Be Still My Heart
Ezra fell immediately silent, trusting Vin's instincts to protect
them, especially when he was this vulnerable.
"They didn't get too far," one man said. His voice carried to them,
and even to Ezra's ears it didn't sound like it was right next to
them. This voice was high pitched for a man, almost an alto. Alto
would be how he referred to him in the future. His hand tightened on
his gun, ready to fight in case they were discovered.
"Ya saw I got a piece of one, didn't ya? Put some shot right in 'im,
I did. He'll be hurtin' real bad if he don't get no help." This man
had a deeper voice, but did not sound high on the intelligence
level. From the comments, Deep and Dumb was trying to get Alto's
approval for what he did.
"Damn thieves takin' our shine," Alto muttered. "Now we're out
searching for some dumb asses to make sure they don't get away."
"They ain't too bright iffen they got caught at the still. Don't
they know we come ta it regular-like ta check? Mr. Murphy don't want
his business messed up."
"No, he don't. And he was real specific to me, too. We find 'em; if
they're gone we hunt them down. Either way, they don't live. You
don't take from Murphy and enjoy a long life. Come on, they're not
down here," Alto said. "Guess we'll check the cars on the parking
lot again. Ain't found that pair of guys that were going camping
yet. Wanna bet it's them that took our shine?"
"I ain't makin' a losin' bet. But I got me a real good look at 'em,
"Good. Let's check down by the lake. City folk always like camping
by the lake. Fools. Don't they know there's all kinds of skeeters
"City folk ain't too bright like us," Deep and Dumb said.
Ezra and Vin stayed still and silent until the men were gone and Vin
deemed it safe.
"Excellent camouflage, my friend," Standish complimented his partner.
"We ain't safe yet. We gotta get outta the woods."
Ezra heard the tension in Vin's voice. "That won't be tonight.
They're watching too closely. I suggest we stay here until daylight,
and then try to leave with the other tourists."
"Sounds like a plan," Vin agreed, but didn't want to count too much
on the simple plan.. 'Sides, it will give your ass time ta heal a
bit 'fore we start walking again."
"You had to remind me, didn't you?"
"Fact of life. Ya got hit in the ass."
"Saving your life," Ezra replied half-flippantly.
Vin gave him an intense stare. "Reckon I owe ya for that, Ez. I
ain't gonna forget it, neither."
"You owe me nothing," the Southerner replied. "However, I wonder at
your reaction time; perhaps you are getting a bit lax."
"I'll work on it. You can count on it."
Ezra meant the comment as a teasing jab, but from Vin's curt answer
he could tell his friend was still claiming most of the blame for his
injury. He didn't know how to fix it at the moment, so he conceded
to the determined assurance. "I know I can." Ezra figured that Vin
would spend a significant portion of time inside the simulator at
work to improve his reflexes. In the process, he would probably
convince Chris to have them all train. Of course, having an injury
would exclude him from those particular festivities, a bonus for
"Guess we bunker down here for the night. They'll be lookin' fer
us. I'll keep watch."
"You will need to sleep. Wake me for a watch."
"Yer hurt and will need yer strength fer walkin'. I can go without
sleep fer awhile."
"Then what good will you be?"
"Good enough ta get us out of Butte Hollow."
"Butt Hole, Backwoods USA. I can just hear Mr. Larabee now. 'Where
are you?' We'll reply Butte Hollow. He'll say 'Where?' and we'll
tell him Butt Hole. Most certainly he will be able to ascertain our
location from that generous appellation."
Vin chuckled. "Yeah, but ya have more than one hole in yer butt
"You had to remind me, didn't you?" Ezra grumbled while he prepared
to stretch out on his stomach to sleep. It would be less painful
that way. His side screamed in protest, so he tried sleeping on his
other side. That didn't work. Onto his stomach he went, cursing
softly about the indignities he suffered.
Vin left him to his grumblings and went outside to stand watch.
He heard the whisper at the same time he felt a restraining hand over
"Ez, they're back. Just stay quiet and don't move," Vin frowned at
slight warmth he felt beneath his hand and the slightly glazed green
eyes that were staring up at him in confusion. "Ya were talkin' in
your sleep, had ta wake ya. Ya understand?"
His foggy mind cleared a bit and he nodded.
Vin let go. The Texan motioned he was going outside the tent to
secure their safety, and Ezra nodded again. The silent
acknowledgement was more for their safety, but as bad as he felt he
didn't think he could manage much else as it was. Standish found his
own gun beside him; he knew he had to do something to protect
himself; he couldn't let Vin do all the work. He twisted quietly so
that he was facing the front flap of the tent. If anyone other than
Vin tried to come in, they would get a surprise.
Time seemed to drag, each second taking what seemed like an
eternity. His every breath sounded explosive to his own ears, and he
concentrated on toning it out and listening beyond his own space.
The night creatures sounded off, but he heard nothing from either Vin
or the searchers.
Wait – what was that? That was a footstep. A very, very quiet
footstep, but one just the same. Ezra's hand tightened on the
handgun's grip. His finger remained on the side of the gun by the
trigger, just like he was taught, so that an accidental misfire or
shooting the wrong person wouldn't happen.
Again there was only silence. It seemed to go on forever, every
sense was on high alert, and the waiting for the least little sound
outside of the norm strained the nerves. Every muscle in his body
went tense with the anticipation of trouble and his own uneasy
thoughts that he wasn't in good enough shape to protect himself or
After a few minutes on high alert, Ezra realized there was a
problem. He had been in the same position too long; his muscles were
cramping. Those running along the backs of his thighs gave warning
twinges, while the ones going up his injured side began a steady
rhythm of ache and ease, the aches lasting longer than the easing
It was distracting to say the least. The Southerner tried to ignore
it, but it was there. It wasn't going away. Now it was
intensifying. There was still no sign of Vin.
A branch scraped against another.
Ezra bit his lip hard to ignore the pain; he had to stay alert to
what was going on around him. That branch noise was entirely too
close to their position. The least little sound could give them
away. He would not be responsible for that. Moisture dribbled down
his chin but he ignored it. His hand tightened on the grip, his
other squeezing his wrist for support. His heart hammered in his
ears, letting him hear every beat of that organ.
His left leg cramped fiercely, sending shooting pain up through his
system. It was nearly intolerable. His teeth dug in harder into his
lip to not make a sound and to distract from the pain of the cramp.
Then the other leg cramped. His side turned into a burning mass of
pain. He felt queasy and too warm; he blinked as he felt the
beginning throb of a headache building behind his eyes. He needed to
move, get out of this position, but there was nothing he could do.
Not until there was a resolution. Tears sprung to his eyes, running
unchecked down his cheeks, but he was not budging from this spot.
Too much was at stake.
The tent's zipper started to go down.
Show time, Ezra thought to himself. He put his finger where it
needed to be, and then waited. Slow, so slow and deliberate, the
zipper continued down, like the person who opened it was trying to be
He blinked a couple times to clear the moisture from his eyes,
improve his watery vision.
The zipper was down, but no one was coming in.
"Ez," whispered Vin. "Don't shoot me, okay?"
Dear Lord in Heaven, thank you, Ezra prayed silently.
The flap opened to admit Vin. "Oh, Ez." The Texan's face was full
He nearly cried. There was an abundance of caring in that simple
expression it almost undid him. Relief flooded through him. He
tried to move, but now the cramps had him pinned in place. "Little
help?" he ground out.
"Yeah." Vin closed the flap, and then took the gun from Ezra. "Ya
wanna go on yer back?"
Tanner nodded, recognizing the symptoms in the rigid limbs. He knelt
beside his friend, and his strong fingers massaged the swollen
muscles in the thighs first.
Ezra whimpered. The pain of getting the muscles to relax felt almost
as good as the release of pressure when they did quit their spasm.
His pride was gone now; there was no point in trying to act the
proper gentleman. His pain was too great in too many places for
airs. It helped he was with a friend who had seen him far worse and
Vin continued to work on the thighs, and when he finished, he went to
Ezra's side and turned that mass of agony into something a bit more
manageable. When that was done, he helped flip Ezra over onto his
side to stretch the muscles out. He even helped with the leg bends
to work the thigh muscles, all without a single snide comment or barb.
That was when Ezra realized the true meaning of friendship. A guy
that will pick shot out of your ass was a good friend. A great
friend was that same guy massaging cramped muscles, so tight they
could reduce the strongest man to tears. All without comment or
making him beg. And it was just now because he was hurt, or because
Vin felt any kind of misplaced quilt over the matter. He was always
there when needed, for all of them, watching their backs. Vin cared
about his teammates, he cared about Ezra, and that showed in his
actions. That damn moisture flooded his eyes again. He closed them
to try and stop what was coming.
"Easy, Ez, I got ya." Vin wiped his eyes with a soft tissue, and
then his mouth. "Ya bit yer lip pretty good here. It's gonna swell
some, but ya did a good job stayin' quiet. Hell, I don't know if I
coulda done it in this much pain."
Dear Lord, he wanted to cry some more. Instead of embarrassing them
both by blubbering all over, Ezra sniffed twice, coughed once, and
then accepted a tissue to wipe down his face. He blew his nose.
"Next time ya wanna be a foghorn, warn me, okay? Or was that a
musical instrument ya were playin'? Can ya give me a B flat?"
Ezra chuckled in spite of himself. With those teasing words, Vin
acknowledged Ezra's feelings, and then took them out of a potentially
uncomfortable emotional situation with a well-timed joke. Whoever
said Vin couldn't read a situation needed to be shot, because they
were the sucker.
"No, I can't," Ezra told him. "But I can play it on the piano."
"Don't see no pianos around here, so I reckon we'll leave that be.
How's the pain?"
"You don't want to know."
"Only thing I've got's Tylenol™ or Advil™. Might want to take some.
Feels like ya've got a bit of a fever too." Vin tried to feel Ezra'
forehead to confirm his diagnosis, but his hand was batted away.
Ezra's eyes looked past his nursemaid and landed on something else in
the tent. "I can think of something better." He reached over for a
jug. "I volunteer to sample our evidence to insure that it is, in
fact, honeydew vine water, and I got shot for a reason."
"Ya don't wanna drink the local product. Ya don't know the potency,
or if it's poisonous." Vin tried to take it from him.
"We sampled it, and suffered no ill effects."
Vin scowled, "That was barely a sip, mere taste on the tongue."
Standish kept the jug close. "Enough that if it was poison, I'm sure
we would have suffered some ill effects from it by now. My friend,
if I do not have something to kill the pain, I will kill something
else. Since the only living thing here is you, and I have no desire
to kill you. I feel the simple medications available are not enough
to do the job. This is a sensible, logical, defendable solution."
He took a drink before Vin could grab the container from
him. "Surprisingly smooth. Has a bit of an aftertaste, meaning they
have not diluted it enough to mix with other beverages yet." Another
swallow went down. "I can feel immediate effects, such as a
heightened sense of peace."
"You've got a buzz from two sips. Gimme that." Vin tried to take it.
"No, sir." Ezra held it protectively, then frowned and poked a
finger on his lower extremities. "I can no longer feel my legs.
This is a vast improvement, and one worth exploring to see if I can
make myself entirely numb." He drank heavily, lowered the jug. A
loud belch flew from his lips. Feeling numb, dizzy and bit more
nauseous, Ezra glanced down at the jug as if it committed a horrible
offense, and firmly pushed it toward his partner. "Now you may have
Vin snatched the container from his friend. " Ez, ya drank damn near
half of it. Ya wanna give yerself alcohol poisoning? This ain't no
watered down store proof, this is the real thing."
"I feel sleepy." Ezra slurred and closed his eyes.
"Hell," Vin muttered. He put the jug down, and helped settle his
friend down onto his bedroll. Shaking his head sadly, he took a damp
cloth and wiped his face, then covered him. With a final shake of
his head he stood and went back out on watch.
His brain was going to pound right out of his head. "I hate you, Mr.
Tanner," he muttered for the fifth time. At least he thought it was
the fifth time. It could have been more, his brain was too muddled
to think clearly anyway. He was sure though that once it was clear
he could think of a thousand hideous ways to rain retribution down on
his partner's head for what he perceived as his part in his current
"I told ya not ta drink it," Vin answered. "Come on, we're nearly ta
"Wait." Ezra stopped for a second to belch. He then backfired
twice, adjusted himself on his crutches, and started forward
again. "Oh my."
"What?" Vin studied his friend. "Ya offended yerself again?"
"I need the facilities."
"Five more minutes, and ya can use the ranger station."
"Now." Ezra hobbled into the bushes.
Vin tuned out the sounds. This was the umpteenth trip to the bushes
for Ezra, and each time it got worse. He studied the ranger station
from their position above it, pleased to note their vehicle was still
there. The ranger's jeep pulled up, the man got out, and went into
the station. That was a good sign.
"Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow," Ezra half-moaned from the bushes.
Tanner ran a hand down his face. Going to the bathroom would be
difficult for his friend for the next couple of weeks, but he refused
any help. Vin knew he was hurting, especially sense he had not be
able to receive proper medical treatment yet. He was worried about
the slight fever his friend was running. Having the moonshine
disagree so badly with his system was definitely not helping the
"How degrading," Ezra huffed when he joined his friend, looking
unsteady even with the aid of the makeshift crutches. "Ah,
salvation. Shall we?"
"Yup." Vin led them down the path toward the station. He stopped
when he saw an older truck park in front, and the driver
exiting. "Off the path." Tanner hissed and helped his friend
hobble into the concealing brush.
Two pairs of eyes peered at the man that walked into the ranger
"That's the one that was huntin' us last night. High voice."
"Alto," Ezra breathed.
"Stay here. I wanna find out what's goin' on."
Standish nodded, swallowing hard as even the slight movements made
him feel ill again.
Vin snuck to the back of the ranger station and hid beneath the open
window. Luckily it was open and he had no problem following the
conversation of the two men inside.
"They saw the still, took some with them. We have to get it back."
"Mr. Murphy won't miss two or three jugs."
"You don't get it. That's the special batch we mixed. The one for
the colleges, with that tasteless sex drug in it. That gets out,
they realize somethin's different 'bout it, we got a problem. They
tell the cops where they found it, then it comes back on you."
"Damn it. I told you I didn't want any part of this."
"We're family. Brothers. Your sister, my wife. Since you didn't
turn me in when you found out about it, that makes you –"
"I know what that makes me. A damn fool."
"So they'll come after you more than they will me, because you're
supposed to be in this fancy position of public trust. Just watch
for them to reach the car, and then we'll take care of the rest.
Won't tell you, neither."
"I don't want to know."
"You'll do it?"
Vin backed away from the ranger station and rejoined Ezra. Quickly
he related what he found out, and now they were in a bind. Their
only transportation was at the ranger station, which was being
watched by someone who was supposed to protect them. They needed to
get out of here, and a good distance away, especially since their
cell phones did not have service and they couldn't call for help.
With an ill and injured, hobbling Ezra, they couldn't hide their
trail very easily. It was time they planned their escape, if they
could find any options.
"Agent Larabee? This is Supervisory Agent Warren. I'd like to find
out if you have any other numbers for Agents Tanner and Standish."
Chris went on high alert immediately. "What happened?"
"They neglected to show for work this morning. I called their hotel,
but there was no answer."
He snapped his fingers, bringing Buck in at a half-jog. The blond
mouthed, "Call Vin or Ez," then said into the receiver, "I will give
them a try now on their cell phones. You have them out somewhere
"Yes, we did. They did an inspection, and I have several witnesses
that can verify that. Two even saw them get on the highway headed
back here. Is this normal for them?"
"No," Chris replied. "What type of inspections were they working?"
"Tax labels. Something more time consuming than anything else.
Grunt work, per the instructions sent by Assistant Director Travis."
Buck leaned in and shook his head no.
"We'll be on our way."
"That's not necessary, Agent Larabee. I have everything under
control. I only called you to obtain additional numbers."
"That's Senior Supervisory Agent Larabee, and if they did not show
up, something happened to them. Have you checked their hotel?"
Chris made the signal for a roundup, and Buck disappeared. He half-
listened to the noises of the group preparing to leave, knowing they
would be ready by the time he hung up.
"Of course. They did not answer their door. I do know how to do my
"Did you make entry?"
JD waved directions at Chris.
"No. There was no need. Their rental car was not on premises."
"It's almost two in the afternoon. Did you even look for the car
before waiting this long to call me?"
"My men did not find anything. Frankly, I'm offended by your tone."
"I'm offended by your work ethic; you lost two of my men!" His yell
nearly vibrated the windows. Chris hung up on him, then filled the
rest of the team already in his office in on what was happening. His
last call was to Travis to prevent Warren from whining to the
Assistant Director, and to provide details on what he thought was
incompetence. He only hoped they would find their friends before
Knowing them, something already did.
Things were not looking up in the wonderful world of Vin Tanner and
Ezra Standish, at least as Vin Tanner saw it. Standish was now more
than wobbly on his crutches, weak, with his complexion pale and
pasty. Vin was worried about the additive he heard the two men at
the ranger station talk about. He hadn't mentioned it to his
partner; he didn't want to worry him, he could do enough to ensure
their survival for the both of them without telling Ezra that
something else other than moonshine was in that jug. Right now, he
hoped it wouldn't have any lasting consequences for his friend. It
was obvious the immediate effect was making the Southerner
miserable. The little bit of water and more aspirin the man managed
to hold down did little to help other than to dull the glassy-like
appearance from his friend's eyes a bit. Vin knew that Ezra had a
fever on top of the hangover and whatever effects the drugs were
causing, something that wasn't helping their situation.
Vin knew they couldn't stay here, the temporary spot they were in.
Despite the undercover agent's injuries, the Texan kept them on the
move to avoid their pursuers. He tried to keep them near ranger
station, though, and what he thought was their one hope for
salvation, their vehicle. Tanner hated making the wounded man
stumble through the wilderness, especially since the stubborn
Southerner refused help and insisted on making his own way, even if
it was on rough, makeshift crutches that were certainly doing more
damage to his injured body.
Vin's eyes swept the area around them, and he pulled out his
binoculars to study the landscape in one spot. His keen eyes picked
out something he was looking for…somewhere they might be safe for a
while. Somewhere he could let Standish rest and recover before they
made a bid to get to their vehicle and escape.
"What?" The word was slurred and the drawl more pronounced.
"Ya up ta a short hike?"
"Isn't that what we have been on?" The tone was more than
irritated. "I've been traipsing through this wilderness, with raw
abrasions under my arms, holes in my person, an incessant throbbing
in my head, and no hope of salvation from the local constabulary?
Surely, I would be delighted to continue this little jaunt." Ezra
listed to one side, nearly taking himself to the ground by leaning
too hard on one of the crutches resting on a small, unstable
rock. "More than."
"Ya, uh, need a break before we start?"
"I believe my brain has liquefied and will pass through an orifice if
I make the attempt."
"Now I know yer not feelin' well. That was pretty crude fer ya."
Ezra glared at him.
Vin cleared his throat. Already feeling guilty the man's condition,
he felt worse for having to cause him more pain. "Let's go."
"Pardon my excess jubilation."
They made their way through the thick woods slowly, Vin hiding their
tracks. Without mishap, they found their way onto a small ledge
overlooking the ranger station. Tanner put extra effort into
blending them into their environment.
"My feet and arms thank you," Ezra mumbled. He stretched out on one
of the sleeping bags beneath the makeshift camouflage taking small
sips from a bottle of water.
"Finish yer water," Vin instructed. His eyes locked on the ranger
"Yes, Junior Mother Hen Larabee," Ezra cracked.
"Ya want splinters from that crutch?" Tanner threatened.
"I already have them, thank you. Would you like me to give you some
with an abrasion along the side of your head?"
"Pass. Drink yer water."
"Don't you need some?" Ezra was more than happy to comply with Vin's
order as parched as he felt. However, he wasn't so far gone not to
know their supplies were meager. They were limited to what they were
able to stuff in the lone backpack Tanner toted.
"I'm fine," Tanner mumbled as continued to survey the ranger station.
"Much as I enjoy doing nothing, Mr. Tanner, perhaps you could
enlighten me as to why we are sitting on a ledge staring at our
vehicle that we cannot get near. Perhaps you are of the masochistic
type; I am not."
"Did ya drink yer water, Ez?"
"Give me a moment and I will return it to you."
Vin closed his eyes briefly. The sarcasm was getting thicker and
meaner, telling him that Ezra's energy reserves were getting low.
Their options were few; even while he watched several pickups drive
through the park real slow, it was obvious they were searching for
something . . . them. From here, he could also see the main road,
and there were several more vehicles parked on the shoulder watching
"We need a diversion." Vin stated as he considered their situation.
"I'll just whip one up. Poof! Did that work?"
"Yer gettin' snide now."
"Pardon my pain. I will suffer in silence."
"Ez, I want ta get ya ta a hospital and checked out. I don't want ta
sit here, but they're lookin' fer us. Ya want ta take yer chances
out here with me, or go ta them because there ain't no other options."
"There are always other options," Standish told him. "You just have
to look for them."
Vin fell silent. He studied the terrain, their position, and their
possibility of getting out here. Whatever they did, it would have to
take long enough for Ezra to hobble down to the car and not be seen,
along with letting them get away from here without the pickup drivers
finding them. A glimmer of a plan crossed his mind.
"Hey, Ez. What do you think if we -"
Supervisory Agent Warren attempted to stare down the blond haired man
tightly wound with wrath glaring him down across his desk.
"What have you done since we spoke last?" Chris demanded to know.
"I have put out a lookout for their vehicle. I've checked with the
locales they were checking yesterday, and no one knows anything. We
made entry into their hotel room, and they found nothing beyond their
clothes. No personal effects, no guns, no identification."
"What about in the trash cans?"
"Already cleaned by housekeeping. This is my investigation, Agent.
I can handle it."
"You lost two of my Agents, Warren. You gave up the right to
investigate with your incompetence. Stay out of my way before I do
something you'll regret." The half-smile he gave the other man was a
"Don't threaten me, Agent Larabee."
"You haven't heard a threat yet." Green eyes bored into the other
"Chris, nothing on the cell phones. JD said we're probably not going
to have luck that way because of the lack of service around here."
Buck walked to stand mostly in front his leader, deliberately
snubbing Warren by presenting most of his back to the man.
"How about the car?"
"Excuse me." Warren interjected himself between Chris and
Buck. "What makes you believe something bad happened to them? They
could have taken the day off without telling us. They were up here
for disciplinary reasons weren't they?"
Neither Chris nor Buck answered that, much less acknowledged that the
other man spoke.
"Josiah called in the suggestion that we could enter the car into
NCIC and activate the LOJACK. Then we could split up and ride with
the State Police that have the LOJACK receivers to find the car."
"Will the State Police cooperate?" asked Chris.
"Don't you think that's a bit excessive?" Warren raised his voice.
"Yeah, they'll cooperate." Again, Buck ignored Warren.
"Do it. We'll ride when they're ready. Tell them we'll meet them
wherever they want, and we'll back their troopers up on calls. Earn
"Got it. Anything else?"
"Nathan's gone through. Didn't find anything but their clothes."
"I told you that." Warren glared.
"And they bought camping gear," Buck added. "Josiah talked to the
maid that cleaned their room. "When she dumped the trash, a bunch of
tags fell onto the floor. She remembers having to pick them up,
looked. Tent, canteens, first aid kit, sleeping bags."
Chris shifted to look at Warren. "Where can they camp around here?"
"Just about anywhere. We've got eight parks, five campgrounds, and a
"Warren, notify the Park Rangers and local police who handle those
areas. See if we can find them or their vehicles."
"I'll call them, have my records section put out a teletype."
"Do that. We're operating on the premise they're missing," Chris
told Warren. "Let me call Assistant Director Travis and update him."
"Let me play devil's advocate. Why are you raising such a fuss about
two Agents?" Warren asked. "They could be AWOL, and not in trouble."
Buck rolled his eyes. "Agent Warren, if that wasn't the stupidest
question I've heard in a long time, I don't know what is, and that's
really a stretch for all the bunk, bull, and tall tales I've heard
and told. Let me give you a hint. You know those injuries on the
job reports that come out, and Denver's got the number one spot?"
"That's us. You're thinking they're just goofing off, playing hooky
from work." Buck shook his head. "They . . . we . . . might get
into trouble, but it's not because we not responsible, we take our
job serious. Maybe because of that we tend to draw more than our
share of trouble, because we can't let go. Seems one of us is always
getting hurt even on the simplest of jobs. If one of us goes
missing, something has happened. If two disappear, there's a problem."
Buck took a breath and studied Warren's face to see if he was getting
through to the man; he also caught the satisfied smirk his friend was
giving him. "Now you think those two are just off having a good
time. That might have been the plan, but they wouldn't just not show
up for work. Something must have happened. Now, you take one of
those two separately, we're notching that up to a calamity. With
both of them together, missing, we're looking at a catastrophe. So
instead of me standing here telling you why there's a problem, I
should be doing something to try and solve the problem and minimize
Chris added, "The roads from the facility they were at to their hotel
need to be searched again, in case of an accident or they're
stranded. Tell the locals to be listening for disorderly subjects or
anything out of the norm. That could be our boys up to something.
Get moving, Buck, before my feet dry."
"Yes, sir." Buck chuckled on his way out the door.
"That must be one of those SEAL expressions. I read up on your team
before you arrived."
"Reading our files instead of looking for our men. That was a
productive use of your time. You can make more use of it by making
those notifications." Chris stomped out.
"How much longer?"
"Awhile," Vin replied.
"Define awhile," Ezra said.
"More than the five minutes it's takin' ya between askin' that
"Just making conversation."
"Change the subject."
"Fine. How are we getting out of here again?" Ezra asked. "With
wings, or invisibility rings?"
"We're gonna drive our car out."
"By blowing up the evidence. Are you sure you're not the one with
"I ain't blowing up the still."
"What did you intend to do to cause an explosion?"
"Ya know those flares we bought?"
"I vaguely recall something marked flammable."
"I'm gonna attach it ta one of the jugs."
"Molotov cocktail." Ezra nodded his head sagely. "What about the
proposed conflagration in the woods?"
"Remember that rock formation we were in over there?" Vin pointed
toward the other side.
"I believe I left my mark."
"Ya did in several places. I'm gonna dig a small pit, surround it
with loose rocks, and then set it off. The flare will burn down ta
the 'shine, and then light it off."
"Creating a diversion that will spring us."
"It'll let me get ya ta the doctor and outta here."
"Will we have any evidence left?"
"Is it time yet?"
"Don't start. Drink yer water."
"Don't start," Ezra mimicked. "Drink yer water."
"I want ya well enough ta hobble down ta the road where I showed ya
before. I'll pick ya up there."
"An excellent idea. When do we begin?"
"When I push ya off this ledge onto the ground."
"You amuse me, Mr. Tanner. Perhaps I won't shoot you."
"Mighty gentlemanly of ya, Ez."
Night had fallen with no new leads or locations to search. The State
Police now had ride-a-longs with them, and a search pattern between
calls for service. They would investigate their grid, handle a call
for service, resume their grid, and move on when it deemed clear.
With the acres and acres of parklands, the multiple campgrounds, and
the hiking trail to search, this was taking time. The vehicle had
already been entered into NCIC as a stolen in order to activate the
LOJACK on it; they figured if Vin and Ezra were pulled over, they
could talk their way out of it, or be detained until the others could
be called in to verify. Either way, they would get a location on the
vehicle. Optimally, the best plan – and hopes – resided with the
remainder of Team Seven riding with the state troopers to find the
The search continued.
Ezra didn't want to tell Vin, but his body was in serious pain. All
of the aspirin in the world couldn't help the throbbing, insistent
agony coursing through his body. Every wound was raw. Fresh
injuries from the makeshift crutches made the thought of putting his
tender underarms on them for even the least little step seem
agonizing and daunting. He hurt. His head ached. Concentration
required serious energy, energy he did not have.
Most of the time they spent waiting for dark, so that the fire could
be seen from a distance restored some vigor, but he just wanted the –
gasp! – hospital. He wanted pampering. He wanted painkillers.
His eyes remained closed when he wasn't talking to keep Vin from
seeing the distress he felt. Intellectually, he knew Vin had figured
it out and said nothing about it on purpose, but that still didn't
help him cope.
"We're gettin' close, Ez," Vin whispered. "I'll get ya near the road
ta wait fer me. Figure about five minutes if ya gotta take a break."
Ezra struggled to his feet to relieve himself in the corner of their
ledge. Even doing that little bit hurt.
"Just a little longer," Tanner promised. "I know yer hurtin'. Just
gotta get ya ta the car, make tracks outta here, head fer a hospital
"Do not worry about me," Ezra tried to reassure his friend.
"I do anyway. I'm the reason yer hurt."
"Let it go, my friend. We can't change that. Get us out of here,
and we'll call it even. Much as it pains me to say that." His smile
softened the sting from his words.
"Reckon we'll be even, since ya don't consider me pickin' shot outta
yer ass payin' ya back."
"My posterior thanks you. Can we go now?"
They worked their way down to the road. Vin left Ezra hiding in the
woods. He stayed absolutely silent, but alert and ready to bolt the
best he could as soon as Vin returned for him. He stood in the
shadows waiting quietly, no matter how badly the crutches dug into
his already tender skin; no matter how much his stomach revolted
against the treatment; no matter how each injury called to him that
he should yell and scream their pain. He tried to find something to
be grateful for, something to take his mind from his discomforts. As
he stood there, the only thing that came to him was through the pain,
at least he could feel his heart beat.
Vin slunk to the point he picked out for the makeshift Molotov
cocktail. He dug the pit, insured the rocks would be the only thing
receiving heat, cleared the area around the pit, and prepared the
cocktail for the slow burn. Tanner lit the flare and hustled back to
By the time he joined his friend, the light orange glow was visible.
Now they just had to wait.
The explosion was greater than either expected. Orange geysers shot
skyward with loud, echoing popping noises.
Reaction was immediate. The ranger station emptied, and the guys in
the pickups charged the hill. No one was left at the station
itself. While the locals were halfway up the hill, Vin dashed to the
car, started it, and sped back to pick up Ezra. They were on their
Vin headed for the highway, only to be detoured onto a back road
because of road construction. It was just their luck.
"Lovely," Ezra muttered.
They ran right into the back end of a long line of traffic.
"Even better," Tanner added.
Somehow, Fate smiled on them and let them get out of the area. Their
escape was not fast, but they were on their way. The line of cars
thinned out, leaving only a few cars behind and luckily no sign of
their pursuers yet.
"Try yer cell, Ez."
There was a pause. "Imagine that. No signal."
"Keep it handy."
"I will, Mr. Tanner. I am also seeking a public telephone to contact
our associates for assistance."
Red and blue lights lit the interior of their vehicle.
"Or perhaps salvation's close at hand," Ezra stated.
Vin eased over onto the shoulder of the road, hearing the gravel
crunch under his tires.
"Put your hands on the ceiling palms flat," the booming voice ordered
through the patrol car's public address system.
"Or not," Vin replied as he slid a glance to his partner to see a
matching perplexed expression on his face. His one hand pulled out
his weapon to set it on his lap before complying.
Ezra's gun tucked beside him when his hands touched the car's
"DRIVER! Step out of the vehicle slowly."
"Aw, hell," Tanner complained. "They ain't bad guys, but they think
we are." He released the seatbelt, opened the door, and yanked
unceremoniously to the ground. His gun went into his hand
"GUN!" yelled one officer. They mashed him flat, handcuffed him, and
seized his weapon.
"I'm an ATF Agent!" Vin hollered back at them, his face pressed into
the gravel none-to-gently.
"And I'm Walt Disney," the officer holding him down retorted.
"Identification back rear pocket," he tried again.
Rough hands patted down his body, doing a thorough search before
reaching the aforementioned back pocket.
"No wallet here." The officer declared.
"What?" Vin yelped as he tried to turn and look back at his pocket.
The move only served to earn him a knee to the back and his faced
forced back into the gravel.
"Don't move!" The officer yelled.
"I'm just tryin' to get my ID."
"There's nothing there," the officer stated again. "Pocket's ripped
on one side though."
"Aw hell," Vin cursed, thinking he must have snagged it on something
in their flight to escape. He was distracted as he heard a scuffle
to his side. Glancing in that direction just in time to see two
officers drag Ezra between them. The injured Standish was then
forced to the ground beside Vin and pressed flat with a knee jammed
half into his side, and half into his back. "Watch what yer doin'!
He's shot, Officers. I'm tellin' ya we're ATF agents. That's Agent
Ezra Standish. His id's in his back pocket too."
"We'll see about that," the officer holding Standish down said. He
started searching, finding the mentioned wallet and pulling it out to
check the ID. "Ellison P. Smythe. Hum…don't' say nothing about no
Ezra Standish and no badge that I see."
"What?" Vin yelped again as Ezra groaned from both pain and
disbelief. He forgot to change his identification from the last
undercover assignment. He'd been so distraught over the chain of
events from the accident to their subsequent punishment that he
hadn't even given it a thought. It was rare he ever needed his
identification anyway. Seeing the disbelieving, questioning gaze of
his partner, he could only offer an embarrassed shrug.
"Sergeant!" A young officer came up to the restrained men. "We've
got communications verifying the stolen on the vehicle. We've
recovered the guns, the two they had on them and there were three
others in the car. And we found this."
The backpack Vin had been carrying was dropped between the two agents
as the officer reached inside to pull out his discovery. As he
lifted the bottle filled with clear liquid the two on the ground
The Sergeant reached for the bottle. Opening it he took a sniff.
"Moonshine?" He looked up at the young officer.
"These might be the ring leaders of that gang we've been searching
for," the officer's youthful excitement showed, he was almost
bouncing in place.
"Don't touch anything else until Evidence Collection comes out
here." The Sergeant's stern demeanor and glare toward the younger
man seemed to deflate the young man's excitement.
"Yes sir," he mumbled and returned to the car to warn the others.
Vin did a quick head count from what he could see and hear; there
were about five officers present. One was holding Ezra, one held him
down, the sergeant was standing over Vin, and two were in the car.
He knew their situation was almost hopeless. He couldn't figure out
how their car was reported stolen and that worried him. They had no
identification and no way to prove who they were, but he tried to
talk to the officers again. "We're Agents Vin Tanner and Ezra
Standish of the ATF. I can give ya my supervisor's home, cell, and
work numbers ta verify. Hell, I'll give ya the switchboard in Denver
to notify them."
"This car was reported stolen from two ATF Agents, you lying
scumbag?" A boot landed in Vin's side. "What did you do with
them?" The boot kicked him again.
"Johnson save it," the Sergeant ordered, but there wasn't a lot of
heat behind it, and nothing mentioned of the extra kick thrown as he
turned to the other officer's call.
"Sarge! This one's full of holes. Some of them's bleedin'. Want
me to call for an ambulance?"
The Sergeant sighed at the development. "Yes. We'll take this one
in for questioning."
"Ya don't under . . .," Vin tried to explain again, but had his face
shoved into the ground again.
"Please. Call me the ambulance," Ezra requested. "I would like to
go to the hospital."
Vin saw Ezra's ploy immediately; he was making them take him to the
hospital where he had a better chance of getting in contact with
Chris. No matter what, the officers were required to treat him
humanely. "I think I got a busted rib," Tanner added. "I wanna get
checked out." He wasn't lying too much; his ribs hurt from the kicks
"I'll make you hurt more than that. No one messes with a cop,
federal or otherwise, and gets away with it," the officer holding him
"What's going on here?"
Vin smiled. He knew that bellow, and it was the sound of cold fury
and wrath coming to visit these well-meaning locals. Chris Larabee
in full rage was very welcome, for once.
"Who are you?" the sergeant demanded as he turned to face the glaring
"ATF Senior Supervisory Agent Larabee. Get out of my way so I can
see these suspects."
"Mr. Larabee, my savior." Weaker than normal, Ezra's voice still
dripped strong in sarcasm.
Vin watched a flashlight beam illuminate Standish's face.
"Get him an ambulance! He's one of mine," Chris ordered. "You okay,
Ez?" Larabee dropped to one knee and worriedly checked out his
"Just delightful, thank you for asking." Even the sarcasm was softer
than normal, and genuine relief showing in Ezra's face.
"Ambulance already on the way, sir," one officer reported.
Green eyes turned and met relieved blue ones. Silently checking him
over and noting the local was still holding Vin roughly to the
ground, he growled up at their supervisor. "Uncuff him, officers.
He's my other one."
"I haven't seen any ID yet," the sergeant said.
The green-eyed glare never left the sergeant's face as blond
vengeance rose before him. He reached into his back pocket and
pulled out his ID and badge. "Is this satisfactory?"
The Sergeant glanced at the ID, paling as he noted its authenticity.
He knew he and his boys were righteous in taking down the two
suspects in a stolen car. The rough treatment he allowed his men to
hand out though was not. It figured his luck would go badly; so much
for the large bust he was hoping for. It would have looked good on
his resume and help his chances to get out of this backwoods town.
Now he'd be lucky to keep his dead end job.
"Uncuff him." Chris growled as he continued to glare at the
The sergeant broke his gaze with the stern leader long enough to
motion to his men to release their prisoners.
"Thanks, Chris," Vin exclaimed as he jumped to his feet. He stepped
back a bit and looked chagrin as the Larabee glare changed it's
course and turned it's full effect on him. He stuttered a bit as he
checked his feeling about the stolen car. "Must have been ya that
had the car reported as stolen."
"LOJACK requires it to activate the signal." Chris stated simply,
still not toning down his glare as he looked back and forth between
the two. "It worked. We found you."
"How'd ya know we were missin'?" Vin queried.
The grin Chris shot the two was evil. "Lucky guess."
"Well we're real grateful, cause we sorta needed the help," Vin was a
little nervous at his friend's strange expression. That look never
bode well for those it turned on unflinchingly. "But ya think it
might have been a little overboard? After all, these locals thought
we offed ourselves."
"Listen, we're real sorry . . .," the sergeant started to defend
himself, but broke off when the glare was turned his way again.
"I'm sure you are," Chris stated and turned back to his two
men. ""Better safe than sorry," Chris replied cryptically frowning
as he noted Ezra still wasn't looking too good and hadn't moved from
his position on the ground. "Want to tell me what's going on, why
the disappearing act?"
"Once Ez gets ta the hospital. He got shot." Vin explained.
"Ez?" Chris knelt back down at the side of his injured agent. "How
"I will survive," Standish replied. "And I require workman's
"If you're talking like that, then you're not that bad off." Chris
grabbed his cell phone and made a call. "Buck, I've got them.
Ezra's wounded; we're going to the local hospital. Meet you there."
"Our still," Ezra griped. "Arrest those involved with the still.
Make this indignity worthwhile."
"Yeah, and we've got to get this tested," Vin turned and grabbed the
backpack out of the young officer's hand, pulling out the bottle
filled with the sample they'd taken. "Heard some men talkin' and
it's a special brew they do for the college kids with some sort of
drug in it."
"What?" Ezra yelped. "I've been poisoned? And you neglected to
reveal this fact to me?"
"You drank your evidence?" Chris was wondering just what his agents
stumbled into, and what the cleanup was going to entail.
Ezra managed to look slightly embarrassed. "I was in pain. . ." For
effect, he groaned and laid back down covering his face in the crook
of his arm, but managing to peek a glare out at Vin.
Vin ignored the anger shooting at him and continued clearing up their
adventure. "Chris, ya gotta finish this fer us, else Ez gettin' shot
fer me was fer nothin'." Vin explained what happened, and Chris
arranged for Nathan, JD, and Josiah to oversee the project. He
followed them to the hospital. While there, he got a little
satisfaction and payback for the worry the two put him through by
putting Vin in to be checked over for precautionary. For once Ezra
was not a problem, in enough pain to accept treatment and wanting to
make sure the drugs from his make shift painkiller did no more harm
than his dreadful hangover.
In the aftermath, the sergeant was relieved to find out that Larabee
was not going to hold a grudge, especially since the sergeant helped
coordinate the local agencies and acted as a buffer. He took down
the park ranger himself, not showing any mercy to a man behind the
badge. Eventually, he was pleased to find out that he was given a
recommendation for diligence and attention to detail. He also
received a call telling him his recent application to the state
police was accepted, and he called Larabee to thank him. Along with
a promise not to allow the mistreatment to ever occur again. Larabee
told him flat out he was being watched, and that one wrong move would
get him removed from the state police probation. He thanked him for
They were celebrating the successful conclusion to the case, Ezra's
recovery, and the end of the exile for the Deadly Duo. Sitting in
the saloon, all seven men were loud, rambunctious, and ready to blow
off some steam. JD and Buck went off into one corner to play pool.
Josiah challenged the winner, leaving Nathan beside Chris at one end,
and Vin and Ezra at the other.
"You took too long," Ezra told Vin.
"I set it fer just the right amount of time."
"I beg to differ. We could have been further down the road and on
the highway if you acted sooner. Hence, you took too long to set it
up and off."
"Ya could have told me we were gettin' shot at, Ez. Then we coulda
hiked right outta there without either of us hurt."
"Your reflexes were too slow."
"They're at it again. You going to separate them?" Nathan asked in
an undertone to Chris.
Chris shook his head.
"Why not? Last time they got the whole table involved in their
fight. You want a repeat?"
"If they're in front of me and bickering, they're safe. I'd rather
them be safe and bickering than out I-don't-know-where in danger and
away from us."
Nathan clutched his chest in mock-horror. "Be still my heart. He
wants to hear bickering."
Chris chuckled. "Tonight only. Tomorrow's a different story.
Besides, they still have to turn in their reports. I'm waiting to
see how Vin explains picking shot out of Ezra's ass, and how Ezra
explains Vin picking his butt in writing."
Nathan burst out laughing.