I picked on Buck's pickup in the front, figured it was Chris' turn.
Ezra and JD jumped from the Ram and watched as Vin backed the long horse trailer up to the fence. Ezra opened the gate and JD opened the trailer as Vin hopped out and walked back. It took only a few minutes to unload the seven animals into the pasture where they began to romp and kick up their heels after several hours of being cooped up in the trailer.
Vin moved the trailer around to the covered area next to the barn where they unhitched the truck. Then the three men unloaded the tack as well as camping equipment from the front compartment of the trailer. Team Seven had taken an extra day for the weekend holiday after deciding to go riding in the high country north of Denver. Mid-afternoon on the second day, ADA Travis had called and informed the team leader, that his appearance, as well as that of Wilmington's, was required in court the next morning. That left no time to load and get home, so Vin and Ezra, who had rode out with Chris, and JD, who had rode in Buck's truck, volunteered to take the big Dodge and horse trailer back to the ranch. Josiah had come with Nathan. Seeing two of the members leaving convinced them to return to Denver as well.
So the holiday ended with four members heading back early and the other three heading out the next morning. The drive had been fairly uneventful with the only argument being what to listen to. Tanner stopped that discussion when he threatened to play the harmonica if they didn't make up their minds. It was decided that they could ride in silence and JD soon stretched out in the back seat and snoozed as Ezra opened his laptop and began to check his notes for the next week's assignment.
They had arrived at Larabee's ranch early in the afternoon. JD had spoken to Buck and learned the two older men would be stuck in town until that evening. They finished with the unloading. Then they set about cleaning the tack and stowing the camping equipment in the proper places. By three-thirty, the barn was back in order, the animals fed and the three younger members of the team worn out.
They trooped into the house and got comfortable. Each man showered and changed into fresh clothes. All the team considered the ranch as a second home and spent a lot of time there. They all kept changes of clothing since there was always work to do and Chris had complained about his house being to smell like a barnyard.
After relaxing for a while, the three men decided to eat, since they had skipped lunch in favor of getting home. They quickly found that the refrigerator had not been restocked probably due to the fact that Larabee had planned to be gone for several days.
"So, what are we going to do?" JD asked.
"I could go procure some provisions or perhaps bring back a repast to sustain us."
Vin was already shaking his head. "I ain't eating some fancy French stuff, Ezra. I'll go get some supplies."
"On what? That deathtrap you ride around on? Exactly where do you plan to place these supplies?"
Vin grinned, an evil glint in his eyes, and held out his hand. "So loan me the Jag."
Ezra took a step back, his hand going down to cover his pocket, "I think not."
JD laughed as Vin stepped forward and Ezra took another step back, his face going solemn as his head dropped into a defensive stance.
"Why don't we take the Ram?" the youngest asked softly.
The others froze and then turned slowly to the boy.
"Take Chris' truck?"
"Use Mr. Larabee's conveyance for an unauthorized journey?"
"Well, as long as we're careful." JD gulped. "I mean, he knows there's no food. And you can't go on the bike and no telling what Ezra would come back with "
JD glanced out at the truck sitting outside and back to the two men. "Yeah, maybe that's not a good idea."
But Vin cocked his head as his hand came up to rub his chin. "You know as long as we're careful
"NO. Somehow, some calamity shall befall us and I will end up taking the brunt of Mr. Larabee's wrath, if for no other reason than that I am the oldest and should have known better."
The three stood in the kitchen looking at each other. The grumbling of JD's stomach finally had them nodding and muttering to themselves, 'as long as we're careful'.
Six o'clock and the three men burst in the back door of the house, trembling. Shucking out of their dusty boots, they headed for the fridge. While it was void of food, beer was still in evidence and they each grabbed one. Vin tossed the cap into the trash and placed the cold bottle against his flushed skin. Ezra took the time to search the cabinet and find a glass, wiped the vessel out first and pour the brew in and then processed to drain the glass before removing it from his lips. JD took one deep drink. Then, clutching his stomach and moaning, he tore out of the kitchen. Vin and Ezra paid little heed to the sounds of retching that floated down the hall.
Tanner took a drink and eyed the southerner. "He might not notice," the soft Texas drawl offered.
Ezra was searching the cabinets for something stronger to drink and slammed the door closed, turning on the longhaired sharpshooter. "Not notice? NOT? NOTICE? The bed of the truck is crushed, caved in, mangled, mutilated, beyond repair, "
"All RIGHT, Ez. I got it." Vin tossed his hands into the air, beer escaping the bottle to sprinkle the floor. Both men stared at the liquid momentarily. "What are we going to do?"
Ezra stared at the man, a slightly 'trapped' expression on his features, and then he smiled, sardonically. "We'll tell him JD was driving. Buck will protect the boy," he added quickly as Vin's mouth opened in protest.
The Texan stopped, his head cocking to one side, contemplating. Finally he shook his head slowly, his mouth pulling to one side as he spoke, "Nah, can't do that. It could 'a been worse if the kid hadn't 'a screamed."
"I didn't scream. Gees, Vin, you make me sound like a girl." JD whined as he reentered the room, pale and sweaty, the beer bottle no longer in his hands.
"You did not scream, Mr. Dunne."
JD nodded his head in acknowledgement.
"It was more akin to a squeal."
"Oh, thanks, Ezra. That sounds a lot better." Sarcasm dripped from the words.
All three men froze at the sound of wheels crunching on the gravel drive.
Silence from beyond the door. They waited.
"Can't trust .Son of a Bi told them to .straight home .Dammit "
"Hold .Stud .it could be "
The voices ran over each other merging and indistinguishable. Until
"TANNER! DUNNE! STANDISH! GET YOUR ASSES OUT HERE."
The three men looked at one another, blinking. Finally, the two youngest looked to the older man. Ezra's head swiveled from man to man to the door and back.
"Hide!" he squealed.
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