Washington DC 0800 hrs
Major Chris Larabee stood stiffly in front of the six-man review board. The board was there to determine his future in the Army. The blonde already knew what the decision would be. The Army needed a scapegoat and he was the Ranger's sacrificial lamb. Chris listened to the charges of insubordination and failure to obey a direct order in stony silence but inside he was raging. None of these paper pushers had ever been outside their plush offices yet they were judging a combat officer. Not that Chris cared. What he did during Desert Storm he'd do again.
Middle East, three months earlier
The sounds of explosions were getting closer. Chris knew they would have to take off soon. The chopper pilots were willing to wait for the last of his men. This mission was FUBAR from the get go. The intelligence had been wrong which really wasn't surprising since Army intelligence was an oxymoron. Major Larabee's Ranger unit had been sent behind enemy lines to rescue a scientist, except the scientist wasn't where they said he'd be. The team eventually found him but by then the enemy had discovered them. Chris was able to get most of the team to the dust off location but was forced to leave two of his men to cover their asses.
"What do you want to do?" Lieutenant Buck Wilmington yelled over the sound of the rotors.
Chris knew it was vital that they got the scientist to safety but Chris believed strongly in the ranger code. That everyone comes home. He wasn't about to leave two of his men to the enemy.
"How long can you wait?" Chris asked the pilot.
"I can give you ten," he yelled.
Chris nodded and was about to jump out of the bird when the General's voice was heard over his mic ordering him to abandon his men. If he didn't the general threatened to bring him up on insubordination charges and failure to obey a direct order. Chris ignored the general and jumped out of the chopper with Buck right behind him. Buck was his second in command and would follow Chris to the gates of hell. As they made their way down the street they saw the two men they were looking for staggering towards them. Chris rushed over to them as Buck stood guard. Chris could see Jenkins was already dead as he helped corporal Swift lower him the ground.
"Buck, take Jenkins," Chris called.
Buck grabbed the dead private and slung him over his shoulders. Chris helped corporal Swift up and pushed him after Buck as he guarded their six. They were almost to the helicopter when they were discovered. Buck made a run for it with Chris and the corporal close behind. The gunner on the chopper laid down covering fire as they ran. As they climbed in the chopper corporal Swift was shot and Chris hauled him in just as the chopper took off. The corporal was shot several times and Chris watched helplessly as bright red blood bubbled over the young man's lips. Swift held up his hand and Chris grasped it.
"Everyone...comes...home," Swift gasped just before he died.
"That's right," Chris said as he closed the corporal's eyes.
Washington DC 0830 hrs
"In light of your impressive record, Major Larabee, the Army is willing to accept your resignation and none of this will appear on your record."
"Yes, sir," Chris said as he saluted and stormed out.
If Chris hadn't been so angry he would have noticed a man in a dark suit watching from the shadows. The man just shook his head at the Army's stupidity as he watched Major Larabee walk out of the room.
Denver Colorado 1000 hrs
It took Chris three weeks to get everything straightened out with the Army but now he was a free man. Chris drove up the long drive leading to his ranch just outside of Denver. He was pleased with the way it looked and knew he had the caretaker to thank for that. Chris didn't have a chance to visit the ranch much since he was always on the move. He could never figure out why he bought it in the first place. It had always been Sarah's idea to have a place to call home. When she and Chris's son Adam were killed in a terrorist bombing while Chris was stationed in London, his career in the Army was almost ruined by his drinking. If it hadn't been for Buck, Chris would have been court martial three years ago. After the mission in Desert Storm and Chris being brought up on charges, Buck resigned from the Army. Buck didn't want to stay with an outfit that punished people for doing what was right.
Chris didn't know if he could lead a quiet life. He'd bought the ranch on a whim thinking that Sarah would have liked it. It was a good thing he had; at least he now had a place to live. Chris parked in front of the door and climbed out of his truck. He walked to the front door unlocked it and walked in. He dropped his bags by the door and went into the kitchen. Sitting on the table was a vase full of flowers and a note. Chris picked up the note and opened it. As he read it he smiled. Nettie Wells came once a week and cleaned. Not that it needed it but she was happy to do it. She had been Adam's nanny and by pure luck she was out shopping on that fateful day when her charge was killed. After Adam's funeral Nettie returned to Denver and her ranch but remained in close contact with Chris. Nettie wrote in the letter that she stocked the fridge and that dinner was in the oven. All he had to do was turn it on. Chris did as she said then went down to the barn.
Chris was feeding the horses when he heard a noise. He quickly pulled a gun from the hidden holster on his ankle and cautiously looked around. Chris didn't see anyone as he stalked along the wall. Suddenly a figure appeared and Chris grabbed him in a chokehold.
"What do you want?" Chris demanded.
"Easy...Chris," gasped a familiar voice.
"Colonel Travis?" Chris said in shock as he stepped back releasing him.
"Not Colonel any more," the older man replied. "And it's good to see you haven't lost your edge."
"What are you doing here?" Chris asked ignoring the last remark.
"I have a job for you," Travis said holding out a manila envelope. "Peace Corp volunteers are being held hostage by Colombian drug lords. US government wants them back."
"Why?" Chris asked suspiciously.
"Because one of the hostages isn't what he appears," Travis smiled.
"I see," Chris scowled. "Well, I don't work for Uncle Sam any more."
"I know that," Travis said. "The government can't send a rescue party."
"Then what do you want?"
"I want you to assemble a team," Travis explained. "They will be a covert unit connected with no government."
"And if something happened to this 'team' while on assignment?" Chris asked.
"You'll get no help," Travis said. "Plausible Deniability."
"Why do you think I'll do it?"
"Because I know you. You can't sit quietly and become a rancher."
"Just one mission?"
"If you're successful there could be others."
"Where do I get the funds?" Chris asked as he took the envelope.
"You'll be supplied with what you need and paid handsomely," Travis assured him holding out another envelope. "I put together a list of men you might consider."
"I'll pick my own team," Chris said.
"Good enough," Travis agreed. "I'll be in touch.
"Chris, I'm not sorry the Army kicked you out," Travis smiled. "They wouldn't know a good man if they tripped over one."
Chris snorted as he watched Travis leave. Chris figured the Colonel had been waiting in the wings while they hung him out to dry. He opened the envelope and browsed through the information as he walked back to the house. Chris knew a few men he might get to join the team. The problem was finding them. Chris knew all he had to do was give Travis their names and they would be easily found.
Denver airport 24 hrs later
Chris had been right. He gave Travis a list of names and the men were easily found. The first named on the list was Buck. Chris wasn't about to put together a team without him. Chris wasn't surprised to learn Buck was in Las Vegas. The boisterous Lieutenant liked crowds and women and the City of Lights was the perfect place for him. Chris knew Buck wouldn't be going anywhere for awhile and decided to let his friend have some fun. He'd get one of the other men first. Chris was on a plane waiting for it to take off for Dallas. This was where Sergeant Tanner went when he was kicked out of the Marines. Chris flipped open the file Travis gave him on Vin and smiled.
Germany, 2 years ago
Chris sat in a small bar in Dusseldorf that catered to the military base. Since it was mostly Americans the bar was known as the 'Saloon'. He sat in the shadows watching the patrons. They were your typical young hot heads out to blow off some steam. Chris took a drink of his beer and watched as a pretty blonde stepped in escorted by a tall black man. Chris's hackles went up as he sensed the atmosphere in the bar change. He noticed a group of Marines he dubbed the "Rednecks" watch the blonde and her escort. One of the Jarheads walked over to the blonde and stood behind her.
"Evening, doll, maybe you should join us over at our table," he suggested.
"No thank you," she answered politely.
"Pretty thing like you should be sitting with your own kind," he said drunkenly.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" her escort demanded standing up.
"Nathan," the blonde warned grabbing his arm.
"Don't mean nothin' boy," the Marine said emphasizing 'boy'.
Chris wasn't surprised when the black man threw the first punch. Problem was he was out numbered seven to one. The jarhead's friends waked over and grabbed Nathan and dragged him towards the door. Chris was impressed when the blonde stood in front of them.
"You're not taking this man," She declared defiantly.
One of the men laughed and pushed her roughly to the side as he continued out. The blonde glanced around the room.
"Are you just going to let this happen?" She demanded
Chris looked around the bar and saw everyone ignore her. She gave everyone a disgusted look and stormed off following the men. Chris admired her spunk and he was in a mood for a fight. He got up and headed for the door. As he was making his way through the crowd he saw a young man also heading for the door. Chris couldn't decide if he was military or not because of his long hair, but he was definitely American. The young man looked up and caught Chris's eye. Chris inclined his head towards the door and the young man nodded. Chris nodded back and they walked out the door shoulder to shoulder. They headed for the alley where they heard the fighting. When they got there they saw two guys holding up the black man while the others took turns punching him.
"Don't you think the odds are a little uneven?" Chris asked casually.
"Why do you plan on doing something about it?" one asked.
Chris saw his companion tense waiting for something to happen. They didn't have to wait long before two of the men charged them. Chris came in swinging. Chris's first punch laid the guy out cold. He turned to check on his new friend and was impressed with his martial arts skills. The young man looked to be proficient in karate and he took his opponent out quickly. The other rednecks looked uncertain but joined the fight anyway. They let the black man go and he joined the fight also. After only a few minutes all their opponents were on the ground moaning. Chris stood next to the longhaired young man.
"Vin Tanner. Been in town long?"
"Just got here and you?"
"Couple of days."
"Somebody wanna give me a hand here?" the black man said.
Vin smiled and walked over to him and helped him to his feet. Nathan introduced himself and walked over to the blonde woman.
"I'm Mary Travis, a reporter for the Stars And Stripes," she said. "Where did you come from?"
"Saloon," Chris and Vin said together as they walked away.
"Wait a minute I want to talk to you," Mary said exasperated. "Where are you going?"
Chris and Vin stopped and looked at each other then started walking again.
Denver airport 0730 hrs
Chris smiled as he remembered that day. Vin had become a close friend. Actually more than a friend more like a brother. He didn't know why they both hit it off so well but Chris could swear Vin could read his mind. Chris knew Vin's background, as a Marine sniper and weapons expert would be useful on his team. He didn't think he would have a hard time convincing Vin to join. Chris had read the reasons for the Marines kicking Vin out and he knew the young man had been railroaded also. That UN peace keeper had to have suggested something completely opposite of Vin's beliefs to have gotten the young man so mad that he hauled of and punched the official. Normally Vin was very laid back and easy to get along with. Not that it mattered what the Marines thought, Chris knew Vin must have had a good reason for punching the UN blue shirt. The Marines loss would be Chris's gain.
Dallas Texas 1030 hrs
Once Chris landed in Dallas he headed for the Dallas Police department. Vin was working as a weapons demonstrator and instructor for the police. When he arrived at the station the desk sergeant informed him Vin was at the firing range. The sergeant gave Chris directions and an hour later he arrived at the open-air range outside the city. Chris entered the building area and was given directions to where the class was being held. He walked over to find a group of cadets standing around listening to another officer.
"This exercise will show how well you can fire a weapon quickly and accurately," he said. "Mr. Tanner, can you give us a demonstration."
Chris watched as Vin walked to the firing line. His hair was even longer than Chris remembered it, and was pulled back into a neat ponytail. Vin stood looking at the target then all of a sudden his right hand was a blur as he pulled the automatic from his holster and began to fire. Once it was empty, he ejected the clip and let it fall to the ground as he holstered the weapon. He then pulled a secondary weapon without a pause and continued to fire. Once that was empty, Vin ejected the clip and let it fall as he holstered that weapon behind his back. The cadets began talking excitedly when they noticed the target was riddled with bullet holes all at center mass and head shots. Chris was just as impressed but he felt he had to tease the younger man.
"You call that shooting?" Chris asked loudly causing Vin to turn. When he saw Chris, he smiled.
"Better than you can, old man," Vin said mockingly.
"Twenty bucks says you can't hit the target dead center at 1000 yards," Chris challenged.
"You're on," Vin smiled.
The range sergeant smiled and told the cadets to stay put and watch. Vin jumped on the motorbike that was used to haul the silhouettes out to the long-range targets. Chris watched through binoculars as Vin secured the target and returned. He quickly set up his Remington 700 sniper rifle and set the scope. He looked through the viewfinder and was satisfied that he was ready.
"You sure you're ready?" Chris asked.
"Fifty bucks says I am," Vin replied.
"You're on," Chris agreed.
Vin lay on his stomach and propped open the small tripod under the barrel of the gun. He looked through the scope and made a few adjustments. When Vin was ready he waited patiently for just the right moment. Chris was impressed by how still Vin was and was surprised when he heard the gun go off. Vin sat up and smiled. The sergeant sent one of the cadets to get the target. The cadet
returned and held up the target. There was a hole dead center of the smallest circle on the target.
"Show off," Chris said smiling, as he walked over to Vin with his hand out. Vin took Chris's forearm in their unique handshake.
"What are you doing here?" Vin asked, as he waved to the sergeant as he took the cadets to another part of the range.
"Have a job proposition for you," Chris said.
"I'm in," Vin said enthusiastically.
"You don't even know what it is."
"Don't matter," Vin smiled. "If you're in charge I'll do it. Besides, it's got to be better that this."
Chris smiled and helped Vin pack up his weapons. He knew it wouldn't take much to convince Vin to join, but he never thought it would be this easy. Chris followed Vin to his apartment. Chris was surprised to see how small it was and barren. Vin seemed embarrassed as he took Chris's bag.
"Now you see why I would have gone anywhere with you," Vin said.
"Been that rough after they let you go?" Chris asked.
"Ain't much call for a trained sniper," Vin smiled.
"What happened Vin?"
"Me and a UN blue shirt didn't see eye to eye," Vin shrugged. "So I decked him."
Chris nodded in understanding. The UN peace officials didn't always get along with the military personal in a war torn area. The fact that most of them were assholes didn't help. The guy must have pushed Vin really hard for the normally placid sniper to punch him.
"So what's the job?" Vin asked as he plopped on the couch.
Chris outlined what they would be doing. Vin was more than happy to join. This was what the Marines had trained him to do. Once Chris told him Nathan would be asked to join Vin was even happier. Nathan was a highly trained medic as well as a combat soldier. Chris told Vin about Buck and agreed he would work perfect.
"Was sorry to hear the Army racked you over the coals."
"I guess in a way it was good."
They sat reminiscing about old times until lunch. Vin took Chris out for Texas BBQ, then they returned to the apartment so Vin could get packed. Vin was able to get all his belongs into a few boxes. The only thing Vin was worried about having delivered was his pride and joy, a classic Harley. A quick call to Travis had everything taken care of. A reputable moving company would be there in the morning to pick up Vin's things as well as his motorcycle.
"Well that was easy enough," Vin smiled. "What next?"
"After your things are picked up we're off to Vegas."
"Vegas, what's in Vegas?"
"Buck's in Vegas," Chris laughed.
"He likes to gamble?"
"No, Buck likes the ladies," Chris smiled.
Vin smiled and went out to get things straight with the landlady. Chris turned on the TV and sat back with a beer. Chris looked around the apartment and could sympathize with the sniper. Being in the military didn't give you a chance to collect many possessions. The furniture wasn't even Vin's, and everything that was his fit into only a few boxes. Chris hoped this new assignment would give Vin a more stable life. They would be working out of his ranch and if Vin wanted it he could move into the caretaker's cottage.
The Next Day
The next morning the truck arrived and they quickly loaded Vin's stuff. Vin was reluctant to entrust his sniper rifles to the moving company. Chris assured him that if the Colonel picked the company, they could be trusted. Chris had a feeling Vin would insist on carrying his handguns and made sure Travis provided him with the proper clearances before he left Denver. Once everything was loaded they headed for the airport. They dropped off the rental car and took the shuttle to the terminal. Neither one of them had luggage to check, so they quickly moved through check in. They both flashed their ID's and didn't have to go through the x-ray machines. Vin smiled at Chris, liking his new job. Chris knew Vin would be in for another surprise as they approached the gate for the plane. He showed the flight attendant his tickets and she escorted them to first class.
"Do you always fly first class?" Vin said as he settled into the plush seat.
"Don't get used to it," Chris warned. "They were the only seats left and we had to get to Vegas fast."
"I take it there's a time limit to set up the team," Vin said seriously.
"Yes," Chris answered. "After we pick up Buck we fly to Denver and recruit Nathan."
"Okay, so that gives you a sniper and a medic and two ex-rangers," Vin said thoughtfully. "You still need a pilot, a communications expert and maybe an intelligence officer."
"Buck knows explosives," Chris said. "Travis gave me a list of candidates. We might have to chose from them."
"That could be risky," Vin said.
"I know, but we don't have much of a choice," Chris pointed out. "Unless you know of anybody who might join."
"Not me," Vin said. "I always work solo."
"Not any more you don't," Chris smiled.
While they were talking the rest of the plane was loaded and they waited their turn to take off. Vin was surprised as the flight attendant came around to offer him a drink before they took off. Chris asked for a coffee and Vin, a Pepsi. Chris raised his eyebrow at Vin's choice so early in the morning but said nothing. Chris was soon to learn that Vin was a junk food addict during the flight.
Two hours later, they landed in Vegas. They quickly walked trough the airport and over to the rental care area. Once they got the car Chris headed for the outskirts of town to one of the exclusive bordellos. There were a number of reputable 'cat houses' outside town and Buck always stayed at the same one. Chris told Vin how he planned to get Buck and Vin couldn't wait.
Buck was lying in the bed next to a beautiful blonde. She was dressed in an old fashioned camisole, corset and bloomers. That was what Buck liked about this particular place the women all dressed like saloon girls from the old west. Buck sighed in contentment when suddenly there was a knock at the door.
"I know you're in there!" someone shouted pounding on the door.
"Oh lord," the woman cried. "That must be Billy."
"Thought you said he was in prison," Buck declared as he hastily grabbed his clothes.
"He is," she said, handing him his boots. "Or he was."
Buck smiled as he heard more pounding on the door. He grabbed the woman around the waist, kissing her passionately as he struggled to hold his clothes. He ended the kiss and made his escape out the window. The woman heard the door burst in, and in walked a stranger.
"You're not Billy," she said surprised.
"Sorry, ma'am. Wrong room," Vin said with a smile and a salute as he pulled the door closed.
Buck stumbled down the fire escape, trying to pull on his pants. He miscalculated and tumbled down the last step. Buck landed in a tangle of clothes.
"Evening, Buck. We interrupt anything?" asked a familiar voice.
Buck whirled around and saw his commanding officer. "Chris! You old war dog," Buck declared dropping his clothes and enveloping Chris in a bear hug.
"Easy, Buck, folks'll talk," Chris said, squirming out of his embrace.
"That him?" Vin asked, as he leaned on a post next to Chris.
"He with you?" Buck asked suspiciously as he pulled on his clothes.
"Yup," Chris replied. "Got a job for ya."
"Enough to make you happy," Chris said.
"Got women where you're goin'?"
"I imagine so," Chris smiled.
"Then I imagine I'm in," Buck said returning the smile.
The three of them drove over to the hotel Chris booked for the night. The flight to Denver wouldn't leave until the next morning. Since they had a whole afternoon to kill, they went over to one of the smaller casinos. They joined a poker game and played for a few hours. Chris glanced around the room and thought one of the men over at another table looked familiar. Chris folded and left the table to get a drink at the bar. A short time later Vin joined him and ordered a beer. The Texan turned his back to the bar and leaned against it with his elbows on top. Just as he got settled one of the men at the other table jumped up yelling.
"You cheat, mister!" he accused the fancy dressed man that Chris thought was familiar.
"I assure you, I don't need to cheat with the likes of you to win," he replied in a southern accent.
"We don't take kindly to cardsharps around here," said another man standing up.
Suddenly the room exploded into violence. Chris and Vin watched as the southerner easily handled himself against the other men. Vin turned to Chris with a quizzical look, but the man in black said nothing. Vin was impressed as he watched the southerner. Vin could tell the man had a military background from the fighting techniques he used. The fight was over quickly and the southerner backed towards the door.
"Got a job for you," Chris said as he went past.
"Ah Major Larabee," he said recognizing Chris. "If it has to do with the military, I'll pass."
"It doesn't," Chris said. "If you're interested, meet us at the airport tomorrow morning at eight. Delta terminal."
"Who was that?" Vin asked as the southerner gave Chris a two fingered salute and walked out.
"Ezra Standish," Chris answered.
"That Naval intelligence officer that was accused of being a traitor?" Buck asked.
"That's him," Chris smiled.
"Why would we want a man like that?" Vin asked surprised.
"He might come in handy," Chris replied and headed out.
Vin turned to Buck and gave him a look 'is he crazy?' Buck just shrugged and followed Chris.
"Well, if he ain't, then I must be for goin' along," Vin said as he followed after Buck.
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