While Stone was giving us instructions, Wes took a coil of knotted rope from his backpack and one from Stone's. After he tied them together, he asked for my hank. He tied one end of my rope to a tree and the other end to the two knotted ropes and tossed the free end into the water rushing over the rock. It played out rapidly, three hundred feet or more I guessed, the free end disappearing as the rushing water carried it over the lip of the basin and into the sinkhole. That done, he came to where we were standing. "I hope we don't need that rope, but we need a way out of the cave if we can't get out the front way. Are you ready?" he asked, looking at each of us. We all give him a thumbs-up.
"We are ready," Hank said. "Let's go get my brother!"
Wes gave us a big smile and said, "Ok! Let's do it."
Stone took the radio from his belt, flipped it on and said, "This is Rolling Stone calling Falling Rock."
The radio crackled, and Tim's voice came back, "Rolling Stone, this is Falling Rock. Are you ready?"
"Falling Rock, we are ready." The words were hardly out of Stone's mouth when all hell broke loose in the direction of the compound. So many flares were shot into the sky that it looked like the Fourth of July. Stone put the radio in a plastic bag, sealed it, fastened it to his waist and walked over to the edge of the slide. He turned on his flashlight and called, "See you later," as he jumped into the rushing water. We watched him until all we could see was his flashlight, as he went over the edge of the falls into the sinkhole.
"You see how it's done, go when you are ready," Wes said. I knew I could lose my courage if I had to wait, so I quickly jumped into the water. It was so cold it took my breath away, but before I could worry about that, I found myself being carried down the slide then swept over the falls. I seemed to fall forever.
Suddenly I realized I was holding my breath, but gasping for air was not good either since, when I did, I inhaled some icy water. After what seem like an eternity, I fell into the pool at the bottom of the sinkhole. It was, of course, pitch black except for my flashlight and that was worthless since I was underwater and all I could see in its beam was more water. I kicked to the surface, gasped a lung-full of air and, out of the corner of my eye, saw another light. I quickly swam toward it and when I reached it, saw Stone sitting on a narrow ledge just above the water's surface.
He reached out and pulled me onto the ledge. "Glad to see you could come," he smiled. "Scoot as far along the ledge as possible and wait. I hope all of us can find a place on the ledge and if not, hang onto it from the water. I'd like very much for Wes to lead the way into the cave." As he talked, I saw one, then another light plunge into the water. "You hold your light just under the surface, Douglas, and I will hold mine at the surface to guide our compadres." I was very relieved to see the two lights start moving toward us.
A minute or so later, Jason reached up toward me. I grasped his arm and pulled him onto the ledge beside me. "Wow! That was some thrilling ride," he exclaimed. While I was pulling Jason from the water, Stone was helping Hank. There was not enough room left on the ledge for the two Wesleys, so when they swam to the edge of the underground pool, Stone and I dangled our legs over the edge of the ledge for the two to hang on to.
"Everyone doing ok?" Wes asked. "Have a good ride?" he laughed, then became very serious. "The next phase of our journey can get scary. We'll have to move through the hole just to Stone's left, then crawl for a couple hundred feet to the back of the fourth chamber. I said crawl, but that's not exactly right. We'll actually have to lie on our backs and push ourselves along with our feet and pull ourselves with our elbows. Most of the time, the roof of the tunnel we'll be moving through will be only inches from our faces. You'll have to be on your back because there is not enough room for you to get your knees under you to crawl. As soon as you are ready to move into the tunnel, your flashlight will be worse than useless. Put it in your pocket, although I suspect you will not need it again."
"Remember I told you the tunnel was only a couple hundred feet long? It will seem longer, much longer. Just remember you are moving inches at a time, so it takes a long time to cover the ground. Remember that and don't panic because you think we have taken a wrong turn. There are no turns in the tunnel. If you find yourself feeling cramped, like the walls are closing on you, remember I will be leading the way and none of you are larger than I am. Just stop, take a deep breath, then move on."
"As I said, I will be going first since I have been here after the cave was made into a bunker. Stone will bring up the rear. He will send each of you into the tunnel. I am assuming we are all capable of moving at the same speed so, Stone, three minutes separation should be fine. If someone is slowing down and you reach their feet, just stop, relax until they move, then count off three minutes and start moving again. The tunnel has water in it for just over half way, then it is dry sand. You are going to end up with raw elbows no doubt, but that's much less, I suspect, than Jonathan has suffered. Are we ready?" Everyone nodded and Wes said, "Hank, if you'll drop into the water--Douglas, help him--I'll come out and the parade can begin."
Hank slipped into water and, as soon as he was off the ledge, Stone moved to the far side of the opening, reached down and helped Wes onto the ledge. Wes had no sooner gotten out of the water than he lay on his back, his head in the opening and gave a push with his feet. As soon as his feet disappeared into the tunnel, Stone started the countdown for the next person. Wesley went second, then I went. Jason then Hank were to follow with, as Wes said, Stone bringing up the rear.
The tunnel was narrow, the ceiling just over a hand's breadth from my face. Wes had warned that progress would be slow and I am glad he had, otherwise I am very sure I would have panicked, thinking I was lost forever in the pitch blackness. I had been very cold from being in the icy water, but soon had gotten warm from exertion. I was tiring very rapidly when I gave a push and felt my head touch Wesley's shoes. I welcomed a chance to relax for a few minutes and I guess that was what Wes had in mind. Anyway, a few minutes later I felt Wesley's feet moving again and started the countdown.
What seemed like days later, I saw a light ahead and could see the tunnel was larger. When I reached the larger section, Wes was standing just outside, holding a flashlight. "If you'll just move to the right and make yourself as small as possible, I think we can all get behind the wall before we enter the closet," he whispered.
Fifteen or twenty minutes later, we were all crowded behind the closet wall. Wes slid a panel open a few inches, listened, then slid the panel completely to one side and stepped through the opening. We all followed suit. There was a light shining though a crack in front of us. I see it was a crack in a door and that Wes was gazing through it. He whispered, "Wait here," opened the closet door, then slipped through it.
He came back minutes later and gathered us together at the back of the closet. "I had hoped Jonathan would be in this bedroom, but he is not. It's empty. I slipped around and locked the door so no-one can enter. Should anyone try, we will know it and have some warning. There is another bedroom across the hall. These are for the big shots who are in on the secret of this cave. The common troops have a barracks room down the hall a bit. I'm going to see if I can't check out the other bedroom and barracks then I'll be back."
It seemed ages before Wes reappeared, but probably had been only five minutes. He motioned for all of us to leave the closet and when we got into the bedroom, the light seemed very, very bright because we had been in darkness so long. "I have found Jonathan," he said softly. "He is in a bedroom across the hall."
"I was fortunate to find him without getting caught. The only reason I did is because Abel Mitchell was not only occupied, but also had failed to close the door completely. I sure thought the cave would be vacated when the fireworks started at the compound, but it was not. Abel is in the room with Jonathan. That leads me to believe Noah is in the cave as well somewhere, and maybe there are others. I saw enough to say I want Jonathan rescued NOW. I had thought about two of us going to get him, but your reactions aren't predictable. To be blunt, Jonathan is tied to a bed and, while I don't know what has happened, I can guess what Abel has in mind. It turned my stomach, so I don't want to get in there and have the only person with me faint or not be able to act for puking. Hank, how good a shot are you?"
"He's damn good," Wesley said.
"With a rifle," Hank said. "Haven't used a pistol."
"Well, at least you have shot something. Take my pistol," Wes said, handing him his weapon. "Don't shoot to kill, but don't hesitate to maim, and to protect yourself and us and our mission. I want you to take a position outside the door. Stone, you stay with him--one of you on one side of the hall, the other on the other. We'll depend on you to stop anyone coming down the hall. There's no-one in the barracks but I'm sure Abel is not here by himself."
"Jason, I hope the door to the bedroom is still not fully closed. Check and if it is, just knock it open and roll right. Wesley will follow you and roll left. If it's closed, Jason, I want you to hit it full force. If that doesn't knock it open, drop and roll out of the way so Wesley can hit it. Surely the second blow will knock it in. As soon as the door is open, Stone, get ready to fire if necessary. I hope you don't need to, as I'd like to pull this off without warning anyone else in the cave. At the same time, Douglas, in and roll left. I'll take the middle. Jason, Wesley, if you have to break down the door, then after everyone else is in, Jason, right, Wesley, left."
"As soon as we are in, Douglas, you cut Jonathan free. Here's my knife." Wesley took the long hunting knife sheath from his belt and handed it to me. I immediately slipped it out of the sheath to make sure it came out easily. "Wesley, you and I will subdue Abel. If you'll get him on the floor, I'll hogtie him. Douglas, you'll give me the rope you cut off Jonathan."
"Jason, as soon as Jonathan is free, wrap him up--he's naked--pick him up and head for the door. Don't stop for anything."
"Stone, Hank, as soon as you see Jason has Jonathan, you two start down the hall. At the end of the hall are two large rooms, a large common room on the left and a kitchen-dining area on the right. When you reach those, do a quick look-see. If there're people present, give them a chance to surrender. One of us will get them tied up quickly. You're not to stop for long, just long enough for one of us to reach you. If they do not want to surrender, shoot to maim. We don't have time to fool around."
"Jason, as soon as you see Stone and Hank move past those two areas, move. Wesley, take the right side of the hall, Douglas, the left. If there's more than one person can handle, Wesley and I will assist. When those two areas are secured, we'll regroup for the assault on the first chamber."
"This living space is connected to the entrance chamber through a passageway which is about the width of a normal hall. There are double doors in this end of the passageway but the other end, into the first chamber, is open. As soon as we reach the door to the passage, I'll go ahead and reconnoiter. Until I see what we face in the first chamber, I won't know how to approach it. I just hope most everyone is down defending the home base. I thought they all would be, but obviously they're not."
"To this point," I thought to myself, "we have been six men against nature. But nature isn't malevolent, nature just is. Nature wouldn't intend to drown us, but if we had made a mistake, we could have drowned in our slide into the underground pool. Nature wouldn't intend to make us feel claustrophobic, but if we crawled into a narrow passage, it could happen. Now there were to be pistols out and at ready, a hunting knife that could easily kill, because men are involved and men can be intentionally evil and, when they are, they have to be stopped and, for now at least, stopping them could require knife or pistol. And neither knife or pistol comes with a 'no-one's going to get hurt' guarantee. This is really scary!"
"Are we ready?" Wes asked. We all nodded. Wes opened the door to the hall slowly, looked out and motioned us out.
Directly across from us was a second door, standing slight ajar. Wes gave us the ok sign and Stone took his position beside the door. Hank moved to the wall opposite, looking down the hall. Wes looked at Jason and nodded. Jason hit the door, slamming it against the wall, fell to the floor and rolled into the room. The rest of us moved quickly to do the same. As soon as I was up off the floor, I slipped the knife from its sheath as Wes and Wesley both hit someone kneeling on the bed, knocking him into the floor. As they disappeared behind the bed, I was on it in a flash, cutting Jonathan free. He was completely limp and unmoving; I couldn't even tell if he was breathing.
I had cut Jonathan free and started rolling off the bed so Jason could get him, when I was hit from behind. Someone put his arm around my neck and was choking me. Jason was right behind me and grabbed my assailant, pulling him backward, but the attacker didn't release me. I suddenly realized I still had Wes's knife and reached behind myself and hoped it was my assailant I hit with a back stroke with the knife. I did enough damage to cause the man choking me to release his grip around my neck a bit, and that was all Jason needed to get him off of me.
The two were struggling on the floor when I recovered. I quickly grabbed the man around the throat as he had me, and pulled him off Jason. As soon as I had, I placed the hunting knife against his throat and said, "Cool it or you are dead meat." I didn't know whether I could cut his throat or not, but neither did he. He released Jason, stood up and put his hands in the air. He was naked!
Jason grabbed some of the rope I had cut releasing Jonathan, shoved the man to the floor and quickly tied him up. When he was safely out of commission, I examined the cut I had made and found it was a mere scratch, but it had been enough.
When I finished, I saw another naked man--the one who had been on the bed with Jonathan--was being tied up by Wes. As Wes turned--I assumed it was Abel Mitchell he was holding down, face to the floor-- and said, "Wesley, I just as soon this asshole can't raise an alarm, gag him." Wesley grabbed a shirt one of the two naked men had tossed on the floor, cut the back out of it and divided it into two parts, giving me one and gagging the man he had on the floor with the other. I did the same to the joker who attacked me, a man I assumed was Noah Holland.
Jason had wrapped Jonathan in a blanket and was holding him in his arms when Wes gave the signal for us to move on. Phase one of the mission accomplished, we left the trophies bound and gagged for later pick up, and walked into the hall.
Apparently Stone had seen people in the dining area because I saw Hank ran across and into it from the living area, his pistol drawn. As I raced down the hall, I heard two shots ring out. When we reached the dining area, Wes signaled for us to stop, then dropped and rolled into the area. Stone reappeared almost immediately, limping, motioning me and Wesley to come on.
Inside the dining area were four men who--apparently, from the empties on the floor--had been drinking beer. One was clutching his shoulder. Wes and Hank were covering the four with the two pistols. "Douglas, you take this pistol and cover the three so-far-unwounded jackasses. Wesley, tie them up well. May as well gag them too. Strips cut from their jeans will make excellent restraints. I'll take the slightly wounded one with me. I have his pistol to keep him covered. I've collected the others' hardware as well. We are now well armed and have no reason to save bullets, so feel free to shoot, Douglas. You with the bleeding shoulder, come with me."
It didn't take long to get the three tied up and gagged.
When we got outside, Wes had cut away the pants from Stone's bleeding leg and bandaged it tightly. A shot had gone through his upper thigh, but Wes said it was not a serious wound. "It was bleeding pretty badly, but the pressure bandage I put on it has stopped or at least slowed the bleeding to where there's no danger."
Having taken care of Stone, Wes looked at the wounded prisoner who was pressing his hand against his shoulder, with blood running through his fingers. After he had a look, Wes said, "Your wound is not serious but you could bleed out unless something is done before you get to a doctor. I don't know how long that will be. 'Course if you bleed to death, you'll save the state a lot of money I suspect. Who else is here in the cave?" he asked.
The man did not answer and Wes pulled away the corner of the pressure bandage he was holding against the wound, and blood started running down the man's arm again. "You know, I'm not sure I remember how to do this. Now that we have all you jackasses' weapons and since there is only that door up ahead out of here, we can hold off a lot of people a long time, just as I suspect your plan was. Long enough, I suspect, for an uncared-for wound to bleed a man to death." Wes then turned to Stone, who was seated across the hall, and said, "Don't you think so, Stone?" As he turned, he removed the bandage completely.
The man looked at the blood running down his arm and said, "You son of a bitch, get that bandage back."
Instead of doing that, Wes stood up, the bandage in his hand and walked toward Jason who was leaning against the wall down the hall from us, holding Jonathan in his arms, the unconscious boy's head on his shoulder. "What do you think, Jason, Douglas? Do you think Jonathan would think this man deserves our time and effort?"
I'd had a quick look around the room where Jonathan had been held and had a pretty good idea what had been in store for my baby brother if we hadn't arrived when we did--if he had not been raped already. I thought now was a good time to confirm my suspicions. "For raping my brother? Let the bastard die!" I said.
"Wait a minute! I had no part of that! I'm not into boys. It made me sick."
Wes looked at me and gave a slight nod. "Didn't see you leaving," he said, walking back to the man.
"Put the bandage back," he begged. "There's only one or two more people here. They're guarding the entrance. The only ones here who had anything to do with that boy were the old man's great and glorious son, Abel, and that cocksucker Noah Holland. Honest. We're here because Abel promised we'd get a share of this whole operation after he got rid of the old man."
I wondered what he meant by "the whole operation", since the only thing I knew anything about was the cult, and it certainly wasn't making millionaires out of anyone, or was it? Well, there was too much going on right now to think about that!
Wes bent down and again applied the pressure bandage, this time tying it securely in place. He then took his knife from me, cut strips from the man's jeans and bound his feet and hands. He did leave him sitting against the wall, unlike the three inside who were lying face down on the floor.
Wes had spoken right: we were beyond well-armed now. The four who had been drinking in the dining area all had sidearms and there were also four rifles leaning against the wall by the kitchen door. All the weapons were fully loaded and there was a clearly labeled ammo cabinet in the hall, just before the door into the passageway. With the exception of Jason, who had enough to worry about, and Stone, who would have a problem running, if not walking, we all carried a pistol and a rifle. Wes passed out ammunition which was good, because it would have taken me a while to match weapon with ammo, even with the cabinet labels.
We were ready for the next stage in the rescue when Wes looked us over and said, "Jason how about letting Douglas carry Jonathan? You're a practiced shot and that could be important."
I walked over to where Jason was standing and took Jonathan from his arms as he took the rifle and pistol I had been carrying.
Wes nodded his satisfaction, opened the door into the passageway and slipped out of sight. He reappeared about five minutes later and motioned to Jason and Wesley.
They had been gone only a minute or two when several shots rang out, followed by silence. I was becoming very anxious, when Jason re-appeared and motioned for us. When we were ready to enter the passageway, he said, "Wesley is wounded, slightly, and there appears to be more than two men out there. Wes got one in the arm and I nicked one's leg. But there were one or two shots fired from behind a boulder so there has to be at least three."
"There's a Humvee's parked to your right as you leave this passageway and enter the chamber. We're in luck because Wes could see the keys in the ignition. Hank, you make a dash for the Humvee. The third shooter is somewhere behind the boulders to your left so keep that in mind. A few random shots in that direction seems like a good idea to me. Might keep him behind his rock."
"When you have the Humvee going, drive it as close as possible to the passageway. Make sure it is between the third shooter's post and the entrance to this part of the cave. When you're in place, beep the horn. Stone, that will be the signal for you to move. When you're aboard, be ready to help Douglas get Jonathan into the vehicle. Should Hank not reach the Humvee right away, we'll try to keep the shooter busy so he'll have time to get to it and get it over here. Hank, when Stone's aboard, beep the horn again. Douglas, that's your signal."
"As soon as you're all aboard, swing the Humvee around and pick up Wes, Wesley and me. The minute we're aboard, head for the doors to the outside. "Good luck!" Jason said, and headed back into the passageway.
He had been gone only a half minute or so before shots were fired. They continued as Hank slipped into the passageway. It seemed eons before I heard the Humvee start then, seconds later, I heard the horn. Stone slipped through the door immediately and minutes later, I heard the horn again. I moved as fast as I could with Jonathan. He was sheer dead weight and I wondered if, in fact, he was alive, then banished such thoughts. When I reached the end of the passage, the Humvee was directly in front, its side to the passage, a door open. Stone and I got Jonathan in and and as soon as that was done, I crawled into the very back, making room for the three still engaged in a gun battle.
Unfortunately, when Hank swung the Humvee around to pick up the three men, it exposed another side of the the vehicle to the shooter or shooters. Advantage was taken of that and the side windows and windshield were soon shattered. All of us were lying as low as possible, but Hank was exposed. The door facing the three still outside was open and they piled in. "Go! Move! Now!" Wes shouted as he hung on to the door, not fully inside. "Let's get out of here," he said as he just managed to get inside and close the door.
Just yards ahead, huge steel doors to the outside loomed. Hank said, "Brace yourselves and pray this machine can crash through those doors." Lucky for us, the Humvee had a control unit which opened the doors as we approached. Hank raced through them and down the road away from the cave as the massive steel doors closed once again on the bunker.
As soon as we were a short distance from the cave, Hank stopped so the people piled on top of each other could get straightened out. A couple minutes, and Stone was in the front with Hank, Wesley was in the middle sitting with Jonathan's head in his lap and Wes had the young boy's feet in his. Jason had joined me in the back. A bit better situated, we all held on as Hank gunned the Humvee, racing down the road.