"Okay guys, new assignments," Chris announced to the conference room where
team seven were assembled. "and you ain't gonna like it."
Six faces looked at him with a verity of expressions - apprehension, curiosity,
"The federal government - in its infinite wisdom - wants a verity of jobs
done all at once and we have been assigned three of them. Ezra?" The suave
southerner - whose reaction to the up coming assignments had apparently been
resigned detachment, looked up at his boss. "You are going to Quantico to
teach a month long special course on advanced undercover techniques."
There was long pregnant silence; they all knew how Ezra felt about his former
"Sir," Ezra began, his soft accent suddenly made hard with icy coldness.
"I have no intention of doing any such thing."
"It's not a request, Standish - it's an order; you leave Sunday night. Think
of it as an honour, you were the first choice for this course," Chris explained
with uncharacteristic patience.
"That implies there were other candidates - let them do it," Ezra countered.
"Ezra you know the rules, you have been undercover for three of the last
four months - you have to have a break of at least a month, those are the
"Chris changed tack, "you're going first class, five star
hotel on expenses, and you get to show the feebs how it's done, what more
do you want?"
Jade green eyes held forest green; what Ezra wanted to say was, 'to be with
my family' but that would be to admit he needed them and need was a weakness.
Ezra P Standish had been trained to never show weakness for as long as he
could remember. It was an ingrained training that was hard to break. His
silence Chris took for acceptance.
"Right," Chris turned to the others. "Don't look so smug. Nate?"
"Yo," the tall EMT called out.
"You're re-qualifying all next week and the week after - right?"
"Yes, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 both weeks," he confirmed.
"And Vin, you've got another week at the DPD academy - right?" Vin nodded,
he had been teaching a master class on sniper techniques to new SWAT officers
"Yeah?" JD called out, not at all sure he wanted to know what was coming.
"You got Internet liquor wholesale suppliers licences to check out."
"What?" JD asked indignantly.
"Don't say a thing, it has to be done, you're the best qualified to do it.
So get to it, the list will be in your inbox by now, but I'm hoping you can
find some suppliers other then the ones listed and therefore unlicensed."
JD's protest died on his lips, he could tell just from Chris' body language
there was no room to argue.
Finally Larabee turned to the last two team members - who were waiting to
be assigned liquor store and bar licence checking duty.
"You two are going to California," Larabee stated evenly.
Chris went on to explain that there was a group of anti-government survivalists
who were worrying both the FBI and the ATF - since they appeared to be
stockpiling a lot of weapons and ammunition suddenly. Buck and Josiah fitted
the profile of the kind of people the group was now actively recruiting at
gun fairs and anti-government gatherings. Which was to say they were white,
fit, aged between 35 and 60, knew how to handle a gun and were un-attached
- the rest they could fake. All they had to do was get in, find the groups
main compound and if possible work out if they were any kind of a threat.
Most such groups were classed as harmless, all talk no action - but every
now and again one became a real threat.
The gun fair was an ATF agent's dream. Buck had spotted at least 8 major
gun-law violations already, and he wasn't even looking. He wasn't there for
that though, Josiah had been successfully recruited a week ago at a rally.
He'd been approached at the same rally and was meant to meet a contact here
to see if he had also been accepted - if his cover had stood up. Josiah's
cover was as a disenchanted Vietnam vet - he was an ex-marine so he could
pull off the roll with little homework. Buck was posing as a former rodeo
rider and gun enthusiast - he had ridden in amateur rodeos as a boy in Nevada
and for some years in Colorado.
"Bill Wallace?" a voice sounded beside him.
Responding to his new name, Buck spun around. "Yeah?"
"I hear you're looking for a new way?" The man was a good six inches or more
shorter than Buck, his sandy hair was cut in a short crew-cut, or at least
it appeared to be, from what Buck could see under the khaki cap. He was wearing
a matching khaki shirt with smart creases in it and although he wore jeans,
they were clean and relatively new, his high-laced army-style boots were
polished to an impressive shine.
"If you mean I'm tired of bein' shoved around by the fed's you're right,"
Buck replied, glad he had bothered to iron the dark plaid shirt he was wearing.
"Show me some ID," the man responded. Buck produced his newly-acquired
Californian driver's license. The man checked it and returned it. "You check
out Mr Wallace, welcome to the Freedom Way." He extended his hand and they
shook, that done he introduced himself as Henry Greening.
"You ready to travel, or do you need to get stuff?" Greening asked.
"I got all I need in the truck," Buck stated.
The feds in California had provided him with a fund and he had purchased
his own vehicle, a six year old Chevy pick-up. Now all he had to do was pray
his FBI tail didn't lose him.
He followed Greeting's army surplus jeep up into the hills above Reading,
there he met more new recruits. Unlike Sanchez, Buck had never been in the
military and his introduction to military-style training convinced him he
was right to go straight into the police when he left college. But he survived
the week and apparently impressed is now 'comrades in arms' because he was
moved to the groups headquarters. This was one of the primary objectives
of the mission but it wasn't to be that easy. He was told his truck would
remain at the basic training camp and he would travel a closed truck. The
journey lasted about six hours. The roads were good to begin with, but from
the feel of it they quickly left the metalled road for a dirt track. Most
of the time they moved upwards and rarely was the road straight. Buck tried
to catch a glimpse of the world beyond the canvas truck covering, but all
he saw was passing trees, and since it got dark after only a few hours there
was little more he could do.
After a night on a hard bunk in a hut with the other five new arrivals he
had travelled with, he found himself meeting the 'Commander'. Colonel Paul
Freeman, a former commander of army Special Forces, a man who believed his
name was prophetic. He was at least six feet tall, his steel grey hair matched
his eyes and the power of his rhetoric; and yet you couldn't help but feel
he lacked a certain something when it came to the force of his personality.
Buck found himself wondering what a battle of wills between the colonel and
Larabee would be like and concluding his old friend would win hands down.
The former soldier gave his new recruits a mission statement speech. It seems
he had had a 'Road to Damascus' type revelation about the true nature of
the Federal Government and the world-wide conspiracy had turned him against
his former employer. He believed his own personal army needed to be readied
and prepared for what ever pre-emptive action he determined needed to be
As they were ushered back to the living area Buck had feeling they had been
right to be worried about this particular group and he once more cast his
eyes about for Sanchez. Five days later he still hadn't seen the big profiler,
but had undergone five days of induction training. It was the first time
Buck had wished he had done a stint in the military instead of going straight
from college to the DPD, but he got through it. All the other recruits were
ex-military, though for some of them it had been some years behind them.
After the basic training was over they were once more moved, once again they
were transported in a closed truck to the groups main headquarters.
Once they got there Buck realised why they had been so interested him. The
headquarters was a working ranch in the hills.
It was in fact more than a ranch - there were pigs, and chickens, as well
as both beef and milk cows. There were carefully cultivated gardens growing
fruit and vegetables. There was a smokehouse and a mini canning plant. The
electricity came from wind and waterpower, as well as solar power panels
on the roofs of all the buildings. They were as self sufficient as they could
be. Buck was assigned to the horse barn, which suited him; it was at least
something he understood. That first day he finally spotted Sanchez. The big
man was caring for the chickens.
"I like it," he confessed, "I can talk to them, tell them anything, they
like to hear your voice."
"What have you found out?" Buck asked, taking a turn at tossing grain to
"Probably not much more than you, I have seen one shipment of boxes that
looked suspiciously like guns arrive. Greening checked it and then waved
it through, it headed further up the main track, it was about an hour before
the truck returned so wherever it went it wasn't that far."
"How long would you reckon it would take to unload what you saw?"
Josiah shrugged. "I've got no idea how many people were there to help, but
at max I'd say twenty minutes."
"So thirty minutes up, twenty there and ten back, on these roads, at say
fifteen MPH on the way up there, that's less than eight miles?" Buck speculated.
"Yeah, that's what I reckoned," Sanchez confirmed. "What are you doing?"
"Horses, just general horse work in the barn, they got some nice stock, I'll
give them that. The old guy running the place hinted they were thinking of
having a rodeo. I get the feeling things can get a mite dull around here
for all you ex-military types," he added with a grin.
"You reckon the FBI have clue where we are?" Josiah asked casually.
"Nope, not one."
"That's what I was thinking. Damn! Chris is gonna be pissed if we're stuck
here for a whole month."
"Ain't that the truth." For all their casual joviality they were keenly aware
how alone and vulnerable they now were.
Every other day everyone did some form of military training and every morning
there were compulsory callisthenics. Josiah thought he was going to have
a heart attack at any minute -but was secretly surprised at how good he felt
once he had recovered from the initial stiffness. They were accommodated
in cabins, four to a cabin; they were basic but comfortable. The fact that
they were both sharing with three strangers made investigating the ranch
and its surroundings difficult. But after a week, and on the pretext of
exercising the ranch stallion - who was indeed getting very difficult to
handle due to lack of exercise - Buck finally located the arsenal; or what
he took to be the arsenal. Circling around the he finally found a ridge that
he could follow and look down on the trail. Just as he predicted, seven miles
from the main ranch compound he found an abandoned mine, guarded by two armed
men and its entrance secured by a very new-looking steel barred door.
The evenings - since there were was no television or radio - consisted of
carefully selected old movies, training sessions and lectures which pressed
home the message that the federal government was in the control of an evil
conspiracy and had to be brought down for the good of the country. By the
end of Buck's first week there, it was clear the group did warrant the concern
the authorities were showing in them. All that remained was for the two agents
to work out where they were and get out. Working on how long it took to reach
the first camp and then the ranch, and on how high they thought they were
based on the vegetation, they agreed they were about three to four hundred
miles north of where they started, but that covered a large area. The rules
were that new arrivals weren't allowed out into the nearest town - whatever
it was - for a month. That left sitting it out or making a run for it. All
maps were kept in the main house and that was strictly out of bounds. Josiah
said that given enough time he could make a crude sextant and plot their
position from the stars - if he knew how - which he didn't.
So they bided their time. The rhetoric was annoyingly repetitious and
spectacularly inaccurate, but the hate and distrust of all aspects of the
federal government, was real. Josiah concentrated on his chickens and Buck
his horses; at least with the animals they could be themselves. There were
no women at the ranch, not one, but there were women at the induction base
and just occasionally they came up on the supply trucks. On the second Saturday
a truck pulled up. This one was eagerly awaited. For most of the time the
ranch was 'dry' but every other weekend a limited supply of beer was delivered.
On this truck was a pretty Latino woman.
Buck watched her mount the steps to the main house, appreciating the way
her lithe hips swung under her calf length multi-coloured skirt, her tight
fitting tee-shirt accentuation her figure.
"Keep off boy," the voice behind him made Wilmington start. "She's the bosses
masseuse." Buck looked around at Hank O'Brian, the old man in charge of the
barn, his expression totally readable. "No, a real one, he took a lot of
shrapnel in Nam, got a bad back."
This Buck accepted, even believed, so he turned away from the door and went
back to grooming the palomino mare. The beer was meant to be kept until supper,
but a small group who had night duty were permitted theirs early. It wasn't
enough for them to get drunk, just enough to loosen some inhibitions, and
starved of female company, even a female form for three weeks, the men were
more than appreciative when the young woman returned from the house some
three hours later.
"Well hello, pretty one," a tall man named Staples said, as he stepped in
front of her, "give the boss a good 'rub down' did ya?" he leered.
"I did my job, si." She tried to push past him, but a second man joined him.
"Oh come on honey, my back's paining me real bad, could use a good rub down,
a little personal attention, don't you know?" He tried to kiss her, but she
managed to duck away, only to be met by a third man.
"How about my bad leg? Can ya fix it, cup-cake? Huh?" This time she didn't
manage to avoid the kiss.
Buck heard and saw, and couldnt ignore the situation, he put the horse
brush down and headed out into the sunlight.
A man called Tucker was trying to kiss her now, and just as he nearly succeeded
a huge hand landed on his shoulder, and he was spun around to face an angry
"I don't believe the lady has time to stop and talk," he growled menacingly.
The second man laughed. "Lady? She ain't no lady, just a damn Mex hoo
He got no further because Buck's punch filled his open mouth, propelling
him backwards to land on his ass in the dust.
Not even bothering to see if his victim would get up, Buck gently but firmly
took the girls hand and pulled her around to stand behind him.
"Why don't you two 'gentlemen' just say goodbye to the lady and we'll say
no more about this, okay?" he offered.
"Wallace, what's yer problem?" the man asked. "We's jist havin' a bit of
fun is all." His Texas accent reminded Buck of Vin, but he had none of Vin's
charm or strength in his voice.
"I got not problem, I'm an easy going kinda guy, but the lady here wants
to leave now, without your help - alright?"
The man he hit was back on his feet again, blood running freely from the
corner of his mouth. The three of them now lined up in front of him as the
girl sheltered behind his back. From across the yard Josiah saw what was
happening. He didn't want to get involved yet, they had been going out of
their way to ensure that no one knew they were friends. But as he watched
things were turning ugly, other men were now watching, it was hard to tell
whose side they were on. Just as he thought he was going to have to act,
Greening - the colonel's trusty second in command - walked up.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"Nothing," Buck announced breezily, "jist a little misunderstanding, nothing
really - right boys?"
Greening looked at the other three; he knew them and what they were like.
"The trucks ready to go back, best get aboard Miss," he said without
taking his eyes off the three men.
"Si Senor," she said shakily.
"I'll walk with you darlin'," Buck announced, turning so that he kept his
body between her and the men.
Josh Marshall had watched the whole incident from the motor pool where he
was cleaning a truck, something about what had just happened was familiar,
yet he couldn't work out why. He watched Wallace walk the girl to the truck,
watched the way she was comfortable in his presence, how she let him stroke
her cheek and kiss her gently on the forehead, and how it was she who pulled
him down for a proper, lingering kiss. The more he watched the more he felt
like he was watching a re-run of an old movie.
That evening there was beer for supper and a movie, no lecture, but Josh
wasn't feeling as relaxed as he should have been. He was an average sized
man about the same age as Buck, his pale blond hair was mostly gone now,
he had served in the army for the best part of fifteen years mostly as a
mechanic. That night he tossed and turned until it finally came to him.
"You sure?" Greening asked him for the third time.
"Sir, would I drag you out of bed at three am if I wasn't sure?" Marshall
"No, no I guess not. Denver you say?"
Marshall nodded. "I never did like him either, cocky bastard."
"Name?" The voice bellowed in his ear yet again.
Buck had lost count how often the question had been asked, his reply was
always the same. His name was Ben Wallace. He had been dragged from his bed
in the middle of the night; no one let him dress or told him what was going
on. Now he was in a cellar someplace, he didn't know where, dressed in nothing
but a pair of old sweats. Each wrist was wrapped in rope, tight enough to
hold him, but not tight enough to cut off his circulation. Each rope was
stretched out to run through a ring set into the wall either side of him,
at the end of the rope hung a weight. He had taken hold of the ropes and
pulled them in a bit, that way the rope didn't pull on his arms, but he was
The man, not someone he had seen around before, walked backwards and forwards
"See, the thing is I don't believe you. Someone recognised you, that little
knight in shining armour display you put on jogged someone's
memory, so lets try again. What
He slammed his fist in to the small of Buck's back, forcing him to stumble
forward, as pain lanced through him, he lost hold of the ropes and the weights
suddenly yanked his arms apart.
Before he could get his breath or stand fully upright again a second blow
landed on his left kidney. He stifled a cry of pain into a grunt.
Blow number three, this time the right kidney was targeted.
This time the it wasn't a fist, but a boot, it slammed into the back of his
already shaky left knee and he crumpled instantly to the cold concrete floor.
The weights rose as he pulled the ropes down, but he didn't have the strength
to fight against gravity and the weights slowly sank again pulling his arms
"I told you," Buck ground out past clenched teeth; "my name is Wallace, Ben
The man walked up to stand right behind him, his hand dropped down to wind
its way around Buck's neck, he bent down to whisper in the captive agents
ear. "Thing is, I know what your name is, I just want you to tell me, that's
all, just tell me your name."
Buck knew better. You never said anything - once you started talking it was
too easy to slip up, if he did that he might betray Sanchez. No matter what
he had to say nothing; a name a false name, that was all they got
- seeing as he didn't have a rank or serial number. Suddenly the man was
in front of him, he hadn't even noticed him moving around. That was bad.
Focus Wilmington, focus! Put the pain to one side, concentrate on what's
important, focus! he chided himself.
"Tell you what, I'll let you think on it, for a while anyway." Before Buck
had even looked up the door opened and closed and single light winked out,
plunging the cold, bare room in to darkness.
Buck tried to get into some position where his back didn't shoot daggers
of white-hot pain into him every time he breathed. He wanted to lie down
and curl into a defensive ball, but he couldn't, the ropes didn't have that
much play on them. Kneeling as he was his arms were pulled up and apart in
a 'Y' shape. In order to relieve the pull on is shoulders he had to stand
up and take hold of the ropes and pull them in. Right then he didn't have
the strength to do that, but he knew he had to do it soon, as much as his
lower back hurt, pain was already playing across his shoulders, if he didn't
move soon he'd get cramp. Summoning all his strength he took hold of the
ropes and pulled them taut, using them to help haul himself back onto his
feet. He felt a little light-headed but it passed. The left knee throbbed
where it had been kicked but it would hold him. Upright, his arms were stretched
at shoulder height, and that made things easier on his back muscles. His
kidneys were still shooting daggers up his back, all the way to his armpits
but it was subsiding slowly.
He had no idea how long he stood there; every now and again he let the rope
go and took the strain of the weighs through his arms to his shoulder, then
he took the rope and pulled it in so he could bend his arms. It was cold
in cellar, damp too, the concrete floor was rough and unfinished and there
was no air circulating. He knew logically that he was being listened to,
possibly watched; an infra-red light and camera would be invisible to him.
But he didn't care so he sang to himself, silly, stupid things. He sang Love
Me Tender and Suspicious Minds - that was a stroke of unintentional genius
he realised. He sang You Are My Sunshine and Mammas, dont let your
babies grow up to be Cowboys and finally Always Look on the Bright Side of
Life. He was just whistling the final chorus again, when the door opened.
"You were described to me as a 'cocky bastard' I can see that was an accurate
description. I really hate 'cocky bastards'," his inquisitor said in a voice
that was soft with implied menace.
"Not a music lover?" Buck asked, he knew it was a stupid thing to do, antagonise
his tormentor, but if he was going to be labelled cocky he might as well
live up to it.
The man didn't rise to the bait, he just walked in, the heavy metal door
swinging shut behind him with an ominous clang.
"How's your back?" he asked.
"Fine, you should market this thing as a cure for back ache." Buck let his
shoulders take the strain; his arms pulled out straight.
Just then a large hand landed on the small of his back, strong fingers pressed
into his left kidney making his gasp as the pain shot up his side.
"What's your name?" he asked.
Buck didn't reply, he was concentrating on getting his response under control,
he knew the man was going to hurt him again, he prepared himself this time,
he wouldn't give the bastard the satisfaction of a reaction, a joke, an insult,
a witty repost - but no admission of pain. The hand pressed down again, another
wave of pain shot up his back. But he didn't react.
"Having fun back there, buddy?" Buck managed to ask. "Lotta girls say my
ass is my best feature. What do you think?"
"I think you're a spy, I think you're the law, I know you're not who you
claim to be." This final statement was followed by a blow across the back
that forced Buck forward, he stumbled but kept his feet, making himself stay
"Look buddy, I am who I say I am, plain ol' Ben! I used to ride in rodeos,
never won jack shit! Been working and drifting for years, I want something
more than driftin' an' I don't want no stinking fed in fucking DC telling
me what to do."
"Wrong answer!" the man roared, stamping down on the back of Buck's left
knee forcing him down on to the floor, arms suddenly jerked up. His hair
was grabbed and his head yanked back. "We know who you are, we will get proof,
save yourself more discomfort, just tell me your name, thats all you
have to do, it's nothing." Then before Buck could even think of a reply the
man's elbow came down on to his right shoulder, pile-driving down into the
hollow above his collar bone - there was an audible crack. No one had ever
done that to Buck - and he had been beat on plenty in his time - and he couldn't
believe how much it hurt. He couldn't help it; he cried out, only choking
back the sound when it was almost over. Before he was even fully aware of
what was happening he was left alone in the darkness again, with just his
pain to keep him company.
The colonel was advised of the problem, and he personally interviewed Marshall.
Josh Marshall had once had aspirations to be a policeman; he managed to get
a place at the Denver police academy. A young Buck Wilmington was in the
class above him. Buck was everything Marshall was not. He was a good cadet
- not top of the class, he wasn't good at the book learning, but confident
and good at the practical tasks. He was popular with most of the men and
all the women. He was tall, slim but not skinny and good-looking. Marshall
remembered him well, now he had put a name to the face. Marshall didn't make
it through the academy, he was asked to leave; lack of aptitude they said.
"You're sure it's him?" Freeman asked again.
"Sir, yes sir, that man's name is Buck Wilmington - Buck, dumb name, you
don't forget a name like that - anyway he is - or was - a cop in Denver."
"That's good enough for me," Freeman looked up at his right-hand man, "get
proof," he instructed.
Greening snapped a drill book perfect salute and departed.
Josiah looked casually around the mess hall at breakfast searching for
Wilmington's tall frame; they had an agreement to at least make eye contact
first thing in the morning. He couldn't see him or pick out the sound of
his voice. Collecting his own meal he sat where he could see the door, Buck
did not come. Sanchez collected a second and then a third mug of coffee,
but still his partner did not come. Finally he had to leave, to have stayed
longer would have raised suspicions. After breakfast there were callisthenics.
Josiah was usually two rows back and six men over from Buck, who while protesting
how much he hated it was thriving on the additional exercise, but not that
morning. He tended the chickens and helped in the vegetable plots with an
increasing feeling of dread. His fear increased when he didn't see Buck at
lunch. He managed to sit next to one of Buck's bunkmates, a young man called
Jimmy Miller. Jimmy wasn't very bright, Buck had even speculated that Jimmy
was mildly retarded.
"Jimmy isn't it?" Josiah started.
The young man's head bobbed once, his close-cropped brown hair catching the
noonday sun. "Yes sir," he confirmed.
"Have you seen Ben today?" Josiah asked casually, "he was gonna show me the
stallion this afternoon."
"He left, last night; 's shame, he's an all right kinda guy, you know?"
Josiah smiled. Yes indeed, Buck was an 'alright kinda guy'. "Where'd he go?"
"Jist left, some guys came an' got him last night, guess it was some kinda
Josiah had no reason to doubt the young man; he just wasn't smart enough
to lie convincingly. But he knew there could be only one reason for his partner's
sudden removal. He was alone, he was in danger - he knew Buck would never
willingly give him up, but everyone has their limit, even stubborn S.O.Bs
like Buck. He had to find Buck and get out, that was all that mattered now.
Buck stood as still as he could. It had been hard to climb to his feet, but
it was better than kneeling on the floor. He wanted to lie down and curl
up in a ball, but he couldn't even sit, all the ropes would let him do was
kneel or stand. Kneeling caused his shoulder the most agonising pain, with
his arms raised up he could feel the broken ends of his collarbone grating
together. Standing, with his arms out straight pulled the bones apart, it
still hurt but it was nothing compared to the grating. The actual process
of standing was the worse part, his left knee, which had been kicked most
often trembled. He was putting more and more weight on the other leg, now
it too was protesting the at the additional weight and its own mistreatment.
He was cold; who the heck said Hell was hot? Hell wasn't hot it was cold
- cold and damp and dark. He shivered; shivering hurt, but he couldn't stop
it. Shock, logically he knew he was in shock, but he was powerless to help
himself, his captors hadn't even given him a drink. Time seemed to stop;
he had no concept of how long he had been there.
Suddenly the door flew open, the light came on, temporarily blinding him,
as he squinted at the dark silhouetted figure in the doorway.
"Hello Mr Wilmington, nice to meet you," his tormentor greeted coolly.
Hell! Buck thought, So they do know and they're not interested
in having me say it anymore, they're in a hurry, want to move up the timetable.
Not good, not good at all.
"Still on your own two feet? I'm impressed."
"Bastard!" Buck spat out past parched, cracked lips.
"Actually, according to your birth certificate, the only bastard around here
is you, Mr 'father unknown' Wilmington. Let me see, born in Louisiana, so
you're a southern 'good ol' boy'. Who would have thought? Of course the fact
that you went to high school in Nevada - Las Vegas, and Denver would explain
the lack of any southern drawl. Collage in Denver too and then we get to
the good part, from college straight into the Denver police academy, now
that I find very interesting,"
The man advanced on him, his expression blank and unreadable.
"But you left the Denver P D, didn't you?" Buck returned his hard stare,
doing his best not to shake or tremble although his body was fast betraying
his intentions. "Now you claim to be a failed rodeo rider - that is partly
true isn't it?" Still Buck did not respond. "See this," the man held up a
photocopy of a newspaper article, it depicted two young cowboys showing off
a collection of trophies and rosettes. "This says you weren't a pro rider,
you were an amateur - that is you isn't it, under the white hat? Very knight
in shining armour that - and you were good. Let me see
it says 'Buck
Wilmington (left)' that's you 'and Christopher Larabee, both patrolmen with
the DPD, cleaned up at the annual amateur rodeo this weekend, between them
the two cops won 15 of the 18 categories they were entered for.' Very impressive,
15 out of 18, very good." The man's voice changed it became harder, colder,
darker. "Christopher Larabee it known to us, he's a fed, ATF, a dangerous
man, and you were his friend."
Buck looked at him, he was tired and he hurt but he had to protect Josiah,
but right then he was also mad as hell.
"I don't know what you want form me," he ground out. "I am who I say I am,
so do whatever you gotta do. You get your rocks off poundin' on folk, go
ahead, be my guest! But just shut the fuck up and do it, 'cause I'm tired
of listening to your shit. You know what you are? You're a bully, you like
making people hurt."
The man took an ominous step closer, but Buck was past caring.
"What are you, Freeman's tame pitbull? He needs some dirty work done, so
he calls in his pet terrier? 'Here boy! Good doggie!' So do it, get your
perverted little kicks. Do your masters dirty work. But I ain't gonna
tell ya jack shit! Know why? 'Cause I don't know shit!"
A piledriver of a punch impacted with the right side of his chest, knocking
all the air out of him, his already shaky legs crumpled and he fell heavily
to his knees. As the ropes pulled his arms up suddenly, stoical as he was,
desperate not to show weakness as he was, Buck cried out as a bolt of agonising
pain shot through his injured shoulder. Before his mouth was even closed
it was hit; the unmistakable coppery taste of blood filled his mouth, a whole
new pain shot through his jaw and his vision blurred. The voice of his tormentor
was a distant echo, he blinked, trying to make the room bright again, instead
it just got darker, the open lit doorway in front of him became just a fuzzy
"I said, who's your partner?" the man asked, his face inches from Buck's,
his warm breath was actually pleasant, but Buck didn't answer, he was having
enough trouble just thinking. Pain, agonising screaming pain in his shoulder
brought the world back into some kind of focus. He pulled his head, which
had started to sag down on to his chest, up to see the man in front of him,
his large hand squeezing Buck's shoulder, making the unstable fracture move
under his fingers.
"Bastard!" Buck ground out between gasps.
"I think we established you were the bastard, not me. Now, I'm gonna ask
one more time, who is your partner - youre a fed, Mr Wilmington, feds
travel in pairs, so who is it?"
Hell!" Buck managed to grind out through gritted teeth as
the broken bone ends once more moved against each other.
His head dropped once more, blackness edged his vision and this time nothing
would bring him back.
The interrogator, know only as 'The Major' stepped back, infuriated that
his victim had escaped him by passing out. He backed out of the room and
closed the door.
"Well?" Greening asked, when he reached the top of the steps that led down
to the bomb shelter where Buck was being held, under the main house.
"He's one tough guy, but if he really is one of Larabee's team he would be.
Move him to the bunker, we need to get more
Greening shuddered inwardly; he had seen the results of The Major's,
scientific methods of questioning, not a pretty sight.
Josiah knew he had to do something that night; he had to locate where Buck
was held at least. He waited until his bunk mates were all asleep, then he
slipped out into the darkness. Keeping to the shadows he made his way to
the barn. He was going to need a weapon. Only the men on guard duty had guns.
All the weapons used for drill, target practice, assault courses and war
games were under lock and key. Sanchez thought it ironic that a group who
preached against almost all gun law was so restrictive about guns within
their own community. In the barn he made his way to where he knew the feed
room was. It was padlocked, but Ezra had taught all of them to pick simple
locks, and this was very simple. Inside he found what he came for; a huge
machete, normally used to cut hay bales. That and his own clasp knife were
his only weapons.
Just in case he had a canteen of water over one shoulder and a chicken feed
bag over the other in which he had placed some food he had managed to purloin
at lunch and supper; cookies, bread rolls, apples, oranges, bananas and even
a few candy bars. To the bag he had added his own small first aid and survival
kit. Be prepared wasn't only for boy scouts. The last thing he
did was squat by the outside tap and pick up some of the wet mud from under
it. This he used as camouflage.
Thought we left all this crap behind in Nam, he told himself, amn,
I'm way too old for this shit!
He had established during the day that Wilmington was not in any of the ranch
buildings, to his mind that left three possibilities. He was being held in
the main house, most likely in a cellar, he was being held at the mine, or
- and this was really worrying - he had been taken away to some location
Sanchez knew nothing about. He cast his eyes skyward.
"Lord," he whispered. "you know he's a good man so please, don't make this
more difficult than it already is, ok? A sign would be good, you know, a
sudden shaft of moonlight, thunder bolt, huge hand pointing to the spot where
they got Buck." God did not respond, so Josiah set out on his own.
God or fate or dumb luck was on Sanchez' side after all it seemed, because
even before he had finished circling the house, he saw a cellar door at the
back open, a shaft of light spilling out to illuminate the yard in front
of it. As he crouched down in the shadows he witnessed two large men drag
a third equally large man out and deposit him unceremonially on the hard
packed dirt. From his position all Sanchez could see was that it was a man
and he was shirtless, but it had to be Buck. He looked dead, lying face down
on the ground unmoving, neither of the men paying him much attention. One
of the men left, striding over to the side of the house and around the corner,
moments later he was back with a bucket. Then as Josiah watched on helplessly,
they emptied the bucket, which contained water, over Buck's prone form. To
his enormous relief Josiah saw his friend react to the sudden drenching,
rolling onto his side and coughing. Silently thanking God for not letting
these morons kill the big-hearted agent, he tried to work out how he was
going to get him away from his captors and the two of them away from the
ranch. No easy thing when they didn't know where they were to start with.
As he watched another man emerged. He had the look of an officer, and indeed
the other two stood to attention as he approached.
"Put him in a truck," the new arrival instructed his subordinates.
Sanchez was a lot closer to the motor pool and he wasn't toting a semi-conscious
man. Moving as fast as he could he made his way to the darkened rows of parked
vehicles. There were three trucks. Once was blocked in by the others, so
he dismissed it. One had been newly swept and cleaned out with no place to
hide; the last had an old tarpaulin in the back. All the trucks had keys
in the ignition. Josiah pulled out the keys from the clean truck and tossed
them under the driver's seat. If anyone questioned their absence hopefully
they would think it an accident. Than with seconds to spare he hid under
the tarpaulin in the back of the other truck. His plan worked and he heard
the two men heaving Buck into the truck.
No one spoke much as the truck bounced and rumbled its way up the track.
Josiah lay as still as he could. He even tried to hold his breath at one
time, convinced his breathing was so loud it could be heard miles away. Finally
he convinced himself this was not true. One of the men spoke.
"So, you awake Fed?" Buck made no response. "Come on Fed, answer the question
- are you awake?" Still Buck did not respond.
They questioned him, Josiah thought he detected the sound of boot hitting
flesh, but still Buck didn't speak. That was bad; while he couldn't come
up with the witty clever riposts Ezra was capable of even under the most
extreme situations, Buck had a fine line in truly imaginative insults. That
he didn't even try to use any of them was testament to how badly off he was.
Eventually the truck came to a stop. Its engine shuddered once and stopped.
As soon as he thought the others and Buck were clear, Sanchez emerged from
under his cover. As he dropped down from the back of the truck he recognised
the location as being the mine where they believed the ordinance was being
held. Now what was he going to do? Two armed men guarded the mine, with the
two prisoner escorts and a driver that made it 5 to 1, and he had no gun.
Buck was held between the two guards. One walked beside him, a gun over his
shoulder, the other had Buck's left arm over his shoulder and his sidearm
was holstered on the other side. Buck's legs while apparently holding him,
looked shaky. That wasn't good. They were going to have to run for it. The
slow truck was out of the question, the road was a one-way track, barely
wide enough for the truck. Once they were on it - even assuming he could
turn it around without getting shot, there was no turning back and it led
right through the ranch complex. No, if they were going to get away it was
going to have to be on foot, in the forest that surrounded them. Then as
he watched, still debating what to do, he saw Buck slowly plant one bare
and bleeding foot firmly on the ground. The mine guards were calling their
CO for conformation and this was holding things up. As Josiah watched, his
friend's legs stopped trembling. So Buck wasn't as done in as he would have
his captors believe.
Josiah breathed a sigh of relief, Chris always said it - 'you can always
rely on Buck'. He cupped his hands around his mouth, and praying his dry
mouth wouldn't fail him, he attempted to impersonate the call of a tawny
owl. He had been teaching JD how do it the last weekend they were all together
at the ranch. He just hoped Buck remembered, and understood he wasn't alone.
It was hard to tell how badly the tall man was hurt; he was clearly favouring
one leg, his right arm held defensively against his chest, but other than
that it was hard to tell. His relative lack of clothing was going to be a
problem, especially the lack of shoes. But all that had to wait until they
were away and free. The driver of the truck climbed down from the cab.
"What's the hold up?" he called.
"Procedure." Came the irritated reply. The man who had responded left Buck
and walked back to the driver. His gun was at his side, hanging loose. In
his youth, in Nam, when he had had to be fast and sharp to stay alive, Josiah
could have done what he was about to do and know he was going to get is right.
Now he just hoped he could do it before the man brought his gun to bear.
Machete in his left hand he launched himself at the driver, bursting explosively
from the cover of the undergrowth. Luck and skill were with him and he had
the deadly blade at the man's neck before anyone could react or bring a gun
"No one moves!" he bellowed. "You move and he dies!" Sanchez drew his prisoner's
pistol out with his right hand and levelled it without moving the razor sharp
blade from the vulnerable neck in front of him.
The closest man held his hand out, his gun held away from his body. "Take
it easy buddy, what the problem here?"
Sanchez didn't take his eyes of any of the four men in front of him. "Don't
play dumb fella, you know damn well what's going on," he growled. "Buck?"
he called, using Wilmington's real name to let him know he had things under
"Yeah," came the response.
"Can you walk?"
"I c'n walk out'a this shit hole," he hissed. Without having to be told he
moved away from the man he had been leaning on. He pulled out the guard's
pistol and pointed it at the man. "You get over there to my partner," he
instructed, then he turned to the other two. "Throw the guns over there -
to yer right," he instructed.
The two men glanced over to the right, both well aware that Buck was telling
them to toss their weapons into a patch of poison oak. They hesitated, so
as neither ATF agent wanted to fire a shot if they could help it because
they had no why to know how close other guards might be, Josiah drew the
machete blade across the man's neck. The cut was no more then a scratch,
but it was enough to make him cry out and then whimper in pure terror as
the warm sticky blood the blade had released trickled down his neck.
"Open it," Buck growled at the two men in front of him.
"Don't have a key," on of them stated belligerently.
"Yeah ya do, so open it. I can't have you following us, so you open it or
we shoot you. Open it!"
The two men took in the figure before them. His body was abused, he was half
naked, and trembling slightly - but - his gun arm was rock steady and there
was an edge to his voice that left no doubt that he would shoot them without
hesitation, if he had to. Besides, there was a spare key inside.
Once all five men were locked up, Josiah stood next to the now locked steel
gates. "You know you went in there way too easily; one of you has a key or
you can get to a key - right?" None of the men answered. But as they watched
a grin of pure evil spread across Sanchez's face. Keeping his gun trained
on the men through the bars, noting that Buck also had them covered although
his gun was resting on the bars, he took hold of the key in his left hand.
Then, in a display of pure power few men ever got so see, he began to turn
the key in the lock -as if to lock it - and little by little the key bent
and twisted and finally snapped off in the lock.
"Nice, pal," Buck commented without taking his eyes of the men inside, who
just stared incredulously at the ruined lock.
"Thank you brother, can you keep them covered a little while longer?"
"I'm okay," Wilmington assured.
As quickly as possible Josiah stripped the truck of anything they could use
and disabled it. Then he finally returned to Buck.
"Come brother, time to - as they say in the movies - 'get the hell out 'a
here', sooner or later someone is gonna come and relieve the guard or notice
these bastards are missing."