Main Character: Chris, Vin, Buck, OCs
Notes: This little jaunt is patterned after my favorite episode of The Sentinel, although I had to make exceptions since not even Chris Larabee can hear a gun cocked from 3 blocks away. But, I even borrowed the main bad guy’s name. Couldn’t resist, I love the name.
Webmaster Note: This story was previously hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in July 2012.
Chris Larabee stormed through the bullpen, his mood as dark as his clothes. He had been called into a meeting with Orrin Travis less than twenty minutes ago, so the other members of ATF Team Seven knew it couldn’t be good if he was this mad that quickly.
Vin Tanner and Buck Wilmington, the two team members closest to the volatile blond, looked at one another. Mentally they challenged each other to be the one to ask Larabee what was wrong. Breaking eye contact first, Wilmington sighed.
Walking through the main room of their suite, he looked as if he were walking the last mile. He couldn’t help but be amazed that the door to the blond’s office was still on its hinges, considering how hard the still vibrating wood had been slammed . Knocking apologetically as he opened the door, he looked into the office, wishing he’d brought a white flag.
“You lose the coin toss?” Chris had his back to the door, staring out the window across the Denver skyline.
“Somethin’ like that,” Buck replied, heartened by the man’s relatively calm comment. “Wanna talk?”
“What I want is to resign at the moment.”
”That bad.” It wasn’t a question. Wilmington knew that if Chris was threatening resignation, it had to be bad.
“That bad.” Spinning his chair slowly, the ATF agent turned to face his long time friend. “Travis wants us to help with a prisoner transport.”
“All right.” He knew there had to be more. Being used for such assignments wasn’t commonplace, but not unheard of, either. That in itself couldn’t be what had caused the blond to get so angry.
Now it was Buck’s turn to grow angry. “Ah, hell.”
Vin Tanner slumped in the front seat of the nondescript government car, watching the countryside drift past. He glanced sideways at the car’s driver from time to time, wondering if the usually talkative man was going to utter a word. Buck had exited Chris office looking as angry as the blond had earlier. Larabee was behind him, making a curt announcement that Vin would be accompanying the two of them on an assignment, and they would be gone for at least the rest of the day. Josiah would be in charge of the remainder of the team until they got back. They would more than likely be out of contact until the next morning, assisting in a prisoner transport.
That said, Chris and Buck left the suite, leaving him to grab his jacket and hurry to catch them. They had gone to the motor pool, signing out the car, then went to meet with the Marshals, who were in charge of the transport. The only thing Larabee said by way of explanation was that he and Buck had a history with the prisoner, and the Marshals had decided that it would be good to have them along in the event there was trouble. Meeting the lawmen, Chris left the car and climbed into the back of the armored transport. Vin had caught a glimpse of a thin, long-haired man, shackled to one of the benches before the door was closed and bolted shut.
“Y’ wanna fill me in on any a this, or y’ just gonna sit there lookin’ like Larabee on a bad day?”
Glancing sideways at the other man, Buck sighed. Turning back to look out the windshield, he said, “Me and Chris helped put Quinn away. The sonofabitch had his hand in everything you could think of, guns, drugs, prostitution… you name it. We worked on the case for two years before we got into a position to bring him down. We managed to dismantle most of his operations and put most of his people away… either in jail or six feet under. One of the men we buried was Quinn’s ol’ man. Chris pulled the trigger, killed ‘dad’ right in front of the man. Quinn had it out for him after that.
“After the trial, as Quinn was being escorted out, he managed to get hold of one of the guard’s guns. He missed Chris, but hit another one of our team… Seth Birch. Killed him. He wasn’t much more than a kid, sort’a had that ‘big puppy’ personality, like JD. He’d just gotten engaged to this sweet little thing, and Seth had asked Chris to be his best man. He died in Chris’ arms before the ambulance could get there. Needless to say, he took it pretty hard. I don’t think Quinn could have hurt him worse if he’d killed him.”
“Damn,” was all Tanner could think to say.
“Yeah. Chris insisted on delivering the news to Anna, Seth’s fiancee.” He shook his head at the memory. “He stood there and took it when she started screaming at him, beating her fists against his chest and wishing him dead. Then he went out and got blind drunk.”
Nodding toward the truck ahead of them, Tanner said, “What kind of hell is he going through up there, then?”
Shaking his head, the big man said, “More than I wanna think about, Junior. More than I wanna think about.”
Chris Larabee had managed to maintain his professional calm so far, but he knew that the chances of him keeping his cool until they reached their destination were somewhere between slim and none. Dawson Quinn was an arrogant son of a bitch who delighted in pushing buttons.
“I’m amazed that you’re still alive, Larabee, considering what a pathetic excuse of a pig you were. And now you’re ATF? Who’d you pay off?” The man grinned, his narrow, rat-like features lighting up with an evil glow. When he saw that his words weren’t evoking much of a response, he tried a new tact. “So, how many more people have you gotten killed?”
“Shut up, Quinn,” Chris responded, not raising his voice.
Laughing, Dawson swept his long hair back with both hands, the chain between them jingling faintly as he did. “What’s the matter, Larabee, afraid to face the truth? That you’re a low-down, scum-sucking, worthless – “
The criminal’s taunts were halted as the ATF agent bolted across the truck, pressed his forearm against the man’s throat with enough pressure to cause his eyes to bug slightly, and growled softly in his ear. “One more word out of you, Quinn, and I’ll rip your throat out. I don’t care if I spend the rest of my life in prison for it, it’ll be worth it to watch you choke to death on your own blood.”
Dawson Quinn’s smile faded slightly, but remained on his sharp, pale features. He didn’t say any more, though. He watched as the blond ATF agent resumed his seat, glaring at him with raw hatred and, he decided, a hint of madness. The man had little doubt that, pushed any farther, Chris Larabee would make good on his threat.
It didn’t matter though because, a few minutes later, all hell broke loose.
Vin and Buck watched, dumbstruck, as an SUV coming from the other direction on the winding country road, swerved and aimed for the truck. Ramming into the transport, the SUV shoved the truck sideways where it landed at an angle against the guardrail. The sound of the crash was quickly drowned out as a helicopter landed just beyond the mangled vehicles.
Before anyone could react, four people leapt from the SUV, assault rifles in hand. One of the attackers, a young woman the ATF agents realized, held a heavy pair of bolt cutters. She made quick work of the locks on the back door, opening it to reveal a tangled mess of arms and legs. Without hesitation she leapt inside, cutting Quinn loose from his shackles.
Tanner and Wilmington were out of their car, keeping the open doors between them and the attackers. They held their guns at the ready, looking for any opening to decrease the number of opponents. Then they watched, hearts in their throats, as Dawson Quinn and his female accomplice exited the truck. Quinn was holding a dazed and bleeding Chris Larabee around the neck, a gun pressed against the blond’s temple.
“Put the guns down! Wilmington, you know I don’t bluff. You put the guns down, or your buddy here gets a bullet in his head! Put the guns down!”
Cursing under his breath, the big agent held his gun up and away, making it clear that he was taking himself out of the game. His eyes still locked on Dawson, he said “Do as he says, Vin. He’ll kill Chris sure as he’s standin’ there if you don’t.”
“Buck, we can’t let them take him!”
“Do it, damn it! Put down your gun.”
Making it clear that he wasn’t happy about it, Tanner nonetheless placed his gun on the hood of the car. He locked eyes with the blond, staring into the unfocused depths as he transmitted one single statement. “I’m comin’ after y’, Cowboy.” He watched the corners of the older man’s broad mouth turn up slightly as Chris seemed to read his thoughts. Message received and understood.
Quinn, his rescuers, and his hostage made their way toward the helicopter. Just as they reached the open doorway, one of the Marshals rallied and fired several shots toward the escaping felons hitting one of them in the shoulder. For his trouble, he was sent flying backwards as three bullets tore through his body.
From his perch in the doorway, his hostage still held close, Dawson gave the order to go. The man still not on-board, who lay sprawled on the road clutching his injured arm, called out for Quinn to help him. The man only smiled a coldblooded smile as the helicopter lifted up and flew away.
Watching the aircraft grow smaller as it flew away, Buck ran toward the criminal who remained on the ground screaming curses after the departing Quinn. Grabbing the bleeding man by the front of his shirt, heedless of the pain he caused, the big agent yanked him up to stare into pain-filled eyes.
“Where are they goin’? Where are they goin’ you sonofabitch, you tell me now, or that bullet in your shoulder’s gonna be the least a your problems!”
With only a token resistance, the criminal began talking.
The flight ended abruptly when, clipped by one of the Marshall’s bullets, the fuel line sprayed its contents into the air. Managing a controlled crash landing, the pilot nevertheless lost his life, as did two more of Quinn’s men. Dawson Quinn, his female companion, and Chris Larabee climbed out of the broken helicopter. The felon had manacled the blond during their brief flight, and now dragged him along after him by the heavy, four foot chain.
Larabee stumbled along after the other man, knowing he was in trouble. He was already seeing double from the earlier crash, his head pounding in concert with his heart. His left shoulder throbbed as well, and he could feel the far too familiar pain of cracked ribs. He wasn’t about to allow the true extent of his injuries to be known by Quinn, though.
“This part of the plan, Quinn? Seems like a waste of a perfectly good helicopter if you ask me.”
“Shut up, Larabee.”
“Aw, come one, Dawson, where’s that smart mouth of yours now? Don’t you want to brag about how everything’s gonna work out for you, and how you’re gonna take me down? Aren’t you – “ Larabee’s words were cut off as Quinn lashed out with a fist, smashing the blond across the face. He stopped talking then, but continued to glare at the felon’s back as they started off on foot.
Wilmington and Tanner joined the local law enforcement at the scene of the helicopter crash. Dawson's wounded man had been unable to give them anything but a vague notion of where the man might go, leaving them searching for clues. They stood to one side, waiting for news of survivors. A pretty woman strode confidently toward them, smiling up at Buck. The ladies man returned the smile, reaching out to take her hand in his, brushing his lips across her knuckles.
“Mara, darlin’, you’re lookin’ lovely as ever.”
Gently disengaging his hold, the strawberry blond said, “Buck, darlin’, you’re just as full of bull – “
“Excuse me ma’am,” Vin interrupted, knowing the bigger man’s penchant for getting sidetracked in the presence of a woman. Any woman. “Any sign of survivors?”
Shaking her head, Mara Sinclair informed them, “Larabee’s not down there. There’s no sign of him, Quinn, or ‘Lyssa MacKenzie, Quinn’s girlfriend. It looks as if they’re trying to walk out.”
Huffing in frustration, Buck looked into the heavy forest around them. Rubbing a hand across his face, he said, “Quinn knows this area, I remember that from our research into his background. He grew up around here. Rumor has it that he’s got around 5 million hidden somewhere up here, although it’s never been verified. Wouldn’t be surprised, though. Man like Quinn’s gonna have a safety net, just in case.”
Just then a man in a deputy’s uniform joined them. Turning to Mara, he said, “We found some tracks, sheriff. Looks like they’re heading South.”
Nodding, she introduced the man to the ATF agents. “Dave, this is Buck Wilmington and…”
“Vin Tanner, ma’am,” the sharpshooter supplied with a nod.
Smiling at the Texan’s old-fashioned manners, the woman said, “Buck, Vin, this is Dave Miller, one of my deputies. Buck and, I’m assuming Vin too, are with the ATF.”
Miller’s demeanor changed, although he didn’t say anything. It was clear that he was expecting the two government agents to try to take over the operation. He said evenly, “Nice to meet you.”
Nodding, Wilmington did his best to reassure the officer. “Nice to meet you, too, Deputy Miller. The man Quinn took hostage is our boss. We don’t have any thoughts on taking over, but we do want to help get Chris back safe and sound.”
Miller scrubbed a hand across the back of his neck, saying, “Reckon I can’t blame y’all. Like I said, it looks like they’re heading South, so that’s where we’re gonna concentrate the search.
Buck frowned, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he studied the terrain around them. “It’s been a while since I studied his file, but my gut says different. I say they’re headed North.”
“North? That doesn’t make any sense. From the tracks we were able to find,
everything says South.”
“Deputy, he’s a master at covering his tracks, he’s done it all his life.”
“They’ve doubled back,” Vin’s soft drawl broke into their conversation. He had slipped away while Buck was talking to Miller, doing a quick study of the area around the crash site. It only took him a few seconds to recognize the signs of what Quinn had done.
Gesturing toward the younger agent, Buck said, “He’s one of the best at reading signs and tracks, Deputy. I’d stake my life on what he says.”
Shaking his head, the other man said, “Well, you’re definitely staking the life of your friend on what he says.”
Buck looked to the sheriff, but the woman only shrugged. “Dave has lived in this area all his life, Buck, he knows the terrain.”
Frowning, the big man said, “That’s fine… just fine. Me and Vin will be goin’ North.”
“Now look, we don’t need civilians – “
“We’re not civilians, Deputy, we’re agents with the government. We won’t be in the way… but we’re going to rescue our friend.”
Chris walked behind Dawson Quinn, constantly watching for a chance to slow them down or escape from the man. He knew that Vin and Buck would be looking for them, and had no doubt that Vin would be able to pick up the trail easily as soon as they found the helicopter. Buck would remember enough of the details from their old investigation to know what area to look in, too. He wasn’t worried that they’d come, he just hoped they’d come in time.
He had no desire to die at Quinn’s hands.
The man in question strode ahead of him, pulling on Larabee’s bonds as if he was leading a dog. He enjoyed that thought, smiling coldly as he considered it. Turning toward the blonde who had rescued him, he asked, “Is everything ready?”
Nodding, ‘Lyssa replied, “We’ll be out of the country by the end of the week.”
“Good. Just one more stop, then… for our ‘nest egg’.” Both of them laughed.
Behind the celebrating couple, Chris winced as a slight misstep sent a jolt of pain through his body. His ribs, his shoulder, and his head all screamed with pain. He bit his lip in an effort to keep from crying out, bound and determined not to let the other man have the satisfaction of knowing he was hurt.
They walked for what seemed like hours, although the sun hardly changed position. Larabee barely hid his relief when Dawson stopped him. The two men stayed in the shadow of the trees while MacKenzie checked out a small cabin in the middle of a nearby clearing. Chris leaned wearily against a tree trunk, while Quinn paced.
“I’m really impressed with your plan so far, Quinn,” the blond began to goad his captor once more. “I mean, how many people would incorporate a helicopter crash and breaking and entering into their escape plan? True genius.”
Dawson growled as he stopped only inches away from the blond. “Shut the fuck up, Larabee. You think you’re so damn tough, but – “
“Quinn!” the man was interrupted by his companion. ‘Lyssa appeared next to him, announcing, “There’s no one in the cabin, and it’s full of stuff. It looks like we’ll find about anything we need to finish the trip.”
Smiling, the felon said, “Good, let’s go.”
Half an hour later, the trio exited the cabin. Chris Larabee was loaded down with a heavy backpack stuffed full of stolen goods and a tightly bound sleeping bag.
Vin and Buck were able to beg enough supplies to get by during their search, and were on the trail in less than an hour. The big ladies man walked behind his companion, trusting Tanner’s skills expressly. They made good time hiking through the heavily wooded area, and Tanner was certain they were gaining on the criminals.
Coming to a high bank, they looked down on a fast moving river. Vin squatted down to get a closer look at the terrain. Squinting up at his friend, he said, “reckon they crossed on down a ways. We need t’ – “
The Texan’s words were cut off as gunfire erupted, bullets tearing into the ground around the two men. The two men looked at one another, trying to decide whether Quinn had come up behind them, or if there was someone new bidding in on the game. Looking down at the river, several yards below them, they both came to the same decision at the same time. As more bullets sang out, the two ATF agents leapt from the cliff into the river below.
As he disappeared over the side, Vin felt something rip through the flesh at his temple. Thrown off, his body twisted awkwardly as he hit the water and felt pain shoot through his back. By the time the young Texan surfaced, he was coughing and choking on what felt like gallons of river water.
Both men were caught in the fast running current, which carried them nearly a mile before they were able to escape its grasp. Buck managed to pull himself out of the main current and grabbed hold of a tangle of branches extending from the bank. Turning, he saw Vin tumbling toward him and reached out to snag the slender man’s arm. Wrapping his fingers in the soft buckskin of Tanner’s coat he pulled back, bringing the other man to the bank beside him.
Vin slumped into the embrace, letting Buck pull him out of the water and onto the bank. He began coughing, vomiting up the water he had swallowed. His head pounded, his back ached, and he was having trouble breathing. Finally he managed to focus, finding himself leaning heavily against the bigger man.
“Th-thanks… Bucklin,” he rasped out.
“No problem, Junior,” Wilmington said softly as he rubbed the smaller man’s shoulders. “Looks like you tried to stop one of the bullets with your head, or did you knock it on something in the river?”
“Th-they clipped me… landed bad in… in the water. Think I wrenched… wrenched my back.”
“Damn it,” the big man muttered.
Arlie Simms and his brother in law, Abe Colter, continued their pursuit of Dawson Quinn. Arlie had found his cabin broken into and ransacked a few hours earlier. Listening to the police scanner as he rummaged through what was left of his belongings to see exactly what had been taken, he heard the reports concerning Quinn. Although the reports had him heading South, Arlie knew better. Rumors had circulated since Dawson Quinn’s arrest about his having stashed a boatload
of money in the area before he was captured.
Dawson was nearby, and he was going to find the man. More importantly, he was going to get hold of that money.
Rounding up Abe and as much ammunition as he could, the woodsman took up the trail, bound and determined to become a rich man by the time the now setting sun rose once more. Finding the two lawmen on the trail as well, he knew he had to do something before they ruined his plans. No one was going to cheat him out of his money.
“What if they’re dead?” Abe asked in a trembling voice as they stared into the river below.
“What of it?”
“Well, for chrissakes, Arlie, if they’re dead then that makes us murderers! I didn’t come along with y’ to be no murderer.”
“If they are dead, we’re the only ones who’ll know we did it. Don’t be a candy ass, Abe! We find Quinn, we’ll be set for life. Now, c’mon, we’ve got us some money to find.”
A full moon cast a silvery glow into the clearing where Larabee and his captors had settled for the night. The blond was huddled against a tree, trying to maintain some body heat with little success. Quinn was stretched out inside the sleeping bag he had been forced to carry, while ‘Lyssa stood guard nearby. He watched as she blew on one hand, switched her hold on the gun, and blew on her other hand.
“You cold?” Chris asked, trying to draw her into a conversation. When she simply stared at him without answering, he continued, “I’ve got some gloves if you want them. They’re right here in my pocket. I’d get them but, well…”
She stared at him passively as he raised his hands, letting the long chain dangle between his chaffed wrists. The thought of gloves to keep her stiffening fingers warm was tempting, but she didn’t trust the blond who had taken Quinn out of her life six years before.
“Look, really, you can have them. I can’t get them on right now, anyway, my hands are pretty swollen from being in these handcuffs.”
“Awwww, too bad,” Quinn’s voice broke into the agent’s monologue. “You’re not getting her any closer to you, Larabee, she’s too smart for you. Right baby?”
Thoughts of gloves and warm hands fading, the young woman managed a smile, “Right.”
Climbing out of the sleeping bag, Dawson said, “Since you’ve got enough energy to try and take out my lady, I guess you’ve got enough energy to get back on the trail. We leave now, we can be there by dawn.”
“Be where?” Larabee asked.
“There,” the felon repeated. “That’s all you’ve gotta know. Let’s go.”
“Not right now,” Chris growled. “I’m cold and tired, and I want – “
Dawson Quinn stopped the ATF agent with a kick to the man’s jaw. The blond went down, sprawling on the ground. The felon grinned coldly, standing over his captive. “Fine. You wanna stay? We’ll stay.” He delivered another kick, this time to the man’s side.
Larabee moaned, curling up to keep as much as his battered body safe as possible. He felt another kick, this one to his head. Stars flared and died behind his eyelids, and he lost his hold on consciousness.
“Buck, I’ll b-be fine. Just lemme rest a minute, ‘n I’ll… I’ll,” Tanner’s words faded as he slumped back against the rocks the bigger man had rested him against. He groaned as even that movement caused the pain in his back to flare up.
Squatting down beside the smaller man, Wilmington said, “look, Junior, you rest here a bit and I’ll see what I can find up ahead.”
“Y’… Y’ need me t’ read… read the trail, Buck.”
“Look, I know I don’t have your skills, but right now I don’t think you could find your ass with both hands in your back pockets. Rest up a bit and I’ll see what I can find.” Gently squeezing the other man’s shoulder, the big ladies man stood and strode from sight.
Cursing his injuries and his luck, the Texan moved to follow the bigger man, only to fall back with a groan as pain exploded through his back and echoed through his skull. He had no choice but to wait for Buck to return. He just hoped the big man did return.
Wilmington padded through the woods, thankful for the full moon above. He had no delusions that he could track anywhere near as well as Tanner, but he had to do something. The thought of Chris somewhere out there, at Dawson Quinn’s hands, was almost more than he could bear to think about. As worried as he was about Vin right now, he couldn’t just sit still and wait for Quinn to come to them.
The memory of Larabee after Seth’s murder came to him as vividly as if it were happening again. He remembered coming into the bar they had frequented then, finding Chris slumped in a corner booth, nursing the last of a bottle of whiskey. Sitting across from him, he tried to find words to console the blond, but knew there was nothing he could say. In the end, he had ordered another bottle and a beer. Nursing the beer he watched as Larabee drank himself into a stupor, then pulled the lean body out of the booth and half-carried him to his car. They had stopped three times on the way to Buck’s apartment so that Chris could get sick along the side of the road. By the time he pulled up in front of his building, Chris was unconscious. Slinging the lean man over his shoulder, Buck had carried him inside and deposited him on the couch. Covering him with a blanket and calling Sarah to let her know her husband was safe, he went to bed. The next morning, Sarah came to collect a very hung-over blond and take him home. They had never spoken of that night since.
He could only imagine what his old friend was going through out there; the memory of Chris, bloodied and dazed, staggering along as Quinn used him for a shield, caused him to groan. “Damn it, stud, you’d better be okay.”
Chris Larabee was anything but okay. He felt the unmistakable grate of bone against bone, and knew that Dawson had managed to break at least one of his already injured ribs. He didn’t allow the pain to show, though, knowing it would only egg the man on to do more damage.
After his assault, Quinn yanked Chris up, forcing him at gunpoint to take up the supplies again. They were on the move once more, climbing farther into the foothills. They would make the deserted mine by sunrise, and he would force the ATF agent to retrieve the money he’d secluded in the main well there. Then? Then that same well would become Chris Larabee’s grave.
Chris looked up at the sound of laughter. He saw Dawson look back at him, smile coldly, and laugh harder. He had no idea what the felon found so funny, but knew that knowing the answer would bring him no comfort.
Stumbling over a hidden root, the agent went to his knees, crying out as pain exploded throughout his body. Leaning forward on his hands, he fought to take a breath, grimacing as more pain accompanied the action. Feeling the chain tugged hard, he looked up through pain-dimmed eyes. “Give me… a… a fucking min… minute.”
“Oh what’s wrong? The big, strong agent man can’t take it?”
“Go to hell,” Larabee growled. The only response was another jerk on the chain, this one pulling his arms out from under him. Chris couldn’t help but cry out as he landed on the ground, the heavy pack weighing him down. Footsteps made themselves heard through the ringing in his ears, and suddenly he felt a heavy boot on the side of his head, pressing down.
“Rested?” Dawson taunted. Lifting his foot, he stepped back and yanked at the chain once again. “Get your ass up, Larabee, let’s go.”
Too tired to argue any more, the lean man struggled to get to his feet. Biting back a cry as pain once again flared through his side, he managed to stumble along after his captors.
“Well howdy there, purty thing. Where’s yer boyfriend?”
Vin’s eyes blinked open slowly, and he turned his confused gaze toward the sound of a strange voice. Frowning as he saw the outline of two men standing over him, he blinked several times, trying to clear his blurred vision. In a pain-roughened voice, he grated out, “Who the hell are you?”
Reaching down and grasping the injured man’s long hair, Arlie leaned down to stare into Tanner’s face. “I’m th’ man who put that new part ‘n yer hair, boy. Now, where’s yer friend?”
“He’s dead!” Vin spit the words out, hoping he was convincing in the lie. “He drown in the river, you sonofabitch!”
With a cold smile, the woodsman said, “Well, too bad. Reckon that’ll save me a bullet though… just have t’ shoot you, this way”
“You can’t do that! You can’t kill him!”
Arlie whipped around to stare at his brother in law. “Shut up y’ fool! Of course I can kill him… we’ve gotta kill him, fer crissakes! We don’t need no competition in gittin’ Quinn’s money!”
“But that’s murder, Arlie! I didn’t come along t’ be a murderer. Look, he’s busted up, we can just leave ‘im here. By th’ time he can follow, we’ll already have th’ money an’ be gone.”
“Jesus, Abe, I never knew you’s such a wimp!” Arlie pulled his sidearm, aiming it at the groggy Texan.
Abe leapt between the injured man and his wife’s brother. “No!”
Arlie didn’t register the fact that his brother in law had moved to block his shot until after he fired. His face drained, and he cried out as Abe screamed in pain. Dropping the revolver, he reached for the other man, just as he slumped to the ground, rolling several feet down an incline. Arlie cried out again as he stumbled after the other man, “Oh Jesus, Abe! Why’d y’ have t’ do that?!”
Watching groggily as his would be killers disappeared from view, Vin retrieved the discarded gun, struggled to his feet, and sprinted into the woods. He wasn’t certain as to what had happened, why the men had gone away, but he wasn’t going to ponder it. He took the opening with little conscious thought, running in the direction he had seen his friend going earlier. His back screamed in pain and his head screamed in reply, but he ignored both. He had to get away, find Buck. They had to get to Chris before the crazed men behind him could. He had no doubt that these men would blow the blond away without remorse if they thought it was the way to get to the money Quinn was reported to have cached away.
Breathing raggedly, Tanner focused on only one thing, getting to his fellow agent. He stumbled through the forest, not even noticing when the trees began to thin out. Staggering and nearly falling, Vin found himself grabbed by a pair of strong arms. Growling, he lashed out at the restraint.
“Vin! Calm down, it’s just me… it’s Buck. What the hell happened, Junior?”
“Buck?” He blinked, blue eyes wide as he fought the encroaching darkness that threatened to draw him into its depths. Collapsing against the other man’s broad chest, he breathed, “Buck.”
Holding tightly to his friend as Tanner’s legs gave out, he eased him to the ground. Letting Vin lean against him, he said, “What the hell spooked you, son?”
Managing to clear his mind, the smaller man grated out, “Them fellas… th-the ones that shot at us… they’re… they’re after Quinn. We gotta… we gotta git to ‘em ‘fore they do… gotta git Chris away… away from… Quinn…” he slumped against the big man, moaning softly as he gave into the overpowering exhaustion.
Holding the Texan gently, Wilmington rubbed his heaving back. “Take it easy, Vin, we’ll get ‘m. I think I found their tracks. You catch your breath and we’ll – “
“No! No… Buck. We’ve gotta… gotta go.”
“Boy, you can’t even stand up. Take five minutes to get yourself together, then we’ll go.”
”Five… five minutes… we might not… might not have five minutes.”
Sighing, the dark-haired man had to agree. “Okay. You lean on me, let me take your weight. All right?”
Nodding, content to rest against the eternal source of warmth and comfort that was Buck Wilmington, Vin allowed the big man to help him to his feet. Leaning into the other man’s embrace, Tanner clung gamely to the big man as they returned to the trail.
Dawn broke with a gloom that echoed the mood of the man in black. He struggled to put one foot in front of the other, following Dawson Quinn along the trail that only he knew. When he could think at all, he was amazed at the fact that he was still on his feet. The pain of the various hurts throughout his body had melded to become one, all-encompassing throb that vibrated through his body with every breath he managed to draw.
“What’s the matter, Larabee, getting too old to manage a nice brisk walk in the woods? Come on!” Dawson yanked on the chains, nearly causing the man to fall.
Yanking back, Chris couldn’t help but smile wanly as the felon stumbled forward a step before recovering. “Go to hell,” he growled.
“You first.” Quinn pointed his gun at the blond.
“No! Daws’, don’t!” ‘Lyssa cried out. Grabbing her lover’s arm, she said, “You can’t kill him, we need him to get the money!”
Anger flaring in his cold, dark eyes, Quinn struggled with his emotions for a full minute before he slowly lowered the sidearm. Jerking away from the woman, he said, “All right… ‘til we get the money.”
They resumed walking, Larabee once again managing to put one foot in front of the other behind the couple. A short time later they emerged in a broad clearing that contained the remains of a mining site. Chris looked around him, his blurred vision slowly making out the outline of several dilapidated buildings and the yawning darkness of the mine entrance. He stumbled and fell as Quinn once more yanked on his bonds. Groaning as he landed on his knees, he hunched over in pain, fighting desperately to remain conscious.
Quinn strode over and yanked the supplies from Chris’ back, dumping them on the ground. Pulling Larabee’s arms up, he unfastened the manacles. “Don’t get any bright ideas, blondie. I’m only letting you go long enough to get my money.”
“Go… to… hell,” the agent wheezed, barely registering it when Dawson yanked his head up by his hair. He managed a glare, and spat at the rodent featured man. Retaliation was quick, as Quinn backhanded him across the face.
Dawson pulled the agent to his feet and dragged him across to where the rotting remains of an old well squatted like an ancient hag. Pulling him to the opening, he shoved the blond forward, pointing downward. “You’re going down there, Larabee, to get my money.”
“I didn’t give you a choice – “
“I said no.”
Cuffing the blond head, Quinn growled, “you’re going down there.”
With ‘Lyssa holding a gun on him, Chris had no choice but to stand there while Dawson stripped his coat from his lean frame and tied a rope in a halter around his chest. A sharp hiss of air was his only response as Quinn tightened the rope, although he saw stars as his abused abdomen throbbed.
Eying the aging platform warily, Larabee was forced into the opening. At the felon’s mercy now, he held onto the rope as he was lowered into the darkness. His jaw clenched tight to keep from screaming in pain, he blinked away the tears that threatened to blind him completely. It seemed to take forever, but he finally felt himself stop. Groaning as he swung at the end of the rope, he reached out to stop himself but felt his hand go through the rotting wall. Gasping as he felt the ragged wood scrape his already abused flesh, he pulled it back and held it against his chest.
“Can you see a wide opening to your right?” Dawson’s voice was muffled by distance.
“Hell, I can’t see my hand in front of my face!”
“Reach out to your right, and feel for it then! There’s a little ledge there, reach in and you’ll find a metal box. Do it!”
Larabee did as instructed, soon finding the box. Pulling it out, he drew it to him. “I’ve got it.”
The rope jerked, and the blond felt himself being drawn upward. Light began to filter into the well as he ascended toward the opening. Just as he reached the top, the rope stopped. Looking up, he saw Dawson’s face a few feet above him.
“Pull me up.”
“Hand me the box.”
“Pull me up.”
“Hand me the box.”
“Pull me up, or I drop the box.”
“Hand me the box or I drop you.”
“Pull him up!”
Dawson and ‘Lyssa turned, shocked to see two men standing nearby, one holding a gun on them.
“Well, Buck Wilmington,” Quinn crowed. “Fancy meeting you here!”
“Pull him up, Quinn, or I shoot you where you stand.” The big man stood his ground, one arm wrapped around the swaying man beside him the other holding the gun that was pointed at the felon’s head. “Now!”
Grinning coldly, Dawson nonetheless did as Buck ordered. A few seconds later, Chris was clinging to the ledge at the top of the well with one hand. He held the metal box to his chest, knowing the standoff wasn’t over yet.
Advancing on the well, carrying most of Tanner’s weight, Wilmington kept the gun trained on Dawson Quinn. Waving the barrel, he said, “Get back, Quinn, over there.”
“I let go of the rope, your buddy here ends up at the bottom of the well.”
“I’ll keep… keep ‘em covered, Buck.” Vin pushed himself away from the bigger man and put his hand out for the gun.
Wilmington knew that the chances of Tanner even being able to see Quinn were slim, but he also knew it was their only chance. Nodding, he stood away, then hurried across to where Chris clung to the side of the well. Grabbing the rope and shoving Quinn backwards at the same time, the big ladies man said, “Move.”
Stumbling back, Dawson found his fall broken by the woman who was responsible for his escape. Righting himself, he turned and glared at her, unleashing some of his anger by slapping her across the face. ‘Lyssa stumbled backward, but didn’t fall.
His attention on Chris, Buck didn’t see the exchange. He was only worried about one thing, getting his oldest friend to safety. Holding the rope with one hand, he reached down and wrapped the other around Larabee’s bicep. Registering the blond’s moan in response, he nonetheless hauled back, bringing the man up and over the top of the well. Holding onto the smaller man while he gained his feet, he led him to where Vin still stood, swaying dangerously but holding the gun on the escaped man. Wilmington carefully pulled the gun from Vin’s hand, keeping it trained on Dawson.
Just then a volley of shots rang out, startling both the agents and the criminals.
“Move it!” Buck ordered his two friends, pushing them both toward the mine. He barely registered the fact that Vin lurched forward, propelled by some unseen force, before he grabbed the slender man and dragged him after the stumbling blond.
The three men managed to reach the cover of the dark mine, moving a few yards into the aged tunnel. Chris dropped bonelessly to the ground, barely recovering before he reached up to help Buck ease Vin down beside him. The Texan cried out as he slumped down beside his best friend.
Ignoring his own injuries, Larabee drew the younger man to rest against his chest. “Jesus, Buck, what happened to him?”
“Long story, stud,” the big ladies man was busy checking the fresh bullet wound oozing blood down the sharpshooter’s leg. “He caught one in the thigh. Bullet went through, but we need to get the bleeding stopped.”
“I’m… o… kay,” Vin managed to grate out through clenched teeth. Not even he believed his words.
“Yeah, sure you are, pard,” the blond said gently, rubbing the man’s shoulder.
Buck pulled off his belt, quickly turning it into a tourniquet and tightening it just above the wound. Ignoring Tanner’s strangled cry, he quickly ripped the tail off his undershirt and bandaged the wound. Looking up, he saw the blue eyes closed tightly against the pain. Reaching up, he tenderly stroked a hand down the man’s arm. Softly, he said, “Sorry, Junior.”
“S’okay… Bu… Bucklin.”
Smiling, he turned to Chris, his deep blue eyes growing serious. “Any ideas a what we’re gonna do now?”
Drawing a trembling breath, the blond said, “Not a one.”
Only then realizing how battered the man looked, Wilmington said, “Damn, stud, you look like five miles a bad road.”
Managing a wan smile, the senior agent said, “Feels like ten. Good to see you.”
Grinning broadly beneath his thick mustache, the bigger man said, “Good to see you, too, stud.”
Outside, Dawson Quinn looked at the still body of the young woman who had helped him escape. ‘Lyssa MacKenzie had only been 14 when he’d met her, a wide-eyed innocent who thought the moon rose and set in him. Now she lay in a pool of her own blood, staring blankly into the sky. He reached out and touched her face, stroking it gently. “Lys? Baby?”
He jumped at the strange voice calling his name. Frowning, he yelled back, “Yeah?”
“I wanna make a deal with you.”
“I ain’t makin’ no deals with no one. Now, I got things to do, I suggest you get the hell outta here!”
Cold laughter erupted from somewhere to his right, followed by, “Y' got balls, I’ll give y’ that, Quinn. I can get y' outta here… wherever y’ wanna go.”
“Yeah? How much will it cost me?”
Again, laughter. “Half of what the blond pig brought up outta th’ well.”
Laughing himself now, Dawson said, “No deal.”
“You won’t get outta here without me. I’ll make sure of that.”
Threats. The sonofabitch was making threats? Quinn shook his head, his gaze falling on ‘Lyssa once again. He’d make certain the bastard paid for killing her. A cold smile spread across his sharp features, and he called out, “A third.”
“No deal. Half.”
“Look, I wanna discuss this face to face. See the building on the West side of the clearing… has ‘number 7’ over the door?”
“Yeah, I see it.”
“Meet me over there in three minutes… we’ll discuss this.”
Buck studied his two friends for a few minutes. Vin lay limply against Chris, his breathing labored, blue eyes unfocused and fluttering closed time and again as he fought to remain conscious. Larabee didn’t look in any better shape, lying against the rock wall, his face gray with pain. He kept one arm around his younger friend, but the other one was tight against his midsection. His breathing was labored as well, occasionally hitching as he grimaced with pain.
Managing to focus on the shadowy form that he knew was his oldest friend, Chris nodded. “Bastard got me good.”
His head snapping up, Buck said, “Speaking of which… where the hell is he?”
Frowning, the blond shifted his faulty gaze toward the faint light of the shaft entrance. “Good question.”
“I’ll see if I can get a look… see what’s goin’ on,” Wilmington said. Squeezing his friend’s shoulder, the big man headed toward the entrance.
“Wa’ch yer… back, Buck… lin,” Tanner managed to open both eyes, staring up at the ladies man.
With a soft chuckle, Wilmington said, “I’ll do that, Junior.”
Creeping along the rock walls, the big man made his way to the broad opening. Keeping his gun at the ready, he carefully moved to a point that would allow him to see most of the clearing. He scanned for signs of both Quinn and the woodsmen who had attacked he and Vin.
Quinn stared across the last yard that separated him from the man who killed ‘Lyssa. The man who was trying very hard to ruin his plans. The man who he had every intention of killing in the next few minutes. He managed a chilly smile as the man held out his hand.
Staring at the hand, but making no move to take it, Dawson said only, “Let’s get to it.”
Dropping his hand, but not his smile, Arlie said, “Cut t’ th’ chase. I like that. So, like I said, for half of the money I’ll make certain you get anywhere you wanna go.”
“And I’m supposed to believe that why?”
Finally, Arlie lost the smile. “Because I said so.”
Snorting, Quinn said, “That’s damn reassurin’. Look, buddy, I don’t know you from Adam. Don’t be actin’ like you’re my long lost best friend. I want some reassurance that I can trust.”
“I don’t think you’re much in a position not to take what y’ can get,” Simms growled.
Seeming to think things over for a minute, Dawson nodded. “Okay, half the money.” It didn’t really matter anyway, the man wouldn’t live to see a cent.
His grin returning in force, Arlie said, “Let’s see the money then.”
Smirking, the escaped prisoner said, “don’t have it.”
Nodding toward the cave, the long-haired man said, “Larabee took it in there with him. We’ve gotta go in after it.”
“Damn,” the woodsman said. Then, studying the mine entrance, he said, “Fine. Let’s go get it then.”
Larabee felt the lean body beneath his arm shudder. He knew they had to get to a hospital soon, neither of them was in good shape. “Hey, pard, you still with me?”
“’M fine,” Tanner mumbled.
“Yeah, right. How’s your leg?”
“Quit lying and talk to me. How’s your leg?”
“Hurts.” Vin shifted slightly, hearing the sharp intake of breath that told him that Chris was hurting, too. “Wa’z wrong?”
“Just sore. Lay still,” he ordered when Tanner tried to move away. “You don’t need to be moving around, Vin.”
“Don’ need a… nursemaid,” the injured man said, shivering again.
“No, you need a hospital, warm clothes, a clean bed, and some good pain meds. But right now, I’m all you’ve got, Junior. Now, just sit still and let me see if I can’t get you warmed up a little.”
“Damn, you're bossy.”
“That’s why they pay me the big bucks,” Chris replied. Then, as he felt his friend tremble again, he carefully rubbed the slender man’s arm, pulling him closer as he did. “You’re freezing.”
“Fell… inna… water.”
Thinking of the cold air that had bitten through his dry clothes the night before, he shuddered to think of how the slender Texan, cold natured under the best of circumstances, had suffered. “Damn it, Vin. I’m sorry.”
“Y’ di’n push… me,” the younger man muttered, his words slurring as he drifted toward unconsciousness.
Feeling his friend’s weight grew heavier against him, Chris said, “Come on Tanner, stay with me. You don’t need to be goin’ to sleep right now.”
“I know you are, pard, but you need to stay awake. If things start happening, we’re gonna need to get out quick.”
“Cain’t… cain’t run. Too… toooo… too tired.”
“Well, I sure as hell can’t carry your sorry ass!”
“Why… why not?”
Sighing, the blond said, “Reckon I’m just gettin’ too old.”
Buck watched the two men talking. He couldn’t see the second woodsman that Vin had told him about earlier, nor did he see Quinn’s companion, ‘Lyssa MacKenzie. That worried him… a lot. Scanning the area for what felt like the hundredth time, he shook his head. Focusing back on Quinn and the woodsman, he watched as they turned to face the mine and started walking toward it.
“Damn,” Wilmington muttered as he watched them for another few seconds. Then, aiming at the ground between the two men, he fired off a shot. Raising his voice, the big man called out, “Stop right there!”
The two men didn’t stop, instead they darted behind the rusting remains of some of the mine’s equipment. Buck cursed as he realized he had lost any chance of hitting either man.
“Y’ missed, Wilmington,” Dawson quipped from his hiding place.
“I hit where I aimed, and I’m not gonna miss with the next shot, either.”
“Look, I’m not interested in havin’ a stand-off here,” Simms growled to the other man. “Let’s get the money and get outta here.”
“Shut up, I’m callin’ the shots, not you.” Then to Buck, Quinn called, “Just send out the money, and we’ll leave. You, Larabee an’ th’ other one can find your own way outta here!”
“Yeah, I’m gonna believe that!”
“All we want is the money!”
Suddenly the big man smiled as an idea came to him. Sprinting back along the stone wall, he reached the spot where Chris and Vin were hiding. “Chris, lemme have the box… the money.”
Frowning, the blond handed the box to his friend. He watched as the big man searched the floor, picked up a large stone, and battered the lock with it. After several tries, he broke the rusty lock. Opening it, he pulled out several bound stacks of cash.
Turning back to the blond, he said, “you got your lighter?”
Fishing his Bic out of his pocket, the agent handed it over. “What the hell have you got up your sleeve, Wilmington?”
Grinning broadly, the big man said, “just a little inspiration. You boys sit tight.”
Shaking his head, deciding he might not want to know, Larabee watched the ladies man sprint back along the tunnel.
Reaching the mine entrance, Buck looked to see the two men still standing as they had been, waiting. “You boys still there? Thought maybe you took the hint and left.”
“Hand over the money, Wilmington, we’re tired of waiting!”
“All righty then, here it comes!” Pulling a bundle from his pocket, he activated the lighter, then touched the flame to the corner of the cash. Watching to make certain the money was burning, he tossed it out into the clearing. “Come and get it!”
“That’s my money!” Arlie yelled angrily. Raising his weapon, he dashed out into the clearing, firing toward the mine.
Pressing himself against the mine wall, Buck waited for a break in the firing. When it came, he leaned away from the wall, fired, and returned to the shadows.
Outside, Dawson Quinn watched, a small smile of satisfaction lighting his features, as Simms spun halfway around before dropping to the ground, a bullet hole between his eyes. Turning back to the mine, he called out, “Thanks, you saved me a bullet! Now, send out the rest of the money, and no more games!”
Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to bluff the same way a second time, Wilmington racked his brain for another ruse. Deciding he needed back up, he returned to where his two friends were waiting. Squatting before the blond, he said, “Chris, I got me an idea…”
Dawson was far beyond the end of his patience. He was just considering his next move when he saw the Wilmington moving warily out of the shadows. The big man moved just beyond the mine entrance, holding the metal box out as if it were an offering. He frowned, trying to see any indication that it was a trick.
“I’ve got your money right here!” Buck held the box a little higher. “Come on and get it!”
“Just drop it and move back!”
“All righty, then!” The big man tossed the box upward, the lid opening to release now unwrapped bundles of money into the air.
“NO!” Quinn screamed, running unthinking from cover.
Watching the money sail into the air, Buck threw himself to the side, rolling behind another piece of equipment.
A single shot rang out, coming from inside the cave.
Dawson Quinn cried out again, this time in pain.
Just inside the mine entrance, Chris Larabee groaned as he dropped to his knees. The gun dropped from his fingers as he clutched his side.
Outside, Dawson Quinn struggled to breathe, gasped, and then became eternally still.
Waiting until the last of the money fluttered to the ground, Buck eased himself carefully to his feet. As he did, he caught sight of ‘Lyssa MacKenzie’s body. Shaking his head he found himself mourning the loss of a misguided and young life. Then, remembering Vin’s hazy report of two woodsmen earlier, he sprinted back into the cave. Finding his old friend hunched over in pain, he helped him up, half-carrying Chris back to where Tanner was slumped against the tunnel wall.
Leaving his two friends where they were and taking a gun with him, the big agent moved carefully back into the open. It was nearly half an hour before he returned to the cave, shaking his head as he did. Shrugging in response to the blond’s questioning gaze, he said, “Don’t know what happened to the other man, there’s no sign of him.”
Nodding, Larabee ran a hand over his face. They might not have anyone shooting at them now, but they were still in the middle of nowhere. He had lost his cell phone in one of the crashes, while Buck and Vin had lost anything they were carrying when they leapt into the river. “Now we’ve just gotta figure out how to get outta here.”
Smiling, the big ladies man held up a cell phone. “No problem there, either. Quinn’s lady came prepared.”
By the time help came in the form of a helicopter a few hours later, the trio had moved into the sun. Buck was kept busy keeping both of his friends comfortable during that time, and was nearing the end of his considerable strength by the time he climbed into the ‘chopper beside them.
During the days that followed, five of the members of team seven spent more hours than they cared to think about visiting the hospital. Vin developed pneumonia and fought an infected leg as the bullet wound festered. Chris began having severe difficulty in breathing during the trip to the hospital, which turned out to be the result of a broken rib puncturing a lung. Both men spent their first 48 hours in the ICU before finally being transferred to a regular room.
While their two friends recovered, the other members of team seven joined the Marshals and members of the local law enforcement in closing the file on the entire incident. As they retraced the route each of the three groups had taken, they came across the remains of Abe Colter… at least what the animals had left behind. Identified by his ID and Deputy Miller’s knowledge of the local residents, they put to rest the question of what had happened to Arlie Simms accomplice.
Youth, good health, and stubbornness stood Larabee and Tanner in good stead, and they quickly began to move along the road to recovery. Finally Chris, followed a day later by Vin, left the hospital. Their friends coaxing the sharpshooter into staying at the ranch with Chris for a few days, the others cut their work – and worry – time in half with both men under one roof.
On Sunday, Vin’s last day in his best friend’s home for the time being, the entire team gathered to barbeque and watch the game on the blond’s big screen TV. The two guests of honor relaxed in the room’s two recliners, while the others waited on them.
Raising his glass so that JD could fill it with iced tea, Vin looked across to where Chris was accepting a plate filled with steak and a baked potato. Catching the other man’s eye, he smiled.
Larabee chuckled, shaking his head. Then his mind turned back to the events of not only a week ago, but of six years ago. Dawson Quinn had cost him the life of one friend, and had nearly ended the life of a second. He had never grown used to the taking of a life, and knew that if he ever did, it would mean the death of his soul. He couldn’t deny the fact, however, that knowing Quinn was dead gave him some measure of peace.
The deep baritone of Josiah Sanchez called the blond back from his dark thoughts. He looked up to find the big profiler standing in the middle of the big den, a tumbler of iced tea raised toward the ceiling. The other men followed suit, raising their glasses as well.
“To good friends and strong friendships.”
Grinning, the senior agent tipped his glass slightly toward the big man. As a chorus of “here, here” rang through the room, Larabee turned to lock eyes with first Buck and then Vin as he nodded, repeating, “Good friends… and strong friendships.”
September 2, 2003