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Prelude to the Hunt
4.
As Scotty searched for a car , Kelly continued hanging, wondering how long it had been, what day it was, wondering if someone would bring some water soon . He was so damn thirsty ! That was almost the worst hurt now, the desire for water . There wasn't a thing he could do about it though . He just had to hold on . Scotty would come . He'd come and there'd be water . Yeah, Scotty would come .

 Kelly could feel the need for tears well up in him but stifled it quickly . He couldn't afford that kind of loss now, nor could he give in to those desires . He had to stick to his strengths . His belief in his partner was one of those . Scotty would be here soon and he'd be carrying a gallon of fresh  cold water . All for him . Kelly tried to laugh at this thought but heard only a cracking kind of wheeze break the stillness . He guessed it hadn't been that funny, after all .

The day progressed, with multiple comings and goings down at the Leighton farmhouse . Scotty watched it all, well hidden in a mound of tall grass . The saboteurs seemed to be meeting in twos and threes to coordinate their hunt plans . They'd come in and then leave, nobody bothering to even go into the farmhouse . That had to be where Kelly was stashed .

Scotty was mildly amused to see that, for all their vaunted abilities, these guys had almost no security at the house . Perhaps the manpower shortage was making itself felt . After all, they had to allocate men to find Scotty , keep the lines down, and  cover all  the roads . He refused to consider the other alternative, that there was no one there , no one needing much in the way of guarding . No, it was just that they were undermanned .

Scotty hoped so, anyway.  He could use all the help he could get . They were probably also exhibiting their usual over-confidence . They believed so strongly in their own invincibility that they had long since started creating loopholes in their set up . Loopholes through which Scotty was going to slip, if he was very lucky .

And so the day waned, darkening until a half moon lit the starlit night .  Scotty's liberated car was well hidden behind a large haystack . He could only detect two guards left behind to walk the perimeter of the farm and outbuildings . The rest of the men would hopefully be fully occupied in town, presuming Scotty would be much more likely to use the night's cover for escape . Now was the time to move .

Scotty slowly inched his way down to the outskirts of the buildings . He'd spent a lot of time learning the guard's perimeter walk so that he knew where and when they'd be at certain places .  He'd timed it just right, he hoped . Scuttling quickly along the sides of the buildings, he neared his objective with precise timing . He'd picked a back door as his logical entry point .

Scotty watched guard number one make the right corner turn he'd been waiting for, then sprinted up onto the back porch of the house . He was through the door almost before he knew it. The bozos hadn't even bothered with locks . Scotty hoped these confident creeps would dig their own graves with stupidities like that .

Then he was standing quietly in the old farmhouse, listening for sounds of alert . Nothing . He'd made it .

Scotty slowly circled the house, going from room to room, wishing he had just one of his partner's cigarette lighters . Even a match would do . There was no way he could turn on any lights, not unless he wanted to announce his presence to the guard .

Which is why his questing fingers found a seam in a place that shouldn't have had one . With the lights on he might never have spotted it .  With the lights off, his fingers detected the incongruity with remarkable ease . There was a secret door here and Scotty was willing to lay odds that Kelly was somewhere behind that door .

Scotty quickly began prodding and poking at the brick wall, trying to effect entry . Now that he was finally here, his anxiety was beginning to build . If Kelly was behind this door, what kind of shape would he be in ? He'd been in there long enough for it to be bad . Scotty tried to ease down on his thoughts and go into strictly professional mode . Whatever shape Kelly was in, they'd deal with it .

The door finally sprang open with a little click . Scotty froze, waiting to see if anyone outside had heard it . He heard the boots of a passing guard amble on past, no hesitation in his stride . Letting out his breath, Scotty moved through the door, disgusted to see nothing but deep darkness . He began inching forward .

Kelly lifted his sagging head at the sound of a soft click . There seemed to be a slight change in the infinite darkness . He tried to stare into the inky blackness . Surely, if it was one of the saboteurs, he'd turn on the lights . Suddenly there was a thud, then the quick sound of silence . It was a listening silence .

" Scotty, that you? "  he croaked, scarcely recognizing his own voice, hope building . " Please say it's you," he whispered, " cause otherwise that's one big rat sharing my space."

" It's me," Scotty whispered back, relief flooding into him . Kelly was not only alive but still capable of making  jokes . Maybe he wasn't too bad off after all . " Nearly broke my neck on those stupid stairs . Why'd you pick such a dumb place to need rescuing from ?" complained Scotty, carefully picking his way down in the stygian darkness.

" Sorry about that," whispered Kelly, clamping down strongly on the waver that threatened to come out . Scotty had come and now he was going to get him out of this place .

" Tell me why I got saddled with a partner who never has matches, man, much less a flashlight," challenged Kelly, fighting to keep it light .

" Well, since I don't go around smoking my brains out, I don't generally find any need for matches. And it may have escaped your notice but when those guys relieved us of our stuff, they didn't miss a thing . I don't even have the handkerchief my mom thinks I carry at all times," said Scotty, trying to locate his partner .

" Oh yeah, that's something else I've been meaning to discuss with your mom . The things I could tell her," whispered Kelly, listening to his partner slowly descend .

" Uh huh, and who wants to spend some more time in this hole, Duke ?  That could be arranged, you know . Where the heck are you, anyway ?" queried Scotty . The darkness was a frustration he hadn't counted on .

But maybe it wasn't for others, now.   Kelly welcomed it for just a bit . He'd suddenly realized he wasn't going to be able to continue the bantering without breaking down. There was no way he was ready to let down his guard that far . Not even with Scotty . His partner was like a brother to him but Kelly had spent a long time building up certain walls. They were way too thick to tumble easily .

" Kel, come on, say something . I'm not a bat, you know . Give me a clue," grumbled Scott . " Where are you?  Keep talking so that I can find you."

" All the way to the back, up on the wall," said Kelly, voice cracking . His tone suddenly sounded strained and wobbly . " You're going to have to find either some keys or a bolt cutter . They've got me manacled up here, man ."

A very nasty expletive surged forth from Scotty but never found it's way past his lips . He instantly regretted the stupid joke that had issued from his mouth just a second ago . His worry levels had just jumped tenfold again . Kelly didn't sound so good . And now there was another problem .

" Oh man," moaned Scotty . " Where am I going to find  bolt cutters ?"

" You're in luck," Kelly hoarsely answered, as he felt Scotty slowly approaching . ` I saw some in the tool shed when I was scouting this place."

Scotty finally reached the back wall . He felt around, locating his partner, who let out a gasping breath when Scotty accidentally connected with a manacled leg . Scotty automatically jerked his hand away, then slowly reached out again, much more carefully .

" There's a box about five feet to your right," ground out Kelly, voice tight with pain . " You'll need it to get at the wrists."

" How bad is it, Kel?" asked Scotty, quietly.

" I'll manage . Just go get those bolt cutters quick . Don't know how long they were planning on leaving me alone here."

" They've left you alone ?" asked Scotty, hope rising . Maybe it wouldn't be too bad .

" Yeah . They've been softening me up a bit first with this hilarious little trick . They're into fun and games, not information. Get going, ok ?  See if you can find any water while you're at it, too . I could use a little."

Kelly's words were clipped short, almost brusque . He was trying to steel himself for Scotty's departure . He knew he was being ridiculous but now, with help just within reach, he almost couldn't bear the thought of Scotty leaving him alone again . He could feel the old panic welling up within him and fought to make it subside . No way . Not again .

" Hurry up, ok . I'd like out of here before next Christmas . These manacles aren't doing a thing for me ."

" You got it, Duke . Back in a flash ," whispered Scotty, moving off as quick as the darkness would allow . He was almost back to the stairwell when he heard a soft gasp from his partner .

" Scotty !"

" Yeah ?   You want a seven course meal too ?"

" No, uh, sorry . Get going, ok ?"

" Trying to, Duke . Back in a bit ."

" Scotty !" gasped out Kelly, hating himself for being so stupid .

" Yeah, Kel, what is it ?" said Scotty, worried all over again . This wasn't getting them anywhere but he had to give his partner time . Even if they couldn't afford it .

" No, uh, it's ok . It's nothing. Sorry . Maybe you could try to find some matches though . Don't want you cutting off anything I may need to keep," said Kelly, trying real darn hard for his usual tone .

Scotty didn't think  it a very good effort but he was willing to give his partner an A for trying .

" I'll be back quick as I can, Kel," he softly promised . " You'll be out in no time ."

And then he was gone, leaving the room once more in a deep stillness . Kelly broke that stillness with just one half-stifled sob, then clamped his lips shut on anything else . He felt an utter weakling for allowing himself to give in to his emotions, when it was all going to be ok now .  He just had to hold on for a little bit longer and then this nightmare would end . Scotty was coming back .

Scotty moved as quickly as he could, watching for the guards, timing his exit precisely . He dampened down even the slightest hint of impatience . It wouldn't do to blow it in the home stretch just cause he didn't want to keep his partner waiting any longer. No, there'd been enough mistakes .

He carefully slid out the farmhouse door, then moved swiftly into the cover of the out-buildings, his muscular form moving with timed precision . His long wait in the grass clumps earlier in the day had paid off . He knew exactly where the tool shed was . He slipped in and quickly zeroed in on his quest . Just as Kelly had said, the bolt cutters were there . It took him but a moment to grab them and begin his return .

Scotty's return was equally cautious . Luck seemed to be in their favor this night . Scotty's timing was perfect . He eased the farmhouse door open with minutes to spare . Both guards were at the farthest points of their route .
He began to make his way back to the brick wall when he remembered Kelly's request for water . Kelly tended to minimize personal needs while on a mission . For him to ask for water, he must be in pretty bad need .

Scotty carefully entered into the kitchen . He easily found a glass, using the moonlight spilling in the wide kitchen windows to light his way . Then he froze into rigid stone as he heard the approach of one of the guards . He waited , scarcely daring to breathe, as the guard casually made his pass, calling out to his fellow guard for a light . Scotty heard the other one make an acerbic comment but then heard him approach too . They stood there, not more than 5 feet from Scotty's location, trading small talk as cigarettes were lit . Finally they moved away .

Scotty very, very carefully let out his breath, then slowly filled the glass with tap water, moving as quietly as he possibly could . The guards were well armed and it wouldn't have been fun to try to take them on . Scotty had exactly three rocks in his pocket . Not exactly his weapon of choice .

The secret door was a lot easier this time around . Scotty tapped the requisite brick, than eased his way in . This was going to be great fun, trying to carry a glass of water in pitch dark down a stairwell. He should have taken the time to look for matches but there was no way he wanted to tarry in that kitchen any longer .

" Hey, Kel, you still there ?" he whispered .

" Funny, Berle, very funny . I'm gonna remember that the next time you need rescuing."

Scotty was relieved to hear that his partner's voice sounded much stronger . He descended the treacherous stairwell, balancing his glass of water all the way. Then he made his way as swiftly as he could to his partner's side.

" Let me get the box, then I've got something for you,"  he said . Scotty felt his way over to the box, then returned with it, still balancing the precious water . He placed the box as near to his partner as he could, feeling his way with careful fingers, then heaving the box into position . Once again he connected with Kelly . His partner flinched at the contact but gave no other indication of the pain he was in .

Scotty carefully made his way atop the box.

" Brought you some water . I'm gonna do my best to get it in you but you'll have to help me out a bit . Hold as still as you can while I find your face, man."

" Not going anywhere, Jack," said Kelly, giving a little half laugh .
" Remember to remind me to tell you a good joke I thought of awhile back . It's not so funny now but maybe it'll be good again, later ."

" You got it, man," promised Scotty, very carefully tracing Kelly's face with one hand, then carefully tilting the glass to his lips . Kelly made a very small sound, almost a moan, then began to greedily drink, trying to get it down as fast as possible . Scotty pulled the glass away when it was half gone, not wanting to see the consequences if Kelly took it too fast . Kelly  made another small noise, almost as if he could not help it.

Scotty was quick to reassure .

" More later, ok?" he said . " First, let's get you out of these things ."

" Get the ankles first, Scotty . Go for the chains . We can cut the manacles off once we're out of here . The wrists are gonna be real fun cause once you've done one, I'll have my full weight hanging off the other . So when you get the ankles , give me a minute to try and get a hold of the wrist
chains . I'd rather not take the whole weight on my wrists, if I can help it."

Scotty was greatly pleased to hear the old familiar tones coming back into his partner's voice . He sounded a great deal better already . Once they got out of this hellishly hot cellar, he'd be even better . His face alone had felt oven-ready . Scotty guessed that his time in this cellar probably hadn't been any too fun .

" Sounds like a plan," he said . He dropped down to floor level then carefully felt along his partner's right leg `til he connected to the manacle . Kelly drew in a sharp breath but otherwise made no comment . Scotty made his way up the manacle, wincing at the sticky rawness he felt under his fingers, until he found the very taut chain . It was short work to cut his way through with the bolt cutters.

Scotty quickly moved over to the other leg, getting rid of that chain just as fast . Kelly made one small sound, a soft sigh of relief, as his legs dropped into normal alignment . Then he began trying to hitch his way up the remaining chains, trying to ease the strain on his wrists .

" No go, man," gasped Kelly . " It's too tight . Go ahead and cut ."

" Quick as I can," Scotty promised, back up on the box again . He knew there was no way that he could support his partner and cut at the same time but he was going to give it a darn good try . He couldn't even use the box to take his partner's weight because it was too small . There was no extra room to carry another person.

 He carefully traced the manacle on one wrist, then snapped the chain . Kelly let out a grunt of pain as he dropped, then dangled quietly . Scotty tried to heave him up a bit but quickly realized that he was only prolonging the problem . Moving as fast as he could, he snapped the final chain . Kelly slid down the wall even though Scotty tried to catch him . He landed with a soft thud and a whispered curse. But he was down .
Scotty jumped down from the box, feeling for his partner . Kelly was slow to get up but that was perfectly understandable . He was equally slow in moving across the room but at least he was moving on his own . Scotty kept only the slightest of holds on one arm as they made their way to the stairs . Then he let go so that they could creep up the stairs, moving in near complete silence now . Scotty kept half an ear on his partner's slower progress, as he peered out the kitchen window, watching for the guard's location . His partner was obviously not 100 % but he should do ok .

The two men reverted to their usual clandestine pattern, falling into sync with easy familiarity . No words were necessary . They'd been working together long enough that each knew how the other moved  . The moonlight would provide them with enough light to use hand signals if any were needed . Once again, Scotty waited until the guards were as far from the house as possible, then swiftly moved out into the night . Kelly was right behind him . Scotty continued to take the lead, running now with silent efficiency, glancing back to check on his partner now and again . Kelly was running too, only it wasn't with his customary feline grace .

Nonetheless, both men made it to the far building without arousing the guards . Scotty opted to give Kelly a breather, waving his hand in a downwards pattern . Kelly sank down along the side of the building, his right wrist clanking as his manacle hit up against some metal . Instantly, both men froze .

Kelly was breathing hard but tried to stifle the noise by holding his breath . The men waited, sure that the guards would have heard the noise in the still night . There were no cries of alarm, no running feet . Kelly closed his eyes, relief flooding through his veins . They'd got lucky . No one was coming .

Scotty glanced over at the dim form that was his partner . It was pretty obvious  that Kelly needed a longer rest but this just wasn't the best place to be . Once they got going in the car, Kelly could sack out . He gave him a quick tap on the shoulder and then they were on the move again, Scotty looking back frequently. Kelly seemed to have a strange gait going, with one arm protectively clamped to his side . Maybe a bad rib ?  Soon as they got clear and he could get some light on the subject he'd have to take a good long look .

And so they ran on until they finally reached the hidden car . Kelly had stumbled a time or two and fallen completely once, but he always managed to get back on his feet . Scotty had a real bad feeling growing in the pit of his stomach . He'd helped Kelly gain his feet when he'd tumbled down and he could feel the heat of fever building even through Kelly's undershirt . He  realized that the heat-flushed face he'd felt in the cellar was more than just the product of a too warm room . His partner might be in more trouble than he'd first supposed . It was frustrating in the extreme not being able to see enough to scope out the damage . Scotty had begun to feel that this blasted night was never going to end .

Kelly semi fell against the car door, sliding down to land on his rump with a soft grunt . Scotty rested briefly too, his hands on the hood of the car, head hanging low . What he wouldn't give for just a few hours of sleep . But this was no time to get sloppy . They weren't out of it yet .

" Shift a little over this way so the moonlight hits those manacles, Kel . I want to get them off now, before we get moving again," Scotty whispered . Kelly obediently shifted, crabbing over in a series of lurches .

" We're still too close to the farmhouse, Scotty," panted Kelly . " Those bolt cutters are going to make some noise . If the guards should hear, we'll have a fight on our hands ."

" Have to risk it, man . Once we get going in the car, everything is going to bust wide open . We're going to have to run a road block to get out of town and that'll mean we'll have all the hounds on our tails.  We'll have enough problems outrunning those jokers . I don't want to risk getting stopped cause the local law is curious about all the steel . They'd pull us in just on principle and then we'd be sitting ducks for those other clowns ."

Scotty proceeded to run his fingers down Kelly's arm . The moonlight helped a little but his partner was still mostly just a dim shape . Carefully placing the bolt cutters, he snapped them closed . And then froze at the audible noise .

" No choice now. Just do it," rasped Kelly, his voice tightly controlled.

Scotty quickly snapped the manacle, then reached to pull it off his partner's wrist . Kelly jerked back in a wholly unconscious reaction to the renewed pain in his wrist, then shoved his arm forward again in rough supplication. Scotty fumbled a bit as he pulled the manacle off, wincing as he felt it stick to the raw flesh underneath . Kelly's only response was to pull his legs up in a tight hunch, head buried against his knees .

" Sorry," whispered Scotty . "One down . Try to keep your eyes peeled for any signs of activity from the farmhouse ."

Kelly's dim form simply nodded, head lifting up and resting against the car's door . He did not dare  attempt speech . He wasn't too sure what would come out if he did .

Scotty quickly moved on to the other manacles, dealing with them as silently as he could . He'd managed to get off two more of them when suddenly Kelly stopped him .

" Scotty, they're coming . Two shapes, off about 500 yards . Carrying rifles. I saw the silhouettes ."

Scotty wished he was more of a swearing man cause he could have used a good long cuss right about then . They had no true weapons, just a bolt cutter and some rocks . Kelly really wasn't fit to fight though Scotty had no doubt that he'd do so anyway . Somehow, though, they were going to have to pull off a win here or they were sunk for sure .

" Feel like playing the poor-little-me bit ?" queried Scotty .

" Do we have a choice ? Just make it good, man," replied Kelly.

Scotty gave a wave and faded off into the darkness of the night .

The two guards came on silently, with rifles at the ready . They soon found their suspicions confirmed as they heard loud groans emanating from near by . They were surprised to find their ex-prisoner in a recumbent position, laying against the well-hidden car . Their flashlights lit up the scene, exposing Kelly's dirty, sweating, pain-ridden face, lifted in hopeless supplication . Rifles up to their shoulders, the two men cautiously approached .

" Don't shoot.  Please, don't shoot . I give up." pleaded Kelly, in a broken waver . " I'm all done in . Just don't kill me. Don't kill me, ok ?"

" Where's your partner ?" barked out one of the guards while the other turned slowly, eyes scanning the surroundings . " You didn't get out here without help and you sure didn't bring that car in . Give him up right now or I'll shoot . I'm tired of all these stupid games ."

" That dirty rotten coward left me !" whined Kelly, extreme fear in his voice . "The car wouldn't start . So my so-called partner has the nerve to tell me I'm useless baggage, that I'll just slow him down . He left me here to rot while he runs off, free as a bird .  My partner !"

Outrage throbbed from every word, supplanting even the terror  Kelly showed for the guard's rifles . His voice had gotten louder and louder as he railed against his partner, looking as if his strength was leaving him even as he shouted .

Both guards seemed to be caught off balance just a little, even mildly amused . Their rifles, though still held in upright position, were gradually coming down into a more relaxed readiness . The tenseness had left their bodies . One guard reached down to heave Kelly to his feet .

" No tricks now," he ordered, just as Kelly kicked out in a scissoring motion, twisting as he did . The first guard abruptly felt his feet go out from under him as he fell with a dull thud . The other guard was just turning on the two, rifle coming up, when Scotty whomped him over the head with the bolt cutters . That effectively ended any further participation from him in the events unfolding .

Kelly was in trouble though . The other guard was already coming up on his feet and Kelly didn't seem to have the strength to keep him down . There was no way Scotty was going to get there in time to stop that rifle from going off .

Scotty grabbed one of the rocks from his pocket and heaved it as hard as he could at the side of the man's head . It hit with a crack, but only served to stop the guard momentarily . He turned towards Scotty, rifle coming around as he began spewing curses . Kelly tackled him once more, trying to trip him up before he could shoot . The guard drove his elbow back into Kelly's stomach as Scotty raced to the pair . Kelly abruptly folded, crying out as he crumpled to the ground . Scotty had to ignore his partner for now, concentrating on the enemy .

The guard began to swing the rifle back into position for the kill . Scotty had no choice but to throw the bolt cutters at the man's arm, hoping to stop him long enough for him to get in close . The ruse was partially effective . The cutters hit the man a glancing blow. Not enough to make him drop the rifle but just enough to deflect his aim . He roared in pain, heaving the cutters under the car, and then swinging the rifle up one more time .

He wasn't fast enough though . Scotty was on him then and he had no intention of fighting fair . Scotty grabbed for another rock in his pocket and then swung on the man with all his might, fist clenched around the basic weapon . It was more than sufficient. The guard grunted once in surprise then dropped as abruptly as his friend . The fight was over .

Scotty took two deep breaths, hands resting on his knees, then lifted his head with dread . He could hear a car door slam down at the farmhouse and voices raised in inquiry . There were at least four men in that car and they were coming up the hill .

Scotty yanked Kelly up, ignoring the groan of pain that burst from his partner's lips . Kelly seemed only half aware as he slung him in the car, curling up on himself a bit as he sluggishly looked around . Scotty raced to the other side of the car, then stopped abruptly, running back around to the field of battle.

" Where's the bolt cutters?" he yelled , no longer bothering to whisper . There was no point now . He could hear the running footsteps quickly approaching.

" They went under the car," mumbled Kelly . " Forget it. Come on."

Kelly was fumbling under the car's dashboard, attempting to re-attach the hot wire that Scotty had originally put together . He might have been a tad slower than normal but adrenaline can do wonderful things . The car started just as Scotty leapt in .

Scotty slammed the shift into gear, moving out just as the first of the men reached the car . He tried to hang on and lift his rifle up but Scotty jerked the car door open and then wrenched it back, effectively losing the man as he did . Scotty was well aware that the men would no longer be bothering with capture . They would shoot to kill .

And so it was . The sound of rifle shots split the night's air . Luckily, the two men were now out of range, their car surging ahead . Or maybe not . Scotty heard a ping or two as bullets found their way but nothing that was
disabling . He glanced over at his partner, heaving a big sigh .

The partners were finally back together and things were looking up . All they had to do was get through that roadblock and then keep moving until they out-distanced their pursuers . Scotty had deliberately picked a car with a full tank and good staying power. He figured they finally had the odds with them .

Once dawn finally hit, Scotty would be better able to determine the state of his partner's health. He wasn't about to turn on the little dome light to check him as that would be like drawing a bull's eye, but he was worried . Kelly was way too quiet .

They had one more hurdle to face and it was coming up on them fast . The roadblock . If they were very, very lucky, they would get there before the men behind them could get back to their car and walkie-talkies . And so it turned out, with Scotty barreling down on the one lone guard and sweeping on by him before he'd even collected himself . He heard a couple of rifle shots but he was well away before the fellow could get anywhere near . They were going to be ok . They'd made it .

"How you doing there, Duke?" Scotty casually inquired.

" Been better," replied Kelly tiredly , too wasted even to try for one of his customary quips .

" Well, we still have some driving to do but we're past the worst of it . Why don't you try to sack out for a while . Once we can find a place to stop without those yo-yos coming after us, I'll see what I can do to clean you up some ."

" Sounds good,"  said Kelly, way too dully for Scotty's liking . His partner's dim form leaned over against the windows and then there was nothing but silence as the miles continued .

The light of day, when it came, was almost a surprise . Scotty had been running so long with the darkness that it almost seemed too bright . He looked over at his partner, hoping to see him rested and back on course .

What he saw nearly caused him to veer the car off the road . Appalled, he reached out to his sleeping partner with one hand, the other gripping the wheel much too tightly . He hadn't thought it would be this bad .

Kelly was slumped over in a troubled sleep, his face looking way too flushed even through the dirt and rough scruff of a beginning beard . His left arm lay curled in his lap and Scotty winced as he saw the deep, dirty, raging raw skin of the wrist . If this one wrist was this bad, heaven only knew what the others looked like, especially the ankle that was still shackled . To make matters worse, there was an obvious wound of some kind on Kelly's torso and evidence of fresh bleeding. As dirty as Kelly was, it was impossible for that wound to have stayed clean. No wonder the man had a high fever . Scotty could actually feel the heat of it radiating off the still body of his partner .

Scotty tried not to give in to a flood of new worries . He'd figured that the wrists and ankles might be nasty but he hadn't counted on the rest . And there could be more hidden under all that dirt . Scotty figured he had his work cut out for him . He'd have to find somewhere to get that manacle off, with no questions . Then he'd have to find a doctor who was equally uncurious . He didn't know how he'd do that without money or help . But he'd get it done somehow . His partner was in deep trouble . They'd have to get out of this blasted county first, then he'd figure it all out .

Which was when the car began to buck under his hands, lurching with the motion , then shuddering to a stop . Scotty closed his eyes for just a second, despair washing over him. They weren't out of it, yet . Then he lifted his head back up with grim determination . He'd never been a quitter before and he wasn't about to start now .

" What's going on ?" inquired Kelly, half asleep still . " Why are we stopping ?"

" Something's wrong with the car," said Scotty, slamming his open palm on the dashboard in a rare show of temper . " I'll check it out . You keep an eye out ."

Kelly shifted into an alert sitting position, wincing as he did so . He kept his eye on the road behind as Scotty lifted the hood to a wave of steam . Neither man had to say a thing . The radiator was conked, probably from a stray
shot . Scotty eyed the road behind, then opened the passenger door .

" What's with the bandage around your middle ?" he asked . " Think you can run ?  They'll be here soon ."

" I can run," said Kelly, flatly . " And it's from a knife . Took it when they first caught me . It won't hold me up . Let's do it."

And so a new phase began.  At least they were finally together and that gave them an edge . Maybe it would be enough . The hunt was back on and neither man could guess at the outcome . They only knew that they had to begin running .

END