BEHIND THE CURTAIN PART FOUR
Following MacGyver's escape route was easy. Following the trail of tyre tracks, broken branches and debris, Seeley was able to track him through a small housing estate and into Elysian Park. Stopping the car at the base of a steep hill, Seeley climbed up past a set of deep tyre tracks and stood at the top, looking out across the freeway ramps. The tracks continued down the embankment, and two police cars were blocking part of the freeway and the smashed concrete barrier that separated the lanes of traffic. Looking through his binoculars, Seeley could see scrapes of black paint on the barrier between the road and the river, and he felt his heart sink. If MacGyver had gone into the river, he was likely to be dead. The current could be heard even over the traffic noise, the river higher than usual even for this time of year, racing along faster than a man could run. Seeley forced himself to stay calm, panning his binoculars over the scene, trying to capture every detail. The car tracks he had followed plunged down onto the road, the concrete scored where the metal fender had hit and dragged along. The car had braked sharply, leaving a streak of rubber on the pavement, then turned and hit the concrete wall at an angle, scraping along before braking hard and coming to a halt. Then the car must have driven away, because all that was left was a scatter of broken headlamp glass, shining in the lights of the police cars.
"Mac, where the hell are you?" Seeley lowered the binoculars.
Slithering back down the slope to his car, Seeley had to pause and breathe deeply with his hands resting on the hood as a wave of dizziness overtook him. He swiped blood from his temple with his sleeve, unlocked the car and got in. He unfolded a street map of Los Angeles over the top of the steering wheel and traced his route with a finger.
"OK. Assume Mac went into the river here…" He moved his finger. "The river runs south, so he'd be heading towards…" He followed the line of the river, snaking under road bridges and through the train yard. "OK." He put the car into gear and drove out of the park, heading for the other side of the river and the road that ran alongside it. "Hang on, Mac. Cavalry's coming!"
Carmichael got out of the cab, leaving Muller to pay the driver. He had been silent all the way back, too angry with their failure to speak. Muller and the sniper, Olga Schneider, had been given a chance to redeem themselves after their failure in Berlin, and they had let him down. Failure was something he tolerated rarely once, and never twice. He turned and saw that Muller had disappeared from view, and shrugged. He would arrange for them to disappear permanently later on. At least the thorn in his side, MacGyver was now dealt with.
Seeley drove slowly alongside the river, ignoring the fury of the drivers behind him. Night was starting to fall, and the shadows under the bridges were dark. He turned off the main road to stay closer to the river, and drove past industrial buildings. Stopping at each of the road bridges he came to, he leaned over the guard railings and shone a flashlight under the arches, hoping to see MacGyver washed up in the storm debris that collected there. Climbing fences and dodging through gaps in the walls, he got as close to the flooded river as he dared, leaning out to check in the deepest shadows. He shouted himself hoarse, his voice lost in the roar of the rushing water.
Pulling up at the end of a dead-end road near the train yard, Seeley got out of his car and continued on foot. The coil of rope he'd pulled out of the trunk of his car bumped against his back with every step, and his flashlight and gun were heavy in his pockets. He staggered, concussion making him feel as though he was on a fairground ride. Using the fence for balance, Seeley made his way along the river bank towards the San Bernardino freeway. Stopping at a narrower bridge before the freeway, Seeley climbed the wall and fence separating the river from the train yard and shone his flashlight under the bridge. He squinted, seeing something pale at the edge of the flashlight beam and wishing he'd brought his binoculars from the car.
He climbed over the fence, creeping alongside the rushing river and gripping the rusted chain link with one hand.
"Mac?" Seeley blinked rain out of his eyes and crept closer, seeing something pale caught in the heap of washed up sticks and garbage against the bridge pillar. He moved closer, the water rushing past his boots and tugging at his legs. "MAC!" Lashing the rope to the fence and swinging out over the water, Seeley reached for the pale hand he could see tangled in the sticks. He braced his feet against the sloping concrete side of the river bank and pulled.
MacGyver came free from the debris in a rush. The current tugged at him, swirling in his hair and pulling him down. Seeley heaved, inching him out of the water.
"Mac! Help me out here, buddy!" Seeley's feet slipped on the wet concrete and he gripped MacGyver's sleeve tighter. MacGyver remained limp, his eyes closed. Seeley wrapped the rope around himself and reached down, pulling MacGyver out of the river by his coat. Water poured out of his clothes as Seeley hauled him up the bank, rolling him through a hole in the fence and down onto the concrete of the train yard below. Reaching out with shaking fingers, Seeley felt for a pulse on MacGyver's neck, but found nothing.
"Come on buddy, don't do this to me." Seeley tried again, his hands numb with cold. He rolled MacGyver onto his side and thumped him on the back. "Come on Mac, breathe!" He pulled MacGyver onto his back again, tipping his head back ready to start CPR. "Dammit, don't do this!"
MacGyver took a long, wailing breath and his eyes flicked open. He thrashed in Seeley's grasp, retched and then threw up, bile and river water splashing across the concrete.
"YES!" Seeley punched the air, putting an arm around MacGyver and helping him to sit up. "AAH!" Blood ran down MacGyvers face from a cut on his eyebrow, and his face contracted in pain as he reached towards his leg.
"Don't!" Seeley grabbed MacGyver's hand before he could touch his leg. Even in the fading light, Seeley could see that MacGyver's foot was twisted at a strange angle. "Leave it alone, OK?" He reached into his pocket, breathing a sigh of relief when he saw that his phone had stayed dry. Without letting go of MacGyver, he dialled 911.
MacGyver was awake when the paramedics loaded him into the ambulance. He remembered Seeley telling him he'd see him at the hospital, but then the painkillers kicked in and the rest of the journey was a blur.
He woke in hospital, to a nurse calling his name and shining a light in his eyes. He swiped at the light, squinting in the glare, and the nurse held his hand away from his head, warning him not to touch his stitches. He was aware of a dull, far-away ache in his leg and the sick dizziness that signalled a concussion, but he drifted away again without remembering how he'd been hurt.
Seeley limped down the hospital corridor, morning sunlight shining in through the windows. He knocked on MacGyver's door, grinning when he heard MacGyver answer.
"Morning, Sunshine!" Seeley smiled, hiding his concern at how bad MacGyver looked. He was sitting up in bed, the stitches tracking across his eyebrow surrounded by a bruise, livid against his pale skin. The bedcovers bunched over the plaster cast holding his broken ankle in place. MacGyver coughed, holding his ribs, and his voice, when he spoke, was hoarse.
"Hey Seeley, how're you doing?" MacGyver sat up a little straighter, the movement making him wince.
"Better than you!" Seeley shook his head. "Man, you look rough…"
"You're no oil painting yourself!" MacGyver indicated Seeley's black eye, and the cut snaking back into his hair.
"Touché." Seeley straightened his stiff knee, leaning back in the hospital chair. "I'm just glad to see you're OK. That was touch and go for a minute there."
"Yeah, so I hear." MacGyver's smile faded. "Thanks for that – I think I owe you."
"I believe you do." Seeley inclined his head. "How long are they keeping you here for?"
"Until they're sure that my brains aren't totally scrambled, and that taking a bath in the Los Angeles River hasn't given me pneumonia." MacGyver shrugged, carefully. "Or Weil's disease. Or maybe Bubonic Plague…" He shuddered. "It was pretty foul in there."
"Well, you certainly drank enough of it." Seeley frowned. "How much do you remember, Mac?"
"It's coming back to me." MacGyver ticked off points on his fingers. "I remember running through the park, and being chased by the car. Carmichael was driving. I remember being shot at to begin with, but I guess Muller dropped his gun somewhere along the way." He shifted his leg, holding his breath as his ankle stabbed at him. "I remember running across the road, and I remember how cold it was, landing in the river, but I don't remember being hit, and I don't remember being washed up at the bridge." He shook his head. "I'm kind of pleased about that part, actually."
"Mm." Seeley nodded.
"Hey, did you find the car?" MacGyver sat forwards. "It must have been easy to find – how many Lincolns with that kind of damage can there be?"
"No sign." Seeley shook his head. "And even though I radioed in to Pete to tell him about the sniper I left handcuffed to the stadium stairs, by the time the police got there, she'd gone." He sighed. "Atlas cleaned house pretty well."
"Damn." MacGyver shook his head, then looked up. "How about the camera and the recording? Did I still have them when you pulled me out of the river?"
"You did, but the water had ruined both." Seeley shrugged. "Sorry, Mac."
"So, we still haven't any proof that Carmichael is behind Atlas." Mac leaned back against the pillows. "And we have only eight weeks to bring Atlas down."
"Yeah." Seeley looked at MacGyver, thinking that their chances were a lot slimmer with MacGyver laid up. "Still, we like a challenge, don't we?"
"Sure." MacGyver smiled, but the smile didn't reach his eyes.
"Here we go, amigo." Jack stowed MacGyver's crutches in the back of the Jeep and helped him get in. He got into the driver's seat and started the Jeep, pulling out into the traffic without looking first. Horns honked and MacGyver flinched.
"Hey Jack – mirror and signal before you manoeuvre, OK?" He looked in the rear-view mirror to see a taxi driver gesturing angrily at them. "Let's get home in one piece, OK?"
"Sure, Mac." Jack glanced across at him, worried. "Whatever you say."
Arriving at MacGyver's house, Jack leaped out and grabbed MacGyver's bag and crutches, helping him out of the Jeep and opening the door for him. Relieved that none of his nutty neighbours had seen him arrive, MacGyver hobbled into the house and sat down on the couch. The hospital had cleared him of pneumonia, but the headache from his concussion lingered and he was soon exhausted.
He accepted a glass of juice from Jack, who sat down opposite him.
"So, what happens now?" Jack pushed back his cap and scratched his head. "I got most of the story from Secret Squirrel, but it sounds like the baddies are still out there, and ready and willing to take another shot at my best co-pilot. Am I right?"
"Secret squ…? Oh, Seeley. He's called Seeley, Jack! Hopefully not." MacGyver rested his broken ankle on the coffee table, rubbing his leg above the cast. "Phoenix is putting out the story that I was killed and that the police are close to finding my attackers."
"Except it isn't true, is it compadre?" Jack frowned. "Not even a little bit true. What happens if they work it out?"
"Then I guess they have another try!" MacGyver ran a hand through his hair. "What do you want me to say here, Jack? I can't just forget about this, no matter how scary they are, no matter how close they came to – "He broke off, shaking his head. "Atlas have to be stopped, Jack. That has to happen."
"They absolutely do." Jack sat forward. "But you have to sit this next bit out, amigo. You have to let your friends help you out this time." He indicated MacGyver's broken ankle. "While I don't for a moment doubt your ability to punt bad-guy posterior and take bad-guy names on one foot, you'll do a much better job of it when you're healed. Right? Right?"
"I guess." MacGyver nodded, then looked up. "But we're on a timetable here, Jack. Atlas are going to spread superbugs goodness knows where, and they're going to do it in eight weeks! Time off to recover is a luxury I just don't have!"
"Agreed." Jack nodded, and MacGyver frowned in confusion. "But Mac, there's another reason this next bit has to happen without you – you're dead, remember? You and I both know that faking being dead doesn't work if you're still in the room!" He watched MacGyver think about this, realising that Jack was right. "So, whether you like it or not, you're on the bench for now. Go visit Sam in South America, go to the cabin, go anywhere that's safe and out-of-state for a bit. Comprende, compadre?"
"Yeah, Jack. Comprende." MacGyver nodded, admitting defeat. "I'll do it. And I think I know where I'll go…"
To be continued in 'Safe Haven'