"How ya doin' Ezra?" Chris asked as he settled himself in the crook between crushed roofing and the remnants of the windshield frame. Trees creaked and swayed in the breeze. The sound of clacking branches broke the heavy silence that surrounded the overturned truck. The SUV head lights still stared straight head into the forest like a sightless corpse staring at nothing.
"Bin bettah," Standish whispered out hoarsely.
"Yeah I bet you have," Larabee paused, "Ya want to tell me what happened."
"A most disagreeable turn of events I would wager," Standish answered tiredly.
Chris let out an amused chuckled. Standish firmly believed in the 'admit nothing deny everything' policy.
"Uhhuh,....no studs on the tires," Larabee muttered out quietly to himself realizing just how unprepared the so called utility vehicle was for such conditions.
"Cuz we're in the truck," Standish remarked a wise half smirk crossed his pale features. Buck chuckled and closed his eyes in relief. They could not be that bad off if Standish was tossing out wise remarks.
Chris smiled and shook his head. Fool southerner would mock death right up to the end.
"Don't you think you guys were a little tough on this truck," Chris gently explained. "even if it is just a test drive," Conversation was not his forte and he would normally leave it up to Standish to carry the dialogue.
"Well they did say it was...." Standish paused and caught his breath, "an all terrain vehicle." His eyes remained closed his voice falling to delicate whisper.
"I don't think this is what they had in mind Ezra," Larabee answered a chuckle lacing his tone.
"Technicalities...technicalities," Ezra mumbled back his breathing leveling out as sleep slid in and grabbed hold of him.
"Ohh no ya don't Ez," Chris's voice banged around the interior of the vehicle. "Come on Ezra open yer eyes. That's an order...Ezra," Larabee warned in a soft menacing voice. The authoritative tone worked and the green heavily hooded eyes fluttered open.
Buck left Chris and used the light to investigate the immediate area. The truck rested on an ancient service road. A few more inches and it would have continued its down hill slide all the way to the ravine bottom. Buck could not see the river that rumbled out of the search beam reach but he could hear it as it cascaded along its banks.
Damn those two were lucky.
Wilmington circled the truck. It was battered and dented on all visible sides. It must have rolled once or twice before settling on its right side. The doors were crushed and warped. The two visible tires were angled inward, they would never see proper alignment again. Buck circled the truck to the back cargo doors. Twin doors. They seemed to be the only part of the truck that remained unfazed by the wild ride down the mountain slope. Buck splayed the light beam across the door. Even the glass remained intact. Well except for the small hole on the upper left door.
Buck focused on it. It looked surprisingly like a..... Wilmington stood on his tiptoes and ran his fingers over the small hole. Radiating lines of cracked glass ran from the hole in all directions. It was the only mark that marred the back of the truck. Buck settled back down on his feet but kept the light on the small innocuous hole.
Oh my God....
Wilmington quickly rounded the truck. He found the rolled up windshield and unfurled it for a bit. A matching hole graced the left side of the windshield.
"Chris..." Buck whispered out.
Larabee did not hear him.
"Chris...," Buck said again. The urgency in his voice went unanswered.
"Chris git yer butt over here!" Wilmington nearly shouted out.
Larabee pulled his head and shoulders out of the truck and gazed up at Buck slightly annoyed. It quickly vanished when he saw the slight look of panic on Wilmington's face.
Buck only had that look...the same horrified expression when he found himself facing a Saturday night without a date. Something was wrong. Very wrong.
The leader of team seven extracted himself from the window frame.
"What's up Buck,"
Wilmington only answer was the light on the small neat hole in the middle upper left hand side of the windshield.
Chris stared at it for a brief second, "you don't think..."
"Went all the way through the truck....exit hole is on the back window." Wilmington explained.
"Son of a bitch." Larabee swore. The serious situation suddenly became murderous.
Someone had taken a shot at Vin and Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
Chris and Buck both instinctively swiveled their necks around searching the inky blackness for any sign of the perpetrators. Larabee lifted the hand held radio and spoke into it. The small clearing came alive with the crackling sounds of static.
"Josiah," Larabee's low voice rang out clearly in the night.
"Yeah Chris," JD's voice returned. In the background Larabee could hear Josiah talking to a third party...hopefully rescue personnel.
"JD I want you guys sticking together...you understand me?" It was an order. Not a request, not a suggestion. It was a command that left no room for barter.
Up top the tone in Chris's voice came across like a siren. Something was dreadfully wrong. Nathan quit piling up supplies. Josiah told the person he was on the CB with to 'wait a second,'
JD glanced up and met Jackson's eyes. The kid had heard the warning and....fear?....in Chris's voice.
"What's going on Chris?" JD asked. He never took his eyes from Jackson's.
"Do you understand me?" Chris reiterated. He did not want his message or intentions muddled.
JD stared at Nathan and then Josiah, who leaned out of the passenger side of the Suburban. Both older agents shrugged but nodded. They understood.
"Yeah Chris...sure...What's going on?" Dunne asked voicing the question they were all asking in the same worried tone that Jackson felt cursing through his body.
What had happened?
"It looks like someone took a shot at Vin and Ezra," The anger and disbelief in his voice made blood run cold. The raw winter weather was momentarily forgotten. The state of their two trapped friends slid from worried minds, as the potential for a new unseen danger slid quickly in their place.
Someone was out there shooting at ATF agents....well travelers anyhow.
"Ya sure?" JD asked. He could not believe it. It was not that he doubted Chris or Buck, not at all, but it seemed so unreal. It was not like they were in the middle of Denver or neck deep in a dangerous case. Who would want to shoot at those two?......JD amended that thought for a moment as a list of names flew to the forefront.
"Yeah JD I'm sure," Chris returned slightly exasperated. "Jist stick together and have Josiah contact the..."
Sanchez nodded to JD that he had already spoke with State Police and local rescue unit.
When JD heard the crackle in the radio indicating Chris was done JD spoke up, "Already done Chris."
+ + + + + + +
JD and Josiah grabbed some gear from Nathan. The threesome trudged back up the rode. On a few occasions Sanchez's feet slipped out from under him, nearly sending him to the ground. Each time he sucked in his breath, tossed a foot out and caught himself. The three men slid and slipped down the hill side. Their passage marred by the thick underbrush and occasional windfall. JD's booted feet slid haplessly out from under the young agent sending him crashing down on the slope.
"You OK JD?" Josiah asked taking short stuttering steps. Trying to maintain his own balance while assessing poor Dunne.
"Yeah I'm fine," JD muttered out with exasperation. Couldn't those two crash a truck like normal people?
Jackson bit back a smile, "Best watch yer step JD...it's slick out," Good ole JD always in a rush. The 'kid' had no patience.
JD bit out a sarcastic retort, "Gee thanks Nathan...I might have missed that." Dunne re-adjusted the blankets in his arms and slung the two-way radio over his shoulder. Cold fingers gripped iced branches and attempted to pull himself back to his feet, cursing Nathan and his observations.
Nathan chuckled as he watched Dunne struggle to his feet. Jackson shook his head. It was a wonder JD and Buck made it through a day without inadvertently killing each other with their hyperactive movements.
Jackson's boot hooked an unseen root. With arms ladened by his pack and extra coats in his hands, he stumbled forward into JD knocking both agents further down the slope.
Josiah kept his distance and watched with some amusement as the two tangled ATF agents rolled and slid down the hill. Sanchez gazed up at the heavens. 'Lord preserve us from each other.' The smile on the preacher's face vanished as his feet disappeared out from under him.
Buck reached for his gun as he heard the crashing and banging careening down the slope. His hands froze over the weapon when he heard a distinctive yelp and a curse. JD and Nathan.
Soon a jumbled of entwined agents tumbled to a stop at the base of the slope. Their abrupt halt was punctuated by a groan and an irritated, "JD, git off my leg."
Wilmington was about to offer his aid when he heard more crashing and a litany of exclamations.
JD once again struggled to his feet, when another dark form erupted from the underbrush slamming into the young agent. JD was flung back to the ground for a third time.
"Dang it all Josiah," Dunne panted from under the larger agent, "git off me."
"Sorry brother," Sanchez wheezed out trying to get his breath back.
"Careful pards, it's icy out," Buck offered helpfully. He stood in the beam of the headlight.
A unison of, "Shut up Buck" rang around the small clearing.
Chris heard the commotion and peered out around the hood of the truck. He had tried waking Vin to no avail. He had also tried to get Ezra to feel for Tanner's pulse but Standish was unable to move his arms. They were trapped somewhere below the sharpshooter.
"Are you guys done fooling around," Larabee sighed.
Gunfire erupted in the night.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah dove back over JD, effectively covering the younger agent with his body. Nathan rolled and hugged himself close to the base of the hill. Buck dove to the ground pulling his gun. He lay panting on the wet frozen earth searching the inky blackness. The path of light created by the SUV's headlights sat to his left. Night encircled the small clearing. The glow of the headlights blazed a trail to the trees that stood only a few yards to the front of it. Darkness held everything else.
Halogen beams were quickly shut off. Only the sound of short controlled breathing filled the area punctuated occasionally by the ruffle of clothing.
Josiah squinted his eyes trying to make them see beyond the blackness that encased the area. To his left he could dimly make out Nathan's form. Jackson lay on his belly gun drawn. The healer pointed it up the slope watching and waiting.
JD held completely still under Josiah. Sanchez could feel the younger man tense up. How JD got a gun in his hand the preacher could not be positive. But Dunne held his gun in front of himself while he lay on his belly under the preacher. JD widened his eyes trying to pinpoint any telltale flashes of light.
Josiah could not make out Buck or Chris. The truck's headlights hid the two agents on the other side.
A strange noise came from the direction of the truck. For some reason it turned Josiah's stomach and made him cringe. He could not place the sound.
"Everyone ok?" Chris whispered out. He was hidden from sight by the overturned hood. Larabee sat crouched down in the windshield frame offering himself as a shield to his trapped men should any bullets seek their directions.
Hushed 'ok's' floated quietly across the tiny area.
Chris quickly turned his head and peered at the two agents in the truck. The truck was cast in shadows of the night. Though the headlights were on the dashboard was dark. The only light afforded to the interior of the truck came from the outside. Heavy shadows played across the two men casting them into the realm of silhouettes instead of physical forms. No sound emanated from the truck.
Were they hit? Did a bullet get passed him? Larabee's panicked gaze swiveled from the tracker to the undercover agent. Something covered the side of Standish's face and head.
"Ezra?" Larabee asked with more than a touch of concern in his voice. No answer. Chris reached for his light but quickly stopped. It would do them no good to illuminate the area.
"Ezra can ya hear me?..." There was a pregnant pause. Larabee felt himself getting angry. Frustration roared through him. Helpless, he was pinned down unable to help his men. "Ezra?!" Chris hissed out again voicing his worry and trepidation in an angry growl.
"Mr. Tanner does not feel well," The thick southern reply rang out weakly.
Chris closed his eyes and swallowed back his panic. "That's ok Ezra, we'll take care of it in a minute," Larabee replied.
Buck rolled his way over to Chris, "They alright?"
Larabee nodded focusing his attention back outside the truck.
"Anyone know where the shots came from?" The leader of team Seven waited impatiently as voices softly tolled out apprehensive, 'No's'. The gun fire had ceased just as quickly as it had begun.
Chris searched the area again trying vainly to peer through the thick blackness. The headlights offered little help. In fact Larabee cursed the lights. They were ruining their night vision as well as providing easy targets for the would be assassins.
Larabee finagled his way back into the windshield frame. He stood balancing on the door jam and grabbed the steering wheel. Buck watched moving in front of his friend providing him some protection with his own body should bullets start flying.
Chris grabbed the steering column and with fumbling fingers found and switched off the head lights.
The small clearing suddenly collapsed into a pool of darkness.
No one moved.
JD still lay pinned under the massive frame of Sanchez. Both men swiveled their guns in small arcs trying to cover as much area as they could without really seeing anything.
Nathan lay pinned against the hill side his aim still pointing up the slope. Cold wet moisture had begun to saturate his clothing. He ignored the clinging chill and continued to search out the shooters.
With the sudden loss of artificial light the clearing became oppressively silent. The creaking of the truck broke the burden of quietness. Occasionally a position was shifted, a leg moved or an elbow re-situated. Every movement rang out with distinct clarity. The pines stood out as black shadows against the paler grey of the sky. Even the clouds held more color than the surrounding foliage.
No one spoke. All five strained to listen. Eyes dilated trying to capture as much natural light as possible. Thick non-descript blackness slowly began to take on shapes. The collection of trees and underbrush metamorphosed with agonizing slowness as eyes adjusted to the new lighting. The night began to take form.
Things were no longer jet black. There was depth in the lack of color. Shades of black could be differentiated Trees stood out from brush. Shadows took on independent characteristics of their own.
Eyes adjusted and translated the hues of black that had once been indistinguishable. The ice encrusted grass almost appeared brownish yellow.
Night vision eased itself on.
"Nathan get over here," Chris's low voice carried easily across the clearing.
Larabee sat once again in front of his two injured men trying to offer the only source of protection he had at the moment....himself in physical form.
The medic heard the command and without second thought responded. In a low crouch Jackson crab crawled the best he could toward the truck. He passed behind Josiah and JD. The two agents appeared as one. A blending of shadows with two independent thinking brains. As Josiah gazed left JD peered right and in slow arcing motion they switched directions. Left and right, right and left. They searched the now not so impenetrable blackness for any signs of their assailants.
Jackson skirted the two men, rounded the hood, passed Buck and stopped next to Chris.
"What's wrong?" Nathan asked.
"We need to get Vin out of there," Larabee answered. The assertiveness in his voice clearly indicated that it was not a request.
Nathan paused and stared at the two trapped agents and then at Chris. Tanner still hung by one arm. His head rested against the side of the passenger seat facing the passenger door. His legs were twisted and crumbled against the door and under the dashboard. Something covered the side of Standish's face. Not blood...at least not from the looks of it. Then again it was dark and shifting shades of grey obscured both men.
"OK," Jackson answered, "we're gonna need help."
"Josiah git over here," Larabee hissed out. They heard JD exhale sharply as Sanchez pushed himself off the smaller agent. A soft, "Sorry Brother," floated on the night. A raspy reply was muffled by a hoarse cough. A few seconds later the giant ex-anthropologist rounded the front of the truck and crab crawled over to Larabee and Jackson.
Josiah squatted next Jackson and stared at Chris.
"We're gonna get them out of there," Larabee said. Sanchez peered quickly inside the misused vehicle at this two trapped friends. They were easy targets as they were. Something covered the side of the undercover agent's head and face. Josiah squinted at it trying to make it out.
"What's on Brother Ezra's head?" Sanchez asked unable to let the mystery go.
Chris peered back into the vehicle and noticed it. There was a strange yet somewhat familiar pungent odor about the truck that had not been there earlier.
"Ezra?" Chris called out. He waited. The Southerner lifted his head off the shattered passenger side window.
"Ezra? Ya hear me?" Chris whispered out again.
+ + + + + + +
JD lay in the middle of the clearing....by himself....alone. He heard the others' voices. Dunne swiveled his head over his shoulder and caught glimpses of Buck behind the hood of the truck. JD stared at the undercarriage of the vehicle. It was amazing just how disorienting it was to see the Chevy on its side. True he had never seen it on all four wheels....well least ways not on the road. In the Chevy dealer lot, sure he had spotted it. Who wouldn't..they had show cased the SUV right out front. It had looked so cool then....like it could go anywhere.
Dunne swung his head back around and searched the intimidating foliage before him. 'Yeah it go anywhere alright 'specially with Vin drivin'....gittin' it out of 'anywhere' would be the trick.'
Dunne sighed softly. Why did Chris let Vin and Ezra go places by themselves? Things always got broken or destroyed when those two were unleashed. 'Wonder if they went skiing? The late Winter snow was suppose to be good up by Crested Butte. They probably had headed over there and got a few good runs in before deciding to head back home. At least they didn't cause an avalanche or something while out skiing.
JD shifted his weight on the wet grass. His knees and thighs were getting soaked as well as his stomach and elbows. Dunne craned his head upward and stared at the stars. Millions of them. He had not seen so many stars since he was a kid in Boston....well actually on fishing trawler as a kid. A friend of his mom's took him out every once in a while in the summer. It gave his mom a break and it introduced the young Dunne to something other than the closed in life that pulsed between skyscraper walls. JD loved those times on the small vessel and had one day dreamed of becoming a trawler captain and owning his own boat. Then his mom got sick, a boy's dreams were shuffled aside in the face of harsh reality. Computers were just as wondrous as the ocean and instilled their own sense of freedom. JD could make a living, get an education through his PC and still care for his mom.
His mom...a sudden sense of loss filled him. The billions of stars overhead hammered home his isolation. He wiggled his way toward the truck...toward his team...and his newly attained dream. A government agent with big brothers. Troublesome, irksome, overprotective, over bearing big brothers. Right now he wanted nothing more than to be close to them. Besides, JD mused he did not want to miss the fire works when Chris finally got those two out of the truck. Larabee was going to kill them.
+ + + + + + +
Chris, Nathan and Josiah gazed at the undercover agent. Standish seemed oblivious to the intense scrutiny he was under. "Ezra can ya hear me?" Nathan nearly shouted.
A soft, "Yes," floated out on a weary breath.
"You get hit?" Larabee asked. He did not think a bullet had gotten passed him.
"No," the subdued southerner answered.
"Then what's all over your head?" JD was suddenly beside Josiah peering in through the windshield. 'Boy the truck sure stunk,' Dunne thought to himself. It resembled nothing of its former self...pristine, waxed and buffed sitting like a prize on the dealer's lot. Nope not any more...Vin and Ezra worked their magic on yet another piece of equipment.
"Chili," Ezra answered with resignation not bothering trying to wipe the dripping mess from his face or head. Nathan silently wondered if the undercover agent was able to move his arms at all or were they pinned solidly under Tanner.
"Chili?" JD asked. How did Standish manage to spill Chili on his head in a wrecked car?
"Vin had chili for lunch?" Nathan stated more than asked.
"Yes," Ezra answered laying his head back against the window.
"Well at least it's warm," Buck encouraged grimacing from the front of the truck.
"Yes, there is that," Standish mumbled out again. His sentence was punctuated by violent heavings from Tanner. Nathan immediately reached into the truck and rested a calming hand on the convulsing back. The agonizing sound of retching filled the air along with a tired, "Oh Lord.".
JD turned his head as Tanner's lunch lazily cascaded downward finding its mark.
"Easy Vin," Chris soothed. He could not be sure if Vin could hear him or not but felt compelled to make his presence known. Larabee tried to see passed Jackson. Nathan's tall frame filled the cab.
Larabee watched as Standish spit to clear out his mouth of whatever had managed to slip by sealed lips.
"Keep yer eyes closed Ez," Nathan instructed as he continued to rub Tanner's back, "that stuff is caustic will damage'em if any gets into them."
Standish's reply was obscured by the sound of high powered rifle shots.
Gun fire pierced the night.
Nathan flung himself onto Tanner. Standish let out a howl of complaint. Chris and Josiah knelt and swiveled remaining in front of the windshield.
Buck and JD held their fire and found protection in the nook between hood and windshield. Bullets scraped across paint and metal. The heavy thunk of bullets seeding themselves in metal filled the night. The Pinging of ricochets dotted the barrage. Heads were kept low and promises of revenge were uttered.
Why did the shooters wait so long to try and finish them off? Josiah wondered. Why start shooting now? Why had they not finished the trapped men when they were alone? What motivated the attack?
Chris spied the telltale muzzle flashes. One sat to their eleven o'clock and the other to the ten o'clock position. The undercarriage of the overturned truck protected himself and his men from the fire.
As quickly as it had begun the gunfire ceased.
"What the hell is going on?" Larabee hissed out in frustration.
"Chris there coming from our left," Josiah said.
"Yeah I saw that," Larabee whispered out angrily. Movement behind him grabbed his attention.
"Damnit Chris, what the fuck is going on?!" Buck shot out as he removed his weight from JD. Dunne might be an ATF agent and a whiz on computers but he was still just a kid in Buck's eyes. A sometimes annoying kid with way to many brains....but still he was Buck's best friend. Wilmington would continue to 'smother' Dunne for his own protection.
Nathan's voice sounded from inside the truck, "I'm gonna need some help here." Jackson fought to find some footing or knee space within the confines of the cab.
"I'm on your right Nathan," Josiah said as he wiggled by the EMT and wedge himself up near the hike found in dashboards which accommodated radios. Josiah remembered how Ezra had bragged about the radio in this truck. A CD player with the capacity to hold twelve cd's at once. Vin's careful smile had spread like a growing wild fire. Buck had donated a few of his discs to 'the cause'. Wilmington did not get to play 'hookie' with them but he would make his contributions.
"Ok Josiah you've got to unhook his arm," Nathan was saying, "be careful it's broke pretty good."
Jackson turned his attention to Chris, "he's gonna have to come out now. To much pressure on his broken arm....We'll hand 'im out to you."
Larabee merely nodded keeping one eye peeled on the area he had seen the muzzle flashes.
JD quickly laid blankets out on the ground as Buck offered some cover. Chris figured JD either had no idea that Buck and himself could not offer adequate protection to Dunne or JD realized that anyone of them would go to the grave protecting him. It seemed, without hesitation, Dunne left the cover of the hood to reach for the blankets and medical supplies.
Josiah would have labeled it faith, Chris marked it as reckless. JD left the safety of the nook and gathered the discarded supplies because Dunne knew he was safe. He knew Chris and Buck would never let him fall to a bullet if they could prevent it. They were here now just a few feet from him. Dunne knew he had nothing to fear when he left the confines of his little sanctuary. Some called it foolhardy, others faith...to JD it was just a well established Fact.
"Ok Chris," Nathan said. The EMT started to unfold himself from the confines of the truck. He supported Tanner's upper legs. Chris quickly grabbed the snow booted feet untangling them from the dash.
Standish let out a strangled gasp, "That's my leg Mr. Larabee," the groggy voice hissed out.
"Sorry Ez," Larabee dropped the leg that had been snagged. An intense sucking sound escaped the undercover agent as he bit back another yelp of pain.
Chris eased out Vin's two lower legs. Slowly ,like a breached calf ,Tanner was extracted from the windshield of the truck.
Nathan shimmied his hands from Tanner's upper legs to lower back and finally to shoulders. Chris and Nathan quickly shuffled their unconscious burden over to the blankets laid out near the hood of the truck.
Josiah stayed behind in the vehicle. His height and fear of a stray bullet, should they start flying again, kept him from straightening up. The large man squatted down and leaned his shoulders against the consul of the truck. Standish sat still held in place by his seat belt. The nylon material had pulled itself snug trapping its passenger safely in his seat.
"How ya doin' son?" Josiah asked quietly. He reached over and with the sleeve from Buck's coat began gently wiping the remnants of Vin's lunch from Ezra's face. Sanchez had noted the strange angle that Standish's lower right leg took at mid shin. His right shoulder looked slightly different when compared to the left shoulder. Dislocated? Probably...It would not be the first time, unfortunately.
Standish sat with his eyes closed slumped dejectedly against the seat, "Not yer son Josiah." He muttered out tiredly.
Sanchez allowed a small chuckle to escape. He notice Standish smile at the sound though he kept his eyes closed. "Yer gettin' better at it," Ezra mumbled out. He straightened his posture slightly and inhaled sharply at the subtle movement.
"I've bin practicin'," Josiah answered. Ezra had once pointed out to Josiah and the others that their tactics for acquiring information from 'miscreants' was somewhat primitive. Sometimes, the undercover agent would say, discretion alone would attain results where the threat of physical violence would fail miserably.
Sanchez needed to hear Standish talk. The ex-anthropologist picked the one phrase that would result in a knee jerk response from the Southerner.
Chris left Vin to Nathan and JD. Buck covered them or did his best to offer them protection. Larabee headed back to the windshield.
"Ok, Ez yer turn to get out of there," Larabee said. He had felt the bones grate in Standish's lower leg when he grabbed it by mistake. It was a ghastly sensation and not one he wanted to revisit.
"I'd rather stay here," Standish muttered out. It felt good to have Vin's lunch wiped from his face. He silently hoped Josiah had not licked the cuff of the coat before he started cleaning. Ezra remembered he had an aunt that used to do that. The woman must have believed her spittle was stronger than soaps. Every time he came home with dirt on his face she would reach up her sweater sleeve and remove a used hanky lick it and wipe his face while holding him still by his chin. He hated it. He could not convince himself that Aunt Margery had magically powerful saliva that could wash dirt and assorted facial stains better than commercial soaps. Then again maybe it could...maybe Aunt Margery had something that was marketable...yes...yes he would have to look into it...contact her.. Where did she live? Was it Georgia? No, no he was eight at the time so it must have been South Carolina...no that was Uncle Mark, a nice man, a gentle heart had hunting Labs. Why was he thinking of Uncle Mark and Tennessee?
"Ezra?" Josiah called out again. The large agent tossed a worried gaze to Chris. Standish's eyes had closed and his head lulled against the door frame.
"Ezra?..Com'on Ezra open yer eyes, ya gotta stay awake a little longer," Sanchez patted the slack features. This got the desired results...kind of.
"Ain't goin' back to Uncle Fred's......ya'll b'gawn so what's it mattah to ya anyhow?" The voice mumbled out the accent thick almost unrecognizable. "I'll jist effect my own emancipation." The voice was defiant and contrary.
Chris and Josiah shared concerned looks. They did not need something like this now.
"Com'on Ezra snap out of it," Sanchez raised his voice and slapped the undercover agent with a little more vigor across the face.
Josiah watched as the eyes blinked open, fluttered closed briefly and then struggled opened again, "You with us Brother?"
"We still entrapped in the godforsaken vehicle?" Ezra tried to focus on the figure kneeling down in front of him. Chris? Why was he staring at Chris and hearing Josiah? Where was the music coming from?
"Yup but we're gonna fix that right quick," Sanchez said.
'Amazing', thought Standish, 'Chris could throw his voice and mimic Sanchez. Surely there was money to be with a strange talent like this.'
Chris did not like the way Standish was scrutinizing him. Larabee had the uneasy feeling that the undercover agent was trying to finagle a marketing scheme of some sort. He had seen that same expression before....when Standish had tried to get Nathan to audition for "Who wants to be a millionaire." Jackson could then use Ezra as a life line and they split the profits 50-50. The one sided discussion had lasted a full week until Chris finally put a stop to it. Nathan had reached the point of drawing his weapon.
"Ya ready Ezra?" Chris asked as he reached for the agents lower legs. A look of panic flashed like a grease fire across the undercover agent's face.
"No...no...no please," he whispered out pulling himself deeper into the seat with a painful hiss. His string of pleading 'no's' falling in volume. A dimpled humorless smile etched his grey overcast features. An expression of desperation rarely witnessed by others. Chris swore quietly.
"Brother you can't stay here, it's not safe," Sanchez softy explained. His hand hovered over the seat release. Ezra's left hand desperately covered the square push button.
"Ezra someone is still out there shooting at us," Chris further explained. He knew he could just as easily ignore the pleadings of his agent and have Josiah just release the belt. Chris felt Standish deserved better. He would give the southerner a few moments to try and finagle his way out of the inevitable.
Standish closed his eyes and rested his head back against the window, "Ahh hell," he whispered out. "The Clampetts are still out there?"
Josiah and Chris stared at each other and then at Ezra, "Brother you know who is shooting at us?" Sanchez shook his head in dismay. The southerner had a distinct problem of keeping his mouth shut at the wrong times while letting it run during the most inappropriate situations. A walking enigma.
Standish sighed. He really did not want to impart what little he could piece together from the accident. It had become a time line of isolated incidences that were fading quickly into a grey murky area of his brain. He did not understand why it was happening...he could not fathom for moments at a time why Josiah and Chris were talking to him. In fact sometimes it surprised him to find someone so close to him. Why were Josiah and Chris here? Did they go skiing too? Hadn't Vin gone skiing with him?
"Vin?" Ezra asked. He could have sworn Mr. Tanner was with him.
Sanchez laid a comforting hand the younger man's uninjured shoulder. Chris ground his teeth in frustration.
"Ezra who's shootin' at ya?" Josiah asked quietly as if trying to seek an impossible truth from a young child. Who knew what would be uttered as a wishful truth or what would be fact.
"Shoot'in at me? Again? Wasn't my fault?" Standish muttered widening his eyes trying to focus on the elusive features of the men in front and beside him. Who was with him? Vin?
"Damn it Ezra do ya know who was shooting at you?" Chris bit out with boiling frustration. Why did this happen to his team? Why not one of the other teams?
"Vin said Jed Clampett," Standish answered staring at Larabee perplexed. Mr. Larabee, Mr. Larabee. One must learn to control ones temper, Standish admonished mutely.
"Brother do you know him?" Sanchez asked carefully. It would do no good if Chris intimidated the gambler into silence. Not that it had ever happened before but there was a first time for everything.
"Jed Clampett?...Know him?... hardly..... but his brood have been down to size us up," Standish answered tiredly. When did Josiah get here?
Buck squatted next to Chris, "Nathan says we got to get Vin out of here....he's busted up pretty bad." Wilmington gazed up at the undercover agent. Buck noticed that Standish staunchly protected the seatbelt release. Damn man would fight you to the grave. Wilmington then noticed the swollen and slightly misshapen leg. Ezra had a right to fight.
Larabee nodded. They would not be able to move Vin until they could neutralize the snipers. Chris did not take his eyes off the undercover agent. He watched as Standish leaned his head tiredly back against the seat and window. Larabee felt his sharp anger fizzle away. His agent was hurt and cold. Yelling at Standish would gain Chris about as much information than hollering at Tanner.
"Whatcha talkin' about Ezra?" Chris asked trying to keep his voice patient and calm. It was an attempt to maintain a level of control that one normally lost in the face of such passive resistance. Except this was not a form of rebellion, Standish's brains were apparently as scrambled as Tanner's insides. This was not good....not good at all. They needed to get them out of here.
Ezra sighed and shook his head tiredly. It really made no sense to him. Buck was here too. When did Mr. Wilmington show up? Did he bring his music selection, must have...Boat drinks boys in the band ordered boat drinks..the song kept playing over and over in his head just in the background. Why wouldn't they just shut the radio off?
"C'mon brother, ya got to talk to us," Josiah stated. He shifted his feet trying to alleviate the stress on his thighs. Squatting down in such tight confinement was tough on the body.
"Who are the Clampetts?" Chris asked.
Buck turned and faced Chris, "The Clampetts....you mean like Ellie Mae and Jethro?"
Larabee furrowed his brow, "What the hell are you talking about Buck?" Neither man noticed the subtle nod from the Southerner.
Sanchez let out a chuckle as weak smile stretched itself across the gamblers face. Josiah nodded his head in understanding, "Let me tell ya of a story of a man named Jed...poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed..." He sang the jingle softly just enough for Chris and Buck to hear.
"Then one day while shoot'in at some food...up come the ground but a bubbl'n crude..." Buck chimed in latching onto the lyrics he knew.
"Oil that is ....Black gold, Texas T..." JD finished smiling, "why ya guys singing that?" Dunne asked peering up from Vin. Harsh wheezing sounds rattled from the sharpshooter. Nathan had elevated his head and shoulders trying to ease the ragged breathing.
Chris stared at his men as if they had lost their minds. He then glared at the shadow ladened features of his undercover agent. "Ezra?"
"They were here," Standish answered with resignation. Ezra remember when the four faces had plastered themselves against the windshield staring at Vin and himself. The gambler figured he had a better understanding of how animals felt at the zoo. The intruders had spoken and pointed at the trapped men. Ezra could only hear some of their plans and they did not bode well for Vin or himself. With rising anxiety Standish had watched helplessly as the thick bearded patriarch glanced at him as if sizing up a prized steer or bull for that matter. He had cringed when the younger man to his father's right had spit out a stringy line of chew then licked the residual spittle off his lips as if savoring the flavor. Even the tangled fair haired sister or daughter appeared nothing more than a wild beast spawned from the dark forest. She had stared at the two incapacitated men with a strange hunger. Ezra remembered with a shiver when he had heard her ask, "Kin I keep'em both Pa?" The father had shot his daughter an impatient look and shrugged.
Where was Mother when he needed her. Surely the formidable Maude would have been able to teach those wild cretins proper manners. Nothing would phase Maude. No sir. Ezra smiled half heartily picturing his mother taking on the likes of those hillbillies. They would never stand a chance.
"He's out of it," Chris said. The sound of his voice brought Standish back to the immediate present.
Buck turned his attention back to the undercover agent, "Ezra ya still with us?"
"Wanna go home," Standish mumbled out. He had no desire to go with the unsavory individuals that had originally staked claim on them. He did not want to belong to the wild eyed family that had found them. He had felt like an unwanted stray most his life and during that part of his isolated existence he craved a place where he would feel wanted and cherished. Those people were not the answer to his dreams. Nor Tanner's. The orphan from Texas was not so different from the Southern stray. Ezra felt confident that Vin would not want to be in the grasp of the little family that had originally found them.
"Rescue units are going to be here in the next hour or so," Sanchez answered. He rested a large hand on the sliding head of Standish as Ezra leaned back against the door. They could wait maybe provide protection and then have the two safely extracted.
"Won't do any good if they can't get down here," Buck answered from his squatted position by the sideways hood. The Ladies man had silently marveled at how undamaged the hood of the truck appeared considering the wild roll it took down the hillside.
"Ez were they down here?" Buck asked. He received confused looks from Josiah and Chris. Standish just sat with his head back against the seat. "The Clampetts," Buck explained.
"Yes," Standish breathed out. He rolled his head off the window jam. Gawd his head really was beginning to hurt. Where was Vin? What happened to Tanner? Did Ellie Mae already get her claws on him?
"What'd they want Brother?" Josiah asked. He wiped dried chili and blood from the exposed neck, licking the sleeve trying to create some moisture to wipe the semi dried mess up. His mother use to do the same thing when he was a small boy. Sanchez had been amazed at how well it had worked. Someone should market it...mothers were amazing, resourceful creatures.
"I would gather that the family tree might have been pruned a little to close to the trunk," Standish tried to raise his head off the nook created by the seat and window. A strange jingle seemed to ring through his head......Boat drinks boys in the band ordered... crude.. oil that is black gold...
Silence met his statement. Finally Buck's amused, "No way, yer shitt'n me?" filled the small area.
Chris chuckled in spite of himself.....Only Vin and Ezra.
"Family tree's a stump, huh?" Josiah asked the smile on his face laced his words.
"Glad this amuses you gentlemen." Standish replied trying to keep his head off his right shoulder. It was proving more and more difficult. Boys in the band ordered boat drinks. Was the radio still on? Were they at the office? No, no that couldn't be right. It was cold and dark out. Not the office maybe Chris's ranch....yes most likely the ranch. It would definitely explain the incessant music. The others were laughing at his predicament. And Vin's...What had Vin gotten him ensnared in now? The damn Texan had more schemes than Dear ole Mother.
Buck tried to say something encouraging but only managed to snicker. Chris did not bother reprimanding him as he himself fought to remove his own smile.
"Why'd they leave?" Chris asked. This was the last time he let those two go out alone. Never again..next time Nathan or Josiah went along with them. Better yet, Chris mused, he would not let those two out of his sight. This was ludicrous. All they were missing were dueling banjo's in the background. The night was still young.
"Couldn't acquire entrance into the truck," Standish whispered out, "had to git an instrument of destruction I'm sure of it." .....Visitors scored on the home rink...every thing seem to be wrong. Why was he still in Vin's jeep? Mr. Tanner had better start paying attention to where he parked. "Josiah could you please shut that blasted radio off?"
The three men exchanged glances. Smiles slipped from faces.
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