare dinner.
The smell of cooking woke Jim, who pushed himself into a sitting position. Blair caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, and looked around. "Have a good sleep?" he asked cheerfully.
"I didn't realize I was so tired," Jim said, almost sheepishly.
Blair grinned. "You needed the break," he said. "And if you want to spend two or three days catching up on your sleep, I have several books - "
"Of course," Jim put in.
" - and it's part of my job as your guide to make sure you get enough rest."
"It won't be much of a vacation for you if all you do is sit reading while I sleep," Jim protested. "Come to that, there's not much point in coming all the way here if all I'm going to do is sleep."
"Jim, having the time to read, with nothing to take me away from the book, is a vacation for me," Blair said. "And you know what would happen if we'd just stayed at home. Simon would have ended up phoning us to go in and check on something. He'd have been very apologetic, but... And he knew that, which is why he encouraged us to come away."
They ate, washed up, and Jim said, "I'm sorry, Chief - I'm still tired. I think I'll go to bed. Maybe in the morning I'll feel like being more active."
"I won't be far behind you," Blair grinned.
Jim paid a quick visit to the rest room, returned to their tent, undressed and slipped into his sleeping bag.
Once he was satisfied that Jim was sleeping again, Blair strolled over towards the water and wandered northwards through the trees, following the course of the river. There was more water in it than he would have expected - he had seen other rivers where there was very little water just below a dam. Of course, at this point the Pend Oreille River ran northwards into Canada, and it was a fishing river; there was an international as well as a sporting reason to allow a fair overflow.
He didn't go far, although he suspected he'd gone far enough to cross the boundary into Canada. After about quarter of an hour he turned and made his way back, walking more briskly as he returned to the tent. He diverted by the rest room and then, although it was still relatively early, he too crawled into the tent, wriggled out of his clothes and into his sleeping bag. He rolled over to face Jim, then reached out and wrapped his arm around Jim's chest.
Even although he was relaxed in sleep, Jim seemed to relax even more.
"Rest," Blair murmured. He closed his eyes, and he too slept.
They woke early, and as Jim pushed himself up onto an elbow, Blair said, "How do you feel this morning?"
"As if I've slept for a week," Jim said, sounding surprised. "But then... it's quiet here. At home, there's always noise... "
"And you're always half alert for sounds that could mean trouble. But this isn't your territory and you're right, it's quiet, so you've been able to relax. Feel up to a bit of hiking today?"
"Okay... " Blair leaned over and pulled a folded map from a side pocket of his pack. "The trails are marked on this. See where you'd like to go while I get breakfast ready."
Jim selected a relatively short walk, and early afternoon saw them back at their tent. They spent the next two days fishing, then went to visit Gardner Cave - left to himself, Jim wouldn't have bothered; caves were not among his favorite places - but Blair wanted to see it. Jim knew that Blair would unhesitatingly abandon his own wishes if Jim explained his... not fear of caves, not exactly, nor was it as extreme as claustrophobia - it was more an extreme discomfort that he suspected might very well have to do with his senses.
But this was Blair's vacation too, and Jim was determined that nothing he did was going to interfere with what Blair wanted to do. And so Jim grimly and silently lowered the sensitivity of his hearing and sense of touch, the two things that he thought probably caused his discomfort, and followed Blair as the group they were with accompanied their guide into the cave.
With hearing and touch reduced, Jim found that the experience was less of a problem than he had feared, he enjoyed the tour more than he had expected to, and when they left the cave a little more than half an hour later, he was able to respond to Blair's excited comments with at least the appearance of enthusiasm.
"You know, I can't believe that this is the only cave in the area," Blair said after he had finally wound down. "I mean, it's limestone country. Limestone plus rivers equals caves. There have to be more!"
"Probably," Jim agreed. "But if as they said this one was only discovered early this century, it'd argue that they're all hiding pretty efficiently."
Blair shot him a suspicious look, clearly suspecting that Jim was laughing at him, while at the same time nodding agreement. "I'd like a word with someone from the local tribe, see if they have any legends about caves."
"You could," a voice behind them said, "and you'd get an answer, but a lot of the time the 'legend' has just been concocted for the benefit of any incomer who asks."
Both men swung around. Behind them, grinning amiably, was the guide who had conducted their tour.
"Oh! Hey," Blair said. "Yeah, you could be right. I've heard a few tales over the years that sounded just too good to be true. But are there any other caves?"
"Yes, there's another one over that way - " he pointed - "but the entrance has been blocked; it's too dangerous to take visitors in, although experienced cavers do sometimes get permission to explore. But if a party did run into difficulty, we'd have a problem; because we're not equipped for cave rescues."
"Do any of the Park staff ever think of going exploring there?"
The guide shook his head. "You know what they say about people who work in a candy store. After the first day or two, they're not tempted to help themselves. I can see the appeal of exploring a cave, seeing for the first time something nobody's ever seen before - but we see plenty of cave in our working hours. You a caver?"
"I did a little, a few years ago, but always following known, relatively easy, routes. Wouldn't classify myself as a total beginner, but I know I'm not competent to tackle anything too demanding. Some routes - some caves - include quite big drops, and I don't really have a good head for heights. I'm fine with the crawl-and-swim caves, but not the rappel-down-a-couple-of-hundred-feet ones - which of course means prusiking back up again. No, thank you - not for this boy."
The guide chuckled. "Which means you don't go in for rock climbing either."
"Not if the rock is more than two feet high," Blair said.
"And at that he'd want a safety rope," Jim grinned.
Without turning, Blair threw a hand sideways to hit Jim's arm.
The guide's chuckle turned into a full laugh. Jim and Blair laughed with him.
"Nice talking with you," the guide said, as he glanced at his watch. "About time for me to pick up my next group. You going up the trail to Canada?"
"Pity not to," Blair said, "though we're actually planning on hiking a few miles before we head back to camp, and Canada's no distance at all, is it?"
"Not more'n a hundred yards. Lotta people get their photos taken with one foot in Canada, one in America. Well, you have a good day, now."
"Thanks," Blair said.
As the guide turned to go back to the cave, Jim and Blair headed north... for Canada, which they reached in just a couple of minutes.
"If we were ever on the run and wanted to slip into Canada, this is where to do it," Blair muttered as he walked two or three yards into that country.
"It's probably not quite as easy as that," Jim said, stopping beside Blair.
Blair glanced around. "Wild country," he said. "Anyone who knew what he was doing could disappear in these woods, no bother at all. Get a rental car in Spokane, preferably using a false name, leave it at Metaline, hike from there making sure you couldn't be seen from the road, come up here out of hours when there's nobody about, over the border and vanish. If the car's found, or when it's reported to the police as possibly abandoned, there's no telling which way its occupants went."
Jim looked at him. "You have a criminal mind, Chief."
Blair chuckled. "When I was a child... sometimes Naomi had to do a disappearing act. There was once... She'd been arrested for taking part in a protest, and I was put into a foster home. Not one of the better ones - the people were in it for the money, I think. Oh, they weren't neglectful, just not particularly... well, loving, and they certainly didn't know how to treat a slightly traumatized child who had no idea what was happening to him, or even exactly why. Anyway, the court decided that someone like Naomi, with no fixed address and no steady job, wasn't a suitable guardian for a nine-year-old, and although she was released with a warning, she was told that she would have to get a fixed address and prove that she could support a child before she would get me back.
"How she tracked me down, I never did find out - but it only took her a couple of days. She grabbed me and we ran for it. Three days later, we were over the border into Mexico, via Tijuana - walked over the border as if we were tourists, and we stayed in Mexico for nearly a year. Then we headed further south, through Guatemala and into Belize, and came back to America from there. So I know how easy it can be to slip across a border.
"And, Jim - I'm always aware of the danger to you, if someone decided to try to grab you. I'm always looking for viable ways to let us escape and disappear. This would be perfect - crossing into Canada well away from our own territory, and from Canada we could fly to anywhere in the world before anyone realized what we'd done."
"We?" Jim asked, his voice oddly vulnerable.
"Of course 'we'. You don't think I'd let you go on the run on your own, do you? In any case, anyone looking to grab you as a lab rat would probably want to grab me, too, for my knowledge of sentinels. Not that I could tell them much more than they could find out for themselves - the way Brackett did. God, I wish there was some way that I could suppress that paper I did on sentinels - the one Brackett got hold of. Then there would just be Burton... "
"Don't beat yourself up over it, Chief," Jim said. "Back then you didn't know that you'd ever find a full sentinel... If I'd never been in the army, if I'd gone into business the way Dad wanted, it wouldn't really matter too much - I wouldn't have the training and I'm too old now to be trained for special ops the way I was... "
"If you were grabbed by scientists wanting to know what makes a sentinel, none of that would matter," Blair said unhappily. "When we first met, you said you didn't need the bad guys to know you had an edge - and I took that point. It was only later I began to realize all the possibilities... "
They took what might be called the scenic route back to the campsite, walking in a semi-circle through the trees that took in several paths and needed close to two hours to complete. As they reached a point from which they could see the dam, Jim's head lifted in away that was all-too-familiar to Blair.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Not sure - but something's up. There's too much activity at the campsite."
They had been walking reasonably briskly, but without hurrying; now, by mutual consent, they speeded up, arriving back at the campsite to find it buzzing, with several police cars and an ambulance parked beside the site office. After one quick glance at each other, they headed over to the assembled police who looked to be getting ready to go hiking, Jim at least noticing that a few civilians, mostly men but a couple of women as well, that he had noticed during their stay were with the police. Blair at his heels, Jim made for the man who was clearly in charge.
"Afternoon," he said. "Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg, Cascade PD. Can we help you?"
"Don Fraser, state police. We have a report of a missing family. A woman and three boys, ages three to six. They arrived yesterday, mid-afternoon, and booked in for a week; she said her husband would be arriving today. When he arrived during the morning, there was no sign of his wife or the kids. He was earlier than he'd expected to be, and thought at first she'd maybe taken them for a walk, but when it hit early afternoon and there was still no sign of them, he got a bit worried, and asked the folk in the tent beside theirs if they'd seen his wife. Turned out they'd seen her go off with the kids last night about five, and hadn't seen her since. They'd gone out themselves a little later, and just assumed she arrived back while they were away, and hadn't really thought about it when they didn't see her in the morning."
Jim frowned. "We've been along several of the nearer paths that way - " Jim pointed - "this afternoon, and didn't see anybody."
"Several - but not all?" Fraser asked.
"I think we covered all the main tracks," Jim said slowly, "but not the ones that were pretty obviously made either by animals or people taking a short cut."
"We didn't hear anything either," Blair offered. "If she was up there, hurt and calling for help, I think we'd have heard her."
"And with kids that young, she wouldn't have gone far," Fraser added.
"There's no chance she's a runaway?" Jim asked softly, glancing over at the obviously worried man currently talking to the paramedics. "Using this as her chance to leave her husband, taking the kids, knowing that any pursuit would be delayed by a search for her?"
"That did occur to me, but Mr. Newcome maintains that they weren't having any problems, that they were very happy. In any case, she didn't have any gear with her," Fraser said. "If that was what she planned, surely she'd have taken at least a small pack with food." He glanced around, seeing that everyone was ready to go. "Can I depend on your help in the search?"
"Yes, of course," Jim said.
It didn't take Fraser long to finish deploying the waiting searchers, who set out briskly, fanning out from the campsite. Finally, the only people left were Fraser himself, the paramedics from the ambulance, Jim and Blair, and the distraught-looking husband.
"You didn't assign anyone to go up the side of the lake?" Blair asked.
"Mrs. Newcome was last seen heading away from the water towards the road," Fraser replied. "There's one party going down the river, because she could have gone that way once she reached the road, but if she headed up the road she wasn't likely to have cut back to the lake. However, if you two would go that way, it would cover it, just in case. You have cell phones?"
"Time was, all SAR contact was by radio," Fraser said. "And in some areas, it still is; radio doesn't have the dead zones the phones have. But this area isn't bad... inside the area, that is. You'd have a problem phoning... oh, Cascade," he grinned. He handed over a card. "That's my contact number. If you find anything... "
"Yeah, we know the drill," Jim said. "Come on, Chief."
They set off, briskly at first then, after several hundred yards, more slowly, forced by the slope of the ground and the trees that grew down it to the edge of the lake to be more cautious.
"I'm beginning to think Fraser was right," Jim said after a few minutes. "She's not likely to have come this way - not with a three-year-old."
"It's amazing the kind of terrain very young kids can tackle," Blair replied. "But I take it you don't hear anything?"
"Nothing but birds," Jim said. "And there's some traffic on the road... "
"That's not very far from the shoreline, is it?" Blair remembered catching glimpses of water through the occasional gap in the trees as they drove the last few miles to the campsite.
"No... it's one of the things that makes me wonder if this is a planned disappearance. She's seen to be going in one direction, then once she's out of sight of the camp she cuts back into the trees, then hidden by them she goes a little way before she turns back to the road, where she's picked up by someone - a friend, a new boyfriend... Everyone thinks she's lost... then when a search for her comes up blank she becomes a statistic, along with her kids."
"It'd be a pretty cold-blooded way of leaving her husband. I mean, there isn't a good way, especially since he seemed to think he had a sound marriage, but it seems particularly cruel, doing it like that."
"If she wanted to leave him and keep her children, keep them away from him - no weekend visitation rights or anything like that - it's the best way to go." Jim was silent for a moment. "I don't say Mr. Newcome is abusive - he certainly didn't give me that impression - But I haven't lived with the guy. For all I know, he's not a man who's easy to live with. And I remember a case from years ago... It was just after I'd finished my training. The wife had walked out, taking her two children. The man accepted that his marriage was over, but demanded his right of access to the children - two girls, ages four and five. The mother objected, saying that she didn't think it would be good for the children; and the older one in particular said she didn't want to visit Dad, but there didn't seem to be any reason to deny him - he insisted that his wife had turned them against him. About a year later, the older girl said something to a school friend, who had the sense to repeat it to her mother... who was concerned, and went to see the child's mother, who promptly went back to court to get the access revoked on the grounds that their father was sexually abusing the older girl. She'd had her suspicions, which was why she'd left him, but no proof - the man had stopped short of actual rape, he'd 'limited' his abuse to indecent assault.
"Hard to live with. Like... he talks too much?" Blair asked.
"Expects to run tests on his kids' abilities all the time," Jim added. "Mental abuse, Chief, mental abuse."
Blair grinned. "That's a matter of opinion," he said, refusing to rise to the bait. "It's only abuse if it's not done for the genuine benefit of the person being tested - rather than to satisfy the... we'll say needs of the person doing the testing."
Jim reached over and rubbed the top of Blair's head. "I don't say thank you often enough," he said seriously. "But... you do know I couldn't do without you, don't you."
"Just doing my job," Blair said. He hesitated, then added, "I didn't really understand just what I was taking on when I said I'd be delighted to help you, way back when we first met... but now I do know, and I wouldn't change anything."
They carried on.
"How far do we go?" Blair asked after a few more minutes. "How far could a three-year-old realistically walk, especially in this terrain, remembering he'd have to walk back again?"
"Good question," Jim said. "Wouldn't it depend on his culture? I seem to remember that Chopek kids could walk much further than I'd expected."
"Because that was the only way they could get around," Blair agreed. "But we're not talking about a kid from a hunter-gatherer tribe, we're talking about a kid whose environment says 'car', whose only normal walking is probably going around the supermarket with Mom."
"Although if Mrs. Newcome decided to take the boys for a walk, she must have been confident that they could all go... what? At least a mile?"
"In which case we must be getting close to the point where she would have decided to turn back - if she came this way."
"Another five minutes," Jim decided, "then we move uphill a little and head back, following - " He stopped, his head lifting.
"You hear something?" Blair asked softly.
"Yes... Come on!"
He speeded up a little, Blair following close behind him. Another minute, and Blair could hear the sobbing that had caught Jim's attention, and a tired voice speaking, although he was still too far away to make out any words. Another minute, and they reached the family.
A woman was lying awkwardly at the uphill side of a tree, hugging a sobbing child. The other two boys were huddled close beside her.
"Mrs. Newcome?" Jim said.
"Oh, thank God!"
Blair scooped up the crying boy as Jim knelt beside the obviously injured mother. "Ssshhh, ssshhh," Blair murmured. "It's all right. You're safe now."
"'M cold," he whimpered. "'N hungry."
"I bet you are," Blair agreed. "But we'll soon get you back to the camp. Your Dad's there, and he's really worried about you."
Meanwhile Jim was checking Mrs. Newcome. "What happened?"
"We were walking on the road, but the boys saw a deer among the trees, so we tried to get closer to it. Then Tim slipped. I tried to catch him, and fell as well. We both slid downhill quite a distance before we hit that tree and stopped. I tried to get up but my leg..."
"Broken," Jim said, as he turned to check the biggest boy, who was lying very still.
"Bobby wanted to try to get back to the camp to get help, but he's not quite five, and - well - I thought it would be asking too much of him. How's Tim?
"His leg is broken too, but he's also hit his head on something, probably the tree, and I'd guess he has a concussion." He pulled out his cell phone, and dialled Fraser's number. "Ellison. We've found them. Mrs. Newcome and Tim - the oldest boy - are hurt. They both have a broken leg, may or may not have other injuries." He glanced at Blair. "Chief?"
Blair nodded. "It's not far to the road. I'll head up to it and flag down the ambulance."
"We're not too far from the road," Jim told Fraser. "Sandburg's heading up to it now; if you send the ambulance out, that's the easiest way to get a couple of stretchers to here... Yes, the other two boys seem to be all right, just hungry."
Meanwhile Blair had tried to return the youngster hanging on to him to his mother, but the boy wouldn't let go. He shrugged, and set off up the slope, still carrying the child. "What's your name?" he asked as he went.
"Okay, Jack. We're going to meet an ambulance that's coming for your Mom and your brother, and I bet your Dad will be right there as well."
It was no great distance to the road, and a couple of minutes after they reached it, an ambulance appeared, with two cars behind it. Blair waved, and the three vehicles stopped. Fraser got out of one car, Newcome out of the other, and rushed over to Blair. "Jack!" he exclaimed.
Blair transferred the child to his father as the paramedics pulled stretchers from the ambulance.
"How far is it?" one asked.
"Three, maybe four hundred yards, but it's fairly steep in places."
"Mr. Ellison said they have broken legs?"
"Yes. He thinks Tim has a concussion as well. He had medic training in the army, so he does know what he's talking about. Apparently they slipped, and fell downhill for some yards before they hit a tree."
It took them only a few minutes to reach the Newcomes and Jim. As soon as he saw his father, Bobby ran over to him. "Dad!" Concerned as he was about his wife, Newcome could only smile reassuringly at her as his attention was demanded by the two younger boys.
The two injured were soon checked, but as careful as the paramedics were, Tim screamed as he was rolled gently onto a backboard. Both parents looked concerned; one of the paramedics said, "Poor kid's reached his limit. I don't think he's broken anything apart from his leg, but having it moved does hurt."
Mother and Tim were taken straight off en route to the nearest hospital; Mr. Newcome took the two younger boys back to the campsite, where they were given a meal by the neighboring campers, who were very apologetic that they hadn't raised an alarm earlier even although they'd had no way to know Mrs. Newcome had been hurt. He told them he would have liked to head off immediately, but it was getting late and he knew the two younger boys needed a good night's sleep. After he settled them down, he made a quick tour of the site to thank everyone who had joined in the search before he headed back to his tent.
After finishing their own meal and washing up, Jim and Blair crawled into their own tent. They had had a long day, and both were tired.
"Let's hope the rest of the holiday's quieter than today!" Blair murmured as he settled down.