Cash jammed the breaks of the snowmobile, causing it to skid sideways before stopping. He jumped off, looking at the ground for any signs of tracks. The problem was that most of the tracks had been blown over by the cold wind and the ones that were left looked like the came from the cattle. Cash let out a frustrated growl, kicking hard at the snow. Rocky pulled up, stopping his snowmobile next to Cash’s. He and Hank got off, looking at the snow-covered ground.
“Wind’s covering everything with those snow flurries we got this morning. There aren’t any tracks to follow here.” Cash wanted to scream in rage, howl his pain into the sky. He barely managed to keep it together, walking away from the others, clenching his hands into fists.
‘If he hurts her... If her hurts our baby...”. Cash tried to control his breathing as he heard the snowpack crunch with someone’s footsteps. Rocky stopped next to him, staring out at the ranch. Cash could tell he was thinking the same thing as Cash: even if Crawley still had her on the ranch, it was a few hundred square miles. They would never find her in time.
“I can’t lose her, Rock. I can’t.” Cash’s voice wavered and his eyes started to sting. Rocky laid a comforting hand on Cash’s shoulder.
“We’ll find her. I know we will. You gotta have faith, Cash.”
“Faith?” Cash let out a humorless laugh. “What good has faith ever done this family? My momma had more faith than anyone I’ve ever known and that didn’t protect her from getting killed in her own damn car.”
“That’s not the type of faith I’m talking about, son,” Rocky said. “Yes, Lilah had a deep and abiding faith in the Lord, but she also knew her beliefs couldn’t protect her from harm.”
“Then what good is-”. Rocky raised his hand, cutting Cash off.
“I’m talking about the faith of believing in yourself, and, more importantly, believing in Katie. She’s strong, Cash. She can fight him off long enough for us to find her. She won’t let him get in her head again. And from everything Katie’s told us about this Crawley bastard, he’s gonna wanna brag about how brilliant he is that he found her. Have faith in Katie, if you can’t in anything else.”
Cash was silent, then a single tear rolled down his cheek. He turned to Rocky, his eyes filled with torment.
“I promised I’d protect her. I promised I’d keep her safe. And then she gets kidnapped right of my damn ranch!” Cash yelled. Rocky took Cash by the shoulders and gave him a good shake.
“Now you listen to me, Cash Buchanan,” Rocky said sternly, speaking to the little boy he helped raise, not the man he worked for. “You couldn’t have known Crawley was watching the ranch. None of us could. Katie won’t blame you for this and having a pity party for yourself is a waste of goddamn time. Focus on Katie.” Cash nodded, trying to hold back the panic and tears. Suddenly, the ranch radio came to life.
“Boys?” they all heard Ruby say. “Boys, can you hear me?” Cash and Rocky raced over to Hank, who was holding the radio. Cash grabbed it and replied back with their group number; when Rocky was dividing up all the hands, he gave each team a designated number and a ranch radio that they made sure was all tuned to the same frequency.
“This is 1,” Cash said. Quickly, all the other groups chimed in with their numbers, acknowledging they could hear Ruby.
“Listen,” Ruby said, “I’ve been thinking we’re looking at this all wrong. If that shitstain’s been watching us, that means he has to have been staying on the ranch. We all would’ve noticed some stranger sleeping in the barns or sneaking into the bunkhouses, but what if he’s been staying somewhere else? He could be in one of the storm shacks. Stick a heater in there that runs on propane, you could stay in one for quite awhile.” Cash and Rocky looked at each other, both starting to smile.
“That’s real smart thinking, Ruby,” Rocky said. “Real smart. All right, here’s what we’re gonna do.” Rocky started barking out orders, after Ruby explained the grids he and Josiah had divided the ranch into so they could search more efficiently. He assigned each team an area to search, making sure every team had at least one Skyheart veteran, someone who would know where the storm shacks were located.
“Those of you looking farther out, make sure you have enough gas to get yourselves there and back,” Rocky ordered. “If you’re not sure, head on back to the barns and fill up gas cans to take with you. Make sure you all have enough layers on. No one be a hero. If you think you might get too cold, head back and grab as many layers as you need. We’re not stopping at night like we usually would. We’re gonna be searching through the cold, the dark. Be ready. Team 1 signing off.” Rocky looked over at Cash, who gave him a nod.
“Let’s go,” Cash said. “We need to backtrack a little to find the first shack in our grid.” Cash, Rocky, and Hank all mounted their snowmobiles, revving the engines to warm them up.
‘We’re on our way, angel. I’m keeping my faith with you. Keep yours with me.’