Vin leaned against the concrete wall. They had fallen down a hole and followed their noses. The hole....a grate in the floor near a retaining wall. They dropped the few feet and trudged through ankle deep fetid sewer water. Not a human sewer...at least not from the stench of it. In the end it had proven to be their saving grace. They followed the small tunnel until they found another grate. With a little brute strength and more than a few curses the two ATF agents had gained their freedom from the drainage basin.
They found themselves within a small cluster of offices. No windows decorated the area. Must be the 'interns' work area. The lack of lights was nearly suffocating. By chance Tanner found a flash light. Larabee was already checking the phones. Dead lines.
Tanner shined the weak beam at his friend and noticed the blood dripping freely from the wound.
"We better git that cleaned up," Vin pointed out. Without waiting for a response the bounty hunter disappeared into the 'Women's Room'.
Larabee ignored his partner's idiosyncrasies.
Tanner popped his head out, "Hey ya got .35cents?"
Chris dug into his jean pocket and handed over the change. Vin merely nodded his head in thanks and disappeared back into the women's lavatory.
A few minutes later he returned. "Ok Chris take off your coat
e gotta fix yer arm."
Chris was about to argue but stopped himself. It would be easier just to comply than to fight. Better to save his energy for a more important battle. He peeled his canvas Carhart jacket off and rolled up the shredded remains of his shirt sleeve. Strange, the arm did not hurt too badly.
Tanner held the flashlight in his teeth and set about scrubbing the wound with the abrasive white paper towels found in restrooms across the country. Next he reached for the small square box and opened it.
Larabee recognized the Maxi Pad. He held his tongue as Tanner placed the pad on the deep abrasions. It would eventually need stitches. At least his tetanus shot was up to date.
"Maxi Pads make good bandages....wrapped sterile and very absorbent," Tanner explained never looking up from his work, "hey look this one has flaps....wonder why?"
Chris bit his lip and looked away. Vin had never been married.
"Where'd you learn about using those?"
"Josiah...said he drove a Log Truck for a few summers when his Dad worked up near Washington and Oregon...guess some log truck drivers carry them in their glove boxes in case of accidents and need clean bandages." Tanner wrapped the pad in place with the torn strip remnants from Chris's sleeve.
"Ok now what?" Tanner played the dimming light across the room. It hesitated on a hallway.
"Guess we go that way," Chris slid off the desk heading down the corridor knowing Tanner followed.
The small pen light continued to brown and finally fade out. Vin shook it, smacked it against his palm before finally giving up on it.
No matter really. They were better off without the light.
The darkness was heavy, thick. It seemed to weigh on them. The two men kept close to the wall.
Larabee paused when he heard voices.
Both men crouched down low, weapons at the ready. Tanner slid across the hallway creating two distinct targets.
The voices were unfamiliar and far enough away to be garbled. Chris turned his head in the direction of Tanner hoping to get a read on his friend. Instead tiny flashes of light created by his own eyes danced in his vision. He couldn't see a thing.
Muzzle flashes flared the area. Chris felt himself blinded by the sharp illumination. Chunks of wall fell to his head. Before he realized it, his gun was raised and he was returning fire. The bark of Tanner's Sig. echoed harshly but comfortingly beside him.
Both men inched forward. They were sick and tired of giving ground. It was time to take the fight to the enemy.
Both men, without being able to see one another, clung to parallel walls and slowly crept forward firing at the dwindling muzzle flashes.
Vin suddenly cried out. Chris heard the sound of a gun clattering to the ground and the harsh quick gasps of painful breaths.
Larabee executed a quick shoulder roll and came beside Tanner. Without speaking the agent grabbed his friend by the upper arm and forced him through an unseen door. Chris eased the door closed.
"They had night vision glasses," Vin finally whispered out. His eyes were closed. This new area was bathed in the light of the moon.
"You hit bad?" Chris ran his hands over Tanner's torso. Vin's answer was a yelp when Larabee's hand found the graze. A chunk of tissue and bit of muscle was gouged from the sharpshooters left lateral midsection.
Without warning Larabee ripped the sharpshooter's shirt and took a better look. Tanner silently cursed his friend while he himself kept his gun trained on the door. They had dropped two targets but there had been at least three different sources of muzzle flashes in the corridor. Hopefully the third turned tail....or maybe he was just sitting outside the door waiting for them to re-emerge...Not likely.
Chris bit his lip when he inspected the three inch gouge in Tanner's side. It bleed freely and the edges were friction burned. "You don't happen to have any more of your handy bandages?"
Tanner smiled and reached into his coat pocket, "That's why I needed change." Tanner held out the unused box to Chris. Larabee smiled. He placed the pad on the wound, "Gimme yer belt."
Vin raised an eye brow but conceded. When the belt was wrapped and secured Larabee stepped back. "Like new."
The sharp shooter inspected the field dressing and nodded in agreement. Not bad.
"Wonder where we are this time?"
Chris searched the area, "I haven't a clue." He started walking following the fence and keeping away from the water's edge.
Something moved just as he put his foot down. Then another one. It was then that Larabee noted that it was not a fence that surrounded the area but more like a viewing glass. The natural light came from banks of sky lights in the ceiling.
Where were they?
Something on the ground moved again.
Oh no. Vin....
Before Chris could utter a warning he heard rather than saw something fall from a tree. It landed on Tanner's shoulder.
Chris turned and watched as the Sharpshooter reached up to his shoulder and pull down whatever had landed on him.
A forked tongue shot out and flickered in curiosity.
Time seemed to have slowed down almost paused. The blue eyes became wide as the small reptilian tongue shot out again making contact with the Texan's lips.
Tanner's mouth dropped open.....The forked tongue shot out again.
And suddenly the Snake was flung to the ground as if it scalded Tanner's hand. The Sharpshooter jumped back with a small squeal. In the next instant the gun was in hand and firing madly at the poor legless reptile whose only crime was an unfortunate sense of balance.
Chris stood rock still as Tanner emptied his clip into the shapeless mass of a mottled, dim, colored snake. The sound of an empty gun filled the area. Still Tanner put pressure on the trigger firing without firing. The gun smoked and the chamber lay open.
"Whoa Vin I think you got him," Larabee softly intoned, "guess he won't be assaulting any more trespassers from the trees again." He couldn't keep the amusement out of his voice.
Tanner waited a moment and then gazed sheepishly up at his best friend, " Don't like snakes."
Chris chuckled and cautiously took the empty gun from his friends quivering grasp, "Never would have guessed."
+ + + + + + +
Nathan slid across the ice. He grabbed a shrub and hauled himself around the corner. With feet moving quicker than the rest of his body he hung precariously at an odd angle. With pure upper arm strength he tried to pull his body around the brush onto solid ground.
He nearly succeeded.
Josiah, wind-milling his arms in a hapless gesture with his back arched past center point, careened full force into Jackson.
The two men with more momentum than traction slid across the frozen pond toward the fence. Their frictionless ride halted abruptly with the collision of Nathan's feet with the concrete barrier.
Nathan felt something give in his ankle. A howl of protest escaped as hot searing pain shot up his calf and shin.
Josiah wasted no time in extracting himself from the medic. Sanchez partially gained his feet only to have the rubber soles of his sneakers slip out from underneath him. He fell soundly onto Jackson.
A whoosh of air herald the moment.
"Sorry brother," Josiah muttered trying again to gain his feet. He pushed off Jackson's midsection with his elbow. The older man missed the bug eyed response from Nathan. With tense muscles and hard fought dexterity, Josiah managed to make it to his feet. He stood hunched over...his arms out, muscles taught, fighting to maintain his balance.
The quick white shadow of movement caused him to snap his head around. The simple too fast action was too much for unsecured feet. Sanchez tumbled back down to the ice with a yell.
Nathan saw the potential for collision and pushed himself out of the way. His lungs finally drew in that elusive breath that allowed muscles to unfreeze. He vacated the spot just before Sanchez crashed into it with a "Whumpf."
Jackson saw the two polar bears. Ohh Gawd...ohh gawd. They were dead men. And though these two Polar Bears did not seem to hold the natural 7-9.5 feet in length or the 4 feet height at the shoulders and though they did not appear to even come close to the 770-1430 pounds that most Polar Bears are known to achieve...these two white bodied black nosed bears appeared larger than life.
Shit...shit...shit.. "Git up Josiah, Git up!...quit foolin' around," Jackson whispered harshly into his friends ear. The medic started dragging Sanchez across the ice favoring his right ankle. Nathan kept running through what he knew about Polar Bears....They were one of the largest land carnivores known. They ate seals, small walruses and the occasional small whale. Oh Gawd who ever heard of a small Whale? It had to be bigger than him and Josiah combined. These Polar Bears would probably would settle for a few ATF agents in a pinch. Nathan pulled Josiah along with more vigor.
Jackson could see it now...the Pathologist and Medical Examiner doing a fecal float on the Polar Bears searching for signs of Josiah and Nathan.
This was not what he had in mind when he joined the ATF.
What else did he know? Oh yes...never eat the uncooked liver of a Polar Bear...you would die from a hypervitaminosis A or was it an over dose of Iron? Either way Polar Bear liver would kill a large man if he were to eat it in its entirety. Not a very helpful fact. Gawd he felt like JD and all his weird useless information. That kid ate way to much cereal.
Josiah finally managed to claw himself to his feet.
Holding forearms, Nathan and Josiah slid and slipped their way across the ice to the Plexiglas barrier. With strength born from desperation, the two men jumped and grabbed the rim. In panicked synchronized motions, the two men scrambled over the top of the 3 foot thick barrier to drop down onto the other side...like normal observers.
The two polar bears lumbered and frolicked with one another on the ice. They played and swatted at one another as if they were just kids and not monsters spawned from Dante's Inferno.
Nathan leaned his head against the cool Plexiglas holding his rapidly swelling and throbbing foot and ankle off the carpeted flooring.
Josiah read the short little blurb on "Klondike and Snow"...the two baby polar bears that had been hand reared by the zoo. The preacher gazed back through the viewing glass at the two 'cubs' wrestling on the ice. Sanchez started with a slow chuckle that slowly boomed into a full fledged belly laugh.
Nathan gazed up from his silent prayers of deliverance and stared at the profiler as if he had lost his mind. People reacted very differently in near Death experiences.
They ain't there....they ain't there....they ain't there.... Vin kept running the phrase through his head. Sweat beaded his face. He followed Larabee limb from limb as they climbed the thick, branched, tree. Heavy moss hung from the slick smooth bark. Occasionally something would move and catch Tanner's eye. A snake. A creature that sent icy fingers of fear twisting around his spine. One moment a branch would seem bare and then suddenly it would move. Sometimes a branch was not a branch but merely a snake as thick as his arm.
Oh Gawd keep it together.
"How ya doin' Vin?" Chris fought to keep the amusement out of his voice. He stared down between himself and the aged tree trunk they were nearly to the sky light. Larabee could hear the panting below could almost feel Tanner's unreasonable dread.
At least Vin's weapon was empty. In most occasions that would worry Chris but in this particular instance it was a blessing in disguise. Damn Sharpshooter would probably shoot every snake into extinction. He was worse than Standish and his fear of Rats. Fool southerner shot up a warehouse once during a 'meet' because "The Atilla" of the Rat world decided to make an unscheduled appearance. There was such a blaze of bullets that the arms dealer simply surrendered thinking the seventh cavalry was up on them.
Chris shook his head. Big tough ATF agents couldn't handle a simple snake or small rodent. His men definitely had their little quirks.
"Shut up Larabee," Tanner mumbled out. He would wipe that smile off Chris's face before this day was through. He reached out and grabbed for another hand hold....it slid from under his grasp.
Vin squeezed his eyes closed, clenched his teeth, and prayed for a chance at revenge.
Larabee continued upward. Within a few seconds he was at the top. Vin squatted beside him soaked with nervous sweat. Together the two men pushed on the sky light with their hands. Nothing. They stood slowly gaging their balance and pushed on the 'Glass' with their hunched shoulders. Nothing. Vin held tightly to his side feeling blood stream down to his waist making his Levis adhere in a maddening manner to his skin.
Chris shook his head in dismay and squatted back down on the branch. Couldn't anything be easy? With a sigh, he unholstered his gun and checked his rounds. He had two shots left.
He fired once at the concave protective glass.
Vin and he sat quietly for a moment until finally Vin said, "Well, Cowboy that sure helped a lot."
Larabee scowled up at the simple, small, bullet hole in the otherwise intact window.
"Think you can do better?" Chris felt his frustration boiling.
"Yup." The easy Texan drawl was maddening.
Chris simply handed him the Sig. with a tight, unamused, smile.
Vin acknowledged it and took the weapon. The Sharpshooter aimed the weapon and fired at the window.
Chris gazed up at the window that now held twin bullet wounds.
"Ohhh, you're a big help."
"Shut up," Vin retorted. Damn safety glass windows. Whoever heard of putting them on top of buildings.
The two men faced once again began pushing on the window.
+ + + + + + +
Buck and JD leaned on the other side of the cement moat. Wilmington bent over slightly holding onto the right side of his chest. His breaths came in short, shallow, bursts. Climbing the damn chainlink was more than his chest was willing to concede. There was no way he would have been able to get Ezra over that fence.
Dunne stood on his tip toes and stared back into the Tiger Habitat. He could just make out the undercover agent laying on his side between boulders. In his heart JD felt it was wrong. They were just going to leave him behind. Of all of them why did it have to be Ezra? He was the one out of all the seven that knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that one day they would throw him out. They would collectively leave him behind. The others had worked hard to put those fears aside but they lingered. It was not easy to shuffle aside beliefs that had been ingrained from early life. Just like Vin feared the others would die on him leaving him alone. JD hated to think that he and Buck were abandoning one of their own out of necessity.
They had made sure the Tiger could not get to Standish. They had nestled their undercover agent within the tight confines of the boulders. She should not be able to drag him out from between the granite barriers nor jump in with him. Buck was sure they would be back for Ezra before he even woke up from whatever drug ran through his system. Wilmington had blanketed the undercover agent with his coat, offering some protection against the growing chill of the night.
JD could not help but feel bad. Maybe they should have just stayed with him and hope the others got help?
Buck had a point though. They could not keep lugging Standish around with armed gunmen after them. They traveled too slow and just made a bigger target. They endangered not only their own lives but also Ezra's. JD bowed to Buck's logic even when it was clear that Wilmington was not pleased with the situation.
"You ok Buck?" JD held onto the chainlink trying to get one last glimpse of their undercover agent. He knew they would be back. He just hoped Ezra slept through it.
"Yeah kid...jist give me a minute," Wilmington leaned against the moat wall trying hard to control his breathing. The more he thought about it the deeper his breaths seemed. What a contradiction.
Dunne peered down the moat to the left and right. He was beginning to understand what a rat in a maze felt like. All they were missing was some cheese. JD chuckled...they were kind of like walking bait as things stood.
JD gazed up at the night sky. It was still strange to see so many stars. Having grown up in the city JD never really gazed at the night sky...never learned the constellations positions. Under the bright lights of the city you never could see the stars. His Mom use to take him to the Boston Science Museum and visit the Planetarium. It was his chance to see the stars even Mercury, Venus, Mars and the rest of the solar system. His mom loved Space...loved the freedom she thought the future would bring. JD had always hoped the immediate future brought a cure for his ailing mom. It had not happened. With the loss of his mother he moved west...met the guys and for some of the first times in his life he got a chance to see the real stars without the glow of the city. It was one of the beauties of Chris's ranch. There was the camaradery and friendly atmosphere but even more importantly the dark nights brought out the billions of stars. The same constellations that his mom had tried to show him through the Museum. At those times at the Ranch melancholy would fall over him at the sudden emptiness of his mom's passing...but suddenly Buck would drape a friendly arm over his shoulders and point out the constellations he knew. Occasionally Ezra would provide a background story on the names and how they were derived. Vin would just sit quietly with him and smile every time JD tried to point out a shooting star before it disappeared from sight.
It was with some wonder that Dunne now peered up at the sky trying to find Orion. The warrior and guardian of the night. Maybe, somehow, in a foolish round about way the Warrior would watch over the Agent they were forced to leave behind.
"Hey Buck is that Chris and Vin on the roof over there?"
The Ladies Man peered up and noticed the two figures on the roof next door.
"Yup, sure looks like them," Wilmington slowly straightened out. Both he and JD waved when they saw Chris and Vin's silhouettes turn and face them. The two men waved back haphazardly. The mics and headsets must not be working.
"They don't look to happy," JD squinted trying to make out the two men better.
"Nope," Wilmington agreed, " I bet not," Buck chuckled softly, "especially with Chris up on that roof," the ladies' man faced the kid, "he don't like heights too much." JD shrugged. He had seen their leader in trees and on ladders. He didn't seem to mind. Dunne watched the two silhouettes squat down on the slanted roof. Buck had already started down the moat.
"Really?" JD shuffled backward trying to keep up with Buck, "he goes up ladders."
"That's different kid," Buck slid his feet trying not to lift them to high or place them to harshly. His chest complained with every movement.
"How so?" Dunne back pedaled still trying to keep an eye on the shadows.
"I don't know kid but it is." Wilmington paused and noticed the young Agent still walked backward. "Come on JD let's git movin'...we gotta find some help." Buck grabbed the kid and pushed him gently down the moat. He grimaced at the burning twinge that flared across his chest.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah supported Nathan from the right side. The rug muffled their awkward foot falls. "How ya holdin' up Brother?"
Nathan nodded. He was doing fine. His ankle felt about the size of a bowling ball and it throbbed mercilessly with every placement.
It was the others, however, that he was truly worried about. He hoped Chris and Vin stayed away from the reptiles and snakes. Foolish, stubborn, headed Texan would wrestle a Croc. just for the challenge. Nathan hoped Chris was smart enough to steer Vin clear of the obvious temptation.
Jackson was curious as to why the Rhino pen met flush with another enclosure. Nathan could not help but wonder what kind of trouble Buck and JD found. Those two attracted trouble like Honey does ants.
Maybe he and Josiah should have kept Ezra with them. The healer's thoughts strayed to the undercover agent. Ezra had been pretty unresponsive. Though his color was good, his heart rate was down and his respirations shallow. What if he was hit with a Cocktail? How long would it last?
Sanchez felt the slowing of Jackson's pace. Nathan was getting lost in his own thoughts. Worried about the others no less. Probably thinking they should have kept the Southerner with them instead of passing him off on to Buck and JD. A burden to be shifted to another's shoulders. Unfortunate but necessary. Josiah fumed....he would see that Hughes paid penance for his actions.
"Buck and JD will take care of Brother Ezra jist fine," Sanchez softly muttered. He had no doubts that Wilmington and Dunne would do their best to watch out for their downed friend. Josiah just wished Standish was still under his protective eye.
They twosome hobbled down the lazy curving corridor. The Polar Bear exhibit was in a rounded building giving the viewers a chance to observe the creatures while the bears played on land, ice or water. The inner wall was adorned with immense sharp pictures of Polar Bears in their natural habitat. Some pictures were accompanied by brief, large, lettered, spurts of informational facts on other Arctic mammals and birds. It was done masterfully with the intent on keeping audiences of all ages intrigued. It educated the masses in a brilliant but simple manner. Josiah marveled at the effect. The Zoo was a bountiful place of interaction and facts.
"Josiah you have any idea what's going on?" Nathan kept trying to come up with possible scenarios. They were all plausible if not slightly unbelievable.
"Figure our Geoffrey Hughes might be onto us." Josiah paused at the photoportrait of an Arctic Fox. It was a small wiry animal that melted within its background with astute cunning. They were cute too.
"Makes sense," Nathan paused, "Why drug Ezra when he could have just as easily been shot?"
"Well Hughes is known for taking those who betray his trust and 'play with them'." No better than a cat with a mouse, batter it around and then finish it off. However, sometimes the mouse escaped.
Nathan paused and stared at Josiah. The medic could read the disgust and anger in the older man's visage. The thought of anyone taking one of the team was repulsive enough to any one of them. Sanchez sometimes took it as a personal insult when someone targeted the Southerner. To think that the arms dealer wanted to torture their undercover agent left a murderous rage in the older man. It was no less than the anger that boiled in Jackson. Now the madman had sent his minions after all of them.
None of them were safe.
"How much ammo you got left?" Nathan slid his clip out of his gun checking its contents. He listened half heartily as Sanchez did the same.
"Less than half," Josiah slapped the clip home, "you?"
The two men rounded a turn and came face to face with two gun wielding Unknowns.
Who startled who the most was questionable. Who reacted quicker was immediately determined. The two Unknowns started to bring their weapons up to bear. The black gun straps over their shoulders wrinkled slightly as the semi automatic weapons started to level out.
Nathan and Josiah fired simultaneously. The sharp bark of weapons filled the enclosed area.
The two assailants danced backwards. Automatic weapons jerked left and right but triggers remained unpressed. Sanchez and Jackson took small steps forward pressing their advantage, becoming the aggressors.
The gunmen finally folded on themselves collapsing backward as if the strings to the marionettes had been cut.
Sanchez and Jackson stood for a brief second trying to get their breathing under control. They converged on the two dead men. They needed weapons.
Jackson started to kneel down next to one of the gunmen when a junk of the wall next to his head suddenly exploded as the result of an unseen projectile.
Nathan instinctively ducked. A steely vise like grip grabbed his upper arm and hauled him to his feet. After a few stuttering steps and still keeping his head low and his arms up the medic was pulled and pushed by Sanchez back down the corridor they had just traversed.
+ + + + + + +
Chris and Vin sat on the roof.
Tanner gamely tried to gain his composure. Damn Snakes. Who the hell would pay money to see a slithering, good for nuthin', forked tongued devil. Ain't no good ta anybody..no how.
Larabee sat beside Tanner with his head resting on his forearms. I'm not up that high....not that high...this is no big deal....not a problem. I can handle this....no different than sitting in a chair. Except that I'm two stories up. Two stories...That's how many feet? Oh shut up...shut yer damn trap Larabee. Get a grip. I hate heights...I hate'm. Gawd damn I hate this.
"You ok Cowboy?" Vin slapped Chris's arm, trying to make sense of Larabee's strange mumblings.
Chris shot his head up and peered nervously about, "Yeah fine."
"Uh huh," Tanner's amusement bubbled to the surface. Don't like heights, huh, Cowboy?
"We're kinda high up here, don't ya think Chris," Vin started nurturing his wicked streak. He really had to stop hanging around Buck and Ezra. "What maybe twenty feet or more," Tanner made it a point to search around, "well except where it drops off over there by the Elephants...that looks closer to maybe....I don't know...thirty...probably forty feet." Tanner leaned to the side and drooled some spittal over the edge of the roof. He listened intently for the delayed sound of the spit hitting the tarmac below, "yup pretty high up."
Chris bit his inner lip. When they got down from here he was going to kill him. Strangle that low down, snake fearing, trouble making Texan. Larabee checked his gun again. Maybe he had one bullet left with V.T. on it.
Tanner's chuckle died out when he noticed Chris double checking the weapons for ammunition.
Time for a new tactic, "'Ey Chris, did ya see Ezra with Buck and JD?"
Chris holstered his empty weapon and peered over at Tanner. "No..Josiah and Nathan must still have him." It was unlikely that Sanchez would let the Southerner out of his sights. Jackson if given a chance would be taking P and R.'s every 15 minutes.
"You figure out what's goin' on?" Tanner asked again. He surveyed the area looking for a suitable place to get down. There was no way in Hell he was going back through that window.
"Thinkin' it's Hughes," Chris gazed back toward the window they just hauled themselves out of...maybe he could convince Vin to go back down the tree.
"Me too, think he wanted Ez alive...mail him back piece by piece to The Judge?" Vin noticed a spot on the hard tiled roof where it dipped and came close to a good size tree.
"Yup, wipe us out in the process, make a name for himself...hope to scare off his competition maybe..." Larabee followed Vin's gaze. There was no way I am trusting my life to that skinny little sapling near the west eave.
"Ain't to bright is he?" Tanner slowly climbed to his feet. Yeah...that should hold us. No sweat.
"Nope not at all," Chris followed Vin's movements. Those scrawny branches wouldn't hold a good size crow.
The two men crab crawled toward the tree. The branches overlapped and scratched at the roof in the slight breeze.
Piece of Cake...Tanner grabbed the branch and pulled on it...Testing it.
You're out of your fucking mind Vin...I'm findin' my own way down. Larabee began scanning the roof for possibilities.
Gun fire jolted the night.
The two agents hit the 'deck' flattening themselves out. The distinctive popping sounds of Sigs answered back.
"Josiah and Nathan?" Vin tried to fixate on the sounds.
"Has to be...Buck and JD are in the opposite direction." Larabee saw muzzle flashes in the building next door.
"I'm sick of this shit," Tanner clenched his teeth as automatic fire answered the sigs.
"So am I." Anger seethed through Larabee's pores. The leader of Team seven grabbed the branch and swung off the roof.
The branch bent. It swung left and right under the weight. Its tip bowed a few feet nearly touching the larger branch below it. Larabee wrapped his legs around the lower branch and let go of the one he held with his hands. The bent limb snapped back up in a soft rustling of leaves. Chris in a single minded determination scampered down the tree.
This was going to stop...and soon.
Vin shook his head watching the mad descent from the tree. More like a controlled fall. Damn Chris was pissed.
He sure could climb though....better than a chimp. Tanner grabbed the branch and followed his best friend.
Buck and JD heard the popping of Sigs. It was coming from behind them. Dunne broke out into a run and quickly pulled a lead on Wilmington. If they could get out from between the fences they could hopefully help their teammates. JD peered over his shoulder and noticed Buck a few yards behind hobbling holding his right side trying gamely to keep up.
"Damn," Dunne muttered to himself. He had not meant to leave Buck trailing behind.
Wilmington came level with the kid but dared not stop. The pain in his side was excruciating. If he stopped now they would not get moving again. "Com'n kid lets keep goin'," his voice was strained and tired. Lines of pain etched his normally smiling face.
JD wanted to argue but they were no better than sitting ducks in the moat. Dunne put himself on point again hopefully placing himself protectively in front of Buck. A building loomed before them. A plain grey metal institutional door herald the end of this section of drainage.
Dunne pushed the door open with a whoosh.
He startled the men behind it.
JD reacted. He had to protect Buck...and Ezra. Somewhere back there Standish lay by himself defenseless. If these gunmen were to get passed himself then Buck was a dead man and Ezra....well he would be worse than dead.
JD launched himself at the gunmen with a roar of defiance. Dunne had been learning to fight from Vin. Tanner's martial arts were fun if not a little brutal. Ezra had taken time to teach JD the rudiments of boxing. It was a great way to keep in shape and Dunne found it kind of exhilarating especially when they grafted in kickboxing. The work out was exhausting. With Nathan's help the young Bostonian had been introduced to the art of grappling and joint manipulation....Ground fighting.....definitely a dirty sneaky and powerful way to defeat an opponent.
JD was a master of none of these skills, neither were his teachers, but he had become something of a Jack of All Trades. Dunne had learn to integrate the three different forms of fighting to meet his needs and size. He was able to capitalize on his height and utilize his speed to his own advantage.
Dunne had become an aggressive scrappy fighter when the time arose. Though those times did not rear their ugly heads often...in fact this was the first time ever he had been challenged by someone other than a friend.
Terror was all JD would remember....and then nothing. He would never remember taking on two foes larger than himself. He would not recall disarming and immobilizing two gunmen.
Dunne reacted simply to protect Buck and Ezra. Just as those two would have done for him. JD reciprocated what he knew the others, any of them, would do if they were in his position.
Buck never had a chance to raise a hand. Not once did Wilmington dare interfere with the wild cat that unleashed itself on the poor fools who thought to threaten him.
JD Dunne, in a fit of adrenaline and the blank memories of fear, rose to the challenge and soundly defeated those that threatened members of his family.
In less than three minutes, in the same time as a boxing round, in the time it takes to hard boil an egg, in less time it takes to draw that needed breath...JD had two men incapacitated.
He, himself, scrambled with shaky legs and leaded arms to his feet. Sweat ran into his eyes. His knuckles bled and he had bitten his own lip. His lungs burned for more oxygen and his head swam.
He never felt a blow land on him...but bruises began to appear on his forearms.
Buck stood back and waited with awe. Pride welled up in him. Proud to know that JD could stand and be counted with the rest of the team. JD was finally learning that he was equal to the other men...though labeled 'The Kid' they expected him to protect them as much as they watched over him. Wilmington smiled and chuckled....thankful that it was not he on the other side of that door.
"Not bad kid....not bad at all," Buck side stepped past JD, "jist next time keep yer chin down and hands up." Wilmington stifled a chuckle at Dunne's unbelieving expression. The boy did not need to develop an ego.
"Watch it Buck," JD huffed as he collected the guns from the fallen men and hand cuffed them around a support beam in the corridor. "I jist might be able to kick yer ass some day." Dunne grunted as he dragged the last unconscious man's arm around the post and cuffed the wrist together.
Buck did not bother to disguise his laughter. It hurt his ribs terribly...but truth be told, JD could probably kick all their butts. "Check their pockets, see if you can't find anything on them," Wilmington directed. He could not even bear to bend over.
Dunne complied, his search fruitless. Even the magazines that fed the weapons were nearly gone. Finally, the bad guys were running out of ammo too. "Nuthin' Buck....but I think I recognize this guy from the surveillance tapes," JD nudged the bigger of the two downed men, "he works for Hughes....Not the father but the kid..what's his name?"
"Sean...Sean Hughes," Wilmington filled in softly. The eldest son was worse than the old man and vicious to boot. He lacked his father's brains and patience...but surpassed the patriarch in brutality.
"Lets go find the others kid...let 'em know who's doin' all the shootin'." Buck swiped JD on the back of the head playfully to keep the tension from building. JD was beginning to look scared. The Kid had heard of the gruesome things the oldest Hughes son could do with a chainsaw.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah practically dragged Nathan out the door. The ex- preacher careened around the edge of the building and slammed directly into....Larabee.
Chris was thrown back a few feet and bowled into Tanner. Vin fell back into a Telephone pole. It took a few moments for everyone to recognize one another.
"We best move along brothers," Sanchez remarked, "we have company coming."
Josiah scooted past Chris and Vin dragging Nathan with him, giving the medic no choice in the matter.
"I ain't runnin' no more," Tanner declared not moving. Those snakes were the last straw.
Josiah paused. He frowned at Nathan. The medic merely nodded his head in agreement. He was sick and tired of hobbling around.
Larabee's determined stance mirrored Vin's. Their leader had already made his decision. The time for running was over.
The three men joined the Texan flush against the building's outside wall. They tried to calm their breathing, maybe even hold their breaths a little.
Vin listened intently as muffled sound of running feet vibrated through the building. The outside door was shoved open. There was a pause as the gunmen decided which way to go.
Josiah held up three fingers. There were at least armed three men that had been chasing them. Chris and Vin nodded grimly. They waited patiently for the gunmen to make a decision.
Running feet approached their side of the building.
The gunmen rounded the corner. The first one ran square into Vin's snapping punch. The man stumbled back holding his nose. The second gunman caught a flashing upward palm under the chin sending him staggering backward. Larabee wrung his hand out at the sting in his wrist. He pressed his advantage. The criminal arched precariously with his midsection exposed and extended, suffered a flurry of hard quick upper cuts which landed squarely in his abdomen. The third gunman tried to ready his weapon but was slammed to the ground by the heavy hooking punch that slammed into his ear. Josiah grinned pleased with himself.
Nathan quietly but quickly hobbled around the fray and removed the automatic weapons from the reach of the combatants. A fair fight was indeed acceptable...unless it seemed his friends needed some outside help...and well then.....'fair' took a subjective twist.
One moment Hughes men had their guns and were hunting fleeing prey...and the next the weapons were ripped from their grasps and fists pounded their bodies.
The prey had become predators. Even a doe will turn and strike with her cloven hoofs. The sparrow will eventually dive on intruders. Push to far and the most docile of animals will turn and attack.
Team seven was not docile by nature. An undercurrent of violence shifted uneasily below controlled tranquil waters. Some were more 'domesticated' than others, some more wild then their teammates...but under the veneer of civilization rested an aggressor.
Team seven had been pushed and shoved too far. The wolves raised their teeth to the enemy. The grizzlies roared and stood on hind feet before charging. The badgers coiled, spat and lunged with teeth bared and the wolverine sunk its fangs into marauding flesh.
Vin, Chris, Josiah and Nathan took the fight to the enemy. Some where out there Buck and JD were trying to protect Ezra and find help.
The other four had reached their tolerance of running. The sickening sound of flesh striking flesh the occasional snap of a bone and the unsquelchable cry that followed filled the air. The foursome soundly and efficiently defeated three armed gun men.
When the last man hit the pavement with a resounding thud handcuffs were produced. Nathan leaned back against the utility poll trying to take the weight of his grossly swollen ankle.
Tanner angrily kicked the downed men onto their bellies and roughly cuffed thick wrists together. Josiah followed suit. Chris adjusted the 'Maxi' around his arm protecting the bleeding wound. It was beginning to hurt in earnest.
"They work pretty good don't they?" Josiah rumbled up nodding his head toward Chris's field dressing.
"Not bad," Larabee breathed out trying to catch a won breath. This had been one long night.
Vin leaned against the pole with Nathan. His side was burning and he could feel blood running down his belly. Gawd Damn Snakes.
"They sure did use a lot of concrete with this place," Vin observed staring at the shadows cast by the concrete moats, "I mean between them barriers over there and these poles...whoever carried the contract must have done right good fer themselves."
"Probably did brother Vin...probably did," Josiah straightened out from cuffing the last man, "but if they set those utility poles right...they would have sunk them in gravel and not cement or concrete.....won't rot as quick with crushed stone anchoring 'em." Sanchez wiped his brow with the back of his hand. He paused when he saw the other three staring at him perplexed, "Worked on a line crew for a Utility company a long while back...least ways that's what those guys did...used gravel...less maintenance and poles lasted longer....can't say whether or not its true though."
Nathan and Vin shook their heads in bewilderment.
"'Ey where's Ezra?" Chris searched the immediate area expecting to see his undercover agent suddenly appear.
Nathan and Josiah shared a sheepish look, "Well ya see we were in the Rhino pen and she took to charging..."
"Ya left 'im in with the Rhinos?" Tanner's look of disbelief was lost in the shadows of the evening.
Sunrise was just an hour or less away.
"No," Nathan interrupted, "We tossed him over the fence to Buck and JD." Jackson gaze fell to Josiah, "What was that like a couple of hours ago?"
Sanchez merely nodded.
Chris and Vin exchanged a worried glance, "We saw them two about twenty minutes ago 'n they didn't have Ez."
No one said a word. Each was lost in their own thoughts.
Josiah took a sorrowful breath. He knew he should have kept the undercover agent with them. It was wrong to pass the burden onto someone else. Burden? Ezra was not a burden...he was a friend, a brother and yet they handed him off to others.
Nathan closed his eyes and settled heavily against the pole. Damn it was wrong to strap those two with Standish. Why should they be able to handle the dead responsibility any better than himself or Josiah.
The slap of approaching sneakers drew everyone's attention. They flattened themselves against the wall and waited.
The footsteps...sounded like two separate runners. A shuffle, one foot landing heavier than the other. The other set was a true jog...just tired. Short strided.
Chris reached out and grabbed the intruder before they rounded the bend.
JD felt himself get slammed against the wall. The wind knocked out of him.
Buck saw JD get flung around the corner but before he could react he caught a fist to the jaw. Wilmington stumbled backward.
"Whoa...whoa...wait a minute. Its JD and Buck....its JD...Chris....Its JD!" Nathan restrained Larabee's cocked arm preventing it from landing. Chris blinked and slowly let go of the form against the wall. JD melted to the ground trying to draw a breath.
Buck hit the ground with a thud and grabbed his chest.
"Sorry Buck..thought you were someone else," Vin mumbled. He offered the ladies' man a hand. Buck shook his head still holding on to his ribs with his left arm. "Busted ribs?" Tanner squatted down in front of Wilmington.
Buck merely nodded.
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