After a full minute had passed, they caught sight of Ty’s hand breaking the water much further downstream. It was the only glimpse of him, though. He didn’t come up for air.
“He’s going down instead of across!” Zane said over the river noise.
“Current’s gonna take him that way,” Earl yelled as he worked hard at packing everything he could fit into the packs to be carried across. “He’ll correct it,” he said with utmost confidence.
Zane spared a moment to wish Earl would say things like that when Ty could actually hear him. The confidence he had in his son bordered on blind faith sometimes. Zane wondered suddenly if Ty knew it and that was why he took everything his father said in stride. Be quick about it, his father had said. It implied complete confidence that Ty could make it across, didn’t it? But it was also a fairly common psychological device, Zane knew, impressing onto others your belief of what should—and thus would—happen to achieve an end. He glanced at Earl, hoping that confidence was real and seeing their relationship in a slightly different light.
All their eyes snapped to the rope when the coil suddenly started rolling out far too quickly for Ty’s progress. Deuce stood up on the seat of the ATV, trying to look downriver and find any telltale signs of his brother.
Something had to have snagged him for him to be moving that quickly. The rope was swiftly playing out. It would hit its end far too soon for them to do anything but hope Ty wasn’t crushed by whatever had hit him and he could free himself without assistance.
But they were coming up on three minutes that Ty had been without air.
Zane wasn’t watching anymore. Something was wrong. He jerked into motion around the ATV, skidded over the rocks and mud to get down to the water’s edge, and went splashing in after the rope. He was up to his knees before Earl got him by the arm, hauling him back toward the bank with surprising strength. As Earl pulled him out of the freezing water, Zane glanced over to see Deuce gripping the winch controls until his knuckles turned white, trying to give Ty as much time as he could before pulling him back. They all knew the more attempts he had to make at crossing, the less likely he was to make it at all.
Just as Zane was about to get away from Earl and wade back into the river along the rope, Ty’s head broke the surface of the water, much closer than Zane thought he would be. Deuce shouted as soon as he saw him and pointed.
Ty gasped for air and took a few strong strokes through the water, but he didn’t go anywhere as the current beat him back. He ducked back under the water again, disappearing from view to use the rocks along the river’s bottom to pull himself across.
Zane shook Earl off but didn’t go any deeper; he watched where Ty had been, willing him to surface again, looking back and forth between there and the ATV, checking the rope, oblivious to the water splashing up his thighs and soaking his jeans.
After what seemed an eternity, Zane caught sight of Ty dragging himself out of the frigid water on the far side of the river, and the vise around his chest let loose so he could breathe again. Earl stood there staring at his son for a long moment before turning to get himself out of the cold water. He began taking his soaked shoes and socks off, his eyes on the opposite riverbank the entire time.
Ty clambered out of the water, struggling over slippery rocks, probably frozen already and unable to feel the fingers he was using to scratch his way to dry land. Once he was clear of the steep riverbank, he turned and waved to them like they hadn’t been watching him like hawks the entire time. The rope on his chest was visibly tugging him, obviously still caught on something large. After he was sure he’d gotten their attention, he yanked at the line a few good times until it came loose, almost sending him falling backward as the tension was released.
Deuce sat back down with a relieved thud and closed his eyes for a moment, rubbing at his forehead. Earl finally tore his eyes from the riverbank in order to finish rolling their supplies into dry packs.
“Lucky son of a bitch,” one of the two prisoners muttered grudgingly.
Zane turned to slog back up onto the bank and looked over the four men with him. “Deuce, why don’t you go next? Then there will be two of you over there when we send one of them.” He jerked a thumb at Earflaps and Redjacket.
“Good plan,” Deuce muttered as he began to strip his clothing just as Ty had done. They stuffed his and Ty’s things into one of the waterproof packs with as many supplies as they could, and Deuce slung it over his shoulders as Earl worked the winch.
On the other side of the rushing water, Ty had found a tree to secure the heavy nylon line to. When the winch pulled it tight and it held, Zane could see Ty’s shoulders slump in relief. He felt like slumping himself. But not yet. He watched as Ty picked up a handful of leaves from the ground and began rubbing his bare skin down, trying to dry himself before he got too cold. They needed to hurry.
“Ready to go?” he asked Deuce.
Deuce sighed as he looked at Zane, but his lips quirked into a wry smile as he nodded. “I just wish I could think of something clever to say,” he admitted as he put his hand on the taut line and began to follow it into the water. “Holy shit, it’s cold!” he called out as the water lapped at his bare ankles, but he kept moving anyway.
Zane rolled his eyes, put his hands on his hips, and turned on their prisoners. “Who’s next?” he asked pleasantly. They both sat staring at him as if he was out of his mind. Studying them, Zane thought he might understand why Ty got that look of unholy glee in his eyes sometimes. “Right then. I nominate you.” He pointed at Redjacket. “All in favor?” He raised his hand.
Beside him, Earl raised his hand as well without taking his eyes off Deuce. Earflaps quickly raised both hands, since they were lashed together.
Redjacket snarled at him. “Put your hands down, idiot.”
“The ayes have it.” Zane grabbed Redjacket by the arms and started propelling him toward the water.
Earl watched them distractedly, his attention torn between them and Deuce as he struggled out of the water on the other side. He breathed a sigh of relief as Ty grabbed Deuce by the forearm and yanked him up the slippery bank to safety. He turned to Zane and stepped close enough to speak to him in a low voice. “Don’t you think we should cross with them?”
“Too risky for us,” Zane reasoned as he watched Redjacket inch into the water. Earl looked at him in confusion for a moment and then turned to watch Redjacket’s progress. The man had stopped and dug in just short of the water, and Zane shrugged. In one smooth motion, he pulled his gun and fired a shot that hit and skidded through the wet dirt at Redjacket’s feet, sending him scurrying into the water with a yell.