The Hunt

by Heather F.

Part 1 - 4 | Part 5 - 9 | Part 10 - 14

Part 5

No more shots peppered the afternoon. The sun hung low in the sky, never reaching its true zenith, as if it took too much effort. The snow sparkled, glittering in the softened light of a winter sun.

Josiah , Nathan and Vin gathered up their gear and scurried their way from tree to tree skirting the edge of the clearing, heading toward Larabee and the others.

Vin, like the others, ran hunched over, rifle in hand as he quickly picked his way along the haphazard trail left by Chris, Buck and JD.

The men who had been hunting Standish had slid deeper into the forest and simply disappeared. Though the urge to chase them down was strong, the need to reunite with the team pulled at them with greater intensity.

“Hey boys,” Vin whispered out as he slid into the tiny stand of trees that Chris and the others took protection behind.

“You all right?” Larabee asked, scanning the three men that quickly sidled up behind trees of their own.

“Ain’t none of us sporting any extra holes,” Tanner answered. “Ey Ez? Figured you’d be half way to Cairo by now.”

“Circumstances have a habit or rearing their ugly heads,” Standish answered back rubbing at his hat with a mittened hand. The wool material was sometimes distractingly itchy.

“Nice outfit,” Tanner smirked appreciating the insulated overalls and coat that Standish wore. Vin suspected the undercover agent appreciated them as well for their warmth and durability.

Ezra held up one mitten hand. Vin could imagine the single raised digit under the material.

“Nathan, he’s been hit,” Larabee’s statement had twisted itself around into an order.

Nathan let out a heavy sigh, “Big surprise there.”

The healer dropped down next to Standish while slipping off his pack. He eyed the blood on the jacket’s arm. “You hit just in the arm?” He asked.

Ezra pulled his gaze from the base of the tree trunk nearby and stared at Nathan while Jackson rooted through his pack with an air of exasperation.

Standish simply nodded. He settled heavier against the tree feeling the snow slowly work its way through the insulated overalls he had taken from the truck just the day before. Somehow, it didn’t really bother him. The others were here, they would take care of everything. Responsibility for his own safety lifted from his shoulders like a heavy yoke being removed.

The undercover agent couldn’t resist the smile that twitched on his face. It was good to back in amongst the group. Even if it was out in the middle of God’s country.

He snapped out of his malaise when a candy bar hit him in the chest. Standish stared mutely at the Three Musketeer bar that lay in his lap. His stomach clenched painfully.

“Eat that and I’ve got some water for you.” Nathan said as he once again started rooting through his pack.

Standish’s stomach growled. The gnawing hunger that had been stifled under fear and a constant surge of adrenaline roared to the forefront. His mouth suddenly watered and his hands shook as he came to realize just how famished he was. With shaking hands, he pulled off his mittens and ripped into the wrapper. He couldn’t get the paper off quick enough as he tore a large bite from the candy bar. He had it eaten and gone before Jackson put his knapsack to the side.

Nathan pretended not to notice the way Ezra gulped down the candy. He gave the man privacy in the small clearing that offered none, in a situation that prevented such amenities. Standish was so calorie deficient it would take more than a few meals to get his strength back and muscles healed.

Jackson pulled one glove off with his teeth and chuckled as he fingered the white stuffing of the carhart jacket that was tinged with red near the upper arm.

“It bleeding badly?” Nathan asked as he tried maneuvering the sleeve of the coat to get a better glimpse of the wound that lay hidden below.

“Don’t think so,” Ezra answered honestly. Sitting back against the tree, with the protection of the others around him, Standish felt the dregs of exhaustion drape itself over his frame. The candy bar only stimulated his appetite, exposing the raw teeth of hunger. His stomach gnawed on itself, impatiently urging for more food.

Nathan let go of the coat sleeve and nodded as he sat back on his heels. He slapped Ezra’s bent legs. A grin spread on his face and clearly spoke of the relief at finding the undercover agent alive and relatively unscathed.

Ezra returned the smile weakly and shut his eyes once again resting his head back against the tree trunk. The comforting drone of voices around him, lulled him into a soft twilight of peace and contentment.

“Nathan?” Larabee’s inquiry pulled Jackson’s attention from Standish.

“He’ll survive,” Nathan said. Ezra grunted in disagreement, without opening his eyes.

Jackson shook his head and pushed himself to his feet using Standish’s good shoulder as a guide.

He scanned the area and the others who stood leaning against various trees keeping vigil. “We’d all be a lot better if we got down off this mountain and some place warm with some food.” The medic walked the short distance to Larabee and kept his voice low, “I don’t want to try ‘n take his coat off or the sweater he has under it,” Jackson turned and looked at Standish who lay sunken back against the tree, “and I’m thinkin’ he’d fight us on it,” Jackson turned his attention back to Chris, “not that I blame him. We’re in single digits up here and it’d do him no good to get any colder than he already is, best thing is to get some place with some heat.” Nathan paused, “It ain’t’ bleeding bad from what I gather. It looks like a graze.”

Chris stood hipshot staring out across the clearing and then back to his men. Vin stood on guard against a tree. His rifle at the ready, watching and waiting.

JD squatted beside Ezra joking with the undercover agent. Dunne’s exhaustion made itself evident when the young boy slowly sank to his butt in the deep snow. Buck stood near the two men tossing out his own insults while scanning the area for any danger, his gun at the ready. Wilmington met Larabee’s gaze and held it. Buck offered a grin and then broke eye contact and nudged with his knee with just enough force to knock Dunne over onto his side into the snow, just to be irritating.

Josiah watched the meadow. His large frame leaning heavily into the tree he sought protection behind while tracking any movement with his eye and gun.

“Nathan bind up his arm,” Chris turned his attention back to Jackson and then over to Ezra, “and if he gives you any crap, I’ll shoot’em myself.”

Ezra cocked an eyebrow but the effect was hidden by his wool hat. “I see Mr. Larabee’s attitude has improved with the weather.”

“Hell Ez, it’s just his way of sayin’ he loves ya,” Vin chuckled, never letting his eyes stray from the forest across the clearing.

“Yes, well ‘Hallmark’ says it with more finesse,” Ezra groused back.

Larabee ignored his two men and turned his attention to his youngest agent, “JD get on that computer of yours and try and figure out where we are.”

“Well, Hell, Mr. Larabee, I can help you with that,” Ezra huffed with barely concealed sarcasm.

Chris stared at his agent expectantly.

Ezra sighed with a put-upon expression and spoke slowly and clearly as if speaking to a very small child: “We’re in the middle of a frozen wasteland miles from any civilization.”

“And why is that Ezra?” Chris asked turning his full attention to his undercover agent, leaving Vin and the others to watch his back.

Ezra once again skewed his face as if Larabee had lost his mind, “Because civilization hasn’t reached this far.”

“Brother,” Josiah spoke out in a warning tone, never taking his eyes from any potential danger that might lurk in the surrounding forest. He had to concede that perhaps the danger lurked amongst them, if Ezra didn’t learn to edit his own sarcasm.

“Ezra, just answer the damn man,” Nathan intoned softly as he squatted down beside the undercover agent and began the daunting task of removing the man’s coat.

Ezra grimaced at the undue movement but held still when Larabee narrowed his gaze.

“Well, I haven’t actually tried to converse with said gentlemen, they seem more intent on doing bodily harm to myself, than parleying.” Ezra pulled his knees up as his arm rang with stinging pain when Nathan tried to peel the jacket off from around his shoulder. The sweater and bibbed overall suspenders impeded Jackson’s efforts.

“What a surprise,” Vin mumbled out, a smile splitting his face.

“Yes quite unexpected I assure you.” Ezra ignored the returning sarcasm that seemed directed at him.

“You don’t know why they’re after you?”

“They don’t want witnesses?” Ezra remarked with raised eyebrows. His tone clearly stated that he no more believed it than they did. His pursuers could have just left him up in these mountains and good odds lay that his body wouldn’t have been found until late spring.

“Could be,” Chris grudgingly agreed but felt no reassurances by it.

“Or it could be the ledgers they think I have in my possession.” Standish offered with a catch in his voice when Nathan moved the injured arm.

“Ezra,” Chris warned, not wanting to have to wait for the whole story.

“Accounts of course, written documentation of financial exchanges, and of course there is the small matter of the diary.” Ezra gasped and swatted at Nathan’s hands as the medic tried to push the sweater sleeve up high enough to expose the wound. It wasn’t going to work.

“Who’s diary?” Chris asked between clenched teeth.

The toothy, wolfish grin he got in return sent his blood boiling. Why did his men have to be so irritating. “Ezra,” Chris ground out again, in inquiry and in warning.

“Mr. Soldan’s, of course.” Ezra’s smug cocky airs dipped a little when he yelped as Nathan took a pair of scissors to the arm of his sweater.

“Have you read it?”

“That wouldn’t be polite Mr. Larabee,” Ezra returned with mock indignity.

“So that means you read it,” Buck answered.

“Yes,” Standish answered with a sigh and then whined, “Mr. Jackson please stop trying to help me.”

“Shut up Ezra,” Nathan retorted as he laid gauze over the deep furrow that needed stitches inside and out.

“Ezra, the diary.” Chris’s anger grew with the dropping daylight and temperatures.

“He kept detailed notes Mr. Larabee, just as he did with the ledgers. It’s all in black and white….well blue and white to be exact, but his business dealings, both financially and personally.” Ezra turned his eyes back to his arm and was dismayed at the torn sweater sleeve and the sight of his own blood.

“Where are they?”

Ezra un-tucked his sweater from his insulated over alls and lifted it up part way. There, taped to his midsection, were two small books, not the true ledger books Chris was picturing. He switched his attention over to Dunne.

Chris watched as JD dug his computer out of his pack and then pulled a gnarled nest of cords and a tiny electronic chip.

With his breath billowing in soft white rolls, JD sat back on his haunches and dove into the task of setting up his computer. Dunne launched himself into a world he was comfortably familiar with and ignored the conversation going on around him.

Larabee envied the younger agent.

Until he heard the ‘ahh shit.’

Chris cocked an eyebrow at Vin who in turned offered a disinterested shrug, never turning his full attention from the surrounding area. JD and his computers and the world of electronics were beyond Tanner and he did not have to feign disinterest in it.

Larabee sighed and shook his head. “What’s wrong JD?”

“It’s the cold,” JD muttered out, breathing repeatedly into cupped bare hands. The fingerless gloves he wore under his mittens actually covered his fingers, making it near impossible to type.

“Nothin’ new there kid,” Buck chuckled out wiping his nose on the sleeve of his coat as he reached down to hold the second layer of gauze in place on Ezra’s upper arm while Nathan reached for more tape. Blood slowly seeped through the white gauze. Ezra having seen where Buck wiped his nose, tried to create a little distance between himself and the ladies’ man.

“Batteries don’t want to work, it’s too cold. This is takin’ forever,” JD breathed into his red tipped fingers again as he nodded repeatedly. “Once we get somewhere warm, it’ll be back up and running a whole lot quicker,” he added without looking up from his computer screen, and still blowing on one hand, he deftly danced his fingers across the tiny key board with the other.

Larabee sighed and shook his head. “Do what you can JD.”

“Miracles are Josiah’s department, Chris,” Vin spoke out quietly taking some of the pressure from JD’s shoulders.

Larabee merely nodded and turned his attention back toward the clearing.

The sun slowly moved across the sky, lengthening shadows.

The temperature would soon be dropping again.

+ + + + + + +

“If they’re out there they ain’t movin’,” Vin said as he hefted his rifle settling it cautiously over his shoulder, careful to protect the thousand dollar scope. He pushed away from the tree he was leaning against and with a satisfied smile slid into line behind Larabee.

The others followed, hefting packs, readjusting the weight across their shoulders and backs and shuffled into the familiar single file march. The one difference was the extra man. Standish slid into line behind JD, who in turn followed Vin. Buck stuck close to Standish’s heels.

The undercover agent carried no pack, his arm was trapped in a make shift sling which he made a show of disliking but easily capitulated to Nathan’s demands once he realized how painful it was to let his injured arm fall to his side.

The line moved out slowly, filtering between the trees, weaving in amongst the shadows of mid day. With practiced sense of pacing, with the anxiety of searching for a missing man diminished, the seven men threaded their way through the slowly darkening forest, hoping to find shelter and avoid the enemy.

Eyes nervously searched the surrounding forest, tense muscles never relaxed, and the fear of an attack only seemed to heighten with the passage of time and distance.

Chris led them down slope angling back toward the river. They would parallel it for a few miles then veer North. North seemed counter intuitive to the hobby rancher. It was as if it would force them to go upslope. Larabee knew better, knew that North did not mean uphill, but he still felt uneasy about the course direction.

JD, however, was sure. The young agent carried his pack with a new sense of strength and determination. He worked the miracle. Dunne had gotten the frozen computer to work. JD knew where they were, electronically speaking and was confident in his information.

Josiah and Nathan could plot their course on a map and trace their trail across a folded, grid marked paper, and they felt secure.

Buck had lifted Standish to his feet with one arm, and now shadowed the undercover agent, certain in his ability to protect him.

Vin kept his rifle easily accessible, comfortable with his capability to shoot anything within a few hundred yards of his team and friends. The tracker followed behind Larabee ever vigilant and with the easy step of confidence.

Larabee led his men through waist deep snow kept at mid shin level with snow shoes. His quadriceps burned each time he bent his knees to take another step. Chris walked with the heavy determined step of a leader, wishing he was back amongst his city streets, back on his mountains, his terrain. Though, he would never trust his men’s safety to anyone else, there were times, like now, he wished their safety did not rest so heavily on his shoulders and depend so trustingly on his decisions.

With swift sliding steps, Larabee skimmed through the snow, eager to put as much distance between himself and the men who had somehow managed to disappear into the forest. With a quick stride, he cut through the snow hoping to hit the old abandon cabin that JD had miraculously found through his satellite hook up. And hopefully, just hopefully, the weather would hold long enough for a helicopter to come carry them out.

For three hours the group traveled silently through the forest with the river gurgling unseen to their left. The team skiffed down slope toward the ‘Big Fork cabin’.

The cabin was built by trappers and loggers and those that ventured forth into the far back reaches of the mountains, away from civilization. Chris knew of a few cabins like the one they headed too. They were usually stocked with can goods, blankets and cut fire wood. It provided shelter for those that found themselves lost or stuck out in the mountains when weather turned foul or injury struck the traveler. Those that used the cabin would replenish what they used for the next weary traveler and hopefully prevent any unseen misfortune from developing into a tragedy. The log buildings were sturdy, their roofs sure and the walls thick. The people that worked to maintained the small cabins did it out of love for the outdoors and the knowledge and respect that mother nature and Murphy’s law sometimes worked hand and hand.

The Big Fork cabin would serve them tonight and tomorrow affording them a place to rest. With luck, JD’s computer would be warmed up enough to send a signal and hopefully call for a helicopter.

Chris caught movement from the corner of his eye. Standish stumbled yet again, only to have Buck grab his arm and keep him from going down. The undercover agent had discarded the sling long ago. It was impossible to keep his balance with one arm trapped. Even now with two arms free, the relentless cold, the hunger and the wound were taking their toll.

Cold and hunger were gnawing on his own reserves, just as surely as it was snipping away at his men.

Chris’s anger continued to boil. A blast of wind buffeted him full in the chest, making his eyes water. The sun lay just above the peaked horizon, a pale yellow in a greyish white sky. Low cloud cover rolled in from ahead, from the North. The promise of more snow threatened to dump down on them. The wind picked up strength moaning and weaving its way through pine trees, battering the weary men and seeping in between the seams of their clothing, chilling the sweat that drenched their inner clothing.

Chris felt the bite of the wind on his cheeks, felt the tip of his nose tingle with the bitter chill. His eyes watered and his nose ran. Sweat dotted his back and ran in tiny rivulets along the creases of muscles under tight skin.

It had become a race. His team slid through the forest single file, trying to beat the brewing storm and avoiding the men that hunted them.

From the corner of his eye, he watched as Buck, once again latched onto Standish’s arm, though this time it took the combined effort of Josiah and Buck to get Ezra back onto his feet.

They were all tiring. Dangerously battered.

JD followed mutely behind Vin, his head ducked down to his chin, whether to shield his face from the slicing wind or because he was too exhausted to lift his head, Chris could not be sure. His men were exhausted.

Larabee swore.

Chris was getting tired of being hunted.

Part 6

Through the haze of swirling snow and behind the silhouettes of towering pines stood the dark outlines of the cabin.

Larabee signaled his men to a halt. One by one they ducked behind trees, shielding themselves from any possible gunfire that might erupt from the cabin.

If they knew about the small oasis, they had to assume that those that hunted them did too.

With caution and stealth honed through stringent training, Chris, Buck and Vin slinked their way toward the small cabin. Nathan, Josiah, JD and Ezra spread out amongst the trees within sight of one another and watched the others, guns at ready, to cover Chris, Buck and Vin’s backs should lead start flying.

With agonizing slowness, heightened by the gale like winds and bitter temperatures, the four men watched their three teammates appear and disappear like shadows through the blowing curtain of snow in the darkened forest.

+ + + + + + +

Vin shouldered the thick log door open, keeping his pack between his shoulder and the nail tips that studded door. He tripped over his snow shoes when the door suddenly gave way. He toppled inward, careful to avoid stepping on the small door stoop. Wind and snow piled in behind him in a deafening roar of confusion and noise.

He scanned the dark open room. Satisfied that no one lay in ambush, he waved an ‘all clear’ and ventured back into the storm to help his teammates, closing the heavy wooden door behind himself.

A few moments later the door burst open again with men, blinding snow and piercing winds all tumbling into the cabin.

Chris was already shouting orders over the crescendo of the storm, “Josiah, Buck get a fire going, Vin secure the door and check for any kind of weapons, JD get that computer of yours on line and get us some help. Nathan...”

“Already on it Chris,” Jackson answered as he and Ezra stumbled out of the way, skirting to the far side of the large wooden table and heading for one of the homemade chairs that sat between the three sets of bunks lining the west wall.

Larabee leaned his shoulder into the door with Vin, fighting against the wind and rushing snow. With their combined effort they got the heavy door closed, muffling the sounds of fury that raged across the mountainside and beat against the small shelter. A few scattered inches of snow lay at their feet, un-melting in the frigid cold of the cabin.

The one room cabin lay in dark heavy shadows. The heavy smell of must and disuse quickly made itself known. The little cabin had only two small windows each with thick wood block shutters on heavy iron hinges. The shutters were swung closed and latched from the inside. Large nails had dotted the outside of the shutters, just the same as the nails that had graced the ‘welcome mat’ and most of the door front. The visitors and amateur architects of the small cabin understood how to keep curious and marauding bears from looting their supplies.

The members of Team Seven quickly started on their assigned tasks, all the while wary that the unknown gunmen still lurked out beyond the log walls of their little haven.

Larabee rooted through the large wood storage boxes that lined the East wall closest to the only door. They were filled with canned goods, blankets and matches. He found a slingshot in amongst the items, shrugged at the curiosity and tossed it to the side, in the middle of the floor. He lifted a thick wool blanket and paused. Dynamite. Six sticks of dynamite.

He smiled and caught Vin’s attention, as the sharpshooter came up empty handed in his search for any kind of weapons.

“Must use the dynamite to clear trail or something,” Tanner said, walking over to Larabee as he inspected a stick of explosives.

Larabee merely nodded, placed the dynamite back, and worked the box away from the wall and into the center of the room next to the sling shot.

+ + + + + + +

A fire crackled and snapped in the large fireplace. The roar of the chimney fire a half hour before had burned itself out quickly as Sanchez stoked the fire into a blaze. The old abandoned nests that had blocked the chimney had gone up in a blaze and burned themselves out.

The cabin’s one room was cast in a flickering of grey shadows that wavered and trembled with each fierce blast of wind that battered the cabin and sliced its way down the chimney.

The storm raged outside, buffeting the building.

JD sat at the table, his back to the fire. His white long-john shirt had finally dried and was now warm to the touch. His coat and sweatshirt were draped over a chair to dry along with his snow pants. He had kicked off his boots and had set them near the fire with the other boots.

The young agent once again tried to coax his computer to do the impossible.

Buck fingered the dynamite and the sling shot and occasionally threw a glance at the undercover agent. Ezra for his part, stared at the makeshift ledger and diary that he had placed side by side on the table and ran a finger along a column in the ledger as he turned pages in the diary. He still wore his sweater, with its cut sleeve, refusing to part company with all his outer layers. Larabee stood over Standish, resting one hand on the table and the other on the back of Ezra’s chair, and scanned the pages of the two books over Standish’s shoulder.

The shorthand and column headers made no sense to Chris and the more he puzzled over them the more his anger rose. “Can you make heads or tails of this?” he asked, his frustration audible.

Ezra slowly nodded, running a thumb over his lower lip, “Actually, yes.” Ezra kept his attention on the books. He was too tired to swivel slightly in his chair and meet his boss’s eye, “Mother taught me different strategic accounting practices as a child….it is sometimes prudent to mask ones gains if others might perceive them as ill gotten.” Standish’s smile reminded Larabee of a confident Used Car Salesman on the scent of a buyer with more money than brains.

“I don’t want to know Standish….just decode this and make it make sense,” Chris ordered with a tired sigh.

Vin chuckled quietly to himself as he leaned back in a chair resting it against one of the bunks. He diligently cleaned and oiled his rifle. Josiah squatted down in front of the fire and slowly stirred the contents in the thick cast iron pot that hung over the small cooking flame.

Nathan sat in a chair near the shuttered window with his Sig in hand, keeping watch without being able to hear or see anything outside the cabin. The wind howled and moaned as it coursed around the small cabin.

“Got it,” JD piped up from his computer.

“JD,” Chris replied, asking a question with merely the name. He straightened up and turned his attention to Dunne.

“Can’t get much range,” Dunne started and then continued still typing away, “Got a hold of a Search and Rescue unit down in Eimidae. If the storm breaks, they can be here by morning with a chopper, hopefully big enough for all of us. They’re contacting Travis and the locals. They’ll keep their eyes out for anyone suspicious.”

“Is there any way I can get in touch with Travis myself?” Chris asked pushing himself to his full height and heading over to JD and his computer.

“Can try, the batteries are low, the cold really did a number on them…satellite link up is weak because of the storm, but I don’t see why not,” JD slid out of the chair and let Chris sit at the keyboard.

Larabee hated it when JD did that. The young agent assumed everyone on his team was as competent at computers as he was. The kid still couldn’t grasp that his skill with electronics was as special as Vin’s skill with a rifle, as Ezra skill at undercover work, Buck’s ability at setting up surveillance, or Nathan with all things with a razor edge or Josiah and profiling. It sometimes irritated Larabee that Dunne failed to see his own unique gifts.

“JD, connect me to Travis,” Larabee’s impatience caused Buck and Nathan to snicker. Standish smirked and shared a look with the other two. Vin smiled and kept his eyes on the barrel of his rifle and Josiah’s outright laughter competed with the storm outside.

“Umm, sure Chris,” JD leaned over Larabee’s back and hit a few keys. Chris waited as a little hourglass sat in the middle of the screen.

The screen went black.

“Ahh shit,” JD quietly muttered.

“Ahh shit what JD?” Chris asked, dreading the answer he knew was coming.

“Batteries died.” Dunne sighed and shrugged. The small twinge of guilt that settled on him were audible in his voice, “sorry.”

Larabee merely nodded and gently pushed the computer a few inches toward the center of the table.

“You sure they’re coming JD?” Nathan asked. He gazed up from sharpening one of his knives. The blade caught the fire light and reflected it in a tiny flare.

“If the storm quits they’ll be here,” JD reassured as he took a seat beside Buck and dragged his computer closer to him to start packing it away. “Least that’s what they said.” The guilt of not being able to offer solid reassurance tainted his voice.

The others ignored it.

“Nathan?” Josiah asked tilting his head in the direction of the undercover agent.

Sanchez had pulled a chair from the table over closer to the fire and stirred the pot of beans and beef. The cabin was warm enough that they had all shucked out of their gear and draped it about in a semi circle around the fireplace hearth.

“Nuthin’ a few good hours of rest and a couple of good meals won’t cure. The arm could’ve used some stitches and it bled more than is good, but what he needs most is some solid sleep.”

“Gentlemen, it may be surprising, but not only am I in the room, I do have my faculties about me,” Ezra’s peeved tone matched the exhaustion that shadowed the hallows under his eyes.

“That’s been debatable,” Buck grinned. Standish threw him a snarled, sarcastic glance.

“Nice woolies ya got there Ez,” Vin chuckled out.

Ezra plucked at his white double wool long-johns and smiled. Though the grin was genuine, exhaustion draped over the agent like a second skin. It laced his thickened drawl drawing syllables even further, “Only the best Mr. Tanner, only the best.”

“Good thing too,” Nathan remarked, hearing the fatigue in his friend’s voice and feeling the same exhaustion tug on him, “kept your lily-white southern ass from freezing to death out there the last few days.”

“I’d like to think it was my skill and ingenuity that sustained me.” Tired green eyes twinkled despite the greyish bags that creased the skin below them.

“Hell Ezra, even a blind sow will find an acorn,” Josiah intoned.

Chris shook his head, a smile bending the lines on his face as Vin laughed, placing his rifle to the side, resting it against the bunk.

JD and Ezra shared a confused look. Dunne frowned and shrugged. His shoulders burned in protest at the careless movement.

Standish’s eyes fell on the open box in middle of the floor near the door, “Is that dynamite?” A small smile slowly blossomed into a dimpled grin. Fatigue faded.

The smiles around the room slowly transformed into worried frowns.

“Oh no.” Nathan groaned and rested his head against the wall and closed his eyes.

Buck nodded and held up the sling shot. He and Ezra shared twin grins.

+ + + + + + +

The cabin was quiet as the seven spooned beef and maple sugared beans down in hearty gulps. The meal which would have turned stomachs and given rise to polite excuses, was eaten with relative gusto.

Those that thought they were too tired to eat, or too nauseated to suffer the meal, ate with new found vigor when empty bellies got their first taste of solids. Hesitation disappeared as spoons scraped tin plates, trying to scoop up the very last morsels of food.

The pot was scraped clean and JD licked his spoon of the last remnants of visible food. Chris pushed the blue tin with white decorative flakes away from himself. “We need to set up a watch tonight.”

The others merely nodded, wishing they had more to eat and drink. The call of the bunks was like a siren’s song: exhaustion settled heavily on the men as the warmth of the fire finally found its way deep into their bones and the warm food filled their bellies.

“Nathan, you take first watch, I’ll be next, then Ezra….” Chris held up his hand to stall Jackson’s argument. He then turned to Standish, “You up to takin’ watch tonight? If not let me know.”

Ezra met Larabee’s piercing hazel eyes and understood that he could graciously back out of his turn on duty if he felt too tired to pull his share. Falling asleep on watch was an inexcusable offense. Knowing that, but somehow feeling responsible for their predicament, Standish inclined his head slightly, “I am capable of doing it.”

Chris let his eyes lay on the undercover agent for a moment as if measuring the man’s mettle. Standish merely quirked an eyebrow, daring his boss to push him, to challenge him. Larabee chuckled and shook his head, “Alright then, Buck you follow Vin, then Josiah and JD.”

The men nodded their agreement and pushed from the table. The dirty dishes were piled at the far end. There was not enough fresh water to clean them. The dishes could wait.

+ + + + + + +

In the crackling fire light, near midnight, Chris Larabee sat with his chair tilted back against the kitchen table while he watched the flame dance and stretch its way up the chimney. The smoke would act like a beacon and bring the gunmen to their doorstep. Of course, the trail they had left would have been easy enough to follow, - at least it was until the storm hit.

The fierce wind and blowing snow would easily hide their tracks. Chris even dared to hope that perhaps the tumultuous winds that buffeted the cabin and scoured the land would disperse the thin spirals of smoke that rose from the chimney, then cease just long enough for a helicopter to venture out after them in the morning.

Larabee did not plan on making any bets.

Twisting his wrist toward the fire, Chris checked his watch again. He should have woken Standish an hour and a half ago. He didn’t and had no intentions of doing so, never did. He had only wanted to avoid an argument.

Larabee turned his gaze from the shadows cast by the flames when he heard movement from one of the bunks.


The tracker slowly extracted himself from the area closest to the wall and climbed down from the upper bunk using the foot boards as a makeshift ladder.

JD lay curled, in the opposite top bunk, under his sleeping bag unmoving. Below, Standish slept somewhat sprawled on his back, his good arm flung out while his injured one was kept close trapped between his body and the wall. The undercover agent had kicked free of his sleeping bag. He had grown accustom to the biting cold to some extent and the heat of the cabin plus a sleeping bag had become too much. Wilmington, in the other lower bunk, had kicked his feet free and had his head and shoulders buried under the down sleeping bag.

Nathan had commandeered the third lower bunk for himself as Josiah snored in blissful oblivion on the top bunk. Chris eyed his men for a few more moments, enjoying the quiet. Dread seeped in as he contemplated how he would get them out of the mountains without getting killed.

Tanner nodded as he strode across the room and checked the latched door and window shutters. Chris slowly pushed himself to aching legs and walked slowly toward the vacated bunk. He didn’t think he would manage to get any sleep, but he would try.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was thrown against the wall by a brutal force. He tried to scramble from his bunk but suddenly found his world turned upside down and himself trapped within the confines of his sleeping bag. Flashes of light and flames seared across his darkened vision and panicked voices pierced the early morning light.

“JD!” Buck’s voice bellowed through the ruckus and the confusion as another forceful blast rocked the small cabin.

Part 7

Chris was thrown from his bottom bunk, his head slapped off the floor.

“Where the Hell is Chris?!” Vin’s voice cut through the din as men scrambled about and hollered for one another.

“I’ve got him!, I’ve got’im!” Nathan shouted back as he reached Larabee’s jerking sleeping bag and pulled it down. Chris shucked the bag while he searched for his gun. His heart settled and control surged through his veins when his fingers curled around the comfortably familiar grip of his gun.

“Josiah?!” Buck screamed out as another blast hit just outside the small cabin.

Dust and chinking cascaded down from the walls and beamed ceiling. Pots clanged to the floor.

“Here, Brother,” Sanchez’s voice sounded tight with anger. Larabee couldn’t help but think Josiah’s infinite patience was running out.

Another blast rocked the cabin. A wooden chair fell over, the heavy table jumped and an empty bunk rocked back from the wall.

“Anyone gut Ezra?” Buck’s voice had men pausing. Vin stopped loading his rifle for a brief moment. Nathan looked to Chris as if Larabee should know and Josiah’s temper seemed to falter for only a moment before raising another notch.

“He’s here,” JD piped up.

The room snapped back into action. Larabee shook his head in exasperation when he heard JD speaking again: “Come’n Ez, time to wake up.”

Another blast lambasted the cabin. The thick wooden shutters blew inward in a shower of splinters. People hit the floor covering their heads as wood chips and chinking rained down on them. The thick wooden door was torn from its hinges and skipped across the log table overturning it and knocking it to the floor.

“Come’n Ez quit screwing around, we gotta go,” JD covered his head and turtled his neck when automatic rifle fire filled the morning.

The solid thunk of bullets hitting wood sent shivers of fear down Dunne’s spine.

Larabee and Nathan crawled toward the open doorway. Buck and Vin flanked either side of the blown in window.

“JD!” Chris hollered over his shoulder as Nathan and he alternated shots. “Get Ezra and those damn ledgers and git the Hell out of here!”

Ezra had rolled from his bunk and was in the process of kicking free of his sleeping bag. Both he and JD stared back at Larabee, protests on their lips.

They would not run off and leave their friends behind.

Another blast shook the small building. Men were thrown about like tops. A large piece of the stone fireplace fell away from the wall. Early morning daylight filtered in through the hole.

Larabee wiped dust and small splinters from his face and eyes. He turned and saw Standish and Dunne still standing rooted to the floor with the beginning of protests on their lips. “NOW!” he hollered at the top of his lungs.

JD hastily grabbed the books and shoved them under his shirt while Ezra grabbed handfuls of something from the box that Buck had rifled through the evening before and shoved them into his waistband and clothing.

The two men scrambled for the escape adjacent to the stone chimney.

Ezra shoved JD through the hole sending the young agent sprawling in the grey ash littered snow. The undercover agent gave one last look at the back of his teammates.

Buck and Vin traded shots out the window, working in tandem without hesitation. Nathan and Chris mirrored them from the opened doorway. And between the two groups Josiah ducked and dodged adding an element of surprise to keep their attackers from discovering a pattern to the return firing.

Chris felt the gaze on his back and turned his head. He spotted Ezra pausing, half in and half out the small hole created by one of the blasts.

“Go Ezra, watch JD’s back,” Larabee spoke quietly, nodding his approval and condoning the retreat of his agent.

Standish couldn’t say he truly heard Larabee but the undercover agent understood the body language. Standish simply bent the rim of an imaginary hat and started to withdraw from the rent between wall and chimney.

Another blast hit.

The force threw the undercover agent away from the cabin, searing his leg and peppering it with wooden shrapnel. Standish cartwheeled through the snow landing face up at an apparently strange angle.

The pale blue morning sky held very few clouds.

A face suddenly obscured his view. JD.

Ezra couldn’t hear JD screaming, but he could see the shear panic and unadulterated fear in the young agent’s eyes. JD was screaming, had to be screaming, his mouth was open, his eyes wide, but Standish could hear nothing.

He lay in the snow staring at the younger agent who stood with a cloudless light blue sky in the background. Tree tops danced in the periphery of Standish’s vision as heat licked at his body. He could only hear ringing.

JD was still screaming, hollering, tears rolled down the young man’s features. Things were moving in slow motion.

Ezra tried to move. Nothing seemed to work.

Large tendrils of black smoke spiraled toward the sky, marring the blue colors.

A fire.

An explosion.

Suddenly time snapped back. The ringing dissipated while the roar of a fire loomed from somewhere yet unseen.

Standish tried to sit up but found he couldn’t coordinate the strength or the motion. He rolled onto his belly and pushed himself to his hands and knees. He sunk to his elbows and his knees punched through snow deeper than his shins. His left leg cried in protest.

JD stood to his right, still shouting. Moving back toward the flames Ezra still couldn’t see, but felt with a vehemence. The undercover agent grabbed for Dunne’s pant leg. JD tried to pull free but Standish used the younger man’s momentum and solid frame as a means to struggle to his feet.

JD couldn’t ignore a friend in need. Realizing Ezra needed his help, JD stopped his mad rush back to the remains of the cabin and instead hauled the undercover agent back to uncertain feet.

Together the two men stared at the carnage.

The chimney remained standing as did the North wall. Everything else that was not burning lay scattered in the snow or the ruined floor of the cabin.

Ezra thought he could make out a the smoldering forms of a few bodies. His eyes watered as his heart careened against his ribs. Smoke tickled the air, as if testing its freedom. With each passing moment, the tendrils of smoke stretched higher and bolder into the crisp blue sky.

Rifle shots snapped through the roar of the fire. A chunk of stone was sheared from the chimney.

Standish grabbed Dunne and hauled him toward the tree line.

JD fought him. He struggled against the hands that pulled him away from Buck and the others. He should have been in the cabin. He should have been with his friends.

Ezra struggled and stumbled pushing and pulling JD toward the thick stand of trees that stood behind the cabin.

Bullets whistled past them. Chunks of bark burst into the air at head height.

JD continued to fight. He had fought all his life. He had fought the kids at school that had picked on him for having no father. He had fought beside his mother as she battled her terminal illness. He had fought for a place on the Boston Police Department and he had fought for his place on Team 7. JD had fought for everything important in his life. He had never run from anything. He had never backed down from a fight.

JD would fight, he would fight for his friends, he would fight insurmountable odds and he would go down guns blazing.

He struggled even harder to free himself from Standish. To stop fleeing the scene of destruction. He would not flee, not turn his back on his friends.

Not like Ezra….with that thought in his mind, he turned on the undercover agent with displaced hatred and anger, knowing it was wrong but unable to prevent it.

A solid jab met his jaw and sent Dunne reeling into the snow.

Blood streamed from JD’s mouth, as he glared angrily at Standish.

“Start thinking Mr. Dunne,” Ezra hissed out. The undercover stared hard at his young friend, feeling the accusation in the glare and knowing it held some truth.

Standish pulled the wrist rocket slingshot from his waistband and dug a stick a dynamite from his shirt.

A crooked humorless smile seared his face, pinching in a dimple.

JD narrowed his gaze and felt the cold tendrils of revenge. His rage and hatred shifted targets.

The swift shear of a bullet passing through the air had JD ducking his head. The soft thud of a body hitting the snow filled JD’s ears.

He opened his eyes and found himself staring eye to eye with Ezra. For a brief second JD had thought Standish had dove for cover.

Ezra blinked once then twice. He pulled his hand from his side and stared at the fresh blood that dripped from his fingers. He sighed and softly muttered into the snow, “Good Lord.”

Part 8

Chris could not get his mind to wrap around what had happened. He could smell smoke. He could see the shell of a house. A kitchen or more of a sink area. A sharp blue sky….no roof. His heart raced. Adam and Sarah? He rolled his eyes to the left and found Buck laying unmoving under a partially collapsed wall.

Someone should call 911. He needed to move, to get help. What had happened? Larabee tried to move. Pain shot up his left side. He heard someone cry out and wondered if it was himself.

The sounds of movement to his right had him rolling his head carefully. Vertigo slammed into him with the force of a locomotive. Larabee groaned. The pain in his chest registered.

To his right he found Nathan. Jackson lay face down, unlike himself. His eyes were partially open. Blood smeared Nathan’s teeth and dripped from his nose. Chris could have reached out and touched him, if he could have moved.

The medic’s slow breathing gently rocked the smoldering wooden chair that lay across his back.

Nathan was not a part of Sarah and Adam’s lives. Nathan was never with them.

What happened?

Foot steps crunched through the blackened debris. Thin spirals of smoke twisted their way toward the blue sky. The roof still was missing. His house had had a roof at one time. Didn’t it?

Foot steps crunched, angry voices carried over the crackle of small fires. Debris was lifted and tossed away. Things crashed to the floor.

Larabee wanted to move but couldn’t quite formulate the ability.

They were looking for ledgers. They wanted books? They were searching for an accountant. Who were they?

Chris had to think hard. His team didn’t have an accountant.

Someone shouted. Then bullets were fired. Hurried footsteps snapped debris and quickly disappeared.

Chris lay staring up at the sky. A heavy section of wall rested across him.

He hadn’t been home when Sarah and Adam had burned. He hadn’t been home when his life, literally, went up in smoke.

He hadn’t been home.

Larabee closed his eyes.

He wasn’t home now either.

Rifle shots pierced the morning. There was a pause and then an explosion.

Dust cascaded down on top of him. The ground shook.

Somewhere close by someone moaned. It sounded like Buck. Where were Vin and Josiah? The others? Was Nathan close by? They might need his medical skills.

His men needed help.

Larabee began to move in earnest.

+ + + + + + +

JD hauled Ezra to his feet. Standish let loose with a string of curses that had JD staring up at him in curiosity.

Gun fire whistled through the early morning air forcing the two agents to duck. Standish gripped the sling shot and loaded a stick of dynamite.

JD flicked a lighter.

The dynamite had deterred their attackers for only a moment. The men who chased Team Seven had survived the first blast hurled at them unscathed. The hunters slowed their progress and hounded the fleeing men with more caution.

Dunne and Standish struggled and waded through the snow. They limped and slid deeper into the trees desperate to lose their pursuers.

They headed to the North, swinging around the perimeter of the cabin keeping to the trees. Dunne was not willing to leave his teammates behind and neither was Ezra.

“JD,” Ezra gasped out, holding his hand tight to his side with the sling shot clutched firmly, while his right arm was draped over Dunne’s shoulder and his wrist grasped securely in JD’s hand.

“Only a little further Ez,” JD panted. He never felt the exertion or the undo pain that tore through overworked muscles. Adrenaline protected him.

“That copse of trees over there, that should do,” Ezra whispered out between clenched teeth.

JD merely nodded his head and half-dragged, half-carried the wounded undercover agent toward the small stand of trees that was marred by criss-crossed fallen deadwood.

JD leaned Ezra against one of the partially fallen trees and then turned back to the smoky remains of the cabin.

The charred door frame had withstood the blast but the walls on either side, where Chris and Nathan had held position, were gone.

Buck and Vin had been standing at the window that no longer existed.

JD’s heart lurched, nearly pausing in its beat. His stomach rose and boiled in his throat

He was going to be sick. Dunne kept his eyes from Standish, hiding his own weakness and was afraid of bearing witness to Standish’s misery.

“Now is not the time, Son,” Josiah’s deep voice had Dunne swinging around bringing his service revolver up to bear. The Sig barrel never quivered.

“Just me JD,” Josiah said as he stepped from the shadows of the trees. His face was smeared with soot, blood trickled down his neck and a slight limp marred his one time easy gait.

The big man laid a gentle hand on the undercover agent’s sweaty shoulder and shook his head sadly. Disbelief marred his countenance. Disbelief that the others might be gone truly gone…..that he had survived and not sure if he wanted to if the others were actually gone.

“You ok?”

“Marvelous,” Ezra hissed, revenge coloring his anger. He clutched at his side, fisting skin and cloth in a bitter grip. Blood pooled and seeped around his fingers. Standish tried to ignore the feel of his own blood - instead he dug furiously through his pants pocket looking for the lighter he had given JD. He padded his pockets searching out for a means of extracting revenge.

“Here,” Josiah handed Standish another lighter, “Just don’t blow us up,” the older man chastised quietly. Neither man met one another’s gaze. Neither agent wanted to take notice of the expression of loss that was sure to mar their faces.

The undercover agent merely nodded. He curled cold reddened fingers around the small Bic lighter which carried the blackened soot of the carnage across the small clearing.

JD watched them for a moment and then turned back to the cabin. His eyes watered as frustration boiled and bubbled from deep within himself. A black tide of anger began to build and grow within him. JD stared hard at the charcoal remains of the cabin, noticing the one set of bunks that stood near the chimney. He saw the door frame that still stood a sentry with no door or walls on either side. Small spirals of smoke stretched from the wreckage in haphazard spots across the floor.

JD stared at the remains, detailing it, committing it to memory.

Debris next to the door moved. Something was lifted. JD leaned forward squinting his eyes.

Someone was moving down there. “They’re alive!” JD nearly hollered. He turned quickly to look at Josiah and Ezra.

Sanchez paused in examining the wound to Standish’s side and peered over his shoulder at JD.

“They’re alive!….Look!” JD nearly shouted. He reached over and latched on Josiah’s torn shirt trying to pull the larger man closer to the rim of the debris covered clearing.

Sanchez ignored the young agent and watched the house. When the cabin had exploded he had found himself in the snow by the side yard. He had been on his feet, walking. He didn’t know how he had managed it, couldn’t remember the first few moments. He only knew that he was up and walking and a house was burning behind him. Nothing else had registered until he had seen JD and Ezra stumbling through the snow and trees.

Things had then slammed home for the ex-preacher, and the sudden return of his memory brought the harsh reality that some of his friends might have been dead.

He squinted his eyes and watched the house. There it was. Movement. Someone was moving.

“Praise the Lord,” Josiah muttered out, slowly getting to his feet.

“We’ve got to go help them.” JD stated, torn between abandoning his friends here and going to his friends still in the remains of the house.

“Hold a second JD,” Josiah said carefully. He scrutinized the surrounding area.

JD shifted weight impatiently from foot to foot.

Josiah ignored him and surveyed the clearing and the trees that loomed all around the cabin.

“Ezra?” Sanchez spoke while his eyes still searched the forest.

JD sighed in relief. Finally they were going to help.

Ezra lifted an eyebrow at the mention of his name. He rested heavily against the fallen tree, clutching at the makeshift bandage Josiah had fashioned to stem the bleeding. The bullet had torn a chunk of skin and muscle from the flank of the undercover agent. Painful and inconveniencing but not life threatening if treated properly.

“ You think you could hit anything with that dynamite of yours?”

“Mr. Sanchez,” Ezra breathed out, trying to keep frazzled nerves under control, “the beauty of dynamite is, one doesn’t have to hit what they are aiming at….just come close.” A soot dimpled smile punctuated his statement.

Josiah let a toothy grin spread across his face.

“You ready JD?”


+ + + + + + +

Chris stood up just as a two bodies ran at him hollering.

“Git down!, Git down!”

“Get down! Get down!”

They sounded suspiciously like JD and Josiah. Larabee painfully straightened up and tried to gaze around. The dizziness lessened slightly. He had finally gotten his equilibrium.

He turned and noticed Josiah sprinting straight at him.

“Oh shit,” was all he managed.

Larabee was knocked from his feet with a flying tackle. The two men landed with twin groans.

Rifle fire cracked through the air. Bullets dug chunks of wood from the door frame right where Larabee’s head had once been.

“Keep your head down, brother,” Josiah ordered as he slapped his arm across Larabee’s chest pinning his boss to floor of the cabin.

“Josiah what the hell is going on?” Larabee’s terse question was cut short by the whistling snap of more rifle fire.

“They found us and blew up the cabin.”

An explosion shook the ground.

“They still have explosives?” Chris asked trying to get his bearings.

“Don’t think so - that’s Ezra,” Josiah answered trying to figure out if that was a relief or not.

The rifle fire ceased.

“JD?” Josiah whispered loud enough to be heard across the charred floor.

“I’m ok,” Dunne answered back in the same whispered tone, “Buck’s alive…so’s Vin…they don’t look too good though.” The relief in JD’s voice was laced with panic. To lose them twice would be unbearable.

“Can you reach the sleeping bags?” Josiah asked. The set of bunks near the chimney had survived the initial blasts. Three sleeping bags laid partially scorched across the amazingly undamaged beds.


JD scrambled to his hands and knees and crab crawled the best he could through the heavy debris that marred the blackened floor.

Rifle fire pierced their surroundings as small chunks of floor exploded where bullets missed their marks.

A few seconds later another explosion rocked the landscape.

The trees swayed with the vibrations sending showers of snow from their burdened branches.

“Who’s got the damn explosives?” Larabee hissed out as he and Josiah gingerly but quickly moved debris off of Jackson.

“Ezra,” Josiah said as he felt for a pulse on Nathan’s bloodied neck. He found one and sighed in relief. Thank God

“You think that was a good idea?”

Another explosion rocked the back woods forcing Josiah and Chris to cover their heads as they bent and covered Jackson. Josiah grimaced as chunks of snow dropped down on and around them.

“No,” Josiah chuckled out, “but sometimes you have to rob Peter to pay Paul.”

“You make no Gawd damn sense preacher man,” Larabee spat out in frustration as yet another explosion shook the ground, nearly knocking them off their knees. Larabee leaned over Jackson’s legs covering the medic with his body as large pieces of snow and debris pelted his back.

His damn undercover agent had an explosive fetish.

JD hauled the sleeping bags off the bunks and dragged them over toward Vin and Buck while crawling through the carnage that had once been a well built log shelter.

Dunne quickly unzipped one of the bags and then stared at the blackened and bleeding features of Buck and Vin. How was he going to get them into the bags?

Buck was already shivering. His lax features were blackened, his eyebrows appeared missing and blood covered his face. JD hoped Buck was shivering and not trying to go into convulsions. His right ear was coated in drying blood, his left hand was swollen and a few fingers appeared to have extra knuckles. JD diverted his gaze. He didn’t want to see the injuries. Not now, not when he couldn’t do anything to help them.

Dunne quickly began working on getting Wilmington’s feet into the unzipped bag when something in Buck’s ankle ground together and JD froze trying to block out the sensation. Suddenly a second pair of hands were there helping him.

JD looked up and found Chris beside him. “You give Ezra the dynamite?” Larabee hissed as he worked the sleeping bag up around Buck’s waist and lower back.

Dunne paused for a brief second and then shook his head, “No, he already had it.”

“You sure?” Chris interrogated again.

Another blast rocked the area just to the North of the cabin. JD and Chris dove over both Buck and Vin.

“Course I’m sure,” JD bit out as he straightened up. Dust and snow slid down his hair and shoulders in a bizarre camouflage. “Hell, Josiah gave him the lighter.”

“Oh he did, did he?” Larabee moved away from Buck and started to work on Tanner.

Tanner’s features were slack and half covered in congealing blood and ash. His eyelids were partially unsealed but no sign of consciousness was evident. His right side just below the ribs bled and Chris tore Tanner’s shirt open to inspect the damage. The bleeding wasn’t bad but the deep bruising and strange swelling around the area didn’t bode well.

Together he and JD managed to ensconce Vin into a sleeping bag. Larabee shoved the third bag into JD and sent him to Josiah who waited beside an unconscious Nathan.

Chris squatted down between his two men and kept his eyes open for any intruders.

Another blast hurled snow into the air, this time from the south side of the cabin.

Larabee dove over his two prone men and covered his head, trying to protect himself and his men from falling debris.

Apparently Ezra had better eyes than any of them at the moment. .

In the background the sounds of a chopper could be heard.

Part 9

Ezra held off on his last stick of dynamite, saving it for ‘just in case’. He was going to need something else to use as a weapon if his last stick was not enough. The undercover agent scanned his immediate area and found a neat pile of rocks. They were not near as damaging or as powerful as explosives but they were better than nothing.

The pile rested under an old pine that aproned out as its branches neared the ground. Some of the rocks were large, piled here purposely. Perhaps they had been rejects from the chimney. In amongst the large chimney type boulders lay smaller more manageable projectiles.

Standish moved stiffly toward them. His vision swam and sparks of light danced in the periphery.

The sound of chopper blades beat in the near distance.

+ + + + + + +

The pilot slowly eased the giant bird down toward the remains of the cabin. He had come alone. Seven men needed rescuing, and though the situation might have been dangerous, danger was his middle name.

Tate smiled at his own bravado as he maneuvered the helicopter over the tree tops. Perhaps he would write his memoirs sooner rather than later.

Rescues. He could write a book highlighting his exploits at rescuing travelers who found themselves in over their heads.

Kind of like today. Hell, maybe today could be a chapter alone in his book. How he rescued seven federal agents from the perils of the wild wilderness.

Seven men plus himself didn’t leave much room for anyone else, besides it was said this group of men he was picking up had their own medic.

What were city slicker cops doing way out here in the middle of his mountains was something he couldn’t figure. But then again he made his money on saving the sorry asses of modern day city born ‘mountain’ men who thought they could survive the rustic life of the great outdoors.

Truth be told, Tate had a lot of fun saving these pansy ass city folk from themselves. Hell, half of them get fifty yards from their cell phones and they panic.

With a tired sigh, and confidence in his ability Tate gently lowered the large helicopter down into the clearing.

He saw the burned out cabin and noticed the missing walls. Frank Moore and his crew were going to madder than stepped on wet hens when they got wind of what happened to the Big Fork Cabin.

Damn city folk. Can’t do nuthin’ right.

Tate let the bird settle down on the ground and waited.

Tate watched as three men stood from the wreckage of the cabin. The smaller one waved at him.

Tate lifted one hand off the dash of his copter before letting it fall back down.

City folk.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah and Chris each grabbed an end to Buck’s sleeping bag and then quickly shuffled their way out toward the helicopter.

Larabee kept an eye out for their assailants and any flying dynamite his undercover agent might want to lob over them for their ‘protection’.

How much dynamite did Ezra have anyway?

JD followed behind them at a slower pace, dragging Vin and his bag across the snow, forever weary of the next bullet.

It seemed like no time before Chris was at the other end lifting up Tanner’s feet and helping JD carry the sharpshooter into the copter.

JD didn’t notice the pilot and trotted after Chris when Josiah worked to secure Vin next Buck on the floor.

Chris and JD slogged through the snow with Nathan. JD struggled to hold onto the sleeping bag at Jackson’s feet. He was tired and the exertion was making him nauseous.

He cursed and waited for the hard piercing shove of a bullet between his shoulder blades; knew it was coming, feared that it would cause him to fail Nathan and the others. He was afraid he would end up dying choking on his own blood. JD didn’t dare look up. He fearing he’d see red blossom across the front of Chris’s blackened shirt.

Dunne shuffled his legs through the snow trying to hurry their progress.

They finally reached the helicopter. Josiah dragged Nathan across the floor, the sleeping bag making it easier for the big man. JD leaned against the side of the copter while Chris scrambled around to the front door.

JD dug up enough energy to haul himself into the bird and sit at the entrance of the cargo doors.

He rested his head against the side of the doorway happy that this mission was over.

They had made it. This was their safety zone.

He was brought from his reverie when a bullet buried itself into the side of the helicopter.

JD snapped his head up.

Another rifle shot hit the open cargo door.

“Holy shit!” JD hollered and rolled back into the copter.

As he pulled his feet into the door of the bird, he watched as a smoking stick of dynamite sailed in a lazy arc over the charred remains of the smoldering cabin and descend in its own unhurried fashion toward the ground. It detonated just on the inside of the ring of trees.

Wood, snow and pine exploded into the sky.

JD fell backward as the helicopter jerked into the air.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra watched relieved as Chris and JD carried and hauled Buck, Vin and finally Nathan from the cabin. The undercover agent fingered his last stick of dynamite as he scanned the forest surrounding the cabin.

He stood on unsteady feet as he made his way slowly from the safety of the trees and into the clearing. He heavily favored his left leg.

Dried blood pulled and cracked from the waist band of his pants where it had congealed from the wound in his side. He felt light headed and flashes of lights sparked at the periphery of his vision. It seemed difficult to keep his balance and he felt unsure of his aim.

The undercover agent slowly made his way toward his transportation home and his team when he heard the sounds of rifle fire.

Ezra shook his head in dismay and lit his last stick of dynamite.

People never learned.

+ + + + + + +

The pilot pulled back on the yolk lifting the ‘copter off the ground. The rotating blades lifted snow into the air creating an artificial white out in the few yards that surrounded helicopter.

“Put it down!” JD’s holler from the back roared its way toward the cab of the big bird, “Put it down! Ezra’s still down there! We gutta go back!” The panic in JD’s voice had Chris lifting his head off the glass of the copilot’s window, leaving an oily, bloody soot covered print on the glass. He wordlessly slid his Sig out from its holster and aimed it at the pilot.

“Put it back down.”

The pilot stared that the bleeding and charred man who sat slouched in the copilot’s seat with only one working eye and blood dripping from a multitude of seen and unseen cuts.

Larabee’s blond hair was plastered to his forehead with sweat and blood. His right eye was swollen closed and deep purples and bright reds circled out from his swollen eye to encompass part of his nose, forehead and chin. Blood still ran from the deep furrow that lanced his temple just above his ear cutting a haphazard path through the ash that caked his face. One nostril still dripped blood along his upper lip and down the side of his mouth.

The pilot pulled his gaze from the unwavering gun to the sheet of snow that billowed and lifted under his blades.

There standing in the small clearing was a lone dark figure waving one arm at them.

The pilot realized his passenger never looked out the window, never broke his gaze from his target at the end of the barrel.

“Put the bird back down.”

The stark lethal voice brought a sweat to the pilot’s brow, and sent his heart racing. He was going to die today. There was no doubt. Whether it was from a bullet or an avalanche, he was going to die. The pilot stared at the blood shot hazel eye that bore through his soul with unadulterated animosity. The pilot turned his attention from the menace that sat in his copilot’s chair to his controls.

He’d never get a chance to write his memoirs or tell of his numerous hair raising daredevil escapes. He’d leave a population of adventure readers without fodder to satisfy their appetites. He needed an excuse, he couldn’t die up here, not like this, not within the midst of these madmen.

“I can’t…it’s too unstable. The whole field is about to go,” The pilot stammered out looking down through his feet at the slab of snow that sat at a sharp incline a few yards below the runners of the helicopter.

A winters worth of snow quivered with built up energy, ready to unleash itself and flash downhill. It just needed a little more urging, just a little push, a small trigger to unleash millions of tons of snow and earth.

Anything would be a good enough excuse to cut loose a deep sea of snow. The mountain was more than willing to shed the heavy mantle of snow. It was ready to set loose and crush anything in it’s path. Anything, man, beast or even a helicopter.

The pilot recognized the danger and feared it.

He knew a simple touch could set off an avalanche. He watched the figure below him, partially obscured in the flying snow created by his rotor blades. Any trigger would do, like the jumping up and down of the maniac waving his arm below them, or the tender touches of the helicopter skis.

The helicopter angled slightly away and climbed.

The Sig was cocked back.

“Jeeesuz! Go back! You’ve got to go back! Chris, we forgot Ezra!” JD’s frantic shout reached the cockpit with stinging clarity over the thump of the rotors.

“You land this fuckin’ bird or you’re dead,” Larabee let a tight smile tweak his marred cheeks. Bloody teeth glittered from between split lips in a mocking promise to kill.

The pilot stared from the steady barrel of the gun to the one open hazel eye and read the murderous intent as clear as he read a fuel gage.

This man’s tolerance had run out.

The pilot shut his eyes and swallowed. Gawd damn he didn’t want to die. Not today.

“I can’t! The ground is too unsteady,” The pilot broke eye contact and stared at the ground below swirling in a mist of snow. “If we land, the snow ‘s gonna give and we’ll die.”

“Way I see it, we can all go together or you can go first,” Josiah’s rich baritone voice filled the cockpit as the big man leaned through the small hatch way.

The pilot swiveled his head to face the new threat. The bloody distorted visage of an older gentleman filled the small hatchway. Josiah’s large hunched form blocked the view of the casualties in the back of the copter.

“Josiah? Can you fly this bird?” Chris asked with a hoarse voice.

“In my sleep.” Josiah smiled a toothy grin at the pilot, exposing blackened and reddened teeth. The blood that caked the side of his face had crusted. His right hand appeared swollen and distorted but the fattened blackened and burned fingers bent and moved. He appeared no less than a demon from Hades. The cold grey eyes only intensified his brutal appearance.

“Alright, alright,” the pilot capitulated. Sweat ran down his face under his helmet.

A loud ‘Bonk’ brought all their attention to the windshield. Then another bonk hit this time leaving a mark.

“What the Hell?” the pilot muttered out.

Larabee stared down through the glass, through the swirling snow and watched as Ezra raised his arm, took aim and let loose with another projectile. A rock slammed into the glass of the cockpit window, just at the level of Larabee’s head. A chunk of glass was pitted and fell away.

“Son of a bitch,” Chris mumbled out as he watched his undercover agent pick another rock from the satchel Buck had found earlier the night before, load the sling shot, take aim and let loose with another missile. Larabee involuntarily ducked when the rock came dangerously close to where his head rested against the glass.

“It seems our brother is a might upset with us,” Josiah chuckled as yet another rock hit the window causing the pilot to duck and the glass to crack. The crack grew and spidered out from the point of impact.

“Get this thing down.” Chris hissed out, “don’t let the skis hit the snow.” Larabee turned his attention to Josiah, “git his slow ass on this copter as soon as we’re close enough….and get that Gawd Damn slingshot away from him.”

Sanchez grinned and nodded dropping back from sight into the cargo area.

Ezra aimed another rock and let it fly. It smashed into the metal frame of the big bird. It ricocheted off and hurled back at the under cover agent, forcing him to turn and duck.

“I’ll kill’im,” Larabee hissed out between bloody teeth.

The pilot merely nodded his head as he guided the helicopter back down to the field.

Chris lost sight of his agent when snow was kicked angrily into the sky by the swirling blades as they drew closer to the ground. A white out encompassed the bird.

“Oh my God! It’s going!” JD’s terrified cry had Larabee searching out his window unable to focus on anything but the frantic, frenzy of whipping snow.

Through the white blizzard created by the rotating blades, Chris swiped at the window trying to clear away a patch of condensation. He squinted and dimly made out the outlines of his agent.

Chris watched as Standish suddenly lost his balance.

At first he couldn’t see any reason for Ezra suddenly going to a three point position and then seem to struggle, unsuccessfully, to keep from sliding a few feet down slope. Then the shadows created by rolling snow highlighted the massive solid shift in the compact snow, lifting up its own dustings of powder.

With a groan, a giant slab, cracking and breaking in different areas, began to cascade down slope. It began slowly at first, a few small chunks here and there, then a few more, slowly building, gathering momentum, threatening and warning at a bigger shift to come.

In the middle of it stood Standish. Chris squinted his eyes, as he watched as snow slid and rolled past his man, creating tiny wakes as it washed around Ezra’s legs cascading and tugging down around Standish’s shins.

“Get down there,” Chris growled as he turned his attention and service revolver back on the pilot, “get down there or you die now.” Larabee raised his weapon just a hair, to keep the barrel aimed at the pilot’s head.

The pilot merely nodded and worked to get the helicopter level and as close to the snow as he could without touching the rolling surface. He relied on his instruments - the frenzy of flying snow stole all depth perception away from him.

Chris didn’t watch through the window at his struggling agent, he didn’t witness Standish nearly disappearing under the onslaught of slow, heavily moving snow. Instead, Larabee kept his gaze and Sig, leveled evenly at the pilot.


Feedback would be great