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On point, Buck slowly made his way though the greenery on a bearing per Josiah's instructions. Chris had ordered the radios back on voice- activation until further notice to make sure their hands would remain free.
As they came to a particularly dense section of vines, Buck fervently wished for a machete to make the trail -- or complete lack thereof -- passable. From ahead he heard a sound that didn't match and held up his hand in a signal meaning, "Halt."
The others stopped in place and watched as their point man disappeared into the trees. Not a minute passed before a "Yeehah" was heard, and over the radio came Wilmington's voice. "Come and lookee what I found."
The four men filed through the narrow breach and found their demolition expert standing over an unconscious man who happened to have his pants down, showing his ass to the world.
"Mister Wilmington, I see at last you've found a willing participant to your degenerative escapades."
"Very funny, Ez. Actually this guy decided to relieve himself on that bush o'er yonder and was caught -- quite literally -- with his pants down."
"He dead?" asked Vin.
"Nope, gave him a roundhouse to relax 'im a mite. Thought he may be useful for lettin' us know a few things."
"Finally," the blond said, "we may get some answers to what's going on around here."
A few minutes later, Chris saw the man waking up and was anxious for answers. He gave a not-so-gentle kick with the toe of his boot to the man's midsection. "Get up."
The mercenary woke slowly, but came up with a start as he saw the commandos. He grabbed up his pants and tried to scurry back, only to find Josiah had stationed himself behind. Seeing the huge man towering over him seemed to instill some docility and he settled down, watching the men warily.
"What's your name?" asked Chris with a snarl.
The man looked at him blankly.
"How many others are there?"
Still no response.
Chris grabbed the man by his lapel, dragging him up close. "You are going to answer my questions."
Apparently the look on the lead commando's face got through and the man rattled off something in Spanish. "Oh, wonderful," Chris growled. "Habla ingles?" he asked the man, practically the only Spanish phrase he knew.
"No," was the strained answer.
Josiah and Vin exchanged a look. "Let us handle this, brother," Sanchez said as he removed Chris' vise-like grip from the man's shirt. The strategist smoothed down the Nicaraguan's shirt where Chris has rumpled it and asked --in Spanish -- whether he was all right.
When the man responded in the affirmative, Josiah then asked his name. The man said his name was Juan. That's where the information stopped. Sanchez asked Juan how many men were there in his group, who their leader was, who hired them, and where their base of operations was. Juan shut his mouth and refused to answer. Josiah glanced over at his counterpart for assistance.
Vin stepped up next to him. He called over his shoulder to Buck, Ezra, and Chris and told them in English to just stand back and keep watch. " and try to look menacing."
"Hardly a challenge for Mister Larabee," laughed Ezra. He cleared his throat and wiped the smile from his face at the glare from his leader. He and the other two replaced their expressions with ferocious looks directed at the captured man.
Vin returned his attention to Josiah. He started to quickly pace around the area, ranting in Spanish, "These guys are startin' to piss me off. Shootin' at me all day long and now he won't answer some simple fuckin' questions." He flung his arms out in mock surrender.
Josiah watched his normally passive friend's tirade and when it ended, he said, also in Spanish, "Oh, good Lord, just shoot him."
The mercenary's eyes went wide and he looked to the others as if asking for help. There was no mercy shown on their faces and he trembled slightly.
Tanner pulled his pistol and aimed it at the merc. "Where you want it?"
"I don't care." Josiah shrugged. "Leg maybe?"
"What if we need to go somewhere? I don't want to carry him."
"True enough. Arm?"
The captive watched the interaction anxiously, his head swinging back and forth.
"That could be good." Vin nodded. "Right or left?"
"Depends on him." The big man directed his question at Juan. "What hand do you write with?"
"Huh?" The local man wasn't quite sure what was being asked of him.
"What hand do you write with?"
Juan waved his left hand slightly.
"Shoot his left arm," Josiah said without inflection. "If that doesn't work, take out his ba--"
Josiah didn't even get the sentence out before the man began babbling and crying in terror. He spoke rapidly for quite a while before he wound down.
At the end of the spiel, Vin put his gun away and turned his back on Juan. He walked over to where his friends were standing, leaving Josiah to tie up the mercenary -- the bonds would be loose enough for Juan to work his way out of, but not soon enough to cause trouble for the team.
"What'd he say?" asked Larabee.
"Said a gringo with long grey hair came to the village about a week or so ago looking for the answer to a problem. Juan's boss, Derrick Rand, was willing to help out for a price. They hadn't worked out any details when he showed up again three days ago, begging for help."
"That would be when he found out we were coming," Buck guessed.
Tanner added, "And Rand was happy enough to kill for money."
"He kept the dig's truck as a down payment," added Josiah, joining the discussion.
"I wondered why they would be without a vehicle," Chris said.
"What did you say the leader's name was?" Ezra asked, face wrinkled in puzzlement.
"Rand, Derrick Rand."
Standish's expression cleared, and he nodded with certainty. "I've heard of him."
"When?" Chris asked.
"When I was with the Company. One of the missions involved a counter- insurgency group aimed at a lower region. It appeared that Mister Rand was causing problems in the transporting of certain goods the CIA would've liked to have gone through."
"And they didn't eliminate him?"
"If I recall correctly, he absconded into the jungle before he could be taken care of. They assumed he'd been killed."
"Looks like they was wrong," Vin commented wryly.
"I wonder how he got to be in charge of the mercs?" Sanchez wondered aloud.
"Who cares?" Wilmington snapped. "I say let's take care of the problem and get the hell outta Dodge."
"Brother Ezra, with what you can recall about this Rand, is he going to give up?"
"Not a chance." Standish shook his head. "If he has any idea what the treasure is he won't give up until he's acquired it."
"We'll have to hole up somewhere until Nate and JD can come back for us," Chris decided.
Ezra rolled his eyes. "I'd give our chances at survival to be 10 to 1 -- against."
"Nice odds," said Vin with a smirk.
"Normally I would never consider accepting such a wager, but when I look at our beloved leader's incensed facade, I definitely feel sorry for those unfortunate mercenaries."
"Yes, Mister Larabee?"
"Shut up and move. I'd like to make the canyon before nightfall."
Standish gave a two-fingered salute and gathered his gear.
Wednesday, 2100 hrs
Horseshoe canyon entrance
When they walked though the gap in the western wall of the canyon, Josiah asked everyone to wait. He wanted to take stock of the situation. It was a fairly small canyon, but it had high walls along three sides forming the u-shape.
The large man turned and walked backward, coming through the opening. His eyes swept from side to side. "Think you can make it up there?" he asked Vin and Buck, pointing to the top of the ridge.
Vin eyed the climb. "Reckon so."
"Why?" asked Buck.
"If we could place charges on either side, set to blow when they came through "
Buck grinned widely. "Perfect."
"We'll be trapped within as well," commented Standish.
"We can climb out further back if necessary." Larabee looked around. "Looks like we don't have a choice. If each of you take one side, after you set the charges you can set up further down each side of the crest for sniper support." Buck was their second best long distance shooter.
"Sounds good." Vin nodded then looked at Buck. "Show me what to do."
As the three other commandos set up their own equipment in preparation for a conflict, Buck explained to Vin exactly what he had to do to align the explosives. He attached a remote detonator to a small pack of Semtex and told Vin how to set it. The explosives expert only had enough equipment for two charges, so they were dependant upon their success.
Buck's and Vin's rifles were strapped securely to their backs so they wouldn't move around during the climb and upset their balance. The rucksacks were placed over the guns and the straps were tightened. Tanner gritted his teeth at the weight upon his wound.
Vin had borrowed Josiah's rucksack and placed the explosive gently inside. Regrettably, the rope he usually carried with him --possibly used for rappelling down the rock face he was endeavoring to climb -- was left in his ruck for weight on the grenade as "non-essential." Like he was supposed to know he'd be scaling a friggin' cliff.
"I pray you do not break this one," Ezra said, handing over his radio and headset to Vin.
"What about you?" Vin didn't like taking his friend's radio. He saw the sense in it -- he would be up high and alone, while Ezra would remain with Josiah and Chris -- but he didn't like it.
"I assure you, I will stick close to our leader."
The picture of Ezra "sticking close" to Chris made Vin smile. "Just don't get too close, you'll make Mary jealous." The men loved to rag on their leader about the sparks that seemed to fly between Ms Travis and Larabee when they got together.
"I heard that, Tanner!"
"What?" Vin displayed an expression of pure innocence.
"Your time will come," Chris reminded him.
"Hell, you two'll be married by then."
"Get your ass up that hill!"
Buck winked at Vin. "Race ya!"
Tanner and Wilmington started up the opposite ends of the horseshoe. There were parts where the men could simply hike up, but many places required them to scale freehand. They were trying to hurry and beat the coming darkness. From below Josiah, Chris, and Ezra anxiously watched their friends' progress. On the rare instances where Buck or Vin lost their footing and slipped, the men underneath would hold their collective breath until the man regained himself.
Finally, after much effort and hand scraping, the men reached the top of the ascent. Buck stood on the southern end, while Vin was atop the north. They smiled at each other over the forty-foot expanse between the two ends of the canyon's "U."
Buck had told Vin to try to find a nice angle to stick the charge in, to be certain it would blow the largest amount of rubble down on the mercenaries when they walked through it. The plan was to bury the mercs as they passed through the opening. Those who weren't buried would have to climb up and over in order to get to the commandos inside the canyon, opening themselves up for being easily picked off as they reached the crest.
Setting up his explosive, Wilmington aimed it in the direction that should produce the most damage. Once he was done, he activated it, allowing it to accept the signal to blow when he sent it. He called over his headset, "You 'bout ready over there, young'n?"
"All set, old man," came the response from the sniper. "Sure your ancient body can handle more climbing?" They still had to trek along the ridge and set up positions further down. He started along the top, watching Buck do the same.
"Listen here, boy my finely tuned body can run yours into the ground." Buck gave a short saunter before tripping and having to regain his footing.
"You'd better keep track of that finely tuned body before ya fall off the cliff!"
The two found suitable positions to shoot from and settled down to prepare.
Larabee waited until they found a perch before speaking. "Shut up and look sharp." Chris was hoping that Ezra was wrong, and Rand's men would not be seeking them any longer. He was convinced his hope was in vain, but it sure would be nice if he could just sit down and wait for help to arrive.
Too soon, by the dying light, they spotted the first of the men following their trail into the canyon.
"Heads up," Vin voice called over the radio. "They're coming through."
Buck had set both detonators to the same frequency, to time the explosion correctly. He flipped up the safety cover and waited with his finger poised. Vin watched through binoculars as the men started through the gap in the rock. Wilmington trusted Vin to let him know the best time to push the switch, preferably letting their scout go through unmolested and catching the bulk of the men as they followed.
He waited for a few more minutes, remaining calm and in complete control. As soon as he heard the Texan whisper, "Now," he pushed up on the switch.
One side -- the southern side -- of the canyon wall collapsed, cascading rocks, dirt, and shale upon the men below. The northern explosive did not blow, leaving nearly half the entrance free and more than half the enemy alive. The surviving men, enraged at the onslaught, sped away from the carnage.
"What happened?" Chris asked over the radio, as the chaos continued.
Buck shrugged to himself, his grin dropping at the failure. "Guess it was a dud."
"Aw, hell," Vin said, sighting in his rifle. "So much fer easy."
Out of the dozen men who had tried to enter the canyon, five were killed in the initial blast. The element of surprise was useful in that Buck and Vin were each able to pick a man off as they ran for cover. Josiah, Ezra, and Chris shot at the running mass and believed they had killed at least one more.
That had been about three hours before and now the two groups had reached an impasse. Buck and Vin were stuck up in their locations; it was too risky to try to climb down in the dark. Chris and the others remained where they'd set up; each attempt to move was met with massive firepower. They guessed the mercs had some type of night- vision system.
The mercenaries had found a well-secured place; neither Vin nor Buck could reach them from their angle. Every once in a while they would pop up and send some gunfire into the area where the commandos were, or up at the ridge near the riflemen.
"Can you get a shot?" Larabee asked again.
"Those bastards have dug in deep." Disgust colored Buck's voice.
"No way to get 'em from here," Vin agreed.
"Dammit, there can't be that many of them left!"
"But the ones who are have a shitload of ammo." Vin stated. "They've been pounding it out all night."
"They musta come with their own surplus store," Buck said. "They seem to have an unlimited supply."
"I can most honestly say I have grown weary of running for my life," lamented Ezra.
"I'm fairly tired of this shit, myself," Josiah said, avoiding more gunfire.
"What do you suggest?" Buck asked from above.
Larabee's voice was like steel. "We wait until daybreak and kill them."
Thursday, 0410 hrs
Horseshoe canyon interior
It was still dark when they heard the sound of a helicopter closing in.
"Oh, shit!" Buck asked, "They got air support?"
Sanchez listened. "That's a Black Hawk."
Chris looked up. "Where would they get a Black Hawk helicopter?" It was the standard helicopter of the US Army.
Over their headsets they heard a welcome voice. "Did we come too late to join the party?"
"Brother Nathan," Josiah said, "you have perfect timing as always."
"You mind taking care of the little problem we're having to the west?" called Buck to his flying teammates.
"No sweat," answered JD.
The Black Hawk swung around and, within seconds, had released two missiles directed at the hidden mercenaries.
"Get down!" shouted Larabee.
The five men ducked and covered. The explosions shook the earth, raining dirt and shrapnel across the area.
"How was that?" chuckled JD over the airwaves.
"I'd say it was a bit of overkill," sent back Wilmington.
"Just get us out of here," Chris ordered.
Nathan landed a short distance away and JD covered Chris, Josiah, and Ezra on their dash to the chopper with the .50 caliber machine guns attached to the Black Hawk. They quickly went airborne and swooped over ridge where Vin waited. A rope ladder was sent down and he climbed up into the rig. The process was repeated with Buck.
Once everyone was safely aboard and they were sailing over the jungle at over 200 mph, Chris leaned over and yelled in JD's ear, "How'd you find us?"
The young commando pointed at Chris' GPS watch. "I set off your signal remotely. Then it was simply a matter of logging on and following it in."
"Good work." Chris patted his shoulder.
JD smiled at the praise.
Larabee moved up front and sat next to the pilot. "Where did you manage to pick this up?" he asked, motioning at the helicopter they were riding.
"An Army squad happened to be moving through the airport in Constancia," Nathan answered. He gave a slow smile. "By the way, Captain Siler says now you owe him one."
Chris laughed. "If he thinks one little helicopter is gonna square what he owes me he's dead wrong."
Chapter Six: Look unimportant; the enemy may be low on ammo.
Friday, 0700 hrs
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Seven men sat around a conference table, called to a meeting by Mary Travis.
Mary started looking through the files. Her frown increased until she looked up and said, "So let me get this straight on a simple retrieval mission you destroyed three M998 HMMWVs. Is this correct?"
"Actually," Chris said, "only two Humvees were destroyed. The third is, I believe, sitting in the hangar of a tiny airport outside La Rosita in northern Nicaragua." He tossed a small black plastic cap onto the table. It spun around, coming to a rest in front of the blonde executive. "There's the distributor cap if you're interested in 'retrieving' it."
Vin hid his smirk at Chris' audaciousness.
Buck added, "And that second Humvee is probably salvageable. I mean, it hit a truck and then a tree, but it didn't blow up or nothin'." He looked pointedly at his leader.
"We didn't blow ours up," countered Larabee.
"Furthermore," interrupted Mary, choosing to ignore both the thrown truck part and argument, "you borrowed an S-70A Black Hawk helicopter and a Cessna 402B plane."
"We did return the chopper," stated Nathan.
"Minus two Hellfire missiles."
"They were put to good use," assured Sanchez.
"I hope so." Mary frowned as she looked down at the paper. "Travis Industries had to pay for them."
"Well," JD said, "he did send us down there." He quickly shut his mouth at her fierce look.
"What happened to Morris?" Vin asked, trying to deflect attention from his younger counterpart. He winked at JD's grateful smile.
"Mister Morris will be spending the first few years of his retirement behind bars," answered Mary. "Orrin was very upset at his old friend's duplicity."
"I did try to warn him," Ezra said.
"Love is blind, and greed insatiable," Josiah quoted an old Chinese proverb.
Buck sighed. "All I know is I need a vacation."
"And you may have one " -- the men of M7:SRT sighed in relief, the emotion quickly squashed as she continued talking -- " just as soon as you look into this matter." Mary held up a folder. "A dear friend of Orrin has suspicions of embezzlement within his company and would like you to "
As she continued on, Larabee held up his hands in surrender.
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