Special Forces Father
Author:Mallory Kane

chapter Ten

By midnight, Travis was in place in a wooded area behind a small mobile-home park located about seven miles from the intersection of U.S. 51 and Airline Highway. When Dawson had called the kidnapper’s phone, Dusty had managed to get a GPS location and a tower triangulation that put the kidnapper about two hundred yards from where Travis was standing. Dawson’s agent would be flying over in his helicopter in—Travis checked his watch—less than five minutes. If MacEllis Griffin saw the dark green sedan, that would be the final verification that the kidnapper was there.

Travis had the kidnapper’s GPS coordinates programmed into his phone and he was ready to go in. All he was waiting for now was for Reilly to get the report from Griffin, then he’d give Travis the okay. The waiting was torture, especially now that he was so close. Kate and their son were less than a football field’s length away from him. He wanted more than anything to break in the mobile home’s door, take the kidnapper down with a carefully placed blow designed to render him unconscious, then grab Kate and Max and get the hell out of there, leaving the kidnappers for Reilly to handle.

But his training kept him in check. As a Special Forces operative, he understood the need for coordination of effort. The kidnapper was a former cop. He would almost certainly have a weapon. Therefore Travis’s team had to consider him armed and dangerous. Since Kate had heard a woman’s voice over the phone, the man had a partner who was probably also his girlfriend. But Travis knew that mistakes could cost lives, and he was not about to risk Kate’s or his son’s lives because he was impatient.

He scanned the area while he waited, making sure he was aware of everything around him. The black blobs that appeared almost shapeless in the dark were mobile homes or RVs. His gaze automatically traced the best path around each of the sad little metal houses on wheels. He didn’t know yet which direction he’d take through the cluster of trailers to get to the one holding his family, but he would be ready.

In the distance, he heard the flap-flap of helicopter rotors. His heart leaped into his throat. He swallowed against the lump, then took a huge breath. He dug deep inside himself and found the calm focus that had qualified him to be a member of the elite few men who had earned their position in the army’s Special Forces.

The helicopter flew over the trailer park slowly and casually, as if it were piloted by a bored traffic cop. Travis touched his ear, which held the tiny bud through which he’d receive the signal to go from Reilly. Within seconds, Reilly’s voice, steady and sure, sounded in Travis’s ear.

“Vehicle sighted. It’s a go. I repeat. It’s a go. Golf. Oscar. Leave the channel open. Over.”

“Confirmed. On the move. Out,” Travis responded.

“Careful, Trav. Out.”

Travis moved between the trailers, watching the screen on his phone as the GPS coordinates moved closer and closer to Dusty’s mark. He spotted the dark green sedan. It was parked at the end of a dirt path, beside a small trailer that had been pulled so far toward the edge of the parking area that its far end was obscured by woods. When Travis saw that, his pulse gave a small leap. The woods would serve as excellent cover while he ran reconnaissance to map the interior of the trailer and determine where each of the occupants was located.

Behind him, he heard a door open. Instantaneously and without conscious thought, he rolled onto the ground under a shrub. He lay there, still as a rock, as the man who’d opened the door walked outside in his undershirt, boxers and flip-flops. He stretched and yawned, then lit a cigarette and leaned against the side of the trailer, absently scratching himself as he smoked. He finished the cigarette, tossed it on the ground and crushed it with the sole of one flip-flop. Then he yawned again and went back inside.

Travis turned over onto his stomach and crawled silently through the underbrush until he was far enough back in the woods to stand without being spotted. Then he made his careful, quiet way to the trailer. He’d spent some time with Dusty studying the layout of mobile homes of a similar size to this one. From the dimensions and the locations of the small windows, it appeared that the unit had two bedrooms and one bathroom. He circled the unit, noting the position of the front door and comparing it with the layout he’d seen. He made a strategical guess that the second bedroom was the one surrounded by overgrown shrubs and trees. He pulled out a small, powerful pair of binoculars and peered in the largest window. There he saw a man and a woman sitting at a minuscule built-in table. The kidnapper and his partner. He scanned the length of the trailer, but saw no sign of Max or Kate.

Silently, he circled around behind the vehicle and made his way through the vegetation, searching for the window of the room that held his son and the woman he loved.

* * *

KATE LAY ON the makeshift bed and held her sleeping child in her arms. During the first part of the night, she’d slept hard—too hard, because of the drug Bent had given her. But a while ago, she didn’t know how long, she’d woken up and felt the soft pressure of her little boy’s head on her shoulder and heard his sweet, quiet breaths. There was almost no light in the dank little room the kidnapper had put Max and her in. He’d pulled a blanket off the bedraggled couch and tossed it into the room on top of piles of clothes, linens and what looked like trash, then pushed Max and her inside, said, “Keep that kid quiet” and locked the door.

The first thing Kate had done was try to turn on the light, but nothing happened. She’d squinted up and saw that the fixture was empty. The room had one small window that was more than five-and-a-half feet off the floor. The bottom sill of the window was about at Kate’s eye level.

She’d tried to see out the window, but all she’d been able to distinguish were tree limbs and leaves. When Bent had dragged her out of his car and into the trailer, she’d been almost too drowsy to notice anything, but she did recall that the trailer’s far end seemed to be nosed into a thick overgrowth of trees and brush.

So she’d lain down with Max, squirmed around to make a comfortable sort of nest, then told him fairy tales until he’d fallen to sleep. She’d kept drifting off during the tales, and Max would touch her face and say, “Mommy? Wake up, Mommy. Finish the story.”

Finally, he’d fallen asleep and she’d collapsed into a drug-induced oblivion.

But now she was awake. She bent her head and buried her face in Max’s downy hair. He smelled warm and sweet and new, just like a little boy should. Her heart filled so full of love that she wasn’t sure her chest could contain it. Her eyes stung with tears and she carefully tightened her hold around his little shoulders. She’d been so afraid she’d never see him again. She had no idea how she was going to rescue him, but she knew one thing. If it meant her life, she would make sure he was safe. Maybe she’d been stupid to deal with the kidnapper on her own. Maybe she’d made the single biggest mistake of her life when she’d sent Travis away, though she could easily analyze why she’d acted the way she had. She’d pushed at him, hoping he’d push back, hoping this time he’d fight to stay with her.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, drawing in Max’s scent. She’d like to sleep some more. But something intruded into her quest for sleep. A noise, outside the tiny window. Kate held her breath. It was probably a nocturnal animal—a possum or an owl, rustling the underbrush as it hunted for food.

But then she heard it again, a subtle, muffled sound. Kate lifted her head and held her breath. It could be a footstep—a human footstep. Someone from a nearby trailer, taking a midnight walk?

She didn’t move for a full minute, expecting to hear the sound again. But when everything remained quiet, she laid her head down on the makeshift pillow she’d fashioned by doubling the corner of the blanket. She’d barely closed her eyes when she heard the noise again.

She shifted, searching for a more comfortable position. A quiet brushing sound, like leaves rubbing across glass, came from the window. Then a knock.

Her head shot up. A knock? Not a brush of a limb. Not a rustle of underbrush. A knock—like knuckles against the pane.

But no. She shook her head. It must have been a small falling branch that hit the window at just the right angle. It couldn’t have been a knock. That wasn’t possible.

She relaxed and closed her eyes. The knock sounded again, doubled this time. Knock-knock.

Her heart leaped into her throat, lodging there and making it hard for her to breathe. She eased into a sitting position, moving slowly and quietly so as not to wake Max. Whatever was brushing or rapping or pecking against the windowpane, she had to check it out, if only for her own peace of mind. She tiptoed over to the window and, shading her eyes with her hands, peered out through the glass. She saw a large tree limb waving up and down, as if there were something heavy on it. A big possum maybe?

Then she saw a pair of wide, glittering eyes.

Gasping aloud, she threw herself backward so hard she almost lost her balance. She knotted her shirt in her fisted hand and gulped in air, trying to fill her shock-frozen lungs.

What was that? She got her feet under her and stood there for a couple seconds, crouched down below the level of the window. She heard a soft knocking again. The sound made her scalp tighten and tingle with panic.

Something tapped on the window. Kate stayed in her crouch, edging toward the blanket where Max still lay sound asleep, instinctively putting her body between the window and him.

Then a soft thud, followed by a faint screeching sound, like fingernails on the glass, and somehow, the noise of the night was inside the room. She squinted at the window. Could whatever was out there have opened it?


She started and gasped, half strangling herself and setting off a spate of coughing. She covered her mouth with trembling hands as the spasms overtook her. She coughed as quietly as possible.

“Kate, it’s me, Travis.”

Her entire body seized in shock. Travis? Was she dreaming? With a quick glance down at her sleeping child, she eased toward the window, unsure if she could believe her ears. Had she imagined his voice? Was she inside a dream right now, making up a story of rescue, to compensate for the helpless, hopeless feelings that had engulfed her earlier?

Then she heard a noise that sent paralyzing fear through her. Footsteps on the hollow floor of the trailer. “He’s coming,” she whispered urgently, still not quite sure whether she was talking to a real person or a dream she’d conjured. The footsteps stopped in front of the door. The knob turned and the door slammed open. When Kate whirled, she was blinded by a bright light. “What the hell?” Bent growled, his voice thick with sleep.

Kate’s hands shot up to cover her eyes. Behind her, Max whimpered in his sleep. Thank goodness he slept soundly. She lowered her hands and squinted. She could barely make out Bent’s shape in the darkness, but she could see he was holding his gun, with the flashlight propped beneath it. Did she know enough about this man to fabricate an answer that would satisfy him?

“I asked you a question,” Bent snapped.

“I wanted some air,” she said, trying to sound apologetic and defiant at the same time. “Do you mind if I open the window?” She held her breath. If he decided, on a whim, to accommodate her, he’d see Travis.

He sneered at her. “You think you’re fooling me? That’s a long way to drop a kid. I wouldn’t try it,” he growled, brandishing the gun.

She shook her head and opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off with a curse. “You wake me up again, I’ll separate you and the kid. Got that?”

“Mommy?” Max whimpered. His little singsong voice told her he was 90 percent asleep. She sidled over to the pallet and bent down to pat his back. “It’s okay,” she whispered.

“I mean it, Doc. Any more noise, and you’ll be spending the night in the trunk of the car, and the kid’ll have to fend for himself. Got it?”

“Yes,” she said.

He shone the flashlight around the room, lighting every corner, every mound of clothing, every shadow. Then he shone the light in her face again, backed out of the room and slammed the door. She heard the lock click.

As his footsteps echoed on the trailer floor, Kate allowed herself a sigh of relief. She patted Max on the back again and bent down close to listen to his breathing. It was steady and even.

Then she crept toward the window. To her shock, she saw a hand—Travis’s hand—reach in through the glass and unlock the latch on the windowsill. Her pulse was still hammering, and her brain was still cautiously declaring that what she saw could not be true. She kept half her attention focused beyond the small room, to the other end of the trailer.

“Travis?” she asked, so softly that it was barely a whisper.

The hand disappeared and the window raised with a tiny high-pitched whine as the plastic sill strained against the casing. The noise stopped immediately. Then the window started up again, so slowly Kate wasn’t sure she actually saw it move. She waited, listening for any noise from inside the trailer.

Finally, moments later, the window was open. “Move away from the window,” the voice whispered.

She stepped backward, unable to take her eyes off the black rectangle. Then, as she watched, a pair of long legs in army-green fatigues and boots eased through the opening with almost no sound, followed by a lean upper body in a green fatigue shirt, then dropped to the floor without so much as a quiet thud.

He straightened and looked down at her. “Are you okay?” he whispered. “Is Max?”

It was Travis—solid, strong, real.

“Oh,” Kate gasped, so overwhelmed by his presence that she could barely breathe. Then, when she got her first good look at his face, she shook her head in disbelief. He had a black cloth tied tightly around his head and black stripes, smeared like war paint, across each cheek and down his nose. She felt a feeling that was at once nauseating and exhilarating. Her chest was heaving and her head was spinning. Travis couldn’t be here, but he was. She put her hands to her temples and pressed.

“How did you do that?” she asked, gesturing toward the window. She felt as though someone had punched her in the stomach.

He reached out a hand and touched the back of one of hers. “I climbed the tree. That branch was barely long enough for me to reach the window and climb in,” he said.

“Trav—” she managed to say, but then her throat totally closed off again and it was all she could do to get air into her straining lungs. “But—the glass. What did you do?” she asked.

“Glass cutter and a suction cup.”

Kate frowned.

“I stuck the suction cup on the glass, then cut a circle with the glass cutter. You probably heard the squealing of the cutter. Then I lifted the circle of glass out and reached in to unlock the window.”

“Oh,” she said, not really taking in everything he said. It didn’t matter. He was here.

“Where’s Max?” he asked, looking past her. For an instant, her motherly instinct rose up and she had the odd notion that she needed to protect her child from the paint-smeared apparition that stood in front of her. Travis must have felt her stiffen, because he stood still and held out his hands, palms toward her. “I promise I’ll do my best not to scare him,” he whispered. “But we need to get you both out of here—now.”

Kate closed her eyes tightly and willed herself to believe that he was real. Then she held out a hand. He took it in his. She felt his warmth, his strength, his solidity. The lock on her throat released.

“How did you find us?” she murmured and reached up to wrap her arms around his neck. He stiffened at first, but then he must have realized how badly she needed him to hold her, just for a couple seconds.

She tightened her arms around his neck and buried her nose in the hollow of his shoulder, clinging to him as if he were a lifeline in a turbulent ocean. He pressed his cheek against her hair for a few precious seconds. Then he pushed her away.

“We’re running out of time,” he said, meeting her gaze. A small smile curved his lips. “Are you ready to get out of here?” he asked her.

“You can get us out?”

He placed a hand around the back of her neck and gently pulled her toward him, pressing his lips against her ear. “You bet I can. Now come on. Priority one is getting you and Max out of harm’s way. So, what do you need to do to be ready?”

Kate still couldn’t quite get control of her emotions. Travis’s hand on her neck felt warm and reassuring, but at the same time, it felt iron hard and controlling. She’d never seen this side of him before. He was cloaked in darkness, even down to the black face paint across his cheekbones and nose and forehead. She could barely see him in the dim light that seeped through the brush outside from the other trailers and the moon and stars. But what she saw was a man, a soldier, a warrior.

“I’m ready now,” she said.

Travis stared at Kate, his son’s mother and the woman he’d always loved. She was exhausted. He could see it in the slump of her shoulders, in the dark circles under her eyes, but she stood straight and tall, ready to do whatever he needed her to do to save her child.

Their child.

He’d hardly dared to look past her at the sleeping boy. He wasn’t sure how he was going to react when he came face-to-face with his son for the first time. He had missed so much already. First smile, first laugh, first word, first steps, first tooth. Precious time that he could never recapture. He didn’t know much about babies or little boys, but he knew that those four years he’d missed contained a lifetime of irreplaceable firsts. But he had to drag his thoughts back to the moment at hand. He had to get Kate and Max to safety. As he’d told her, that was priority one. Then he’d call Reilly and give him the signal to close in and take the kidnappers.

“Okay,” he said roughly, his voice hoarse from emotion. “I’m going to lift you up. You’ll grab the top of the window, slide out backward, then drop to the ground. Be prepared. The drop is about five feet, because the trailer is up on blocks. Then I’ll pick up Max and lower him out the window to you.” He took a step backward and eyed her, head to toe. “Where are your shoes?” he asked, and immediately remembered seeing a high heel on the floor of the living room.

She looked down. “I lost one in the house,” she said, “and I kicked the other one off so I could walk. It’s okay, Travis. I can do it.”

“Walk barefoot through the woods and on the road, carrying Max?”

She lifted her chin and eyed him defiantly. “Yes,” she said. “I can do it.”

Travis didn’t know what he could do. He couldn’t give her his boots. They’d just slide right off her feet. He nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s get started.”

“I need to wake him,” Kate said, turning toward the sleeping child. “I need to explain who you are and tell him what’s going to happen.”

“No,” Travis said. “He’ll be half-asleep and I can have him out the window and into your arms before he wakes up. Will he cry?”

She shook her head. “No. He always wakes up happy. Or at least—” She paused and looked at him. “He did before all this.”

“Good.” He pulled her close. “Once you have Max, you need to run as fast as you can toward the north.”

Kate angled her head and he knew she was trying to figure out which direction was north.

“Listen to me,” he said urgently. “When you drop to the ground, you’ll be in dense woods, lots of trees and lots of underbrush. You’ll be facing the trailer. That’s east, okay?”

She nodded.

“Turn ninety degrees to your left. That will be north. Move straight ahead as quietly as you can. There are lots of vines and briars. It’s going to be hard without shoes, but push through. Scratches aren’t important. Staying alive is. Within about twenty feet you’ll be out of the underbrush. Look ahead. Slightly to your right, in the distance, is a tower with red lights on it. Head straight for that tower as fast as you possibly can, carrying Max. You’ll see a gas station on the other side of an asphalt road. It’s closed and dark. My brother Lucas will meet you there. If he’s not there when you get there, you’ll find a bathroom on the west side of the station. It’s unlocked. Go in there and lock the door from the inside and wait for him. Ask him who he is.”

He felt her head shaking side to side. Pulling away, he met her gaze. It was wide and frightened.

“Just stay there?” she said shakily. “In that bathroom? I won’t be able to see anything. What if something happens? What if—?”

“Kate, this operation is planned down to the second. Lucas will be there. I will see you in less than two hours, I promise,” he said, looking her straight in the eye. “I promise you, Kate. On my life. You can depend on me.”

She looked at him for a long time, not blinking, not speaking. Then, slowly, she nodded.

He pressed his lips against her forehead. “Kate,” he whispered softly, “I love you.”

Her gaze flickered, then met his steadily. “I know you do,” she murmured.

But in his head he heard the words she didn’t say. I just don’t know if that’s enough.

“Now let’s get you out that window.”

* * *

KATE WAITED, shivering, not with cold but with fear, for Travis to lower Max out the window and into her arms. The tangle of vines, tree branches and underbrush around and under the window was dismaying. She was balanced with one bare foot on a root and the other sank into what felt like a pile of leaves. Her feet already hurt, but like she’d told Travis, she could do it. Max was her number one priority.

Then through the window she heard, “Mommy!”

She jerked. Oh, no. Max had woken up when Travis picked him up. Probably, he’d instinctively known that it wasn’t his mommy picking him up and he’d woken, seeing Travis’s scary, black-streaked face, and panicked.

“Mah—” he cried, stopping in the middle of the word. What had Travis done? She heard scraping and rustling of clothes through the high, small window, then saw Max’s head, then his body, come through the window. Travis was holding him with a hand under each arm. She reached up and caught her little boy by the waist as Travis lowered him down. In the distance, she heard footsteps echoing on the hollow trailer floor.

“That’s Bent, the kidnapper!” she whispered urgently to Travis. “Let go! I’ve got Max.”

Travis leaned farther out the window. Kate wrapped her arms around her little boy just as Travis let him go. She tightened her embrace and started moving with baby steps toward the north, ducking her head and shielding Max’s face with her hand.

“Mah-mee, that soldier gave me my car,” he said, his voice a mixture of excitement and fear.

“Run!” Travis whispered.

Kate bent and pushed through the branches, vines and brush as fast as she could. She stumbled when she stepped free of the clinging foliage. Ahead of her were the flashing red lights of the tower. She hiked Max up into her arms and set off at a lumbering jog, the fastest she could go in bare feet while carrying Max.

She wanted to glance back at the trailer so badly. Though she did feel as though the hounds of hell were nipping at her heels, she was desperate to know that Travis was okay. But the foliage was too dense. Even if she looked behind her, she wouldn’t be able to see anything.

“Mommy, stop!” Max cried, his little hands fisted around the material of her shirt. He was kicking and squirming. “Mommy!”

“Shh,” she whispered. “Shh, Maxie. Don’t cry. We’re pl-playing hide-and-seek, okay?” she gasped, out of breath. “Shh.”

“Hide-and-seek?” Max whispered, then squealed, “Yea!”

She prayed that Travis was okay and that he’d stopped the kidnapper from following her and Max. She pushed on, slowing down as Max became heavier and squirmed more. “Max, be still. I can’t hold on to you.”

“Hide now!” he squealed.

She shook him as best she could. “Hush!” she snapped.

Just as he sniffled and opened his mouth to start crying, she heard a sound that ripped through her like heat lightning.

It was a gunshot.

Travis! She stopped and turned. The deep gray sky had turned darker with purple. Soon that predawn darkness would lighten, and neutral gray shadows would change to deep purplish-pink. In the slight glow of dark purple, she saw Shirley, jogging toward them, brandishing something in her hand that caught the pale moonlight like—like steel. It was a gun. And beneath the gun was a large, bright flashlight.

Kate hiked Max higher in her arms and ran, ignoring the stones and gravel and twigs that tore at her bare feet. “Max,” she panted. “We’re the good guys and they—” she gestured with her head “—they’re the bad guys. Stay still so I ca-can outrun them.”

To her relief, Max stopped wiggling and turned backward to watch the woman. “She’s catching up, Mommy! Hurry!”

I’m hurrying, she thought, too out of breath to speak. Then she realized she was no longer on the ground. She was on asphalt. The road. She blinked and squinted in front of her. There was the gas station. But there was no one waiting to pick them up. She moaned quietly, then tightened her grip on her son. “Maxie, we’re almost there,” she wheezed. “Al-almost there.”

She ran around the left side of the station, praying that Travis was right about the bathroom. He was. Rushing inside, she slammed the door, plunging Max and her from the grayish purple world of early dawn into total blackout.

“Mommy!” Max shrieked when she put him down. Her arm muscles burned like fire as she felt around for a lock. There wasn’t a lock on the doorknob, so she ran her fingers up the edge of the door—and touched a metal tube. A chain lock? She felt on the door facing and found a chain. Fumbling, she finally had hold of the clasp on the end of the chain and pushed it into its corresponding hold on the door. Locked.

Her wheezing breaths turned into sobs. Behind her, Max was crying.

“Max,” she said, “come here.” She pulled him into her arms and held him tightly, hugging him.

“Mommy, it stinks,” Max said. “Phew!”

She took a breath and realized that he was right. The bathroom did stink. “That’s okay,” she muttered. “It stinks, but nobody can get in.”

Kate felt around on the dirty, sticky floor, trying to get an idea of how large the room was and what all was in it. She knew that if Shirley figured out where they were, she could shoot through the wooden door. Kate needed something that could serve as a shield. Next to the toilet was a large plastic wrapped case of toilet tissue. It was hardly enough to stop a bullet, but maybe if the slug went through the door, then through the paper, it would slow it down. Then, in the far corner, next to the lavatory, she struck gold. A large metal waste can.

“Max,” she said. “Want to play a real game of hide-and-seek?” She had no idea how Max was going to react to the idea of being stuffed into a smelly waste can in a smelly bathroom. But if that’s what it took to protect him, then she’d make him do it. By now her eyes had adapted to the dark as much as they were going to. She could see a sliver of light coming in over the door. It wasn’t enough light to lend color, or even shape, to most things, but she could see the trash can. She picked it up and emptied the contents on the floor as far into the opposite corner of the room as possible. Then she brushed Max’s hair back from his forehead.

“Max, I want you to climb into this can, okay? It’s your secret hiding place.”

“Mommy, I’m sleepy.”

“I know, honey, and you can go to sleep as soon as you’re in the ca—the hiding place. Come on. I’ll help you in.”

“I don’t want to,” he said firmly. “That’s not fun.”

She pulled him close. “I want you to hide in there. The bad guys are coming and we have to hide. Now you need to get in the hiding place. Right now. I’ll be right behind the can and you can knock and I’ll knock back. We can tap out songs on the can—the hiding place. How’s that?” She could hear the desperation in her voice. If Shirley kept up the pace she’d been jogging, she’d be across the road any second now.

“Okay, Mommy,” Max said, so solemnly that Kate knew he was reacting to her fear and worry. She quickly lifted him into the can. “Now crouch down and get comfortable, okay?” she said.

“Okay,” he muttered in a subdued voice.

“I’m right here,” she whispered, tapping the side of the can with her knuckles as she maneuvered herself into position in front of the can and held on to her toilet-tissue shield. That put three layers between any bullet Shirley could fire and Max. Dear God, she hoped that would be enough.

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