Desert Run

by Monica M.

Main Character(s): Ezra, Chris, with all seven

Alternate Universe: Nasty Boys

Disclaimer: The M7 characters in this story belong to MGM. I’ve made no money here or anywhere else for that matter, but that’s really beside the point. Nasty Boys belongs to Universal/Wolf Productions.


The July 2005 (the Save the Day Challenge) - offered by Rowan:

It's time to get the guys out of the water and into the desert - in the middle of July - injured - always got to have an injury. Any one or all of the guys can be injured and the rest, or the one, needs to save the day. Any AU, etc.


The January 2002 Challenge (The AU Challenge): offered by Setcheti:

Write (or rather, *re*write) a movie or TV show as starring our favorite Seven guys. You MAY NOT use an existing AU, you must create your own. (Yes, that does mean you can't just have ATF Team Seven join forces with Walker, Texas Ranger - a crossover is not what we're aiming for here.) You can do the whole thing or just a teaser so long as all Seven are used. Sounds daunting I know, but sit down and watch a few movies or a couple hours of cable and I'm sure you'll come up with something great!

I used an episode titled "Desert Run" from the old television series Nasty Boys written by Harv Zimmel. This show only lasted about one season and was “Inspired by and dedicated to the Officers of the North Las Vegas Narcotics Bureau…’the Nasty Boys’.” Here’s a quick summary of the show from the Internet Movie Database The Nasty Boys are a special unit of the Las Vegas Police Department. The unit consists of undercover cops and their identities are withheld, even from the department. They only answer to their boss who in turn only answers to the Chief. And if there is ever an instance that they have to bust the people they are working on, they wear ninja type outfits to conceal their identities. On the show they were a team of 6, including the Lieutenant, so I’ve added Ezra in as their young informant.

Thanks: To Jan O. for providing me with tapes of what episodes she had of this show and thus refreshing my memory on so many details. To Debra M, as always, for being so wonderful when she received an email demanding that she watch this particular episode on the tapes that I had let her borrow and then describe to me exactly what happened. <g> (She lives in Australia and understood that my impatience would not allow me to wait until she could mail them back. Although she did just in time to let me see a few things for myself.) Can’t thank you enough, pard! And to my dear RoundUp Gals! You will understand exactly why I had to use this episode when you see the character introduced near the end. Just for you guys I changed the character from a man to a woman. You will understand why when you see what particular animal she is extremely dedicated to. <g>

“What did Ez say about this guy?” Vin asked as he checked his gear one more time before he and the team headed out on their latest mission.

Buck kept his back turned to Vin, J.D., and Nathan as he replied, “I never got an answer from Ez.”

“So we don’t know if this Claude guy’s reliable?”

“He’s reliable!” Buck’s frustration at the other men questioning this raid reached a boiling point. “If we want to get West we’re gonna have to move now. He’s stayed one step ahead of us by always moving his lab. Claude is a solid lead and we’ve got to take it.”

“What about Chris?” Vin prodded. Ever since he had responded to Buck’s call requesting they all meet him at their warehouse headquarters for a nighttime raid the Texan had the gut feeling that they were rushing things.

“I tried calling him but he never picked up. And you know he’s always told us that if we’ve got something we’ve got to follow up on that we don’t have to wait for him.”

Nathan walked over and stood beside Vin. “I don’t know. Something this big the Lieutenant might want to be involved before we move.”

“I thought you guys would want to be involved in a bust this big. If we sit around and wait all we’re gonna find is another empty lab.” Buck looked around and met each of his teammates’ eyes. “I want to stop this guy from putting drugs on the streets.”

“Well then I say let’s do it!” J.D. threw his support behind his friend.

Josiah walked in from the garage area. “Everything’s loaded up and ready to go.” He stopped as he realized that Nathan and Vin stood opposed to Buck and J.D. “What’s going on?”

“Nathan and Vin think we should wait for Chris. Buck and I think we need to go now so that we don’t miss this opportunity to take down West,” J.D. explained.

As the oldest among them Josiah was always looked up to for his advice and experience. With all eyes turning to him he knew that he was now being asked to pick sides and cast the deciding vote. “What did Ezra have to say about this pilot Claude?”

Buck threw his hands up in the air in disgust. “Remember not that long ago when we didn’t have Ezra as a snitch? We did just fine then! I’m not waiting for him to decide to call me back!”

Vin and Nathan exchanged a look. “All we’re saying is that Ezra has a lot more contacts than we do. It never hurts to hear what he might know about these people.”

“Except in this case we don’t have time to wait for him,” Buck insisted.

“He’s right,” Josiah agreed. “I think we should take this opportunity now that we have it.”

“I’m in,” Vin stated. These men were his teammates and his family. He was not going to let them go into a dangerous situation without him.

Nathan wavered for a little bit longer, but like Vin finally decided that he had to go with his teammates. He gave them a nod and received conspiratorial grins from each of the others in return.

“Let’s head ‘em up and move ‘em out!”

“Are you gonna say that every time we head out on a raid, J.D.?” The dismay in Buck’s voice spoke for all of them.

“How about, ‘Let’s ride!’?” the youngest asked hopefully.

“How about, ‘Get your ass in the car, J.D. and let’s go!’?” Buck retorted as he cuffed him around the neck and started walking him toward the warehouse’s garage bay.

“Well technically it’s not a car…” the younger man started to point out.

“Whatever the hell it is, just get in it!” Buck yelled in mock outrage. The adrenaline was starting to pump through all of them now that they had made the decision to head out on the drug bust and it was showing in their higher spirits.

“I almost forgot,” Vin called out to the others as he reached into a box that he had brought with him. He tossed a canteen to each of them.

“You really think we’re gonna need these?” J.D. asked as he deftly caught his. “We’re just gonna fly in, bust West and his men, and fly right out.” He made it sound like they were walking outside to pick up the morning paper.

“We’re going out into the desert. And I don’t care how quick you think the trip is gonna be. You always take water with you,” Vin lectured.

When it came to the outdoors they all listened to the Texan’s instructions. He had far more outdoor experience than all of them combined. Sometimes J.D. wondered what had driven him to become a cop in Vegas of all places. But he was definitely grateful that he was because their team was the stronger for having him.

Dutifully they all filled up their canteens and double-checked their weapons and gear before loading up in the black Humvee. Though Josiah usually drove he gave way to Buck who was the only one who knew how to get to Claude’s garage. They no longer joked and teased with each other but sat in silence and mentally prepared themselves for the upcoming battle. And they knew that it would be a battle. Gregory West would have his lab heavily fortified, they were sure of that. Unfortunately they still managed to underestimate just how much.

Since Buck had previously made contact with Claude he was the only one to enter the hangar to meet with the pilot. Before though he had been in street clothes, working undercover, now his identity was hidden behind a black hood and face mask that only left his eyes exposed. Sustaining their anonymousness was of the upmost importance to the team although they were required to wear black clothing with POLICE emblazoned on the front and back. Normally they would have let Ezra, as their snitch, be the one to meet with Claude but Buck had done all the undercover work on his own this time. They just hoped that their cover held and that they were paying Claude enough to keep his mouth shut.

Once Buck made the payoff they loaded into the Huey helicopter and were flown out into the desert. The silence was heavy but each man was filled with the conviction that what they were doing was right and necessary.

Claude set the copter down in what felt like the middle of nowhere and pointed them in the direction of the drug lab. Buck paused before disembarking and then reached over the pilot and grabbed the ignition keys and pocketed them. Claude protested but Buck only shook his head and followed his teammates out into the desert.

Vin took point as they crept up on the shack that housed the drug lab. The five men huddled behind empty barrels as they attempted to come up with the best plan of attack. The Texan took a careful peek around the barrels before turning back to his teammates. “There’s a lot more men than what we were expecting.”

“Claude did say they were getting ready to abandon this lab,” Buck pointed out.

Nathan also took a cautious look over the barrels. “We’re going to need backup.”

“We can do this!” Buck protested.

The argument became moot as they were spotted and an alarm was sounded. The five cops stood up from their hiding place and began firing their automatic rifles in the direction of the shack. But the sight that greeted them had them all turning as one to run back toward the helicopter. Not only were they out-manned by about three to one, they were also outgunned. Somehow West has gotten his hands on a shoulder mounted rocket launcher and a missile was now speeding its way in their direction.

Knowing that their only hope lay in the copter they ran for all they were worth. The missile hit the barrels they had been hiding behind and exploded sending them all sprawling into the sand, covering their heads from the falling debris. Clambering back to their feet they made sure they were still all together before continuing their run for the helicopter. Buck was surprised to see the rotors already spinning on the machine but was grateful for about a split second. Gratitude gave way to disbelief as the helicopter lifted off and left them in a cloud of blinding dust. The cop cursed Claude and himself for not thinking that the pilot might have a spare set of keys. The five, abandoned cops turned as a canvas covered truck drove up. With no other option at this time they surrendered in the hope that they would find an opportunity for escape. Facing the heavily armed, grim-faced men who were their captors, they knew it was a slim chance, but still the only one they had.

+ + + + + + +

Chris walked into the warehouse to find Ezra rummaging through the desk drawers of the others. “If you’re stealing from Vin’s stash of snacks I’m not stopping him when he shoots you.”

The lieutenant had not realized that Ezra was so engrossed in his search that he had not even been aware that someone else had entered the warehouse. The younger man stood up his pale green eyes wide with surprise. He quickly covered with an outraged, “I’m not looking for snacks!”

“Then what are you looking for?” Chris asked, his eyes shifting to the open gate to the wire fencing that surrounded his own desk acting as makeshift office walls. “I’m going to electrify that fence,” he threatened with a menacing glare.

Ezra shrugged. “I enjoy a challenge.”

“What are you looking for?” the cop growled. “And where are the others?”

“That’s what I’m looking for,” the southerner answered soberly. “A clue as to where they are.”

Chris had seen the personal vehicles of his team when he had parked his own car. He started to walk toward the garage that housed the team vehicles but Ezra stopped him. “It’s not here.”

“So what do you know about where they are?”

Ezra sat down at Buck’s desk and guiltily avoided Chris’ eyes. “Buck tried to get a hold of me earlier but I was indisposed.”

Chris’ eyes narrowed as he strode over to stand in front of the desk Ezra sat at. “What did he want?”

“He wanted to know if I knew anything about a helicopter pilot named Claude. Said that he had a garage named Claude’s Garage which is an apt, yet uncreative name.”

“Did Buck say why he had an interest in this Claude?”

The younger man shook his head as he stood up from the desk. “No, he did not and I don’t see anything on his desk that hints at what he was working on. Did he tell you anything?”

“He called but I was ‘indisposed’, too,” the lieutenant threw back.

Ezra opened his mouth to ask about that but quickly shut it. Chris’ personal life was almost a taboo subject even for the men that worked for him. Now was the not the time to further irritate the cop. But the southerner made a mental note to follow up on this at a later time. He could only imagine that something that kept Chris from the work that was practically his entire life had to have a good story attached.

“So do you know anything about this Claude?”

“I know of a couple of people who may have used his services in the past.” Suddenly eager to have something constructive to do Ezra reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. “You want me to contact them and see what I can find out?”

“It’s a little too late for that,” Chris said as he turned away from Ezra and so did not seeing the guilt that flashed across the southerner’s face. Instead the lieutenant was searching both outwardly and inwardly for inspiration that would lead him to his men. He knew that their procedure would have them turning off their cell phones and would not have dared trying to call them anyway just in the off chance that it would blow their cover. Coming to a decision he whirled back around to face Ezra. “I say we go visit Claude. See if he has any information on where the boys are.”

“You want me to go with you?” Ezra could not describe the amount of shock that was flooding his system.

“Yeah, so let’s go.” Chris did not even give the other man an opportunity to voice any objections he may have. He grabbed hold of his arm and started dragging him towards the door.

Still Ezra managed to ask, “What exactly are you expecting me to do?”

“Whatever the hell I ask you to do!”

+ + + + + + +

By the time they arrived at Claude’s Garage neither man was speaking to the other. Chris had left their headquarters without first bothering to find out exactly where the garage was located. He had then expected Ezra to provide that information by whatever means possible. The southerner had complained that Chris should invest in the latest technology and get a GPS system for his car. Ezra had conveniently acquired the directions to the garage at the exact moment that Chris was telling him where he was going to ‘implant’ Ezra’s tracking device when he got a GPS unit.

“Only Buck would be able to find a place like this,” Chris muttered as he exited the car.

Walking around to join the lieutenant Ezra looked at what was more a junkyard than a garage and had to agree with the assessment. Buck lived his life the same way he loved women; fast and loose. Or at least that was the way he liked to appear. In reality he rarely took risks that would harm his friends and teammates or the women that he loved each in his own way. He had to have been extremely motivated to move so quickly on this case. They just needed to find out what the case was and hope it led them to the team.

“I don’t see any sign…” Ezra was cut off by Chris who was not in any mood to hear any kind of negativity.

“Let’s find Claude.”

Unsure of what exactly was expected of him in a situation like this Ezra followed him inside. They were greeted at the door by a small man with a round face topped by curly, white hair peeking out beneath a World War II bomber pilot’s cap. A white, silk scarf was wrapped around his neck and he wore a leather flight jacket over a light brown uniform even in the heat of the Nevada day. His dated uniform was at odds with his boyish features. “How can I help you gentlemen?”

”Are you Claude?” Chris growled taking a threatening step toward the much smaller man. Without thinking Ezra laid a restraining hand on the cop’s shoulder only to remove it immediately when it earned him a hard look.

The little man shrugged. “Well that depends on who’s looking for him.” His voice was oddly higher pitched than what one would expect and had a whininess to it that instantly set Chris further on edge. Realizing that things could get ugly between the two, Ezra slipped away from them and started wandering around the garage/hangar area.

“Who I’m really looking for are some friends of mine. Last time I talked to them they were coming to see this guy Claude.” Chris reached out and took hold of the white scarf. “They said he was a pilot.”

“Well no one else has been here today.” The other man shrugged a bit nervously as Chris kept hold of his scarf.

“Chris!” Ezra called out from the back of the hangar.

“I’m a little busy here.” Chris did not take his eyes off the smaller man in front of him.

“You really want to see this!” Ezra pushed the issue.

The cop turned his head to see the southerner had lifted up one corner of a tarp to reveal the black Humvee that belonged to his team. Chris’ hand clenched around the scarf and pulled it tighter around the other man’s neck. With his free hand he removed his badge from his pocket and flashed it in front of the reddening face. “My friends drove that car, Claude. So I’m going to give you about 5 seconds to tell me where they are.”

Vainly trying to remove Chris’ hand from tightening his scarf any further Claude attempted to look apologetic. “I didn’t know you were talking about those guys.” Even half choked his voice remained annoyingly nasal.

“Where…are…they?” Chris punctuated each word by pulling tighter on the scarf.

“It’s a little hard to say,” Claude gasped before having his entire air supply cut off.

“Especially seeing as he can’t breathe,” Ezra stated walking back over to join them. He was actually amazed at how Claude seemed to be not at all intimidated by Chris despite the fact that he was no longer able to breathe.

Reluctantly Chris allowed a little slack to slip from the scarf. As Claude gasped to regain his breath, the lieutenant looked around for new inspiration in getting the man to talk. That was when his eyes looked through a window to see a Huey helicopter sitting outside. A wicked smirk quirked up his lips and sent a shiver through Ezra as he saw it and followed the cop’s gaze to the helicopter. The southerner made the mistake of wondering how the day could get any worse.

+ + + + + + +

Having been taken back to the shack that had been their intended target Buck and the others sat under the watchful eyes of machine gun bearing guards. They had been stripped of their hoods and weapons and had their hands tied behind their backs. Buck sat on the floor between Nathan and Josiah with J.D. then Vin on the other side of Josiah. They had not been able to communicate much with each other but still knew that each of them would be ready when a chance for escape appeared.

Buck was making plans for what would be his last ditch attempt for freedom for his friends. He had gotten them into this situation so if it took a sacrifice on his part to free them he would not hesitate to do it. He just hoped that if it came to that they would actually leave him if necessary. He had a couple of scenarios in mind when a new player entered the game.

Gregory West was an average looking man who did not wear flashy clothing or play to any stereotypes of a drug dealer. He possessed a cool intelligence that could have labeled him as an accountant or data processor. That is if his blue eyes did not burn with an innate maliciousness. This was a calculating man who knew when to cut his losses and when to dispose of unwanted impediments.

His eyes swept over the five cops with easy dismissal. He recognized them as the much lauded and controversial team dubbed by the media as the “Nasty Boys”. Their unorthodox methods were certainly making it difficult for men in West’s ‘profession’. Right now, though, to him they were nothing more than five, stupid men who were about to meet their end in a desert that had claimed its fair share of stupid men who had ventured where they should not have.

“Take ‘em out in the desert, kill them and bury them,” West ordered his men not sparing a second look to the five men whose fate he had just sealed. “If their bodies are ever found I don’t want it to be anywhere near here.”

“Wait,” Buck started not at all sure what he was going to say.

But when West’s eyes fell back on him, the drug dealer shook his head. “Your stalling tactics aren’t going to work here. Not that it matters anyway. There will be no cavalry riding to your rescue.” With a toss of his head he motioned for the guards to take them away.

Knowing it was useless, none of the five protested. Buck struggled a bit as he was being hauled to his feet and received a gut punch for his troubles. They were then taken out, one by one, to the canvas covered truck and thrown into the back. Though they all kept on alert for a chance to escape none was forthcoming with them being so separated.

But alone in the back of the truck they began to discuss the possibilities as the truck started up and pulled away from the shack. Though he did not waste time in speaking it aloud, the others knew the guilt Buck was feeling about having gotten them into the situation. It was the same way they would all feel if they had been leading the raid.

Josiah was the first to manage to unbind his hands. As he quickly untied his teammates J.D. implored, “You gotta show me how you do that!” He had made absolutely no headway in trying to undo the knots around his own wrists.

A rumbling chuckle issued from the older cop’s chest. “Ezra showed me the trick. Said he had a stepfather who was an escape artist and magician.”

“Well why wouldn’t he show me when I asked?”

“I’m sure he had his reasons.”

J.D. wanted to press Josiah about what those reasons could be but the more pressing matter of their escape took precedence. Vin cautiously peeked out of the back of the covered truck but all he saw was the cloud of dust that the tires kicked up. “Anybody feel like doing an Indiana Jones?” the Texan asked referring to the movie character who had climbed the back of a similar canvas covered truck to reach the driver’s cab.

“Even if one of us could reach the cab,” Nathan pointed out, “I don’t think he’d stand a chance against two guys with automatic rifles.”

Vin nodded. “Guess that leaves us with one other option.” He looked meaningfully out the back of the truck and dropped his gaze down.

Josiah bent out and surveyed the terrain below them. With a resigned look he turned back to the others. “It doesn’t look too bad.” They were not sure if he was trying to reassure them or convince himself. “Who wants to go first?”

“I’ll go,” Buck volunteered and no one attempted to dissuade him. They knew it would be useless.

“Tuck and roll.” That was all the advice that Vin could offer. “We’ll be right behind you. Oh and try and stay in the dust cloud in case one of them looks back in a mirror.”

Buck met each of their eyes and nodded. Then he carefully slipped over the tailgate of the truck and balanced on the bumper before taking a deep breath and jumping off. Vin did not waste any time in sending J.D., Josiah, then Nathan in quick succession behind Buck before he himself made the leap.

Buck picked himself up as quickly as he could make his battered limbs move. He had to fight the choking and blinding dust but he made his way forward, gathering his teammates and helping them to their feet. After joining Josiah the three were met by Vin who was trying to support the taller but injured form of Nathan. Josiah and Buck quickly moved to take over for the Texan.

“I’ll be alright,” Nathan quickly shook them off. “Just the wind knocked out of me and a dislocated shoulder, I think.” When Josiah moved to look at his injured right shoulder, Nate took a quick couple of steps away from him. “Don’t touch it. I’d rather wait and have a professional do it.”

Josiah raised his hands and backed away. “Suit yourself. But it could be awhile.”

Nathan nodded that he understood. If it had been any of the others who had been hurt he would not have stopped until they let him look at the injury. He trusted his teammates with his life but sincerely doubted their doctoring abilities.

Having relinquished responsibility for their injured teammate, Vin watched the truck continue to drive off into the distance. Once he felt relatively sure that their captors would not realize they had gone missing, he turned his attention to how they were going to get themselves out of the desert. “We’ll need to find cover. Get out of the sun and hide out in case they come looking for us.”

All eyes scanned the barren landscape. “Any ideas about which way we should head?” Buck asked, deferring again to Vin’s knowledge of the outdoors.

“It’s a long walk back, but this is the direction we need to go,” the Texan responded pointing straight ahead, in the direction from which the truck had come.

“Let’s get started.” Buck motioned for Vin to lead. The rest followed behind, Nathan gritting his teeth against the pain in his shoulder.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra felt lost as he trailed behind Chris who was dragging Claude by the scarf over to the Huey. Like everything else in the garage, the helicopter looked like its better days were a long distant memory. But the southerner decided that at least it was not actually a B-17 bomber as Claude’s clothing would suggest.

“Where are my guys?” Chris demanded shaking and throttling the pilot at the same time.

“I took them out in the desert,” Claude finally admitted earning a reprieve from the throttling though the lieutenant kept a firm grip on the smaller man.

“What was out there?” Chris gritted his teeth as he growled out the words. He was fighting hard to retain some semblance of control. He wanted nothing more than to pound the answers out of the pilot but knew that he would need him. For now.

“A guy named West has a drug lab out in the desert. I’ve carried some cargo out for him before so your guys wanted me to take them out there.”

Chris closed his eyes briefly at that news. Buck had been after West for a long time and would have followed any lead that would bring down the drug dealer.

“Is that why you have that?” Ezra’s incredulous voice snapped Chris’ eyes back open to look up into the helicopter. The lieutenant did not know how he missed the GAU-16 machine gun mounted in the doorway.

Incomprehensibly the pilot just shrugged as if it were nothing at all. “It came with the helicopter.”

The last bit of control slipped from Chris even as his fingers tightened on Claude’s scarf pulling the man up close to him. “You’re going to take me to my men.”

“If I go back there, they’ll kill me!” Claude’s nasal, plaintive voice was positively grating.

“I’m gonna kill you if we stay here.” The low voice of the lieutenant was not a threat but an oath swearing vengeance on anyone who kept him from his men.

Ezra took a step back away from the scene unfolding in front of him and stumbled against a heap of car parts knocking them over in a loud crash that earned him the attention of both men. To his dismay Chris’ hard look turned contemplative as he looked over his team’s informant. The lieutenant glanced back down at Claude and that same deadly smirk again touched his lips.

“You’ve flown before, haven’t you?” Chris asked his attention diverted back to Ezra.

The southerner caught the briefest flash from the cop’s eyes before a startled Claude turned to regard him as well even though he was still being held in a chokehold. Ezra straightened and allowed his poker face to slip over his features. “Yes, I have...”

Chris did not let the southerner finish as he bodily threw Claude up into the helicopter and quickly followed him. Taking hold of the smaller man again, the lieutenant whipped the scarf from around his neck and used it as a blindfold. “It looks like you’re going back into the desert, Claude, whether you fly us or not.” With a jerk of his head, Chris motioned for Ezra to take the pilot’s seat.

The southerner sat down in the right hand seat and found the keys in the ignition and turned them. Satisfied when the engine came to life he began to study the control panel in front of him. His fingers flipped switches with a surety he did not quite feel and his feet ghosted over the pedals to get a feel for them. But the rotors came to life bringing a dimpled grin to Ezra’s face. He glanced over his shoulder to see Chris walking a blindfolded Claude over to the edge of the helicopter deck. The lieutenant caught Ezra’s eyes and with his hands motioned that he wanted him to take the helicopter up a few feet. He turned his attention back to his captive and did not see the look of fear and disbelief that filled Ezra’s face as he stared at the helicopter’s controls as if hoping it would fly itself.

Screaming into Claude’s ear to make himself heard, Chris explained, “If you don’t tell us where to look then we don’t need you, do we, Claude?”

“I thought you were a cop!”

“There are good cops and there are bad cops. You want to guess which one I am when it comes to finding my men?”

In the pilot’s seat Ezra’s lips moved in a silent prayer before he lifted the helicopter off the ground.

Chris grabbed a strap mounted on the doorframe to maintain his balance. He kept a firm hold on Claude who fell back against him as the helicopter swayed back and forth with Ezra trying desperately to work the pedals and sticks. But he kept the copter several feet above the ground.

Whatever else he may be Claude was a seasoned pilot so he was not fooled by the helicopter’s height. He stood still and waited to see what the cop would do next. If he was thrown from the helicopter he thought he might suffer a broken bone or two but it would be preferable to the fate that waited for him if he crossed paths with West ever again.

Ezra again threw a look over his shoulder and saw Chris and Claude locked in an impasse. Filled with an adrenaline rush from his success so far he actually whooped and called out, “I think I’ve got it down now, Chris!” And with that he pulled up on the controls and worked the pedals pulling the helicopter higher up into its hover.

“What the…!” Chris yelled as he fought to keep his hold on both Claude and the door strap. “Ezra!”

But the southerner’s eyes were wide with delight as he grinned with a boyish glee. He had absolutely no idea what he would do beyond this but for now he was enjoying himself immensely. The look on Chris’ face alone was priceless.

His gamble paid off as Claude yelled, “Alright, alright! I’ll take you out there!”

Chris immediately pulled the pilot further into the helicopter and over toward the pilots’ seats. Claude pulled down his scarf and scrambled into the left seat quickly taking control away from a still very pleased with himself Ezra. The true pilot settled the helicopter into a smooth hover and glared over at the other man in the right seat. “Amateur!” he accused in what passed for a snarl in his childish voice.

Ezra’s jaw dropped with outrage at that remark. He thought he had done reasonably well considering he had never flown an aircraft before in his life. Any retort he was going to make was cutoff when Chris reached forward and hauled him out of the pilot’s seat and into the back of the helicopter with him.

“What the hell were you thinking?”

“You told me…”

“I asked if you had ever flown!”

“Well you could take that one of two ways. I have flown. I mean I’ve been in aircraft before. I had a stepfather who was a pilot and flew all kinds of planes and helicopters and he would let me sit in the copilot seat and run the checklist with him. But I have never flown an aircraft.”

Chris grabbed the collar of Ezra’s shirt and hauled the smaller man close to his face much as he had done Claude earlier. “I ought to throw you out.”

Dimples flashed across the southerner’s face. “But you won’t.”

“Not yet,” Chris threatened as he released his hold on Ezra and without another look at him moved to sit in the seat he had just pulled him out of.

Once he was sure Chris was no longer paying any attention to him, Ezra’s legs seemingly gave out from under him as he slid to the row of seats in the back of the copter. That was when he finally released the breath he felt he had been holding forever. He did not make the mistake of wondering how the day could get any worse. He made the mistake of thinking that it could not possibly get any worse.

+ + + + + + +

“Still nothing!” Buck cursed as he returned his cell phone to his pocket after checking for a signal to make a phone call.

J.D. gestured all around him. “We’re in the middle of nowhere, Buck!”

“Well it doesn’t hurt to try!”

Vin watched his teammates as they took a breather in the shadow of a large boulder. The heat was getting to all of them. Josiah and Nathan leaned against the rock, their eyes closed. Vin knew they had not given up the fight, but there was only so far that they could push their bodies before the desert simply took its toll.

J.D. moved away from Buck and came to sit by the Texan. “So I guess it didn’t really matter whether we had those canteens or not,” he tried to joke.

“Trust me. If we had them they would be making a world of difference,” Vin stated but he added a smile to his words. The younger cop was simply trying to bring back some semblance of normalcy with a little teasing.

“A world of difference would have been if we could have trusted Buck’s pilot,” Nathan said opening his eyes to shoot an accusatory look in the other cop’s direction.

“How was I supposed to know that he had another set of keys?”

“Maybe you could have waited to see what Ezra…hell…what the rest of us could have learned about him!”

Buck stood up angrily. “No one made you come!

“He’s right.” Josiah’s melodious voice was a bit hoarse from its dryness but it was still authoritative enough to get them all to turn and listen to him. “We’re a team. We’ve got to continue to act like one so that we can survive this.”

As if on cue to disprove his last words the rumble of an engine echoed around them. They stood to join Buck and saw the truck they had jumped from lumbering across the desert in their general direction. Their absence had been noticed.

“We’ve got to keep moving,” Vin remarked with resignation. He did not know how much longer Josiah and Nathan could make it. Honestly he did not know how much longer he could make it with no water, dressed in black with no covering for his head. But they were a team as Josiah had said and they had no other choice. The others nodded and followed his lead as he started across the desert.

+ + + + + + +

Claude had moved over to the right seat of the helicopter with Chris sitting in the left seat. Ezra still sat in the back with his head in his hands. They had been flying for some time across the desert and the southerner was struggling with the onset of airsickness.

“How much longer?” Chris yelled to the pilot.

Peering out his side window Claude squinted his eyes as he regarded the barren and unremarkable landscape below him. “It’s a little hard to say,” he finally yelled back.

“’A little hard to say’? I thought you knew exactly where this place was?”

“I think the daylight is confusing me,” the pilot shrugged.

Chris sputtered for a moment. “What does your instrumentation tell you?” He gestured at the control panel in front of him and then wished that he had not. All the dials and gauges spun out of control, completely useless.

“Instrumentation?” Claude actually managed to sound insulted. “That’s for that wussy class of pilots. I’m more of a seat of the pants kind of guy.”

“Then where does your ‘seat of the pants’ tell us we are now?” Chris demanded.

Claude again shrugged as if in disbelief that the lieutenant would ask such a stupid question. “We’re definitely in the desert.”

That was the final straw for Chris; he grabbed the radio only to find that the cord hung loose and useless. “What the hell is this?” Chris brandished the radio as if considering using it as a weapon to try and knock some sense into the pilot. But he quickly rethought that as it would mean having to rely on Ezra to fly the helicopter again. And as much as the lieutenant was beginning to have serious doubts about Claude’s sanity and ability to pilot he still knew it was better than Ezra’s.

Glancing over his shoulder he noticed the poor condition of the southerner and called out to him. “If you’re gonna be sick do it out the window. That way you can at least keep an eye out for the others!”

Ezra wanted to raise his head and glare at Chris but did not dare make even that small gesture. Instead he moaned and dropped his head down further between his knees.

+ + + + + + +

“Who puts up barb wire fence in the middle of the desert?” J.D. asked as they came across exactly that.

“Who cares,” Buck replied. “It’s the first sign of civilization that we’ve had.”

Vin pointed out the disrepair of the fence. “I wouldn’t get my hopes up too much. Whoever put this fence up is probably long gone.”

Thoughts of the homesteader who had dared to try and make a living in the harsh climate of the desert slipped from all of their minds as they again saw the truck drive into view. When it stopped its two occupants exited as they were joined by a third man on a dirt bike. There was no doubting they had been spotted as all three men gestured in their direction before the dirt bike began racing toward them.

Without a word Vin and J.D. took Josiah’s arm and started to drag the bigger, older man into a run as Buck took Nathan’s uninjured arm and did the same. But after only a few minutes Vin brought them all to a halt. “We’re never gonna outrun that dirt bike.”

As they gasped for breath the others nodded but were still unwilling to admit defeat. Vin was glad to see that his teammates still had some fight in them. “I’ve got a plan,” he stated.

+ + + + + + +

“There it is!” Chris’ voice was actually flooded with relief as he spotted the shack out in the middle of nowhere.

“Yep, that’s just where I thought it would be,” Claude flashed a smug look at the cop.

Chris ignored him as he peered at the seemingly abandoned shack. “They must be inside.”

Ezra finally managed to push aside his nausea and moved closer to the side of the helicopter. He did not like the look of the place and the hope he was beginning to feel simply ebbed away.

“Put her down!” Chris ordered. He looked back at Ezra. “How are you doing?”

“Let’s just get her on the ground,” the southerner replied though he had no idea what would be expected of him then.

When Claude continued to circle the shack, Chris yelled again, “Put her down!”

“Are you kidding me?” the pilot protested. “They’ve got guns! Big guns!”

Now that he was so close to finding his men Chris was feeling more in charge again. “Yeah? Well I’ve got guns, too.” He drew his own weapon and brandished it in Claude’s general direction to illustrate his point.

Claude threw his hands up, not as a surrender but more of a ‘whatever you say’ type gesture. He then circled once more around the shack before setting the helicopter down.

As soon as the skids touched ground Ezra leapt out of the helicopter and relished the feel of firm earth beneath his feet once more. Chris took no chances with Claude once the pilot shut down the chopper. He pulled the man from the pilot’s seat and handcuffed him to a railing inside the doorway. Claude did not seem perturbed by this in the slightest. In fact, as soon as Chris walked around to the other side to join Ezra, the pilot pulled a set of keys out of his sleeve and began working on the handcuffs.

“I’ll go to the front, you go around back.” Before Ezra could point out that he was weaponless, Chris handed him his backup piece, a small caliber revolver.

“What makes you think I know how to use this?”

“You flew a helicopter because I told you to. You can shoot a gun.”

Seeing that his protests would fall on deaf ears, Ezra relented. He was going to have to be compensated for this, though, compensated extremely well. This was not at all what he had signed on for when he had agreed to help this team of cops. But then they had become more than that to him, they had become friends he cared about.

He and Chris split up, both of them making their way cautiously toward the doors. The lieutenant slipped stealthily along the outside wall until he reached the front door. With a strong kick he forced it open and stepped inside, his eyes and gun sweeping the room for any target. But the front room was empty. Carefully he continued into the shack. From the hallway he could see as Ezra entered from the back door. He nodded as the southerner moved into the back room.

“Looks like they’ve cleared out,” the lieutenant called after checking the other rooms in the small shack.

Chris looked up when Ezra joined him in the front room. The southerner was silent for once as he held up a black hooded mask. It was unmistakably one of the hoods used by the members of his team. Ezra usually teased them mercilessly for wearing them but now would give just about anything to see the five other men alive and masked. The lieutenant said nothing as his jaw clenched and he strode out of the shack and back over towards the helicopter. Ezra pocketed the hood and followed.

+ + + + + + +

J.D. ran as fast as he could force his worn out body into running. The dirt bike racing behind him gave him the adrenaline rush he needed but even that could not overcome the exhaustion and dehydration that threatened to shut his body down. Fortunately he did not have to run far.

As he raced between a small outcropping of cacti and boulders he yelled, “Now!” He threw himself to the side and rolled out of the way as Vin and Buck picked up fence posts and pulled tight a length of barbed wire in the path of the dirt bike. Never seeing it the rider drove right into it, getting thrown from his bike as he was clotheslined. The bike roared on until it crashed against a boulder in its path.

Vin and Buck dropped their fence posts and ran over to the fallen rider. Buck checked for a pulse on the bloodied neck as Vin relieved him of his weapon. “He’s dead,” Buck announced. Neither man felt remorse for the man who would not have hesitated in killing them.

“At least we can shoot back now,” Vin commented as he took charge of the weapon. He was the best shot on the team and if it came to a firefight they would need every bullet to count.

Without another glance at the dead drug dealer they walked over to where Josiah, Nathan, and J.D. looked over the dirt bike.

“It’s useless now,” J.D. stated gesturing to the bent front end of the bike.

Nathan found a small canteen and took a sip of the water before passing it on to the others. There was only enough left for each of them to take a single gulp but combined with their small victory over the rider it was enough to lift their spirits and bring them renewed hope that they would survive this ordeal together.

Buck took the now empty canteen and then looked at the useless dirt bike. “Give me a hand here,” he instructed Vin and Josiah, gesturing for them to pick up the bike.

At their confused looks he motioned to the gas tank and the canteen in his hand. “We can’t run forever. We’re going to need weapons.”

Now that they understood what he intended Vin and Josiah helped him get as much gas as possible into the canteen. It was difficult without a siphon but they managed to get enough that the canteen would serve as a ‘Molotov’ cocktail if they needed an explosive at some point.

+ + + + + + +

In the helicopter Chris had gotten Claude to fly a search pattern. He was not at all ready to give up on his men. He turned to see how Ezra was doing and found the young man holding the hood in his hands, a contemplative look on his face.

“You alright back there?”

Ezra did not look up as he shook his head. “I should have responded to Buck’s call as soon as I got it.”

The lieutenant glanced over to Claude who seemed oblivious to the other men in the helicopter. The man was a pain in the ass, but other than that and his cowardliness, he was relatively harmless. Chris did not believe that even if he had days to investigate that Ezra would have been able to dig up anything on him that would have dissuaded Buck from using the pilot. “Whatever you found, you wouldn’t have been able to stop Buck.”

“Maybe,” Ezra weakly responded.

“Ezra!” Chris called getting the younger man to look up at him. “You’ve done everything you could and more. When…” he repeated that word firmly, “When we find them, the guys are gonna appreciate that. I appreciate it.” His eyes locked with the southerner’s on those last words.

Ezra blinked, surprised at the sincerity in the lieutenant’s eyes. He usually had very limited interaction with Chris. The others on the team seemed to try and act as a filter between them. Ezra had a free-wheeling style that, while he appreciated the results it gave him, did not mesh well with Chris’ hard-edged personality. But the southerner could not find any comfort in the cop’s words. At least not until he knew the others were still alive and safe.

“Uh, Lieutenant,” Claude’s voice was whiny even in a shout. “I hate to add to your troubles, but I have a feeling that we are low on fuel.”

“You have a feeling…?” Without thinking Chris’ eyes fell on the fuel gauge. “It says you’ve got three quarters of a tank!”

Claude offered another apologetic smile. “That doesn’t work either.’

Chris felt the veins in his temple start to pulse. “Where’s the nearest place to get fuel?”

“Quarryville,” the pilot answered. “But you don’t want to go there. I don’t think they’ll take a shine to you.”

Chris’ glare threatened to make the small pilot spontaneously combust. “Just go down and fill ‘er up!”

“Fill ‘er up?” Claude asked for clarification. Receiving another point blank glare he nodded. “Alright, Lieutenant. Fill ‘er up!”

Ezra decided that he had somehow gotten into an alternate reality where there was no limit to the possibility of how much worse a situation could become. He only hoped that there would be an end in sight sometime soon. And with his despair over letting the team down, the return of his airsickness, and the general hopelessness of the situation, he almost did not care what type of end it was, as long as it was an ending.

+ + + + + + +

As they continued their trudge across the desert the five men came to a halt when they looked down into a small valley and saw an old, beat up recreational vehicle parked out there. The trailer looked to be someone’s home as it had a small patio table and grill next to it. A pickup truck also sat parked nearby. Lured by the hope for water and food, the five made their way down to the RV.

Vin drew the gun he had taken from the rider and took the lead. If there was one thing they had learned today it was to be extremely cautious. They did not see anyone outside so Vin edged up to the door of the RV and slowly pulled it open, jumping around it to keep his gun sighted on anyone who may be inside. His finger tensed over the trigger, he peered into the trailer, leaning forward to get a look all the way inside.

“No one’s home,” he said to the others as he lowered the weapon. The others moved to join him at the door and did not see the small form that slipped up behind them.

“Someone’s always home,” a firm, female voice stated.

Vin started to bring his weapon back up but he saw the M1 rifle trained on him and the others and immediately arrested that motion.

The rifle seemed almost longer than the woman was tall. But she held it trained on them with a sureness that left them little doubt that she would not hesitate to use it. She was thin but fit and dressed in the camouflage gear of a survivalist. Her age was hard to gauge but seemed to be somewhere in her late 30’s, early 40’s. Long, dark brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail and her brown eyes were hard and wary as they regarded each of the men in front of her. Exchanging weary glances with each other the five put their hands up in the air. They were becoming numb to the strange twists that they were encountering this day.

+ + + + + + +

Claude landed the helicopter near the gas pumps at the station that stood in the middle of the desert. Chris looked over the station amazed that it could survive in such desolation. Then he made the connection between the pilot saying that the people would not like him and the fact that West had his drug lab out here in the middle of nowhere as well.

“You stay with the copter,” he instructed the pilot. “Ezra, get out and look around.” As the southerner nodded, again eager to get onto firm ground, Chris added, “And be careful.”

A bit of Ezra’s usual self-confidence returned as he grinned at the lieutenant. “I’m always careful.”

Chris waved him away before striding over to the station and walking inside. On a good day when everything was going his way, the lieutenant was still not a man known for being in a good mood. After the events of the day, with his men still missing, Chris’ patience was at an all time low and he was in one of his blacker moods. So the last thing he wanted to hear as he walked into the restaurant attached to the station was, “We’re closed.”

But those two words were called to him by a man at the bar who kept his back turned to him.

“I just need gas,” Chris bit out the words.

The man merely shrugged. “Pump’s broke.”

“Then I’ll siphon it.” The cop’s low growl finally got the other man’s attention, getting him to turn around to face him.

“That’s against the law.”

“I am the law!” Chris flashed his badge and took a menacing step toward the still unimpressed, younger man.

The attendant just turned back to the bar and reached over it. When he turned back around he held a shotgun on Chris. “I don’t care what you are. You’re not getting any of my gas.”

The lieutenant heaved a sigh as he finally found himself in the same hell that Ezra had been in all day. Gritting his teeth and again feeling the veins in his temple throbbing, Chris turned at the man’s gesture and started walking out of the restaurant, the other man following and keeping the shotgun trained on him.

+ + + + + + +

“We are the police!” J.D. exclaimed motioning to the word police that was emblazoned across the front and back of the black shirts they all wore.

“Yeah, right!” the woman who had identified herself only as Mo scoffed. “Then I’m Jennifer Lopez.”

Seeing that they were getting nowhere Buck tried to use charm on the diminutive woman. “We apologize for being on your property, Mo. What exactly is Mo short for?” he asked.

“The rest of my name,” she answered nonplused by his genial smile. She walked around the line of men who still held their hands up.

“Look our lives are in danger…” Vin tried to explain.

“You better believe your lives are in danger!” She trained the rifle on the Texan.

Not liking the slightly manic edge that her voice was slipping into, Josiah tried to distract her. “I have a few old rifles in my collection. Can I ask where you got that M1?”

She walked over to him and let him see the muzzle of the rifle up close and personal, but did not get close enough that any of them could attempt anything. “My father gave it to me. Taught me how to use it when I was a little girl. So don’t think you can try anything!”

“We’re not gonna try anything,” Buck continued trying to smooth talk her. “But we’re being chased by some drug runners…”

”Why is that?” she asked suddenly curious.

“It’s a long story,” Buck replied dismissively not wanting to get into the horror that had been their day.

“Look, we’re an elite undercover unit,” J.D. was tired of standing around and wanted to make this strange woman understand.

Her brown eyes regarded them, taking in their disheveled state, their lack of weapons and gear. Her voice was almost agreeable but still touched with sarcasm. “I can see that.”

“These people that are chasing us are going to be here any minute,” Buck warned. He was becoming worried that they were now endangering her life by just being there.

“Good!” she stated unconcerned. “Then we’ll see who’s who!”

The five men sighed as they kept their hands in the air. Josiah felt the veins in his temple start to pulse and wondered if this frustration was what Chris always felt.

+ + + + + + +

No one could comprehend the level of frustration that was rushing through Chris as he was marched outside to a waiting Claude. The pilot actually grinned and gave a nod to the man holding the shotgun.

“Hey, Claude, why’d you bring this asshole here?”

“I tried to tell him that he wouldn’t be liked here, Mr. Neff.” Claude leaned forward and whispered in full hearing of the lieutenant, “But he doesn’t listen very well.”

Chris rubbed at his forehead and glanced around for Ezra. The southerner walked around from behind the station, out of sight of Neff, and paused as he took in the sight before him. Dimples flashed as he realized someone had gotten the drop on the lieutenant. Neff frowned and returned his attention to his prisoner when he could have sworn that he heard the man actually growl.

Ezra knew that they would have to find the missing men safe and alive now. Because he was going to thoroughly enjoy telling them how he, of all people, had to rescue Chris. Taking the gun that the lieutenant had given him, Ezra raised it into the air and shot off a round.

The sudden gunshot made Mr. Neff turn in surprise giving Chris the opportunity to grab the shotgun from him. “About damn time!” he yelled over at Ezra as the southerner smugly walked toward him.

Neff suddenly turned very helpful. “What was it you said you needed? Gas? Fill ‘er up! It’s on me!”

“You better believe it’s on you!” Chris ground out.

Claude started to move to fill up the helicopter’s tank but then stopped. “You know, Lieutenant, you might want to ask him about his radio.”

“That’s the smartest thing you’ve said all day, Claude,” Chris agreed as he motioned for Neff to take him to the radio.

+ + + + + + +

Mo again looked over the line of men who now kneeled down in front of her. “You boys should have stayed in Vegas.”

“Believe me, ma’am,” Vin stated, “we wish we had.”

“People like you running around,” she grumbled. “It used to be so quiet out here. Just me and the wind and the turtles. Now it’s just getting too noisy. Scaring off the turtles!”

Down the line the five men shared looks of concern. This woman was obviously skating on the edge of insanity.

“The men after us are going to be here any minute!” J.D. could no longer take the situation. “Forget about the turtles!”

Mo’s eyes exploded with fury. “Forget about the turtles?” She marched over to J.D. and only had to lean slightly to get into his face, but she still had the presence of mind to keep her rifle pointed at Buck who knelt beside the youngest cop. “I don’t think you’re in a position to say something like that,” she threatened. Then pacing away from him she shook her head at his foolishness. “Forget about the turtles, indeed!” she snorted.

“Mo,” Buck tried to placate her, “he’s just saying that these men are going to kill a lot more than turtles.”

“They’re not touching my turtles,” she vowed brandishing her rifle at them.

+ + + + + + +

Since Chris and the attendant had gotten off on the wrong foot, Ezra took it upon himself to handle negotiations. Like Chris the southerner had put together the probability that Neff was working with West in some capacity. He pointed out that whether it was today or not, West was not long for the drug running business and it would do the station attendant good to get the police on his side. Neff had agreed and added that he could never trust West anyway.

He sat at his radio and called out to West. After a few moments of silence a voice on the other end came through. “What do you need, Neff?”

“Just thought you might like to know that there are some narcs sniffing around the desert,” Neff answered referring to the narcotics officers.

“I know all about it. In fact I’m about to take care of them,” West responded. He had driven his Jeep out and met up with his two men in the truck. He had been not at all happy to find the dead dirt bike rider. Not because he cared about the man but because he had failed to do his job in killing the “Nasty Boys”.

“Where are you at? I can try and keep these guys away from that area,” Neff pressed.

“We’re out by that crazy woman’s ‘turtle sanctuary’.”

“Alright, I’ll send them off on a wild goose chase.”

As soon as Neff ended the transmission Chris demanded, “’Turtle sanctuary’?”

Claude had wandered back in to say that he had finished refueling the helicopter. “I know exactly where that is!”

“Well then let’s go, Claude.” Chris grabbed the white scarf the pilot still wore and pulled him toward the exit. Ezra thanked Neff and quickly followed. They at least now knew that the team was still alive. They were not about to let them down again.

+ + + + + + +

Mo regarded the men in front of her again and seemed to come to a decision. She walked a little bit away from them, keeping the rifle trained in their direction. She then bent and pulled open a hatch that had been camouflaged to blend in with the desert floor.

“If there are men after you, I think it would be best if you’re out of sight.” She motioned with the rifle for them to stand up and get into the small, underground bunker.

None of the men liked the idea of going down into that bunker. As one they all tried to protest, but Mo shot the rifle into the air to silence them. “I said for you to get in there!”

Slowly the five cops got to their feet and filed down into the bunker under Mo’s watchful eyes. Once they were all below Vin called up to her, “Maybe you should hide out down here, too.”

“I can take care of myself!” she responded, “And my turtles!” With that she slammed the hatch shut.

They could hear the sounds of her covering the bunker back up with dirt to hide it from West and his men. “This is not right,” J.D. stated.

Buck nodded his head. “We can’t let her face West by herself.”

“No, we can’t,” Vin agreed. “But if we go up there now, we’ll just have to fight her, too. She never even tried to take my gun. And she didn’t try to restrain us down here. So I think Mo’s trying to give us a chance against West. We’ll just have to hope that the element of surprise will be enough.” He then climbed up the ladder and waited near the hatch, listening intently.

Mo looked over the hatch and was satisfied that it was well hidden. She walked away from it and sat down on the beat up, old couch that sat outside her RV. She had been sitting for only a few minutes when she heard the sound of two vehicles approaching. She remained where she was until they drove into sight. She immediately knew she was in over her head when she saw the machine gun mounted on the hood of the truck and the man that sat behind it.

Leaving her rifle on the couch she stood up and called out as the vehicles stopped. “What are you boys doing out this way?”

“Come on now, Mo,” West called as he stepped out of the Jeep, “we know we’re not your first visitors today.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s just me and my turtles.”

West strode over toward her. “We know the five men we’re after came this way. There’s no way they would not have stopped here.”

“Well I was out checking on the turtles. Maybe they came and went.” She feigned anger. “Maybe they stole from me. Let me get my rifle and I’ll help you hunt them down.” She turned away from him, but West grabbed her arms and shook her.

“Where are they, Mo?” When she did not answer he backhanded her and released her letting her fall into the dirt.

Vin had heard West’s arrival and knew that now was the time to act. He threw open the hatch and motioned for the others to follow him. They crept out of the bunker and quickly moved to the cover offered by Mo’s truck. Vin peered around the trunk and looked for a clean shot. Unfortunately he could not get one on West as he had bent down to pick Mo back up to her feet. Vin fired a round anyway and was satisfied when West dropped Mo back into the dirt and took cover behind his Jeep yelling for his men to take out the cops.

As the gunfire erupted around her Mo quickly crawled on her belly to her RV, scrambling for cover beneath it. J.D. watched her get out of the line of fire and noticed her rifle still lying on the couch. He knew that they were going to need more than the few bullets that Vin had if they planned on surviving much longer. “Cover me!” he called to Vin as he motioned toward the rifle to show his intentions.

Vin nodded as he waited for J.D. to get as close to the rifle as he could while still under cover. Once he was in position, Vin laid down a covering fire. J.D. dashed over to the couch and grabbed the rifle before racing back to the truck. But by then he though that his risk had been for nothing as one of West’s men had made it to the machine gun mounted on their truck and was now unloading a rain of bullets on the pickup truck. The five cops huddled behind it thinking that they had finally reached the end of the line. That was when they heard the unmistakable sound of an inbound Huey.

Claude had again proved difficult when it came to flying into a gunfight. Chris sat up front with the pilot, holding his gun on him so that Claude did not turn and run. When Ezra saw the five cops pinned down behind a truck that was steadily being shredded by machine gun fire he knew he had to do something to help them. He would later say that he had no idea what had come over him when he manned the loaded machine gun in the helicopter’s door and began to fire on West and his men.

When the machine gun behind him spat to life, Chris turned in surprise to see a grim-faced Ezra manning it. “Circle around,” he ordered Claude. “Give him a shot at that truck.”

Down on the ground, West yelled at his man behind the machine gun, “Shoot it down!”

As the three men turned their fire from the five cops pinned down on the ground to the helicopter, Vin took the opportunity to cut down two of them leaving only the man on the machine gun. Unfortunately that used up the last of his ammunition. He watched with dismay as the sweeping turn that the helicopter made exposed Ezra to the rapid fire of the machine gunner. The southerner was doing his best with his own machine gun but simply did not have enough control of the weapon to compensate for the movement of the helicopter. And in the open doorway of the copter Ezra was an easy target.

Without a second thought Vin snatched the rifle out of J.D.’s hands and moved into position to get a better shot of the machine gunner on the truck. Just as the gunner was raising his weapon up, Vin go the clean shot he had been looking for. He squeezed the trigger and then smiled with grim satisfaction as the gunner dropped dead against the truck’s windshield.

West watched in disbelief as his two remaining men were cut down. He jumped into his Jeep and started it up. Buck stuffed a piece of shirt that he had torn off into the mouth of the gas-filled canteen and lit it. He then stepped out and waited as West drove past. Waiting as long as he possibly could he tossed his makeshift grenade into the back of the Jeep. The resulting explosion was far bigger than he had planned on due to the volatile chemicals that West had been carrying. He and the others were thrown to the ground but quickly scrambled back up.

Josiah helped Nathan, who had further injured his shoulder in his fall, over to the couch to sit him down. J.D. bent down to reassure Mo that it was now safe for her to emerge from under the RV. She poked her head out slowly and J.D. could not help but think of the turtles that she had been talking about. Vin and Buck checked on the dead drug runners and confiscated their weapons.

Claude landed the helicopter and Ezra again stumbled out quickly. He was quickly surrounded by Vin, J.D., Buck and Josiah as they came to congratulate and thank him. But the look on the southerner’s face stopped them all in their tracks. Airsickness and the sudden realization of just how deadly a situation he had been in overcame Ezra and he turned quickly from the others and fell to his knees to expel the contents of his stomach.

J.D., Josiah, and Buck turned as a group toward Chris and Claude as they came around the helicopter. Vin stayed with the southerner helping to pull him to his feet once he was done. “You alright there, Ez?” the Texan asked, concern touching his drawl.

“It seems I picked a bad day to forget my Dramamine,” he joked weakly.

Vin laughed, slapping Ezra on the back and leading him over to the couch where Nathan and Mo now sat. The small woman had taken a bit of cloth and was fashioning a makeshift sling for the cop. When Ezra sat down next to her she turned her full attention on him, jarring Nathan’s arm severely. She did not seem to hear his howl of pain as she jumped up from the couch saying, “Oh you poor thing. Let me get you some water!”

She disappeared into the RV only to return quickly with a bottled water that she quickly handed to Ezra. He flashed his dimples at her and thanked her before first rinsing his mouth with the water and then taking several long gulps.

Vin felt his thirst return with a vengeance. “Uh, Mo, you wouldn’t happen to have any more water would you?”

She frowned at him for distracting her. “Of course I do. I’m living in the middle of the desert! How stupid do you think I’d be if I didn’t have water?”

“Well then, can the rest of us have some?”

“Sure, sure,” she waved her hand at him in a shooing motion. “Go help yourself.”

Vin raised his eyebrows at Ezra who simply grinned and shrugged in response. Shaking his head, the cop stepped into the RV to get water for everyone. When he returned they had all gathered around the couch as Buck filled Chris in on everything that had happened. The lieutenant was relieved to be reunited with his men but they all knew that he would have plenty to say about their antics later.

Mo leaned back on the couch and nudged Chris with her foot to get his attention. After glancing down to see the dust she had left on his pant leg he turned an almost amused look on her. She had helped take care of his men so he would give her a little bit of leeway. “Are you the boss of this ‘elite undercover team’?” she asked, her tone alone supplying the air quotes around the term.

Chris decided to hedge his answer to that by just affirming, “I’m their boss, yes.”

She looked over at the Jeep that was still burning and then over at the bodies that Vin and Buck had laid out by the truck. “You gonna clean up the mess your boys made?”

The lieutenant smirked almost kindly. “I think we can do that.” His eyes traveled over to her RV that was practically riddled with bullet holes. “As for your RV…”

Ezra slid down a bit into the couch as all eyes turned on him since he had been the one on the machine gun and had caused most of that damage. Mo, seeing his discomfort, merely shrugged. “Oh don’t worry about it. It’s just a little more ventilation, is all.” The southerner smiled gratefully at her giving her another glimpse of the dimples that seemed to entrance her. She patted his leg but left her hand sitting on his knee.

The cops all coughed to hide their chuckles at the sudden flash of concern that filled Ezra’s eyes. “If it’s all the same to you, Mo,” Chris stated with the amused smirk still touching his lips, “I happen to know a couple of guys in an elite undercover team and I think that they just might manage to confiscate a newer model RV for you, in the course of their work.”

Buck quickly nodded. “How about a nice 42-footer?”

Mo’s brown eyes lit up with anticipation as she beamed up at the cops. “I think the turtles would like that.”

Confused Ezra could not help but ask, “Turtles?”

Mo again turned her full attention on the southerner. “Tortugas,” she responded practically purring the Spanish word for turtles.

Ezra pulled his head back and raised his eyebrow as he repeated the word, “Tortuga?”

She nodded as she slid just a little bit closer to Ezra. “Do you like turtles?”

He was saved from having to answer when J.D. said with confusion written all over his face, “You keep talking about these turtles but we haven’t seen a single one.”

Mo looked from one man to the next her questioning look receiving a shake of the head to show that they had not seen a turtle either. Finally she leaned back into the couch with a thoughtful look on her face. After another moment she made a “hmmph” sound as if to ask, “well what do you make of that.”

Buck walked over to Claude and threw his arm over the much smaller man’s shoulders and put him into a headlock. Before he could even say anything, the pilot tried to squirm his way out of the headlock and the trouble he was in. “I searched and searched for you. I flew back on fumes, I searched for you so long.”

The cop tightened his hold briefly cutting off Claude’s air and then released him with a small shove that sent the pilot stumbling a bit. Now that he and the others were out of danger, Buck did not feel the same amount of animosity that he had earlier. He could not blame Claude for wanting to save his own skin when the shooting started. But he could not let the pilot completely off the hook. “I am expecting a full refund.”

Claude’s nasally voice became even whinier. “Well now, see here’s the thing with that.”

Buck shook his head and laughed, giving the pilot one more shove toward the helicopter.

It was soon decided that Buck, J.D., and Josiah would drive West’s truck, loaded with the bodies of the drug runners, back to Vegas. They would then return to take care of the still smoldering Jeep. The rest of the guys would fly back with Claude. Ezra had considered his options of driving back with the dead bodies, flying once more in the helicopter, or staying with Mo who seemed eager to be very hospitable to him and him alone, much to the amusement of everyone else. Finally he decided that risking getting sick again was his best option.

Mo trailed after him as he walked over to the helicopter that already held the others. “You’re welcome to come back any time,” she said as he climbed into the copter.

“Oh don’t worry,” Vin laughed as he pulled Ezra up. “We’ll be sure to bring Ezra when we bring you that new RV.”

“I’d really like that!” she gushed. She waved goodbye to all the others but blew a kiss to an embarrassed Ezra before running back to the safety of the RV as the rotors on the helicopter started spinning.

Once they were airborne and flew low over the canvas covered truck that Buck was driving, Ezra yelled loud enough for Chris to hear, “You know, if you’re going to be confiscating an RV for Mo, I think I deserve a new car at least.”

“Is that right?” Chris yelled back.

Shocked and offended Ezra nodded. “I think I’ve done enough today to warrant one!”

“We’ll talk about it later,” Chris dismissed the argument.

Seeing the cops on either side of him grinning with enjoyment at how the lieutenant had stopped him cold, Ezra crossed his arms and leaned back smugly.

Vin knew that he was playing into the southerner’s hands but could not help but ask, “What are you smiling at?”

“Oh I’m just remembering the look on Chris’ face when the young attendant at the gas station we stopped at held a shotgun on him.”

”What?” both Vin and Nathan asked.

“Yes, I had to rescue him.”

Chris heard the explosive laughter from his two men and just knew what Ezra was talking about even though he could not hear him. “Shut up, Ezra!”

Dimples deepened as his smug grin grew even wider. “You would like for me to shut up? Well I believe that I would like a Jaguar.”

Chris shot a glare at the southerner. Vin laughed as he gave Ezra a playful shove. “You know, Ez, I think that officially makes you one of the ‘Nasty Boys’.”

Ezra’s face screwed up with disgust, hiding the pleasure he felt in being included in their team. “No reason to get insulting!”