Mitch grabbed his radio. “Victim is Aaron Roberts, male, early twenties—”
“Nineteen,” Aaron said.
“Nineteen,” Mitch corrected. “No visible injuries.”
“Copy that,” came the reply from the incident commander.
“What happened?” Mitch asked Aaron.
The story that tumbled out had Aidan grinding his teeth. Aaron and his friend Gil had taken two girls up the mountain to show off and hopefully get laid. The girls had dared them to climb down the face. To sweeten the pot they’d promised something “really special” if the boys could climb down the rock face on the left side, traverse the rock face itself, and reappear on the right side.
Mitch shook his head and gave Aidan a look that said, Can you believe these dumbfucks?
Another time Aidan might have laughed, but the weather was going south as they stood there and worse, he still had no idea where Lily was, or if she needed help.
She doesn’t, he told himself. She was smart, she had more mountain experience than most, and surely she’d seen the storm moving in.
“Where are your friends?” Aidan asked Aaron.
“I think they went for help.”
A third harness had been lowered for Aaron. Aidan was still fuming, so Mitch explained to the Horn Dog what the plan was. All Aaron needed to do was slip into the harness. That was it, the big extent of his efforts needed.
But Aaron paled at the thought of moving around on the narrow ledge and shook his head. Granted, their space was extremely limited, and, with the three of them there, they had precious little room to move around. But there were only two ways off the ledge: either a hundred-foot drop to the wild river below, or up.
“Can’t you call a helicopter?” Aaron asked hopefully, squinting into the sky, which was now dark and turbulent, whipped into a frenzy by the winds. “Cuz that would be great.”
“A helicopter,” Mitch repeated, and looked at Aidan in disbelief. “And would you like fucking lunch to go with that?” he asked Aaron.
“Dude,” Aaron said, looking hopeful. “Do they serve meals?”
A bolt of lightning had Mitch and Aidan looking at each other. One one-thousand. Two one-thousand. Three one-thousand—
Thunder boomed so viciously that the ledge beneath their feet shuddered.
“Two minutes,” came the warning on the radio.
“Listen to me,” Mitch said hurriedly. “Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to put on the harness, nice and slow, and then we’ll check it. And then you’re going to get your ass off this rock before we all blow off, and you can go home and get your own damn meal, and we can go rescue someone else. And you’re going to do all of this fast. You hear me?”
Aaron nodded, eyes wide.
But it wasn’t that easy. Hell, nothing was ever that easy, and Aidan should have known.
The skies opened up right then, dumping water like the heavens had sprung a leak, making the going even more treacherous as the rock beneath their feet was now slicker than ever.
Aidan stood along with Aaron, making sure to block him from falling as the kid got the harness on, the wind shrieking like a mob of banshees.
Then came another shocking boom of thunder.
Aaron startled. Aidan snagged him, steadied him, but as he did, his own footing slipped on the wet rock. He immediately let go of Aaron so as not to take them both out. Thanks to the rope he didn’t go on a free fall into the rocky river far below. And also thanks to the rope, he swung under the momentum of his own weight face-first into the rock face of the mountain.
Aidan hit the rock face hard enough to see stars. Normally he reserved seeing stars for the occasional drinkfest or orgasms. So it really sucked when these stars were immediately followed by pain. He bounced off another rock before he managed to regain his footing back on the ledge.
Mitch called an immediate halt to the rescue and everyone froze.
“You okay?” Mitch demanded.
Aidan took inventory. He was pretty sure he’d torn his rotator cuff again—the first time had been in a football game years ago, and that had been a lot more fun. He’d also sliced open an elbow and a knee, and as a bonus his face hurt like a son of a bitch, but luckily he couldn’t see it. “I’m fine.”
“Uh-huh, that’s because you haven’t yet met a rock that’s harder than your head.” Mitch’s voice was light, but his eyes were anything but. “Look at me.”
Aidan met his gaze, and Mitch gave him a sharp once-over. “Fine my ass,” he said.
The rain had kicked up a notch, though none of them could possibly get wetter. “Let’s just get this done,” Aidan said through gritted teeth, and so, with his elbow and knee bleeding, his shoulder burning, and the impression of the rock presumably still on his face, he put the rescue back on track.
They got Horn Dog into his harness, made sure he was buttoned up nice and tight, and the ground crew above them began pulling him up using a handheld winch system that allowed for easy ascent of injured—or stupid—people, whichever the case may be.
“Gotta speed this up,” came the order from Incident Command via radio. “This storm’s escalating and the guys above you are sitting ducks. Any second we’re going to have to make them retreat back to our location to avoid becoming lightning rods.”
Just as he said it, more thunder rumbled, louder now. Definitely closer. Aidan met Mitch’s grim gaze. Neither of them wanted to be left on this ledge while the crew above was forced to leave and wait out the storm.
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