by LT

November challenge story; write a story with 1 or 3 of the guys and a group of children.

Here is my effort for the challenge. Rated PG-13 for violence and some swearing (kids these days!)

The sky was bright blue and the air held the crispness of snow as Buck stepped out of the mall and headed for the remote parking lot with his purchase. He was smiling broadly as he moved through the corridors of cars parked by eager shoppers, the ones who had been waiting for the day after Thanksgiving to begin their Christmas shopping. The tall ATF agent was proud of his purchase for he knew his roommate and best buddy was going to flip over the piece of electronics he balanced in his arms. The 17 inch, wide screen, LCD TV/computer monitor he had scooped up before others had arrived would absolutely make JD’s Christmas.

By the time he got to his truck, Buck’s arms were straining with the weight. He hadn’t been the first one at the mall this morning and, thus to try to save his paint job from being scratched too badly, he had found a space in the remote lot. By now, though, the remote lot was just as full as the regular lot. He followed the signs to DD and started down the row that contained his trusty old pick-up.

Other shoppers moved toward him or past him as he made his way. He didn’t pay much attention to them. They were all bundled in pretty much the same fashion; coats, hats, gloves, and none stood out from the others. He didn’t notice the four children who followed him from the store, out into the parking lot.

Carefully, Buck balanced the large box against the truck as he used his key to unlock his pride and joy. Once the door was open, he wedged the large box into the passenger side of the truck and moved around the back to go to the driver’s side. In back of the truck he stopped, staring down at a small blonde girl crying her eyes out.

"Hey now, darlin’, what’s the matter? Are you lost?" Buck leaned down to speak with her face to face.

The girl appeared to be about nine years old, her hat askew on top of blonde curls, her coat open. She nodded at the tall man’s question. Sniffing loudly, she turned sky blue eyes up to him and whispered, "I was supposed to stay with my sister but I lost her. She’s gonna be real mad."

"Aw, Sweetheart, she won’t be mad. Come on, let’s see if we can find her, all right?" He straightened up and as he did so, he felt the girl’s hand touch his jeans pocket. He looked back down at her, standing sweetly by his side, and smiled. "Which way do you think she went?"

"That way," she pointed to the right. Buck held her hand and they went in search of the girl’s sister. Not a minute later, a teenager came out from between cars, her long blonde hair flowing from beneath a black felt hat.

"There you are, Peaches! I’ve been looking all over for you." She looked up at the six foot four man and apologetically said, "I know, I should have kept a better eye on her."

"As long as the two of you are back together, that’s all that matters. Have a good holiday season, girls." He waved as he moved away from the two sisters. They waved back at him and then disappeared into the crowded parking lot.

Buck climbed into his truck and his mood changed in an instant. "Goddamsonofabitch!" The TV/monitor was gone! So were the other two presents he had picked up last night but didn’t take up to the apartment yet. He slammed both hands into the stirring wheel, feeling like a complete idiot. Grinding his teeth, he pushed the door open and climbed out, immediately looking for the two blonde girls used to set him up. Standing on the sideboard of his truck, he stood tall and gazed out over the sea of vehicles. "Gotcha!" He slammed the door shut and ran towards the area where he had spotted the girls making their way back into the mall.

Twice they eluded him but both times he managed to find them again. He finally caught up with them beside a large black paneled van. He reached out and grabbed the older sister by her arm, swinging her around just after she had opened the side door. Inside the van, the ATF agent spotted several large boxes, all containing electronics gear.

"Hey, Mister, who do you think you are? Let go of me!" She screamed loudly, drawing attention from several passer-bys but no one stopped. The little one tried to scoot away but Buck grabbed her also.

"Why you little thief, who do I think I am? How many people you got in your little theft ring here? I gotta give you one thing, you’re slick. I see my TV is already stashed inside. Now, both of ya, sit ‘til I tell ya to move." He gently shoved each girl to the edge of the open van. Both sat, silent stony faces staring up at him as he fished his cell phone out of his jacket pocket.

He hadn’t even punched one number in when he saw the two other teens headed his way. A young man, almost as tall as he was and a shorter, stockier youth, both wearing an indignant smirk on their faces, stopped at the back of the van. "Don’t even start with me! I am not in the mood for attitude, guys. I’m calling the cops and we’re all gonna wait right here ‘til they show."

"Bad idea, Mister. Real bad." The taller of the two boys shook his head and took another step towards the man they had just ripped off. Buck had just put the phone to his ear when he felt the presence of another teen behind him. He ducked just as the unknown assailant swung a lead pipe at his head. The tall boy charged but Buck quickly shoved him right on past, knocking him into the third boy behind him. The mustached man turned to see the two teens fall into a heap at his feet and he grinned ferally. The grin fell away when the older girl swung a bat she had grabbed from the open van and clocked the tall man on the side of the head.

Buck was dazed but not out and he turned back to the van. "Why you little…" He didn’t get to complete the sentence before she hit him again. Down he went, slumping against the side of the car parked in the spot next to the van.

"Shit!" The blonde girl knelt down to make sure the target was out cold. "What did you say to him to give us away, Peaches?"

"Nothin’, Amber, I swear. I was only with him a minute tops. I knew the guys were right there and then you came out. You heard the rest." The younger girl tugged nervously at the blonde curl escaping down the side of her face.

Amber stood, her face set in grim determination. "Paul, get inside and round up the others. Today’s shopping is done. Jersey, get that last load inside. John, check for a wallet on him, might as well get all we can from him."

Peaches perked up. She reached in her pocket and pulled out a leather wallet. " I got his wallet right here, Amber. Filched it when we first caught him." She turned the black leather over to the taller girl.

"Goddamn, could this day get any worse? This ain’t a wallet; it’s a goddamn I.D. case. He’s a federal agent! Says here he’s ATF whatever the hell that means." After blowing out a large puff of air, Amber closed her eyes, wishing she were anywhere but in the mall parking lot at the moment. Now what were they to do? If they left him alive, he’d be the kind that memorized the plate, knew exactly what all of them looked like, and could track them down in a heartbeat. If she killed him, all the cops in the Denver area would be hunting for them. She was well aware of surveillance cameras and the story they could tell. And she hadn’t taken the time this morning to check out all of them. She knew there weren’t any on the passenger side of the van but had one caught him approaching the van, she didn’t know.

She opened her eyes and noticed the stocky built boy was squatting beside the unconscious man. "Is he dead, John?"

"Nope, but he’s bleedin’ a lot. Ya got him good with that second swing. What we gonna do with him, Am?"

"You and Jersey get him in the van. Find something to tie him up good, I don’t want him getting’ loose before I decide. Peaches, you think you could find his truck again?"

The girl nodded, her eyes wide with fear. She had no idea what her leader could be thinking, taking the mark with them.

"Here," Amber shoved a towel in the girl’s hand. "You get back there and make sure there ain’t no fingerprints. John, as soon as Paul and the others get here, take him back to the warehouse. Serena and I will meet you there." She stared down at the unconscious man and then walked quickly away.

Buck awoke to total blackness. His head pounded with every beat of his heart and, since he could see absolutely nothing and the silence was deafening, his head was the focus of his world. The tall ATF agent was pretty sure that he was in a blacked out building and not blind but he wasn’t totally convinced. All he was 100% sure of was that he was in a world of hurt with no help in sight.

He pulled at the wire that held his wrists above his head. The wire cut into his flesh and he quickly gave up on trying to free his hands. His legs didn’t seem to be tied but when he tried to get his feet under him, his body rebelled and his stomach roiled to the point where he vomited its contents onto his shirt and the floor beside him. As soon as his stomach stopped rebelling, he sank back to the floor, all thoughts of trying to escape gone for the time being. He sat, exhausted, his headache excruciating, consuming his thoughts.

When the lights suddenly came on, his world exploded around him. The fluorescent bulbs were blazing with intense light and he twisted his head and eyes away from the penetrating brightness. Buck pulled at the wire holding his hands above his head, needing the protection his hands would afford his eyes. With every muscle in his face tense, he squeezed the lids of his eyes shut. He didn’t care who it was that had entered the room; he only knew the bright glare of the lights.

"Oh, God, yuck! Damn, mister, ya went and puked all over yourself. Shit!" The teenage boy went back out the door but didn’t bother to turn out the lights. Moments later, Buck felt the cold splash of water as it hit him in a deluge. He barely moved, barely registered the coolness as his soaked clothing stuck to him. He merely kept his head turned away from the sound of scraping metal and the obtrusive lights.

Buck felt the hand on his chin but he fought the pull that was meant to bring his face to meet that of the unknown intruder. "You want some water or something to eat, mister? Amber says I should give you some water. Here, drink," and a cup was pushed up to his mouth, the water spilling down his chin as he fought against the intrusion of his suffering. Some of the water made its way into his mouth and he swallowed. Surprisingly, the water felt good going down his throat and he managed to drink a little more before the cup was gone from his lips. "Got some food here, ya want it?" The voice broke as the teenage boy spoke to him.

"No. Where am I?" he asked without opening his eyes.

"Whadaya think, I’m stupid? Amber’d throw a fit if I told ya that. I’ll tell ya this though, Fed, ya aren’t getting’ out of this unless ya behave. And don’t piss off Amber or Serena, they’re both wrapped tight right now. No figurin’ which way they’re likely to lean. You got ‘em in a real twist so if I were you, I’d stay quiet."

The boy stood up to leave and Buck turned his head to where he thought the boy was despite the blinding headache. He squinted slightly and saw the pimply face of the dark haired teen. He was wearing a black t-shirt and jeans and could have been the kid from next door if Buck didn’t know better.

The boy left and closed the door, leaving the lights on. Buck carefully opened an eyelid and glanced around the room. There were shelves on the walls, empty but for some cardboard boxes. The rest of the room was empty. He found he was tied to a center support beam, the heavy gauge wire looped through a hole in the steel beam. There was a plate of food and a metal bucket half full of water next to him but, of course, he couldn’t reach either of them. After checking his surroundings, he lowered his head and tried to get comfortable which was an impossibility. Then, he waited.

He didn’t know how long it was before the door opened again. He suspected that he had passed out again but he couldn’t be sure. Slowly, he lifted his head and peeled an eye open. There before him was the young girl he had helped find her ‘big sister’. The petite child stood before him, not saying a word.

"Hello there, Darlin’. Can I do something for you?" Buck lowered his eyes, awaiting an answer. He heard a childish giggle. "What’s so funny?"

"My daddy used to call me that. He’d say ‘Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what you are, Darlin’ baby girl. I loved my daddy. Yep, I was his little darlin’." She took a few steps closer to Buck.

"Where’s your daddy now? How come you ain’t at home with him?" Buck looked back at the child with the pretty blonde curls. She was the picture of health, all bright eyed and shiny. Someone took good care of her, he could tell that. She had on a striped blouse and Capri pants with new gym shoes.

"He’s dead. Cops shot him. He never hurt a fly and they just shot him, bang bang, just like that. Sugar and spice and all things nice. Bang bang, he’s dead. You’ll be dead soon. Bang bang, just like that. You want a drink of water?" The girl leaned over him, staring right into his face.

Buck gulped back a sudden fear. The girl couldn’t be more than ten years old but her voice was that of an adult, an insane one but an adult none the less. She had cold eyes and the tilt of her head made him feel like a bug that was being inspected before being placed on a pin to squirm. "I’d like a drink, thank you. What’s your name, Darlin’?"

She scooped some water from the bucket and held the cup to his lips. As he drank, she replied, "Peaches. Amber gave me that name. I like it. Amber is so smart, don’tcha think? She takes care of me, teaches me stuff. She takes care of all of us."

"She takes care of all of you? How many are here?" Buck wanted to keep the child talking, maybe she would give something away that he could use.

"Fourteen of us right now. Robert got arrested but he should be back soon. Mr. Chad will get him out of jail."

"Who’s Mister Chad, Darlin’?" Buck was hoping there was an adult about that he could bargain with instead of irrational teenagers.

"Peaches, get out of here! I told you not to play in here! GET!" The voice was angry and Buck cringed with the pain the loud words brought to him. When he collected himself, he peeked up at the blonde young woman he had met in the parking lot. She stood coolly in front of him, scrutinizing him.

"You must be Amber. You’ve made a mistake by kidnapping me but it can be fixed by just letting me go. I don’t know where I am and I don’t know any of the others. I won’t be able to find you but if you hold on to me, my boss and the other agents will turn this town upside down trying to find me. And they will, they’re that good, Amber." Buck kept his voice low and gentle. He didn’t want to get into a screaming match with an unreasonable teen.

"Humph. Don’t patronize me, fed. You just shut the f**k up and listen." The tone was one of pure hate, beyond anything he had ever heard coming from one so young. "Whatever I want to do is what’s gonna happen. You’re a pimple on my ass, an irritation to be dealt with. I haven’t made up my mind yet whether you live or die so if you want to survive this, you’ll shut your trap and behave. And if you ask one more question, I’ll off ya right were ya sit. Ya got that, fed?"

"Yeah. You’re pretty tough, aren’t ya?" Buck looked the blonde right in the eye. He wasn’t about to back off from a teenage girl with attitude, no matter that he was tied up and hurting so badly.

"Tough enough. You’re the one that made the big mistake by followin’ us. What was it gonna cost ya, a couple hundred? Now, it’s your life we’re dealin’ with. We got it real good here, fed, and I ain’t about to let ya louse it up." She squatted down in front of him and rocked back and forth on her feet. "You got any kids, Mister?"

"No. You got any parents?"

"Sure, ain’t everybody? Let me tell ya about my parents. My beautiful mother can’t get up in the morning without stickin’ a needle in her arm. And sweet ol’ Dad, well he’d just as soon stick it to me every night. Now, ya gonna tell me I should go home and behave like a good little girl?" She reached out and grabbed his face, glaring at him with cold dark eyes.

"No. I’m not gonna tell you to do anything but let me go. Guess you got a right to live your life as you see fit. I didn’t have the best childhood either so I know about making your own way in life. Just don’t want to see you make a big blunder that will put you in jail for life. What would happen to Peaches and the others then?" He stared right back at the attractive blonde.

His words seemed to take effect on the teen and she backed off. She stood and turned to leave. "I’ll think about it." With that she slammed the door and he was left to his headache.

The next time Buck awoke, it was to find a new female standing in front of him. This one was short, about five one. She was thin but well built. His attention was drawn to her face though rather than her body which was clothed in jeans, a dark brown peasant top, and a large gaudy necklace. Her face was made up with black eyeliner on her lids and under her dark brown eyes. Her hair was pitch black and spiked. Numerous rings sprang from her left eyebrow and a sparkling stud adorned her nose. She was doing an impressive imitation of the Larabee glare.

Buck ran his tongue over his dry lips and then asked, "Could I have a drink?"

The teen didn’t move, made no indication that she had even heard him so he tried again. "The water, you think you could give me some?"

"Screw you, Pig! I ain’t your servant; don’t intend to ever be a servant. It’s lucky for you that Am got to ya first. You’d a been trash on the side of the road if it was up to me." She stepped closer, her booted foot touching his leg. Without warning or provocation, she lifted her foot and kicked him savagely in the ribs.

With his arms still tied above his head, he had no protection from the vicious blow. Air rushed from his lungs and he grunted with pain. The blow sent black dots dancing in front of his eyes and his head joined in with a chorus of pain. When he could gather himself, he glanced back up at the hate-filled youngster but didn’t say another word.

The raven-haired girl stood over him like the Colossus of Rhodes, forbidding, gloating, and in total charge. Suddenly, she started laughing, not just giggles but a deep heart-felt laughter. When she finally collected herself, she leaned over and, inches from Buck’s face, she hissed venomously, "Ain’t so tough now, are ya, Pig! You’re all alike; think ya can rule everybody’s life. Well, ya ain’t rulin’ mine anymore! I’m rulin’ yours and I say ya die! How about that, Pig? Ya like somebody deciding where and when ya live? Ya like somebody tearin’ ya away from everyone ya love?" She paused, looking deep into Buck’s half-closed eyes. "No? Well neither did I. And ya know what, I had about as much control over the situation as you got."

She backed away and started pacing the cold concrete floor. In her mind, she was remembering the night the Denver police had come to her home, a rundown apartment in one of the worst areas of the city. She recalled her mother ‘s screams and her sister’s pleading cries. She remembered the cold-hearted social worker that followed the cops through the door, taking her and her sister away from her mom, her home, her friends, and finally, separating the two sisters from one another. She remembered the children’s home, the foster families, and finally, the youth detention center. No, nobody was going to tell Serena Thomas what she could or couldn’t do ever again. Not the Judge, the System, the cops, and certainly not the federal agent sitting tied up before her. Seven years of anger, fear, and frustration were enough for anyone. Serena stopped in her tracks and turned vicious eyes on the injured man at her feet.

With cold calculation, she pulled the thin stiletto out of the sheath she wore in the back of her jeans. Clutching it tightly, she knelt in front of the bound captive. The raven-haired teen eased the razor sharp knife forward until it pressed against Buck’s throat.

Having never encountered a youth such as this one, Buck hadn’t a clue as to what to say to waylay the malicious girl. But he had to at least try. "I didn’t do anything to deserve this, girl. You got the wrong guy. I’m an ATF agent, alcohol, firearms, tobacco, nothing that concerns the bunch of you. I grew up with just my mom and the two of us were always runnin’ from the authorities. The system ain’t always right, I know, but that don’t make what you’re doin’ right. Come on now, ya don’t want the cops after ya for murder. Ya don’t wanna be lookin’ over your shoulder all the time. You got others to think about." It had worked on the blonde but this one was different. She held a grudge and he was the pawn in her game of revenge.

The knife bit into his flesh and his blood began to trickle down his neck. "What makes you think you’re the first, huh, Pig? I’m already lookin’ over my shoulder. Besides, lookin’ out for the others, that’s Amber’s job. She enjoys bein’ the mother hen, not me." She smiled as she pressed harder, slicing into the tender skin of his throat.

"Serena, wha’cha doin’?" It was a soft child’s voice but it stopped the black-eyed teen.

"What are you doin’ in here, Peaches? Amber told you to stay out of here! Now get!" Serena didn’t even turn her face away from the man before her. The pressure on the knife remained steady, but still for the moment.

"Amber told me to come get ya. Chad’s comin’, probably to get the stuff. You think he’s got Robert with him, Serena?"

Buck could sense the little girl beside him. Peaches knelt down beside the grossly made up teen and reached out, running a finger through the blood, now running rapidly down into the collar of his shirt. She pulled her hand back and studied the thick red liquid covering her index finger.

"Gross! Don’t ya wanna see if Robert is back, Serena? Hey, do ya think Chad brought some gummy worms? He did last week but they’re all gone now. Come on, let’s go see!" Excitedly, the child bounced up, pulling at the older girl’s arm.

With a quick swipe of the knife across another third of his throat, Serena stood. "It ain’t over, Pig," she whispered to him as she backed away. "As the Terminator says, ‘I’ll be back." Serena finally turned and looked at the child. "Alright, Peaches, let’s go see if Chad brought ya some worms. Don’t be upset if Robert isn’t with him, Sweetie, it was his third time and he’s fifteen now." The two girls strode out the door like Buck didn’t even exist, leaving him bleeding and overwhelmed.

It took several minutes to gather his wits about him but when he finally did, he renewed his efforts to free his hands, no longer caring if the wire sliced into his wrists as he worked them back and forth. He knew for a fact that if he didn’t get loose right now, he was going to die.

Chad Barrow backed the truck up to the overhead door and jumped out, several bags of candy in his hand. He had been working with these kids for four months now and he knew how to appease even the older ones. He had first met Amber when she was alone, out on the street of Denver, trying to make money by selling herself. Beings she was fifteen at the time, there were plenty of men interested but most paid very little or simply stiffed her. When Chad met her, she was already cynical and bitter, not trusting any man.

The tall blonde was going to be a stunning woman, her light blonde hair natural, her eyes light blue, and her full lips naturally rosy. She carried herself with confidence even if she didn’t feel that way out on the sidewalks. Chad had declined the sale but he offered instead to take her to dinner. Almost shyly, she had accepted. They had been lovers and friends ever since.

When Amber met Serena, she changed her attitude towards everyone but Chad. She slowly gathered the orphans, runaways, and outcasts and molded them into an astonishingly efficient theft ring with Chad and his electronics store acting as the fence. Chad was still in love with Amber but Serena scared the hell out of him. The two teenagers together made a powerful force that no other gang wanted to deal with.

The door opened and twelve teenagers, ranging from eight-year-old Peaches to seventeen-year-old John, rushed Chad. Amber moved towards him slowly, seductively. He had a hard time taking his eyes off of her long enough to deliver the candy into the greedy hands of the little curly haired child. With a brief thanks, Peaches hurried back inside with ten of the others hot on her trail. He watched Amber as she stopped ten foot away from him, beckoning him with a crook of her finger. He swallowed hard and quickly stepped to her, his arms wrapping around her waist, his lips seeking hers. She gave him a searing kiss, then pulled back leaving him desperate for more.

"Business first, Lover. John, get the boys and start loading. Where’s Robert?" She took his hand and led him back inside the old abandoned warehouse.

"He’s been transferred to the jail. He’s fifteen and this was his third arrest, he’s being held as an adult. The most I could do for him was hook him up with a good lawyer. Sorry."

He settled down on the old discarded couch that sat in the middle of the enormous open space. It was surrounded by another, older couch and several chairs. A television was set where all could see it, a table and straight back chairs were arranged a little ways away. In the area were the owners had their offices, the beds and mattresses were set up. All in all, a terrific set up for the youthful gang of thieves.

"His fault for getting’ caught. What shyster lawyer did you call?" She snuggled down beside him, nipping gently at his neck and ear. She had missed him. He was the only man that touched her now, the only man she trusted, and she wanted to be close to him now.

"Oh Am, that feels so good. Brandon Wahlberg. Don’t stop, please," he begged. She liked to hear him beg and he had no problem with it considering how she made him feel.

Amber shifted to sit in his lap, a Cheshire cat grin on her face. After running a finger gently over his lips, she kissed him, long , hot, and hard. He held on for dear life and when she stopped, he was breathless.

"Got something you need to help me with but that can wait. Let’s go upstairs," she whispered huskily in his ear. They got up and, bodies still entangled, made their way up the back staircase.

Serena watched the couple go into her and Amber’s bedroom. Sneering, she wiped the blade of her knife over her jeans, cleansing it of the blood. She hated men and the power they could hold over a woman. She turned to make sure the boys got the truck loaded.

The bleeding had slowed from his neck wound, however, the bleeding from his wrists took up the slack. He could feel himself weakening from the loss of blood, but he couldn’t let it halt his efforts to free himself. Back and forth, back and forth, he ground the wire against the steel of the beam. He tried to see if his attack on the thin rubber coated wire was having an effect but it hurt his head to look up, the overhead fluorescent light blurring his vision and making his headache pound like a jackhammer. So instead, he kept his head low, his eyes closed.

He slowed the sawing motion and tried once again to pull the wire apart. Every time he pulled, the wire dug deeper into his wrists. He steeled himself and tried one more time before continuing with the grating motion. He felt the wire break and slowly, he lowered his arms. He cradled them against his chest, enduring the tingling needle prick sensation of the blood returning to his arms. The blood now flowed even harder from the bone deep lacerations caused by the wire.

The ladies man slowly got to his knees and then pulled himself up with the support of the beam to stand on wobbly legs. When he felt stable enough, he made his way to the closed door. Opening it just a crack, he searched for signs of the teenagers. He didn’t see any of them. Figuring they must be busy with Chad, possibly loading their stolen goods into a truck, he took the chance and eased himself out of the storage room. He had to cross the wide-open warehouse with no cover on weakened legs but it was his only option.

Staying along the wall, he made his way to the back of the warehouse and then moved as quickly as possible along the back wall. When he got to the corner he sank down, exhaustion taking over for the moment. He heard voices and looked up to see a group of children coming back inside, closing the overhead door behind them. They were loud, some laughing, some arguing, but all of them headed for the makeshift living room in the middle of the huge room. None of them seemed to notice him. Staying low, he crawled towards the front door by a small office. Slowly he made progress. He stopped and checked the location of the teens. They were ensconced on the couches and chair surrounding the television. The lanky federal agent strained his neck to catch a glimpse of the black haired, knife-wielding girl who had tried to slit his throat. She was nowhere in sight. He crawled on and breathed a sigh of relief when he could reach up and open the door. Ever so slowly, he eased the door open and slipped outside. Once in the open air, he struggled to his feet and, holding on to the handrails, he made his way down the short flight of steps. About fifty foot away, sat the cargo van he had first confronted the teenagers by. He began the trek toward his mode of escape.

"What’cha doin’ out here, Mister?"

The soft childish voice startled him and he spun to face the petite child. Peaches stood about ten foot away, a gummy worm grasped tightly in her hand. Buck took a tentative step towards her and she quickly backed up. But she didn’t yell.

"Now, darlin’, you wouldn’t want Serena to hurt me anymore, would you? I promise, I won’t say a word to anyone but I got to get out of here. I just need you to be quiet for a few minutes, okay? Can you do that for ol’ Buck?" He took two more steps towards the little blonde. He was optimistic when she remained where she was.

Peaches stared intently at the tall man. She liked him, he had been nice to her, he called her darlin’ like her father had before he was killed, leaving her and her mother to fend for themselves. But, the child knew that Amber and especially Serena would be pissed as hell if she just let him leave

"I’m sorry," she replied softly. Then taking a big gulp of air, she screamed for all she was worth. "AMBER!! SERENA!! HE’S LOOSE!!"

Buck tried to grab her before she could scream again but he was hampered by his injuries, the concussion making him dizzy and the numerous lacerations making him weak. As he lunged for her, she quickly scampered away, dodging under his outstretched arms. She stopped at the top of the steps, looking back at him, a smile on her face. Then she disappeared inside. He could hear her yelling for the others as he ran as fast as he could to the van.

The scoundrel had the door open and was reaching under the dashboard to try and hotwire the van when the gang of thieves came tumbling out of the warehouse. Stopping just momentarily to ascertain his position, they charged en masse toward the ATF agent. Hands grabbed at his legs and arms as he frantically tried to complete his task. As the spark ignited, starting the vehicle, he was pulled to the ground. Defeat ate at him as the big teens pounded on him, hitting and kicking him into submission. When he stopped struggling, the group backed off, allowing Serena to step up to the prone body.

"You f’’’kin’ pig, you’re gonna die right here and now." With that she raised her knife and swung it downward toward his chest. Buck had just enough energy left to roll slightly, taking the blade in his upper arm instead of his chest. He grabbed the raven-haired witch’s ankle and pulled her to the ground. Despite the burning pain in his arm, he grabbed her wrist and forced her to release the thin knife. Writhing in the dirt, she screamed profanities at him while the others watched, stunned by Serena’s rage and the man’s counter attack.

"What the hell is goin’ on here? John, Jersey, grab him! Serena, get up! How did he get loose?" Amber was in full command mode and none of the others, including Serena, were dumb enough to defy her orders.

Serena slowly got up after the two boys had grabbed Buck’s arms, effectively holding him down. Glaring menacingly at the man bleeding into the dirt, she stood huffing and puffing over his inert form. Spitting in his face, she turned to face her friend and leader. "Guess you were too busy," she emphasized the last word sarcastically, "to assign one of the others to keep an eye on him. Now, are you goin’ to kill him or am I?"

"Kill him? Amber, what’s she talking about? Who is this?" Chad moved forward to stand beside the blonde that was trembling with anger.

Without turning her head, she spat out, "This isn’t any of your business, Chad. Stay out of it! Serena, you aren’t killin’ anybody right now. Boys, take him back inside, tie him up tight."

"No way, Amber, he’s got to be killed. He’s seen too much and I ain’t gonna lose all I got ‘cause of some cop!" Serena moved to stand toe to toe with the tall blonde.

" I never said we wouldn’t kill him but not ‘til we think about it some. We gotta figure out how to finish him off so that it ain’t gonna lead the cops right back to us. Boys, I told you to get him inside, NOW DO IT!!" Her eyes remained glued to the shorter girl, her angry stare withering the rage filled teen. Knowing she couldn’t win the fight, Serena turned, stomping away from the gathering, already plotting her revenge against the federal agent.

A telephone rang and Amber pulled the small cell phone from her jean pocket. As she flipped it open, she growled, "What the f**k is it now?" Putting the phone to her ear, she barked at the person on the other end, "What?" Listening intently to the few words spoken to her, she turned, shoving the cell phone back into her pocket. "That was Tina down at the 7-11. Cops are coming! Paul, get everyone into the van. Serena, get the car." She turned to the stocky boy by her side. "John, help Chad get him," she motioned toward Buck with her finger, "into the truck, then stay with Chad and help him dump the body."

The leader of the gang of thieves turned to her boyfriend. "This was the little thing I was gonna ask you to help with. Please, Chad, we have to get rid of him. He’s seen too much, he knows where we are."

"Amber, I…I can’t kill him. I can’t!" Chad took a step back from his lover. What was she asking of him? To kill someone, a cop no less, it was beyond him. He had never intentionally physically hurt someone in his life, he wasn’t going to start now. No, he wouldn’t do it!

Amber took two steps towards him and laid a soft hand on his cheek. "For the kids, Chad, for me. I’ll be in your debt and you know I always pay up. I swear, Baby, you won’t regret taking care of this for me. Please, dump him on the other side of town."

Chad felt his resolve disappear as he pulled the blonde to him. Kissing her, he knew he would do whatever she asked of him. "Alright, I’ll do it."

"Good, help John get him into the truck. I’ll be right with you." Amber ran inside the building and was out by the truck as John pulled the overhead door shut. Chad met her by the driver’s door. "Here, you’ll need this." She handed him a small .25 caliber automatic handgun.

He took it, holding it flat in his palm like the cold piece of metal would bite him. He stared at the black gun in his hand and then lifted worried eyes to his lover. He nodded slightly.

"I can’t believe the cops found us. I swear nobody saw us take him." Amber leaned against the truck as Chad climbed inside.

"Robert," he replied to her inferred question. "I bet he sold you out to save his own skin. It makes sense, Amber."

She scowled, not wanting to believe that one of her own would do that but Chad was right, it was the only thing that made sense. Silently, she agreed with him. "I’ll call when I can. Keep John with you ‘til you hear from me."

Chad nodded his assent. He started the truck and headed out the back way, the stocky youth beside him, a beat up federal agent in the enclosed truck.

Amber ran to the ’99 Monte Carlo and climbed inside. Serena sat staring forward in the passenger seat. The engine was running and Amber threw the car into gear and peeled out after the truck. The warehouse was abandoned when the first squad cars rolled up.

As the two teens drove through the streets of Denver towards their safe house, Serena finally turned to her friend. Her expression was cold. Amber had seen the look before. She knew Serena was pissed and she was beginning to think that maybe Serena’s way might have been the right way.

"Ya shouldn’t a trusted Chad with the job. He ain’t the type. Neither is John. Why didn’t you let me finish him off when I had the chance, Am? I woulda made sure he wouldn’t talk."

The blonde put a gentle hand on her friend’s arm. "You’re right, Rena, I probably screwed up. Let get the others and split. How about San Francisco?"

An hour later, Chad stopped the box truck and he and John climbed out.

"I’ll keep the gun on him, you open the door and jump back. I don’t know what condition he’s in and he might have got himself loose." The young fence stood back from the rear of the truck, the handgun pointed at the door. The stocky teen unlocked the door and shoved it open, jumping off the tailgate as he did. On the floor, Buck lay, bleeding, bruised, only semi-conscious. Both criminals looked carefully at the lanky man, determining between the two of them that he was out of it. Together, they climbed inside and hauled the federal agent out, onto the gravel shoulder. The road dropped away to a gully twenty foot down.

"Shut the door and get back in the cab, John. Start it up and be ready to haul ass, just in case." Chad urged the boy to comply with a nod of his head and John did as he was told. He didn’t want Amber or Serena mad at him.

Turning back to the man lying in the gravel, Chad looked at the gun in his hand. It felt cold and heavy, almost too ponderous to hang onto. Without his lover’s presence, his resolve faded. His gaze moved to the injured man before him. He didn’t know this man. He had no grudge with him. He didn’t even know why Amber had brought him back to the warehouse. Little by little, he lifted the gun and pointed it at Buck. Taking in a shaky breath, he aimed and squeezed the trigger. Quickly, he shoved the body with his foot and sent it tumbling down the steep incline. The truck pulled away, tires throwing back gravel, as Buck’s head came to rest against a bag of garbage.

"Come on, bro, open your eyes. The lights are dimmed, it’s all right to wake up." The voice was familiar, comforting and he slowly opened his eyes. The room was darkened and he was grateful to whoever had turned out the light. Everything was blurry and he blinked several times, attempting to bring things into focus. It didn’t help much. Suddenly a face came into view and instinctively, he flinched, trying to raise a hand to protect himself as he did.

"It’s all right Buck, it’s me, JD. Nobody’s gonna hurt you, you’re in a hospital. The doctors say you should be good as new in a couple of weeks." The tone was soothing, reassuring.

Buck squinted, trying to make out the familiar features of his roommate. "JD?" he rasped out between dry lips.

"Yeah, big guy, it’s me. God, it’s good to see you awake. You’ve been here five days now. We still haven’t figured out what happened to you. Do you remember anything?" The dark haired Bostonian asked as he brought a mug of water up to Buck’s head, steering the straw into his roommate’s mouth.

After sipping at the cool water, Buck closed his eyes, relaxing into the pillows. Before he could say anything, he heard the door open and he turned his head quickly to the side to see who was entering. The movement sent the room spinning and before he could make out who was coming in, he had to squeeze his eyes shut, hoping to keep the water from coming back up.

"He awake?" It was Chris.

"Just came to." JD laid his hand on Buck’s shoulder, hoping to give his big brother some comfort, seeing the distress the ladies man was in.

Coming up on the opposite side of the bed from JD, Chris looked down at his old friend. A turban of gauze surrounded Buck’s head with just a bit of dark hair peeking out. The face was bruised and pale. Buck’s neck had bandaging going all the way around as did his wrists and upper arm. Chris knew from watching the nurses change the dressings that stitches held together the flesh under the bandages. He also knew that there were several deep bruises on Buck’s torso.

"Can you tell us what happened to you, Buck? Who did this to you? A couple found you out by the river. You evidently had crawled up from a deep ditch and were unconscious on the side of the road. The police found a shell casing but you weren’t shot."

The ladies man took a deep breath, regretting it as his ribs began to ache. Bit by bit, he opened his eyes again. "Sugar and spice and all things nice, it ain’t true. They’re mean as hell and don’t hesitate to wipe you from the face of the earth."

"Who are you talking about, Buck? You aren’t making any sense." JD whispered, afraid the concussion had scrambled his best friend’s brains.

"Gang of teens, ripping off people at the mall. Leader was a blonde named Amber. She was a bitch but nothing compared to the hostile one. Shit, I ain’t never experienced anything like that one. Serena, that was her name. Some guy named Chad was helpin’ ‘em. They’re probably all gone by now. Sugar and spice, ha!"

"Girls did this to you?" JD asked incredulously. He started to laugh but stopped when both Buck and Chris glared at him. "Teenage girls?"

"I’ve heard of gangs of females. They can be vicious, worse than any male gang. Buck, can you tell us anything about where they held you? Your wrists were obviously tied. You really messed them up trying to get away."

"Cops raided the place just after they took off. Check the records for a warehouse but I guarantee you won’t find them anywhere around here. The leader, she was really street smart, Chris. I’m sure she moved all of them to another city by now."

"We’ll check. You gonna be okay?" Chris could see the mental agony in his agent’s face. The ordeal had really taken a toll on Buck.

Buck took a few seconds before answering. "Yeah, Stud. I don’t mind admitting to you two that I was scared shitless. But don’t you say a word to the others, okay? I ain’t never run across anything like that crazy killin’ bitch before and I hope I never do again. I’ll tell ya, I sure am glad to be alive."

"We feel the same, buddy." Both Chris and JD tried to picture a teenage girl that could terrify the big, ex-cop, federal agent but couldn’t. They were just glad they hadn’t been in Buck’s shoes.


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