Tam wasn’t afraid of heights but she really hated climbing mountains.
“You have one more hour at most until the storm arrives,” Anna said over their earbud phones. “Do you have a visual on our target yet?”
In the background, Tam imagined that she could hear the crackle of the cozy fire at the ski lodge which Anna had commandeered as their command center. Age had its privileges, one of which being that Anna got to stay behind and coordinate their efforts with the local authorities while Val and Tam hiked up a frozen peak looking for a runaway from the law.
“I think so,” Tam said. Below her, almost paralyzingly far below her, there was a slight bit of blue visible against the otherwise blinding white snow. The same blue as the jacket they were looking for.
“I do too.” Val said. “Do you have our position?”
“I’m scrambling the medical crew there now,” Anna said.
“Don’t have them come to us. They’ll need to take the Snow Bear trail,” Val said. “We can lower Vanessa down to them.”
“That’s a pretty long drop and a fairly narrow ledge. You sure we can manage it with the storm coming in?” Tam asked.
When they’d been requested to find Vanessa Chin, the assignment had looked like a pleasant chance to visit the ski resorts around the Lake Tahoe region to find where Vanessa and her boyfriend had fled to after he was charged with three counts of armed robbery.
Finding the two had been the easy part. Donny, Vanessa’s boyfriend, was no brighter about picking a hideout than he’d been about planning his robberies. All Tam had to do was check his credit card history and set the GPS to take them to the ski resort Donny had visited for the last three years.
Where things started to go wrong was the moment they asked for the fugitives’ room number. Due to some spectacularly unfortunate timing, Vanessa and Donny had been in the lobby when Anna asked for their room number and they overheard the request. What made matters much worse though was the presence of two police officers who were standing behind Anna on completely unrelated business.
Justifiable paranoia had sent Donny and Vanessa scrambling out to flee their pursuers as best they could. Since the parking lot had two police cruisers in it, Donny, in his infinite wisdom, had stolen a snowmobile and, from the story he gave once he was in custody, then planned to scale the mountain and come down on the other side where they could check into a resort in the next town over.
Donny however was not much of a mountain climber. He’d lasted all of five hundred yards up a steep but not terribly challenging trail before he’d wandered off, exhausted, and collapsed without telling Vanessa.
Vanessa, for her part, had taken the championship of her Regional Girls Wrestling Competition and was in significantly better shape than her boyfriend.
From what Val was able to determine from her tracks, she’d proceeded a half mile up the mountain before noticing that Donny had abandoned her. She’d spent some time trying to find him after that, which allowed Tam and Val the opportunity to catch up a bit, but had been spooked by the search party that was looking for them both and had headed back towards her original target, presumably thinking she’d regroup with Donny at their destination.
Tam would have been impressed by the girl’s tenacity and bravery if it wasn’t so incredibly inconvenient. Vanessa’s trek up the mountain was a fantastic attempt at navigating the unfamiliar terrain, especially for someone inexperienced with mountain climbing techniques and who lacked any of the gear a serious enthusiast would use.
Sadly, Vanessa’s luck wasn’t the equal of her skill or courage though. Mountains are treacherous and unforgiving and it hadn’t taken a particularly large mistake to send Vanessa tumbling down to the side of a steep cliff to land hard on a narrow lip of rock part way back down to where the mountain broadened out and roads ran along it.
“Don’t risk yourselves if it looks uncertain,” Anna said. “We can have trained climbers to your position in 45 minutes.”
“That won’t give them enough time to get Vanessa off that ledge before the weather turns,” Val said. “Send them anyways, but I think we can handle this.”
“Will you have the need of any supernatural assistance?” James asked. He’d joined the call from the even greater comforts of their home base, but could be with them in spirit, literally, if the need arose.
“We have a favor from a spider collector that’s outstanding still, don’t we?” Val asked.
“Yes, we do. It will take a short time to make the necessary arrangements with them however,” James said.
Tam grinned at the thought of the poor young man in Brussels who was about to get a call in the middle of the night from James asking to speak to the largest of his spiders.
“That’s ok, go ahead and make them,” Val said. “We can handle the trip down to Vanessa’s position. I just want to have some options once we get there. If she’s hurt a bit of wall crawling might be the best chance of getting her to safety before we’re buried in ice and snow.”
“Even if we can stick walls, will we be able to move her?” Tam asked.
“Depends on why she’s not moving down there. If her back’s ok, we’ll be in good shape. If it’s not then we’ll need setup a shelter on that tiny ledge to protect her from the storm, at least until these can get us the proper medical gear to move her safely,” Val said.
Since Tam couldn’t see how they’d manage to construct anything in such a small space, she prayed Vanessa wasn’t badly hurt. The drop was a long one but it wasn’t straight down. If they were lucky, Vanessa had simple lost her grip and slid down the slope, taking mostly abrasion damage in the descent, without any serious injuries to bones or spine.
“Do a quick gear check for me,” Val said, turning around to allow Tam to inspect her equipment. Val then did the same for Tam and then they both checked the other’s vision and balance to make sure the thinner air wasn’t affecting them too much.
Their ropes weren’t strictly necessary, but under the circumstances they couldn’t risk any errors so they used them to descend until they were standing on the narrow ledge where Vanessa lay.
. Their questions as to her status were answered when she groggily lifted her head and blinked trying to work out who the two people standing above her were.
“Don’t move yet,” Tam said. “You’ve fallen and we need to see if you’re in one piece still.”
“Who are you?” Vanessa asked. The fall had knocked her senseless and the exhaustion of being on the run for a few days and the monumental effort of climbing the mountain had left her ready for far more than the short period of sleep she’d managed on the ledge.
“We’re here to help,” Val said. “You don’t have to worry. You’re not in trouble, and we have a medical team on the way.”
“Can you move your feet?” Tam asked.
Vanessa nodded and flexed her toes back and forth.
“Give her a hat,” Anna said. “She’s been exposed to the weather for a while and she wasn’t wearing one when she left the resort.”
Tam pulled a spare hat from her bag. It was a heavy wool cap with puppy dog ears one of the Club’s members had knit and donated “for a good cause”. From the shivering of Vanessa’s lips, Tam was sure giving it away under the present circumstances qualified.
“Do you have any sharp pains?” Val asked, gazing into Vanessa’s eyes and watching how they well tracked together.
“My wrist hurts,” Vanessa said. “And my left ankle.”
“That’s good. Pain means things are still attached,” Val said.
“I’m going to be arrested aren’t I?” Vanessa asked. She was laying still, the distance in her eyes a reflection of how far she wished to be from the reality she’d fallen into.
“Did you know your boyfriend had committed the robberies he’s accused of?” Tam asked.
“No, he never said anything about that. He said his parents were trying to break us up and that he was running away so they couldn’t control him anymore. He didn’t say anything about the cops until he saw them at the resort. Then he was all ‘you have to help me, they’ll get you too for aiding and abetting’, so I just kept running,” Vanessa said.
“We know some good lawyers,” Val said. “I think they can work with that to keep you out of trouble with the law.”
“But you’re still going to need to face your parents,” Tam said.
Vanessa went silent for a long moment as the color drained from her face.
“Maybe you could just leave me up here?” she asked.
“Sorry, we’re bringing you home safe and sound even if we’ve got to pull this mountain down to it,” Val said.
“I trust that the mountain is still standing?” Charlene asked over the speaker phone. Her words fought to overcome the sound of raucous children at play and the ocean breeze that gusted into her phone’s mic. Being chaperone to several dozen small humans was taxing to even her legendary reserves of poise.
“More or less,” Tam said. “The good news is Vanessa’s exam went well. No damage to her spine, and no concussion, just some scrapes and a sprained wrist.”
“I think for a while there she was hoping the news would be worse, so her parents would go easier on her,” Val said.
“Yeah, but she didn’t have anything to worry about,” Tam said. “They were so happy to see her they didn’t even mention grounding her for the first hour or so.”
“All in all, I think we can call this one a successful mission,” Anna said. “But we are gathered here for another I think. It feels more like a new briefing than a report on the last one?”
“Yes, I’m sorry to have to send you out again so soon,” Charlene said. “I gather the ski resort has some nice accommodations, but a problem has arisen that hits us rather close to home.”
“PrimaLux made a move against us? Or Izzy?” Tam asked.
“No. Closer than that,” JB said. “I have a younger sister. We’re two years apart, and when we weren’t trying to kill each other as children, she was my best friend.”
“What kind of trouble is she in?” Val asked.
“She’s accused of killing someone,” JB said.
“Did she do it?” Anna asked, without any judgmental air to the question.
“To the best of my knowledge, no,” JB said. “I’ve spoken with her, but she had already been arrested and was speaking from the police station, so an honest confession of guilt would have been problematic I suppose.”
“Is she capable of doing something like that?” Tam asked.
“Everyone is capable of violence,” Anna said. “It is only the necessary provocations which differ from person to person.”
“Who’d she supposedly kill?” Val asked, flipping through the briefing packet JB passed out to them.
“The judge who denied her custody of my niece and nephew,” JB said.
“Ok, that’s a decent provocation,” Val said.
“And yet and unusual one,” Anna said, her eyes narrowing as she read the details in the report. “Custody battles are rarely civil, but murders of the judges associated with them are vanishingly rare.”
“It says here that Tessa had a violent outburst in court when the decision was announced though?” Tam said, reading from the second page of the report.
“I am sure that she did,” Anna said. “Whenever a woman shows a hint of anger it is read as violence.”
“Sounds to me like someone needs to learn what a violent woman really looks like,” Val said, cracking her knuckles.
“See if Jimmy B has our plane ready,” Anna said. “Someone is going to pay for the murder of Judge Klairborn, and I want to make sure your sister can look the guilty party in the face before we send them away for the rest of their life.”