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Submitted by Steven ODell on 9 July 2007 - 12:13am.

Chapter 27

A few hours sleep had done at least two of the men a world of good. They all prepared to monitor the highway for any signs of Ted. They would drive slowly, one of the cars in either direction, searching the edge of the trees for wherever he might be hiding. With any luck, he might be spotted. They would also check any side roads they came across. There might be a cabin that he would hole up in. Hopefully he had not come upon an occupied one and harmed the owner. Each man would have a gun in his possession, in the event that it was necessary to use it, either for defense or as a signal to the others. They would drive with their windows down in the event they needed to hear one another, though the distances would likely prohibit hearing even a gunshot. The chance was remote at best that they would find him, but this was better to them than the cabin fever they had been experiencing thus far. Fresh air and a fresh outlook would do wonders for them. Jonathan and Hunter went searching together and Mose drove alone. It seemed the best arrangement to both Jonathan and Hunter and they had agreed upon it without so much as a word being exchanged—an unspoken agreement and a defense mechanism for them both. Mose was still in a foul mood and they both knew it.

“Wow, is he all bent outta shape!”

“Yeah. I’ve never seen him this uptight in all the years I’ve known him. I thought this leave of absence would do him some good, but he’s just tied in knots from it.” Jonathan shook his head as if to say he was stumped as to what he could do about Mose.

“So, are you guys retired like Ron?”

“Yeah, we are. Both of us are thinking about the reserves, though. Maybe soon, maybe not at all. Thought about going into business together, too—spy-for-hire stuff. A lot of companies could use that. We quit the service originally because we were both getting mighty tired of the treatment we got from our new commanding officer. He was nothing like Ron.”

“What about Bill?”

“We didn’t ever really work with him much. We just liked to hang out together. He’s the proverbial good ol’ boy, but a whole lot better than the name implies. Can’t help but love him. He’s retired now, too. He thought at one point that he would be a ‘lifer’, like we did, but it gets kinda old at times.”

“Bill wasn’t part of your team, then? Ron told me that you guys worked together on some assignments, but he never told me what.”

“Bill was the best marksman that any of us had ever seen, but he never really wanted to be a sniper and that’s what we needed most on our team. We had to get another guy for that, but he wasn’t as good as Bill.” Jonathan’s voice took on a grave seriousness here. “He was killed in a mission that went wrong.” He clammed up at this point and looked absorbed in his thoughts.

“Why did Ron drop out of the service so early? I would have thought that he would stay in if only to take his mind off the loss of Lenore.”

“Evidently he never told you all of it. He blamed himself for the man that was killed. He followed the rules and his orders to a ‘T’ and it went wrong anyway. He never could forgive himself for that. He always thought he should have done it differently—listened to his conscience instead of the orders. It wasn’t meant to be, I guess. So, I think he quit to prevent it ever happening again under his leadership. I’m sure some of it was Lenore’s death, but most of it was his feeling of guilt. He just wasn’t able to handle two crises at once. Can’t say I blame him. Few men could take it as long as he did.”

“I know him this well—he would never hurt or endanger anyone intentionally. He shouldn’t blame himself for it.”

“You’re right, Hunter, but what we shouldn’t do and what we actually do are often very different things. Logic and friends can tell a man that he is not guilty, but until he believes it himself he will be a prisoner of his own anguish. ‘There ain’t no changin’ a man’s mind if he ain’t ready to change it himself’, as Bill would say.”

Hunter sat in silence and thought about this new information on his cousin. It was a revelation he had not been aware of previously.

Jonathan broke his meditations by announcing, “We should probably call the car rental company soon and tell them where their car is. If we get caught before we call, we could be found guilty of auto theft. That could just ruin your whole day, now couldn’t it?” His amusement showed only subtly, but Hunter did not miss it. He thought, after all they had been through, how much difference could be made by adding a charge of auto theft to the mix, really? Hunter gave Jonathan a light punch on the shoulder and continued scanning the road.

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