Tick Tick Tick

by Kathy Teresa

Disclaimer: I don’t owe these guys. Just borrow them from time to time. Their rights belong to those Hollywood guys. Don’t make anything but satisfaction from writing stories about them.

I came across this great short story called Booby trap by Bill Pronzini. I just HAD to insert our guys as the prime characters. A big thanks to Mr. Pronzine, for his fine story line and for not minding (I hope) "letting me" borrow a few of his ideas.


He finished the third bomb just before nine Sunday night. Only it really wasn’t a bomb. That ATF agent…Larabee, had described it as a ‘destructive device’. It was the legal definition of the Federal Firearms Code Penal Code. He remembered the handsome agent reading it out loud in court. His voice refined, educated but with a steely hardness that projected power and confidence.

"Chapter 2.5 Destructive devices section 12.303. Explosion of Destructive Device. Every person who possesses, explodes or ignites or attempts to explode or ignite any destructive device; or with any explosive with intent to injure, intimidate or terrify any person, or with intent to wrongfully injure or destroy any property is guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the federal penitentiary to a period of three, five or seven years. "

He knew the section by heart. By the time of the trial, he could have recited it aloud with the smug ATF agent. He’d read it over and over again from a prison library book while in his cell awaiting trial. But the jury had taken the word of that ATF agent and his partner, the one with the long brown hair, about the devices that he had build over three years ago. The long-haired one had testified that they were more than ‘destructive devices’, they were also Chapter 3.2 "booby traps": specifically section 12355; Booby traps; a felony. "Any person, who assembles, maintains places or causes to be placed a ‘booby trap device’ as described in section C is guilty of a felony: followed by punishable by imprisonment in a Federal prison for two, three or five years."

Sico. Albert Sico, the prosecuting attorney had led the agent; what was his name? Hinson should know. The years he’d spent in prison had softened his mind. The agent’s name…..Wait ! Hinson pawed through a pile of papers until he found what he wanted. His "hit list".

Scanning it he quickly found the name he was looking for, Vin Tanner. Smiling, he remembered when the agent had stumbled several times while reading from his deposition. Hinson felt a surge of power when he pictured how Tanner had blushed and licked away the sweat from his upper lip. Tanner’s dirty little secret was there for the world to see. The "oh-so-smart" and "mighty" ATF agent read out loud like a 6th grader. Hinson chuckled at the memory and putdown the list.

He collected his thoughts by concentrating on the bomb lying on the table in front of him. He pictured in his mind Federal Judge William Mohr sprawled out dead on his front lawn with his self-righteous ‘You need psychiatric help, Mr. Hinson’ four-eyed head blown off. His mind recreated the image that had been provided by this morning’s newscast. His smile widened at the memory.

Tick Tick

Device number one. Mission one accomplished. But Mohr was the one he hated the least. Sure the idiot judge had sentenced him to three years for "possessing material to assemble ‘booby-traps’, but the one he really wanted. Actual the ones he wanted were the two sanctified ATF agents; Tanner and Larabee. They had actually called his work "shoddy".

There would be much more satisfaction when device number two made a pin cushion of Prosecuting Attorney Albert Seco. But when the bomb he was making now, ripped the life out of Agent Tanner. Then he would really have cause for rejoicing. The satisfaction of seeing "Mr. Perfect" Christopher Larabee, ATF grieving at the loss of his partner would be just another added treat.

Vengeance is mine, he thought. And so very satisfying.

Hinson arranged his tools carefully, placing them back into their correct compartments. He carefully set the third bomb in its carrier and closed it.

Standing up, he stretched feeling the fatigue in his legs and shoulders.

It was then that he realized he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. He decided that he had better put something in his stomach before he went to bed. He’d sleep better.

Three a.m. was only a few hours off and there wouldn’t be time for a quick breakfast. He had to drop the Prosecuting Attorney’s present off first and then drive all the way to Golden Gate Canyon State Park on Hwy. 93. Tanner had a cabin on the edge of the park he had inherited from some old bounty hunter. He and Larabee trailered their horses the 20 miles almost every weekend to ride the park trails. It didn’t matter when Tanner found his package. It would wait for him patiently. That’s the nice thing about booby traps. No timers to worry about, it just waited until someone came to claim it.

Hinson went into the cramped kitchen. The pilot light on the stove had gone out. Relighting the pilot light with a match, he reminded himself to complain to the apartment manager again about fixing it. He opened a can of stew and emptied it into a saucepan and put it on the stove to heat. Looking around the house, he remembered how the ad in the paper had described it. "Charming mountain-view cottage. Completely furnished."

Mumbling to himself, Hinson described it for himself. "Miserable, drafty, wood shack with bargain basement furniture. No central heating, a propane stove that didn’t work properly and a toilet that wouldn’t stop running no matter what you did to the handle or the flush tank."

At four hundred dollars a month in advance, Hinson had been outraged. No discount even though he would be in it less than two weeks. Still it was palatial compared to his prison cell. He had been out of that hell hole only three months, but still he had nightmares.

But the place had a good view of the Colorado mountains, and that was very important to a man just released from prison. The stew was ready. Hinson emptied it into a bowl and opened a package of saltine crackers. As he sat down to eat, he pulled his collection of pictures and newspaper clippings over to look at them.

Picking through several he found the one he wanted. It was a picture of Tanner and the rest of the ATF team they called "The Magnificent 7". Obviously taken at a picnic or convention it was the one shown in the paper at the time of his ‘capture.’ High and mighty Federal agents! He thought as he fingered the outline of Vin’s head. Those blue eyes would soon be looking at the insides of a fireball. Smiling at the thought, he finishing his dinner; put the dish in the sink and went to bed.


Tick Tick

Chris Larabee looked out through window and assessed his team. It was early yet so he didn’t expect to see Ezra for another fifteen minutes. Vin was cleaning one of his rifles while the usual early morning chatter sailed around the room.

He looked down at the article on the front page of the paper and sighed. He stood, stretching his lean body before picking up the paper and heading for the open office. It had to be done. He had to tell the others.

"Hey, Chris. There’s fresh coffee in the lounge and I’m suspecting that Vin’s hiding some of Nettie’s chocolate chip cookies in that plastic tub in the top drawer of his desk. Ain’t that right, Vin?" Buck Wilmington slid his chair across the room like a scooter and started to reach inside Vin’s desk.

"Touch that and you loose an arm." Vin was using his rough, guttural voice. That could mean trouble for Buck, if Vin was in a bad mood. Since Vin was very seldom in that kind of a mood, Buck pushed his luck and slipped the drawer open. There they were. A couple dozen of the best chocolate cookies in Colorado sat within fingers length. Licking his lips, he reached forward. A firm hand gripped his wrist and he froze.

Looking over he saw that Vin was still patiently cleaning his rifle so he looked at the hand again and followed the arm upward. Waiting at the other end was Josiah Sanchez. The team’s profiler, Josiah had a vast background in religious, philosophical and psychological education, but his immediate attention was on preventing Buck from eating all of Nettie’s cookies.

"A moment, Brother Buck ?" Josiah lifted Buck’s hand effortlessly and took the plastic tub from the drawer. "Vin was just waiting for us all to get here before he offered these delicacies to the rest of us. Right, Vin?" Seeing the twinkle in Vin’s blue eyes followed by a slight nod, Josiah carried the prize toward the lounge.

Ezra slipped in quietly but not unseen by Chris. Just under the 8 am starting time. Chris smiled and cleared his throat. "Boys, we need to talk. Someone grab the cookies and bring your coffee in the conference room." Expecting his orders to be followed Chris took his coffee down the hall toward the room.

When everyone was settled and the cookies passed around, Chris placed the paper on the table in front of him and opened it to the front page. Sipping his coffee to wash down a cookie, Chris started.

"If you didn’t see the morning headlines, or hear it on the news, you need to know this. Federal Judge Mohr who presided over the booby-trap trail Vin and I testified in about three years ago." Looking around he watched the various expressions of his men. He continued "Was killed this morning when he opened the door to his car. The explosion blew him half way across the front yard. He was torn to pieces." Chris held up the headlines and passed the gristly picture on the newspaper around the group. He looked at Vin as he sat, waiting for a response from his team.

Vin looked at the picture. He could barely make out one solid mass that might resemble a body. He tried to picture the judge in his mind. Passing it to Josiah, he leaned forward.

"Do we know if Hinson has been paroled? He still has time to serve doesn’t he?" Seeing the confusion on JD’s face, Vin explained. "Leonard Hinson. Chris and I worked the case four years ago, finished it right before you game on. He swore he’d get ‘revenge’. Can’t be him though, he’s still locked up. The judge has put a lot of people away Chris. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about." Vin picked at another cookie, not putting any pieces in his mouth. He dropped them in his cold coffee and sat back his eyes staring at the newspaper picture.

Chris had dialed his cell the minute Vin had mentioned Hinson sentence. He spoke to someone briefly and then sat waiting. He watched Vin closely. He really hoped Vin was right about Hinson’s prison sentence, but Chris had worked for the Federal Government a lot longer than Vin. Chris listened to the voice giving him the information he needed but didn’t want to hear. Clicking off the phone, he looked back down at the paper.

"Hinson’s out, isn’t he?" Josiah’s deep voice carried softly across the room.

Biting his lip, Chris turned to Vin. "Yeah, yeah he is. They let him out for good behavior almost three months ago."

"But aren’t they supposed to let ya know if that happens. If they let someone out early? So you can be careful?" JD asked to no one in particular.

"They are supposed to do that JD. The information doesn’t obviously get to the right people in a timely manner." Buck slammed his hand down shaking the table.

Silence hung in the room. Ezra went out and soon came back with a pot of freshly brewed coffee. Looking at the expressions of his friends, he poured each a fresh cup silently. Finished, he sat down quietly.

Vin took a sip and leaned forward. "Well, I’m not gonna put my life on hold because one incident." Seeing Chris start to speak, he raised his hand. "We don’t know if it is connected to the booby-traps he set out three years ago. Hell, we don’t know if the judge being killed even had to do anything with Hinson. Ah, hell, we don’t know officially if he is even out of prison."

Standing and setting down his coffee. "I’m leaving at noon, liked we’d planned, to take Peso and Pony to the cabin." Looking around at the rest of members, he said. "You guys are welcome to come or go your own way. I’m not wasting my time worrying unnecessarily. That’s nuts." Looking at Chris, Vin nodded and left the room.


Tick Tick

Hinson was up and on his way to his first deposit at 5:30am. It was a short twenty minute drive to Sico’s house. Hiding his car in some over hanging trees, he walked the short distance to the garbage can set close to the small duck pond. It technically belonged to the city but everyone thought of it as Al Seco’s property.

Lifting the lid, Hinson was struck by the strong smell of the duck feed. Trying to picture Sico stopping to feed the ducks every morning, rain or shine was hard for Hinson, but it fitted his plans nicely. Exactly at 6:30am. Hinson liked promptness. Reaching down into his bag he lifted the package out carefully, keeping the connecting wires untwisted. He heard the quacking of the ducks as they moved toward the shore anticipating breakfast. Hinson quickly fitted the booby trap in place and carefully replaced the lid. Checking for any signs on the outside of the can, he smiled and quickly walked away. Wishing he had time to see the nails and broken glass slash Sico’s face, Hinson checked the area one more time and drove away unseen.

Al Sico had his mind on this morning’s arraignment when he automatically parked his Honda at the side of the curb. Curiously most of the ducks were already gathered around the shore; some pecking the ground for the presence of feed. If he hadn’t been in such a hurry, Al might have given it some thought about the cause of their early arrival. Checking his watch, he spoke out loud to his gathering flock. "Gonna be a short stop ladies and gentlemen. Have to be in court at 8 am. Lot’s of bad guys to catch today." Reaching for the bungee cord that held the lid securely in place, Sico flipped it off and reached to open the lid.

Mary Peterson was cleaning her front step watching with delight the actions between Al Sico and his ducks. It was a morning ritual that happened as surely as 8 am Mass at St. Michael’s. The blast of light and sound that shattered her front window was certainly not the usual early morning ritual. Turning her face from the heat and debris that blew across the road, Mary felt her legs give way and she sat stunned as the dust settled and she saw what was left of Albert Sico.

Hinson kept the radio tuned to the all news Denver station. Traveling just at the speed limit he made his way on Hwy 93 towards Golden Gate Canyon State Park. He wasn’t worried about encountering Tanner like he had Sico, but since it was Friday he didn’t want to be surprised by the agent taking an afternoon off. Seeing the turn off at Golden Gate Canyon Road, Hinson looked for mile maker 79 that would indicate the turn off to the dirt road that lead to Tanner’s cabin.

Making the turn easily, Hinson slowed his speed to limit the amount of dust his car made. He knew the cabin was located about ten miles up the road. He’d gone by the Public Records Department downtown and gotten directions to the property. Planning, careful planning. That was the key to everything. Hinson stopped his car in a small turn off about a mile from the cabin. Taking his equipment and a pair of binoculars, Hinson started up the road sticking to the edge of the pathway.


Tick Tick Tick

Nathan Jackson, the communications specialist and medic, was cleaning the coffee pot in the lounge sink when he heard the news alert on the TV. The local newscaster was standing on the edge of a subdivision pond. Nathan thought he recognized the area, but turned back to his washing while listening to the announcer speak. The name "Sico" brought Nathan’s head quickly around and he stood frozen as a photo of Albert Sico was shown on the screen. Something about him being hurt…no dead. Al Sico was dead. Nathan almost dropped the clean pot when he heard how Sico had died. A booby trap in a lid of a garbage can. Quickly setting the pot aside, Nathan rushed into the office area and almost ran to Chris’ office.

Chris heard someone running in his direction as he completed coding in the weekly payroll on his computer. Leaning back he let his hand slip toward his holstered gun. When Nathan rounded the corner, Chris anxious reaction turned to one of horror as Nathan told him what the TV had shown.

"What? Are you sure? Al Sico? He’s dead?" Chris heard the words tumbling from his mouth but had not doubt about the information Nathan had brought with him. Standing he came around his desk and headed for the lounge where he joined the rest who were watching the news. Reaching for his cell phone, Chris quickly started to dial his boss, Owen Travis. The phone chirped before he could complete his dialing.

Clicking it on, he listened as the voice on the other end confirmed what the TV was still showing. "Thanks. I’ll be up in a few minutes." Seeing the looks from the other team members, Chris clipped his phone back in place.

"That was Travis. It’s true. Sico’s dead. He’s waiting for Ben Parsons, Team 3’s arson specialist to call him back with details. However, as of now we are under a red alert. No one is off on his own. Especially, Vin or ….." Chris looked around doing a quick head count.

"Too late. He left exactly at noon. Said to tell you he would wait for you at the cabin. He was going to take enough feed and hay for the entire weekend and pick up the horses. You’re supposed to pick up groceries." Josiah relayed the information with a hint of sadness. "I’m sorry. He was set to go. Kid can be stubborn sometimes."

"Stubborn??" Chris was angry. Angry at Vin, himself, the entire situation. "Stubborn!! That hard headed, reckless idiot is leaving himself wide open. He’s out there alone with Hinson." Standing with his hands on his hips, Chris was so stunned by the sudden turn of events he was momentarily unable to think.

"Chris? Chris?" Buck shoved a cell phone in his face to get a reaction. "Here, I’ve dialed Vin’s phone." Chris took the phone, as he saw other team members go to their sources. Each man would start looking for signs of Hinson through his own connections. Settling himself, he waiting impatiently as the phone rang and rang. Leaving a message on Vin’s voice mail after six rings, Chris clicked his phone off and headed toward Travis’ office.


Tick Tick

Vin Tanner secured the back of the horse trailer making sure that the vents were open to give both horses plenty of fresh air. Both horses were veteran travelers and Vin anticipated no problems on the short trip to his cabin. Checking the hitch one more time, Vin got in the truck and started it. He immediately slipped a George Strait CD into the console and started out. Listening to music instead of the news was his first means of escape.

Chris Larabee walked into Owen Travis’ office and stood waiting for Travis to get off the phone. Travis was supervisor of the Denver ATF office and a personal friend of Chris. They personal and career paths had crossed frequently over the years.

Owen Travis put down the phone and looked at the handsome man standing across from him. He could see why his daughter, Mary always inquired about Chris and made every opportunity to meet him. Chris was always polite, but to Mary’s disappointment Chris had remained only a friend. "Chris, I’m waiting on a fax from Denver Fire/Arson Investigation. They confirmed over the phone that Judge Mohr’s bomb matched Hinson’s signature also. You and Vin are bound to be his next targets; I want you both under guard till we get this guy."

Chris stood, "I’d normally agree with you, Owen, except Vin’s already gone. He’s heading to his cabin with Peso and Pony. I’m supposed to meet him later today. He doesn’t know anything about Sico or that Mohr’s death is now related to Hinson. He knows Hinson is out on parole, but that’s it."

"Let me guess. He’s turned his beeper and phone off." Travis tried a small smile.

"No, he wouldn’t turn the beeper off but the phone he would. Except that he does not always keep his beeper on him just around him. Something we are constantly battling over. He’s never missed a call, so it’s more annoying than anything else. Until now." Chris turned toward the door. "The guys are working on their leads and I’m gonna head out to the cabin with a couple of them. Vin’s not stupid. He’ll check things out carefully but I’d like to get there before he does. I’ll keep you updated. Call me if you get anything."

Shaking hands with his Team 7 leader, Travis reached over and asked to be connected to the Denver PD aircraft supervisor.

Downstairs in the team’s office area, the rest of the group was busy on phones or computers. JD jumped up as Chris came into the room. "Chris! I’ve come up with some possible leads on explosive suppliers."

Stopping next to Vin’s desk, Chris looked in JD’s direction. "That’s great, JD. Just a second. You all need to hear this. Sico was killed by Hinson. The device had his signature and Travis says it looks like one that killed Mohr is his also. It looks like he’s taking out everyone who was a part of the prosecution three years ago. I just tried and Vin’s not answering his phone but I’ll beep him as soon as we finish here. Then I’m heading out to the cabin. I can’t order any of you to go, but..."

Buck stood up along with the entire group and started grabbing his weapons and equipment. Chris watched as his team mobilized to go with him. "Okay, look. We’re still gonna need to have a contact person here to coordinate and JD? I want you to follow up on those contacts. It may lead us to an address or alias; something."

Ezra reached for a ringing phone. He listened, smiled and put the phone back down. "That was Wallace Cooper. He’s a bounty hunter whose acquaintance I made through Mr. Tanner. He keeps track of anyone paroled or released in the Denver area. He has proved to be quite helpful on occasion. He has an address he wants to check out. I’ll wait here with JD to see if it leads to anything productive, if that is convenient. Shall we keep in touch, say every fifteen minutes? "

Looking around his men, Chris nodded his approval. As usual they had divided their talents and organized the team into its most efficient parts. Heading for his office, he picked up his weapons and communications briefcase. His phone buzzed and he picked it up. "Larabee." Chris listened as Owen Travis offered him a helicopter courtesy of the Denver PD. "I’ll take it. We’re leaving now."


Tick Tick

Vin drove slowly down the dirt rode. His attention was on anything that would give Peso or Pony a bumpy ride. The closer he got to his cabin the more he relaxed. The cabin was nothing special, but certainly comfortable enough for a week or a weekend stay. He and Chris had built a lean-to and corral for the horses and rebuilt the dock. The cabin was open to any of the team who wanted it, but none was as ‘nature oriented’ as Vin. He loved the escape from his busy life as an ATF agent.

Rounding a turn, Vin eased the truck and trailer down the hill with the cabin now in sight. Parking, he went to the gate and checked the lock to see if it had been tampered with before opening the gate. Everything looked just as he had left it two weeks ago. Latching the gate open, Vin restarted the truck and pulled the trailer up next to the corral. If Peso hadn’t been fussing so much to get out, Vin might have noted a figure slip behind the cabin and disappear into the woodland cover as he drove up.

"Give it up, Peso. Hold your horses!" Vin smiled as he went about letting down the back of the trailer and untying Pony and Peso. Both horses backed out of the trailer on their own and headed for the cool water of the spring feed water trough. Closing the corral gate behind them, Vin placed their halters within easy reach on a pole.

Not liking the looks of the clouds building up behind the mountains, Vin decided to unload the feed and hay into the feed shed instead of waiting for Chris to arrive. Had he gone back, like he usually did to close the main gate, he might have noticed a beaten down grass path and the empty roll of electrical tape cast aside in a ditch. Instead, he went to the truck and took off his shirt and unclipped his cell phone, and beeper. Leaving his gun on, he went to work.

The beeper signaled its demands again and again. The message to call Chris immediately was left unread. Vin concentrated on making trips between the truck and the shed. It felt good to do some heavy physical labor. He left the bags and hay bales outside the shed. Chris could help him with putting it all inside if it didn’t rain first.

His attention was drawn to the breeze sailing through the aspen trees and the comforting noise of the horses munching hay. He stopped and dipped his head in the cool water in the trough. Flipping his head up, he pulled a string from a bale of hay and tied back his long hair into a pony-tail. The cold water streaming down his back gave him a chill. He shivered unconsciously and stood a minute taking in the surroundings carefully.

The wind shifted and suddenly Vin heard the high pitched cry of his beeper. Cursing to himself, he trotted over to it and checked the message. It was Chris. The message had been left three times. The last one only three minutes ago. Reaching in his jacket for his cell phone, Vin started to dial Chris’ number. His finger froze above the keys. Radio waves. His cell worked on radio waves. So did detonators. Frustrated, Vin put the phone down and picked up his beeper as it sounded again.

Chris Larabee was angry and frustrated. Flying in the police helicopter, he, Nathan, Buck and Josiah were heading for a police car parked at the intersection of Hwy 93 and Canyon Rd. He and Vin were going to have a serious talk about beepers and cell phones. If necessary, he would nail the items to Vin’s body. About to give another message to call immediately, Chris was stopped by Josiah’s hand.

"Wait, Chris. Don’t ask Vin to call. His cell phone!" Nathan, Buck and Chris all stared at Josiah coming to the same conclusion.

Chris quickly redialed Vin’s beeper number and spoke quickly. "Vin, don’t use your phone. Hinton killed Sico. Stay away from everything until we get there. Ten minutes away." Clicking off his phone, Chris spoke to the helicopter pilot asking for more speed.

Leo Hinson watched Tanner with a pair of high powered binoculars. He saw the ATF agent pick up a beeper, check it and then start to dial his cell phone. He almost broke out in laughter when the hot-shot bomb expert, finally remembered not to use his cell phone. Too bad, because his ‘package’ wasn’t radio activated. Sighing heavily he rose slowly and started back out to his car. He really wanted to be there when his prize opened Tanner, but he couldn’t risk staying. He knew Larabee and his crew was coming. It was too risky to stay even for a taste of that sweet picture. Gathering his tools, Hinson left Vin Tanner to pick up his surprise alone.


Tick Tick Tick

Vin read the beeper message and sagged back against the truck. Looking at the useless cell phone in his hand, Vin set it back on the truck seat. He leaned back again and studied his cabin and the area around it, looking for a place Hinson might have left a booby trap. His eyes traveled the area over and over but nothing other than doors and windows fit Hinson’s method. Sticking to the truck, where he knew he was safest, Vin started to watch Peso and Pony graze and wander the pasture corral.

Chris, Josiah, Buck and Nathan met the highway patrolman in a convience store parking lot. As they climbed into the four-wheel drive vehicle, Chris gave the officer directions to the cabin. The officer was to stay at the store to secure the landing area in case they needed it again. Chris planned to drive slowly until they came to the main gate. They would walk from there. The helicopter was going to fly over the cabin and report back to Chris.

Josiah clicked on his chirping phone and listened. A short acknowledgement and he turned his phone off. "That was JD. He tracked down a back door dealer who sold about three pounds of gelignite to someone matching Hinson’s description five days ago."

"Guess that confirms it then." Nathan said staring intently at the roadside woodland. The others agreed silently. There was nothing more to say.

Vin stood still, resisting the urge to search. A helicopter climbed slowly overhead. Vin could see the Denver Police sign on the side. Waving his hand to draw its attention, Vin watched as the chopper approached and hovered. He saw the pilot speak into his mike and then turn away and head towards the highway. Vin hoped that was a sign that help was on the way.

Buck gave the mike to Chris who listened carefully to the pilot. Letting out a breath, Chris nodded his thanks and handed back the mike. Turning to the others, he recited what the pilot had seen. Vin was leaning against the truck next to the cabin. The horses were turned out in the corral and Vin had waved at the helicopter. The gate to the driveway was still opened and nothing else was moving in or out of the area that they could see. No one commented.

Pony wandered around the pasture. Vin could see how much both the horses liked coming to this place. The ranch was beautiful, but there was something cool and refreshing about this place the horses sensed. Even Peso was usually in a good mood during a stay. Standing up to stretch his tired limbs, Vin shivered in the first cooling of the day. Reaching inside the truck cab, he grabbed his shirt and put it back on. As he buttoned it, he continued to watch the horses.

Chris was joined by the others as they left the SUV about half-a mile from the front gate. With his binoculars, Chris could see the gate still open. Not Vin’s usual habit, but if one of the horses had been getting fussy, Vin may have planned to come back to close it. He signaled the others to move forward slowly.

Pony was grazing closer and closer to the feed shed. Vin looked at his watch and saw it was nearing their feeding time. "Pony!" Vin shooed. "Get outta there!"

Pony’s head came up, he studied Vin and with a snort finally moved a few feet away from the feed bags. Peso’s ears pricked, listening to Vin’s voice and he started to move to join Pony; anticipating dinner. Vin watched both horses and shook his head. "Ah, hell!"

Animals of habit. They couldn’t help it. Vin watched as both horses stood together waiting. Knowing they would soon get impatient and start getting into trouble, Vin made a decision. He had made the trip back and forth to the shed several times. If there was anything that looked like an explosive device he would have seen it. Remembering to watch his steps carefully, he decided to get feed buckets from the shed and put dinner out.

The electrical tape lay unseen as the men made their way slowly in a line up the pasture toward the cabin. Keeping low and looking all around they checked for signs of wires, discarded tubing or metal: Anything that might indicate the makings of a bomb.

Vin walked slowly up to Peso and reached to scratch his ears. "You two stay out of trouble and I’ll get you some feed." Looking at Pony who was studying the bag of feed, Vin laughed. "We all could be standing next to a booby trap and you two are interested in one thing: food." Using a lead line, he roped off both horses further away from the shed. Satisfied they would be safe, Vin started up the path to the shed.

The group finally made their way to the edge of the grassed in area. The cabin could be seen clearly from here. The truck and trailer were there. Chris could see the back of his horse, its tail swishing impatiently. Both Peso and Pony were standing together. Chris saw them clearly as he moved around the side of the trailer. But where was Vin?

Vin decided to get the buckets first before opening the feed sacks. Neither horse needed much encouragement to break through the temporary barrier he had erected.

Chris saw Vin walking to the shed. He saw the bags of feed and hay Vin had placed on the porch. He heard Pony snorting and starting to paw at the ground. Peso nickered quietly at Chris’ presence. Nathan headed down toward the dock and Josiah and Buck approached the cabin cautiously.


Tick Tick Tick Tick

Hinson slipped the key into the lock of his ‘mountain-view’ apartment entered and locked it behind him. He went to the bathroom and washed his hands and face. Finishing, he sat down at his work bench and turned the portable radio on to an all-news station. He didn’t want to miss the announcement when it came. Surprise, Mr. Tanner!!! Surprise!

He placed his empty carrying case aside and took up his ‘hit list’. He had expected to hear an announcement about the explosion on his car radio before reaching his place. He hadn’t of course, but it would come. He had been patient this long; a few more hours would make little difference. He took a pencil and neatly crossed off the name of Vin Tanner. Hesitating above Larabee’s name, Hinson stopped. He’d wait for the announcement of Tanner’s death before scratching out Larabee’s name. Perhaps he’d make some more surprises for the rest of Tanner’s friends, especially Larabee. It was just payment for his years of torture in prison. Perhaps he would make lots of little presents to spread all over the city.

Chris was still to far away to yell at Vin to get his attention. He was also fully aware that Hinson could be hidden anywhere in the area. Staying at the scene of his bombings wasn’t Hinson’s usual style, but Chris wasn’t taking any chances.

Buck Wilmington moved in carefully to the window at the side of the cabin. Cautiously he looked for any signs of ground disturbance or window tampering. This window, Buck knew, would give him a clear view of the main room and the front door. Josiah continued around to the back of the cabin intent on checking the backdoor and bedroom window. Buck took a look at where he knew Vin usually left his "seal’. There along the right hand side of the window was a small brown piece of string glued into place with Elmer’s. No one had used this window to enter the cabin. He knew Josiah would look for the same security system. Leaning forward, Buck had a clear view of the simple but neatly kept cabin. The front door stood as the last day it was closed. No wires, no spring pins, no secret packages. Exhaling, Buck scanned the rest of the room but saw nothing out of place.

Vin stood on the porch of the feed shed. He searched his jeans for the truck key ring and found the key he needed for the feed room padlock. Getting ready to open the padlock with the key, Vin stopped, spying something beside the shed.

Chris saw Vin step on the feed shed porch. Nathan waved an all clear sign from the dock area. He turned and saw Buck standing on the cabin front porch giving the "OK" sign. He watched Vin move from the porch and step to the side of the shed. Chris looked around quickly. No explosive devices in any of the other major structures. Hinson would know they would tend the horses first. Picking up his pace, Chris broke in to a slow trot.

Vin bent to get the feed buckets he found stored next to the shed. He remembered the last time they had stayed they were running late. He had left them stacked upside down next to the shed. Bending down, Vin checked the ground around the buckets, picked up a stick and slowly lifted the edge of the bucket. Seeing nothing but open space underneath the bucket, Vin picked them up and brushed the leaves off.

Chris was five feet from the shed porch. Vin came around the edge of the building, key in his hand. Approaching the door both buckets hanging from his right forearm, Vin started to put the key in the padlock.


Tick Tick Tick Tick

It was wrong. Chris could sense it. Hinson! The feed shed door was the perfect place! "Vin, stop!" Chris tried to keep his voice pitched low in an effort to keep from startling the sharpshooter.

The wind blew sharply away from the shed porch. The buckets banged against Vin’s side as he reached toward the padlock to steady it. He heard what he thought was Chris’ voice coming from in front of the shed. The wind made it hard to hear for sure, so Vin turned toward the sound. The buckets dangling from his right arm, swung against the shed door hitting the padlock forcefully.

Behind the shed door, a release pin slipped to the floor. The striker inside the four inch metal tube made contact with the percussion cap as the coiled spring snapped downward; its energy now released. The percussion cap ignited the Primacord and closely behind it the gelignite exploded blowing the frame building apart.

Vin felt himself being lifted upward and blown outward as hot flames, sharp splintered wood and debris spread all around him. Chris was two steps from the porch when Vin came flying at him bringing most of the feed shed housing with him.

Josiah threw his arms up to protect his face from the flying debris pelting the cabin porch. Both he and Buck felt the heat of the explosion and as the force of the blast spread outward. Nathan saw the shed explode and was almost run over by Peso and Pony as they fled to the far side of the pasture by the lake. He began running toward the remains of the shed hoping Chris and Vin would still be alive.

Chris felt a sharp pain and pressure on his chest and tried to push away the offending object. He opened his eyes cautiously feeling grime and dust mixed with something liquid covering his face. His ears were ringing and he felt as if his breath had been sucked out of him. He lay there trying to remember what had happened. He tried to cough and felt a fire start to burn inside his chest.

Buck beat Nathan to the shattered building and found Chris almost immediately. He couldn’t see Vin but knew he was somewhere in the pile of wooden debris closer to where the door had been located. Whether he was alive in that pile, Buck didn’t want to guess.

Josiah came running across the lawn carrying the emergency medical kit that Nathan insisted be kept in the cabin. He put it down next to Buck who was working to get the last shattered board off Chris’ legs.

"I’m okay here, Josiah. Go help Nathan find Vin." Buck eased his jacket under Chris’ blood-covered head and leaned closer. "Chris? Talk to me. Chris? He watched as Chris’ eyes began to open. "You’re okay. There was an explosion. Nathan and Josiah have Vin." Buck kept talking, lying when he didn’t know the truth to protect his friend. Grabbing the medical kit, he broke open a sterile package and put pressure on the heavily bleeding scalp wound on Chris’ head.

"Josiah? You see him?" Nathan was carefully lifting smoldering boards, pieces of plaster and glass off a large pile near the door. Josiah shook his head and made his way over to the other side of the pile. Bending down he picked up a large piece of plywood and saw one of the red buckets Vin had been carrying; the bottom was melted.

"Nathan? Here." Josiah followed the line of the bucket and soon found Vin’s right arm. The forearm, where he had been carrying the buckets, was deformed and obviously broken. Smoke was coming from his clothing and Nathan quickly grabbed water from the trough and soaked it thoroughly. Continuing to peel the various piece of debris, both men soon had Vin’s body fully exposed. Nathan made a quick check of Vin’s pulse again and made sure his airway was clear. He was unconscious with various cuts, splinters and burns in addition to his broken arm. He would give him a fuller exam after he had checked Chris. Nathan gave Josiah quick instructions about immediate care for Vin and went to join Buck with Chris.

"Hey, how are we doing here?" Nathan looked down into Chris’s clouded eyes and saw the confusion there.

"Buck says there was a bomb? I was….the shed door!" Chris tried to sit up but immediately sank back into Buck’s arms as the pain returned to his chest. Moaning he closed his eyes.

"Chris? Show me where it hurts?" Nathan helped Chris move his arm to the most painful area. Cutting away clothing, the paramedic could see a reddened badly bruised area probably caused by a flying board going from Chris’ right shoulder downward along his side. A few light palpations confirmed his suspicions that Chris had several broken ribs. Nathan continued to check his pelvic area and legs. Everything looked okay, but he wasn’t going to move either man until he got an ambulance to the cabin area. "Buck, call 911 and get us help. You’d better call JD and Ezra too. I’m gonna see about Vin."

Vin felt cold and wet. Someone was trying to smother his face. He tried to turn his face to avoid it but found he couldn’t move his head. He felt the panic starting as he tried moving his arms only to be met with agonizing pain when he tested his right arm. "Oh….hmmm". He tried turning his head again; was stopped and the panic started again.

Josiah pulled the washcloth from Vin’s face. Looking at Nathan who was continuing his inspection of Vin’s legs, Josiah let a smile play on his lips. "Vin? Can you open your eyes? Everything is okay. I’m just holding your head still for you. I know your arm hurts. It’s broken. Just rest. Let Nathan finish checking you over."

Vin listened to Josiah’s voice. Yes, it was Josiah. His scrambled brain was beginning to make sense of where he was and how he was. The smell of charred wood and Primacord stung his nose. The shed door. The booby trap. "Hinson." Vin let the man’s name slip through his teeth.

Nathan finished his exam and pulled a light blanket over Vin covering him. Leaning over his head, Nathan spoke. "Yeah, it was Hinson’s bomb. Good thing you were carrying those buckets. Between Chris yelling at you and those buckets providing a buffer, you’re a lucky man."

"Don’t feel lucky." Vin was starting to shiver. The entire impact of what had happened suddenly overwhelmed him. "Josiah? My arm hurts so much."

Nathan looked up at Josiah and went for his medical kit. Vin’s body was reacting by showing signs of shock. He reached for a bag of saline and an IV administration kit. "Chris still doing okay?" Getting a nod from Buck, he went back to Vin and Josiah.

"Vin. I’m gonna give you some fluids and warm you up. Help’s on its way. Josiah’s staying right here with you. Understand?" He saw Vin nod his head weakly as he started the IV. Adjusting the rate of the fluids, Nathan saw Buck waving his cell phone in the air. Josiah returned from the cabin with two thermal blankets and covered Vin carefully.

Approaching Chris, Nathan raised an eyebrow. "Everything okay here?" He looked at Chris who was now awake and looking much less confused.

"Vin okay?" Chris lifted his head and immediately felt pain rake his scalp. Lowering his head slowly, Chris felt Buck chuckle. "Don’t say it Buck."

"Okay, I won’t tell you to keep your head still." Buck looked up at Nathan. "That was JD on the phone. He said Team 3 is on its way and the ambulance should be here in about ten minutes. They can call a medivac if you need it."

Nathan nodded. Both his patients were stable. Banged up and hurting for sure, but okay. Looking over the area, he saw Peso and Pony still standing together at the far end of the pasture. Pointing to them, Nathan said. "Those two have the right idea. Staying as far away as they can."

Buck followed where Nathan was looking. "Yeah, we’ll all be okay. Josiah and I will pack them up and take them back to the ranch after the ambulance takes these two to the ER."

Vin heard the sounds of sirens in the distance. He had stopped shivering and felt much better with the warmth of the extra blanket and Josiah next to him. His right arm throbbed with pain but the shock of the pain was wearing off. He heard Chris and Buck nagging at each other and felt even better. Nathan was hovering about attending to each of his "patients’. He heard other voices, probably paramedics, thought he heard the voice of Ben Parson’s from Team 3.

Both agents were quickly rechecked by the EMS teams. Vin’s arm was splinted and Chris’ lungs checked carefully over the area of the broken ribs. Both were secured carefully to backboards and placed side by side in the ambulance. Nathan would go with them and Buck and Josiah would finish up at the cabin.


Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick

Nathan sat in the orthopedic plaster room watching the resident place a soft plaster cast on Vin Tanner’s right arm. Vin had been given morphine for pain after a head CT for trauma and was resting quietly. Vin would wear the soft cast for two days while much of the swelling disappeared and then he would have surgery to fix the broken bones of his forearm. His face and chest were covered with a thin covering of burn ointment in various places. Most of the burns were flash burns; painful but would heal easily. Small neat sutures were showing right at his hairline, repairing a minor scalp laceration. Various wood and metal splinters had been removed from his chest and arms. Vin’s long hair was covered with dust, dirt and greasy with ointment and betadine. Someone had cut the string holding the ponytail and with it wet, Nathan could see the natural curly ringlets Vin fought hard to conceal. Nathan signed. Both his friends would be staying in the hospital for a few days, but they would recover. That was all that mattered.

Buck was with Chris in a suture room getting a long series of stitches in his scalp. X-rays had confirmed that ribs three and four where both broken and the rest of his side from collarbone to hip bruised and swollen. Medicated, he snored softly as Buck stood guard. Josiah had taken the horses back to the ranch and Buck had driven the SUV behind the ambulance.

JD was now out with Team 3 putting a report together at the cabin and Owen Travis was talking to the Fire and Arson expert Ben Parsons about the evidence that had been collected. All of it again pointed to Albert Hinson.


Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick

He finished making the booby trap: big bomb present for Christopher Larabee. He sat back pleased with his work. Even the lack of any news on the radio about Tanner failed to dampen his spirits. Still it was nothing to worry about it. If Vin Tanner didn’t open his present today; he would tomorrow. Verification of Tanner’s death and a good night’s sleep and he would be ready to work on placing Larabee’s present.

Once he decided where he would put it, all he had to do was arrange the rancid bones he wanted to use as projectiles inside the package and connect the leads to the micro switch. Maybe he would leave it where he could linger nearby and see it happen. Wouldn’t that be sweet?

His stomach growled. He’d been so intent on his work that he had forgotten to eat again. He started to put his tools away and changed his mind. The clean up tonight could wait. Good work deserved a good reward. It was time for his reward right now.

He stood and stretched and padded into the kitchen. Of course, the damn pilot light on the stove had gone out again. Annoyed and feeling martyred, he reached for the box of kitchen matches.


Ezra Standish felt inefficient and especially helpless when he heard about the booby trap that had exploded hurting Vin and Chris. Despite Nathan’s assurance that both of his friends would be recover after a few weeks, Ezra still felt like he should have been able to add more to the investigation.

Currently he was sitting beside Wallace Cooper in an aged Suburban. Cooper, a licensed bounty hunter, had finally called him as promised with a lead on Hinson’s address. Seeing Cooper’s transportation, Ezra had offered the Jag, but Cooper said it was too "obvious" and would draw attention. Ezra had started to protest, but given the size and physical abilities of Mr. Cooper had changed his mind. Besides, if the address panned out; they could possibly capture Hinson before he did any more harm.

Turning down the street to the Mountain View Apartment complex both men were surprised to see an assortment of fire trucks, an arson investigator’s car, ambulances and a coroner’s ‘wagon’. Parking up the street, Wallace and Ezra walked toward the address that Wallace held in his hand. "2643 Mountain View Lane Apt. 3." They were obviously going to have a difficult time locating the exact apartment. Half of the complex was now a heap of rubble and smoldering debris.

Ezra and Wallace finished talking to Fire Chief Leonard Albert. Shaking his head at the information he had been given, he dialed Buck’s cell phone and waited.

Buck sat dozing in a recliner at the foot of two hospital beds. Both Vin and Chris were quietly sleeping after healthy doses of pain medication following all their tests and procedures. With assurances that both men would recover completely, he had finally allowed to himself to relax a little. There were guards outside the hospital door and aside from the team, Vin and Chris could expect to be covered with security twenty four hours a day until Hinson was located. Getting them to do that right now was easy. However, if Hinson wasn’t located soon, Buck tried not to think about how difficult his life could become.

His cell phone chirped and he clicked it on quickly to avoid waking Vin or Chris. "Wilmington." Buck turned himself toward the window as he listened to Ezra Standish.

"Buck, I’ve got some good news." Ezra watched as the coroner’s wagon was loaded with a large black bag on a stretcher.

"What’s that? Where are you?" Buck hadn’t had time to wonder where Ezra had gone to during the day. The agent often disappeared for long periods of time, only to surface with exactly the information that would move a case forward.

"We can quit worrying about Al Hinson." Ezra tried to picture Buck’s face.

"Mr. Wallace and I have found him."

Buck sank back into his chair. "Where?"

"Mountain View Apartments. Just enough of him for a positive ID." Ezra said.

Sitting upright, Buck spoke in an astonished voice. "You mean he’s dead."

"They don’t get any deader, Mr. Wilmington. He blew himself up." The showman part of Ezra relished Buck’s reaction.

"Christ! How? Making another bomb?" Buck spoke quickly wanted all the information.

"No." Ezra started. "Well, he was making another one but that’s not what killed him. Pretty ironic actually. "

"Ironic?" Buck hung on Ezra’s words.

"He was living in this cheap rented place. Not much more than a series of shacks on the beach. His apartment had faulty propane stove: one of those old ones that the landlord should have replaced along time ago. The local Fire Chief said it had worked loose or corroded through and gas leaked out. You know how volatile propane is when it builds up. Hinson lit a match or did something else to cause a spark. I believe the Chief’s exact words were "Boom!" One of the investigators said it was ‘an explosion just waiting to happen.’ Ezra paused to let a fire truck with its alarms sounding pass by before he resumed his conversation.

Buck was stunned but greatly relieved at Ezra’s explanation. He waited for Ezra to continue.

"Actually one of the rescue firemen had a better term for it." Ezra admitted.

"What was that?" Buck asked.

"I believe he called it a "regular damn booby trap." Ezra clicked off his phone and joined Wallace in a slow walk back to the car.


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