There's No Sense in Revenge
Team 7 Office
"Yes! Yes! Yes! I knew it!" Nathan smiled as he entered the tech room where JD's usual enthusiasm overflowed. Nathan knew he wasn't a great bit of help in this arena but figured another set of eyes couldn't hurt.
"What did you find?" Nathan carefully set a large cup of coffee near JD but far enough away so that it wouldn't get tipped over in the younger agent's excitement. Sitting at an angle Nathan watched as JD mumbled to himself, fingers flying over the keyboard and watched amazed as occasionally a hand would fly out, grab the cup of coffee, bring it to his lips for him to down a slug and then return it safely to the table top.
Despite himself Nathan leaned forward to see what had JD so engrossed and for just a moment felt like hugging the computer monitor as he saw what was in the picture. "JD, right there, do you see the lighter?" One of the men inside the van had decided to light a cigarette in that precise instant when the doors of the van had been opened, and there it was, the image in the lighter.
"I'll just smooth this, enlarge here, come on you little pixel pixies, do your magic, that's a nice computer you know daddy loves you. I'll install more memory as your reward..."
Nathan began to feel some of the contagious excitement that gripped his younger counterpart; however, the conservative part of him still had him surreptitiously checking JD's pupils to see if they were dilated. They weren't but he decided a little less caffeine would be in order next time.
JD's mumbling and murmuring continued and Nathan began to wonder at the mental health of his young friend. Peering intently he saw the intensity shining from JD's eyes and he watched amazed alternating his attention from JD to the computer screen to the hand that flashed out to grab coffee and back again. He was beginning to doubt what was in the coffee and wondered if perhaps someone hadn't slipped something a little stronger into the brew when JD whooped loudly and banged his hand on the counter top.
"Gotcha!! Hit save file and there we go." Standing up JD unhooked his lap top and tucked it under one arm, the other hand picked up his coffee and he was half way out the door before he turned back.
Nathan was still sitting in stunned silence at what he'd seen come into focus reflected in the surface of the lighter. JD's abilities amazed him but what had him stunned was the image that had been brought out.
"You coming, Nathan? The Judge will be down any second for an update." Nathan watched amazed as the whirlwind known as JD exited the office. Thoughtfully he rose and followed thinking perhaps he'd order a psych consult for himself as well as for JD.
Team 7 Office
Josiah began his brief, "Mario Saldagna is half brother of Antonio Valdivia." he paused to see if the Judge made the connection, after a beat he continued on.
"The Valdivias are from NYC. They came to Denver in an effort to branch out their operation. They were being pretty heavily monitored there and thought they would try a smaller sister operation here."
"Yes, the Jungle Junkies," Buck joined in "and Antonio Valdivia was the one responsible for sending Pedro Molina to the hospital and was the reason Vin and the rest of us were so fixated on getting them shut down out here."
"Okay. So we can guess the Denver branch is behind this." Travis commented.
"More than that. The man in the picture with Chris," Josiah paused to open the second folder he brought to the briefing and slid its contents over to Travis, "His name is Sean Swanson. He's a top guy in the Chicago Jungle Junkie operation."
Judge Travis scanned the data and then looked up. "So we've got Denver, New York and Chicago working together?"
"More than that." Nathan spoke up, "I tracked down the plates of the brown car, seems it was involved in a few illegal activities over the past months, the car's owner id Eddie Cipriani, the same Cipriani who is a lieutenant in the Miami faction of none other than the Jungle Junkies."
Travis astounded at the information. "We've got three factions out of four cities conducting a joint operation. How is that possible?"
"Because bureaucracy did what bureaucracy does best, got lost in the red tape, the triplicate forms and forgot to tell the other side what it was doing." Travis was patient at Buck's mild tirade and nodded for him to continue.
"Here's where the head of all three well, four since the Denver and New York operations both operate under one leader -- operations are housed, Leavenworth."
"How the hell! That's just stupid! Does no one read the " Travis stopped his own less than mild tirade as he saw tense yet amused grins being exchanged.
"Okay, so we've got them all at one place and now obviously they're working together against our team and we know they have Chris. What about Vin and Ezra?"
"That's where JD comes in." Everyone turned to look at JD who activated the projection screen on the far wall. His lap top was already wired up to the system.
Nathan chuckled inwardly at the calm energy that exuded from the younger agent at this point. It wasn't that long ago that he was certain he was going to have to sedate the man, or call in a shrink or perhaps both, and then since it was Sunday evening he figured he might just have to go against all his EMT training and slug him to calm him down.
"Okay. Here's the footage of the brown car we now know is registered to Eddie Cipriani." All the men watched the screen and saw the footage from Englewood's camera stationed at the entrance of the prison.
"Now, about two minutes after we see Chris and Swanson drive through the gate we see this white van come onto the property. Similarly, after Chris leaves," JD brought up another sequence of footage from the same camera only this showed the brown car now containing Chris, Swanson and Mario Saldgana exiting the facility again, in under two minutes the white van followed."
"So we know there were more men there than just Swanson keeping tabs on Chris." Travis mused aloud.
"Yes, and here's where it gets really good. The penitentiary installed some additional cameras earlier this month to beef up their perimeter security. I'm betting these guys didn't realize where all the cameras were when they parked their white van here." JD tapped on his keyboard and brought up another security sequence this time from an oblique angle in the parking lot.
As the footage rolled they watched as Chris, accompanied by Swanson, approached the van, slowed down when they were next to it as the side door of the van slid open and then continued on. To the untrained eye it looked innocent enough, however, all the men in the conference room were trained observers and all knew Chris well, the tension in his frame increased by whatever he saw when he paused briefly beside the open door of the van.
"You can't see a lot from here but, when I enlarged the images smoothed them out cleared up the pixeling with this new image program I installed, this is what you see."
The men watched the projection screen as the newly enlarged images rolled slowly frame by frame. JD had improved the images to such a degree they could see just inside the van.
"There in the reflection of the lighter is the image of what Chris saw."
Clearly framed by the opening of the van's side door were Vin and Ezra. The conference room was silent as the men absorbed the images of Vin and Ezra, bound with guns pointed to the back of their heads, Vin's beaten features caused Nathan to wince. He'd seen it minutes before with JD but hadn't time to study it and this screen was much larger. Mentally he began cataloging the damage.
"I pulled the license plate off the van." JD continued after a few moments, "It was mostly covered in mud but the bottom half of it was visible and I ran an algorithm program on it that narrowed down the potential plates."
"I got the printout from him," Nathan added. "And ran a check through the DMV and matched it up. I sent out a BOLO on that as well." Just then a phone rang in the outer office. Since Nathan was closest to the door, he left the room to answer it. Within half a minute he was back.
"That was the Denver State Troopers, our first BOLO turned up the brown car, off the side of the road on Route 40. The driver is dead, shot once in the head. ID on him says that's Swanson. There's some blood on the passenger side window. No one else is around. It was headed east away from Englewood."
"Gotta figure they loaded Chris and Saldagna in the van and headed on from there." Josiah spoke thoughtfully. "Now, if we only knew which way they went."
"Gentlemen, I suggest you head out to Route 40, take in the scene and talk to the troopers on site. I have a little matter of a judge I need to continue working on. As soon as we get our men back, we'll also clear up that little bureaucratic snafu that put three members in the same facility."
The four men grabbed their coats and in JD's case, lap top as well, and they headed out of the office and piled in Josiah's suburban for the ride out to route 40, less than an hour outside of Denver.
The violent movement of the van before it came to rest on its side, caused the occupants of the back to roll and fall onto each other, once again feeling pain in their already injured bodies.
When Ezra regained his bearings, he checked up on his comrades. The batteries were still generating a little power and the overhead light in the van was activated for whatever reason. By the dim light Ezra could see that Vin was awake and trying to right himself and Chris, although confused, was standing up on the side of the van and checking the door that was now their ceiling. He tried the lock but couldn't open it as it was jammed. Ezra, however, was prepared for just such an eventuality and produced from somewhere on his attire his lock picks and within moments had the device operating freely.
Chris assisted Vin to stand. "Vin, are you okay?" in a louder tone than usually he'd have used to talk.
Vin put his finger to his mouth and Chris remembered to think about how it felt to speak normally and then tried again. This time when he asked the question he received two taps from Vin for his response. Looking to Ezra he saw his undercover agent flash him the OK sign and realized they'd worked out a little nonverbal communication. Ezra also pointed to the front of the van and Chris realized he had no idea what was going on up front.
Ezra held his hand up indicating they should hold for a second and Chris watched him cock his head to the side in a listening posture. After a few seconds he motioned for Chris to help him climb out of the van. Cupping his hands together Chris made a step and hoisted Ezra up and out of the van. Repeating the motion he helped Vin join Ezra who was waiting on the roof to pull the blinded man out. Once Vin was free Chris bent from his knees, grateful he couldn't hear the creak that he knew occurred because he felt the slight grating in his joints, and jumped. His hands caught the side that was now the top of the van and between Ezra's strong pulls and his own desire to be free, managed to lever himself out of the confines of the van.
Within a moment all three men were standing on the side of the road. Ezra crept forward and verified the condition of the three front occupants. Once he was satisfied they were no threat to them in their present condition, he rejoined his colleagues who had been busy in the scant minute he had been out of their sight.
Vin's hands were freed and Chris was just cutting through the last bit of his bindings. Grinning Vin held up a fragment of the broken taillight. Ezra quickly cut through his own bindings and gestured that the three up front were out of it. He drew a line across his throat and then shrugged his shoulders.
"I think Ezra is telling us the three in the front are either goners or at least out of it not to bother us for now." Chris guessed.
Ezra nodded vigorously at Chris's guesswork.
"I think I got that right based on his reaction just now."
"Then we best git out of here...I can hear a stream off to my right. We're on a dirt road 'cause what's under my feet. We get to the stream; follow it down, any moon tonight?"
Ezra reached out and tapped him once, No.
"Okay. That just means the odds are even then. I can't see them, they can't see us is any of them do try and follow us."
Since Ezra could both see and hear he took the lead with Chris following right behind him while Vin kept a hand on Chris shoulder and another hand clutching the walking stick they had found to help him maneuver around the terrain.
Awareness returned to Mario slowly. First came sound, then the coppery taste of blood in his mouth which alerted him to the slight sensation of nausea. He coughed on the blood and spat it out only to be abruptly brought to full wakefulness at the stab of pain in his shoulder. He was lying on top of the man who had been driving the van. Biting back against the pain he pushed himself off the driver and immediately noticed the man was dead. No one's neck could be bent at such an angle and survive. The windshield of the van was splintered from the impact and he leaned back, brought his legs up and kicked hard several times. With little effort he managed to kick out the ruined windshield and escape the confines of the van.
As he stood to the side of the van he took in his bearings. It was now pitch black out and while the lights of the van were still illuminated it was obvious that wouldn't help him for long. Walking around the van he came upon the remnants of the bindings that had held their prisoners.
Cursing to himself he realized that, while he still possessed the gun that he had taken from the now deceased of the first vehicle he was in, for all he knew he was alone against three men. He listened carefully and heard no sounds so, figuring they were far enough away to cause him no immediate concerns he climbed back in the van to grab the flashlight he remembered seeing in the glove box.
As he grabbed the light and checked to see if there were any additional rounds for the gun either in the glove box or on the driver he heard a low moan. Turning as fast as was possible in the confined space he made out the figure of their other companion, he thought his name might be Hayden something or other he really couldn't care less.
"What the hell happened, oh, s---, man, your brother is going to be p-----. we've lost our prisoners and he had something special planned for them and the rest of their...whoa, hey, Mario, calm down."
Roger instantly put his hands up and shut up since, in the dim light of the van, he was able to make out the form of Mario in front of him pointing a gun at him.
"Take it easy, Mario. It's no big deal. The house we're set up in is only about a mile or two at the most up the road. We'll just walk up there, rouse the guys and we'll find those feds."
"No way. Those feds have made a mess of my life and I'm going to finish them myself. I don't need you, I don't need Antonio, no one. I'm going to find them."
With that Mario tucked the gun into the waist of his pants and levered himself back out of the van and with the aid of the flashlight beam followed the clear trail made by the three injured agents. He was a city kid with no formal training in the outdoors in fact, he had little to no experience with anything out of doors but he could clearly make out the tracks in the damp soil of three sets of footprints, two were close together as if they were leaning on each other for support.
His companion stayed still in the van until he saw the flashlight beam disappear, then after verifying his buddy was, in fact, dead he climbed out through the windshield and stumbled up the road. He figured he could probably keep Antonio from killing him since his own gang members were waiting for him as well at the house and would protect him. As he disappeared into the darkness he never noticed the deer with the brand new fawn that cautiously emerged from the darkness, glanced nervously at the van for several long seconds before bounding away to safety across the road and out of sight.
Josiah pushed the old Suburban as fast as he dared. He had the lights flashing but no sirens since they were well outside the city limits and on the highway. Beside him Buck was fidgeting in his seat but had given up trying to assist him in driving after Josiah had reached over once and nearly crushed his arm to get his attention. Then, when Buck focused his attention on him, Josiah simply put his finger to his lips and quietly said, "Shhh."
Even though it was dark inside the car with only the dashboard lights and the occasional illumination by the street lights since they were still within city limits, Buck was able to see the threatening glint in Josiah's eye and had taken the hint and for the last 30 minutes gave vent to his nervous energy by tapping on his leg which in turn kept tapping on the floor.
They were flying along route 40 towards Englewood. Josiah figured they'd be there in another 15 minutes at the rate they were traveling. He'd given up looking in his rear view mirror to catch either Nathan or JD's expressions since it was dark outside and now that they were outside the city there wasn't any light to illuminate the inside of the car save what was given off by the dashboard lights.
Even though he couldn't see the back of the vehicle he could hear and he immediately focused a portion of his attention to the rear of the vehicle when he heard a cell phone ring. It was Nathan's.
"Agent Jackson." [pause] "Where?" [pause] "What's the plate number again?" [pause]
"Okay. He's what?" [pause] "Any idea how long?" [pause] "I understand. You'll call as soon as the medical examiner arrives?
Instantly the tension in the vehicle thickened and Josiah hit the flashers, applied the breaks and eased the car onto the shoulder. Thank God for training because, if he had to think about slowing the vehicle carefully, he wasn't sure he'd be able to. All he kept hearing was "Medical Examiner...medical examiner...medical examiner."
Once he stopped the vehicle safely, he put it in park and turned in his seat flicking on the interior light so he could see Nathan's face.
"I'll be waiting for your call, yes, we're on our way." Nathan folded his phone and immediately held up his hands to stop the onslaught of questions.
"No, it's not them. No, they're not there. We need to get to 287 and head northwest of the city that was the state police. Someone put a call into the trooper barracks about an hour ago reporting a white van off the side of the road. The troopers took the info and were going to dispatch someone to investigate it as soon as they were able.
The caller hadn't stopped to investigate because it's kind of a remote stretch and she, the caller was female, didn't want to end up a statistic or anything. It's been a fairly busy night for that trooper barracks so they didn't send anyone out there until just now. Our alert went out after the call came in so the dispatcher didn't put the two together since he was working on coordinating response to a couple of minor fender benders as well as getting crews out to a house fire.
However, the trooper that was dispatched finally got out to the site and once he saw it was a white van checked the plates and knew it was for our alert. Of course he really hit the alarm once he checked the vehicle and found the driver dead. There was evidence of blood from multiple passengers, most of it just smears and a few drops as well as tracks leading off into the woods.
Not knowing what he was dealing with he called in the cavalry and stayed near the scene with his lights off and concealed a little way up the road around a slight bend hoping he'd surprise anyone who ventured near. So, now there are multiple state troopers on site and the medical examiner is on his way.
It's northwest of the city about 20 miles outside the limits. My bet is whatever happened Vin, Ezra and Chris are together and in the woods with trouble right behind them."
"Then it's time we join them. Hang on." With no traffic around them, Josiah gunned the suburban, hit all his exterior lights and accelerated hard after spinning the truck around in the road.
Vin didn't want to let on that he was suffering intense pain in his chest and back. He was determined to keep up. Ezra had led them to the stream and they had turned to follow it as it flowed down. Even though his vision was unaffected the darkness of the night kept Ezra from seeing the brown pile as he put his foot down. However, had he been relying on his sense of smell he would have avoided it. Within seconds, however, it became clear as both his mind registered the sensation and his nose registered the smell of the material that was now attached to the bottom of his shoes.
** Ugh. My Italian leather shoes! It's bad enough to be gallivanting in the supposed splendor of mother nature with my pricey shoes but must I be burdened with the odious misfortune as to step in in ahh, I'm sure if Mr. Tanner were able to see he would no doubt be able to tell the species, the time they passed and even the last sustenance said depositor had consumed.**
Shaking his foot uselessly he continued on quite aware that behind him Larabee was fighting to keep a grin off his face. He had smelled the offending mass that was now attached to Ezra's shoes.
** Just you wait, Mr. Larabee, I may be somewhat sympathetic to your plight at the present moment but your jocularity at my misfortune will not be forgotten. When I am able to speak again no, better yet, I'll put this on an expense report, just you wait. I'll list it under protective footwear. That should slide it past your scrupulous gaze.**
Thus slightly mollified Ezra proceeded in a slightly lighter mood. Behind him Vin, while unable to see was quite able to smell and he began to chuckle long with Chris.
"Ezra, I can't see you, but now I can smell you."
Chris turned to Vin and leaned close to whisper in Vin's ear.
"What do you bet Ezra is up there figuring on how he's going to get me to pay for that."
Vin chuckled quietly and then without thinking nodded his head in agreement. Chris couldn't see his face but he felt Vin falter as he was overcome with dizziness from the rapid movement.
Up ahead of them Ezra heard the sharp intake from Vin as well as the small stumbling sound as Chris supported him. Turning he made his way the few steps back to them and quickly saw the white of Chris's shirt against the darkness around them and aided in lowering both Vin and Chris to the ground to rest.
Illuminating his watch he saw they had been on the go for about three hours and while their pace was slow due to all of their weakened health and the darkness around them he figured it best they find a place to rest for the night.
Lights flashing the suburban, powered by Josiah's large foot firmly planted on the accelerator, roared up the road and joined the myriad of vehicles already on site. The coroner's vehicle was pulling away at their arrival. The four men ignored it as they already knew it didn't contain any of their friends.
The four men took in the sight of the rolled van, saw the area that had been taped off and were able to see the broken out windshield and the remnants of the bindings still on the ground. The area was fairly bright since each unit that arrived added the light of its onboard headlights and side spotlights.
They were approached by the man in charge who extended his hand and introduced himself:
"Lieutenant Mitchell. Nice to meet you, wish the circumstances were better." He shook hands with each man and then gave them a crisp briefing that reiterated what Nathan had heard over the phone but also alerted them to the fact that several footprints headed away from the van into the woods.
"Best we can figure your team members escaped, and it looks like at least one other person is with then or maybe following them. One of my men does search and rescue and he is certain that there is at least four people in the woods somewhere. The interesting thing is that another set of tracks continues alone up the road. Now there's an old farmhouse with some old sheds on the property about a mile and a half up the road.
We've noticed there have been some vehicles coming in and out of the property over the last few days. Seems as likely a place as any where the lone guy is heading to. We were waiting for you to get here kind of figured you'd like to join us in checking the place out in detail. I've got several units already there keeping tabs on the place. By the way, my men report they drove real slow and spotlighted the woods on both sides all the way up to the old homestead, they didn't see the lone hiker."
"What about your search and rescue man. How come we don't get some dogs and some teams up here and search the woods." Buck asked anxiously.
"Believe me, Tyler has already called his team captain and they are readying themselves to come up here and assist the search, however, the problem is that we don't quite know what we're dealing with. From what we've been able to gather these men that have your agents have managed to Number 1, kidnap three federal agents; Number 2, break a convicted felon out of a federal penitentiary; Number 3, kill not one but two men.
We don't know who's in the woods with your men and we're just guessing it's your men anyway. For all we know they've already transported them somewhere else and these are four felons out there. We don't know how much firepower we're up against and the last factor is how dark it is. There's no moon, no stars, we got a thick cloud cover which will help keep the temperature from falling too much but it's completely dark.
We'll check out the farmhouse and take whatever action we need to there. Come first light we'll start the search. Tyler, my trooper who does search and rescue, is bagging the ropes in the hopes of preserving any scent on them for the dogs to track from. That's about all we can do from here."
The four men weren't happy about it but they recognized the logic in Lieutenant Mitchell's words. Nodding their agreement they headed back to the suburban and followed his car and a couple additional cars up the road hoping the farmhouse would yield more answers to the whereabouts of their missing comrades.
Simultaneous battering rams were used to knock in the back and front doors of the farmhouse and state troopers, accompanied by SWAT officers as well as the four members of Team 7 burst into the farmhouse taking the occupants by surprise. In under two minutes the house had been secured and the ten men inside were handcuffed, and sitting sullenly side by side while being guarded by several officers.
The quick take down was possible due mostly to luck on the part of the police and an inflated sense of their own cleverness on the part of the gang members. Kirman, the third of the gang members besides Mario and the now dead driver had stumbled, sore-footed into the farmhouse about two hours ago screaming obscenities about the stupidity and poor-breeding of Mario.
After he related everything that had transpired from the minute they left with the three ATF agents earlier that afternoon up until Mario killed the driver of the van, Antonio, Mario's half brother left the house with him to go back to the crash site and instructed everyone else to pack up and prepare to head out in the morning to regroup elsewhere and then carry on with their plan.
Antonio's plan was to catch up to Mario, drag him kicking and screaming if necessary back here and they would formulate a new strategy to take down the supposed Magnificent 7.
Unfortunately for Antonio he was really the smartest in the bunch and after he left the rest of them got busy with packing up but no one thought to post a look out. They figured it unlikely that three agents, injured, hungry, tired and cold would be any threat to them. They forgot to factor in that some passing Good Samaritan would alert the authorities to the crashed van and thus their downfall was a certainty.
So while they packed up inside, the combined police agencies moved in, scouted the perimeter, accounted for all occupants of the house and in a precision strike captured them all.
Now sitting there staring at four of the seven men they hated and were assigned to kill, they began to have some misgivings about the intelligence of their plan. However, not one of them planned to do anything in front of the others. Gangs are as much about saving face in front of other gang members as they are about belonging to something or somewhere.
Josiah studied the men thoughtfully for several long minutes before he made up his mind. Signaling the officers he had each of the men taken to either a separate room or outside to a waiting patrol car where either a member of Team 7 or an officer sat with them and asked them identical questions that Josiah wrote out on a paper and gave to each officer or agent. He himself sat with the one he had chosen. He sat quietly not speaking not moving only watching. The prisoner nervously shifted his gaze from Josiah to the floor, to the ceiling, to his hands and back to Josiah again before repeating the pattern.
Finally Josiah asked him, "Where's Antonio?"
A brief attempt at bravado: "Who?"
Josiah smiled knowingly, almost kindly but the prisoner rapidly looked away as he recognized a hint of something more sinister behind the misleading kind expression.
"We know he's not here with you. We know he's the one who master-minded Mario's release from prison. Where's Antonio?"
Silence was followed by the nervous shifting of the man's feet. He was sweating heavily and yet felt strangely clammy. He made one final attempt at saving face...
Josiah watched him calmly and knew he had the man cornered the second he saw him check around him to see if there was anyone else that could hear or see him, there was no one. He was alone with Josiah.
"He went after Mario."
"A couple of hours ago. Kirman came back alone saying Mario crashed the van, the ATF guys were gone probably into the woods and Mario went after them saying he'd kill them himself of something. Kirman says Mario's dumber than a box of rocks, said he killed two men already and they were the ones driving each time. Says that's why the van crashed.
Antonio was mad, told us to pack up, he'd go get Mario."
Josiah just nodded his head silently and after a moment he stood up, opened the door and told the guard to take the prisoner away.
He headed into the kitchen and was joined by Buck, JD and Nathan before long.
"So, Josiah, did he talk?" Nathan asked his friend. He knew Josiah had chosen the weakest link in the chain and since they had all been signaled to turn their prisoners officially over to the PD for transport to the county jail they figured Josiah's interrogation was over.
"Yes, he did. It's pretty much what Lieutenant Mitchell and his officers figured when we were at the scene. Somewhere in the woods are Chris, Vin and Ezra and they've got three members of the gang after them."
"Then we should be out there now." JD paced back and forth frustrated at not being able to do more.
For once Buck was the calming force on JD rather than either Nathan or Josiah. "Wish we could, JD, but you know the search and rescue team leader is right. We don't know the terrain here that well and we don't know what we're up against in the woods. We have to wait until morning."
"I know, Buck. I just hope morning isn't too late."
While Nathan, Josiah, JD and Buck were resigning themselves to spending the night observing a farmhouse or better yet, raiding it in hopes of some answers rather than looking for their friends and colleagues, Chris, Vin and Ezra had been busy finding what little shelter they could to spend the night.
All three men were exhausted from their various injuries as well as the lack of food, water and proper rest. While the stream provided a plentiful supply of cool, clean water it did nothing to alleviate any of their other woes. Ezra, to his surprise managed to find them a small bit of shelter.
After Vin's near collapse he had assisted Chris in guiding Vin to rest against a large boulder. As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness he found he could discern between dark objects and absolute darkness. Figuring absolute darkness might mean a cave since they were trekking along a stream at the base of some hills he started to ask Vin if he was correct, only to find he still had no voice, since it was now dark Chris wouldn't be able to see what he was pointing to so instead he spelled the word letter by letter on Vin's hand.
Fortunately Vin's dyslexia wasn't a problem when someone was writing on his hand and he quickly spoke aloud each letter receiving an accompanying two taps for each letter correctly interpreted. It didn't take long for Vin to figure Ezra had found a cave and indicating they would do well to take shelter from the wind at the entrance of it.
Ezra led his friends the short distance and soon they were seated on the hard, cold ground. After a few moments to gather some energy Chris stood up and headed out only to return within under a minute with an armful of pine boughs. Gratefully they used these on the ground to give them some limited protection from the cold.
It didn't do them any good to wish for a fire, none of them had any matches on them and since it was early spring and temperatures still dipped low each night; everything was damp and wouldn't light even if they did try using rocks to create a spark.
They huddled together in their makeshift shelter trying to preserve what warmth they could. Come morning they hoped with the light they would be better able to travel and hopefully find some help. Chris pulled Ezra's sleeve to get his attention. Feeling Ezra shift closer to him he whispered, "I'll keep awake for awhile. You two rest. I'll wake you when I'm tired and then you can wake Vin."
"Larabee, that's about the dumbest thing I've ever heard. You can't hear a plugged thing and you're going to stay awake to keep watch? Course you can't hear me now and you probably have no idea that I'm saying again, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Heard being the operative word meaning you can't hear." Vin paused as he was left winded by his fairly long speech.
Ezra for his part heard Vin's whispered words quite clearly and was amused and heartened to hear that Vin still had plenty of fight as well as his sense of humor intact. Ezra put his hand on Vin's and opened his palm and slowly spelled out "Humor Him"
Vin leaned back and whispered, "Sure thing, Ez. You staying awake first or me?"
Ezra spelled out ME!!
"Fine, you don't gotta yell when you spell." Grinning slightly Vin shifted his aching body to a slightly more comfortable position and drifted off to a sleep. Ezra stayed still and awake next to an equally still and awake Larabee who listened in vain but couldn't bring himself to let down his guard. A few hours later Ezra dutifully 'roused' himself from his pretend sleep and took over guard duty. The rest of the night was passed with him as the lone sentinel over his two colleagues sleeping forms.
The next day dawned chilly and damp but the sun peeked over the horizon as the sky was starting to show that there would be few clouds. It promised to be a sunny and cold day. Ezra gently nudged first Vin and then Chris awake. To his amazement when Vin pried open his still swollen eyes he actually seemed to look right at him.
Ezra gently touched Vin's eyes and gave him one tap with his finger on his shoulder, so Vin would understood the meaning at the same time as he tried to say "you can't see" which much to his surprise a soft whisper came out of his mouth.
"Hey, Ez, you're getting better! I could hear some of what you said. I can also see enough to know it's getting light out. Weren't you supposed to wake me so I could take a watch?" Vin chided.
Before Ezra could answer another occupant of the little shelter spoke up.
"My head's pounding right now..." Chris complained.
Ezra whispered enjoying the fact that he could say whatever he wanted and wouldn't have Chris telling him to shut up. "So sorry, Mr. Larabee, I'm afraid there's no Tylenol available at the moment in these accommodations. Perhaps if we had been given adequate notice a more suitable arrangement could have been sought but as it is "
While Ezra continued his whispered rant Vin smiled widely at Chris and gestured with his hand like lips flapping and pointed at Ezra. Of course Ezra couldn't help it, even in his condition; he couldn't make a short sentence.
Chris grinned at Vin understanding what he was being told "So I guess you can talk, again. Are you whispering or what?"
Amazed Ezra put his hand to his throat and gently rubbed the still bruised flesh but yes, he could talk, well sort of.
"Don't know if it can be called talking, more like squeaking." Vin teased.
"Really, Mr. Tanner, I don't think [squeak]. Embarrassed Ezra stopped as his voice which had allowed him to whisper a few words gave out on him again and left him squeaking in a rather high pitch. At that moment he froze and quickly put his hand up so Chris could see him signaling for quiet. Chris put his mouth to Vin's ear and quietly whispered, "Trouble." And all three men froze in position listening and watching and waiting.
Vin and Ezra were at a distinct advantage over Chris at the moment as they strained their ears and were rewarded after a few moments of tense waiting with the sounds of crackling twigs and rustling of the underbrush. Then came the unmistakable sound of footsteps moving through the forest.
Fortunately, the shelter Ezra had found for them the night before proved to be deep enough that they were hidden within its shadow as well as having a good portion of bushes and hanging branches from surrounding growth obscuring most of the front entrance.
Since the forest floor was covered with brush and undergrowth that had fallen prior to the winter snows, it left little room for footprints. Also, Vin's experience at tracking as well as knowing how to hide a track had served them well despite his lack of sight. He had instructed Ezra and Chris to stay just slightly at the edge of the stream where most of the rocks were to avoid trampling the undergrowth and leaving a trail of crushed branches and needles.
This had made for very slow going since it was dark and it would have been easy to turn an ankle or worse and as a result, despite the three odd hours they had walked the night before, at best they were two miles from the scene of the overturned van.
Despite their best efforts, somehow someone had followed them. Vin tapped Chris and then held out his left hand palm up and used two fingers on his right hand to make a motion of walking across his palm. Chris tapped him twice to let him know he understood the situation.
"Made me spend the night in the forest...don't think for a second there will be anyone to stop me now. This time when I get my hands on you I'm going to finish all of you. I've got a bullet for each of you plus some extras. Maybe I'll take out a knee cap first on each of you so then I can enjoy myself...."
Both Vin and Ezra immediately recognized the ranting of Mario. Fortunately his voice indicated he was moving away from them but both knew that if he had managed to follow them this far it wouldn't be long before he found them.
"Ezra, I got a plan." Vin whispered in Ezra's ear. Ezra nodded without taking his eyes off the exterior of the cave and then remembered Vin still wouldn't be able to see him. He gently tapped twice to let Vin know he understood and then slowly eased himself out of their hiding place. Moving as quietly as he was able, which in his Italian leather shoes was amazingly quiet due to their careful crafting he slipped quietly to the stream's edge and peered quickly downstream and was relieved to see that Mario was just stomping out of sight continuing on his noisy trek.
He quickly returned to his comrades and slipped back into their little hiding spot. He looked at Chris and then pointed to Vin and flashed his hand twice over his head similar to a light bulb flickering on indicating that Vin had an idea.
Chris whispered to Vin, "Ezra says you got an idea?"
This made Ezra shrug and give Chris a confused look. Chris interpreted that to mean that more explanations were needed.
"Whatever you said, Ezra doesn't understand."
"Cowbane, Ez, think Hemlock."
That did it. Ezra was educated in many areas and while botany wasn't his favorite subject he certainly knew of Socrates' fatal poisoning. Sure enough, Water Hemlock or otherwise known as Cowbane was of the same species as that which poisoned Socrates. Now he remembered the smell that had assaulted his nostrils the previous night before his unfortunate encounter with things far more disgusting.
Nodding his head vigorously in Chris' direction he saw that Chris understood that at least Ezra had figured out Vin's plan. Daring to hope he could utter a few words he swallowed a few times but before he needed to speak Vin's explanation came out in a rush.
"We make darts, soak them in the oil from the plant and hit him with as much as we can."
Seeing that Chris still couldn't hear well enough to understand what Vin was saying Ezra looked around, saw some twigs lying on the ground, he took one and made a motion of stabbing it into his leg. Chris' eyes narrowed thoughtfully and he nodded his head slightly only to stop before he was hit with the pain. He was amazed at how much better he felt, of course, that was relative; he felt better than yesterday but still well below par.
The course of action decided upon the three team members split up the work, after taking care of a little bit of morning private business. With that attended to and some of the foul smelling plants uprooted and spread on the ground near a pile of sticks Chris reached for a stick and looked around wondering what he would used to whittle it to a point.
Ezra watched for a moment and then grinning broadly removed his belt buckle and turned it over, neatly inserted between the buckle and the leather was a small handle. Ezra triggered a hidden lever and out popped a small two inch blade. It wasn't much but it would do the trick.
Chris grinned and took the tool and began to whittle. Vin for his part rooted around on the ground with his hands until he had secured just the right size and type of rocks he wanted. One was fairly smooth and level, that one he used as a table.
"Ezra, carefully place some of the stems of the plants on the rock and then press the rock against them. The fluid will ooze out, but don't touch it."
Ezra tapped Vin twice for 'yes' and then carefully followed instructions. He knew the oily substance wouldn't hurt him if he got it on his hands, there just wasn't enough of it and he wasn't ingesting it or injecting it into his system; still the toxin was powerful enough that if it encountered his skin it would cause some damage to the tissues in the area, most likely numbing them.
While they worked Vin carefully outlined their plan.
Josiah, JD, Nathan and Buck were back at the scene of the van crash just as the sky was turning a light shade of gray heralding the approach of dawn. After having spent a restless and mostly sleep deprived night due to their worry, they were not willing to wait any longer. Carrying high powered flashlights they entered the woods single file with Buck leading followed by JD then Nathan and Josiah brought up the rear.
It didn't take them long to reach the stream and from there they paused.
"Follow it down stream, Buck." JD spoke up.
"What make you think that?"
"Because Vin always says that if you're lost in the woods you find the closest body of water and follow it down."
"Well, if Brother Vin suggests that course of action, who are we to argue?"
Nodding in agreement the four hurried on. The day was rapidly dawning and even though they were in the woods the gradual lightening of the sky was providing them more and more light and before long they didn't need the flashlights they were carrying.
They had been traveling slowly and carefully when suddenly Buck raised his hand in a closed fist signaling to the group that they should be quiet, then he lowered his fist in a waving motion and they all dropped into a crouch.
Over the gurgling of the stream they could hear the sound of angry voices. Exchanging confused glances the four members of Team 7 strained to sift out the voices over the noise of the water.
"I swear you are the dumbest! I don't know why I bothered except that it seemed so easy at the time, get you out and you could help us capture the rest of the Denver ATF team. As it is you've killed two men so far and not one of them is the ATF agents. In fact, you've killed two men that our father and the leaders of the other teams sent to help us."
"You think they were here to help us. You're the fool. When I was in prison I overheard a couple of inmates talking about you and I were supposed to be bait in this little charade. The idea was for us to capture these agents but then make sure that you and I and any of our people involved take the fall. Once we delivered these guys to the farmhouse, the Chicago and Miami groups were going to call the feds and turn us in."
Buck and Nathan had been stealthily sneaking up on the arguing voices and could now get a clear view of how many were ahead of them. They saw Vin, Ezra and Chris kneeling on the ground with their hands behind their heads while a third individual was holding a gun on them.
Just in front of them Mario and Antonio were arguing. Sizing up the situation quickly they figured they'd better act and act fast. Creeping quietly back the ten yards or so where Josiah and JD were waiting, they briefed them and it was decided that Josiah and Buck would circle around behind them while Nathan and JD stayed on this side. They picked their lines of sight to ensure no one would be in the others' cross fire and then agreed that they would move in on Josiah's signal.
Nathan and JD moved quickly into position picking alternate points of cover and then waited tensely for Josiah's signal. The arguing of the two men increased in intensity which assisted in keeping their quarry distracted as well as covering any noise that might be made while they moved into position.
Kneeling on the ground with their hands clasped behind their heads Chris, Ezra and Vin were listening with increasing concern as Mario slipped closer and closer to the brink of insanity. Chris' hearing was still pretty garbled but the level of both arguing brothers was easily understood and he knew things were getting out of hand.
Ezra continued to watch the two and couldn't help but calculate the mental acuity of the two brothers and decided that neither one was very bright. Mario's stupidity was well established by this time but he seriously questioned the intelligence of Antonio who, it appeared, was well aware of his brother's propensity for hot-headed action with little regard for the consequences and still had chosen to break him out of prison. With that thought in his mind Ezra was more than slightly mortified as he calculated the odds of getting out of this situation were getting dimmer and dimmer by the second, and he bemoaned the seemingly inevitable conclusion that he was going to be 'taken out' as Buck would crudely put it, by the criminal equivalent of Dumb and Dumber.
Vin kneeled in between Chris and Ezra quietly focusing his energy and listening and sorting all the sounds around him. He deciphered the tones of voice of the two brothers; he sensed the fear and hesitancy of the third man who was keeping them covered while the two brothers carried on, and he sensed something else as well.
Vin breathed in deep through his nose and carefully filtered the smells of nature. There it was; Animal Magnetism. Buck was nearby. Buck could never go anywhere without his cologne. When they roughed it camping with no women in the foreseeable landscape, Buck put on cologne. He kept bottles of it everywhere, his desk, his locker, at the ranch, and in his ready bag that was always kept at the office ready to be grabbed in an instant.
Vin needed to signal Ezra that there was help nearby. He figured if Buck was here, the rest of the team was here. He thought for a second and then whispered, "Hey, Ez, think you can calculate which one of these two has more Animal Magnetism?"
Chris could see that Vin was saying something but couldn't make out the words but he went on a higher alert status figuring if Vin was saying something, then he might have a plan.
For a moment Ezra was caught off guard but his years as a conman and undercover agent had him quickly grasp the moment. Leaning ever so slightly so that his elbow contacted Vin's he tapped it twice and then straightened.
Vin was confident Ezra was looking around to see if he could locate Buck's position. Once he found it he made eye contact with Chris and raised his eyebrows and then flicked his eyes to Buck's position. Chris followed Ezra's line of vision and saw the unmistakable form of Buck looking at him. Buck showed him four fingers and signaled where the others were.
Chris murmured under his breath "I think we'll have some action in a moment..." he waited for Buck to close his hand, watched as his fingers counted down and ...
"Now!" Chris threw Vin to the ground and landed on top of him while Ezra whipped his head back and knocked the gun to the side of the man who was covering them.
Josiah appeared and with a left cross punch he took care of the man who had been holding the gun on his comrades. Buck and Nathan were trying to get hold of Antonio who was very well built and was giving them a very hard time, and that left JD with Mario, but it was difficult for him and he was losing the battle.
Ezra stood up and checked that Josiah had full control of the man who was behind them. Josiah was keeping the man pinned to the ground. Looking around Ezra noted that Mario had gained the upper hand over JD and had regained his gun which the younger agent had managed to kick out of his hand before himself landing in a heap with a well placed kick from Mario. With everyone else still struggling with their prisoner or down on the ground Ezra was the only one who saw where Mario was aiming his gun
In his desperation to warn his friends he forgot about his damaged throat and the pain that came with even whispering and took a deep breath...
Chris' hearing had only returned enough so that voices sounded muffled as if he was listening under water. As the battle with Antonio, Mario and Kirman ensued he heard muffled yells but no actual words. All that changed when a piercing scream that sounded as if it was torn from someone's mouth split the haze in his ears.
Without thinking what would cause Ezra such fear he instinctively dove back on top of Vin pushing them both to the ground. He was certain Vin's ribs were protesting mightily at such rough treatment but he reacted without hesitancy confident that the threat was real.
The next sound that clearly pierced his ears was the sound of the gunshot...
The raw scream of warning seemed to freeze time. Ezra watched Mario take aim at Chris and Vin, heard his own anguished warning pierce the sounds of the men struggling to control their captives.
Having subdued and cuffed Antonio Buck and Nathan spun around at Ezra's cry and saw that Mario had Chris and Vin in his sights. JD was in front of them struggling back to his feet to launch himself again at Mario and was in their line of fire so they could only watch in horror.
Suddenly a gunshot split the forest air. Buck and Nathan stared in shock as Chris tackled Vin and they both lay sprawled on the ground not moving. For a moment all was still and the rest of the team alternately glanced between the unmoving forms of Chris and Vin and Mario who stood like a statue, then Mario crumpled to the ground.
In disbelief Ezra looked around the small area trying to find who had fired the shot. His gaze alighted upon Josiah who was standing over Kirman's cuffed and subdued form. Ezra noticed the slight wisps of smoke curling from the barrel of the gun Josiah held, as he watched Josiah slowly lowered and then holstered his weapon.
"Larabee, we're friends and all but I prefer the fairer sex, besides you're crushing me."
The sound of the Texas drawl broke the spell that had frozen the men in place and everyone sprang into action. JD and Buck ran to Mario. JD quickly kicked the gun from Mario's hand while Buck checked for a pulse. Finding one he rolled the man over so he was facing up and saw the bullet had gone through the man's arm. Without much pity he dragged Mario to a sitting position and handcuffed his hands behind him.
Looking back he caught Josiah's eye and nodded his appreciation at the profiler's quick action. Josiah sent back a smile and then grimly turned and point to a tree slightly behind him and to the left. Buck stared intently and then saw what Josiah was indicating; a bullet hole. Buck swallowed hard as he realized that had Mario's aim been just a little more to the left and a hair of a second faster then either Vin or Chris or perhaps even both would have been...he shook off that thought and hauled Mario over so that he was sitting next to Antonio and he and JD kept a watchful eye on both of them.
Ezra and Nathan were kneeling at Chris' and Vin's sides where Chris was slowly moving from his protective position over Vin. Chris had heard the shot, not felt any impact to his body or Vin's and after a moment had looked up and seen Mario's crumpled body. Seeing Buck check and then cuff the man gave him enough peace of mind to begin to move. Ezra assisted him while Nathan began firing questions.
"Where are you hurt? Does this hurt? Are you bleeding?" Nathan probed Chris' head and found a lump on the back and on the side. Chris angrily batted his hand away but didn't respond to any of his questions. Finally Vin spoke up.
"He can't hear ya, Nate. A pistol was fired too close to his ear and seems to have affected his hearing, think it's getting a little better though."
"Okay." Looking at Chris Nathan checked his pupils and found them to be reacting normally and when he went to check his pulse found his hand swatted away impatiently. Giving Chris an exasperated look he was rewarded with an OK signal and decided to leave that as it was so he turned his attention to Vin who continued to lay on the ground although he had managed to turn himself over so he was facing up.
What concerned Nathan were the various moans and groans that accompanied Vin's movement. Vin tried to keep the sounds of pain to himself but a few had slipped past the stoic sharpshooter's lips and now Nathan could see the damage up close that was done to his friend's face: black eyes, split lip, goose egg on the side of his head and more. Gently probing Vin's skull he elicited a yelp of pain and dodged back to avoid what would have been a well-placed fist as he found a larger goose egg in the back.
Moving his hands down Vin's chest and abdomen he gently probed and felt the give where bruised and cracked ribs became instantly evident.
"Would you quit getting all touchy feely. Geez, ain't funny to pick on a partially blind man. Between Chris lying on top of me and you feeling me all over, what you boys been taking lessons from Buck!"
"Partially blind, Vin? You can't see me?" Nathan was concerned and moved back with his pen light to check Vin's pupils.
Gently he pried open each swollen eye and shined the light on the pupils. Each reacted to the light although the right was a little slower than the left. He was satisfied there was only a slight concussion involved and it was probably the swollen eyes and cheek areas that were impairing his vision.
Finding his hand batted away again he sat back and looked at their three missing men. Ezra knelt on the ground and gently pointed to Vin and gave Chris the OK sign. Chris nodded slightly.
"Ezra, you all right?"
Ezra was heartened to hear the concern in his boss' voice and see the worry reflected in those green eyes. He opened his mouth to speak but stopped as the famous Larabee glare was sent in his direction. For a second he was taken aback but then he realized why Vin was so immune to that glare. Vin never saw the Larabee glare as a threat when it was sent his way, he saw it as concern, friendship, loyalty. Ezra was warmed to realize that that was how Chris meant it now. He gently touched his throat and then nodded at Chris, Yes, he was fine.
Nathan looked from one man to the other. "I'll be damned, deaf, dumb and blind."
Denver General Hospital
Nathan opened the door quietly expecting to see Chris and Vin asleep. Instead he found them wide awake and the available chairs in the room taken by Josiah, Buck, Ezra and JD. Shaking his head ruefully he wondered if any of them had any idea what the word rest meant.
He wiped the scowl he knew was on his face the instant he noticed them looking at him. Deciding it was better to join them than fight them he took the closest available 'seat' he could find, the edge of Vin's bed.
"We've been waiting for you to join us, Nate. Now that you're here Chris and Vin and Ezra that is if you can are going to tell us what happened in the woods and tell us how they caused that injury to Mario and then how they got caught by Antonio and then ---"
Buck clamped his hand over JD's mouth effectively quieting the younger agent. The room was momentarily filled with easy laughter and even JD had a smile on his face once he extracted himself from Buck's grasp.
Chris started first, his hearing was still affected but the doctor had assured him it wasn't going to be permanent. Some of the nerves were swollen due to the proximity of the gunfire but after a series of Cat Scans the doctor concluded that given rest and a couple more days the problem should diminish and disappear.
"I gather that Vin recognized a plant that grew along the stream bank." Since Ezra nodded encouragingly, he continued. "So, we crushed up the stems which produced a foul, oily liquid. Then we soaked the end of some small sticks that I whittled to a sharp end."
Vin decided to take up the narration at that point. "The plant is called Cowbane, or Water Hemlock. If enough of the liquid is injected into the system it can be fatal. There was no way we were going to be able to put that much into Mario but, the idea was to inject enough into his leg to cripple him a bit so we could overpower him."
Nathan nodded and smiled. Pretty clever he thought.
Ezra spoke up in the hoarse whisper that his doctor assured him would not be permanent. His voice box was severely bruised but, like Chris, with rest it would repair.
"I volunteered "At that Vin and Chris rolled their eyes, **more like complained** they silently communicated. Ezra glared at them and continued, "to act as a lure to bring the dim-witted Mario to where we had set our ambush."
"You see," Vin interrupted, "You got to get the poison into his system quick, and so, we needed him to have an injury."
"Yes, and that's when Vin decided that since he couldn't see that well unless something was real close, that it would be best if he hit Mario first once Ezra lured him back to us."
"And then when I cut him with Ezra's handy little knife, Chris would plunge one of the sticks into his leg and the poison would numb up this leg."
"Which is exactly what we did." Chris summed up.
The other four members of the team exchanged glances with each other and the room was quiet for a few moments.
Finally Buck spoke up, "Uh, Chris, that's a real clever strategy and all, why didn't you just hit him over the head with a branch or something?"
"Mr. Wilmington," Ezra indignantly squeaked out "Just because we were dirty, in the woods, had been using outside facilities to attend to our personal ablutions and we were dealing with the most base and simplistic of heathens does not mean that we needed to lower ourselves to such primitive acts as clubbing someone over the head. The art of deceit and ambush and the precision to pull off such an intricate plan to introduce a toxin in the circulatory system "
This time it was Josiah who clamped his hand over Ezra's mouth effectively saving all of them, with the exception of Chris who couldn't hear Ezra's grating voice for which he was grateful as he looked at the various pained expressions of his team member's faces.
"Okay." JD piped up. "So, you caught Mario, numbed his leg, got his gun, then what happened. How did Antonio and that other guy get involved?"
Chris took up the tale again, "So, we managed to have a pretty weak Mario who wasn't able to stand on one of his legs very well --"
This comment caused JD to blush and duck his head. He was still smarting over the fact that he had been bested by Mario and had almost gotten his friends killed.
Buck shot Chris a quick look and then he tapped JD's shoulder. "Don't be too hard on yourself, JD, Mario was moving pretty good when we got there."
"JD, I didn't mean anything by that." Chris was a bit chagrined as he realized what he had said but Nathan spoke up quickly to stop any further discussion.
"Cowbane or water hemlock in large quantities will kill a man, however, judging from what you've related you were only able to introduce a small quantity. It likely caused some temporary impairment to the limb but obviously wore off quickly."
Feeling a bit better JD smiled his thanks at Nathan and met Chris' eye and nodded quickly at the reassuring wink that was sent his way.
Vin spoke up, "That's kind of how Antonio and that Kirman guy got the better of us. You see Chris had Mario and was keeping him in line with his own gun, but we didn't have anything to tie his hands up. Ezra was helping me and we were in the lead. Mario was shooting his mouth off about how he and his brother were going to finish us off and that it was only a matter of time and just generally being a nuisance. We had been retracing our steps for about a half an hour already and figured we were more than half way back to the road since we could see and were making much better time than the night before.
When Mario pulled the old fake stumble and dragged Chris down with him, I heard the sound and turned around with Ezra but, since I couldn't see and Ezra couldn't tell me what was going on, I just stood still while Ezra went to help them. Next thing I know I got a gun in my back and I hear Antonio telling me to keep real quiet."
"I had managed to get Mario back under control, or so I thought when suddenly he lashed out with his previously crippled leg and nailed me in the abdomen with a well-placed kick and that sent me to the ground. Since both Ezra and I weren't looking in Vin's direction we didn't see Antonio there with the gun on Vin but Mario must have which is why he took me on.
I'm sitting on my butt on the ground and I look at Mario who's just standing over me grinning like a fool, and I realize that neither Vin or Ezra are moving. I look and I see Ezra with Kirman behind him holding a gun to his head and then just past him I see Antonio doing the same to Vin. It was just like the van all over again."
Chris stopped talking as the frustration of once again being in the position of not being able to help his friends rose to the front of his mind. Josiah reached over and squeezed his arm reassuringly.
"We must have come upon you just after that, right?" He asked quietly.
Vin spoke up. "That's right. They gathered us together and then the two brothers just started screaming and yelling at each other. After about ten minutes it seemed like I got a whiff of your stink there, Bucklin."
Buck spun his head in surprise. "My what? I don't smell."
"Oh, yes you do. That skunk oil you call cologne about made me sneeze. Smelled you creeping around behind us."
"So that's how you knew where to look for me, Chris."
Ezra nodded his answer since Chris' eyes were narrowed. He couldn't quite make out what Buck had said.
"And the rest, as they say is history." Nathan finished. He looked at the two men in the bed and then at the exhausted form of Ezra who looked as if he should be in a bed. He smiled to himself as he realized that each of the men had had to adapt themselves to assist the other. It seemed to have worked. They had managed to escape, find shelter, ambush one of their captors and in the end, stay alive long enough for the rest of them to find them.
Nathan grinned again and caught Josiah looking at him. They two men nodded in mutual understanding. Buck caught the exchange and looked at the exhausted Ezra on the other side of him. Suddenly he eyes lit upon two gorgeous goddesses that were entering the room.
One of them sidled up to Vin's bed.
"Hi Vin, remember me?"
Vin breathed deeply and caught the scent of the soft perfume. "Mmm Sandy." A pleasant smile crossed his face.
Buck stared in amazement. Looking at the two lovelies he couldn't tell the difference and Vin couldn't even see them. The second lady stood beside Chris's bed and touched his arm gently.
"We're here to let you know that we'll be picking you both up tomorrow and caring for you until you are fully recovered. Sandy and I are home health nurses."
Buck just shook his head in disbelief. Not only was he not able to get either of these lovely gals to notice he was in the room but now they were going to be caring for Chris and Vin during their convalescence. He was about to despair when Mandy, the one standing beside Chris, looked at him and smiled. What a beautiful smile he sighed.
"We brought our cousins" and she looked to the door. Following her gaze Buck's jaw dropped as two red headed twins walked through the door and they wore their clothing in all the right hip hugging and curvy places.
JD laughed and put his hand under Buck's chin and pushed his jaw closed.
"Hey!" said both girls at the same time.
"Which one of you is Buck?" asked one of them.
Everyone in the room including Sandy and Mandy pointed at Buck. Gallantly he stood tall as the girls approached him took him by the arm and started guiding him from the room. "Oooo, I love a man with a moustache."
The remaining members of the team laughed.
"I guess Brother Buck has figured out how he'll spend the rest of his vacation."
"Yep, that means I'm free to spend my time with Casey."
"And I'm going to spend my time with Rain. Come on, Ezra, I'll drop you at your home. We'd best leave these to invalids in the care of their uh...nurses."
As the members of Team 7 went their separate ways for the rest of their vacation a different sort of separation was occurring a bit further away...
"Gentlemen, my name is Orrin Travis, I'm a federal judge. I'm here to let you know your little plan of revenge has fallen apart."
The three leaders of the Miami, Chicago and New York/Denver branches of the Jungle Junkies glared balefully at the tall, distinguished man in front of them.
"Not only has your plan to eliminate the ATF agents in Denver completely failed, but all the members of your organization involved have been captured and formal charges for possession of stolen weapons, possession of stolen vehicles, murder, kidnapping, absconding while on parole, unlawful discharge of a weapon and about a dozen other charges are being levied against them.
Also, the three of you have been directly implicated in the planning and execution of the kidnappings and attempted murders as well, so there will be additional charges brought against all of you. Finally, you will be sent to separate prisons effective immediately."
With that Travis rose and opened the door behind him through which entered a half dozen federal marshals bearing paperwork to transfer the men to separate facilities that night.
"You probably would have been better to select men with a little sense, commonsense that is when you embarked upon this ill-fated adventure." Orrin couldn't help the sarcasm that crept into his voice. After all, he mused as he walked quickly down the corridor of the facility, anyone with commonsense wouldn't take on the Magnificent 7 to begin with.