by Angie

Author Note: This story comes from one too many long hours watching movies. Before you all rush to tell me all the things that are wrong with the story, keep in mind that it is a work of fiction. I have been told that some of the things I have written are not possible for a variety of reasons. But, if you squint your eyes just right and settle back in your chair, it should all be all right at the end. Many thanks to Crystal for her help in finding my mistakes and forgive her for the ones she missed.

JD bounced thru the office humming his favorite Billy Joel tune. He couldn’t wait until the end of the day. The entire team was heading for a cabin in the mountains for a ski weekend. They had busted Hakim Salaam and his gang before they were able to deliver their shipment of illegal guns. Judge Travis was so pleased with the positive publicity that the bust had garnered that he had given them a week off. Josiah had a friend who had a few cabins that he rented out during the season and he was more than happy to loan them to team 7 for their vacation.

Looking out the window of his office, Chris smiled. Several inches of snow had fallen in the past few days and had given a soft look to the harsh lines of the city below. Turning from the window, he glanced over at the pair of duffle bags on the floor in front of the couch. He was really, really looking forward to getting away for a week.

For the umpteenth time that morning, Ezra wondered at the wisdom of going skiing with his teammates. He was what he considered to be an adequate skier but he knew that some of the others were far more experienced. JD and Vin were bringing along their snowboards. He only hoped that he didn’t make too much of a fool of himself.

As he hung up the phone, Nathan mentally reviewed the supplies he was bringing along. Rain had provided him with a pair of inflatable arm and leg splints. He had also requisitioned pain medications appropriate to the members of the team. JD was sensitive to certain kinds of drugs and Vin was downright allergic to others. He also had packed a new Grishom novel to read during the quiet hours of the evening.

Pulling the change from the vending machine, Vin stuffed the packages of peanut M & M’s into his jacket pocket. He had packed several snacks in his suitcases for emergencies. He was very much looking forward to trying out the new snowboard that JD had gotten him for his birthday. The two young team members had tried the sport a few months ago and had fallen completely in love with it.

As he hung up the phone, Buck checked his e-mail one last time. He had been corresponding with a woman in Colorado Springs and was just waiting to hear from her one more time before he went on vacation. Chris had vetoed the idea of bringing along female companionship saying that the team had earned the time together without distractions. He laughed at JD as he checked his bags one more time. His young roommate was certain that he had forgotten something and was wracking his brain trying to remember.

Josiah finished the report on the Salaam bust and e-mailed it to Chris to be attached to the rest of the report. He had arrived late that morning after having the suburban checked and serviced. They were taking his vehicle and Chris’s truck on their vacation. Each of them was bringing their own equipment and they had borrowed two extra pairs of skis in case they should need them for some reason.

+ + + + + + +

An Alberta clipper was dipping down from Canada and dumping snow and ice in Montana and the mountains of Idaho. Temperatures were dropping quickly behind the front as the cold, dry air raced southward. A moist warm front was surging along the jet stream and dropping rain on the Baja Peninsula.

+ + + + + + +

Adam, Maggie and Julia laughed as they raced the snowmobiles along the marked trail. They had been taking a much-needed break from their college courses. Unlike traditional schools, the Christian school they attended had spring break around Easter. It avoided the drinking and partying that usually surrounded the two weeks when other schools were on break.

Adam Crosby was studying to be a pastor like his father and grandfather. A tall, good-looking young man, he could have entered any field of his choosing but he had wanted to walk in his father’s footsteps. Maggie Simmons was going to college because she wanted to get away from home while she tried to figure out what to do with her life. Julia Somersby was planning to enter the mission field. She wanted to do outreach in South America.

+ + + + + + +

The designated hour for Team 7 to head out arrived and JD and Vin were whooping it up near the elevators as they waited for the others to finish up. The rest of the team’s bags were piled up waiting to be loaded into the suburban. As the lights in the bullpen went out, both of the young men grabbed up their bags and called for the elevator.

As the rest of the team gathered, Vin studied their expressions. Chris looked relaxed, more than he had been in weeks. Buck looked eager but at the same time he had been complaining bitterly about the lack of female companionship for the coming week. Josiah looked, well Josiah always looked pretty much the same, thoughtful. Nathan looked nervous. In addition to the two bags of clothing, he carried a duffle bag full of first aide supplies. The red bag was a reminder of the fact that whether they were working or playing, they often got hurt. Ezra was working hard at looking relaxed and was failing miserably. Vin had gotten good at reading the undercover agent and could tell that he was apprehensive about something. JD was like an over excited puppy, bouncing around and shifting his bags back and forth.

The elevator doors opened and the entire team filed in. Ezra waited until last to enter. He was mildly claustrophobic and with all the baggage and his six teammates there was scarcely room for him. Taking a deep breath, he stepped inside and watched the doors close. He counted the moments until the doors opened again and he all but sprang out of the tiny car.

The cold air of the parking garage was shocking and brought tears to Nathan’s eyes. The crispness of the dry air muffled the sounds of the excited voices that made their way to the two vehicles. Josiah opened the back doors and the rest of the team piled their bags inside. Chris’s truck bed was covered with a tarp to protect the gear that had been loaded the evening before. In the suburban, boxes held the groceries they were bringing along for the week.

There was little discussion of the riding arrangements. Nathan, Buck and JD were riding with Josiah and Vin and Ezra were riding with Chris. The seat behind the team leader was piled up with sleeping bags leaving only enough room for one person in the back. Vin had called shotgun first thing in the morning as if there was any question who would ride in the front seat next to Chris. JD paced around the suburban as he waited for the baggage to be arranged so they could be on the road.

+ + + + + + +

The three snow mobiles sat outside of the cabin as the co-eds warmed up by the rusty pot bellied stove. With red cheeks and noses, they enjoyed the hot chocolate Maggie had made as soon as they got into the shelter. They laughed and joked as Julia assembled supper for them. The three students took turns cooking from the supplies they had brought along.

After supper, Adam pulled out his Bible and read aloud for a half hour. They carried on a lively discussion about the meaning of the verses in Matthew 19:16 thru 30. They had covered the parables in Matthew earlier in the week. Maggie always found some point to disagree with Adam about so that he would be forced to back up his explanations with solid Gospel. It was something her family had always done around the supper table and she was good at it. Julia smiled as she checked the verses quoted in defense of Adam’s position.

+ + + + + + +

The tape player clicked off as Ezra pulled the buds of the earphones out of his ears. He had been listening to a book on tape since they pulled out of the parking garage of the federal building. Vin and Chris had already left the truck cab and were crossing the parking lot headed for the restaurant. The suburban eased in alongside of the truck and the others got out. Nathan stretched and Ezra smiled as he heard the popping of the team medic’s back.

The tables were covered with a variety of plates and glasses as the team sat back in sated delight. The waitress poured more tea into several glasses before going to get a fresh pot of coffee for the others. JD and Vin were sharing a plate of cheese fries as they emptied their glasses of Coke. They had both wrinkled their noses at the salad and soup that Ezra had ordered. Chris, Josiah and Nathan had ordered steaks. Buck ordered a fried catfish platter after the waitress told him that she would not charge him for the meal if he didn’t like it. The fish was perfectly battered and fried. The ladies man all but licked the plate when he finished.

Chris decided to try to make it closer to the cabins before calling it a night. The team piled back into the vehicles and they headed back up the highway. JD asked Ezra if he wanted to trade places for the rest of the evening. Seeing that the kid wanted to spend more time with Vin, the southerner agreed and retrieved his cassette player and tapes from the truck. The suburban was not nearly as comfortable a ride but Ezra sat quietly as he listened to his tapes.

+ + + + + + +

The Alberta clipper dipped farther south and it picked up more moisture from the warm front. As it absorbed the moisture, the clipper began to drop snow. The dry air prevented most of the crystals from making it to the ground.

+ + + + + + +

After banking the fire in the stove, Adam settled into his sleeping bag. Both of the girls had wiped out shortly after their Bible study. He had continued to read for a while longer before deciding to call it a night.

+ + + + + + +

The hotel sign showed vacancies and Chris had his fill of driving for the night. They took three rooms and settled in for the night. The team leader pulled his coat tighter around him as he stepped out of the truck. His nose began to tingle as the cold air struck it and he sneezed. The temperature had dropped nearly fifteen degrees in the last two hours and the weather casters were predicting snow by Monday. Vin and JD were thrilled with the idea of fresh powder on the mountain as they tried out their new snowboards.

+ + + + + + +

The sun climbed into the cerulean sky giving the impression of warmth to anyone looking out his or her window. After showering and changing, the team headed for a nearby truck stop for breakfast. It took several minutes for the vehicles to warm up enough to leave the hotel.

+ + + + + + +

Stretching luxuriantly in her sleeping bag, Maggie debated getting up to go to the bathroom or staying in her warm little nest and waiting for one of the others to wake and tend to the stove to warm the room. Finally, her need outweighed her desire for warmth and she unzipped the bag and wiggled out. Dashing for the small bathroom in the corner of the cabin, she shivered violently as she sat on the cold plastic toilet seat. As quickly as she could, she raced back across the room and crawled back into her little nest.

Adam giggled behind his hand as he heard Maggie run across the cabin. When she was warmly zipped back into her bag, he rolled over and unzipped his bag and crossed to the stove. After stirring the coals and opening the damper, he tossed several sticks of well-dried wood in before throwing on one of the green logs they had brought with them. Within minutes, he had a crackling fire.

+ + + + + + +

Slamming the hood of the beat up Volkswagen Jetta, Blake Phillips studied the landscape with a scowl on his face. He had been on the run for the past few days. The Jetta was stolen from outside of Sulpher Springs. It had been running hot all morning and had now blown a radiator hose. Leaving the useless vehicle, he started toward the town that the signs proudly proclaimed was only five miles farther down the road.

+ + + + + + +

After a hearty breakfast, the three college students set out again on the snowmobiles. Julia took the lead as she followed the old logging road that was carefully marked with orange spots on the trees. Her bright purple snowsuit shimmered in the bright sun. Adam poured on the gas as he tried to catch up to her. Maggie laughed as she avoided the snow flying off of the tracks of the snowmobile in front of her.

+ + + + + + +

The big, black Dodge pulled up between the cabins as the suburban ground to a halt behind it. The youngest members of the team spilled out of the vehicles and JD immediately snatched up a handful of snow and chucked a snowball at Vin. Before it could become an all out war, Chris called a halt to the frivolity.

“Before you get carried away, get the gear unloaded and stowed. Since the two of you seem to have so much energy, you can haul the stuff up to the cabins.”

“Aw, Chris! Come on! We just got here. Can’t we unload in a little while?” JD wheedled as he tried to keep an eye on Vin who was still holding a soft packed snowball.

“You heard me! Get the gear stowed and then you two can throw all the snowballs you want as long as you don’t get hurt.”

Grumbling and mumbling under his breath, JD grabbed the top two bags out of the back of the suburban and started toward the nearest cabin. Vin grabbed the next two and followed. Josiah bit back a chuckle as he grabbed two bags and followed the younger men. All the food was loaded into one cabin. Ezra looked around the cabin as he carried his bags inside.

“Oh, courage Ezra! Somehow this is not what I had in mind when I agreed to this little diversion. These ‘shacks’ don’t even appear to have indoor plumbing!”

Nathan couldn’t contain his laughter at the southerner’s comment as he carried his bags into the next cabin. He and Josiah were sharing the cabin. Vin, JD and Buck were sharing a cabin and Chris had agreed to bunk with Ezra.

As soon as all the gear was unloaded, Vin and JD headed out to play in the powder. Josiah started lunch after Nathan built a fire in the stove in their cabin. By the time the young men were thru playing, they were thoroughly chilled. They were immediately parked in front of the stove to warm up and each received a bowl of Josiah’s four-alarm chili.

+ + + + + + +

The little Subaru wagon was sitting beside the small cabin when Blake crept up. He looked in the window of the cabin. In the distance, he could hear the dim buzz of the snowmobiles returning. Wrapping his hand around the butt of the pistol in his belt, he moved up against the side of the building. The girl in the red snowsuit parked her snowmobile and started around the side of the cabin. Blake wrapped his arm around her neck and showed her the gun.

Maggie flinched when she felt the arm close around her neck and she nearly fainted when she saw the gun. The arm tightened until she felt dizzy before she realized that the man was speaking to her.

“Nice and easy now. We’re just gonna go around the cabin here and urge your two friends to join us inside. If you’re really good, maybe I won’t mess you up too bad. Now move!”

Adam glanced up from where he was refueling the gas tanks and his heart leapt into his throat. Maggie was pale as the snow and her eyes were wild as she walked with the stranger. The barrel of a 357 was pressed into her side. Julia looked up from where she was cleaning the tracks of her snowmobile and gasped. The two college students stood slowly and stared, wide eyed at the man holding the gun.

“Into the cabin and no one gets hurt,” Blake ordered. The two moved to the doorway and stepped inside. Adam reached out and tried to guide Julia behind him as they moved to the center of the floor. “Kneel down! Get on your knees!”

Julia dropped to her knees and pulled Adam down. Maggie whimpered in the grasp of the man until he forced her to her knees. The explosion of the gunshot caused her eyes to go wide for an instant before she fell forward, blood pumping out of the hole behind her ear. Julia began to scream as the reality of the situation dawned on her. Adam put his arms around her and covered her mouth as he fought to keep his stomach down.

+ + + + + + +

The powder was perfect as Vin sliced down the gentle incline. JD’s scream of delight echoed in the cold air as he zigzagged down the slope behind Vin. Nathan was several yards to the left of the pair on his skis as he took an easy turn down the hill. Josiah had already made it down the hill and was working back up. A loud cry brought every eye to a steeper part of the hill where Buck was coming down.

“Whoo hoo!” The ladies man shouted as he flew down the hill. He kicked up an arc of powder as he switched back and forth coming down the slope. Chris burst out laughing as he watched his friend.

Standing at the top of the slight incline, Ezra bent his knees and slid the skis on the snow. He changed his grip on the poles and took a deep breath. He leaned forward and let himself start down the hill. A small laugh broke free as he reached the bottom without falling.

After a couple of hours of loosening up on the gentle, gradual slopes around the cabins, Chris promised that they could seek steeper hills tomorrow. They gathered in the center cabin and shared a hearty pot of stew and several cups of hot chocolate each. Buck built a fire in the cabin he was sharing and Chris took pity on Ezra and built a fire in theirs.

+ + + + + + +

Julia continued to sob softly as Adam pulled her face toward his shoulder. Blake watched dispassionately as the dead girl bled out on the floor of the cabin. He knew that he could control the other two now, as they would be absolutely terrified of him. With the gun, he gestured them toward the corner of the room.

“Take this rope and tie his hands behind his back! Make it good and tight!”

A length of clothesline was pressed into Julia’s trembling hands and she tied Adam’s hands together as she had been told to do. She yelped in fright as the stranger gripped her chin and turned her face up to his. Whimpering as she avoided looking into his eyes, the young woman tried to force herself to remain calm. The gunman jerked her to her feet and shoved her against the table before twisting her hands behind her back and securing them with another piece of clothesline.

Huddling close together against the wall, Julia and Adam watched as the gunman put Maggie’s body into one of the sleeping bags. They were then made to wait while the man made himself a sandwich and a bowl of soup from their provisions. The sun was just beginning to go down when they were forced to go out and get in the station wagon and drive away.

+ + + + + + +

The clipper had picked up enough moisture that it was now beginning to drop deep blankets of snow in the higher elevations along the front. The warm moist air was drawn like an impatient lover. As the two fronts met, the cold front edged farther south. The weather forecasters were now warning the ski resorts to expect up to 36 inches of new snow.

+ + + + + + +

The sun was just peeking over the top of the mountains when the car ran out of gas. Blake cursed for not having noticed the gas gauge. He had left the main roads and was looking for an out of the way place to hide out for a few days. His two prisoners were sleeping, curled up together in the back seat covered with a sleeping bag. To any casual observer, they were just taking turns on a long drive.

“Okay, you two, wake up! It’s time to go for a walk! Come on, you heard me!”

Blinking at the bright sunlight shining thru the window, Adam blanched at the gun pointed at his face. He began to shake Julia as he tried to waken her. When the co-ed’s eyes opened and she saw the gun, she began to tremble again. Like a deer in the headlights, she was frozen in terror.

“Come on, we have to get out of the car. Come on, Julia, lets move,” Adam said firmly as they climbed out of the back seat. The girl finally moved, blinking in the light as she stared at the gun glinting evilly. She moved to stand as close to Adam as she could when she stepped out of the car.

“Walk that way! GO!” Blake shouted as he gestured toward the recently made tracks in the snow. The two captives turned and walked. Adam reached out and took Julia’s hand.

+ + + + + + +

Breakfast in the morning was ham steaks and fried potatoes. The members of Team 7 were gathered again in the center cabin as they relished the excellent meal Nathan and Josiah had prepared for them. While the others were finishing and cleaning up, JD powered up his laptop to see if he could get a signal. When he found that he couldn’t, he gave up and stored the computer under his bed with his bags. Chris turned on the weather radio and fiddled with the antenna until he got a weather report. All six of the others looked up pensively as they heard the forecast calling for up to three feet of snow in the next 24 hours.

“What do we do, Chris?” Vin asked.

“Either we stay here and ride it out or we try to get the hell out of here and hope it doesn’t start before we get out of the mountains. I’m not wild about either prospect so I’ll leave it up to you all,” the leader replied.

+ + + + + + +

After a half hour of walking, Julia was stumbling repeatedly. Blake grabbed her by the arm and slapped her, hard. Adam started to protest the rough handling until he found himself facing the gun. The young man stepped back and put his hands up.

“If you keep slowing me down, I’ll put a bullet in your head and toss you into the woods. With the snow that’s coming, they won’t find your body until spring!” Blake growled.

+ + + + + + +

The team voted to try to get back to town and they began to load their equipment. As he was tying down the tarp, Vin noticed a splash of color coming up the road. Snow had been falling for most of an hour and it was nearly a white out. The bright purple and neon blue snowsuits were easily spotted in spite of the huge snowflakes raining down from the clouds. The splashes of color turned into three people trudging thru the snow.

“JD, get Nathan, we got company,” Vin said to the dark haired young man who was securing the tarp on the other side of the Dodge. JD looked over his shoulder and then rushed into the cabin to get help.

Blake called out as they came into the clearing in front of the cabins. “Are we ever glad to see you? Our car broke down and we’re been following your tire tracks hoping to find shelter.”

As the rest of the team spilled out of the cabins, Nathan moved forward as Julia collapsed again. The co-ed looked up as the medic took her by the arm and pulled her to her feet.

“Buck, drop the tailgate so I can sit her down for a minute,” Nathan called as he steered the girl to the truck. Once she was seated, he knelt down and began to push the packed snow off of her feet and ankles. “How long have you been walking?”

“Most of an hour, I guess,” the girl answered hesitantly.

“Are your feet numb or tingling?”

“I haven’t been able to feel anything for a while,” she answered.

The team leader sat next to the girl and looked expectantly at Nathan. “Can we just take them with us? If it keeps up like this, we won’t get out of here.”

“We aren’t going anywhere and neither are any of you,” Blake called as he pointed the gun at the group.

“Easy, son. Your friend here needs medical attention and we got a blizzard bearing down on us. Why don’t you put that away and let us help her?” Nathan asked from where he knelt at Julia’s feet. He hadn’t guessed that the two young people were hostages although the other man was not dressed for the cold.

Out of the corner of his eye, Blake noticed the big man with the mustache reaching for something. Jerking Adam back, Blake pointed the gun and fired, shattering the window at the man’s shoulder. In the moments that followed, absolute silence reigned over the group.

“Okay, show me what you were reaching for, nice and easy. Don’t make me shoot this nice, young man. The rest of you, on your knees over here and put your hands on top of your heads,” Blake commanded. Keeping his grip on the college student, he watched as the five men moved to the designated area and dropped to their knees. The mustached man pulled a glock 9mm from the cab of the truck and held it by the barrel.

“Hand it to the girl and get over here with your friends,” the gunman demanded in an icy tone.

Moving slowly, Buck approached the girl and carefully placed the weapon on the tailgate before moving to kneel beside Josiah. The snow continued to fall silently as the seven ATF agents watched the gunman. Even from as close as ten feet, it was rapidly approaching white out conditions and it was becoming difficult to see the gunman.

“Julia, bring the gun and come over here,” Blake called.

Easing off of the tailgate, the frightened girl picked up the gun and approached the gunman. As soon as she came within reach, he grabbed the gun and shoved Adam away in favor of using Julia as a shield. He shoved his own gun into his belt and turned the glock on the ATF agents.

“Adam, you look in that truck and find something to tie them up. Don’t try anything heroic or your other girlfriend will die.”

The young man immediately rushed to do as he was told. He found a roll of rough twine and carried it to the row of kneeling men. One by one, he tied their hands, apologizing softly as he worked. When he had finished, he carried the twine over to the gunman.

“Okay, everyone on your feet and into the cabin! MOVE!” He shouted as they struggled to get on their feet with their hands bound behind them. Blake kept a tight grip on Julia as he followed them. It was fairly dark in the cabin so he left the door open for light.

Vin caught Chris’s eye. The team sharpshooter had his gun in his shoulder holster. He only hoped that he could work his hands free without being noticed. JD stumbled in the darkened room and fell, striking his jaw against the corner of the table before landing hard on his side. Adam rushed to pull the young man into a sitting position so he could see how badly he was hurt. JD was unconscious.

The small cabin was crowded with so many people inside. The gunman shoved Nathan, who was at the back of the line, into Josiah. The older agent stumbled against Buck. The team medic instinctively moved toward the downed man reclining in the arms of the male hostage.

“Get over by the wall and sit down!” Blake shouted. He smiled as the longhaired man glared at him briefly. The gunman lashed out with his foot, catching the kneeling man in the stomach and doubling him over. The big man with the mustache moved forward to defend the man who now lay on his side gasping for air. Blake turned and plowed his fist into Buck’s solar plexus just before sweeping his feet out from under him in one, fluid motion.

Buck lay against the others as he panted thru the pain that radiated out from the center of his chest. Turning his head to see whom he was laying on, he found himself looking into Ezra’s concerned gaze. The undercover agent had been strangely silent since the gunman arrived.

“You okay, Ez?” Buck finally managed between breaths. He was mildly puzzled when the only response he got from the southerner was a nod before his eyes locked again upon the gunman. The ladies man struggled to get turned so he could lean against the wall as he turned his attention to the stranger cradling JD.

Adam made sure that the young man was breathing before moving him to the corner and putting him down. Josiah noticed that the young stranger rested his hand lightly on JD’s head and closed his eyes before getting to his feet and facing the gunman.

“What now?” Adam asked.

“Get over here and sit down,” Blake growled. Adam quickly complied.

From where he sat, Nathan could see the swelling and bruising that was blooming along the young agent’s jaw. JD didn’t appear to have any trouble breathing though and that was a relief. On the other side of Ezra, Buck was fuming quietly. Farther up the row, he could hear Chris quizzing Vin on his condition.

Blake stared at the gun in his hand for several moments. It was unusual in that it was familiar. While he tried to figure out where he had seen one like it, he caressed the face of the young girl. She pulled her head away from his hand and shuddered. He backhanded her so hard that she hit the wall and slid limply to the floor.

It was cold in the cabin with the door open. Thru the opening, the ATF agents could watch the deepening snow. It was a total white out. Their breath made plumes of steam as what little heat had been inside the cabin dissipated. Each of the men glanced at the girl and then over to JD.

After tying Adam to one of the chairs, Blake paced in the middle of the floor. He had too many hostages and he couldn’t control all of them. He debated killing a couple of them but hesitated. His gaze came to rest on the lantern hanging from the chain in the center of the room. Tucking the other gun into his belt, he pulled the lantern down and shook it gently. It was nearly full and he pulled a book of matches from his pocket. The lantern gave off enough light to allow him to close the door.

A soft moan emanated from the corner where JD was coming around. The whole left side of his head throbbed as he tried to focus his eyes. He tried to bring his hand around to survey the damage and found that they were still tied behind his back. A voice called his name and JD lifted his head from the wall to see who was speaking. In the dim light, he made out Nathan.

“How do you feel, JD?" the medic pnquired softly.

“Head hurts, Nathan,” he dutifully answered.

“Feeling sick to your stomach or seeing double?”

“No, but I think I bit my tongue. Taste’s like blood,” JD commented.

“Shut up over there or I’ll put a slug in his head!” The gunman threatened.

The girl moaned and moved slightly as she gathered her wits. Slowly, painfully, she got to her hands and knees and crawled over to Adam and rested her cheek against his thigh.

“What do you intend to do with us?” Chris asked.

“Suppose I say I’m going to kill you?” Blake challenged.

“Just asking,” Chris replied evenly.

Crossing the small room, Blake jerked JD to his feet and dragged him to the middle of the room. Buck and Vin immediately began to try to get off of the wall. The others tried to keep them still.

“Suppose I start with this one?” Blake asked as he sneered at the blonde. He had guessed, correctly, that he was the leader.

Swallowing the heart that had leapt into his throat, Chris spoke calmly.

“What do you want me to say?”

The young man kneeling at his feet was very little threat as he was hurt. Blake pressed the gun against the bruised jaw and the kid tried to pull away. The boiling rage of the mustached man was intriguing but Blake wasn’t sure he could take him easily. The longhaired man had already challenged him once and looked like he needed to be taken down a notch or two. Pulling the kid to his feet by his hair, Blake hurled him back toward the wall.

JD landed on his knees and his shoulder slammed into the wall beside Buck. The gunman moved to the wall and yanked Vin to his feet, slamming his knee into the Texan’s head at the same time. Blake dragged the dazed man to the door and out into the snow.

The unmistakable sound of fists falling carried easily thru the silence in the cabin. The sound of a body being hurled up against the outside of the cabin caused more than one man to flinch. After a minute of silence there came a sound that caused their blood to run cold. Three distinct shots from a 9mm echoed across the small valley, muffled somewhat by the inches of new snow that had fallen in the past hour.

“Do you think he shot Vin?” JD whispered, his eyes clenched shut against the mental images drummed up by the sounds.

“I don’t know, kid,” Buck answered truthfully.

As they waited for the gunman to return, they strained their ears to listen to what was happening outside of the cabin. The doors of the truck were opened and closed. The driver’s door of the suburban gave its own unique protest as it was wrenched open. The crunch of footsteps moved off and the sound of logs being tossed from the woodpile went on for a couple of minutes.

The loose snow got sucked into his mouth as he gasped for air and Vin coughed. An explosion of pain and a wave of nausea rolled over him as he felt the broken rib shift. Even as the red fog of pain thinned, his mind processed what his encounter had told him about the gunman. Clearly, the man had done time. He knew exactly where to hit to achieve maximum pain and disability with a minimum of effort. When the gunman discovered the shoulder holster, Vin figured to be killed with his own weapon. The three shots burrowed into the snow near his feet.

Just his luck! A whole group of Federal agents on vacation! Blake slammed the gun hard into the ribcage of the longhaired man identified as Vin Tanner by his ATF ID card. The satisfying snap of the rib had assuaged his anger somewhat as he let the man go to his knees. The gunfire would make the others figure that he had killed Tanner and it was something he could use to control them. Dragging the nearly unconscious man around the cabin, he propped him up against a tree and secured him with additional twine.

After tossing several sticks of wood up near the door, Blake scooped up the bloody snow from Tanner’s nosebleed and entered the cabin. Dropping the snow in plain sight, he jerked Julia to her feet and ordered her to bring in the wood. The ATF agent was between the cabins and not in sight of the wood he had tossed from the pile.

JD swallowed hard after looking at the bloody snow and leaned his head against Buck for solace. Chris felt several things at the same time. Guilt over not protecting his friend, grief over his loss and an overwhelming rage vied for control of his body. He wanted to withdraw, cry and explode all at the same time.

A thorough search of the others yielded two more guns, one on the blonde and one on the dark haired man who had been so very silent. The blonde got two backhanded blows to his head and kicked in the chest while the other man got only a single backhand that bloodied his nose. Blake had carried in JD’s backpack after dumping the contents in the floorboard of the truck. All of the guns, minus the clips, were slammed into the bag and tossed into the bed of the Dodge.

A bone chilling, aching cold poured thru a gap in the wallboard of the cabin behind Nathan and his hands were completely numb. He raged at being so helpless as he watched the gunman building a fire in the stove. In his mind, the veteran agent figured that this was the end of the road for all of them. He regretted that he would not have the chance to tell Rain how much he loved her one more time.

The fibrous rope was burning as it rubbed the raw skin of Josiah’s wrists. His mind was occupied with prayer for the soul of the blue-eyed Texan. He would not allow the selfish thoughts of concern for his own life to intrude.

Despair and a grief so raw that it took his breath tormented the southerner. Ezra had recognized Blake Phillips from a bust over a year ago. Phillips was the muscle for the Carlton gang. He had disappeared while out on bail. Having seen first hand the kind of damage the man was capable of inflicting on his victims, Ezra hoped that he would be shot and killed outright.

Buck stared at the melting, bloody snow as he tried to push all emotion away. He felt cold inside and out as he sat trapped between JD and Chris. He knew that he was going to be dragged thru Hell again if they survived. Vin Tanner was the other half of Chris’s soul. The loss of the blue-eyed drawling Texan was going to rock the team leader to his very foundation. On the other hand, JD was going to need an abundance of support and TLC. He wondered how he was going to balance the strength it would take to handle Chris against the tenderness his young roommate would need.

Fighting to control the fear and sadness he felt, JD willed his mind to go blank. Every time he closed his eyes he saw Vin’s face. He saw the pranks they played on the other team members. He saw the pride when their amateur ice hockey team took the division championship. With a deep sigh, JD pressed more tightly against Buck’s shoulder.

As the sun went down, the snow slowly deepened. The cold air fought for and gained control, pushing back some of the moisture and driving the temperature lower. The snow changed from soft, fluffy, good snowball flakes, back to the light, dry snow that was so easily blown into drifts. As the earth continued on its path around the sun, the jet stream slowly pulled away taking the warmth and moisture.

Shaking so hard he could hardly think, Vin opened his eyes. His throat was achy and raw from mouth breathing. His nose was clogged with blood clots as his body responded to the hurts inflicted at the hands of the enraged gunman. He wiggled his toes and feet to encourage circulation and stave off frostbite. His hands and arms were numb but his ribs reminded him that they were still broken as he tried to free his hands.

Adam’s head hung down as he dozed lightly. He had stayed awake for a long time the night before to protect Julia and was now paying back the sleep bank. He had prayed for a long time in an effort to keep awake. The first few times he drifted off he was startled by the sight of Maggie’s blood pumping out of the hole in her head before her heart got the message and stopped beating. Now, his sleep was blissfully dream free.

The bloody snowball had finally melted and dripped thru the cracks in the floorboards but it didn’t matter to Julia. In her mind, she could still see it. Growing up, she had always found comfort in the Psalms she had memorized for Sunday school but now she could not summon a single comforting verse or passage. The gunman stood, causing the old wooden chair to creak loudly. His hand closed on her snowsuit collar as she was jerked to her feet.

In his boredom, Blake had turned his attention to the girl. Except for an occasional shudder, she had not moved since coming in with the wood. In the wan light from the lantern, she was pretty. He knew he could not afford to leave any witnesses and decided to extract what entertainment he could from them before he killed all of them.

A startled shriek woke all of the men as the gunman shoved the girl toward the bed in the corner. Like a cat smelling a bath, Julia fought and clawed when she saw where he was pushing her. A hard fist to her stomach drove the air from her lungs and a backhand split her lip. Her knees felt like rubber as she was shoved onto the bed. She recovered her breath and resumed her struggle.

Seeing the girl pinned to the bed gave Buck the surge of adrenaline he needed to pull his hands free of the rope. Shoving his free hand into his pants pocket, he pulled his pocketknife and freed Chris’s hands. Pressing the knife into the team leader’s hand, the enraged agent pushed off of the wall and started across the room.

+ + + + + + +

High up in the mountains, an old, weathered rock shifted under the weight of the snow pressing down from above. The ages of freezing and thawing had created a deep crevasse that was threatening to rip the boulder from the bosom of its mother. Little by little, the weight increased until the tenuous connection broke and the massive stone shuddered. The light, dry snow danced as it began to slide with the force of gravity.

Slowly and first, and then faster and faster, the light powdery snow raced down the mountain with joyful abandon. As the weight around the boulder changed, the crevasse was packed even more tightly with snow. Finally, with a massive sigh, the rock tumbled free and joined in the parade down the mountain.

+ + + + + + +

Sitting in the dark and quiet outside of the cabin, Vin Tanner heard the first soft rumble of the rocks and snow coming down the valley. Wiggling furiously against the ropes, he managed to create enough slack that he could move his upper arms. The ropes came together and rolled up his body like rubber bands on a tube. As the rumbling increased in intensity and volume, the sharpshooter became frantic to get loose. The rough twine scraped his face as he slid out of the unwelcome embrace. Even more urgently, he fought to free his wrists. Finally, he settled for sitting down and working his bound hands over his bottom and shifting his numb, frozen feet thru until his hands were in front of him.

+ + + + + + +

In her struggle, Julia worked up a sweat. Blake’s hands slipped repeatedly off of her wrists as he tried to restrain her. With the strength born of absolute terror, the young co-ed fought back. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the mustached man standing over them.

After freeing JD, Chris moved stealthily down the line freeing his friends. He was aware, peripherally, of the deep, bass rumbling sound but dismissed it as he reached for Ezra’s bound hands. JD was rubbing his wrists and hands against his own thighs to try to restore feeling to the numb appendages. Nathan was shaking his hands gently and Josiah was slowly flexing his hands. The rope on Ezra’s wrists was bloody and the knife kept slipping in Chris’s semi-numb fingers. Just as the southerner’s hands slipped free, the rumbling took on a name.

+ + + + + + +

He could just barely see it in the darkness. Like a charging herd, the rolling thundering wave of snow and ice bore down on the cabins. In a move born of pure desperation, Vin jumped and caught hold of a branch in the massive tree and pulled himself up. Wrapping his legs around the limb, he hung on as if his life depended on it and it truly did.

+ + + + + + +

Fate was with team 7 in one way. The trio of cabins they were using was not in the center of the valley. The brunt of the avalanche raced past them. The second wave, the one wrought by the boulder joining the torrential flow, slammed into the cabins and shattered them like eggshells.

+ + + + + + +

Vin closed his eyes as the tree shuddered with the force of the tons of snow and debris racing thru the narrow gorge. With the first splintering groan of the cabins supports, the Texan feared that he would be the only survivor.

+ + + + + + +

Almost the same moment he took hold of the gunman, Buck recognized the sound and vibration that had been building for the past minute. At first, he thought it was a trick of his circulation-starved limbs. Taking a moment to slam his fist into the gunman’s face and pluck his gun from the other man’s belt, Buck dropped and wrapped his arms around the girl.

Drowning! That was what it felt like. But if one was drowning, one ought to try to swim. Ezra’s mind functioned purely on instinct as the first wave of snow slammed into him. Something struck his hip and thigh rendering the limb useless as he foundered thru the rolling frozen tide.

‘Avalanche!’ The word galvanized the team leader as his eyes locked on JD. Grabbing the youngest member of his team, Chris clung with everything he had inside. The frantic hands tried to push him away as JD panicked. The roar of the snow and collapsing building drowned out the screams.

‘God has a peculiar sense of humor.’ Josiah thought as he tried to protect his head. A sharp stone, a shard from under the boulder that made better time down the mountain, cut into his arm opening a nasty gash. Before the pain signal reached his brain, Josiah was unconscious.

The chair he was tied to shattered when it fell over and Adam was cast adrift on the rip tide. Unable to free his arms, the young man was completely at the mercy of the crystalline precipitation. His motion was halted when his leg slammed into a tree and was pinned there by a large rock. The nasty, compound fracture broke thru the skin as the rough edge of the bone was ground nearly smooth by the surface of the rock. In the lee of the tree trunk, he was not completely buried by the snow.

The snow that filled every open orifice on his head cut off his sharply indrawn breath. Nathan fought to remain calm and relaxed as the snow rolled him under and spit him out on top of the wave. The wave deposited him on a reasonably clear patch of ground just before the boulder’s flight of freedom came to a halt. A scream of agony burst from the medic as the stone came to rest on his left arm, pinning it to the ground. As the urgent messages arrived from the shattered bone and torn muscle, Nathan lost consciousness.

The blow to his face was a glancing one and Blake felt the gun ripped from his belt. About the time his body responded to the threat to his person, the door of the cabin slammed into him. Grabbing the large, solid piece of wood, he rode it like a surfboard. A particularly nasty rip tide caught the wood and propelled it under the wave before slamming him into a tree and pinning him there like a frog on the dissection table.

Buck struggled to keep hold of Julia as the white wave slammed into them. Instead of rolling them under and spitting them out on top, the undertow pinned them against a pair of trees behind the cabin. The bed frame created a dam that frustrated the churning, roiling mass of snow and rocks. The pair was slammed into the frame and held there while they were punished by the ice and debris.

After what seemed like an eternity, the rumbling sound faded, taking the vibration along for the ride. Vin’s legs ached and his thighs were raw from gripping the tree limb. As the terror passed, the Texan tumbled to the snow pack. His ribs screamed in protest and he mumbled angrily.

“Shut up already! I got enough to worry about without a punctured lung. Nathan would kick my ass all the way back to Denver.”

The landscape was a foreign as the surface of the moon! As Vin sat up and looked around, he was amazed! Even in the dark, there was nothing he could recognize. Exhaustion, shock and his battered body demanded rest and he slowly crawled back to the tree trunk, leaned back and fell asleep.

Somewhere deep in his brain, Chris realized that the motion and rumbling had stopped. Pain raced up his arms when he tried to move them. He managed to pull his bare hand into his coat sleeve on one side. His other arm was pinned under something. When he tried to turn his head he realized that what ever had trapped his arm was pressing against his chin. The fog descended again and he slept.

Cold! Wherever she was, she was cold. Wait. Her back was cold but there was something warm pressed against her chest. She could barely move but she managed to pull her hands into her sleeves. Nuzzling her cheek against the warmth, Julia slept.

Blessed numbness wrapped the southerner in its frigid embrace. His mind registered the cold in an abstract sort of way. He wiggled his arm until he could get it up to his face. Covering his eyes with his forearm, Ezra dropped into a deep slumber.

Pain signals flashed urgently in his brain and he responded to them, or at least he tried. The moment he tried to lift his head to see what was hurting his arm, the pain morphed into an almost unbearable agony. A hoarse cry burst forth and he collapsed back onto the thick layer of snow. Nathan managed to use his right hand to zip his coat up farther before retreating to a pain filled sleep.

A dull throb matched pace with his heartbeat as Josiah briefly regained consciousness. His mind puzzled briefly over where he was before he gave up and closed his eyes.

Rolling waves of agony kept Adam from being able to sleep so he turned to prayer. He prayed for Julia first. Her screaming and struggling with the gunman were burned into his brain. He then prayed for the young, dark haired man who had been hurt. After a while, he prayed for the other men and then for them as a group. As the blood loss made him shake with cold, he prayed the 23rd Psalm.

‘The furnace must have gone out again.’ As JD pushed thru the layers of sleep, he began to formulate a reason why he felt so cold. The body pressed to his was marginally warmer and he nuzzled against it for a minute. His hand was throbbing with cold and he drew it to his chest before retreating into peaceful sleep.

‘Breathe, breathing is good. God it hurts! Breathe, gotta keep breathing,’ Buck told himself. He knew that one arm was broken, he could feel it. The other arm was still wrapped around the girl. Each breath was agonizing for him because of the piece of metal from the bed frame that protruded from his ribcage. Julia shuddered against him and he tried to tighten his grip on her. He could tell that their legs were intertwined and for the little warmth her snowsuit afforded his jeans clad legs, he was grateful. Repeating his mantra to breathe, he dozed off.