The dirt road headed in the general direction of Carder, Texas. He had friends there who’d made it clear he had a place waiting at Covert Technology Confidential. Staffed with former Special Forces, CIA and FBI operatives, CTC helped people in big trouble with nowhere to turn. The only rule they followed: justice.
Daniel wanted to be there, but he couldn’t put himself back into the battle.
He was still too screwed up from his imprisonment and torture in the small European country of Bellevaux. Right now all he wanted was to find his way back to normal from the PTSD and not eat a bullet like his old man had done to deal with the same thing.
Daniel looked around again, frustrated he couldn’t even decide which way to go next.
He normally made split-second, life-or-death decisions, but that was before. Before he’d been thrown in a dungeon, before the bastards had taken a whip to every inch of his body, an iron bar to his legs, and so flayed his mind with lies and threats that he’d almost broken.
For what seemed like an eternity, he’d fought every damn day with every ounce of strength to stay alive, to not give the interrogator the information he’d wanted.
In the end, Daniel had prayed for death.
Like his old man.
But Daniel was still alive. He’d been found, then stuck full of tubes and even now had more metal holding him together than Wolverine. Against the odds the doctors had given him, he’d healed, then stood and, after six months of recovery in the States, had walked again.
Daniel was broken. He knew it; the CTC operatives knew it. Only his family and his therapist held out hope. Talk about delusional. Daniel knew better.
What other reason would a man sleep outside and walk the highways and dirt roads from Langley, Virginia, ending up in Texas months later? A bit Forrest Gump, but Daniel couldn’t face his team till he knew his PTSD didn’t endanger anyone, until the memories and flashbacks no longer turned him into a terrified beast, striking out at everyone. So here he was, facing miles of desert plateaus, prickly pears and the occasional rattler.
Trouble followed him. Literally.
Trouble was the name he’d given the foolish dog he’d rescued, who’d warily taken up residence about ten feet from Daniel’s side. He glanced at the mixed breed—some odd combination of Newfoundland and Irish setter that made him look like Chewbacca. Dog must be dying in this heat with all that fur.
Daniel knelt down and slid the duffel from his shoulder. He tugged a metal bowl from one pocket and set it on the ground. He didn’t dwell on why he’d taken to carrying it with him; he just filled the dish half full from his canteen. He rose and stared at the water, then the dog. “What are you waiting for?”
Trouble tilted his head and sat on his haunches, his expression all but saying, Move back, stupid. You know how this works.
Daniel sighed and retreated. “Fine. But one of these days, you’re going to have to come closer than ten feet.”
As soon as Daniel reached the required distance, the mutt bounded to the water, burying his face in the cool liquid.
Daniel had found the fuzz face lying on the side of the road with his leg and hip scraped up after losing a one-sided battle with a car. Since Trouble wouldn’t let Daniel touch him, Daniel had been forced to rig a makeshift travois and drag the miserable canine five miles to a vet’s office. The doc tranquilized the dog and patched up his injuries, but the moment the vet had given him the opportunity, Trouble had hightailed it out the front door and down a back alley.
A couple miles later, the animal had taken up residence parallel to Daniel, walking along the highway, never again getting close enough for even a scratch behind the ears. They’d passed a road sign, listing Trouble, Texas, three hundred miles away, and the dog instantly had a name.
That was a couple of weeks ago. The dog limped less now, Daniel a bit more.
Yesterday they’d made it to the small Texas town bearing the dog’s name. Daniel had stood in the cramped, dark foyer of a B and B, testing his body’s reaction to it, but knew he still couldn’t sleep inside. Nothing to do but move on.
The waitress at the diner had told him there was nothing but lost dreams for miles around. She hadn’t been lying. The beat-up sign he now leaned against—Cottonwood Creek Copper Mine—could’ve come from the 1950s.
He really had traveled west of hell to end up a few miles east of nowhere.
Trouble finished his water, nosed the empty bowl toward Daniel, then moved away.
“We’re a pair, aren’t we, boy?” Daniel said softly. “Too damaged to do anyone any good.”
As Daniel repacked the dish, the dog’s ears perked up, and he growled low in his throat.
“What’s the matter with you?” Daniel turned to see what had upset Trouble and noticed a black vulture circling nearby. “Relax. It’s probably eyeing the carcass of a cow that wandered away from the herd.”
The dog’s hackles rose as he focused his attention on a hill jutting up from the desert. Without a backward glance, Trouble bolted toward the mound. And that vulture.
What the hell? The dog hadn’t left Daniel’s sight since they’d become traveling companions. “Trouble!” The hairs on the back of Daniel’s neck rose, and a warning chill ran through him. He started after the dog that had disappeared from view.
Within a minute the mutt bounded toward Daniel, skidding to a halt a few feet away. Trouble barked urgently several times, ran back a short distance, then turned and barked again.
“What’s going on, boy? Show me.”
Trouble whined and yipped, then ran. Daniel, his gait uneven, took off after the dog.
The vulture still circled but lower now.
He followed Trouble over the small rise, past a dead rabbit, then came to an abrupt halt.
Trouble circled in front of the dilapidated opening to an old mine, the mouth leading into the dark interior of the mountain. When he saw Daniel, the dog barked again and raced into the tunnel.
A mine shaft. Complete with a condemned sign and evidence of a partial cave-in. Rock walls, claustrophobic darkness. He couldn’t go in there. Daniel sucked in a panicked breath, trying to quell his racing heart and the terror that bubbled up from his gut.
The dog didn’t come out of the mine.
While Daniel watched, more loose stones fell from the mine’s ceiling. “Trouble!”
The dog appeared several feet inside the opening and barked furiously.
Perspiration slid down Daniel’s temple. He couldn’t do it. Not now. Not ever. The dog growled, racing back and forth, entreating Daniel to follow.