The others laughed. Becca stepped forward and gently pried the little lizard’s teeth off Bob’s finger and deposited it, wriggling, into a specimen pouch.
“That’s the last one,” Professor Parker said. “Let get back to the truck.”
Becca, Bob and Verne all nodded. Linda retrieved the specimens. Bob picked up the food pack and the others got their respective backpacks.
“Good show, guys. This is probably the last trip we’ll take out here before end-of-term,” Parker complimented.
A sharp report startled them. Becca looked toward the trees and saw a flash of color. Someone in a pair of black pants and red t-shirt was just beyond the tree line.
“Get back!” Parker snapped. “Behind the van. Now!”
“Verne!” Linda shouted.
Verne staggered and went to one knee, a crimson stain growing above his belt on the left side.
“Shit,” Parker snapped. “Go! Goddamit, go!” He swept his pack off and caught Verne before he fell. Parker hefted Verne into his arms to run behind the van.
Becca crouched almost under the bumper, shaking with reaction. Parker and Bob, who both knew CPR and first aid, muttered commands back and forth while Bob ripped through the first-aid kit. Parker pulled up Verne’s shirt to reveal a surprisingly small hole. There was a lot of blood. Becca swallowed hard and blinked away tears.
“This is Linda Kincaid.”
Becca jumped, eyes flying to Linda’s face. Her black hair was swept back behind her ears and she held a mobile to her ear with one hand, white from tension.
“I am a senior at Forest University. We’re on a field trip with Professor James Parker. One of our students has been shot.” She listened, nodding, and answered several rapid-fire questions. She hung up and looked at Parker. “They can get a helicopter to us in about ten minutes, there’s one at the Ranger Station for Search and Rescue. They’ll have police with them.”
Another loud gunshot made them all jump.
“Do we need to move?” Becca demanded, voice higher than usual.
Parker and Bob stared at each other. Bob shrugged. “I don’t know, Professor. If they move out of the trees, we’re sitting ducks.”
Parker leaned down and peeked under the van at the woods. “I can’t… wait. I see one of them now. Red t-shirt.”
“I saw him before,” Becca told him.
Parker glanced at her. “Do you know if he’s the one shooting?”
She stared at him, heart pounding. “I don’t know. I just saw a flash of color…”
Parker’s eyes softened. “Becca, it’s okay,” he said gently. “Bob was in the military, and I used to be an Army medic. We’re used to this. I don’t expect you to know what you’re doing.”
“Is Verne going to be okay?” she asked, voice hoarse.
Parker looked down at Verne, who had passed out against Bob’s legs. “I think so. It’s a clean wound and missed anything vital.”
A ‘fump, fump’ sound intruded on Becca’s attention and she looked around wildly.
“It’s the helicopter, Bec,” Linda said softly. “Look.” She pointed behind them to a brown and green helicopter sweeping up the valley, low to the trees. It came on, incredibly fast, and zoomed over to swing in a tight circle around their van and the trees where the red-shirted man hid.
“This is the California State Police,” a man’s voice boomed from the helicopter. “Place your weapons on the ground and lace your hands overhead.”
A sharp gunshot sounded from the trees, muffled by the noise of the helicopter. A bass boom responded and wood splintered. Becca screamed.
“This is the only warning you will receive,” the voice intoned. “Weapons down, now!”
There was a pregnant pause, filled by the steady ‘fump, fump’ of the helicopter blades.
“Look!” Bob hissed, pointing.
The man in the red t-shirt stumbled out from between two pines, fingers laced on top of his head. He kneeled down about ten feet in front of the trees in clear sight of the helicopter. After several moments, two others came out, both in blue jeans and white t-shirts. One was limping.
The helicopter appeared to step backward and then dropped to land, surprisingly gently, on the open ground between the men and their van. Becca’s hands tingled and she felt a rushing in her head from adrenaline.
Two well-muscled men in orange coveralls raced over to them, a stretcher held between them. They skidded to a stop next to Verne and bundled him onto it, strapping him in. Bob identified himself and ran in a crouch back to the helicopter with the two men.
After several more minutes passed, one of the taller policemen made his way over to them. He grinned widely when he saw the Professor.
“Jimmy!” he boomed. Becca recognized the voice from the helicopter.
“Trevor?” Parker echoed in surprise. “What the hell are you doing all the way up here? I thought you were at Yosemite!”
“I was. Got transferred this week, haven’t had time to call you.” His face darkened and he glanced back at the men being handcuffed. “What the hell happened?”
“I have no idea,” Parker answered. “We’re doing our last collection for the term. They just started shooting. We have no idea who they are.”
Trevor looked back, eyebrows raised. “Seriously?”
Trevor chuckled. “We’ve been trying to find these guys for two months. Run a drug ring up here. Looks like a deal went bad. You’re likely to get a reward, they’re wanted real bad.”
Parker looked startled. “You’re kidding!”
“Nope,” Trevor answered. “Good job, all of you.”
Linda smiled weakly. “Hey Professor. Is this gonna be on the final?”
They all laughed, some of the tension easing. Becca got into the van gratefully, looking forward to going back to school and to see how Verne was doing. She watched the helicopter lift off, Verne hidden inside. It swept from sight, the wind of its passage blowing the branches around wildly.