"It won't start," Fiona said from inside the rover, "I know it's got a full tank of gas."
Jason opened up the hood.
"Is the battery working all right," he said, looking inside but not really sure what to look for.
"It was earlier," Fiona said, "I haven't been having any problems with anything."
"I've got some cables," Jason said, "We can try to charge it if it's the battery."
"I don't think it's the battery," she said.
Maggie walked up to them with some coffee.
"It's a bit chilly tonight," she said, "Drink up."
Jason took a cup.
"I think I need some brandy."
She looked at him and smiled.
Fiona tried to start her car again, not expecting anything to happen and nothing did.
Chance put his suitcase on the bed in his beach house and started packing. He had just gotten home after a long day spent finishing up paperwork. After returning from the debacle at the art museum, he had sat down and worked through dinner, actually getting a lot done. His eye smarted but the bruising didn't look too bad. Ginger's attentiveness and ice pack had worked.
He had left instructions with how he expected the agency to be run in his absence with Greg and Brody who had returned to the office after changing his clothes for a change. Chance suppressed a chuckle at the sight remembering how many times he had been in Brody's shoes. The ex-cop had his faults for sure but he was a crack investigator and a solid backup to Chance when he needed one. No one could replace Fiona as his partner but Brody hadn't tried. And if Brody went off on some tear through the city, Greg had enough sense to rein him in and if Greg couldn't, then Uncle Mac surely would.
Still he worried…
His own phone rang. He found it among the pile of clothes and picked it up.
"Hi Chance, I hope I didn't catch you too late."
"It's never too late for you to call, Alice," he said, "How are things going?"
"I'm sitting here with Christina watching a movie marathon and eating lots of cheese popcorn."
"Homemade, I hope," Chance said, "I guess Fiona told you I'm flying in tomorrow."
"Yes she did," Alice said, "She's out working late in town with the lawyers and probably won't be back home for a while. I told her to call me when she gets back."
"She's been working really hard?"
"Mostly this week," Alice said, "They have some briefs due in court coming up and a hearing next week. But I'll make sure she's got some down time."
"Good luck," he said, "Once she gets her teeth into something, she's not going to let go of it."
"This hasn't been an easy case, Chance," Alice said, "I'll explain more when you get here. Just hurry on up and I'll make sure there's plenty of food waiting when you get in."
"How's she doing, otherwise?"
"She's doing well," Alice said, "She's got a lot on her mind though and she's worried about you."
"I'm doing fine," Chance said, "I've just been very busy on this end. It will be great to get away for a while."
After he hung up, he continued with his packing. He would wake up early, go to the airport to finish prepping his plane and then take off. Three hours later, he would be in Colorado and on his way to the ranch and among other things, Alice's cooking which would fortify him for whatever else waited his arrival.
He knew everyone was worried about him because he had worked nonstop for most of the past year trying to get his agency back on track after his long absence. He hoped that his decision to take a spell to relax and recharge himself had placated them because everything really was fine if people would just stop asking. However, as he tossed in some pairs of socks, he thought that rarely did it ever happen that his vacations went according to plan. This time, he vowed, things would be different. He'd do some riding, take Cassidy fishing like he promised and stick to working on the ranch if needed, not on cases. And hopefully despite her busy schedule, he'd spend time with Fiona He thought about calling her but realized it was getting late where she was staying.
So he continued putting items in his suitcase, looking ahead to rest and relaxation. Getting away from the grind of his job would allow him to think about his future and where everything in it fit together. No danger or risk in doing that amid the breathtaking beauty of the Rockies.
Still, he packed his gun in his carryon. He never traveled anywhere without it anyway, and you could never be sure when you might need it. Experience had taught him that.
"The car's not going to start," Fiona said, getting out of it.
"Too bad there's no triple A out here," Jason said, putting the hood down.
"Yeah," she said, "No cab service either."
"We can give you a lift back to the ranch," he said, "Or you can spend the night here."
"Well, Cassidy is spending the night at the ranch house," Fiona said, "So I could stay in town."
"Well, then it's set," Jason said, "I'm sure you can get a room at the motel."
They started walking.
"No wait," Fiona said, stopping, "I've got to get back to the cabin. I've got an early day tomorrow on the ranch."
"Are you sure," Jason said.
Fiona looked at Maggie who stood watching and nodded.
"If you could just give me a lift back to the ranch, I'll appreciate it."
"Okay sure thing," Jason said, "Maggie, do you want to come or stay here?"
"I'll come," she said.
"Then let's get going," he said, looking at the sky, "I think it's going to start raining".
Chance answered the door. His uncle walked in his living room.
"It's awfully late," Chance said, "I've got to get to the airport early."
"I talked to Brody and Greg," Mac said, "I told them how it was going to be and they're going to be just fine."
"Thanks, Uncle Mac," he said, "I trust them, even if they go off in some strange directions sometimes. Their records as cops speak for themselves."
"You need this vacation Chance," Mac said, "You need to get away and relax for a while."
"Look, that's what everyone's been telling me," Chance said, "But I'm fine and the agency's going to be fine."
"What about you and Fiona?"
"That's what I don't know about," he said, "I think I hurt her feelings and I didn't mean to do that."
"I don't know what happened, but you need to work it out," Mac said, "You've been friends for far too long."
"We are still friends," Chance said, "Best friends."
"You need to remember that when you talk to her."
"I know that," Chance said, "It's not that simple."
"You want to make life more complicated than it has to be?"
"More complicated," Chance said, "I'm trying to figure out if I want to keep my agency going, if not, what I want to do next…"
"You thinking of selling the agency?"
"I don't know," Chance said, "I did some thinking when I was in the hospital."
"Where you wound up with pneumonia because you worked yourself into the ground," Mac reminded him.
"I'm fine now," Chance said.
Mac nodded slowly watching his nephew pace.
" Fiona spent three days at your bedside, after flying out from Texas until you stabilized. They couldn't kick her out," Mac said, "She offered to help you with your agency."
"I couldn't accept that," Chance said, "I knew what she would be giving up and I couldn't be responsible for that."
"Did you explain that to her?"
"Well…I decided to hire some more investigators to help with the caseload."
"You're so thick sometimes for someone who inherited his mother's smarts but his father's stubbornness."
Chance turned around to face his uncle.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Mac shook his head and walked away into the kitchen.
Jason drove down the darkened highway. Rain drops started hitting the windshield and he turned on the windshield wipers.
"We got a tremendous amount of work done today," he said, "It shouldn't be so bad from this point out until our date in Denver."
"I hope the judge is in a good mood," Fiona said, "That hearing's going to be critical."
"I haven't been to Denver in a while," Maggie said, "It might be great to spend a couple of days there seeing the sights."
Jason grew silent and Fiona looked out the window.
"Maybe we'll do that," Jason said.
"Isn't your friend coming to town," Maggie asked.
"Yeah, he's flying in tomorrow," Fiona said, "It's been a while since I've seen him."
"He's coming out to help?"
Fiona shook her head.
"Just to rest and relax," she said, "He was ill earlier this year and he never took time off to recover. Just went back to work."
"This is a beautiful place," Maggie said, "Plenty of ways to relax and if he's feeling better, maybe he could join us in Denver."
"We'll be very busy while we're there," Jason said.
Fiona looked up at the mirror and saw headlights coming up behind them. She looked behind her and saw rapidly approaching light which blinded her.
Chance looked up for a moment while zipping his suitcase.
Mac watched him.
"What is it?"
Chance shook his head.
"Never mind," he said.
"So you will spend some time on this trip deciding what your future holds," Mac said.
"I won't make any major decisions either way without consulting you and the other investigators," Chance said.
"What do you want to do?"
Chance sat on his bed.
"I love my work," he said, "But I haven't had a case that's grabbed me for a while now. I think I need to change my focus and remember why I started doing this work."
Mac cocked his head and looked at his nephew for a while.
"You thinking about leaving L.A. and moving back to Texas?"
Fiona sat on the examining table after struggling to put on her jacket. The attending physician had advised her that she had a mild concussion and should stay overnight for observation. She naturally refused to do so and he shook his head, muttering something about being able to give medical advice but being able to force someone to take it. She shut him out but then Chance started in about how worried he was about her and that she was lucky to be alive.
He looked at her and then they had walked out together. This time it had been his turn to be impatient with her for ignoring a doctor's advice, next time it would probably fall back on her.
Fiona woke up, lying on her stomach, feeling something dripping down her face and the first thought in her mind were those words that Chance had said to her several years ago. She struggled to move, but pain answered her efforts from all over her body. She finally lifted her head several inches and images swam into view but they weren't clear. She saw what she thought was a glass window pushed inward and the door warped into shapeless metal.
She heard moaning from the front seat which was several feet lower than where she lie.
"Jason…Maggie," she called.
" Fiona …?"
She recognized Maggie's voice, which sounded as jagged as the metal surrounding her. She couldn't see the other woman.
"Are you hurt," Fiona called out.
"I can't move my legs," Maggie said, "Jason… He's not moving at all."
Fiona took a deep breath which hurt her chest.
"Where are we," she said, "What happened?"
She tried to remember but she couldn't think back through her hazy recollections when something had gone horribly wrong.
"We…must have gone off the road," Maggie said.
"Where's Jason," Fiona asked.
"He's here but he's not moving," Maggie said, "I don't know if he's breathing."
"Can you check to see," Fiona said.
"I…I don't know," Maggie said, "I'm pinned in here."
Fiona got one hand free and pushed a piece of metal off of her.
"I think I can move a little," she said, closing her eyes against a sudden eruption of pain.
"The windows must be broken," Maggie said, "I can feel the cold air and rain coming in."
"At least you can feel it," Fiona said, "That's a good sign."
Fiona struggled to move, then felt the car shift beneath her.
"What was that," Maggie said.
"We must have gone down into the gorge," she said, "That means we were approaching Jamboree road."
"We could still slide down further then," Maggie said.
Fiona remained still, even keeping her breath shallow, trying to think about what to do.
Alice looked at Cassidy, asleep on her bed. She had passed out, a few minutes ago with a bowl of popcorn still in her hands. She had removed it, then placed a quilt over the girl while she slept. She left the bedroom to go get a cup of tea in the kitchen.
She looked at the clock. It read 3 a.m. and still no phone call from Fiona that she had arrived home safely. In the kitchen, Alice picked up the phone and called Fiona 's cell phone and the phone at the cabin but received no response from either, except that it was out of range. Maybe Fiona had gotten back really late and hadn't wanted to wake her but as the hours had passed, Alice grew more concerned.
She picked up the phone to call Jed.
"He…llo," Jed said.
"I'm sorry to wake you Jed, but I'm worried about Fiona," she said.
Jed sat up in bed, careful not to wake Bonnie up.
"She hasn't gotten back yet," he said.
"She hasn't called," Alice said, "Because of everything that's been going on, I asked her to do so when she arrived back."
"She should be back from town by now," Jed said, "I'm going to get up and get over to the cabin and check on her. I'll call you from there."
"Thanks, Jed," Alice said and hung up. Then she went to the stove to heat up some water to prepare coffee, knowing that she wouldn't be able to sleep until she knew Fiona was home and safe.
Fiona gingerly sat up and tried to move slowly to where she could see the front seat, willing the car not to shift its position from where it had landed. Darkness still surrounded them, and the chill began to permeate the inside of the car but the raining had slowed. She could feel it occasionally hit her face, which she discovered she had cut on some glass. One of her cheekbones smarted and felt very tender when she touched it.
She looked over the top of the seat and saw that metal and glass had intruded into where Jason and Maggie had been sitting.
The other woman looked up at her.
"I think something's wedged into my leg."
"Then you better sit still," Fiona said, trying to shift her position to be able to see Jason.
"I tried to call 911 on my cell but I couldn't get through," Maggie said.
"Someone's going to come looking for us when they notice we're missing," Fiona said, "But it might be a while."
"I don't know if Jason has that long," Maggie said, "He's not responding."
Fiona reached over and saw him sitting back limply in his seat but like Maggie, he had been pushed back by the dashboard and in his case, the steering wheel. She did reach over with her hand to feel for a pulse on his neck which was sticky with blood.
"How is he?"
"I feel something but it's very weak," Fiona said, looking back at his ashen skin, "He might be bleeding inside."
"I can't reach him," Maggie said.
"I'll try to see how close I can get," Fiona said, "But I have to move slowly."
She inched forward over the seat, taking care not to bump her head and testing the car for its reaction. When she felt pain, she just closed her eyes until it passed and then continued.
Chance woke up with a start and looked at his watch. It was five a.m so he got out of bed and headed to the shower. As he passed, he didn't notice the message light blinking on his phone.
Alice and Jed stood in the kitchen.
"I called the other ranchers," Jed said, "They're going to send their men out on a search party."
"I can't believe that Daniels said that we have to wait 24 hours until we can report them missing," she said.
"What can you expect," Jed said, "He's on the payroll of the men who might be responsible."
"Then you think Kilroy and his men did something to them," Alice said, more calmly than she felt.
"I think they did what they had threatened to do from beneath their rocks," Jed said.
Jed had done as he promised and had gone to Fiona 's cabin but discovered she had never come back and her car wasn't in the driveway. He had tried to call the lawyers at their motel in town but received no answer. One of his friends dropped by the motel to look for them and then discovered their car was missing and so were they. After he had called Jed back with the news, Jed had delivered it to Alice who had put her head in her hands but then resolved to find them.
She had tried to call Chance out in L.A. hoping to catch him but he hadn't answered. Now she had to go look for his cell phone number.
Cassidy wandered in, wiping her eyes and yawning.
"What's going on," she said, after looking around and seeing worried faces, "Has anything happened?"
Several hours had passed and Jason still hadn't regained consciousness. Fiona had taken off her light jacket and put it around him but didn't know what else to do, since most of him lay underneath the twisted metal and glass of what had once been his car. Now Maggie began to drift in and out of consciousness, leaving Fiona alone with her own thoughts. Her head hurt and she felt dizzy but she remained awake. She tried to remember back to exactly what had happened but her mind remained fuzzy. All she remembered was seeing a bright light moving towards them from behind, getting larger until it blocked out the darkness. She remembered thinking that a car had joined them on the deserted highway and waiting for it to pass. Then, nothing.
She discovered that her cell phone had worked but when she tried it several times, she discovered she was not within range.
Fiona leaned back in her seat, and noticed it had grown lighter outside. She shivered in the cold and wrapped her arms around herself. She thought it's been at least six hours or so and help hasn't arrived. Sitting in the silence of the car, he didn't know how much longer she should wait but she had to think about leaving and somehow getting up to the road to look for assistance. She didn't' know how much time Jason had left if he was still alive at all. Looking over at the window, she realized she would have to smash the remaining glass out of it to have any chance of climbing out. She reached, grimacing until she discovered a piece of metal lying on the floor. She pulled it up and then turning away from the window raised it against the glass.
It took several attempts and she had to rest briefly between each one but finally, no glass remained to block her passage. She crawled over, trying not to flinch when the car shifted and then she pushed herself through the window, inching her hips through the frame.
She fell only several feet and nearly blacked out but after the pain passed, she looked around her. The air blew frigid against her and a light rain fell but the ground proved solid. She looked back at the car and found that a solid tree had kept it from sliding further down the gorge. She looked up but couldn't see the top, except for the sky. She got down low on her hands and knees and started climbing.
Chance prepped his plane outside the airport hanger and found the time passing quickly. The sun had risen over the horizon, turning the sky a light pink. He sat inside his cockpit, checking the equipment on the console. Satisfied, he went back outside.
Brody came walking up to him. Chance saw him and raised his hand.
"I'm not working," Chance said, "I'm on vacation so if it's job-related, drop me a line."
His partner looked hurt.
"I'm just coming to wish you good luck on your journey," he said, "And to help you if you need it."
"Thanks," he said, "No I'm fine and about ready to take off."
"Before you do, there is one case…"
He saw the look on Chance's face then changed his mind.
"Never mind," he said, "Between Greg and me, we've got it all handled."
"I know you do," Chance said, "And you've got Uncle Mac to help you stay on the straight and narrow while I'm gone."
"I think it's time for a sandwich," he said, pulling out a Hoagie, "Would you like one for the road? It doesn't look like you have inflight service."
Chance shook his head. His phone rang and he looked at the Caller ID.
"I'll take this," he said, stepping away.
"Chance, are you there?"
A chill filled him at the sound of Alice's voice.
"What's wrong," he asked.
"I tried calling you at your house," she said, " Fiona didn't come home last night."
"Wasn't she working late in town with the legal team?"
"Yes she was," Alice said, "But they're missing as well and so is their car. Fiona 's was found parked near the diner."
Chance's mind filled with a thousand different thoughts.
"So you think that they drove off together," he said.
"Something happened to them, I know it."
"Listen, I've got the plane almost ready to go and I'll be on my way," he said, "What are the police doing?"
"Nothing Chance," Alice said, "They say they can't do anything. But the Sheriff, Daniels, he's on a couple different payrolls."
Chance grew silent and then asked a question which had been on his mind for a while.
"Alice, exactly what's been going on here."
" Fiona and the other attorneys and even Jed have been receiving threats, probably from individuals tied in with the developers they're fighting against in court."
Chance digested that.
"Okay, I'm going to call the Colorado State Police when I get off the phone. I've got some friends there and they'll send out people to search. They've got a station near Silver Lode so it shouldn't take them long to get started."
"I'm so worried," Alice said, "We've got to find them."
"We will," Chance said, "I'm on my way."
He clicked off the phone and Brody's mood grew somber when he saw the expression on his face.
"What's up," he said, walking over.
"Something's happened to Fiona and the other lawyers last night," he said, "No one can find them."
"What do you need me to do," Brody said, quietly.
"I'm about ready to go but I need you to call the state police and talk to a guy named Phil," Chance said, "Tell him you work for me and tell him to get some officers out searching."
"Do you have any photos of Fiona I can send them?"
Chance reached into his wallet and dug out one that was taken a few months ago, which was worn around the edges.
"Do you need me to come with you," Brody said.
Chance looked at him.
"No…Thanks, but I need you to watch the agency while I'm gone."
"How long's it going to take you until you can leave?"
Chance looked at his watch.
"About 30 minutes," he said.
"I'll get you some coffee," Brody said.
As he left, Chance looked at the sun slowly rising higher in the sky, turning its rosy hue slightly blue.
Fiona sat on a ledge about several dozen feet above the car. Waves of dizziness hit her so she had stopped to rest a while. She felt coldness permeate her body, as the rain had started falling steady again. She leaned back against the rock to try to shelter herself a bit. She reached in her pocket for her phone and decided to try calling again. When she looked at its buttons, her vision blurred. She pressed what she thought were the correct ones.
Chance heard his phone ring and picked it up. His eyes widened when he saw the phone number that appeared on his Caller ID.
" Fiona where the hell are you," he said, "Are you okay?"
And somewhere about a thousand miles away, Fiona held her phone to her ear and listened to his voice.