Heart of Destiny

by Phyllis

Alternate Universe "Seven Investigations"

A soft knock drew Hemmings attention away from his patient. Gus, one of Boyd's bodyguards, stuck his head in.

"He wants to see you, Doc."

Hemmings waved the man in as he rose. He met the muscular man midway across the room. "Keep an eye on him. If the monitors change, come get me. Quickly. Understood?"

"Yes, sir. What if he wakes up?"

Hemmings turned from the man. "He won't" With that, he left the room and moved down the hall toward the large bedroom of General Wilson Boyd, ex-army. The man was crazy, a tyrant who believed he should be running the country, maybe even the world.

Boyd was seventy-five years old and had a bad heart. But he refused to allow that to slow him down. He had joined the army at age fifteen by lying about his age. He had worked his way up through the ranks and received a battlefield commission to officer. He proceeded to climb straight to the rank of General. But he had been forced to retire after he boasted that he had the knowledge and resources to oust the ‘panty-waist, liberal government’ and restore the country to it’s former glory; before the politicians had weakened the entire fabric of the country.

Hemmings entered the room and found Boyd along with two bodyguards and ‘Mrs. Kimball’, otherwise known as Jennifer Morgan. Jennifer stood at the foot of the bed where the General lay propped up on a mountain of pillows. The man was razor thin with a full head of white hair. But his eyes were what held you. They were black as coal in appearance, but in actuality were dark blue, a color that only revealed itself when light reflected across them. His voice was as strong as ever. And he was using that strength now.

"Doctor Hemmings, nice of you to join us. How is the child? I understand that he was somewhat incapacitated when he arrived. "

"He was suffering from heat exhaustion after being enclosed the trunk of a vehicle for an extended time. His blood pressure was extremely low and his heart rate was very fast. He was very close to death in my opinion. His condition is stabilized. He is resting comfortably."

Boyd’s gaze moved back to the woman. "I believe that you are aware of the situation, Miss Morgan. I requested that the child be brought here."

"Which is precisely what I did."

"Yes, well, I did fail to say explicitly that he be delivered in good health. I must take some responsibility for not being more precise in my instructions. I apologize for that oversight."

The woman waved her hand in a nonchalant manner. "I did not consider the heat. I was afraid he might wake before I arrived here and I would lose him. I would not have put the young man in danger if I could have prevented it."

"Well, yes, of course, my dear. Perhaps it is time to sever our association."

"Hey, I’m fine with that. Just pay me and I’m out of here."

Boyd waved a hand at one of the bodyguards. "Of course. We must honor our commitments. Jack, please take care of Miss Morgan. I want to thank you for your assistance in this campaign."

The woman never had a chance to respond. The man Jack had approached from the back. He reached out and gripped the woman’s head. With a quick flick, he snapped her neck. Jennifer Morgan died with a smile on her face.

Matthew Hemmings stood passively next to the woman as she was murdered. He glanced down at the body. Raising an eyebrow, he drew his eyes back up and studied the man before him.

"Wilson, I believe that we can perform the surgery within the next twenty-four hours if you would like. The donor heart is strong and healthy. The stats are coming around nicely. I have introduced a sedative into his IV to keep him under until we are ready to go forward."

"And when do you predict that to take place, Matthew?"

"All the elements have been in place for months. The late Ms. Morgan has provided us with the final element." Hemmings cocked his head to one side. "Tomorrow morning?"

"I have waited for seven years. I can wait another twelve hours." Boyd replied. "Can I see the child?"

"Are you sure you want to? I prefer he remain sedated. No need for him to be aware of his fate. I would not want to risk putting any more stress on his heart."

"I thought the child was in top condition. Is there a problem with the donor organ?"

Hemmings waved a well-manicured hand. "No. No. No problem. He is recovering nicely from the heat exhaustion he suffered at the hands of Ms. Morgan. I only meant that it could delay the operation if he were stressed anymore. Well, you are not in imminent danger; we should proceed and finish as soon as possible. I understand that the boy is a member of an investigative firm. Ms. Morgan's delaying tactics will purchase only a limited amount of time for us. I would hate to lose the prize after searching so long."

"I understand. I wish only to thank him for his contribution and inform him of the new world that he will be helping to bring forth. He does not have to be conscious."

"Then I will have him prepared and you can relay this information while we prepare you. Does that sound agreeable?"

"That will suffice. Thank you, Matthew. I will see you in the morning?"

The doctor turned to leave when the general's voice pulled him back. "Doctor, would you be so kind as to have someone take that away?"

Boyd's hand waved vaguely toward the woman's body. Hemmings nodded. Turning to one of the bodyguards, he ordered him to pick up the body and follow him.

Wilson Boyd pressed the buzzer that lay close at hand. A door opened and a man entered.

"Jack, I believe I would like to go down to the garden. Would you arrange that for me, please?"

"Sure thing, General. Be right back with a chair."

Boyd smiled as he contemplated his future. A much brighter future.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee and Tanner entered the bank. Chris followed as Vin moved off to the left. There were several doors lining the hallway and Vin went straight to the third door on the right and knocked. A female voice beckoned them in.

"Well, as I live and breathe, Vincent Tanner." A lithe blonde stood and came around the desk. She threw her arms around Vin and planted a kiss on his lips. Chris’ eyebrows rose as he watched. What really got his attention was when Tanner wrapped his arms around the blond and returned the kiss.

"Jess. Been free climbing lately?"

The woman pulled back and slapped Tanner’s arm. "I don’t see you for six months and that’s all you have to say? Damn Vin, you make me crazy." She turned and walked around the desk. As she sat, she inquired, "Who’s your shadow? The grim reaper?"

Larabee’s eyes narrowed as his mouth tightened. She looked up and dared him to say anything. Vin watched the silent battle of wills. Knowing that neither of them would back down, he chuckled and stepped up to the front of the desk.

"Jess, allow me to introduce my boss, Chris Larabee."

She slapped her hands on the desk. "Well, I should of known that. As much as I’ve heard about you, I should have recognized you. It’s nice to put a face to the legend." She stood and extended her hand. Chris paused for a moment and then accepted the gesture. She had a strong grip that surprised him, but it shouldn’t have.

Vin had told Chris about Jess on the way over. They had met in a climbing club and gone climbing several times. Tanner never went as far as to say they had seen each other socially, but he had a look in his eye while talking about her that Chris hadn’t seen in a while. Larabee had smiled at the thought that Vin had a personal life.

Vin propped a hip on the desk as Chris pulled up a chair. Jess sat down and leaned on the desk.

"So? To what do I owe the pleasure?" Her face was smiling. She was well aware that they were investigators.

Larabee looked at Tanner. When Vin nodded, Chris began. "I'm not sure what Vin has told you about our group, so I'll just start at the first. Buck Wilmington and I have been friends for many years. He raised his cousin after their mothers' deaths. Buck and I started the investigation agency after we left the police force."

Jess raised her eyebrows. "Kind of young to be retiring? Is Buck older?" She noticed Vin frown, but the question was out now with no way to retract it.

Chris' face clouded, but he took a deep breath and continued. "No, Buck is a little younger than me. The reason we left is personal and bears no weight on our being here today."

Jess nodded.

"This morning a woman came to our office claiming that JD was her son. The child she raised as her own was in reality the real John Dunne and the two babies had been switched as birth. Her boy died in 1990. At least that was her story. We have now discovered that she lied. She is working for someone with a lot of money and a bad heart. It turns out that JD is a match for this person and he has been kidnapped. Security at the office saw him drugged and thrown into the trunk of a car in our parking garage.." Chris glanced at his watch. "..about four hours ago."

Jess Cain's face paled. "Are you telling me they kidnapped him to take his heart?" She turned to Tanner for confirmation. He nodded. "My God! That's horrible."

Chris sat forward. "The guy who sold these people JD's name? He worked at the hospital and was paid to test the matching blood types for a possible donor. He found out JD was a match and he got that information to these people for $500,000. That money was wired to an account in this bank." Chris fixed the young woman with a hard glare. "We know the law, but we need to name of the person who sent the wire. JD is twenty years old. We need to find him fast."

Jess swallowed hard. She wanted to help, but it was against the law to divulge this kind of information without a court order. She looked from man to the other man. Larabee's face was hard and set in stone. He cared about this 'JD' and he didn't care what happened to her at this point. Vin's face was a little more open. He understood they were asking a lot. She was an officer in this institution and bound by the law.

He smiled down at her. "I know we're asking a lot, Jess. Things like this shouldn't happen, but they do. It ain't right." He watched as she turned away and stared at the computer screen on the side of her desk. She pulled the keyboard down and began to type.

Chris and Vin looked at each other. Vin shook his head slowly, frowning. Chris' face darkened. 'How could she just ignore the fact that the boy was going to die?' he thought to himself. He opened his mouth to say something to the woman, but was cut off as she suddenly stood up.

She cleaned her throat as she looked at each man. "I am an officer of this bank and bound by law to not reveal transactions that transpire within the realm of this institution. It is against the law to give private records to anyone without a court order." She could see the older man's jaw moving side to side as he apparently gritted his teeth. She turned her attention to the man she knew. The look on his face was not much more receptive than Larabee's.

Emphasizing each word, she informed the man, "I can not divulge this type of information to you. I sympathize with your situation, but there is nothing I can do." She cocked her head to one side and watched as Tanner's brow knitted. "I have to step out for a minute and use the ladies room. I hope you find the young man, Vin. Let me know what happens."

The woman placed a hand on Vin's back as she passed behind him. As she reached the door, she turned once again and dropped her head in a slow tilt, her eyes cutting over to the desk. The door clicked as she pulled it to.

"Dammit! What the Hell are we going to do, now?" Chris raged as he jumped up and stood with both hands on the desk.

Vin held out a palm as he got off the desk and walked around. "You don't know her like I do, Chris. She's good people."

"So good she'd let a boy die before placing herself or her career in jeopardy? How good is that?"

Chris frowned as Tanner smirked at him. Vin stood at the back of the desk, looking at the computer. "Damn good, I'd say."

Chris came around and read the screen. He smiled. Pulling a pad from his inner pocket, he jotted down the information. Vin reached over and exited the file on the screen. As the two men left the room, Chris told Vin, "Be sure to let me know next time you take her out. I'm buying."

Down the hall Jess stood watching as they left. She went back to her office. Glancing at the screen, she smiled. "God's speed, boys."

+ + + + + + +

Vin and Chris arrived back at the office and found Ezra and Nathan. Standish was just getting off the phone as they walked in. Both men turned at the sound of the door.

"Ah, your timing is impeccable. I have only just this moment concluded my call to a friend of a friend."

Chris nodded as he glanced around the room. His scrutiny of the office had Nathan saying, "Josiah has him holed up in the office."

"Time to go to work, boys. Vin, go get 'em."

Tanner was only half way across the room when they heard a crash and an exclamation. The door crashed into the wall as Wilmington charged out with Sanchez right behind him.

"God Dammit, Larabee. You got no right to lock me in my own office like some kid being sent to his room." Buck bellowed loud enough for anyone on the adjoining two floors to hear him.

Chris sat at the conference table and calmly waited. Buck saw the look in the man's eye. He closed his mouth and stood straighter. Then he smiled.

"What'd you find, Larabee? I know that look." The big man rubbed his hands together in anticipation. He fell into the chair next to Chris and the others all joined them. Chris pulled the notepad and told them about the visit to the bank.

"Boyd? The general? That Boyd?" Buck questioned.

"I think it is. Buck. He 'retired' with a lot of money and connections. He has to power to do something like this and the ego to think he has the right to."

"I heard a lot 'bout the man when I was in the service." Josiah commented. "He's an egotistical maniac that thinks he should be in charge of the country. He is a complete lunatic. Some rumors were circulating that the powers that ousted him were contemplating assassination because they felt he was so dangerous. They thought he was a megalomaniac."

"We got a name at the bank they used. All we need now is an address."

"How about 15 North High Bluff Road?" Ezra asked.

"Your call?" Chris asked back.

"Yes. I was able to learn the name of the doctor's nurse. She was able to provide me with an address where the good doctor is now residing. He is living with the general it would appear."

"Well, what the hell are we sitting here for? Let’s go." Buck jumped to his feet, but found his way blocked by both Josiah and Vin. Wilmington’s nostrils flared as he stared at the two men. He rested his hands on his hips as he stood with his weight on one foot.

"Buck, we need to make a plan. We can’t go charging up to the front gate and expect to just walk in. We need to figure out how to get in and where the kid is."

"And just how are we going to get into this place, Chris? The man must have security. He’s rich and he’s famous; it makes him a prime target for kidnap, assassination, whatever." Josiah noted.

Chris ran his fingers through his hair. "We’ll just have to find a way. We can drive up there. I’m not sure, but it’s has to be a good two hour drive to the area. It’s pretty secluded up there. We hang around long, we’re going to stand out like a sore thumb."

Ezra stood and started around the table. "I believe I can once again be of assistance in matters such as this. Allow me a few moments. Since I assume we will be making a night raid on the General’s compound, might I suggest you gentlemen compile a list of equipment and I shall return momentarily."

The five men watched as the ex-CIA operative left the room. Vin turned to Chris and commented, "Sometimes, he really gives me the willies."

Nathan nodded in agreement. "Man's got more contacts then Bausch-Lamb."

Buck took a deep breath, trying to relax. "I don’t care who he knows as long as he can get

us in."

Chris nodded. The next hour was spent making plans and alternate plans. They made a list of equipment they would need and gathered it up. They checked batteries and ammunition. Vin pulled a case out and lay it across his desk. Curious, the others gathered around, looking on as he released the clasps and opened the lid. Inside, nestled in a foam interior, lay a rifle.

Larabee frowned. "What kind of rifle ya got there, Vin?"

Tanner cocked his head to one side as he grinned mischievously, his eyes twinkling. "This is a dart rifle. I figured after the Jaquiss encounter that a dart rifle can be a useful tool if stealth required. Say if there are dogs, or sentries, or something along those lines."

Buck’s smile was one of genuine mirth, causing his eyes to narrow and crinkle. He chuckled as he clasped Tanner’s shoulder. "Boy learns fast."

All heads turned as Ezra Standish entered the room. "Gentlemen, I believe I have the material we will need to make our approach to the General’s estate."

Ezra moved to the conference table and tossed down several photographs. They spread out across the table, revealing their images. "An acquaintance of mine was able to fax these over.."

"Ezra?" Nathan interrupted. "These are satellite photos. These are the kind of photos that the army uses. I mean..these are directional."

"Yes, well it was necessary to supply him with an address. I surmised that since it was our tax dollars that put the satellite into orbit, that it would be appropriate that we made use of it."

Josiah grinned as he sifted through the photos. "These are excellent, Ezra. We can see the entire grounds as well as the house. The guards seem to be stationed evenly around the perimeter, but they have some weak spots." The anthropologist pointed out several areas he found to be possible points of entry for the team. "Well, Vin, it would appear that you will have the opportunity to test your new toy. There appear to be five dogs sequestered in an enclosure at the rear of the house."

Vin nodded and moved back over to his desk. He examined the darts and verified the dosage he would need to bring down a large dog. The last thing he wanted was to leave the house and find the animals awake and agitated by their unscheduled sleep.

Within two hours time they were ready to roll. Chris glanced at the men around him. Buck stood impatiently waiting, his hand on the doorknob, so Larabee tossed him the keys to the van they had arranged to use. It was large enough the accommodate them and the equipment they had to carry.

"Buck, go check out the van. We probably need to get gas. And take the radios with you. Leave one, though, so I can double check the frequencies."

Wilmington nodded and grabbed the case the radios lay nestled within. Opening it, he withdrew one and tossed it at Larabee. Snapping the case closed, he yanked open the door and left. The sound of the elevator dinging signaled his departure. Chris turned back to the others. He opened his mouth, but did not get a word out.

"Don’t even say it, Larabee." Tanner shook his head as he adjusted the strap of his ‘war bag’ as he called it. The canvas duffle contained the cases of the various armaments he carried after he specifically selected the ones needed for each job.

"And just what do you think I’m going to say, Tanner?" Chris questioned.

"Jeez, Chris, we don’t have time for this." Nathan protested. "You’re going to tell us that we don’t have to go, that.."

Josiah continued. "..what we’re about to do is highly illegal and dangerous. We only work for you and ..."

"..as such should consider the consequences of our actions. We have heard this exact speech a multitude of times and as of yet.." Ezra began only to have Vin finish.

"..we ain’t taken ya up on it. So shut up and let’s go, before Wilmington drives off and leaves all of us."

The four men turned and headed for the door. Chris frowned and called after them. "Do I get you that speech a lot?"

Four voices answered him. "Yes." He glared at the departing backs.

Finally, shaking his head, he followed them, locking up the office as he left. The radio in his pocket squealed as he was entering the elevator. He retrieved the instrument and acknowledged each set Wilmington tested as the elevator descended. The doors opened silently to reveal Buck sitting, waiting, with the engine purring quietly, within ten feet of the elevators.

Buck moved to the back as Chris took the driver’s seat and Vin took the shotgun seat. Tanner pulled out the map and directed the group leader to head west down Tenth Street which soon found them on the highway and moving at a good pace. Josiah and Vin had worked out a route and estimated that the trip would take at least two hours at best.

They would be arriving in the early morning hours, which suited their plan well, as they could not mount the assault in daylights hours. The extra delay was wearing hard on the men. Buck loudly expressed the need to get there fast. He had tried to convince Chris to rent a helicopter, but the others talked him out of that idea. They all wanted to get JD out fast, but they were breaking the law by invading the man’s home. The last thing they needed was the pilot figuring out the plot and stranding them at the location with no means of transportation escape the scene.

The trip was a solemn one with little talking. They had been on the road for almost an hour when the cell phone in Chris’ pocket rang. He pulled it out and flipped it open.


The others listened to the one-sided conversation. "Really? When?"

A pause. "No, haven’t seen him. Buck is with me. He doesn’t know anything, either. Could someone have picked him up? Taken him to the house or maybe the hospital."

A longer pause, "No, nothing’s wrong. I am concerned. Can we meet you at the station?"

"Yeah, that sounds good. Talk to ya soon, Detective." Chris cut the connection and glanced in the mirror. "That was Gaffney. They found JD’s bike in a ditch. He caught the call because the driver was dead, shot. Wanted to know where JD might be."

"The only good that will come of this venture is the release of that boy." Josiah sighed before continuing. "We can expect to get a lot of heat about this. The man is famous as well as rich. His connections go high up within the government and we can expect to be held accountable for the actions we are about to embark on."

Ezra leaned forward to see Chris’ eyes in the mirror. The ex-CIA operative smiled a knowing grin as he glanced from Larabee to Wilmington. "I do believe that the good General has several factions of the government that keep very close tabs on him. If ,..no pardon my slip. Allow me to rephrase. When we get Mr. Dunne out, we may be able to petition their help in stemming the negative reaction to our endeavor. Especially, if we can provide them with physical proof of his wrong doings."

"Well, I think we might be able to provide that for them." Josiah stated.

They fell silent as the miles clicked off. It was around two a.m. when they approached the area and pulled over, still a couple of miles from the estate. Larabee parked and everyone got out and stretched.

The six men gathered around the hood as Vin spread out a map of the area. Chris held down one side as he pointed to the estate. "We’re about a mile and a half to two miles from the front gate. We’ll hike in from here. Once we get to the grounds, we take down any guards that we encounter. No one gets hurt. Tie ‘em up and gag ‘em. We’re the ones breaking the law here. Until we know that JD is in there, we have to be careful. Vin will take care of any dogs. Ezra, you stick with him. Nathan, Josiah, there’s a side entrance-you take that one. Buck, you’re with me." Chris looked up and into the eyes of his oldest friend and gave him an evil close-mouthed grin. "We go straight in the front."

Buck nodded as he glanced down at the map again. He was anxious to be on the move. Getting to JD was the only thing he cared about. With a nod at the others, Wilmington sat off toward the house and the other five followed. They arrived at the outer wall within thirty minutes and quickly split up.

Vin and Ezra moved to the side closest to the dog pen, where they scaled the wall and dropped onto the soft grass on the other side. Vin took the rifle off his shoulder and loaded a dart.

"If they are not turned out, we could secure them in their pen and avoid the necessity of drugging the animals."

Vin cocked an eyebrow at Standish. "Why would they not have them turned loose? Guard dog wouldn’t be much good locked in a pen, now would it?"

"Of course. That is a very sound observation, Mr. Tanner. So, if they are running loose, pray tell, how will we locate them?"

"Oh, we won’t have to. They’ll find us."

"Well, that is most reassuring." Ezra edged closer to the sharpshooter. "Might I suggest you keep your eyes open then, Mr. Tanner, as I have no compulsion to be eaten be ravenous canines."

"Don’t worry, Ezra. They can’t climb."

"Climb? Climb what?" Standish asked anxiously.

"Whatever you want. I just need you to draw them all to the same spot. I’d hate to miss one." Vin turned away, but then turned back with a neutral look on his face. "Or for you to get bit, if you don’t climb something."

Ezra eyed the man situated on the ground next to him. He cleared his throat. "I believe that tree will suffice."

Vin grinned as the ex-CIA operative struggled into a tall tree thirty yards away. The snapping of twigs and fluttering of leaves were underscored by the under-the-breath remarks of the southerner. Obviously, Standish was not accustomed to climbing the ‘foliage’, 'to serve as bait’. The noise soon drew the attention of the guard dogs and five Dobermans gathered quietly at the base of the tree Ezra had sought refuge in. It was a simple matter for Tanner to dispense with them one by one, quietly and efficiently.

Vin keyed his mic. "All clear. The kids are asleep." He stood and strolled over to the base of the tree and glanced up at the man perched twelve feet off the ground on a trembling limb. "Ezra, I don’t think that’s such a good limb to hang around on for very long." His statement was punctuated by an ominous creaking.

Standish got to the ground a lot quicker than he got into the tree. Tanner grinned as the man wiped his hands off and set to work removing small twigs and leaves from his hair and clothes. Noticing that Vin was moving away, he took a moment to toe one of the unconscious Dobermans. The animal twitched and Standish quickly set off in pursuit of the sharpshooting ex-bounty hunter.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan and Josiah had moved to the opposite wall that Standish and Tanner had scaled earlier. They went over the stone wall and dropped down into low squats. Nathan pointed toward the house and row of shrubs that lined the balcony. Josiah nodded and, after looking around one more time, they sprinted across the open area and into the shadows the shrubs created.

Josiah started to move to the balcony, when Jackson clamped a hand on his shoulder and forced him back into the shadows. The anthropologist looked questioningly at the medic. Jackson held his finger to his lips and pointed to the far corner of the balcony. Sanchez looked and saw the man Nathan had detected. Josiah watched as the man moved to the outer edge of the balcony and leaned back on the rail, lighting a cigarette..

Stealthily, the big man moved behind the relaxed guard. He stood quickly and grabbed the man, dragging him backwards into the bushes, where Nathan delivered a sharp right hook to the man’s jaw. The guard was unconscious before he even grasped what was happening. The two investigators secured the man and rolled the body under the thick shrubbery out of sight of anyone who might pass by. They then climbed onto the balcony and approached the French doors that opened into what appeared to be a dining room. Josiah tested the door and found it unlocked. He quietly entered, closely followed by Jackson and they made their way across the room and headed for the kitchen area.

Pausing at the door, they listened for any sounds from the other side. After a couple of minutes, Josiah held up three fingers and touched his ear. Nathan nodded in agreement. There were probably three men on the other side of the door. There was no way to know for sure until they entered the room. Once again Josiah held up three fingers and Jackson nodded again. Stepping away from the door, they positioned themselves to charge the door. They held their weapons at ready, as Sanchez counted down. Three. Two. One. They burst through the door and aimed their guns at the men sitting around the table. There were three men seated and a fourth stood at the oven, a mitt on his hand and the oven door down.

Nathan approached and waved the startled man back from the oven. Nathan bent over and drew in a deep breath. "Hmm. Smells good. Be a shame to burn it." He turned the oven off and left the door open to vent the heat as he moved around toward the man. "Josiah, you got ‘em covered?"

"I have. You take care of tying them up. Boys, I would suggest that you keep your palms flat on the table until Mr. Jackson asks you to do different."

Nathan made short work on securing the cook. Pushing the man into a chair, he moved on to the next man, but movement in the corner of his eye caused him to stop and reach for the knives tucked into his belt. He bent low as a man stumbled in through a doorway and was quickly followed by two others. All three men had staggered into the room and it only took a moment for Jackson to realize the cause for their clumsiness.

Ezra and Vin entered the room close behind the captives. Standish's arm was still outstretched from the act of shoving the men through the door.

Vin grinned at the two men standing in front of him. "Thought we heard you in here. Found these fellas just outside the door."

"They were so preoccupied listening at the door, they failed to take notice of our approach and were easily subdued."

Shaking his head, Nathan turned back to the task of tying the three remaining guards. "How many do ya figure there are?"

"While we have seven taken care.."

"Eight." Sanchez corrected Tanner. "Left one under the hedges outside."

Before anyone could hazard a guess as the number of unaccounted for guards, there was a crash from the front of the house. Sanchez glanced over his shoulder as the noise drew all the men's attention toward the swinging door Jackson and Sanchez had entered through. Josiah turned back to his companions. "Buck's here." The three nodded in agreement.

+ + + + + + +

The double entry doors crashed open as the burly man's back connected with them and he lurched into the foyer and lost his battle to stay erect. He landed hard on the granite floor and rolled onto his back. Before he had a chance to gather his wits, Buck Wilmington was sitting on his chest with his automatic pointed between the man's eyes.

Jack stared cross-eyed at the bore of the weapon as Buck tightened his grip on the man's shirt. "Now, I'm going to ask only once, so you listen real good." Jack's eyes moved from the black hole of the gun barrel to the black fury of Wilmington's eyes.

"Where is the kid?"


Jack felt his upper body lifted and then slammed back down onto the unyielding stone floor. His head bounced twice before he could control the muscles in his neck enough to stop the motion. His arm automatically moved toward his throbbing head, but the appendage was stopped abruptly as Chris Larabee stepped onto his forearm, pinning it to the cold floor.

Buck did not even glance in that direction. "Wrong answer. Try again."

Jack's brown eyes glared at Wilmington's dark blue. He flexed the fingers of the hand pinned to the floor and snarled at both men. The pressure on his arm increased. Larabee and the bodyguard waged a momentary war of wills, but the pressure was soon too much and the prone man relented. Sweat beaded on the upper lip as the pain-filled eyes turned back to Wilmington. "Doc's..got ..'em. Upstairs, third door."

Chris stepped back as Buck rose, drawing the man up by his shirt. Jack rubbed the bruised muscle of his arm as he was propelled forward, toward the staircase. A shadow moved in the corridor next to the staircase and the two men immediately trained their guns in that direction.

Ezra and Nathan moved around the stairs and came to an abrupt halt at the sight of the weapons. "Easy, boys. Ezra and me came to see if you needed any help."

Buck and Chris lower their guns and moved to the two men, shoving Jack ahead and into Nathan's waiting arms. Ezra spoke up. "That's accounts for nine men. We have seven in the kitchen and one is outside." He looked at the burly man Jackson was holding. "How many guards are on the premises, sir?"

Jack ignored the soft question. He stood staring at the floor, still rubbing his arm. Ezra held out a hand and Nathan looked at the upturned palm.

"I ain't gonna watch you do that again, Standish. Just cause you're trained in black op's , don't mean you get to carve people up." Nathan played along with the implied threat.

Ezra's expression was one of boredom. "Mr. Jackson, I am well aware of your aversion to the tactics which the CIA felt bound to train me in, but as I was hired to fill a certain position that was 'lacking' within this firm, I intend to fulfill my contract. Now, if you are concluded with your objections, your knife, if you would be so kind?"

Nathan sighed heavily as he handed a razor sharp tool over. "I don't see why if you insist on doing this, you can't bring your own knives. I get tired of having to clean and sharpen them things after your finished. Hell, I had to replace one last time cause ya nicked it."

"My apologizes, Mr. Jackson. Please, bring me a receipt for the replacement instrument and I will be more than glad to reimburse you." He removed the knife from Nathan's hand, as Chris stepped forward.

"Nathan, you go on back to the kitchen and I'll hold on to this piece of trash. Buck, you wait for me. This shouldn't take long."

Jack's eyes darted from one man to the next, his mind trying to figure out if they were serious. The glint in the ex-CIA operative's eye disturbed him the most. While the man's face was passive, there was a flicker of madness in the green depths and it was quickly unnerving the bodyguard. Wilmington's voice cut through the man's thoughts and the words swayed his decision.

"Just be quick, Standish. We ain't got time for your perverted games this time. Get what we need and let's go." Buck glanced at the watch on his wrist as he spoke.

Ezra smiled and stepped forward.

"FOUR. There's four guys upstairs. Plus the Doc and his three people."

"Thank you so much, sir." Ezra said.

Chris shoved the sweating man toward the door Nathan had disappeared through. Buck and Ezra followed in their wake.

Vin and Josiah were standing near the door and Sanchez took possession of the prisoner, moving him over to join the others. After he was bound, each man was gagged and the team assembled at the door.

"We have four more guards upstairs. Vin, Josiah find 'em and handle 'em. Buck, you and Nathan take the room JD is in. Ezra and I will find the General. Keep your radios on and report any trouble."

The six men abandoned the kitchen and headed up the wide staircase. At the head of the staircase, they split into groups. Buck and Nathan headed to the left and advanced to the third door. Listening momentarily, they opened the door and moved to either side. The room was empty. There was no one there.

"Dammit. Where could he be?"

Nathan looked around the room. There were signs that someone had occupied the bed up to a little while before. The sheets were rumpled and the IV lines still had tape on them from being secured to someone. The drops of blood on the sheet were almost Buck’s undoing. He laid his hand over the spots and stood transfixed for a moment.

"Buck, you all right?"

The big man whirled around at the question. "What? Oh, sorry, Nathan. Yeah, I’m fine, but I need to find him. Now."

"We will, Buck." The medic placed a hand on the distraught man’s arm. "Come on. Let’s go get the boy."

They quickly left the room.

+ + + + + + +

Vin and Josiah prowled the halls, looking for the four remaining guards. They lucked out when the second corridor led them straight to a control room and two guards. They easily overpowered the two and secured them in the room. Closing the door behind them, the two investigators continued on their hunt.

Judging by the layout of the house, the master bedroom should be down the corridor Ezra and Chris had chosen. Josiah surmised that the two remaining guards would probably be with the general. With a nod, Vin headed in that direction with Josiah following close behind.


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