A/N: I know, I know. I'll admit that I got a little distracted, but here's chapter five.
Cascade, Montana (24 miles southeast of Great Falls)
Adaptability, in Jack Burton's experienced opinion, was probably the best natural skill a person could possess. Not just the ability to roll with the punches, but also recognizing when you were headed for trouble and being wise enough to cut loose before it was too late.
Maybe if he'd possessed a little more of that brand of adaptability, he wouldn't have spent nearly a third of his life behind bars. Maybe he'd have caught on to the fact that life as a conman came with an expiry date, and the closer you came to it the more likely it was that you'd end up taking a long walk in the desert with a shovel. Maybe, just maybe, he'd have realized when it was time to walk away.
He'd promised to give it up, both to himself and to others, more times than he could count. He'd first told Emma he'd quit when they were dating, then again after they were married, and once more after Jenny was born. He started to say it again when she was packing her bags, but she hadn't even let him finish. The last thing she'd told him before she took their daughter and walked out the door was not to make promises he wouldn't keep.
It had stung that she'd said wouldn't instead of couldn't, but he hadn't been able to argue. At the end of the day he knew what he was; an addict. Every time he tried to go straight, it wouldn't be long before he started getting an itch to go after the easy money again. And every time, he'd convince himself that things would be different; that he'd be clever enough to keep from getting caught.
He usually did come out on top, too, and the thrill of those victories were more than enough to overpower his common sense. So he'd keep on going, pushing the boundaries a little more, taking bigger risks each time until he once again ended up in over his head. His only consistent luck had been in not getting himself killed yet, and even he wasn't arrogant enough to believe that would last forever. Hopefully he'd be smart enough to finally retire for good before that luck ran out.
Or maybe I'll just sprout wings and fly away, he thought with a faint chuff of laughter.
"Something funny, Burton?"
"Hm?" Pulled from his musings, he turned to smile at the corrections officer in the front seat. The man was eyeing him with a small measure of suspicion.
"Just ruminating on the nature of existence, boss." Jack smirked. "Nothing too interesting."
The day before, he'd been sitting in his cell when a letter had arrived from the Department of Corrections office in Great Falls. Like any other letter that came from a government-run bureaucracy, it had used about six-hundred words to notify him that he was being considered for early parole. The letter went on to say that he would be transported up to Great Falls because, for reasons that weren't made particularly clear, his assessment couldn't be handled by the state parole office right there in the prison.
That was how he found himself being driven into the city by a pair of COs he had mentally dubbed Larry and Curly. Well, not driving at that particular moment so much as watching Larry struggle with a crossword puzzle while Curly refilled the gas tank.
"Whatever. I gotta take a leak," Larry shrugged, popping the door open. Before closing it, he leaned back into the car. "You want a bottle of water?"
"Yeah." Jack answered, a little surprised. "Thanks."
"What are you doing, man?" He heard Curly laugh from his place next to the gas pump. "Who the fuck cares if he's thirsty?"
"It's hot and we've been driving for two hours." Larry scowled at the other officer over the top of the car. "I'm not an asshole."
"Shit, man, I'm just ribbing ya. Calm the f-" The rest of Curly's response was cut off when the car door closed, and Jack watched the pair continue their banter with vague interest as they walked in the direction of 'Bill's Store'.
"Way to live the dream, Bill," he muttered, turning away from the gas station to leer at the rest of the one-horse town with undisguised distain. It looked like the kind of place where absolutely nothing interesting had happened in the last decade, at best. Where everybody knew each other, and half of them secretly hated each other. The kind of place he'd gotten out of once and secretly feared he'd end up back in.
Suddenly, Jack heard sharp crack from the direction of the store and his head snapped around in time to see Curly slump to the ground. Larry was already turning toward their attacker, a man dressed in dark clothes and wielding a shotgun. The corrections officer was fast, but he was already in the man's crosshairs. He barely had his sidearm out of its holster before there was a second crack, and then Larry was on the ground, too.
With both officers down, the man turned smoothly and made for the car. His expression was frighteningly blank as he pumped his shotgun again.
"Shit," Jack hissed. He knew the backseat doors only opened from the outside, but that didn't stop him from desperately tugging on the handle. "Shit, shit, shit!"
The man yanked the door open angrily. Before Jack could say anything – try to make a deal or even beg for his life - the stranger had reached into the car and grabbed him by the hair, hauling him out of the vehicle and throwing him to the pavement.
"Who the hell are y..." The words died in his throat when the man shoved the shotgun in his face.
Jack nodded, slowly miming the act of zipping his lips. He was being hauled up by his collar a moment later. His apparent kidnapper pulled him over to a nearby car, popped the truck and unceremoniously threw him in; Jack was barely able to get his fingers out of the way before the lid slammed shut. The engine started just after and he felt them pull smoothly out of the gas station parking lot.
About twenty minutes of bumpy road later, he finally felt the car ease to a stop and heard the driver's door open. A second later, there was a light knock on the truck. "Jack? You alright in there?"
He didn't respond, groping in the dark for something he could use as a weapon; a tire iron or maybe a screwdriver. He would have been happy to find an old umbrealla. Unfortunately for him, the trunk had been thoroughly cleaned out.
"I'm gonna open the trunk now, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't come out swinging."
When he heard a hand working the trunk release, Jack hooked the chain of his manacles around the latch and pulled down as hard as he could. To his relief, he had just enough leverage to prevent the trunk from being opened.
"What the...? Are you holding the trunk shut?"
"Did you think I'll just let you kill me?" Jack shouted back. "You and Amad can both go to hell."
"Who the hell is Amad?"
"The prick who sent you to kill me. Or was it those goons in the Guarez Cartel?"
"Oh, so it was the Takashi family. Bastards!"
"How many people want you dead?" the other man asked, sounding annoyed. "I'm not here to hurt you, Jack. I'm a friend."
"You just killed two men in cold blood. You'll forgive me if I don't believe you."
"You mean the guards?" Through the lid, he actually heard the man chuckle. "Don't worry, they'll be fine."
"You shot them."
"I was only firing bean-bag rounds."
"Yup. It probably hurt like nobody's business, too. They're gonna have some serious bruises, but they'll be okay."
Jack didn't respond, and a few seconds later he heard a fist thump loudly on the trunk lid. "Come on, Jack. If I wanted to kill you, I could've just shot you through the trunk. What have you got to lose?"
"...fine," Jack conceded, begrudgingly unhooking his chain from the truck latch. "Lemme outta here."
"But just so you know, if you kill me now, I'm going to be very disappointed." The truck popped open, and Jack awkwardly clambered out. Taking a seat on the rear bumper, he spent a few seconds rolling out a kink in his neck, then began to study the man who'd abducted him. Without the adrenaline coursing through his veins, it was much easier to pick out the fine details.
He was younger than Jack had originally thought. Near as he could tell, the guy was about twenty-five years old - and from the look of him, it hadn't been an easy twenty-five years. Despite his obvious strength, he was pretty scrawny looking. Not enough to be unhealthy, but probably skinnier than he ought to be. There were dark shadows under his eyes that gave away too many nights with not enough sleep. Interestingly, he was wearing a grey watch cap despite the warm weather.
Glancing around, it was obvious that they were in a recently closed mechanic's shop. All the tools and supplies were laid out and ready to use, but the layer of dust on everything suggested that they'd been sitting there for a few months, at least. The car they'd arrived in was, relatively speaking, the only clean thing in the room. And even that was partially hidden from sight by the dusty drop cloth the other man had half pulled over it.
"So..." Jack began, eyeing his kidnapper expectantly.
"Uh, right." Smiling sheepishly, he awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck. "Look, I'm really sorry about the rough treatment back there. The whole thing was being recorded by the gas station security cameras, so it had to look like I was taking you against your will."
"Against my...oh, goddammit," he scowled. He'd have crossed his arms angrily if not for the manacles he still wore. "Y'know, you could've tipped me off. If I'd known what you were doing, I'd have been happy to play along."
Pulling a key from his pocket, the man took a second to remove the linked wrist and ankle restraints. "It went fine."
"If you say so." Jack replied dubiously, rubbing his wrists.
"I needed you to look scared and confused, Jack. Were you scared and confused?"
"Yeah, I guess, but..."
"Then it went fine. C'mon."
"Kids these days, I swear. No pride in their work," Jack muttered, following the man out of the garage. Emerging into the sunlight, he found him rummaging through the trunk of some generic-looking sedan. "You got a name, pal?"
"Yeah. It's Chuck." He turned, tossing Jack a shopping bag full of thrift store clothes. "Get dressed."
"In these?" he muttered, eyeing at the clothes with distaste.
"Beggars can't be choosers." Chuck gestured at his prison-issued uniform with obvious amusement. "Unless you think bright orange onesies are coming back into style."
"I guess you're probably wondering why I broke you out?"
"The question had crossed my mind."
"Yeah." Chuck toyed with the car keys thoughtfully. "I need your help breaking someone out of a government detainment facility."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me."
"Right. Look kid, even if I could help you with something like that." He nodded to the shotgun in car's back seat. "It seems to me that you're more than up to the job yourself."
"This would be a little tougher than ambushing a couple of bored Corrections Officers at a rural gas station. Particularly since I was the one who arranged for you to be there in the first place." He chuckled at Jack's dubious expression. "I know a guy who knows a guy."
"Sure you do. Why me, though? I'm pretty much useless with a gun."
"I know plenty of gun people, Jack. If I needed another one, I wouldn't have gone to the effort of springing you," Chuck admitted. "I need someone who talks fast, thinks fast, and is damn good at both."
Jack tried very hard not to preen at the complement. "There are plenty of guys that can do that who weren't in federal custody. So, again, why me?"
"Because it concerns your daughter."
"She goes by Sarah these days." He nodded, adding. "Or Elizabeth. Or sometimes Lisa. Honestly, it's tough to keep track."
"Sounds about right." Jack shook his head. "I assume she's the one were springing. She gotten herself into trouble?"
"Like you wouldn't even believe."
"We need to get moving before the cops figure out where we went." Chuck insisted, pointing at the car. "I'll get you up to speed on the way."
"Fine. Gimme a minute." Stepping back inside, Jack emerged a moment later in faded jeans and a green & black plaid shirt, begrudgingly pulling on a weather-beaten trucker's hat proclaiming that Long-Haulers Do It All Night in bright red letters; Chuck let out a sort of laughter at the sight of it.
"Found it inside. If I'm gonna blend in, I might as well blend in." Stepping around the car, Jack dropped into the passenger seat "Where we headed?"
"I have something to take care of near Great Falls," Chuck responded cryptically. "Then we're taking the long way to West Virginia."
"The long way."
"We'll be avoiding main roads and major populations, so it'll take a few days for us to get there."
"Fine, but at some point I'm gonna need a phone, some real clothes, and about 10 gallons of coffee. For now, start talking."
End Chapter V