Magnificent Seven Old West Universe
Beat the Heat by The Neon Gang

MAIN CHARACTERS: Vin, Chris, Seven

Editors' Note: The original version of this story first appeared in the Mag 7 zine, Let's Ride #18, published by Neon RainBow Press, Cinda Gillilan and Jody Norman, editors.  When we all decided to post the stories that have appeared in the issues of Let's Ride that are more than 6 months, we opted to use a generic pen name because, while Erica Michaels was the primary author of this story, she had so much help from the other folks writing for the press that it just made sense to consider the story to be written by the Neon RainBow Press Collective!  Resistance was futile.  So, thanks to the whole Neon Gang – Dori Adams, Dana Ely, Michelle Fortado, Patricia Grace, Dani Martin, Erica Michaels, Nina Talbot, Kasey Tucker, Rebecca Wright, and Lorin and Mary Fallon Zane.  Story lasted edited 1-2-2015.  Art by Shiloh Shiloh

        Hot.  That was the description of the recent weather the inhabitants of Denver, Colorado had endured.  God damn Hot.

        In fact, it had been over 100 degrees every day for the past six days.  It was miserable.  There was no other way to describe it, and everyone was getting downright irritable.

        JD had been forced to equip his computer with two small battery-operated fans to direct streams of air onto it to keep it from overheating at work, and everyone else had turned theirs off.  At home, they were all wearing shorts and T-shirts, even Ezra, who wasn't sure he would ever live down the humiliation that had caused.

        Now they were looking at a long weekend, a result of another case brought to a successful conclusion.  Team Seven made do the best they could between the pond at Larabee's ranch, and his air-conditioned house.  But, even in the midst of adversity, life rolled on, and for the members of Team Seven that meant the weekly trip to Golden for supplies for the Sunday barbecue.

        Seeing that their fellow teammates were as comfortable as they could get in the middle of a heat wave, floating around on inflatable pool rafts in the pond, Buck and JD decided to undertake the assignment themselves.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        Buck braked his truck to a halt in the driveway.  "Okay, go get the rest of those lazy bums and meet me back here so we can start unloading."

        "Will do," JD said, slipping out and heading for the pond.  He'd be able to take a refreshing dip as soon as the rest of the other were sent back to help with the groceries.

        Buck watched him go, then reached into the bed of the truck and grabbed the two bags with the meat, which he wanted to get into the fridge as quick as possible.

        In less than five minutes, the others arrived to begin the task of unloading food, drinks, snacks, and whatever else the two men had found.

        "JD," Buck said, steering the youngest member of the team aside.


        "There're two special bags behind my seat, you can't miss 'em," the ladies' man said, his voice pitched low.  "Some... special weapons.  I want you to take charge of 'em, see to it everyone gets one, and only one.  Understand?"

        "What?" JD asked.

        "Just do it," Buck told him.  "Don't let me down."

        JD looked confused but he nodded.  "I won't."

        With a pat to JD's shoulder, Buck headed off to change into his swim trunks, a huge on his face.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        Ezra paused in his forward stroll toward the parked truck, watching as the others headed toward the house, arms full of weekend supplies.  He hoped Buck and JD had remembered to pick up the guava puree he'd asked for so he could make them a cocktail he'd had while on vacation last summer in Nice.

        Oh, well, it wouldn't hurt to look.  If he found it, he could go in and get started now.

        Reaching the truck, Ezra checked the bags left in the bed and frowned.  Nothing.  Had they forgotten?

        He stepped around and peered into the cab of the truck, spotting the familiar plastic handle of a bag.  He opened the door and pulled out the bag.  It was much lighter then he expected.  Curiosity rapidly winning out over good sense, Ezra tugged the bag and looked inside.

        Well, well, well... what do we have here?

        The man's green eyes narrowed.

        It appeared his companions had in mind a sneak attack, but he was the master sneak, damn it.  Besides, it might be fun to get the first shot off, and by God he was ready to have some fun, given the infernal heat.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        JD stopped short, watching Ezra reach inside the truck.  He shook his head.  It appeared Ezra had beaten him to whatever it was Buck had wanted him to get.

        He took a step closer to the truck, stopping when he heard an evil chuckle coming from Standish.

        "Payback time," JD heard the undercover man say.

        Having heard that tone before – Nathan called it 'That Mood' – JD did the only logical thing.  He ran.

        Taking cover behind the hedge bordering the driveway, JD waited in silence until he heard Ezra head off toward the barn.

        When he couldn't hear anything, JD peeked up over the low shrubbery.  Reaching up, he grabbed the bill of his Rockies baseball cap and dragged it around to the back of his head.  He didn't want anything getting in his field of vision when he launched his covert mission...

        In a crouch, JD rushed from cover and to the truck.  He quickly checked the cab, finding the second secretive package stuffed behind the seat, just where Buck had said it would be.

        He moved closer and looked inside.

        So that's what he has planned, the computer genius thought.  Well, we'll just see about that...

        Selecting a short, but powerful-looking model, JD made his retreat and headed back to the patio to fill up with ammunition.  Then he would find Standish.

        "We'll just see about who pays back who, Ezra," he warned the absent man.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        Chris and Vin walked back to the truck – there were just a few bags left, and then they could retreat back to the water.

        "I'll get these," Larabee offered.  "Check the cab, will you?"

        "Sure," Vin replied, walking to the cab door and opening it.  "Don't see any more— What do we have here?" he asked, reaching in and pulling out an item that had slid nearly under the seat.  A moment later he whistled lowly.

        "What?" Chris asked, his hands now full of the last of the bags.

        "Get 'a load 'a this," the sniper said, holding the item up so Chris could see it.

        "Jesus, what the hell was Buck thinking?"

        Vin grinned.  "That we all needed a little fun, I reckon."

        Larabee scowled.  "That isn't fun," he nearly growled, "that's the recipe for World War Three."

        "Depends," Vin said.

        "On what?"

        "Who fires the first shot."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        The weapon was loaded and ready to go.  Ezra cradled it in the crook of his arm, unconsciously mimicking what he'd seen Vin do a thousand times.

        There was no good way to hide the weapon, so he didn't bother.  It wouldn't matter anyway.  Once he spotted his target it would be too late.  Unarmed, his teammates would fall to Standish's superior firepower.

        But where were the others?  It was like they were purposefully hiding…  Could they know?

        Impossible, Ezra decided, moving through the tress toward the pond.

        Only one?  It was Josiah, sitting under his favorite tree, already dozing like he had been before Buck and JD had returned.

        Resisting the urge to shoot the profiler just for fun, Ezra eased away from the pond and headed back toward the stables.  He managed three steps before the temptation swelled to overwhelming proportions and he swung back around.

        A test fire was definitely in order.  Taking careful aim, Ezra drew in a breath, held it, and squeezed.

        A direct hit!

        Josiah snorted once in surprise and fell over.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        JD saw the flash of movement as he neared the pond.  It was Ezra, all right, and he was definitely armed.  In fact, he'd just shot Josiah from the looks of it.

        JD's jaws tightened.  That was an underhanded attack if he'd ever seen one; shooting a guy while he was napping.  Ezra had no class, none at all.

        Easing back into the shadows, he started working his way in on the undercover man.  He owed Josiah that much.  Nobody, but nobody, shot one of his teammates and got away with it.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        Chris and Vin were in the kitchen, putting away the last of the groceries when the bellow came.

        "Where is he!"

        The two men jumped at the sound.

        Josiah stomped up.  "Who the hell shot me?!"

        "Shot?" Larabee demanded.

        "You heard me!" Josiah replied, his gaze swinging to Tanner.  "You—"

        "Not me, J'siah," Vin said, lifting his hands away from his body.  "I've been with Chris the whole time."

        "Then explain this to me!" the profiler said, gesturing to the large wet spot at the front of his shorts and shirt.

        "Buck," Chris and Vin said in unison.

        "We found one of 'em under the seat in the truck.  "The rest are missin'."

        "Missing?" Josiah echoed, blue eyes narrowing.

        Vin nodded.  "Buck and JD must've—"

        "Why those…" Sanchez muttered his words trailing off into indeterminate angry sounds.

        "Yep," Vin agreed, nodding.  "Ain't no one gonna be safe."

        "Which is why we're going to turn the tables on those two," Chris said, a deadliness to his tone that made Vin and Josiah both smile.

        "Go find those two.  I want everyone armed, loaded, and ready to go in five minutes.  Got it?"

        "Got it, boss," Josiah said at the same time as Vin replied, "Yep."

        Larabee watched them go with a slowly growing smile.  If Buck and JD wanted war, then war they would get."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        Ezra eased through the trees, his gaze sweeping over the shadows.  No sign of the others.  They weren't in the house, the barn, or at the pond… so where the hell were they?  Targets weren't supposed to be that hard to find.


        No, it wasn't possible.  The six men weren't psychic, were they?  It was true Vin had demonstrated some uncanny hunches, and he and Chris clearly demonstrated telepathy upon occasion, but how could any of them possibly know what he had planned?

        Besides, this was fun, and what possible harm could there be in having a little fun?  After all, Vin was always pulling those ridiculous pranks on Buck and JD, and they almost always returned the favor.

        His fingers gripped the weapon tighter and he raised his hand to wipe the sweat off his face.

        The attack, when it came, was swift and accurate.


        Ezra swung around like an enraged bull.  "Who dares!" he bellowed, a second hit striking the back of his head.  He swung back around, firing wildly into the trees as he charged for cover.  He suddenly regretted wasting precious ammunition on Josiah.  From the looks of it, Vin was psychic and he was out for revenge.  Standish was going to need all the ammo he could get...

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        JD eased silently through the trees.  Shadowing Ezra had proved to be mildly entertaining, especially as the undercover man's frustration level had climbed, but it was high time he taught the man a lesson...

        Settling into a defensible patch of shadows, he waited for an opening.  If he angled the shot just right, like Vin had showed him last year, Ezra would think it came from the opposite direction...

        He waited.  There!  The opening he wanted.  With a strong but steady pressure on the trigger, he fired.

        Ezra yelled and swung around.

        It worked!  He fired again.

        Standish twisted back around, firing blindly into the trees, missing JD by a mile.  The computer whiz grinned, easing back into the shadows as Ezra crashed into the trees, looking for his attacker.

        That should have put a damper on Ezra's fun.

        "Vin Tanner, I will get you!"

        JD shook his head.  Ezra made more noise than a stampede of bull elephants.  And he thought it was Vin who was after him!  JD decided to take that as a compliment.

        "You have no honor, Mr. Tanner!"

        That got JD's attention.  "What did you say?"

        Ezra stopped.  "Mr. Dunne?  Is that you?"

        "Yeah, and what did you mean by that.  I do too have honor!"

        "An ambush, honorable?  That, Mr. Dunne was a low and underhanded move!"

        "Well, what do you call what you did to Josiah?  He was sleeping."

        Ezra blinked as he considered that.  "That was different," he argued.  "I was simply taking a strategic advantage."

        That made sense, kind of.  JD's eyes narrowed.  Ezra wanted honor, well, fine, he'd give him honor.  "Meet me on the grassy knoll in three minutes," he called out.

        "Why?" was the suspicious reply.

        "Honor, Ezra," JD called back.  "I'm challenging you to a duel.  Pistols, at ten paces!"

        "You, sir, are on!  Prepare to meet your doom!"

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        The two men emerged from the trees.

        "So," Ezra said with an evil grin as he sized up his opponent.  "How do we do this?"

        "Just like the colonials," JD explained.  "Turn around."

        Standish hesitated a moment, then turned.  Dunne stepped in behind him, their shoulder blades touching.

        "I'll count off ten paces, then we turn and fire.  Understand?" JD asked.

        "Of course."

        JD raised his weapon and took one step.  "One... two... three... four... five..."

        Each count carried the two men farther apart.

        "...six... seven... eight..."

        JD fought the impulse to look around and see if Ezra was going to take a cheap shot.


        JD's finger tightened on the trigger.  "...ten!"

        JD whirled and took a blast on the forehead.  The man had cheated!  He fired, scoring multiple hits on the undercover man, but then a call from the trees froze him.


        JD and Ezra broke off their attacks.


        Oh, oh, they were in serious trouble:  surrounded and outgunned.

        "Mr. Larabee, it's a punishable offence to—"


        "Follow me!" JD yelled, slogging for the nearest cover.  He turned back abruptly when Josiah and Nathan stood and opened fire on him.

        "This way!" Ezra called, breaking right and running into the maniacal grin of one Vin Tanner.

        There was nothing left to do.  The two men surrendered.

        Josiah walked up to the pair, his Bermuda shorts flapping in the slight breeze that had picked up.  Grinning, he gave Ezra a jaunty two-finger salute.

        Standish glowered at the profiler.  Reaching up, he wiped the sodden hair off his forehead, and slapped off the drop of water clinging to the tip of his nose.  "That was exceedingly unfair."

        "Unfair?" Josiah echoed, eyebrows climbing.  "What do you call what you did to me?"

        Ezra smiled indulgently.  "A strategic advantage."

        "Whose idea was it to buy these damn things in the first place?" Larabee demanded.

        "Buck's," JD replied.  "He told me to hand them out – one to each man – but when I got back to the truck, Ezra here was stealing one."

        "I was not stealing," the man replied.  "I simple discovered them and—"

        "Took one for yourself," JD finished.

        "Yes, well, I decided a preemptive strike was in order," Ezra retorted.

        "Speaking of Buck," Josiah said, "where is he?"

        "I haven't seen him," Nathan replied.

        "Nope, me neither," Vin added.

        "Oh dear," said Ezra., feeling a tingle of apprehension take root in his belly.

        "More like oh shit," Larabee grumbled, as he began to look around for the man.

        "Incoming!" they heard the ladies' man yell.

        And a moment later a large water balloon landed on Vin Tanner's head, exploding with enough force to soak every man near him to the skin.

        "You're a dead man, Wilmington!" Tanner roared.

        More water balloons rained down on the hapless agents, who were forced to scatter and take cover.

        In the trees, Larabee tried to wring out his shirt as he waited.  "You realize what this means, don't you, Stud?" he called out to Buck.

        "Yep, I sure do!" was the laughing reply.

        Larabee nodded.  "I'll give all of you one minute to launch an E&E, then I'm comin' after you."

        "E&E?" Ezra asked where he crouched near Josiah.

        "Escape and evade," the profiler replied.  "And I'd advise you to do the same," he added, lifting his Super Soaker.

        "Me?" Standish peeped.

        "You started this."

        "But I just wanted to have a little fun."

        "Fun can be hazardous to your health," Nathan said, then blasted Standish with his own Super Soaker.

        Ezra yelped and beat a hasty retreat.  Well, at least I got off the first shot, he thought as a water balloon exploded nearby, showering him.  "You are a cheat, Mr. Wilmington!"

        "Didn't cheat..." the ladies' man called out, "just made sure I had the biggest weapon!"

        "You cheated, Buck!" JD hollered, racing from tree to tree, trying to work his way around to where the ladies' man was launching his balloons, but a rapid fire of three had JD on the ground, gurgling.

        A high-pitched squeal a moment later had all of them creeping from cover.

        "All clear, boys!" Vin called.

        The others grinned as they headed out to see what had happened.

        They found Tanner on the roof of the house, holding the nozzle of the power washer, and Buck, standing below in the yard, was pulling up his shorts, which had been stripped right off his body when Tanner had opened fire.

        "Goddamn it, Vin!" the ladies' man yelled.  "That stings!"

        Tanner grinned.  "Yep, I know."

        Buck grabbed the Super Soaker from JD and fired up at the sniper, who opened up with the power washer again, sending them all scurrying for cover.

        "Tanner, turn that damn thing off!" Larabee hollered.

        Ezra raised his own Super Soaker and fired, hitting Chris right in the ear.

        "Standish, you're a dead man!" the blond bellowed.


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