Due South (cont.)
Chris and Fraser were up and moving at first light not even taking time for breakfast. Their missing were close both could feel it. They'd been walking about half an hour when Dief ran up barking urgently. Still barking the wolf made a quick turn dashing back the way he'd come. Fraser took off at a run after him before Chris could even ask what was wrong. He soon found that following a running Mountie was hard work. Fraser seemed to almost flow over obstacles. Chris was starting to wonder if he could keep up when Fraser suddenly stopped. Waiting until Chris caught up to, he pointed through the trees. "I do believe we've found them."
"Yeah." Chris managed to grunt. The blasted Mountie wasn't even breathing that hard. Straightening up he followed Fraser down the hill taking in the sight of Dief dancing around a blond man. Where was Ezra?
Ray waved at the approaching men. He didn't know who the other man was, but figured if he was traveling with Fraser it was okay. Ray grabbed Fraser in a hard hug. "Benton buddy I knew you'd find me."
"Of course Ray, I wouldn't dare go back to Chicago without you." Fraser held his partner at arms length so he could take a good look. "Are you all right?" Ray had lost weight and Fraser didn't miss the slight flinch of the arm under his hand, but his eyes were clear so Fraser wasn't too concerned.
"I'm okay, it's the other guy I'm worried about." Ray jerked his head back toward the fire where Ezra sat propped against a rock.
"Ezra!" Chris rushed forward, dropping down beside his injured agent. "Ezra you all right?"
"Chris?" Ezra's eyes were glazed with fever.
"Yeah Ezra I'm here. Just relax we'll take care of you." Chris comforted. Inside he was cursing. If ever there was a time for Nathan's skills it was now.
"He's got a nasty cut on his leg." Ray explained, indicating the injured area. "We were treating it with the first aid kit from the plane, but that ran out a couple of days ago. I think all the walking yesterday aggrieved it."
"Aggravated." Fraser corrected absent mindedly as he started to cut Ezra's pant leg. "Ray there's a pan in my pack. I'm going to need some hot water."
"Sure thing." Ray grabbed the pan and hurried off toward the creek.
"Damn." Chris swore softly as the bandages came off revealing the angry looking wound. "You got anything to treat that?"
"I'm going to need some supplies to make a poultice." Fraser raised his head to study the surrounding country. "I need to go forage. When Ray gets back have him make some tea with this." He handed Chris a small bag. "It will help with the fever. You can also clean the wound. I shouldn't be long." Taking a few more items from his pack Fraser headed into the woods.
"Where'd Fraser go?"
Ray's question startled Chris who'd been concentrating on Ezra. "He went to get some stuff to make a poultice." Holding up the bag he said, "You're supposed to make some tea with this."
Ray took the bag and gave it a sniff. "I remember this stuff, had to drink it for a week once." Ray didn't say anything else until he had the water on the fire. Then settling on the other side of Ezra he studied Chris. "You must be Larabee. You're just like Ezra described."
"How was that?" Chris asked.
"Tough, fair, scary." Ray stuck out his hand. "Ray Kowalski."
Chris shook hands quickly, "Chris Larabee." Turning his attention back to Ezra he felt the other man's forehead. "He's got a fever."
"Yeah." Ray sighed, "He must not a been feeling good yesterday, but he never said anything."
"He wouldn't." Chris reassured, "Man is one of the most stubborn I know and he hates to admit when he's ill." Looking up he made sure Ray saw the truth in his eyes. "Don't blame yourself for not noticing. The first year I knew him, he collapsed in the bullpen due to the flu. He'd had it for two days and none of us realized it." Giving Ezra an affectionately irritated look he added, "Now days we just hold him down and check his temperature."
By the time Fraser returned, Ray had the tea made and Chris was coaxing Ezra to drink it. Though coax might be the wrong term. While Ray and Fraser worked on the poultice they listened to Chris' sotto voiced words and Ezra's replies with amusement.
"Drink the tea Ezra."
"I don't care, the Sergeant says it will help your fever."
"Sergeant, when did the army get here?"
"The Sergeant is a Mountie, now drink the tea."
"Ah thought we were ATF, when did we switch sides?"
"We didn't, "Chris growled, "Now stop trying to avoid the subject and drink the tea."
"Standish drink this tea right now or I swear I'm telling the Judge who really broke the elevator last month. That's better, a little more."
Fraser approached with what looked like a boiled salad. "Agent Standish, I need to draw the poison out of your leg, this may hurt a bit." He motioned at Ray and Chris to hold Ezra still then quickly began to spread the mixture over the wound. Ezra jerked going white but said nothing. When Fraser was done Ezra motioned him closer whispering something in his ear. Fraser sat back, "Thank you kindly, I'll be sure to check on that. Ray could you fetch another pan of water?"
"Check on what?" Chris asked.
Fraser watched until the other man had disappeared before replying to Chris' question. "Agent Standish informs me that Ray is also injured."
"And?" Chris prompted.
"Ray is still mobile."
"Got it." Chris stood up, stretching. "We have to corner him. I've had experience with this, just hope he's not as bad as Vin." He gave Fraser a knowing look. "How do you want to handle this?"
"I thought the enticement of food would be a good start." Fraser started pulling items out of his pack. Chris watched in amusement from his seat beside Ezra while Fraser prepared a meal all the while pretending not to notice that Ray wouldn't get in arms reach of him. When the stew was ready Fraser brought a bowl over to Ezra. "Agent Standish, you need to eat.
"Ezra." Was the reply in an irritated drawl.
"If you are going to poke and prod me and slap noxious concoctions on my leg you should call me Ezra."
"As you wish." Fraser held out the stew, "Do you think you can manage?"
"Ah believe so."
"Ray would you like me to prepare you a bowl?"
"Nah Frase, I got it." Ray served himself a bowl sitting down on a rock to eat. Catching Fraser's eye Chris got up to serve himself, taking a seat next to Ray. Fraser messed with things around the fire for a bit then stood moving quickly to Ray's other side.
"Ray, I'd like to look at your arm now."
"My arm?" Ray tried to bluff it out. "There's nothing wrong with my arm."
"Not what Ezra said." Chris informed him silkily.
"Yeah well he has a fever, he's deviant." Ray hedged.
"I believe you mean delirious. Ray." Fraser made the name sound disapproving, sad and worried all at once. It had the desire affect, the younger man wilted.
"Okay, okay, but it isn't that bad."
"I just want to be sure."
Chris moved back over next to Ezra noticing he'd actually eaten most of the bowl of stew. "How you feeling?"
"Better." Ezra drawled. "Where are the others?"
"We had to split up at that log you crossed yesterday. They're looking for a way around with the horses."
"Ah would have expected Nathan to be with you?" Ezra's words were casual, but Chris knew what he was really asking? Nathan and Ezra had made peace with each other long ago, but both still needed reassurance occasionally.
"Nathan was gonna come with us, but the tree broke as I was crossing." Chris chuckled slightly, "I'm sure he'll want to check you out when they catch up."
"Ezra why were you heading north?"
"Ray was convinced that was where Sergeant Fraser would be approaching from."
you know we would be looking?" Chris was slightly bothered that after
all this time Ezra would still doubt the team's commitment to him.
On the other side of the fire Ray relaxed for the first time since the crash. "You know what this reminds me of Ben?"
"What Ray?" Fraser looked up from cleaning Ray's arm.
"Our adventure, except of course there's no snow and instead of a whole dog team all we got is Dief. Course he's worth an entire team." He added at Dief's injured whine.
"Yes Ray it is a bit like that." Fraser agreed smearing plant goop on Ray's arm.
"Course there's no snow, but hey a guy can't have everything." Ray was winding down, his words starting to slur a bit. Fraser recognized the signs of impending collapse.
"You should get some rest Ray. We aren't going anywhere until the others catch up."
"Okay Benton, Ben, buddy." Ray sighed sliding down onto the blanket Fraser spread. Curling up he appeared to go to sleep. Fraser indulged himself for a moment drinking in the sight of his partner safe and mostly sound. As he started to straighten up Ray's hand darted out grabbing his wrist. In a sleep roughened voice the blond said, "Knew you'd find me," before finally dropping off to sleep.
Fraser checked Ezra's leg, ignoring the muttered, "I'm fine Nathan," then joined Chris at the fire.
"How's it look?" Chris asked.
"The poultice is already working." Fraser reassured him. "But it's a good thing we found them. Another day and it could have been much worse."
"I appreciate what you've done." Chris said.
"I would have done the same for anyone." Fraser played with his cup, uncomfortable with being thanked for doing what was necessary.
"I believe that." Chris' gaze was direct and clear, one equal to another.
"I wonder how the others are doing?" Fraser deflected.
The others had good luck finding a crossing only a couple of miles from the crashed tree. By the time they'd followed Chris and Fraser's trail to where Dief met them it was close to dark. The signs of running had Vin worried, but he firmly pushed the feelings down, concentrating on following the trail instead. Still the sense of relief he felt at finding the makeshift camp was intense. Happy to be reunited the five men started down towards their friends.
Chris was waiting for them, the smile on his face reassuring everyone that Ezra was okay. Holding up his hand to stop the questions he could see bubbling he gave a quick report. "He's all right, got a nasty cut on his leg, some infection, but Fraser's been treating it."
"With what?" Nathan braced himself.
"I didn't ask." Chris shrugged, "But he also smeared some on his own friend so it can't be anything to worry about."
"I'd better take a look." Nathan zeroed in on Ezra who was sleeping peacefully still unaware the others had arrived. His indignant squawk upon being awakened was music to the rest of his team. Chuckles and smiles of relief lightened the mood. If Ezra felt good enough to complain he wasn't in too bad of shape. They crowded around, listening happily to the southerner's comments.
"Mr. Jackson, kindly do not poke me. Ah've had enough of that today."
"Hush up Ezra, I just want to see if you have a fever." Nathan pressed a hand to Ezra's forehead. "Not bad, now let me look at this leg."
"Sergeant Fraser has already treated it." Ezra slapped at Nathan's hands. "I order you to cease and desist now." Nathan looked up, shooting his own brand of puppy eyes at Ezra. It was a mixture of worry, sadness, and exasperation with a hint of pleading thrown in. The team didn't think Nathan even knew he did it. It wasn't a look he used very often and only when he was tired and really worried. With a week plus of worry behind it the look was something none of them could have ignored. Ezra froze for a moment then lay back, waving his hand in invitation. "Go on, least Ah can do since you bothered to come all this way." The words were casual, but the smile and tone of voice said 'thanks for caring my friend'.
"JD, get my med kit." Nathan ordered starting to work on the makeshift bandage. Fraser knelt down on the other side of Ezra starting to explain what he had done. The rest of the team drifted back towards the horses, starting the familiar ritual of setting up camp.
"So how did you and the Sergeant get along?" Josiah asked Chris as they unsaddled horses.
"Well" Chris shot Josiah an amused look, "he's almost as aggravating as the six of you put together but he'll do to ride the river."
No better recommendation a man can ask for, Josiah thought as he rubbed down Ezekiel's back.
After he'd finished checking Ezra over Nathan joined Chris at the edge of camp.
"How is he?" Even though he felt he could trust Fraser's judgment Chris wanted reassurance from Nathan. It was the same with all the team, even when the doctors said everything was okay it took Nathan agreeing for the rest to feel safe.
"He'll be fine, the infection is already starting to retreat." Nathan intended to offer Fraser an apology the first chance he got. The Canadian really knew his herbal medicine. Nathan thought he might even ask him where to get some powdered elk horn.
"Good." Chris rubbed the back of his neck a sign of deep thought. "Will he be okay to travel by tomorrow?"
"It'd be best to wait a couple of days if we can." Nathan explained. "The cut was healing until they ran out of medicine. I'd like to get all the infection gone before moving him. It would be a lot safer. A couple of days rest with proper food and medicine should do it."
Chris scanned the camp till he spotted the people he wanted. Catching Vin's eye he nodded toward where Fraser and Josiah were building what looked like a lean to. The three men converged about the same time. Chris waited until Fraser and Josiah finished tying off something before speaking. "Nathan says it would be best if Ezra had a couple of days of rest and food before we started traveling again. Josiah, how are we fixed for supplies?"
"We're in pretty good shape got enough for another two weeks easy." Josiah answered, "Even with the two extra."
"Can probably stretch that by doing some hunting and fishing." Vin said.
"Would that be legal?" Fraser asked. "I am not fully conversant with American hunting laws."
"Be okay." Vin answered. "As long as we only kill what we can eat." He studied the horizon. "Can probably can get a deer or elk when they come out to feed in the morning."
Chris looked at Fraser. "If we hold over for a couple of days that suit you?"
"I agree with Nathan, I'd like to let Ray rest and regain some strength." Fraser rubbed a thumb over his eyebrow. "Yes that sounds like a good idea." He gave Chris and Nathan the agreeable Mountie look. Chris snorted to let Fraser know he wasn't fooled any.
Giving into his exhaustion Ray slept clear through the night and the hustle bustle of setting up camp. Would have probably continued sleeping if Dief hadn't decided enough was enough. Ray's warm comfortable world was rudely shattered by a cold wolf nose burrowing down his neck. "Aagh, Dief get off." Employing the selective hearing he was famous for the wolf continued to wake his packmate. Ray gave in, sitting up to spend a few moments roughhousing. Finally Dief settled down with his head in Ray's lap.
"I guess he missed you. Coffee? Your partner said you like it sweet." The words were rattled off in a friendly eager tone.
Ray took the offered cup gratefully. Taking a sip he studied the speaker, young, dark hair. "You must be JD."
"Yeah, how'd you know?" JD asked.
"Ezra described all of you." Ray said, taking another sip. After several days without it was especially good.
"How did he describe me?" JD was intensely curious to know how Ezra saw him.
"Said you looked innocent 16, with the instincts of an 80 year old." Ray looked down at Dief's whine. "Yeah I missed you too, crazy wolf. Sorry I don't have a donut for you."
"You talk to him the same way Sergeant Fraser does." JD was fascinated by the way both men seemed to understand the wolf.
"You hang with Fraser long enough you start doing all sorts of crazy things." Ray shrugged. "They even start to seem reasonable."
"Like what?" JD moved close enough to stroke a hand down Deif's side. The wolf groaned happily rolling onto his back in a shameless plea for a tummy rub.
"Swimming through a sinking ship, jumping out of planes, talking to the wolf." Seeing the wide-eyed look on JD's face, Ray decided to change the subject. He didn't want to start telling those stories right now. "So where's Fraser?"
"He and Vin are skinning the buck Vin shot this morning." JD gestured toward the edge of camp behind Ray.
Ray turned to take a look. Yep there was Fraser, sleeves rolled up, knife flashing as he worked. Another man with long hair was helping. Larabee stood close watching.
"I think Vin's enjoying having someone to help." JD enthused. "None of us are as good as he is at skinning so he usually has to do all the dirty work."
"Yeah Fraser's good with a knife. They're probably exchanging pemmican recipes." Ray stood up using the act of drinking coffee as a shield while he studied the camp. On the other side of the fire, Ezra lay on bedroll. An African-American man knelt beside him speaking quietly. Two other men could be seen working on a horse. It looked like they might be replacing a shoe. Ray searched his memory, putting names to faces. Nathan was the healer, the older man working on the horse had to be Josiah. Then the man holding the big gray would be Buck. Ray ambled over to stand next to Ezra. "Guess I should have took that bet."
Ezra thought for a moment before his memory kicked in prompting a short laugh. "Indeed, Ah have never been so happy to be wrong before."
"Me too." Ray offered his hand to Nathan as the healer stood up. "Ray Kowalski, you must be Nathan Jackson. He gonna be alright?"
Nathan gave Ezra a studying look, "Needs some regular meals and a couple of nights rest, but yeah." He looked Ray over with a professional eye. "You look like a couple of meals wouldn't hurt either."
Ray laughed, "Won't get any argument there."
"Well I've got breakfast started." Nathan gestured toward the fire. "We should be eating soon." Digging into his jacket he held out a Snickers. "How about a candy bar to tide you over?"
Ray's eyes lit up as he took the candy. "Man next ta coffee this is what I've missed most." Tearing off the wrapper he took a big bite. Nathan thought he'd never seen someone enjoy a chocolate so much. Still smiling Ray jerked his head over toward where Vin and Fraser were working. "Think I'd better check in with Fraser." He walked off with Dief at his heels.
"A most interesting individual." Ezra commented as they watched Ray walk away.
"Yeah well his partner is something else." Nathan looked down. "I mean I was sure Chris would kill him. You should have seen him that first morning." He changed the timber of his voice speaking in Fraser's precise tone. "I'm just going to check that meadow. I'll catch up with you later. Didn't even bother arguing with Chris, he just took off."
Ezra chuckled more at the earnest expression on Nathan's face than the words. "What did Chris do?"
"You mean after he got over the shock?" Buck said as he sat down next to Ezra. "Heck I'm starting to think we've spoiled the big dog. He ain't used to someone ignoring him when he puts his foot down."
"You guys ignore him all the time." JD accused.
"Sure we do." Buck agreed. "But have you ever seen an outsider stand up to Chris when he's in "I'm in charge" mode? Especially when the decisions he's making affect one of us?"
JD thought for a moment then shook his head no. Giving the others a wide-eyed look he asked, "So what do you think happened while they were alone?"
"JD, even Vin isn't crazy enough to ask Chris that." Buck stated.
"Amen." Josiah added.
After a quick stop in the woods, Ray approached the skinning party stopping a bit behind Fraser. Instead of speaking he settled for nodding hello to Chris. Both watched the two butchers work for a moment in silence. They had removed the skin and were now cutting off large pieces of venison for cooking. Ray grinned, as without looking, Fraser tossed a scrap of meat back towards where he and Dief stood. The wolf caught it in mid air. Ray remembered the first time he'd watched Fraser skin something. He'd been unable to resist teasing the Mountie about spoiling Dief. He could still hear Fraser's response.
"Ray, this is not the same thing as giving him a donut. Meat is his natural food. Besides a pack always shares the kill."
Ray chuckled at the memory. Only Fraser would consider that one slightly damaged Chicago cop, a wolf and a Mountie made a pack.
"Ray, you're up." Fraser turned with a wide smile.
"Yeah no thanks to the wolf." Ray nudged Dief with his foot.
"I told you to let him sleep." Fraser chided the unrepentant animal. Dief gave a sharp couple of barks. Ray looked down, "Hey, I'll remember that the next time we're near donuts." Dief huffed turning his head away from both men. Ray and Fraser looked at each other saying at the same time, "You pay and pay and pay."
Vin, who had stepped back next to Chris, leaned over to whisper. "I want you to remember this the next time Ezra and I get going."
"Remember what?" Chris asked.
"That you could be their boss." Vin replied indicating Ray and Fraser.
Nathan's yell of "Breakfast" saved Chris from coming up with a suitable reply.
Breakfast was a loud affair with everyone in good spirits now that the missing had been found. After a hearty meal of pancakes, bacon and stewed apples the men settled down for a day of relaxing. JD and Buck left to see what the fishing was like while Josiah claimed a spot in the shade of a trio of aspens. He could be seen checking gear with a methodical precision. Both Ray and Ezra were encouraged, even ordered to rest by Nathan before he went to look for some wild onions. He was promising something special with Vin's venison for lunch. Chris had planted himself in Ezra's tent intending to see that the stubborn southerner obeyed Nathan's orders. He could see Fraser urging Ray toward the leanto and guessed he had the same intentions. Vin cut off Chris' view of camp, squatting down in the tent doorway.
"Gonna take a little ride."
"Why?" Chris knew that thoughtful look too well. Vin was pondering something.
"Found some tracks this morning. Looks like someone's been coming through here pretty regular." Vin shrugged. "Seems strange, three, four riders, ten pack animals. Just want to follow em a bit."
"Back by lunch?"
"When ain't I?"
Chris didn't dignify that with a verbal reply.
When Vin wasn't back by lunch Chris tried not to show any concern. Still he could see that his men and Fraser had picked up on it. It was Ezra who finally, as they were cleaning up, voiced Chris' concerns for him.
"Ah do not think Vin would have allowed himself to be distracted this long without a reason." Chris continued to look out toward the hills, ignoring Ezra prompting the southerner to sigh before adding. "You might as well go look for him. Otherwise you'll brood for another hour or so then go anyway. Please spare the rest of us an additional period of dark clouds."
Chris still didn't turn but his shoulders did twitch a bit. In a calm voice he replied, "I'm a senior ATF agent, I do not brood."
"Right Big Dog." Buck snorted. "And I don't like the ladies."
"Well Buck you'd already hinted at that." Chris needled, still without turning around.
"I must agree with your men. I have noticed a tendency toward introspection."
Caught up in their usual teasing, Team Seven had forgotten they had an audience. When Fraser spoke they all froze unsure how Chris would react.
Chris turned his head enough to nod at Fraser a hint of amusement in his eyes. "Point taken. I'm going for a ride. Buck, you coming."
"Sure thing." Buck had managed to suppress his laughter, but not the twinkle in his eye.
"Looks like that won't be necessary." Josiah pointed toward an approaching horseman. "Here comes Vin."
"He looks twitchier than a horny toad on a hot rock." Buck's words seemed apt. Vin was moving at a fast lope, continually turning in the saddle to study his back trail. He had his rifle out ready for use.
"He doesn't look scared to me." Ray whispered to Ezra, misreading Buck's comment.
"He's not." Ezra said quietly. "Not much scares our indomitable tracker except someone he cares for bleeding."
By the time Vin pulled up at the edge of camp everyone was standing. He and Chris studied each other in silence for a minute. Finally Chris growled, "So are you going to tell us what you found or what."
"Think I found some drug runners."
There was silence for a moment until Nathan spoke. Waving a finger at his teammates and in a disgusted tone he yelled, "Trouble magnets, all of you. We can't even finish one emergency before we get involved in another." Still grumbling under his breath he stomped off toward where the medical supplies were.
"I think when we get back ole Nate needs a vacation." Buck said.
"Why's he so upset?" JD asked. "It's not like we went looking for these guys."
"Well actually Vin did ride out this morning with the intention of checking out tracks." Fraser pointed out.
Vin dropped his head giving a muffled snort while JD bristled at what he thought was a slight against a friend.
"All right, lets have the details." Chris cut in, drawing attention back to the main problem.
"Four guys with enough guns to start a small war, trailing ten mules with full packs." Vin squatted down to pick up a stick. Using it he started to draw landmarks in the dirt. "We're here, they're coming up this valley. If we circle around we can surprise em here." He tapped a spot at the end of the valley. "Should be simple."
"You had to say that." Chris growled. He studied the map a bit then sighed. "Okay so how long before they reach this point?"
"If they keep moving at their current pace, tomorrow noon."
Chris sighed, "Well armed you said."
Buck clapped Chris on the back, "Hey at least we have numbers on our side."
"You sure they're breaking the law?" Chris looked over at Vin.
"Got close enough to listen to em while they had lunch. Every mule is carrying Columbian grass." Vin jerked his head north. "Taking it into Canada."
Chris turned toward where Fraser stood, "Where do you stand?"
Fraser rubbed a thumb over an eyebrow, "Well first I think we need to decide if we're in America or Canada."
Ray jumped to his feet, "We're in America." His angry tone surprised the ATF agents.
"Ray you can't be sure of that." Fraser argued gently. "The border is probably only one or two miles from here."
"We're in America." Ray snarled moving right into Fraser's space leaning in. The two men stared at each other. His attitude startled the Seven since up till now he'd pretty much gone along with anything Fraser said.
"Why does it matter where we are?" JD asked, breaking the silent argument now going on.
Without taking his eyes of Fraser, Ray explained in a harsh tone. "If we're in Canada then Ben is duty bound to confuse all your weapons."
"I think you mean confiscate. Ray," Fraser started only to have Ray cut him off.
"No Fraser, I'm not gonna let you win this one. Right now we got odds of six to four, eight to four if someone loans me a gun and we find somewhere to plant Ezra. I know you, tell me that if we're in Canada you won't make everybody turn their guns over. You tell me!"
"Who says we'd hand them over?" Buck challenged.
"You would." Ray finally broke eye contact with Fraser, turning to the agents. "Cause it's the law. Then Ben would go after those guys alone, cause it's the Mountie thing to do."
Fraser found himself subjected to various looks, from considering to amazed to knowing.
"Well nobody's taking my gun." Buck blustered. "Sides he's got a rifle, maybe I should confiscate that?"
"It ain't loaded." Ray said grimly. "He unloaded it when he crossed the border."
Again Fraser was subjected to various looks. Rubbing a thumb over his eyebrow he nodded. "Ray is correct."
"Yeah well "
"Buck." Chris cut off the rest. Stepping closer to Fraser, he asked, "Do you think we're in Canada."
"I'm not sure. But the location Vin has chosen for the arrest is."
"So we take them before they cross the border." Chris turned back to Vin, "Where do you think they'll camp."
"They have a regular spot." Vin knelt down again to point to the map.
Chris looked at Fraser, "Is that still our side?" At the Mounties nod of agreement he began giving orders. "JD, Buck you start getting our gear together. Josiah better fill Nathan in." He looked over at Fraser and Ray. "Detective I'd like to ask you to stay here with Ezra. Neither of you is really in fighting shape. You can watch each other's backs."
"I'll need a gun. Left mine in Chicago," was all Ray said.
"Let me guess," Buck snorted. "He'd take yours if you brought it to Canada."
Ray just glared at him.
"You can have one a mine," Vin offered. "Ez?"
"Ah would appreciate an extra clip if you would not be inconvenienced."
Chris now turned to Fraser unsure. He knew if their situations were reversed he would want to come along. Fortunately Ezra knew his leader well and thanks to Ray he also knew quite a bit about Fraser. His agile mind also had a solution.
"Chris, Ah believe Sergeant Fraser's expertise would prove most useful. As a senior ATF agent you are empowered to issue a temporary firearm permit to law officers of other countries. It might be considered a task force of sorts." Ezra caught Chris' gaze his eyes saying the rest.
Chris started to grin, "Ezra once in a while you have good ideas. Just don't let it go to your head." Turning to Fraser he continued in a sort of mock formal tone. "Sergeant Fraser as a senior ATF agent of the United States of America I wonder if you would join our task force."
"I'd be honored Agent Larabee." Fraser replied offering his hand. The two men shook the glint of battle in their eyes.
Chris nodded toward Vin's drawing. "All right then, lets go over what Vin found again." The three men clustered around the dirt map to start planning.
Ray leaned over to Ezra, "Nice, but is it legal."
"Ah'm not sure, but then neither will anyone else be."
"Wouldn't it work better if you had men with rifles here and here?" Fraser asked.
"Well Buck's probably the next best we have with a rifle." Chris mused.
"He's good but what we really need is two snipers." Vin looked over at Chris.
"Fraser's sniper trained." Ray spoke for the first time. "An he's a dead shot."
Vin and Chris turned questioning eyes to the Mountie. "Well yes I have had some training."
Chris nodded decisively. He was learning to understand Fraserspeak. 'Some training' meant Fraser could probably give Vin a run for his money in the shooting department. "Good then you and Vin can take those high positions. Probably best anyway, you're our best woodsmen. Making that climb in the dark without any noise isn't gonna be any picnic."
Both Vin and Fraser nodded silently.
The next couple of hours were spent preparing. Ray sat by Ben watching the other man clean his rifle. It was a procedure he'd seen often while they were on the quest. Back then it had been a soothing time now the familiar rhythms signaled the fact that Ben was going into a firefight without Ray to back him up. It wasn't something the detective liked to think about. It didn't matter that these other men were some of the best they weren't Ben's partner, he was.
"You be careful okay?" Ray bumped Ben's shoulder with his own. "These guys won't know to watch for your crazy Mountie tricks."
Fraser knew Ray wasn't happy about him going off. But before he could offer any promises Nathan's raised voice drew their attention.
"OH NO!" You can't be serious." Nathan was standing in front of Chris waving one hand for emphasis. Chris started to say something in a lower tone only to have Nathan cut him off. "No, no, no. I don't care how reasonable it sounds. It's a bad idea."
Fraser and Ray moved over to stand next to a grinning Josiah. "What's got him so upset?" Ray asked.
"Chris just informed Nathan that we're leaving Ezra and you here alone." Josiah said.
Chris was trying again, "Nathan they'll both be armed. It's for the best not to move them isn't it?"
Nathan looked torn, Buck and Josiah amused and JD didn't seem to know what to think. Ezra tried to reassure the indignant medic. "Nathan Ah'll be fine. Ah promise not to budge from this spot."
"I'm not worried about your leg Ezra." Nathan replied before turning back to Chris. His face was a study in worried frustration. "Chris leaving these two here alone is like asking for trouble. No think about it." Holding up his hand to cut off whatever Chris was going to say Nathan rushed on. "Who's our biggest trouble magnet?"
"Well now Nathan to be fair that's got to be a toss up between Junior and ole Ez." Buck interjected helpfully.
"Shut up Buck." Chris and Nathan said in sync.
"Nathan I don't see what's got you so worried." Chris knew intellectually leaving the two injured men behind was the logical choice. He didn't like it, but Nathan's objection seemed almost frantic.
Nathan looked around at the others almost desperately. Finally his gaze settled on Ray and Fraser, with a deep sigh he pointed to Ray. "Cause he's a trouble magnet, just like Ezra." Ray started to bristle, "Hey I don't get in trouble."
"Well Ray I find I must agree with Nathan, you do seem to attract trouble." Fraser paused.
"That was one time." Ray grumbled. "You're the trouble magnet, Lady Shoes, that bounty chick, Quinn."
"See what I mean." Nathan said cutting into the argument. The rest of the seven were staring at Fraser and Ray in amazement. "It's just the way things work for us. If we leave Ezra and Ray here then you know something weird will happen. It always does. If anything having these two along just increase our chances. They get into more stuff than we do." He sighed again, "I know it sounds stupid."
"No Nathan I think you might have a point." Josiah interjected looking thoughtful. "We do seem to be proof of Murphy's law. Even if nothing happens to the two we leave behind, what if something goes wrong with the bust. They wouldn't know."
"Besides," Ray spoke up, "None of you have ever worked with the Mountie. You don't know what sort of crazy stunts to watch out for."
"Ray I'm not the one who" Fraser started to defend himself, only to be cut off.
"Stairs Ben, learn to use em."
"I hardly think we are likely to encounter any stairs in the wilderness." Fraser responded huffily. "I'm not the one who drove a motorcycle through a door."
"Yeah well at least I don't lick electrical sockets."
"It's like Vin and Ezra on speed." Buck whispered to Josiah then tried not to look guilty when Fraser shot him a strange look. There was no way the Canadian could have heard that.
"All Right!" Chris brought everyone's attention back to him. When it was quiet he turned to Ezra. "Do you feel up to a ride?"
"Ah believe Ah have the fortitude for a short jaunt."
Chris looked at Ray, "How about you?"
"On a horse?" Ray slightly unenthusiastic response had Chris looking at Fraser.
"If the horse is gentle Ray should have no problems." Fraser reassured.
"Is there somewhere we can park these two?" Chris asked Vin. "Close enough to watch, but safe."
"Yep." Vin said, his eyes twinkling.
"Fine then they go with us." Chris walked away shaking his head. Nathan, his most stable agent was loosing it. He'd caught JD trying to talk to the wolf just an hour ago. Add in that Vin, Buck and Josiah seemed to be laughing to themselves every time he saw them, well. Maybe Nathan had a point this craziness had started as soon as they hooked up with Fraser.
"Uh Ezra is he supposed to be doing this?" Ray could count the number of times he'd been on a horse, once. The things he did just cause Fraser said he could.
Ezra looked over to see that Hammer was living up to his name, jogging his head up and down. It was an annoying but harmless habit. The stupid horse seemed to just like how it felt. Still a new rider might wonder if it didn't signal something else. "It is nothing to concern yourself over. Ah have seen the beast stand in the pasture doing just that for half an hour."
Ray still eyed the horse cautiously but excepted the explanation. They'd been parked in a grove of aspens on a hill near the drug runners camp. The trees kept them hidden in the early morning light. The sun was not quite up but there was enough light for the ATF/RCMP (Josiah's term) task force to move into place. Down below four men slept around a smoldering fire. It looked like the repetition of many easy trips had given them a false sense of security. The plan Chris, Vin and Fraser had come up with was simple and old fashioned. They'd surprise the men at first light before they were even awake. Ray felt like he should be wearing a cowboy hat and six guns. He snorted softly, remembering the expression on Fraser's face when JD had announced that morning they were just like a posse.
"Pray tell, what is so amusing at this ungodly hour." Ezra was desperate for something to take his mind off the pain in his leg.
"Just thinking about the look on everyone's face at the 2-7 when I tell I was part of a real posse." Ray grinned, "I've done a lot of crazy stuff following Ben around, but this is right up there with the pirate ship and nuclear submarine."
"Somehow with my teammates a posse seems like one of the saner things we've done." Ezra mused.
"Yeah?" Ray took in the tight line around Ezra's mouth. Looks like it was time for the pain pills Nathan had left with him. "You know it's gonna take a while for Ben and Vin to climb those cliffs. What say we take a load off. Josiah gave me a thermos."
"Sounds most agreeable." Ezra sighed, wanting nothing more than to stretch out his leg.
"Alright, hang on let me help you off."
Fraser scanned the opposite cliff looking for Vin's signal. Finding the other man he settled down, rifle ready, to wait for Chris' signal.
Using Vin's scope Chris checked everyone's position. The first crook was starting to stir around. Stepping into the clearing he leveled his pistol at the four men. "ATF FREEZE!" It was a sudden and ugly way to wake up. Two of the men made a grab for their guns only to have two well aimed rifle shots from above change their minds. Raising their hands they quickly gave up. The third man looked ready to rabbit until Josiah walked up behind clapping a heavy hand on his shoulder. That left the fourth man who hadn't even budged during all the excitement. Buck and JD approached his bedroll cautiously, taking care not to get between it and Fraser's rifle. Using a branch JD flipped the blankets off only to reveal, rocks.
"Where is he?" Chris turned on the closest crook. The smirk on the man's face quickly died in the face of the Larabee glare. "Uh I don't know." Seeing he wasn't believed the man quickly babbled. "I really don't, Mountain, he always sleeps away from camp. He could be anywhere."
"He's gonna need a horse." Buck said looking at Chris. "Ezra and Ray!" JD exclaimed even as Nathan wheeled off running toward where they'd left the two wounded with the horses.
"Josiah, JD, Buck stay here." Chris ordered before charging after him. Up on the cliff, Vin saw the direction Nathan and Chris were running and began to work his way down. Fraser also saw the sudden dash and began to descend.
"I see what Ray meant about stairs." Buck said watching Fraser leap from rock to rock like a mountain goat.
"Wow." JD whistled.
Hope Vin doesn't decide to try that. Josiah thought to himself.
Fraser and Vin reached them about the same time even though Fraser had a farther distance to cover. As Fraser opened his mouth to ask questions two shots could be heard in the distance. Without a word he started running toward the sound. Vin paused long enough for Buck to indicate they had everything under control before following.
Ray was rather pleased with himself. He'd gotten two pain pills down Ezra without any trouble. Course he'd had to use Nathan's suggestion of withholding the coffee until Ezra caved, but whatever worked. Holding his own cup he walked over to where he could see the camp. Dief appeared at his side, tongue hanging out. "Fraser tell you to keep an eye on me?" Dief happy woof changed into a growl. Ray turned sharply looking for the danger only to be confronted by a huge man. A huge man with a very large pistol. Dief growled again inching forward.
"Keep him back. I'd hate to shoot a fine animal like that," the man, Mountain, warned. "Now just toss your gun away."
"Easy Dief." Keeping one hand on the wolf, Ray used the other to pull his gun out. Moving slowly he tried to think of a way to delay. This guy had to be from the camp so anytime now the others would be coming. He tossed the gun to his left marking where it landed.
"That's nice, now tighten the cinch on that black's saddle." Moutain indicated Shade.
"Ah'm afraid that won't be possible." Ezra drawled from behind. "Shade is extremely picky about his associates. Ah must ask you to drop your gun."
Instead of complying Mountain steadied his pistol on Ray. "I'll get your friend before you get me. Drop your gun or I'll shoot him."
Ray tensed, looking for something to give Ezra an edge. Slowly he closed his fingers in the dirt. "Hey!" Mountain had turned his head toward Ezra to see if he was obeying the order when Ray yelled. Throwing the handful of dirt in his eyes Ray dived for his borrowed gun. He heard the boom of the big pistol undershadowed by the lighter sound of Ezra's. Whirling around gun ready he saw the crook had missed while Ezra hadn't. The man was clearly dead. Even so Ray made sure to kick the pistol away and check for a pulse. "You okay?" he moved over to where Ezra was leaning against a tree.
"Ah'm fine, but Ah swear if Ah start to understand the wolf, Ah'm going to click my heels together and chant, 'There's no place like home'."
Nathan burst into the clearing to find Ezra and Ray on the ground laughing hysterically. Upon spotting him, Ray gasped, "Have you seen Toto?" This set both men off again. Chris and JD arrived to find Nathan standing over the other two shaking his head and muttering to himself.
Three days later a tired group of men, horses and one wolf were met at the base of the mountain by a mass of state troopers, EMTs and the press. There were also a few Mounties, easily recognizable by their red tunics and large hats. While law enforcement officials swarmed over the crooks and drug carrying horses the other nine men were quickly herded into tents for debriefing. Even though the press clamored to interview them, the only thing they got were shots of the men loading horses and equipment into a couple of large horse trailers. Those shots were what played that night across Canadian and American TV news along with interviews from high placed officials in the ATF and RCMP. The story prompted a variety of reactions from people.
Orin Travis, head of the Denver ATF was in the middle of a meeting with several team leaders when his secretary burst in. She hurried toward the TV in the corner.
"Sir there's something on the news you have to see." Finding the correct channel she stepped back allowing the men in the room a clear view.
"While we were not allowed to interview them, behind me, you can see the men responsible for this amazing bust." The camera panned over to a black Dodge Ram with matching trailer. Several men could be seen moving around it.
"Isn't that Larabee's truck?" the leader of Team Five asked.
"Yeah and that's Standish leaning against it." Ryan Kelly, Team Eight's leader slapped the table. "They found him."
"Looks like that's not all they found."
The men watching in silence at the anchor woman proceeded to give the details of the bust. When she was finished there was a moment of silence before Ryan started laughing. "Only Team Seven could go out looking for a downed plane and find a group of drug runners."
Travis pulled out his hidden bottle of scotch, pouring shots for everyone. Raising his glass he said. "Gentlemen, a toast to the most trouble prone team I know. God bless them."
(Chicago, 27th Precinct)
"Lieutenant, come here Fraser and Ray are on TV." Frannie Vecchio's scream drew everyone's attention. "Look he found him."
"While I am pleased to hear that, I'm surprised it's newsworthy." Lieutenant Welch walked over.
"It isn't but the four drug runners they found are." Frannie exclaimed.
At the end of the story everyone in the room shook their heads and went back to work. Just a typical day in the lives of Fraser and Kowalski.
in a small town along the American border)
The RCMP Captain looked up. "Did he find his friend?"
"Yes sir. He also seems to have found out where the recent influx of drugs we've been dealing with was coming from."
"Let me see that report Constable." Somehow the Captain wasn't surprised.
In a quiet motel seven men watched the news with varied reactions.
"Damn, they make it sound like we knew all along about those drug runners." Buck turned the TV off in disgust.
"They don't want anyone to know that Search and Rescue gave up on two live men." Nathan grunted as he re-bandaged Ezra's leg. "Hold still Ezra."
"They didn't even mention Ray and they didn't use Fraser's name." JD was indignant for his new friends.
"See if you can get a Canadian channel JD." Vin said from his position on the floor. "I bet they play up the Mountie angle more."
"That is still a disservice to Detective Kowalski." Ezra glared at Nathan, a silent warning to stop fussing. "If it wasn't for his determination and skills Ah might not have survived this latest experience."
"I hope they come visit like they promised." JD said.
"Visit?" Nathan's voice went up an octave. "Who invited them to visit?"
"I did." Chris said from the doorway. "I know how much you hate it when things are boring." As the others laughed Nathan just shook his head and muttered.
At that moment, two men and a wolf were curled up in the back of a small plane on their way home. The Canadian government had been eager to see them safely on their way.
"So Ben you think we should go to Colorado on our next vacation?"
"Perhaps Ray, it could be very relaxing."
"Ben when are any of our vacations relaxing."
"There was that time in Yellow Knife.."
"Nope, crazed trapper."
"Guy who thought he was Billy the Kid."
"Don't 'ah', you know I hate it when you 'ah'."
There was silence for a moment, then Ray spoke again. "Did I tell you thanks for coming after me?"
"We're partners Ray, that's what partners do."
Dief raised his head to chide both men with a huffing growl.