Disclaimer: The Magnificent 7 belong to CBS & Mirisch. The Universe belongs to Mog, Eddie being entirely real belongs to himself, and sadly not me. Not making any money just having fun.
Authors notes: Being a Brit I apologise for any inconsistencies or technical errors (I'm not a doctor for a start), the whole series hasn't been aired here yet and as things are may never be, and I haven't had time to read all the fan fiction. A bit of my culture might have crept in, but even if some things make no sense to non-Brits they do to the British/Australian characters. I had a lot of fun doing it. Thanks to my proof reader Deborah and to Winter for letting me use events from her stories Through a Glass Darkly and Fishing
Size: Approx. 131K
"Vin has Buck come back yet."
"No," Vin replied lazily.
"He said he'd be back by noon at the latest, and it's after four now." There was an anxious note in JD's voice.
"You two off out tonight?" Vin enquired.
"That was the plan, he wanted to see that new movie."
"He'll be back when he's back, stop worrying JD."
+ + + + + + +
Vin smiled to himself as he put the phone down, wondering who wanted to see the film more. Buck and Chris were both on leave. Their bosses had insisted any outstanding leave be taken before September first, by August only the two of them had failed to comply. So eventually head office ordered Agents Larabee and Wilmington on leave. Chris had decided to take up the offer of an old college friend and had gone to stay on his ranch in Wyoming for a week. Buck only had four days outstanding and had decided to spend two of them riding alone in the mountains.
Bucks choice of recreational pursuit was motivated by two factors, firstly the weather, the whole of the Rockies was sweltering in a three month long heat wave, the higher up you could get the cooler it got, and the second was Eddie. Eddie was a horse, newly acquired by Chris. He was seventeen and a half hands of pure Irish hunter. Chris had picked the six year old up cheap, after the spoilt Aspen brat he had been bought for didn't have the patience to bring him on as an eventer.
Buck and Eddie hit it off immediately, Vin said that if Eddie were a person he would be Buck. He was after all tall, dark, strong, faster and more agile than he looked, had a lot of tricks to avoid doing any real work, but if handled right would give his all, he was loyal, bold and courageous, even reckless, and most of all he loved company and attention.
His plan was to ride up a recognised, if little known, trail that lead up from the back of Chris's property, and then branch off on to a nineteenth century mule trail. Once, Vin had found a huge natural meadow just a little way off this old trail, this was Buck's goal, to find the meadow again. He found the old mule trail quite easily; it was somewhat over grown but quite rideable even if he did have to duck under the odd low branch. Every now and again he came to an opening in the tree cover that afforded magnificent vistas out over the mountains. He would stop and admire the view as Eddie chomped on the lush vegetation. He would have to scrub the bit before he got back or Vin, who was looking after the ranch in Chris's absence, would kill him.
The meadow was indeed well hidden, it was only the change in the slope of the ground to his right that made him turn off and explore the country beyond the trail. And there it was just as Vin had remembered it. It was beautiful, gently sloping down through the tree line to a flat open area of long lush grass, to one side there was a small stand of trees and a lake, which sparkled in the bright sunlight.
"This my friend may be heaven, let us enjoy it," he spoke softly to Eddie, who flicked his ears as they headed out of the tree line and into the sunlight.
As the sun slipped behind the trees Buck lay back on his bedroll and watched the stars appear. Eddie, tethered to a makeshift hitching line, was dozing, Buck could hear his breathing. Eventually Orion the Hunter was visible; he was Buck's favourite constellation. Throughout his entire childhood Orion had been outside his window, whenever he couldn't sleep he would look out of the window and there was his friend Orion. There must have been times when the stars were not visible but in his memory his friend was always there, even now when ever he found himself out on a starlit night he would look for Orion, and on finding him, smile.
Buck drifted off to sleep under the stars remembering his past life fondly. Some time later he was rudely awakened by the thunderous thwack thwack of a helicopter. It was coming into land and coming in fast. Terrified, Eddie whinnied in panic, and backed away as fast as he could, the old rope on the halter Vin had supplied broke, and the terrified horse bolted into the night.
Buck rolled on to his stomach and pulled the rifle from the saddle. He lay there for as long as it took to get his breathing under control. "Think man think" he chided himself. No one called his name, no lights swept the field, so he guessed it was not here for him, and as an ATF agent he was suspicious of any unusual air craft movements, especially at night. There were voices, but too far off for him to catch what was being said. Then he caught sight of a light off to the right, there it was again and it was moving; coming down through the trees toward the helicopter which had now switched off its engines.
It was no good he would have to get closer. Staying very low he moved forward to within earshot of the helicopter. Why, he wondered had it shut down its engines? Aircraft making illicit drops rarely came to a complete stop, let alone turned off their engines. The approaching lights proved to be horses, most were pack animals carrying jerry cans of what he took to be fuel. He watched as the fuel was carefully poured into the big helicopter.
"Don't even breath" a voice behind him said coldly. He instinctively reached for his gun. "Don't!" the voice warned, he didn't. What he did do was slowly roll over to look behind him. Appearing out of the dark came a man in black combats, carrying what looked like a Kalashnikov and wearing night vision goggles.
Other people came running with flashlights. "What you found?" someone called.
"Trespasser". The gunman explained, his accent matched his gun.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here?" another man asked, he was American.
Buck put on his best grin and most 'uh-shucks' accent but never once took his eyes off the gunman.
"I was camping out, y'all woke me up I's just gonna ask you to keep to noise down."
Someone picked up the rifle. "Well?" the second man asked.
"Winchester" This voice was not American and yet the accent was familiar.
There was a long pause
"Kill him," the second man said coldly.
Buck was about to protest when the man in combats came in closer.
"Don't say a thing, I do as I am ordered. Kneel, hands behind your head."
"Had to happen one day," Buck told him self, but this seemed so ignominious he hadn't even put up a fight, "God JD I'm sorry "
The Russian looked up at the man holding the rifle. "You got something to say?"
The third man did not.
Buck's executioner circled him, stopped, levelled the gun and fired.
The bullet hit him in the back and slammed him down into ground. It knocked all the air out of him but he was not dead; he wasn't even unconscious, he wasn't in pain, not yet anyway; but as he lay quite still he could already feel the blood spreading across his chest and running down his neck.
"Is he dead?"
The third man came in and knelt by his head. He put a hand down to feel for Buck's pulse, but instead of checking for a pulse he wrote something on Buck's hand, then, as he stood he squeezed Bucks shoulder gently twice.
"A friend" Buck thought.
"Very" the third man lied.
"Let's go," the second man, clearly the leader, commanded.
As they left, the gunman raised his gun a second time and fired into the 'body'. This bullet smashed through Buck's left calf and buried itself in the ground. It took all his courage for Buck not to react, to not take so much as an intake of breath.
"What the hell you do that for?" inquired his protector.
"Target practice." He raised the gun again.
"For fuck sake! You killed him isn't that enough?"
"Put the gun up and let's go," the leader commanded.
The executioner was annoyed that his sport had been cut short, so as he headed toward the aircraft he used the 'body' as a stepping stone. Buck heard and felt his ribs crumple and break but he still did not move or let out a sound.
Buck didn't actually hear the helicopter leave, he wasn't unconscious but he wasn't aware of his surroundings either, he was just aware of the pain and of his strength, his life, flowing out of him. He was aware enough to stay still until everything had gone quiet.
"Holy Mary Mother of God!" Buck swore through gritted teeth, as he tried to sit up.
He wanted to scream for help, to scream in pain, to scream at the world for screwing up his leave. Unfortunately he didn't have the strength or the breath to scream. Had his left leg not been shattered he probably could have got up and staggered back to his camp site where he had a first aid kit and a mobile phone. He tried, God how he tried, but on the third agonising attempt, he blacked out.
When he did wake up it was to a warm wet presence on his face, and sunlight.
Eddie had decided that the nasty loud thing was gone, there was the distant smell of other horses, and he was bored. So he returned to the meadow. The grass was as sweet as ever and when he had had his fill he went to investigate the familiar smell of the human he liked so much, perhaps they could go for a gallop, perhaps he would have some of those sweet things he kept in his pockets.
"Hello horse", Buck groaned.
The horse seemed content to stand there and nuzzle him; he was looking for some attention. Buck gathered what strength he had left, and using his good hand, took hold of the frayed rope end hanging from the halter, not trusting his own strength he tied the rope around his fist.
"Go on Eddie go back to the camp", he said hopefully.
Eddie did nothing, he just ate grass.
"This never happened to Roy Rogers, Trigger would have known what to do," he lamented.
Eddie was unimpressed by this jibe and not inclined to move. Then Buck had a flash of inspiration; painfully he fumbled in his pockets for the peppermints he always carried when he was riding because Eddie loved them so much. He tossed one past the horse's nose in the direction of the campsite. Eddie took the bait, he headed after his favourite treat, dragging Buck along with him. He continued to toss the candy until they were all gone.
He must have passed out at some point after the candy ran out, because when he came too, he was back by the campsite, and Eddie was drinking from the small lake, he must have got thirsty, Buck realised.
+ + + + + + +
Vin had seemed unconcerned on the phone about Buck's failure to appear he didn't want to panic JD. But he was sure Buck would not worry his young housemate if he could help it. Buck was a good horseman, but Eddie was still young, and very strong. There was the potential for an accident right there and Buck had enemies, they all did, but Buck had a special gift for pissing people off. Vin felt that with Chris away, it was up to him to assume leadership. He called the others, but no one had heard from Buck. They gathered at the ranch, by now it was gone six and Buck was hours overdue.
"If he'd bin thrown wouldn't the horse be back by now," Nathan asked.
Vin shrugged, "Eddies fairly new he might not know his way home yet, beside the grassing's good up there and that horse is bone idle."
They resolved to ride, there was no moon but it would be a warm clear night and they had powerful flashlights. It was only then that they called JD. Up until now they had excluded him, he would be too worried to make the dangerous night ride safely, even though he was a superb horseman. His job was to wait at the ranch in case Buck or Eddie came back.
By seven thirty, the four of them were up and setting out, as JD drove in, scattering dust as he skidded to a halt.
"Vin please let me go, Josiah can stay," he pleaded as they rode past.
Vin sympathised but his resolve was not shaken it would be better for the kid to stay behind. They all thought of JD as the 'kid' even though he was in his twenties and only a few years younger than Vin himself, but it was the lot of the youngest to be the 'kid'.
The night ride was slow, and when they reached the tun off for the mule trail Vin called a halt.
"I know we all want to find Buck but this trail is too dangerous to ride at night, so we're going to walk," He explained.
No one complained, they dismounted and lead the horses one behind the other along the trail, Vin in the lead. They made progress, but it was dawn came before Vin called a halt.
"Buck was looking for this meadow I found once. Rest here and I'll scout around see if I can find out where he turned off," he instructed.
It was gone ten by the time they found the meadow. It seemed quiet and deserted, then Ezra spotted something.
"There, by the trees"
Vin focused his binoculars. "Well thats Eddie all right, but I can't see Buck."
They galloped across the meadow, expecting the young horse ahead of them to bolt, but as they got closer it was clear he was held in some way. As they got closer still they saw the 'body' with the halter rope wrapped around his hand. And as they pulled up and dismounted they all saw the blood. Buck lay on his side, there was blood all over him, it was on the grass, in the water, it was everywhere.
Nathan ran forward, confident that someone would bring the medical kit. The others held back.
"Well?" Josiah asked for all of them.
"He's alive," came the answer they all wanted to hear, it released them from a spell that had held them. They ran forward, Vin carrying the medi kit.
"He's got a hole as big as my fist in his shoulder," Nathan reported.
"Entry wound here," Added Vin, having examined his friend's back.
"His legs a mess, there's bone sticking out," Ezra said grimly.
Buck had managed to get a dressing out and had held it to his shoulder for some time. He had dragged himself back to the river, so he could drink as much as possible. He had tried to call for help but the meadow was in a hollow and he could get no signal. He had drifted in and out of consciousness, finally succumbing to a blessed painless blackness around dawn. He never managed to disentangle his hand from the halter rope so where ever Buck went Eddie followed.
In those first few minutes Vin discovered what had thwarted Bucks attempt to call for help.
"Ezra get up on the ridge call for a chopper", he tossed the phone to the Southerner.
"Josiah see to the horses, then scout around see what you can find, this is a crime scene."
With his orders given and everyone occupied, Vin turned back to Nathan.
"Well?" he inquired with a hint of desperation in his voice.
It was desperation, reflected in Nathan's eyes. "I don't know, he's lost a hell of a lot of blood, he's got a fever, God alone knows how he's made it this far."
Ezra galloped back, to report that the chopper would be there in less than twenty minutes.
On Vin's orders, Nathan stayed with Buck while the others helped Josiah search for clues. But it was Nathan who found the biggest clue, written on Buck's hand.
N 209 VPCD > HQ
It had got a bit smudged, but was quite readable. Nathan got out a plastic bag and put Buck's hand into it and secured it with tape.
Ezra had called JD with the news; he was predictably distraught. But followed his instructions to call Chris and then go directly to the hospital to await the chopper.
+ + + + + + +
JD paced, he sat, he stood, but mostly he just paced. Waiting for someone to come out and tell him something. He hated hospitals; he'd spent too much time in them. Buck didn't hate hospitals, he quite liked them, full of nice pretty nurses, who with any luck were full of sympathy and therefore more susceptible to his charms. They all made fun of Buck and his so called animal magnetism. But the truth was, he was very successful with women and even though he never stayed with them long, they always parted on good terms. There were hordes of women in the city who formed a sort of loose ex Buck club, or at least thats how it seemed to JD when fielding the phone calls.
Finally the head of surgery at FC Mercy came out. JD practically ran to him.
"He's still in surgery, but he'll be in recovery soon. Then he'll be in ICU, I'll let you in to see him as soon as I can."
JD did not know how to express the question forming in his mind. But the doctor knew the question.
"The truth is I don't know, he's very ill, and very weak, it could go either way."
JD felt himself disappear in a pit of despair.
"What exactly is ..what is?"
"He's got two massive bullet wounds, full of bullet casing and bone fragments, one lung collapsed, the others full of fluid, multiple broken ribs, massive blood loss, his left tib, fib and collar bone are shattered, there's a sizeable chip out of his shoulder blade and he's got pneumonia and septicaemia."
He didn't need to spell it out any further, JD knew what all that meant, it was close enough a death sentence.
Some six hours later JD still hadn't been allowed in to see Buck, when he became aware of a commotion outside the waiting area. As he watched the crowded corridor suddenly cleared like the parting of the Red Sea and the others arrived, still dressed for the trail and all but running down the corridor. JD gave them the bad news, then they joined him in the pacing, sitting, standing.
"I can't stand this," Nathan announced, "I'm gonna find a computer, and see if I can't figure out those letters on Bucks hand."
The others watched him go, envious he had something to do.
+ + + + + + +
In the hospital's admin office Nathan connected with the computers in the office and the net. But it turned up nothing, HQ was clear, but the others were a mystery. Then a young doctor came past and looked down at his work.
"Private aircraft," she said casually.
"That, its the registration of a private aircraft right,"
Nathan quickly checked on what the young woman had said, she was right.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was already on his way back when he got JD's message, Chris was notorious for his slow cautious driving, but he broke every speed limit from then on. When he ran in to the hospital in his trade mark all black out fit the others turned to him as one.
"What the hell happened!" he demanded.
JD had been permitted in to see Buck just before Chris arrived. Buck was on a ventilator, very pale, but with beads of perspiration covering his face. Every part of him was covered in dressings, tubes, wires, and sensors and on his leg an evil looking metal contraption. The sight terrified JD, but he vowed to be strong, for his surrogate big brother.
JD turned to see Chris enter, he looked how JD felt. Of the seven of them, Chris and Buck had known each other the longest. Personality wise they were poles apart, but even though their friendship had changed over the years, the bond between them was as strong as ever. Chris wrapped an arm around the younger man.
"He will beat this, he will, I promise you."
"Don't Chris, don't promise what you can't deliver."
Chris turned him so they faced each other, "I never do," he said solemnly, "now give Buck and me a moment, please."
Once they were alone Chris turned to his oldest friend.
"Don't make a liar out of me Wilmington, you hear me, I made a promise on your behalf you make it come true."
He was angry; angry with Buck for getting himself in this position, and angry with himself for not being there when his friend needed him.
"I have no doubt he will do his best not to let you down, but "
"His best may not be enough," Chris finished the doctor's sentence. Doctor Elizabeth Irving, introduced her self, as she came to the other side of the bed. "What can you tell me about the injures?"
"I can tell you someone tried to kill him, both shots were fairly close range, probably an automatic heavy calibre, the one in the back was probably meant to be the killer, but the shooter was either not a very good shot, or underestimated just how big his shoulders are. The bullet hit the edge of his shoulder blade that deflected it up and it exited through the shoulder missing the chest, if it hadn't it would have gone straight through his heart. The leg wound is odd; I assumed that was to bring him down but the entry wound at the back is lower than the exit wound. The ribs were broken by a boot of some kind, there are boot shaped bruises."
"Someone kicked him?"
"More like stamped I would have said. There is something else you need to know, he needs further surgery on the leg, or he'll lose it and we don't have much time."
Chris frowned "So do it."
"He wouldn't survive the surgery right now, I'll have to make a decision, have the ortho and vascular surgeons operate soon, and maybe save the leg but risk killing him, or leave it and watch them cut it off later."
"If you don't try and save the leg will he definitely live?"
"No, not necessarily."
"Try and save the leg."
"Dose Mr. Wilmington have next of kin?" she asked. "Because I think now would be a good time to call them."
+ + + + + + +
Nathan had tracked down the owner of the helicopter. N 209 VPCD had belonged to a company called CLH who had purchased it only two month ago for cash, and then resold the next day to a private individual called David Dixson, also for cash. It was about as suspect a deal as Nathan had ever seen.
He reported his findings to Chris and the others while JD watched over Buck.
"We're all tired, none of us has had much sleep, so all of you go home, sleep, meet back at the office tomorrow eight am, we can help Buck best if we get the sons of bitches that did this. Vin go by the boys place and pick up some stuff for JD, he's going to be here awhile."
Chris tossed JD's house keys at the ex bounty hunter. If any of them was about to protest, the look on Chris's face shut them up. Now was the time to do as their leader said without question.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan slept badly, he tossed and turned, and then he woke up with a start. "CLH", he said out loud. The federal building was all but empty as he came in, it was only five am and still dark. But as he approached the office the seven of them shared he saw the unmistakable flickering glow of a computer terminal.
Ezra Standish had been there for an hour already.
"CLH" they said in unison.
By the time Chris came into the building at around seven they could report their findings.
"We both knew we had heard of CLH before," Ezra explained
"So since we couldn't sleep we came down to see what we could find," Nathan continued.
"Well," Ezra warmed to his topic, "CLH stands for Cornish Land Holdings, it's a very big British owned company that owns land all over the US, Canada, Central America and the Caribbean. It also owns breweries and distilleries, lots of them, all small, independent, and all at the top, even connoisseur end of the market, almost all very profitable."
Nathan continued. "There have been rumours about CLH for years, literally, they go back as far as the twenties. They buy out theses little producers with good product but no money and turn them around, and they do it very quickly, like less than a year."
"That is very fast," Chris noted.
"And they do it while producing up to twenty five per cent less than the plant is capable of."
Chris whistled under his breath.
"But if going to the DA is Thanksgiving no one has ever even got to Valentines Day with these guys, not in nearly eighty years."
Chris sat down on the edge of a desk he was intrigued. "Go on, tell me why."
"Thats it no one knows why except no one will talk, no one. People would rather go to jail, lose their jobs, their homes, but they won't talk, and if they are dirty they don't make mistakes."
"No," Ezra shook his head, "not according to an FBI report I found, says the mob won't touch them, Teflon coated and bullet proof."
"James Bond land?"
"Maybe but probably not."
"Who owns CLH?"
Ezra shook his head. "I've been working on that for over two hours. CLH is owned by Cornish American Land, which is a subsidiary of CWH."
"Let me guess Cornish World Holdings?"
"Just so; which is owned by United Celtic Shipping, which is a subsidiary of TSL, and that is as far as I have been able to get,"
+ + + + + + +
They operated on Buck's leg early that morning. When he returned to ICU he looked, if that were possible, even weaker.
JD had used the time Buck was in surgery to change into the fresh clothes Vin brought him wash and eat a sandwich and drink some coffee. Once Buck was back from surgery however, he stayed right there beside him. Around ten he nodded off in the chair only to be woken by nurses and doctors running in.
"What's happening!" he pleaded aware of alarms going off all around his 'brother'.
"Please sir wait outside." One of the nurses practically pushed him out, and then pulled down the blinds over the window. He stood there beside the blank window for over half an hour before a Doctor came out.
"Doc, he's is he?"
"He's alive JD, his heart stopped, its under a lot of strain, the second operation, we restarted it. Don't worry, his chances are unchanged, this was always likely, we'd hoped it wouldn't happen but it has. Now you won't be able to go back in there for a while so call your friends, OK."
She put her arm around the distraught young man and turned him away from the ICU.
+ + + + + + +
Chris had put JD's call on the speaker so all five of them could hear and join in, whatever their own fears they tried not to convey them to JD. They had just finished, and were about to resume their research when Travis walked in with two strangers.
"I know," he said first off, "I've just been on the phone with the hospital, we need to talk."
Vin sized up the two strangers. One was a woman in her thirties, about five seven, blond, average build, maybe a touch on the heavy side, but a pleasing figure, (Vin didn't go much on stick insect women), she wore a black suit, white blouse, flat black sensible shoes, hair pulled back in a tight pony tail. She was a Fed, every thing about her said FBI, and she was trying to impose her authority on the room. Trying to look efficient and in control. The other was a man, late twenties, dark hair, clean shaven, six foot, lean and, Vin suspected, most women would say handsome. He also wore a suit but there was something about this suit that was different.
Before he had met Ezra, Vin couldn't have told one suit from another, but Ezra's sartorial elegance had slowly improved his knowledge and Vin was a man who liked to learn. Still, he leaned into Ezra and whispered.
"New Guy, what do you make of the suit?"
"Made to measure, one of a kind."
"Very expensive, European, shirt as well, and probably the shoes too."
Vin hadn't even looked at the shoes. Which he had to admit were expensive looking, in an understated sort of way. Who ever he was he was no Fed. At that point he was distracted by the conversation Chris was having with Travis.
"Fuck security, what ever you know you say it out here in front of all of us! You know us, and you know we will find the bastards who did this with or with out you. You bring the Fucking FBI and who ever he is in to my office, our office, and try and tell me you don't trust all of us!"
Travis visibly blanched under this onslaught, he looked at the woman. Vin watched her, "she wants to agree with Chris but she doesnt want it to look like she gave in to him." He looked at the other man who while Vin had been assessing him had been doing the same to all of them, " he doesn't need to worry about authority, he has it and he knows it. "
The man gave a tiny gesture which said, 'Do as you see fit, I'm fine with that', the woman then, and only then nodded.
"Gentlemen may I introduce Special Agent Celia Bennett of the FBI."
She stepped forward and was about to speak.
"Who's he?" It was Josiah who spoke, but he spoke for all of them.
The stranger stepped forward.
"Mark Trevalian, Royal Navy."
"Knew that suit was European" Ezra whispered to Vin.
"Lieutenant Trevalian's part in all this will be come clear," Bennett continued. "The aircraft registration you have been tracing belongs to a helicopter being used in an undercover operation of a highly classified nature so classified that only four people outside this room know about it and three of them are in England."
"According to our findings a helicopter landed and was refuelled in the meadow where we found our friend," Chris supplied.
"And I bet the fuel was brought in on horses or mules, and that there was no other access."
"How did you know?"
"It follows a pattern. We got wind of something nasty, there was a contract out for a pilot with their own chopper. This had to be a really good pilot, he or she would have to pass a flying test."
"So you put in a plant," Nathan conjectured.
"Yes, an army pilot volunteered to go under cover. We supplied him with a cover story and an aircraft with all the right paper work."
"Not to mention every bug in creation, I'll bet," Vin added.
"Quite so. The flying test was in the dessert, they chose a day with total cloud cover."
"No satellite surveillance?" Nathan offered
"Exactly, but we had surveillance on the ground. We lost contact with all of them, when we got there we found the burnt out shell of the chopper, with four bodies strapped into it, our pilot and all three observers, they had no other injuries."
"Any chance they were found out as a result of bad luck or.."
"No, Mr Larabee, as you clearly suspect, we have a mole, and I have no idea who or where or how high or how many. I told my bosses I needed time to investigate, in truth I had no idea how to proceed. I was in this motel room in San Diego and I saw a local news report about a visiting British warship and this officer showing disadvantaged kids over the ship and how this officer is a member of the aristocracy."
The five of them looked at her blankly.
"That would be me," Trevalian supplied. "In her early days at the FBI Miss Bennett's job was to up date on going files, including one on a company called CLH, which if you follow the paper trail will lead you to .."
"TSL," Ezra supplied.
"Very good, TSL is Trehern Shipping Lines, doesnt do much shipping these days but is wholly owned by my father, the Earl of Treen. Miss Bennett was aware, that; for reasons beyond my comprehension, our company has a, shall we say, suspect reputation, even mysterious. If the pilot came from there and had no connection to any agency he might have a chance. Miss Bennett intended to recruit a civilian pilot but I offered an alternative, namely our ships pilot Lieutenant Dixson."
"Just what is it that would persuade the British to get involved in this?" Chris wanted to know.
"Something called an XV 1.11," Travis supplied.
Vin whistled under his breath.
"You've heard of it Mr Tanner?" Travis asked.
"Russian, shoulder lunched fully programmable cruise missile, GPS controlled, enter the target, fire and forget it, and you can load the warhead with anything you want. Rumour is there are only one or two working prototypes still in existence."
"What do you mean anything?" Nathan asked
"Anything, high explosives, depleted uranium, nukes, nerve gas, name your method of destruction. You could fire it in Ohio and have a nuke land on the White House lawn before anyone would stop you."
"But if its shoulder launched it can't be very big," Ezra pointed out.
"You don't need big if you've got a nuke or nerve gas," Vin explained solemnly.
"God in Heaven", Nathan breathed.
"Amen to that," added Josiah.
"And some one is trying to get one into the country, on this helicopter?" Chris asked
"The pilot was required to fly thousands of miles at night under radar, over unknown terrain," Bennett explained.
Vin had been on missions that required flying under radar, it was a scary experience. "That would require some flying," he commented, "is your man up to it?"
"And then some, he is the best, I mean it," Trevalian confirmed.
"And he volunteered for this?" inquired Ezra with incredulity.
"You could even say leapt at the chance, if there is a chance to do some suicidally dangerous, on the edge flying, David is your man, but he's never crashed, and believe me he's had enough chances. Usually when I have to fly with him," he said with mock resignation.
"We know it landed in Siberia, it was sighted off the coast of Alaska and four days ago it landed in the mountains west of Calgary," Bennett continued.
"So your saying that it was your man who wrote on Buck's hand?" Vin asked.
"Then," Ezra enquired, "why the hell didn't he stop them, for God sake they shot Buck in the back or had you forgotten that!"
"No one has forgotten," Chris calmed, "if he had tried he'd probably be dead"
"Your friend is alive; the original pilot and three agents burnt to death," Celia pointed out coldly.
"This is getting us nowhere we have to find out what the rest of the message means, that is our priority." Chris's tone silenced any further comment.
"Rest of the message? We weren't told about any other message other than the registration." Bennett turned on Chris.
He handed her the photo of Buck's hand, taken in the hospital, she examined it frowned and passed it to Travis.
"HQ means nothing, unless we know who's paying," she commented.
"David wouldn't leave a useless message," Trevalian took the photo from Travis. After he had looked at it for only a second he looked up. "Have you got a data base of place names?" he asked.
"Ezra, show him," Chris ordered.
It took half an hour. The others watched as Trevalian with some help from Ezra searched for a match.
"Got it, Twickers Point, it's in the Appalachians in North Carolina," the English man announced.
"And guess what," Ezra added, "it's isolated and only accessible by mule train or by air, but on the satellite photo there seem to be a lot of buildings."
"How do you get from HQ to Twikers Point?" Travis was clearly suspicious.
"If you think I've known who was behind all this from the start, I don't, I do however know my friend, that is a message he knew I would understand, that is why I'm here after all." Vin watched him, and believed him. He looked over to Chris, the look that passed between them confirmed it.
"Ezra looks like we're going on a trip south" Chris announced.
"Yes sir" the southerner replied.
Chris took a moment to pull Travis aside. "Talking of trusting people, what about her, FBI agents travel in pairs, its practically Noah's ark in their offices you know that, so why is she on her own?"
"Her partner was one of the observers."
"Shit," he resolved to give her more respect from now on. This was quite some operation to mount with no back up at all.
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