As they moved carefully forward, it was difficult to dispel the angst that assailed her. Would they find the men safe and sound? June wondered about Nigel’s previous comments regarding the men and whether they would stay or run and how invested they were in keeping Roland and Jackson prisoner and whether they’d fight to the death to keep them. Where was the ring leader in all this? Who was he?
It seemed the dark cave went on forever and they’d walked miles before coming upon a used campfire of sorts. A few rocks were piled in a makeshift circle and there were a few blackened rocks and left-over branches in the midst of what looked like canned meat. It didn’t seem appetizing whatever it was.
So far they hadn’t heard a sound to indicate anyone else was present. From the map Nigel had shown her, this cave was huge and it was possible, large enough to muffle sound. Other than the off and on again sounds of a trickle of water, it was pitch black and empty, or so you’d think.
Nigel signalled his men using his flashlight and they all settled for a quick break while he informed his men of what the procedure would be. Although there were no other sounds to be heard, in a whispered voice Nigel indicated Harris Brad and John would carry on while he Justin and June would hold back. He said he had a bad feeling about the situation. While the men moved forward, they hung back and Mark kept watching their back so they couldn’t be taken by surprise and surrounded from behind. Was it likely? June had no idea, but anything was possible in this situation, she was sure of that. A trapped animal could become violent and if these men weren’t trained, perhaps they could react the same way.
They continued on for some time before Nigel touched her shoulder. She stopped immediately. Indistinct sounds were coming from up ahead. It was difficult to tell what it was, a trapped animal, an injured man, whatever it was, it was intermittent.
The crackle of Nigel’s hand held had him reaching and as he placed the device to his ear, she could make out Brad’s voice. “One safe.”
June’s heart thumped. Was it Roland or Jackson?
They hurried as quickly as possible to meet up with the other men in the team. When they arrived, they found Roland slumped over on his side. He’d been injured, how severely, she couldn’t tell, but he was alive. She raced past Nigel and squatted down. Roland peered at her and she gingerly wrapped her arms around him. “Roland! Thank god!”
It took a few minutes before he could respond. When they assisted him into an upright position, it was obvious that his ribs hurt and he was having difficulty breathing. “Hey sis! Glad you could join the party,” he quipped.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way!”
“How bad?” Nigel asked.
“I tried slowing them down. They didn’t like that much. Kept shoving me around and I landed on some rocks. Didn’t puncture anything, but I think I have a few cracked ribs.”
“You able to stand, walk?”
“I haven’t tried recently.”
“How long ago did they leave you?”
“Time sort of stands still in here, but I’d guess and couple hours now.”
June asked, “Do they have Roland?”
“Yeah. They tied his hands and gagged him but he can walk.”
“How well equipped are they, Roland?” Nigel asked, “Do they seem professional or amateurish?”
“They were scared of their own shadow,” he informed them, “but for all that, they came prepared, they have an arsenal of guns.”
“Any idea what type?”
“From what I could see, pistols, shot guns, rather basic for a kidnapping. I’d have expected more sophisticated hardware.”
“How many?” Nigel then asked.
“Three. One stand look out the others herded us along.”
“Any idea what the plan is?”
“They’re meeting up with the leader of the pack toward the other end of the cave.”
“Any talk of a ransom?” Nigel questioned.
“Yeah and no. At first that’s what I thought it was about, then I began to wonder if it wasn’t more of a vendetta. They didn’t seem intent on injuring Jackson, they wanted him in one piece, it was the thread of every conversation. Jackson can be a smart mouth and he wouldn’t let up and it was getting to one of them. He kept threatening to beat Jackson, wipe the smirk off his mouth, shut him up, that sort of thing.”
“I know I can’t help much, but I’d rather stay until we get Jackson free of these assholes.”
Nigel thought a moment,” As long as you stay behind with June, out of harms way.”
“You sure did a wonderful job leaving clues,” June said pride evident in her voice.”
“I hoped it would be enough, something.”
“It was, it’s how we knew which direction to go, which path to follow.”
Nigel agreed, “You did good, Roland.” Nigel walked away to confer with his men. Now they had numbers and an idea of how prepared the men were, he could formulate a plan.