Main Character - Vin, Chris
Time stood still as Vin shifted in the rocks then he spotted the men chasing Chris and him. He glanced below and saw Chris was still on his feet, but leaning heavily against a tree as he worked to tie something around his wounded leg. From his vantage point Vin could see moisture glistening on his friend's black clad thigh, where blood soaked his upper leg. He shook his head and wondered, how in the world a simple day's hike to a favorite fishing lake, had turned into something like a man hunt. With them as the hunted.
A noise to his left drew his gaze, and he flattened himself more on the top of boulder where he lay. A shadow edged around a rock and moved warily into the open. The man dressed head to foot in camouflage paused and sank into a squatting position. In his hands he carried a high powered rifle, that he moved around the area as he searched for someone.
Vin almost snorted out loud watching the man as the man studied the countryside. He knew he couldn't be heard or seen, but didn't want the hunter to come his way. He wondered how many more men were around. His gaze shifted from the man to the tree line. Another shadow moved out into the open and signaled to the first man. Moments later a third man revealed himself. Vin shook his head, why were they after them? Now that he could see them better, he knew he'd never seen any of them before. He watched as they gathered together then moved off, going in the wrong direction. Crossing the clearing they walked to the far side where a deer trail came out of the trees and thick underbrush.
Vin smiled tightly, they had picked up the false trail he had made. If they stayed going in that direction they'd get lost in the mountains. He pushed himself back and away from his vantage point, and carefully made his way off the boulder and down to where Chris waited for him.
"Well?" Chris asked when Vin got close.
"There's three. Right now they're following my false trail. So let's get out of here. Need to get somewhere that will have cell phone reception. You able to walk?"
"Yeah, took a chunk of meat out of my thigh but I think I have the bleeding stopped for now."
"If it starts again I'll pack it with mud and moss. We don't want to leave a blood trail for them."
"You taking up healing?" Chris questioned as they moved away from the tree and down another deer trail that twisted through a large strand of timber.
"Naw, learned it on the res. Grandpa use ta treat all my scratches and scrapes with it, said nothing in it would kill me. An I'm still here," Vin laughed quietly.
"Where we heading?"
"Home. We didn't quite make it ta the lake before we were getting shot at. This is just a roundabout way to get home. If we can lose them, we'll be home in less than 2 hours, if not it might take longer."
A while later, Vin asked, "How's your leg?" Hearing a grunt of pain from Chris, who was walking behind him.
"It's there. Sore as hell. Wish we still had the tackle box, had Ibuprofen in it. I could use some right now."
"There's a little creek ahead of us, should reach it in a few minutes. We'll take a break there and I'll check your leg. Maybe the mud will help," Vin grinned at the blond.
"You're sure in a hurry to get mud on me." Chris snarled in pain as a branch seemed to reach out and strike him on the gunshot wound.
Vin grabbed his arm as Chris lurched to one side. Once Chris straightened they moved on, now in a hurry to get to the creek.
Several minutes later they reached the creek and stopped. No more than 4 feet wide, it flowed eight inches deep. It was so clear they could see every rock and pebble lying on the bottom. Chris sat down beside the water while Vin looked around, before he knelt, putting himself between the creek and Chris. Within minutes Chris had a new bandage made from Vin's bandana over a mud and moss poultice. The pain finally dulled somewhat. Drinking some water, they rose and listened. Not hearing anything but the noise of birds and bugs, Vin insisted they walk in the creek, in case the riflemen figured out they were following a false trail and changed directions.
With a disgusted glance at Vin, Chris stepped into the creek, and started walking. Glad he was wearing water proof hiking boots. Vin watched a moment, making sure there were no prints in the gravel bed before he followed. They hadn't gone a hundred feel when a bullet smacked into a tree not four feet from Vin's head.
"Keep going, I'll catch up with you," Vin hissed at Chris, who ducked at the sound. In an instant Vin disappeared. Chris bent down and jogged thru the creek, trying to keep from making too much noise, and not slip and fall. Twenty minutes later Chris slipped and slid down a short waterfall, landing hard in the deeper pond at the end of the five foot drop. With a curse he stood and made his way out of the creek. He found a place in the cover of the trees to watch for Vin, and anyone else who might come along. He worked to dry out his pistol, using the only dry part of his shirt, the collar to do it.
Vin circled, and came upon the shooter without the man knowing there was anyone nearby. His gaze fixed on the creek as he moved slow and quiet along the bank. Without the man knowing he was there, Vin knocked him out with one blow of his gun. He tied him up with the man's own belt. Vin found some thin cord in the man's pack and tied his feet together, then stuffed a spare sock in his mouth and tied some of the cord around his head and over his mouth .Finally he dragged the man deeper into the underbrush and scattered leaves and branches over him, before wiping out the trail the drag marks had made. Hearing the crackle of branches Vin grabbed the rifle and took off running thru the forest, keeping to clumps of grass so he left no tracks.
Vin ran along the creek then stopped and listened. Nothing sounded behind him so he kept going. He heard the creek noise change and slowed; coming upon the short waterfall he paused and wondered if Chris was all right.
Making his way down the drop, he stepped into the creek and started to move with it when he heard Chris call his name. He stopped and turned into the brush and trees. Chris stood, waiting for him, and together they hurried deeper into the trees.
Chris kept pace with Vin as they moved swiftly along. They didn't hear anything from behind them. An hour later they broke out of the trees and hills a couple miles from Chris's ranch. Pausing they took a breather as Vin pulled out the cell phone, it had bars so he called Buck at the house.
A half hour later the black Ram appeared on the dirt road just below them followed by Josiah's suburban. Five worried men converged on them as Vin helped Chris down the bank to the road. They grinned at each other. They'd made it, they were safe and now the authorities would be called in to take care of the riflemen.
Dark clouds gathered over the distant mountains, a promise of a coming storm. However, they seemed insignificant when compared to the tempest which raged beside the concrete and glass building. The cuss words served to emphasize how out of control the whole situation had become.
The old adage, 'Want something done, do it yourself' crossed his mind as Vin stomped down the steps. A Sheriff's deputy and Park Ranger couldn't find a trace of the men who shot at him and Chris two days ago. They were close to telling them they thought it was their imagination being overworked, as no one would be out in the woods and doing such a thing. But the officials they couldn't explain the bullet wound in Chris's leg, though the deputy implied that they also carried guns into the wilderness. No fingerprints were found on the rifle Vin took from the shooter, other than Vin's, and they never found the man he'd left tied up by the creek. No tracks were located, or anything to show that someone had been there, other than the two ATF agents.
Vin stood beside the Ram, as he waited for Chris to come out of the Sheriff's office. He was so mad he could almost see red. He'd gotten out of there as quick as he could, before he did something to the smug-faced, know-it-all deputy that would have got him and Chris into hot water. He took several deep breaths of the warm breeze that snaked around the buildings surrounding him. Finally he felt a little calmer, and could think clearer. With his left hand he pulled his cell phone out and made a call.
"Buck, get the guys together. Bring vests and meet at the ranch. We're going hunting." He broke the connection before the surprised man could reply. Minutes later Chris walked from the building. The door slamming behind him, though he wished it would shatter from the force he'd closed it with.
"Glass doors aren't fun to slam." Vin grinned crookedly at Chris as they got into the Ram. Moments later Vin pulled into the traffic and headed for the ranch.
For many minutes silence reigned between them, then Vin said, "Guys are meeting us at the ranch."
Chris nodded and silence fell once again. He couldn't believe the officers found no sign of the men who had hunted them so hard. He figured the team might have a better chance of finding something, or someone. He was anxious to get out there to see for himself, if the tracks and all really had disappeared.
Two hours later the seven men of ATF Team Seven were mounted on their horses and armed with guns. With bedrolls tied behind their saddles, and saddlebags stuffed with provisions, they rode into the trees behind the barn. The men followed the trail to the lake that Chris and Vin were headed to when they were attacked.
When they reached the spot where Chris had been shot, they spread out to cover more ground. Vin led Peso as he walked in large circles, his eyes studying the ground. It only took him 10 minutes before he found the place where someone had laid in wait for them. With the others placed about 50 feet apart they made a sweep of the area. Vin followed the faint tracks he found.
Three hours later, Vin, at the top of a slight rise, dropped to the ground. He signaled for the others to stop and back up. He made sure there was plenty of brush around him before he eased forward again. He'd spotted a camp in a shallow hollow. There were several horses tied in the trees on the far side of the camp. He watched for several minutes, noting that there were four men in the camp. Two worked around a low campfire, while two others talked beside a camouflaged tent. He studied the men for awhile longer before he backed away, and made his way to where the others waited. With a hand signal, he led them farther away from the unseen camp, into some timber where they tired their horses.
"Vin?" Buck asked.
"There's four. Their camp is just over that rise, in a hollow. Horses are tied in the timber on the other side of the camp. JD, you circle around this way," Vin knelt on the ground and drew out the camp site and pointed out how things sat. He made a trail to show JD where to go. "Get to the horses, if anyone comes for them take him down. Nathan, you and Josiah go this way, once you reach the dead tree, split up and come in." Once more the directions were etched into the dirt. "Buck and Ezra, go part ways with JD, then split off when you cross the rocky wash, JD'll keep going to the horses. Chris and I'll come in from this way, and will signal when to show your selves."
"How will we know when to show?" JD asked.
Vin grinned. "You won't miss it."
"Ready? Let's get this done. You've got 15 minutes to get in place." Chris said.
Chris and Vin eased back up to where Vin had watched the camp earlier and waited. The men below were now all seated around the campfire, and looked to be settled in for the time being. One man, closest to the camp fire looked to be cooking, while another was cutting something up and tossing it into a large pan.
Chris and Vin exchanged a glance and nodded their heads. Within moments they had split up and were easing their way down the rise, keeping to the brush and hidden from the camp. At the bottom
they emerged from the bushes and pointed their guns at the four men.
"ATF Freeze!" Chris called out in a loud voice.
As one, the four men turned and reached for their weapons. Another yell of, 'ATF Freeze' had the men whirling around to face Josiah and Nathan who were behind them. One more, 'ATF Freeze' sounded. The men whirled towards the new voice and spotted two more men covering them. One man made to move towards the horses, but JD stepped from the trees beside them and with a smile on his face he pointed his gun at him. The man froze in place. The men's hands rose in surrender.
The four men were quickly handcuffed and the campfire put out. Horses were saddled, and the men were put on them, their legs tied to the stirrups. Buck, Ezra, and Josiah went through the tent and gathered all the weapons and ammunition they found. They found numerous maps with most of the local ranches highlighted. Each ranch had numbers jotted beside them. It took only moments to find Chris's ranch with hours listed. The times indicated that someone had watched the ranch quite a bit over the last few weeks. They found enough food supplies to keep the men comfortable for another couple of weeks. A short time after the agents collected their horses, they headed back to the ranch. A pack horse on a lead line followed, carrying weapons and the other items the agents found.
Once they were closer to the ranch, and could get cell service, Chris called the sheriff. He told him they'd captured the men who'd shot at them. He requested they come and pick them up along with their mounts, guns and supplies.
An hour after reaching the ranch, the gunmen were gone. The local Sheriff took them into custody, but not before Chris questioned the men, as to why they shot at Vin and him. One man answered, 'for the fun of it,' and was promptly knocked down by his partner, who snarled to him to keep his mouth shut.
The storm that had been building all day struck a half hour later. Howling wind, blowing rain, with loud claps of thunder, and lightning flashes shook the sturdy dwelling. The seven men gazed out the large windows of Chris's warm ranch house, relieved they'd found the men before the storm cut loose. It was a bad storm; the trail would have disappeared, wiping out any chance for Vin to find the camp and the men.
A week later, Sheriff Abrahams called Chris at work. Chris put him on speaker phone so the team could listen. The call was to inform him and the others, they established that the four men had been planning to rob the ranches listed on the maps using the times that were noted on them. Once they realized who Chris was, who he worked for, they decided to have some fun with the agent. They didn't want to kill him, just 'play' with a government official. If the man died, they would have gotten rid of his body, and gone their ways with the knowledge they'd gotten away with killing a law officer. Or a couple of them. ATF agents at that. Their plans consisted of meeting in another country that didn't have extradition if someone died. Either way, if they didn't kill him they were still going to leave the area and meet in Seattle and start over again. This was the third area they had hunted. The Sheriff's investigation discovered items from previous robberies. After using it as evidence, it would be returned to the rightful owners. So far they found one man missing and presumed dead in the New Orleans area. One man did confide they hunted a man there, but he lawyered up before he said anything else.
The Sheriff's office would let them know when the men went to trial. He thanked them for catching
the men, and apologized for the trouble they had with his deputy, who didn't believe the agents. He informed them the deputy was on administrative leave, and then he ended the call.
Chris hung up and his men looked at each other before JD remarked, "I guess we could all have some plush jobs with the Sheriff's if we want. It sounds like he would have loved to have us working for him."
Buck reached a long arm out and smacked the kid lightly across his head. "No way would I work for those guys, they couldn't find a rat in a feed bin. I'll stay here, thanks!"
Laughter rang through the office as the men headed back to work. They would attend the men's trial, to see that justice was done. They hoped the men would all go to jail, and hopefully, the key would be thrown away. The morning's phone call from the Sheriff, made them feel that the rest of the day would be a good day.
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