The story so far: U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agent Angela Dimato is accompanying a group of volunteers on a habitat restoration project via raft in remote western Colorado. Their objective: remove invasive, exotic tamarisk trees and reintroduce native plants, with the goal of improving habitat for native wildlife, including the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. The group happens upon the camp of two fugitive bank robbers, heavily armed. When Angela and Kate, the crew chief, attempt to call the police they discover the satellite phone has been smashed to pieces. At dawn the next morning, gunshots crack the air: All three rafts have been hit and deflated. Angela explains the situation to the worried volunteers. The only way out of the canyon is to hike, which would put the crew in the line of fire. Raft guide Greg is shot in the leg, and volunteer Julia Glew is missing. Angela sneaks toward the bank robbers’ camp, spies both men present, and sees Julia Glew duct-taped to a chair. Angela realizes that the volunteer group’s leader, Kate, must be an accomplice to the criminals! She hears one of the men say that they’ll have transportation out the next day, and that the volunteers are trapped. As darkness falls, Angela high-tails it to a ghost town two miles away. The store is boarded up, but she manages to make a call from the pay phone outside. Help is on the way. She stumbles back to camp around 1 a.m., where Kate anxiously grills her. Angela lies, saying she made it to Bedrock, but was unable get help. Kate believes her, and asks for a plan.
It hadn’t taken long for a crowd to gather near the fire.
Peter was the first to speak. “How are we getting out of here?”
“Good question,” Dan said, emerging from a nearby tent. “The tourniquet has stopped Greg’s bleeding, but it’s been on too long. We need medical help soon, or I’m worried he’ll lose his leg.”
“Loosen the tourniquet,” Damon said.
Dan glared at the teen. “And let him die?”
“No, he’s right,” Angela said. “If the wound has clotted, loosening the tourniquet might help with the blood flow. If the wound starts bleeding again, apply pressure. Last resort: Retighten it.”
“Your idea, you help,” Dan said, gesturing for Damon to follow.
As the two moved away, Angela turned to Kate. “We need to set up a watch.”
“You take the first shift,” Kate said. “I’ll relieve you in two hours.”
It was the perfect set up, thought Angela. It allowed Kate to slip away and send off the fugitives. They would disappear into the Canyonlands, and Kate would rescue Julia. No harm, no foul.
Kate headed off, and Bobo started to follow.
“Wait,” Angela said softly, gesturing to Bobo and Peter to move closer. Putting her finger to her lips, she led them to the edge of the clearing. “I need your help.”
She explained her theory about Kate, and Bobo and Peter stared in disbelief.
“You can’t be serious,” Bobo said.
Angela laid out the events leading up to their predicament.
“Why not just arrest her?” Peter asked.
“Because, as you pointed out we’re isolated here. And the robbers have guns. In two hours, she’s going to relieve me. We need to set up a trap.”
Between the three of them, they came up with a plan. Bobo would wake Maxwell, and hike out to where the three paths joined. They would find a place to wait out of sight, and watch. If they saw an army of law enforcement officers coming in from Bedrock, they would explain the situation and point them toward camp.
“What do we do if the outlaws arrive?”
“Stay out of sight and sound the flycatcher’s call as loud as you can.”
“What do you want me to do?” Peter asked.
“You’re going to hike back up to the robbers’ hideout.”
“And do what?”
“Nothing. Watch. Keep your eyes open. If they still have the $300,000, they’ll need to retrieve it. Kate is likely to show up. See what they do with the cash, and with Julia.”
“What if they decide to kill her?”
Angela didn’t know what to say. The possibility had occurred to her, too. Before she could answer, an owl screeched. Wings beat the air as it swooped overhead, raising the hairs on the back of her neck.
“We should just wait for help to arrive,” Peter said.
“We do that, and the bad guys win,” Angela said, rubbing the goosebumps from her arms. “They’re not killers. But we let them get away, and in a few hours they’ll be so far into the Canyonlands they’ll never be seen again. Are you in?”
Two hours later, Kate crawled out of her tent. Angela watched her stand and stretch.
“Anything happen?” Kate asked.
Angela shook her head.
“Any word on Greg?”
“Dan said the wound only oozed when they loosened the tourniquet. The color has returned to his foot. But he needs a hospital. One of us has to try and make it to town.”
Kate nodded. “It should be me.”
“How do you figure?”
“You have the weapon, the law enforcement expertise, and stand the best chance of keeping everyone safe.”
It was hard to argue with her logic, even if she did have ulterior motives.
“Wake me before you go.”
Angela headed for her tent, but she had no intentions of sleeping. Time crawled toward dawn, making her eyes heavy. The call of a flycatcher startled her awake.
She must have dozed off!
The first rays of light were touching the sky as she crawled out of her tent. Kate was gone.
Another flycatcher call reverberated from the cliffs in the canyon, and Dan stuck his head out of Greg’s tent.
“What’s going on?”
Angela gave him the bullet points. “Stay here. Don’t let anyone leave camp.”
Striking out, Angela pressed forward, ignoring the brambles that grabbed at her ankles as she plowed through the bushes along the narrow path. She stayed low as she crested the hill, spotting Peter tucked into the rocks where they had hidden the day before. He saw her and raised a hand.
She stayed put. Below them, Del, Leon, and Kate stood around a small fire. Julia Crew was nowhere in sight.
Crawling forward, Angela slithered to where Peter was hiding. “Where’s Julia?” she whispered.
Peter shook his head.
“It’s time to go,” Kate told the men.
“What about the money?” Del asked.
“It’s safe where it is. I’ll get it later,” Kate said.
Angela had been right. The money was here.
Leon looked at Kate. “What about the girl?”
“You said she was passed out in the tent?”
“I gave her some pills,” Del said. “She should be out for an hour or two.”
“Then, I’ll come back for her.”
Kate, Del, and Leon headed out. Angela waited until they’d disappeared over the top of the hill, then scrambled to her feet. “Peter, you go find Julia and head back to camp.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to try and stop them from escaping.”
Angela sprinted across the clearing and scrambled up the embankment. She trailed them as they trekked toward the junction of the trails, holding up when two ATVs came into sight. There was no sign of whoever had brought them, and no sign of Bobo and Maxwell.
Kate had pulled out a map and was giving them instructions. Del and Leon climbed on the four-wheelers, turned the keys, and nothing happened.
Dell tried again, then climbed down and kicked the vehicle’s tires. “What are you trying to do here?”
“What are you talking about?” Kate said. She climbed on the ATV and tried starting it herself.
It was now or never. Angela crept closer and drew her gun. “Freeze!”
The threesome turned.
“Get your hands in the air.”
Del and Leon exchanged a glance. Kate slid off the backside of the bike, feigning relief.
“Thank heavens you found me. They caught me heading toward town and were going to force me to go with them.”
“Give it up, Kate. We know you’re the one who’s been supplying these guys for the past nine months. What I can’t figure out is why?” Angela walked forward. “All of you. On the ground. Hands behind your backs.”
When none of them complied, Angela fired a shot in the air. All three dropped to the ground. Bobo and Maxwell stepped onto the trail.
“Need some help?” Bobo asked.
“Have anything we could tie them up with?” she asked.
“Would fishing line work?” Bobo reached into the pocket of his vest.
She held the gun on them while Bobo trussed them up.
“Was that you whistling, Maxwell?” she asked.
The boy nodded.
“Great job! You saved the day.”
Soon help arrived in the form of the sheriff and a small posse out of Cortez. Angela arranged for a medevac. The law enforcement broke into teams. Some headed toward the robbers’ lair, the rest followed Angela into camp. Peter and Julia were there. She seemed groggy, but otherwise unhurt.
While officers tended to Greg, Angela instructed the work detail to gather only their personal belongings. “The officers will escort you back to town. Take care.”
Peter followed her as she walked away. “Angela?”
She turned around. “Peter, you need to stay with the others.”
“But I found the money.”
Angela felt her heart rate quicken. “Where? Do you have it with you?”
He shook his head. “I spotted the men down by the water when I was heading toward their camp. I hid in the thicket. They were stashing the money.”
“On the river?”
“It sounded like they were relocating it for pick up. It’s in a wet bag, tethered in a thicket of tamarisk and Russian olive.”
“Can you show me where it is?”
“Sure, but there’s a problem.”
Angela frowned. “Which is…?”
“There’s a nest in the tree, with eggs in it.” Peter whistled in a perfect imitation of the southwestern willow flycatcher, and Angela grinned. Two treasures. The cops could wait.