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Chapter 59: Evacuation

It was a good thing all vehicles owned by the Pack kept a store of extra clothes around, because these people needed them. We were getting updates from the other vehicles, those carrying the victims we had rescued. It wasn’t good.

Some things were so important they were worth breaking radio silence. Alpha Craig took out the scrambled satellite phone we had brought along; although the transmissions could be intercepted, it was impossible to tell where they had come from. The scrambler Josh had installed would have to hold them off. He pressed the number for home. “It’s me,” he said. “Write these down, they were the ones rescued.” He read the list of twelve names. “Cross-reference and pull in those assets before this becomes public, use our allies as needed.” He hung up, the whole call took about thirty seconds.

We drove through the Coronado National Forest, getting away from the flames and the emergency vehicles before we were noticed. When we were safe on the other side, we had all the vehicles pull over into an isolated area of desert; it was time to do a little dressing and sorting. We let Patricia take her van in the pullout first, the vehicle hiding the women from the roadway as they pulled on clothing. They didn’t have enough, so we went in second, pulling alongside the van and letting Patricia get to our stash as well. When they were dressed, the SUV carrying the male victims came in.

They didn’t know who we were, just that we had rescued them. Some were in shock, some were overjoyed, some still held fear of what would happen next. Nothing in their experiences with the Cartel was good, and they didn’t know we would be any different. Lars and I had some basic medical training, we focused on treating the obvious injuries as we could. None were life threatening, but they did have the injuries from prolonged torture Robert had seen before. All were human as well; the two mountain lion shifters having been taken in the ambulance with two other women.

We divided the people up, getting their backgrounds and comparing notes from the four women and three men. We collected contact data for their families which we could later compare to what Charlie had already given us. All were being held as leverage against husbands or relatives. “Alpha, how much do we tell them?”

Not much, follow my lead.” Alpha Craig moved until he stood in front of the men and women who were sitting in the shade from the van and the SUV. He pulled out a badge, one he probably hadn’t turned in at the end of the task force time. “I’m Special Agent John Doe, Drug Enforcement Agency,” he said before flipping it closed. “And no, that’s not my real name, and none of the other names you hear today will be real. Our Task Force is top secret, operating outside normal channels, for the express purpose of taking out the Zeta Cartel. This morning we got word from an informant that a Cartel safe house was located in the mountains outside Patagonia. We moved on the information immediately. The raid that freed you was a complete success, all Cartel figures were arrested or killed, plus we gained significant intelligence. Now, I would like nothing more that to return your freedom and reunite you with your loved ones, but I’m afraid that will have to wait for a while.”

“Why?” One of the men started to stand. “We have done nothing wrong!”

Craig held his hand out. “You have not, but to reunite you now would risk you and your loved ones,” he said. “We are going to transport you to a secure location, where you will be treated, fed and brought up to date on what is going on. When it is safe to do so, we will arrange for you to talk to your families again. The Cartels aren’t stupid, they will know you are gone shortly. We need to safely reach out to your families and bring them to safety before the Cartel gets them.”

“We need to listen to them,” one woman said. “The Zetas won’t hesitate to wipe out your whole family if they think they have been crossed.”

“They are, but the full resources of the United States government are being applied to take them down.” He turned to me. “We will be traveling to this secure location now, it will take about almost ten hours to get there. We expect the Cartel will have people watching, plus we know they have agents in government, so we have to take the long way and back roads. We will only be stopping as necessary for gas, food and bathroom breaks. I would ask that you cooperate, minimize your time outside the vehicles, and listen to our instructions. Get some sleep, tomorrow is going to be a busy day,” he said.

“If you need to go to the bathroom, ladies behind that rock, men on the other side of the road,” I said. “There is water and food in the cars, we will get more along the way. If you have any specific needs or requests, let your driver know.” A few people wandered off to go to the bathroom, and five minutes later we were back on the road. Ross joined Patricia in the van with the women, we had no other females along. We figured he was the best choice because they trusted her, and as her brother she could vouch for him.

We took off ahead of the rest, winding up to near a hundred miles an hour on the empty desert roads. “Boss, what are we going to do with these guys? We can’t put them on Pack lands without risking exposing ourselves. If the Cartel gets wind that werewolves and werecats were involved, our little blameshifting game falls apart.”

Craig nodded as he drove. “I know. We can’t do anything about the ones heading to Robert’s territory, they need the clinic. Wherever we take them has to be defensible.”

“And untraceable to the Pack,” I said.

“For now, that house we own down the street will have to do. Charlie, your application for asylum for you and your family has been granted. Your information has been accurate and helpful, and that is enough for me.”

“Thank you, Alpha. I won’t let you down.”

“You better not let my sister down, Charlie. You hurt her, and you’ll beg for the Alpha Council to take over your judgment.” Ross could be downright scary when he wanted to be. “Have you talked about where you are going to settle?”

“Not yet. I’m still figuring this pack thing out. Wherever we go, we need to be together.”

“Nothing has to be decided yet,” Craig said. “Luna knows there have been enough surprises lately.”

“How is your sister holding up, Charlie?” She had clung to me, both as her rescuer and her fellow cat shifter. I didn’t have much time to talk to her before she left in the ambulance.

“She didn’t say much when we could still link, other than being worried about Mom and thanking us for getting them. She’ll be fine until she’s not fine,” Charlie said. “She’s strong willed, clear headed when there is trouble. It’s when things calm down that everything catches up with her.” His fists clenched, and he looked out the window. “She was raped, repeatedly. All of them were, the men too.”

“I know, those bastards broke them in every way. I smelled it, and I could tell by how they reacted to me,” I said.

“My Pack Healers have dealt with this before, we even have some females who escaped from the Cartel and their abuse,” Robert said, “Including my own mate. One of them, Maria, was in the ambulance.”

“That won’t help too much since they passed the patients to the helicopter,” I said.

“I could send Caleb and Maria along to your house, they can stay with the victims for now. Wendy too, if Doc can spare her. That’s all I can do.”

I could see the wheels churning in Craig’s head. “I want to minimize contact with werewolves, though, and I don’t want to see Maria having to relive that time. There are some abuse and sexual assault counselors in Santa Fe, very discreet. I bet I could pay enough to keep their silence and make the house calls.”

“Good idea,” Robert said. “Whatever help we can give them without them knowing who we are, we should.”

We slowed down as we got to town. We found a McDonalds in Huachuca and placed a huge order; it wouldn’t be the heathiest, but it was fast. We got bags of burgers, nuggets, fries and shakes and quickly pulled back out into the roads. Our timing was good, we were able to meet up with the other vehicles at stoplights and pass the bags across.

After stuffing myself on chicken nuggets and fries, I was ready to nap. I rolled up my Ghillie suit, wedging it against the window as I tried to nap in the back seat. Craig and Robert had the first watch, Lars and I were taking the second. The navigation system had been programmed with waypoints to avoid law enforcement and Pack boundaries; we didn’t need any more problems tonight. The fewer people who knew about us, the better.

We skirted the southern edge of the Gila Pack territory. As we got closer, Robert was able to get an update on the victims. Daniella Stillwater, Charlie’s mother, was still unconscious but would pull through. She had been beaten nearly to death, another hour of that torture and she wouldn’t have made it. Kelsey was better physically, she was resting in the same bed.

Charlie asked to go with them, and Craig had to tell him no. “You’re needed back at the Belden house for the investigation,” he said.

Ten minutes later, we were stopped at a road junction and everyone got out to stretch their legs. “All right everyone,” Craig got their attention, “Some of our task force is going to return to base, and all of you who have been rescued are being taken to a safe house. As I said, I don’t know how long you will need to be there, but the safety of you and your families is our priority.” There were nods and grumbles, it was nearly four in the morning. “Now, I need you all to load into the van, men first.” The four men took the back rows of the thirteen-passenger van, the women in the middle, and I drove while Ross took shotgun. We waved at Robert and his men as we pulled out again.

We pulled into the driveway of the safe house just as the sun was rising over the mountains. We had linked the Pack early enough for them to get the house prepped and open for us, then they were gone. Ross and Patricia were going to stay with them, since the women were already familiar with them. Rose said they left food on the table, but if they were anything like me, all they wanted was a bed.

Mine had my mate waiting in it when I got out of the shower.

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