" And it can't be too expensive," the voice continued to instruct.
Skip Carmichael uh-huhed into his cell phone, not paying too much attention as he crossed the Jettison Salvage yard. He dodged the forklift that announced its back-up intent with the incessant, annoying beep-beep-beep he'd once tried to change to the sound of a bleating goat -- and he'd almost done it, but Mel had caught him -- and stopped him. Now that would have been fun, Skip's mind wandered, still ignoring his cousin's instructions.
"And why it can't be at the Ranch this year is beyond me," Andy Travis again argued. "We don't mind."
"Well we mind," Skip automatically answered. "It's not fair to Cait - who we both know will be doin' most of the work. The reunions used to have lots of people to help out before they began -- now everyone's just too busy." He'd worked hard on that argument -- and it was true -- but he also had a great idea for this year. "We're lucky to get anyone to show these days."
Andy Travis harrumphed at the other end of the line. "We're lucky to get anyone to show coz they're tired of gettin' shot at kidnapped bombed" Andy's list trailed off.
"Like any of that was my fault," the ex-astronaut defended himself. "I'm just an ol' flyboy. I'm not the relative who hangs around with terrorists as part of my job description."
"Hey -- not really my fault," Skip interrupted before Andy could name anything that might possibly be traced back to him. "And it was a fluke," he stated, not sure which exact event Andy was going to refer to. He couldn't wait until his cousins got senile and would stop bringing up every little incident.
"I've got the best place in mind -- beautiful, fun -- and safe. Swear." Despite his cousin's inability to see him, he stopped at the edge of his office, shifted the cell from his right to left hand and lifted his fingers into the Boy Scout's pledge.
"Yeah, yeah, right," Andy reluctantly agreed.
Skip nodded, knowing his cousin was slightly relieved they'd not be invaded by the whole of the Michaels clan this time, giving the Travis' a year off. "Later, cuz," he breezily acknowledged, clicking off the cell and climbing the steps into the trailer.
"All right!" Skip declared happily as he spied the mail, the large package on his desk drew his immediate attention. Skip read upside down the return address from the Tourist Department. "Finally."
As he scooped it up and ripped open the envelope, a slight yipe escaped his lips when the envelope's sharp edge sliced through his skin. Sucking on his thumb to deaden the sting, he shook the contents out onto his cluttered desk. He gave it one final shake, then blew into it, examining the inside to make sure nothing was left, letting the envelope flutter to the already crowded filing cabinet nearby.
Skip inspected the digit looking for signs of blood. Satisfied he'd survive his injury, he finally picked up one of the pamphlets and grinned. No one ever seemed to have the time to organize the event, so he'd continued to be the moving force behind the planning -- despite the grief and threats he always received from the family when he insisted on taking them away from the familiar Glorieta ranch. Some of them were down right stick-in-the-muds about any kind of change.
"Some place new and wonderful to explore," he affirmed, satisfied. Skip reveled in the spectacle of the plan, again absently checking his possible fatal injury. The little red welt was starting to bleed -- just a little -- kind of like lava pouring out of a volcano, he thought. He sucked on it quickly and the flow stopped. "Family disaster already outta the way," he chuckled.
Glancing around, he frowned. He shoved a few piles out of the way, not happy until he found the mock-up he'd had Cait sketch for this year's t-shirts. "I survived the Michaels Reunion - 1998," the stylized lettering read. Now he had the picture he needed for the design to be complete.
* * *
Remington Steele took in the barely-dawn revealing view. Spectacular though it might be -- the snow capped mountains and lush grassy areas dotted with cabins the Michaels clan were starting to settle into around the beautiful, sky-blue lake -- all that just made him think of how uncomfortable his tall, lean frame would be squeezed into one of the tiny cots occupying the sleeping areas. He cringed as he realized the structures were nothing more than wooden platforms with large tents enclosing them.
"Trina," Katie Laura screamed, deafening her father's right ear. "Trina," she called again, slinging out of her backpack and running towards her cousin. Brian took one look at his mother, found some sign from her as an affirmative and dropped his own bag, tearing after his sister, determined not to be left behind in his 9 year old, little brother way.
Remington sighed heavily. He shifted the children's gear he already carried from a two-handed hold to one and hefted Katie Laura's stuffed-to-capacity backpack over his shoulder, wondering what she could conceivably need while camping that could possibly make it so weighty.
"Which one of these lovely mansions has been set aside for the Steele family?" he asked, trying to keep the sarcasm down to a minimum, but failing on the weary front.
Laura only smiled and grabbed Brian's forgotten duffle. She caught site of Murphy near the middle of the crowd and started forward.
Remington took a step towards his former colleague and stopped dead -- horrified. Except for the shirts being reverse images of each other in colors, they were wearing the same clothes. The L.A. Detective sighed heavily, wondering if Laura has somehow engineered this one more indignity.
Remington swallowed hard, putting on his best smile, knowing Murphy and Laura could see through it, but the rest would be fooled by his charm.
"Eh, Murphy." He gratefully dropped the gear and stretched out his hand. "Bring your prospecting equipment?" Remington teased, avoiding a look towards the slight scowl he knew was being directed at him by his wife. Murphy expected a little bit of jibing on his part -- how could he disappoint?
"Always good to see you, too," he returned good-naturedly. "Glad to see you've finally come into some fashion sense." He laughed as Remington rolled his eyes.
Remington surveyed the canvas buildings. "So, where do we store the gear?"
"In with us," he pointed behind him.
"We're sharing accommodations?" he asked, turning to Laura to glare at her.
Murphy chuckled, not really trying to cover the smirk on his face. "You haven't told him yet, have you?"
"He never asked," Laura answered cryptically.
"Told him what?" Remington accused, not sure he wanted to know.
"We're staying at a hotel in town," she began. "A vacation with the kids -- without the kids." She beamed at her husband. "Close enough to reach during the day, but far enough from sleeping bags and tents."
Remington leaned down and pecked his wife on the cheek. "Have I ever told you I love you?"
"Not nearly enough." She pulled him back to bestow a quick kiss on his lips.
Murphy cleared his throat. "Maybe you two should get a room. Oh, wait you have," he declared. "We've rented a few rooms for some of the older -- and fussier -- members of the family," he kidded.
"If it gets me a real bed and shower, Murph, old boy, you can call me anything you want," Remington observed, instantly more relaxed at the whole situation.
Murphy laughed again. "Let's get the rest of -- oomph," he exclaimed, increasing his effort to pick up Katie Laura's bag. "What has she got in this thing?" He pushed it into the tent opening and shoved the rest of the kid's things inside.
"She's a woman, Murphy," the elder Steele answered. "You never question what a woman needs." He gave his friend's shoulder a pat, motioning him to follow to the parking facility they'd just come from.
* * *
Remington Steele drove their rented red SUV through the town. There was some sort of festival being set up for. He wondered if Skip had been aware of this when he'd planned this soiree. Probably, Skip usually tried that good-ol'-boy-in-the-dark act, but most of the time he was very much aware of everything. Pioneer Days -- Remington nodded in approval. At least if anyone wanted to do civilization, they'd have a party to come to this week, he made mental notes of the pool hall and restaurants he passed.
And everything was planned -- except for the t-shirt fiasco -- which always frightened Remington a little. Skip's idea of appropriate reunion attire was not exactly what he was fond of. But here he was, about to pick up and bring back to the Michaels gathering the questionable apparel. He'd had to drive into town to register and get their keys anyway -- and he'd been volunteered. The boxes were supposed to be waiting for him.
He turned off the main road into the smallish hotel. Scooting his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose, he examined the sign -- Cluster's Last Stand. It did seem appropriate, he thought. Turning off the engine, he left his vehicle in search of the lobby.
The boy behind the counter glanced up from his magazine, shoving it under the counter so Remington couldn't see the exact nature of the material he'd chosen to enlighten his mind, though Remington thought he might have seen a bare leg as it disappeared.
"Hey," the young man greeted, attempting to look interested.
"Hello Timothy," Remington read the "Timmy" off his name plate and translated. "I believe I have reservations for several rooms, but I'm not sure which name they've been put under. I'm to register everyone and get the keys," he supplied. "Maybe Steele," he began. "Or Michaels," he continued off the blank stare. "Or Carmichael or Skip," he threw out, trying not to be annoyed that he had forgotten to get the name.
"Oh, yeah," Timmy finally acknowledged. "Got several of the rooms over that way." He pushed the ledger towards Remington. "Sign here, and I'll need a card."
"Right," the detective pulled out his wallet and handed the Visa to the young man, wondering for only a second if he were going to get stuck with the bill. "Can we just use that to hold the rooms -- settle up for each separately at the end of the stay?" he suggested.
"So, Pioneer Days?" Remington asked, trying to be polite and a little relieved.
"Uh huh." The young clerk smacked his gum while he ran the card and made notations on the bill. "We're the Second Most Desirable Place to Live in the United States," he recited something he was obviously expected to. "Population Under 20,000," he quickly remembered to add.
"Oh." Remington distractedly surveyed the small reception area. "I also believe I'm to pick up some boxes that were shipped here"
"Over there," Timmy replied, pointing to the corner.
Remington noted the five large boxes and the dolly next to them..
"Ah, right," he acknowledged. "Any chance of a little help?"
"Sorry," the boy replied without much sincerity, before returning to his pre-Remington activity. "Can't leave the desk."
"Uh huh." Timmy ignored him.
Remington stole another glance at the boxes. "Right. I'll just get them on my way out."
* * *
"Dearest Cuzi." Skip appeared from nowhere, chastising his cousins. "Where are the Reunion t-shirts?"
Almost in weary, resigned unison, Lee, Murphy and Andy undid the top couple of buttons of their shirts and pointed at the cloth underneath, the mountain peak visible behind them was mimicked on a smaller scale on each of their chests.
He wagged his finger at them. "Tsk. Tsk. Where's your family pride? Where's anyone's family pride?" Skip turned his back, sweeping the scene with his arm. "Everyone's hidin' their shirts," he lamented, his voice hurt.
Murphy and Lee nudged Andy from either side to explain reality to their exuberant relative.
"C'mon, Skip," Andy began, standing to get away from the smirks. "They're great, but do you really think the people of this nice town'd appreciate our flauntin' shirts that say we survived their home, with a picture of that mountain erupting and lotsa people fleeing in panic?"
"It's supposed to be a family thing," Skip defended.
"We all know that," Andy agreed patiently. "And you did a terrific job, but our family's just not easily explained. It's simpler this way."
Skip sighed heavily, then perked up. "Okay, but you owe me, right?"
His cousins muttered their agreement.
"Hey Rem," Skip greeted the detective as he joined the friends. "What are everybody's plan today?"
"Bypassing scheduled activities," Remington informed. "Laura -- somehow -- managed to talk some cantankerous, older denizen of the local mountains to rent us her rowboat for the day. I believe there's a family picnic involved."
"I'm pretty sure we're herding the kids to the bridge in town with that rope swing every single one of them managed to catch sight of on the way here," Andy detailed, receiving nods and rolled eyes from his three cousins at the begging that had ensued the night before. "And I'm also pretty sure you're gonna be less two kids for the day."
Remington frowned. "Andrew, we couldn't impose. You're all already doing double duty with us in town."
Murphy turned to Lee, his back to Remington. "And he's been a father how long? He thinks he has a choice," Murphy loudly joked.
"Sad to see such delusion." Lee nodded his head seriously.
"Thank you," Remington finally said, delighted. It was so rare these days he had any time alone with Laura. His sister's marriage into this family had been a blessing for his own and he was grateful.
* * *
Harry Dalton drove his red Sports Utility Vehicle slowly down the crowded road. The Vulcanologist's specially modified off-road, rugged design truck seemed a little overkill in this quaint community. Dante's Peak was supposed to be a quiet little town nestled up against its most famous landmark. The "Dante's Peak Pioneer Days Festival" banner had finally given Harry the answer to his confusion -- well at least part of it. He'd never had so many groups of strangers stare at him and then wave an almost recognition -- it was a little odd.
He pulled into the small hotel -- Cluster's Last Stand. Odd name, but it appeared clean. He knew the reason Paul, his boss and friend, had pulled him off his vacation. He always missed her, but it became almost unbearable at this time of the year. With the anniversary nearing, Paul succeeded in finding a distraction to assure Harry would not be alone.
Peering up, he scrutinized Dante's Peak. It was beautiful -- cloud enshrouded with the snow covered tip barely visible through the white puffs.
Harry pulled his gaze and thoughts back from the mountain. He was uniquely qualified to know just how dangerous it could be. Paul would never have sent him without there being at least the possibility, however remote, of activity in the area.
He entered the small lobby. The older, balding man behind the counter seemed to be disgusted by something he'd found. Barely touching the magazine, gum and other assorted junk he was distastefully pulling out, he snarled at the items as he tossed them one by one. Harry couldn't be sure, but he thought he caught the briefest hint of a bare knee as the magazine landed in the trash can.
"Harry Dalton," he announced once he had the gentleman's attention. He accepted the register and signed his name, his reading glasses slipped precariously to the tip of his nose.
"You're in number seven, in the corner there," he explained without actually pointing.
"Hmm," Harry acknowledged. "Where's Mayor Wando?" the vulcanologist asked.
"She'll be at the ceremony getting an award," he stated. "Best -- well second best, place to live in the United States, population under 20,000."
Harry looked up from signing, the glasses dangling dangerously. He nodded, taking the key to his room. Once outside, he surveyed the area, deciding to seek out his contact in town before unpacking. He could settle in later once he'd gotten a feel for his assignment.
He stopped the young man walking by with the name tag that said "Timmy" on it. "Can you direct me to the ceremony that's going on today?" he asked.
"Sure, Mr." He searched his memory for the name of this man he'd checked in yesterday, finally settling on, "Mister. It's a coupla blocks that way. Can't miss the noise."
"Thank you Timmy," Harry read off the boy's name plate. He headed off in the indicated direction.
* * *
Will all the extra foot traffic the festival was attracting, Rachel Wando drove as quickly through town as she dared. She brushed the loose bangs from her face, worrying briefly if she should have put her hair up -- or something -- for the ceremony. The whole town had worked hard, competing with the neighboring communities for this award and recognition. And here she was, mayor, and she was going to be late.
Crossing the river on the bridge that separated the isolated town from the rest of the world, she prepared to jam on the brakes. A young blond girl she didn't recognize teetered dangerously near the edge of the roadway by the path that led to the rope swing. A man in swim trunks grabbed the child back from the road, smiling apologetically as he pointed his charge down the embankment.
She nodded, flipping her head again to get the pesky hair out of her face.
* * *
"Shawna," Skip chastised. "What were you thinkin'?"
"I was looking for Katie Laura, an' Tommy, an' Benjie," the 7 year old whined. "They said they'd take me."
"Take you where?" he asked, suddenly concerned.
She frowned a second, then crooked her tiny finger and motioned her older cousin to come closer. "An adventure," she whispered the secret. Her eyes began to tear with the dawning realization she'd been ditched, then she drew in a deep breath for what Skip was sure would be a huge wail.
The junkman swept her up into his arms as he headed under the bridge. "Well, who cares about some stupid ol' adventure," he exclaimed. "It's your turn on the rope."
She immediately brightened and grabbed hold of the swing. "All right!"
"Now," Skip instructed. "See your ol' dad in the water there. Aim for his head." Skip pulled the girl and rope backwards. "Ready?"
She grinned, biting at her lip in excitement, then nodded, squealing the whole way down, landing within inches of her target.
Andy glared at him, sputtering water, but Skip's face betrayed none of his guilt.
Amanda and Murphy slid down to Skip's position on the river's banks.
"What is it?" Amanda asked, concerned by the shadow that crossed the usually hyper-happy man's face.
"Anyone see Katie Laura and her pack of miniature delinquents in the last half hour or so?" Skip shielded his eyes, trying to do a count of all the heads bobbing in the water below.
"She's with Jeffrey," Amanda said. "I heard them tell Lee they'd be with him."
"No, she's not," Murphy interrupted. "The big kids went up to the hot springs over an hour ago."
"Posse-time," Skip declared seriously. "We've got us some AWOL kids. Amanda, let Cait know. Let's try to do this with the least amounta fuss. They can't have gotten too far, the three of us should be able to find 'em."
"Skip, you promised us incident-free," Murphy accused good-naturedly. "Missing children -- now why does this sound familiar?"
Skip sank in behind the wheel of the car. "This is not an incident," he fairly growled behind gritted teeth as he cranked the engine harder than he needed to. "'Sides, the curse already hit." He held up his healed-over thumb, not offering an explanation to the baffled Amanda and Murphy. "I'll check the area with the car real quick and then come back for a foot search if I don't find anything. This won't take long."
* * *
"This way." Graham Wando, oldest child of Dante's Peak mayor, and general mischief-maker, motioned his buddies and three new friends forward, then halted them with a quickly outstretched hand. Two adults walked by them on the street and he flattened himself against the building, His companions followed his example.
Waiting until they passed, he resumed the journey, taking the last few yards to the sealed up mine entrance at a run.
"A real mine." Katie Laura beamed in excitement. "They won't let us explore the ones in Glorieta," she advised distractedly. "They say it's too dangerous and someone got hurt there."
Graham lifted up the ineffective metal sheet that should have blocked admittance for everyone to squeeze through. He wondered briefly what had made him instantly like this kid. Not that he liked her in a mushy kinda way -- she was fun -- a girl with a sense of adventure. And she didn't giggle when nervous. He hadn't hesitated in inviting her to this forbidden place.
"Yeah," Graham explained. "And wait 'til you see what we've found. Old tools and fun stuff." He followed Katie into the cavern, letting go of the metal and dropping them into almost total darkness. A small hole at eye-level allowed only the smallest beam of light to intrude.
Fumbling around, he found the lantern they'd hidden there and lit it quickly. The tiny flame cast ominous shadows along the rough rock walls.
"This way," he advised. "We've got the best stuff in the back down one of the side tunnels.
* * *
"What's 'Twonset' mean?" Thirteen year old Peter Carmichael asked. He floated lazily in the heated waters of the hot springs. The youngest of this group of teens, he was just happy to be included in their activities.
"It's gotta mean 'heaven,'" Amy Michaels supplied, luxuriating a few feet away. At sixteen, she was enjoying every minute away from the rest of the relatives. She sighed heavily as a few bubbles made their way to the surface from deep below, tickling her back before they emerged.
Jeffrey Michaels, also sixteen, made little fluttering splashes with his hands as he watched a bird fly overhead. "Maybe we shouldn't have ditched the kids," he admitted guiltily. "We promised"
"Yeah, and they would have been jumping and yelling and splashing and we woulda never gotten to enjoy this peace and quiet," Alicia Jacobs said testily. Sixteen had found her extremely impatient with what she considered immature behavior.
"Probably," Amy stated, but frowned agreement at Jeffrey. Then more bubbles hit her back and her face melted into utter bliss. "Nature's hot tub. This is the greatest."
* * *
Skip parked his vehicle and waited for a car to pass before he trotted across the street to join Murphy and Amanda.
Skip came to attention and saluted. "Operation Search Party found nothing, Ma'am."
Amanda glared. "Skip," she scolded. "This isn't funny."
He shrugged a little guiltily. "What kinda trouble can they get into here in Mayberry," Skip argued. "They're probably at the malt shop with Andy Taylor right now. 'Sides," he added. "Katie's way too smart to do anything stupid."
"Skip, Benjie and Tommy are with her," Amanda explained carefully.
A cloud passed over Skip's face. He had far less confidence in his youngest son's common sense. He took a deep breath. "They're all fine," he worked on convincing himself.
"Amanda, relax," Murphy soothed, holding up his hand to silence any remark his cousin was about to utter. He was worried, but he was determined not to panic. He could usually count on Tommy to do the smart thing, but somehow, when he was with Laura's daughter, smart didn't always come into play. "I'm sure they are all okay, Skip. But just because this town is quiet, doesn't mean there's not trouble that can be gotten into especially if you're talking Katie Laura."
"Okay, okay." Skip held his hands up in mock-surrender. "One of the towns folk," he began, his folksiness increased just a little to lighten the situation. "Said he saw the Mayor's boy with some other kids she didn't recognize and they were heading towards that way." He pointed down the road.
* * *
"I just need to make a quick stop," Rachel Wando hurriedly explained.
Harry Dalton studied her. Though it had been a long time since he had been the one at the receiving end, he immediately recognized the expression she wore. Someone was in trouble. He suppressed a chuckle, grateful it wasn't him.
Rachel pulled up in front of the old mine. Throwing the car into park, she leapt out and stormed towards the entrance.
"Graham," she yelled, pounding hard on the metal. Embarrassed, she directed a wane smile in Harry's direction, pausing for a few seconds, listening. "Graham," she called again.
* * *
Katie pressed her eye against the tiny peephole. Her heart stopped at the sight of the man sitting in the passenger side of the car. She was so dead. The pounding startled her and she jumped.
"Let's go," Graham stated in defeat.
Katie grabbed his shoulder. "I can't get caught here," she cried in desperation.
Graham frowned, then looked to the outside and saw the unfamiliar figure in the car.
"Okay, go back a little bit." He pointed down the tunnel. "If we leave now, they'll never think anyone else is here."
"Thank you," Katie gulped, giving Graham's arm a companionable shove. "You're savin' our lives." She picked up the lantern and yanked a very confused Tommy along, with Benjie following behind. Safely around the bend in the cave, she carefully watched Graham disappear into the light.
"Katie Laura," Tommy complained. "What's your problem?"
"Dad's out there," she decried dramatically, leaning against the rock wall.
Benjie slid to the ground. "Wow! Uh, think it'll work?"
"It's got to." She breathed slowly, trying to stop the pounding of her heart.
"What do we say if they catch us?" he asked.
"Shhh." She cocked her head to listen. "They're leaving." The firelight gave her relieved face an odd, hysterical glow. "Give it a few more minutes and we can leave."
Katie finally motioned for her cousins to follow her, quietly as possible, towards the peephole. Peering through it at as many angles as she could, she finally pulled away. "Coast is clear." She blew out the lantern and put it aside, lifting the metal door for her companions to go through first.
Squeezing through, she nearly slammed into Tommy's back. "Tommy!" she complained. "What" Her voice trailed off as she saw Murphy, Skip and Amanda standing before them. She'd never seen them this angry before -- of all the family members, these three were usually the most laid back -- and the look on Skip's face almost started tears.
"Katie made me," Benjie squealed, pointing the blame appropriately.
"Yeah," Tommy chorused.
Both boys eyes were fearful at their fathers' expressions.
"You begged me and Graham to take you," the young Steele countered defensively.
"You didn't say you were" Benjie stopped at the further glares he was receiving.
Skip closed his eyes slowly, then opened them. He looked at his cousin. The minute they'd seen the cave, fear had taken hold of both of them. Their own misadventures were playing before their eyes with their sons in their careless places.
When they'd emerged, all he'd wanted to do was start yelling, to make these kids understand. He still planned on having a loooong talk with Benjie later, away from his cousins, but all the kids needed to realize their bad judgment. He took a deep breath before speaking. "I think we have a few things to talk about. Katie, I told 'em you were smart enough not to be doin' anything so stupid."
"It's safe," she half-heartedly argued. "Graham says he comes here all the time."
"I don't know who this Graham boy is, but caves are very dangerous," Amanda gently rationalized.
Murphy shook his head disapprovingly, still scowling at his son. "Tommy, we'll take about his later... with your mother." The implied threat of maternal wrath was enough to put a look of horror on the boy's face. Murphy, then he turned his gaze on Katie Laura. "What would your dad have said if he'd found you."
Katie's eyes went wide in horror. "You're not gonna tell? Plllleeeassseeee," she implored. "Please!"
"You said we wouldn't get caught, Katie Laura," Tommy blamed in fear.
"Caught isn't the problem," Skip explained. "Murph, you wanna tell the tale, or should I?" Skip asked.
"I think you tell it best."
"Well, now this was a real long time ago, but" Skip began.
Katie's heart began pounding again. Her dad was obviously looking for her. She was so in for it when he finally returned from the search. She had to convince Murphy, Skip and Amanda to not rat her out. Now her mind began racing as she ignored the lesson Skip was trying to teach them.
* * *
Ruth Wando watched from her window, not quite sure why she'd agreed to let this couple rent her rowboat. She usually threw tourists off her land when they showed up begging to use her boat to go play.
But this young woman -- what was her name again? Laura? She'd managed the impossible and convinced her to the rental. Ruth decided it was a sure sign she was getting old and soft.
She'd tried to get a good look at her husband, but he'd immediately gone to loading the boat while his wife finished the negotiation. Well, whatever. A little extra money would be nice.
A honking horn drew her attention. Her face lit with joy. That ex-daughter-in-law of hers had brought the children by. She ran out to greet them, noting absently her renters were just about to shove off.
The car doors flew open and her grandchildren rushed into her arms.
* * *
"Guys, let's go," Amy yelled again. "We need to get back before they send a search party."
"Just a few more minutes," Peter pleaded, pushing himself a little farther off from shore.
Jeffrey made a half-hearted effort to pull himself out, but slid back into Twonset's hot bubbling water. He sighed heavily. "Yeah, please."
Amy and Alicia both grabbed their clothes from where they'd hung them off the Twonset Hot Springs sign. They yanked shirts and shorts over slightly dampened goose-bumpily skin and still very wet swimsuits. Amy pulled her long hair out, happy the cloth was giving her a little protection from the temperature change of the air. She slipped into her sneakers and was about to lecture when an evil grin took hold of her. She nudge Alicia and then quickly snagged their companions' clothes.
"Have a nice hike back to camp," she called. Turning, the girls raced up the trail, losing an occasional sock and shoe on the way.
"Hey!" Jeffrey splashed towards shore. "Bring those back."
Peter followed, hopping a little after stepping on a large stone that threatened to puncture his heel. He slowed only long enough to retrieve his left shoe he'd spied stuck in a bush.
Catching up to their encumbered cousins halfway to the road, the boys stopped them and grabbed for their belongings. Out of breath, they tried to play keep-away but they were laughing too hard to be effective.
"Yeah, yeah, very funny," Jeffrey scolded. Leaning against a tree, he pulled his jeans on. "What would"
"Shhh," Peter suddenly cautioned, the sound of voices and squeals echoed through the woods. "Do you think they're okay?"
"We should check," Jeffrey advised, cautiously retracing their steps down the hill. "There." He pointed towards the young man and woman at the hot springs edge.
"Where?" Amy and Alicia slipped in beside him.
"Oooohhhh myyyyy." Jeffrey's eyes grew wide, realizing he was watching the boy and girl striptease, throwing their clothing over the same sign they'd just used for theirs.
Peter tried to get a look through the brush but was blocked. "What?" he asked
"Oh, no, no, no," Jeffrey turned, covering his friend's eyes with his hand. "You're way too young for this."
"What?!?" Peter increased his efforts to see. "What?" he repeated, finally gaining enough ground. "Ooohhhh myyyyy," he sighed, a silly grin lit his face.
Alicia glared at her cousins. "Grow up, guys," she chastised, turning towards the trailhead again. "They're just two people."
"Yeah," Jeffrey replied with a high-pitched, almost hysterical giggle. He slapped Peter's shoulder and winked, then motioned him to leave. "Yeah, just two naked people, that's all."
Alicia reached their car first. She threw her wet towels in the trunk and took the driver's seat. She peeled out once her companions had gotten in and pulled a quick u-turn to head down the mountain.
"Can't we go back and watch," Peter pleaded petulantly, sounding more like a 5 year old than his thirteen years.
Shifting half-way around, Alicia began to lecture when the blaring sound of a car horn returned her attention to the road. She'd taken the curve a little wide and the silver/blue SUV heading towards them veered as close to the edge of the cliff as it dared. She quickly pulled her own vehicle over to right.
"That was close," she breathed out, trying to slow her heart.
Jeffrey had a death grip on the headrest in front of him. "We were so almost dead," he squeaked out.
Peter nodded, his eyes wide.
In the front passenger seat, Amy grinned widely. "Hey, family disaster over! We can all relax the rest of the reunion."
"Yeah, but I'm not tellin' my parents about this," Alicia confessed. "They'll just have to keep worryin' about the Michaels curse a little longer."
"I am so with you," Jeffrey finally hissed out.
* * *
Rachel Wando exhaled sharply. "I hate when tourists drive these mountains," she snarled under her breath. It'd taken all her many years of experience with these windy curves to keep control of her own SUV. "Everyone okay?" she asked cheerily, trying to reassure her kids.
"Maybe a little slower would work," Ruth seemed to feel the need to criticize.
"Thank you, Ruth," Rachel stated as civilly as possible. She'd hoped to drop her children off with their grandmother so they wouldn't get bored while she took care of business with the visiting geologist. Instead, Ruth had invited herself along.
She pulled off the road at the trailhead to Twonset Hot Springs. She supposed things could be worse, but she wasn't quite sure how. She paused for a moment to get her thoughts together as her children raced down the steps. Harry waited for her to get out and they joined Ruth on the hike to the springs.
* * *
Remington and Laura hurried through the gathering crowd. It'd been a beautiful and perfect day on the lake. Maneuvering the steep road, they hadn't realized the seriousness of the situation as they'd passed the ambulance and sheriff's cars on their way back to town, but upon their arrival, the emergency vehicles followed them by only minutes.
Remington could see Lee and Amanda at the front of the throng of people. He knew they no longer held any official government position, but they seemed to be waving around badges that were impressing someone. He caught Amanda's eye and she motioned him off to the left. Laura had seen the signal and was already changing course towards the new position.
Amanda broke through first. "Two kids were killed at the hot springs today." She frowned.
"Weren't some of the youngsters headed there?" Remington queried, not wanting to voice anything specific.
Lee shook his head. "They're pretty sure these were hikers -- and they were skinny dipping -- boyfriend/girlfriend."
Laura breathed a sigh of relief. "How'd they die?"
"The authorities are stating it was an accident," Amanda advised.
"Very short on detail, very long on vague," Lee added. "We're going to the hotel to see if the kids have checked in yet."
"I'll come with you," Laura advised. "Remington?"
He frowned at the crowd. "Think I'll stay for a minute or two," he stated distractedly. "Maybe I can find out what's going on." He returned his full attention to his wife. "I'll be along in just a minute. Promise." He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and sifted through the throng a little ways.
"Hey," a voice called from beside. An older gentleman wandered up to Remington. "Get settled okay?"
Remington's eyes went wide at the familiarity. "Hey," he repeated back to the man. Glancing at the package in his hand he noted its address to "Warren Cluster" -- hotel owner? he speculated. "All settled. Thanks for asking," he ad-libbed.
"Quite a lot of excitement," Warren Cluster continued. "Usually nothin' happens 'round here."
"Oh, well, quite," the detective agreed. The man must have been in a back room when he'd checked in and seen him. "Our room's quite nice," Remington added.
Warren looked a little confused, then seemed to get it. "Ours right," he declared. "Let me know if you need anything."
"Will do," Remington advised.
Small towns really were very odd places, he decided.
* * *
The next day dawned beautiful and the small community had returned to normal. Any references to the incident at the hot springs seemed to have been forgotten, despite a few of the Michaels cousins' inquiries.
"Nothing," he advised Murphy and Sherry after his own quick attempts had failed.
Murphy held up a finger, asking Remington to hold that thought. "Benjie!" Down! Right now," he directed in a parental voice. "Shane, don't wander off again."
Remington smiled at his friend. Apparently Murphy was acting camp counselor today for the clan children, assuming responsibility, along with his wife, the Stetsons and Carmichaels. They'd shepherded most of the kids into town to pick up supplies for a nature hike.
"Have you tried the police?" Murphy asked. It might have just been an accident, but not knowing the details bothered most of the adults.
"I thought I might attempt some of the local watering holes, find someone who likes to talk," Remington explained.
"That's a good -- Skip, don't make me leave you behind!" he declared without a pause, then continued. "idea. You'll probably get better info that way." Murphy sighed heavily, rolling his eyes heavenward. "We'd better get out of here before we lose a few." He nodded to where Skip had ignored him and was leading some of the more adventurous boys and girls in playing tag with the park's sprinklers.
Katie Laura moved up beside her father, slipping her hand in his. "Can I come, Daddy?" she sweetly asked, trying not to look at Murphy. She was still sweating it. No one had finked her out yet, but they hadn't promised not to and she needed a little alone time with her father. Normally she could sweet-talk him into anything, but when it came to her safety, there was no reasoning with him and nothing worked.
"Sure, Honey, if you want." He pulled her into a hug. "But it's going to be boring."
"I just wanna be with you." She innocently blinked up at him.
He basked in her adoration for a moment, then a slight frown crossed Remington's features, but he shook it off. She wasn't in trouble -- she just loved him.
Murphy tried not to chuckle. "See you later." Walking off, he caught Katie Laura's eye for just a minute, letting her know with just one glance she'd better stay out of any more trouble or her secret wasn't safe.
Grinning widely after Murphy, she relaxed knowing she wouldn't be revealed -- and she got her dad all to herself for a little while today.
* * *
"Katie!" Remington called. "Katie Laura!" He wasn't worried yet -- it was too soon for that. Concern. That was better. His eldest couldn't have gotten too far, the town wasn't that big, so he was concerned about where she might have gotten off to.
He found a street bench and stood on it, the added height giving him an advantageous view of the entire storefront. But he still didn't see her.
"Hey!" the woman with the bee-hive hairdo and flowered dress greeted him.
Remington frowned. "Hey," he responded.
"You're looking great today," she stated appreciatively, scrutinizing his lean frame and good looks. Suddenly she seemed to be aware of how exactly that had sounded. "You know -- one doctor to another," she added.
"Well, yes, uh," Remington stammered. "And you're looking quite fine yourself Doctor." He hid the confusion and treated her to one of his killer smiles.
"Jane, please." She reached out and took his hand in hers. "We're very informal here, Harry."
His smile remained plastered to his face. "If you'll excuse me," he apologized. "I'm looking for someone."
Glancing over his shoulder she obviously caught sight of the someone. "I'll just bet you are." She winked at him and was off.
What the hell was going on here. Who were these people and how did this woman know him -- know Harry! Harry hadn't been a part of his life in so long -- long enough that all his old demons and ghosts seemed to have finally gone to their rest.
He needed to find his daughter and then he needed to talk to someone.
* * *
Katie hadn't meant to wander off, but her dad had been right -- boring, she'd declared to herself. They weren't learning anything and she was getting tired. This must be the legwork her dad groused so much about coz her legs were definitely hurting.
And then she'd seen the very old copy of The Lone Ranger and Mystery Ranch in the store window -- mysteries and horses -- how could you go wrong? She'd stepped inside for just a second. When she came out, her father was no where to be seen.
Panic welled up. No way would the prior day's infraction go unreported if a search party had to be organized again for her. It wasn't fair. She didn't do anything this time.
Briefly she searched the area when she spotted the woman -- the one who'd come after Graham. She bit her lip. If Katie got her involved, would her dad find out anyway? Resolve overtook her. Better to get found right away than later when it was a bigger deal.
She stepped up to the woman. "Are you Graham's mom?" she cautiously asked.
Rachel smiled at the little girl, surprised she didn't know one of her son's friends but they knew her. "Yes. I am." She crouched down to Katie's level to talk better.
"Have you seen my dad? I didn't mean to lose him, honest." Her eyes teared a bit.
Rachel's heart went out to the child, unsure how to help her. "Oh, well, uh," she began. "Honey, I'm not sure"
"Daddy!" Katie suddenly spotted her father's figure off in the distance over Rachel's shoulder. Relieved, she hugged Rachel and ran off.
"Okkaaaay." Rachel stood, glad she didn't have to try to find someone she didn't know. She scanned the area to locate the child's parent for future reference but found the town's visiting vulcanologist instead. She smiled warmly. Not sure she wanted to wait until the town's meeting that night to see him again, she started forward then stopped.
"Oh no," she stated to herself. Jane Fox had intercepted him. Unsure of what the town gossip would say to Harry, she turned and walked the other way down the street.
* * *
Katie crossed the street to the spot where she'd seen her father. "Dad?" she almost sobbed, scanning the sidewalk right and left. He'd been right here, but she couldn't find him now. She took a few steps in the direction he'd been traveling.
"Katie!" A cry turned her around.
"Daddy!" She ran into her father's arms. "I couldn't find you!" She hugged him tighter.
"I'm so sorry," he declared. "I couldn't find you either and I was so worried."
She grinned. "Not as worried as me, I bet."
"No one could have been more worried than me," he countered.
"I was the mostest worried," she continued, sighing happily. Then she studied her father for a second. She could have sworn he was wearing a slightly different colored shirt a minute ago -- and he'd been heading in the other direction. She shrugged it off. She was found. She was alright. And more important -- no one would rat her out about yesterday. The world was working good.
* * *
Paul Dreyfus steered the red Dodge Ram van into the parking lot of Cluster's Last stand. It had taken most of the day, but they were finally there. His motley gang of employees from the Geological Survey exited the vehicle and gathered around.
"Look at this nice little town," Stan mused. The handsome Asian man stopped and stared up at Dante's Peak. "Nestled all snug and cozy right against the mountain."
Nancy turned to her companions, the peak behind her highlighted by the setting sun. "Yeah, just like Pompeii," she declared ironically.
"C'mon, let's unpack 'er." Paul strode past them and headed towards the lobby.
Terry and Greg just nodded agreement.
* * *
Remington threw open the door to his hotel room, stepped inside and began looking for his wayward sunglasses. Passing the mirror, he caught one last look at himself. "Laura, Laura, Laura," he scolded his absent wife. The light blue shirt and beige slacks were so so Murphy. As were all the other clothes she'd packed for him -- jeans and work shirts and plaid shirts
Maybe that was it, he reasoned. Maybe he was being punished for Laura having to pack for him -- not that he'd planned it that way, but he had just never found the time. He frowned again at his image. There was nothing more to do about it now except meet his wife, children and whoever else would tag along for breakfast. He grabbed up the offending eyewear and closed the door behind him.
Remington vaguely heard someone being called, but ignored it.
"Harry! C'mon, we need help."
The beefy, bearded, Hawaiian-shirted man waved frantically at him. A moment of panic gripped him. Harry! It'd been so long and this made twice in two days Remington immediately put his best game face on, acknowledging this man's hail. "Sorry," he stated, jogging to the group. "I was thinking about something else." He strained every fiber of his memory to place these people who seemed to know him.
"That something else couldn't have been" the geeky, little guy leaned in, a severely serious expression came over his features and he conspiratorially whispered, "the mayor?"
"Well, uh you know," Remington muttered, shrugging non-committedly. Whatever was happening here, they were obviously concerned about the authorities finding out.
"Grab an end, Harry." The Asian man pointed to a spindly-legged, alien-appearing device.
Hands on his hips, the detective surveyed the situation quickly. What the hell He grabbed a side. "One, two, three," he counted, yanking and lifting the mechanism slightly up with the help of the two other men present while the young woman with them pulled the wheeled cart out from under it.
"There we go. Watch your foot, watch your foot," Remington warned, pointing to geek-boy as they put the thing down on the ground. "Okay."
These unknown people began to scatter to various tasks, expecting him to do who knew what. It only took him a second to realize he wanted out of there, and quickly, to better assess the situation. "All right. Good. I'm going to get my breakfast," he announced. He tried to keep his temper and concern in check, but he could hear the annoyance in his voice as he practically stormed off.
He'd decided not to bring up the earlier incident thinking it must be old paranoia, but this was just too much. Something was going on and someone was trying to involve him without his blessing. It almost had a Felicia-feel to it but she was too egotistical to not have shown her face by now. He was stymied.
He was also unsure whether to talk to Laura or not. If it were Felicia he shuddered, knowing how his wife would react to that. Maybe Murphy or Lee.
Oh dear! Remington stopped his forward motion. He would not be the author of this year's reunion fiasco -- he'd already taken his turn carrying that blame. This was going to stop and stop now -- before it could even begin to affect his family-in-law.
* * *
Greg ambled into the conference room of Cluster's Last Stand where the team from the United States Geological Survey had set up their control room and he plopped his skinny form into the swivel chair. His whole being cried "nerd" but he wore it with pride.
"Ya getting the hang of this thing?" Paul Dreyfus asked, taking the chair beside Greg to look at the computer screen.
Greg punched a few buttons and then stared at Spider Leg's monitor in confusion for just a second. Harry Dalton strode towards the camera mounted on the remote controlled device -- Greg could have sworn he'd gone off in the other direction. How odd. "It's still kinda goosey but, um, I think I'm getting it." Then he spotted her on the screen -- Rachel -- the very same mayor he'd been teasing Harry about a few minutes earlier. She drove up behind Harry and all thoughts of why he was in the wrong place vanished. "Yes! It's coffee time! Coffee! Coffee! Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!" he sing-songed, bouncing his head back and forth like a small child receiving a present. "Capuceeenooo! Java! Yes!"
All Paul could do was frown in amazement at the lunatic beside him.
* * *
Remington answered the hotel door, a toothbrush in his mouth and towel around his shoulders.
"Their cover seems to be holding," Lee announced, entering the hotel room unceremoniously. He threw himself into a chair, then quickly shifted his long form several times to get comfortable in the cheap piece of furniture. Giving up, he leaned forward.
"Hmph," Remington attempted around the paste.
Amanda and Murphy followed.
The Denver detective pulled a small notebook from his back pocket. "Their plate is registered with the United States Geological Survey and a set of rooms has been charged to the USGS." Murphy shrugged, slipping the pad away. "They're here to check out some funky readings from that mountain."
The room's occupant grimaced as the information was conveyed.
"I checked with several sources and we have a visual confirmation this Felicia woman is on the Riviera -- living well and happy as a clam," Amanda revealed.
Remington groaned and covered his face with his hand, shaking his head over and over.
Lee just grinned proudly at his wife's ability to find out anything at such short notice.
"Sources and covers?" Laura glowered at them, but mostly her husband, from the bathroom's door frame. She held her own toothbrush in her hand, but there was no debilitating goop in her mouth. "Who exactly are you all checking on? And why?" Unstated, but very understood, was the question of why she'd been excluded.
Remington sighed, cocking his head, he stood and had to push a little to get past Laura into the bathroom, but finally managed. He ran the water and cleared the remaining paste.
Laura's arms were folded over her chest when he finally emerged.
"Laura," he pleaded. "I didn't want to worry you if there was nothing to worry you about." He tried the same killer grin he'd used on that Jane woman two days before. It didn't work.
She just sighed, raising her eyebrows for the explanation.
"Have you seen all those odd people in the parking lot with all the funny toys?" Remington began. "Remote control things and climbing gear"
"The say they're from the Geological Survey," Lee added.
"So?" She gave someone -- anyone -- an opening.
"They seem to be," Murphy answered.
The silence in the room finally turned all eyes on Remington.
"Ah well there was the possible suggestion they might not be." He paused for a moment, trying to explain. "They seem to know me and not only them the hotel owner -- whom I'd never met -- a young boy checked us in, some doctor on the street -- I've never seen before, all these scientists -- who believe I'm some sort of mate of theirs and they're all calling me Harry," he ended his narration.
"Oh." Laura sank down on the bed at the last bit of information. "Oh." She looked around the room. "Could they be who they say they are? Maybe here to investigate the deaths at the hot springs?"
Lee nodded. "I can't find any chink in their story."
"But they all know me -- and as Harry!" Remington reiterated. "I do not want another check in my column on the Michaels Reunion Disaster Scorecard," he decried, the frustration of the last few days spilling out with his words. "And what's with all the bloody burglar gear?"
Murphy tried not to laugh, knowing his friend was upset. He always suspected someone was keeping score and he was glad to know he wasn't the only paranoid one.
"None of them have asked you to do anything out of the ordinary? Laura asked, frowning at Murphy.
"Just move a" He searched for the right description. "thing off a cart. And it was heavy, too," he briefly complained at the indignity.
Laura stood, placing a comforting hand on her husband's arm. "We're only here a couple more days. If we all keep alert, we can stop anything they might try."
Remington cocked his head to one side, gazing into his wife's. "And you'll protect me?"
She kissed him. "Always."
"Yeah, and we're here, too," Murphy interrupted the obviously private moment they were having in their crowded hotel room.
Remington laughed, the weight of the situation seemed lifted with the help of these people.
This was Remington's last chance to find out what they were really doing here and how they expected him to be involved -- and it wasn't working. The nods and acknowledgments had continued through the next two days, but nothing was demanded of him. This was just so frustrating.
The Michaels clan had slowly exited the mountain community in small groups all day to make their various planes and trains and busses and the Steeles were leaving with the next convoy to the airport.
Deciding he needed to get them talking, he engaged the strangers who seemed to know him so well in a friendly game of pool. This was the longest he'd spent with any of them and they appeared to have their own language -- ELF, pyroclastic, thermal seismic variables. It was all puzzling to him.
It hadn't taken him long to catch on that a woman at the bar was staring at him. He eyed the angles and remaining balls, and then her. He realized the look he returned would be taken as very flirty, and if Laura caught him he'd be very dead, but something about her -- she was involved. He could just feel it.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Maybe he should just forget this whole thing. He could almost swear that woman knew him in ways Laura would kill him for so Remington began to survey the area for a quick exit. Their pool table was half-exposed to the bar, half behind a divider. Retreat and surrender seemed the best action here.
He took the shot.
"Yes! Oh yes!" Greg hissed in delight when "Harry's" ball missed the corner pocket.
"That's okay, alright. What have we got here? Ten bucks?" Remington asked, distractedly planning his escape.
"That's twenty," the nerdy man crowed.
"Twenty bucks." Remington laid the money on the table.
Greg kissed the bill. "Come again any time! Thanks, Harry."
This was his chance to leave. Aiming for the bathrooms, at the first opportunity he ducked expertly behind a large group at the next table. Making a wide circuitous route around several parties, he slipped unnoticed out the front door.
Harry Dalton exited the men's room. He passed by the divider and his friends all jovially starting a game of pool. He'd intended to join them but noted Rachel sitting at the bar. Taking the stool next to hers, he sat down.
"Give us a beer here, Charlie," he ordered from the barkeep, cautiously casting an eye to Rachel. "So ever get to Portland?"
"No," she stated, a chuckle in her voice. "I'm busy."
He turned away, disappointed in her answer. "Busy? What do you do for fun?" He sipped his drink.
She scrunched her eyes, gazing off into the distance. "Fun? Hmm? What is that? Fun?" She smiled. "Oh I know. Fun is what you don't have when you have two children, a business and a town to run." She laughed good-naturedly.
He grinned, began to speak and was interrupted by Paul who inserted himself between the two, draping his arms around their shoulders. Intoxicated, he slurred his words slightly. "Excuse me, Harry. Look, before we take off, I just wanted to thank you for all the hospitality, Mayor Wando."
"It was my pleasure," she stated professionally, trying not to roll her eyes.
"Ah, hah, hah, hah." He breathed alcohol into their faces. "It's awful nice of you to say so, but I'm sure you're not all that sorry to see us go."
"Our presence here is bad for business, right Paul?" Harry mimicked back what he'd been told.
"Okay, I'm gonna go back. See ya?' he called as he left, bumping into tables and people the whole way out.
They looked at each other, disappointed. Paul had torpedoed anywhere their conversation may have been going. Simultaneously they stood, preparing to leave.
"Well, it's late and I have to let my babysitter get home." Rachel picked up her things.
"I'll walk you. Let me get my jacket."
"Hey Harry, it's your break. Terry called.
"It's your game, guys." He left with Mayor Wando.
* * *
Laura watched her husband walk across the parking lot, but her attention was momentarily pulled to the block of rooms they'd all just previously occupied.
Murphy's family, along with Skip's, were busily doing some ritual-game that involved a complete search of all the rooms to find that one last item that shouldn't be left behind. Katie Laura's and Benjie's delighted squeals rose above the rest and she swore she heard them laughing about discovering dentures in a drawer. She grimaced at the thought.
She returned her gaze to Remington. These last few days had been trying. Laura knew this was a mystery and they both hated mysteries when it involved their own lives. Maybe they would never know what was going on here but there was no harm being done that she could see.
"Anything?" she queried, already knowing the answer from his weary face.
"They've got a good game of pool," Remington advised with a laugh. "And they're not bad mates though odd." His face quirked in a half smile. "What's say we leave this fine place?" He wrapped his arm around her.
The participants of the game spilled from the hotel room doors, automatically breaking off to the proper vehicles.
Remington shrugged at Murphy who silently queried him about his quest.
"But did you have a good time?" Laura asked.
He thought for a moment. "Yes. Yes, I did." He held both passenger side doors open for the women in his life. "I do like these people -- as long as I don't get blamed for the Michaels curse."
"We're not out of here yet," Laura speculated. "There's still time."
"Well now, at least anything that happens will be on your head -- you've certainly called for a jinx to smite us on our homeward journeys."
Remington climbed into the driver's seat, started the engine and waited for his turn to enter the caravan to the airport.
Harry strolled alongside Rachel. There'd been an uncomfortable silence between them.
"You certainly run a very friendly town," he attempted to break the ice. "I can't count the number of times strangers have come up to me with a greeting friendly conversation ask if I needed anything..."
Rachel frowned slightly. It's not like her town was unfriendly, but they didn't normally go out of their way. "Right," she finally agreed.
The sound of engines coming towards them reached Harry. He gently pulled Rachel a little farther off the road. He almost tripped on something as he pulled back into the dark shadows but Rachel remained visible in the light of the lamppost.
"Bye, Graham's mom," a voice called from one of the cars. Harry saw a young girl leaning out a window, waving energetically.
Rachel waved back. "A new friend of Graham's," she explained.
"Right," Harry agreed.
They continued across the wood bridge. Maybe he had been wrong. It was so peaceful and calm here. Maybe he'd have to see how the rest of the evening went before he made any decisions. Dante's Peak was, after all, the second best place to live -- population under 20,000. Maybe it could be the first best place to live with a population of 20,001.
Remington answered the phone. "Yes, we have it on." The flood of telephone calls that had started on their return from the Reunion continued.
Their beautiful vacation spot was nothing more than smoldering ruins under volcanic ash and lava. They'd all just barely made it out safe.
He and Laura -- and Murphy and all the rest -- had slept little for the last few days and there had been talk of going back as a rescue party. But that had been squelched when a call to the authorities asked them to stay home -- ingress and egress were difficult at best and the National Guard had the situation under control.
"I think they've found the people they've been looking for," Remington advised Lee. "Try one of the cable news channels, they seem to have the best coverage," he suggested.
They watched together in silence for a minute as the rescue teams pulled back and a grime-encrusted person moved out of the crowd. A newscaster's voice filtered over the horrible noises. "They've got someone! They've got someone!"
Remington tried to see the poor man who'd endured through this horrible event. Just as they were about to get a good shot of him on screen, he turned at the sounds of more cheering. Three more people and a dog were being escorted out of the mine that had saved their lives.
"That's the last they're expecting, isn't it, Lee?" He nodded agreement as though the man could see him. "Best get some sleep," he counseled.
Remington rubbed at his tired eyes, relief flooded over him as he realized they could all have been there. He looked down at his sleeping family -- Laura on the couch with Brian's head pillowed in her lap, and Katie Laura, her legs straight in the air, up against the chair. He smiled at the sight.
He wondered if the Michaels curse had hit -- some cosmic energy from the families gathering had caused this -- it had just taken awhile to build up the strength for such a huge event.
He stopped dead, shaking that thought from his head. Laughing for the first time in days, he realized just how tired he was. He picked up Katie Laura and shook Laura's arm to wake her and together they put their children to bed.