Author's Note: Denver doesn't have a Sea World, but I'm familiar with Sea World in San Diego and their Halloween night festivities. And the Denver Zoo does do Boo at the Zoo around Halloween time as well, so let's just call this a bit of literary license. Besides, I've seen the lady centaur and her two "cowboy" escorts, and they looked magnificent! I just had to have them run into Team Seven.
30 October 1998
I-25 in Denver, Colorado
The laptop computer beeped, clicked, whirred and finally chirped out the requested information as JD's fingers rapidly tapped out an elaborate code guaranteed to yield results.
"Got 'em!" Dunne announced. The youngest member of the ATF's Team Seven was riding in the back of a large navy blue Suburban that served as their mobile command and control. Josiah and Nathan were in the front, Sanchez driving, while Chris and Vin followed them in Larabee's Ram, Buck and Ezra in the undercover man's black Jag.
They were tracking the case of explosives they had just "sold" to a budding anti-government militia group less than an hour earlier.
"Where?" Larabee asked over their communications unit.
"This can't be right " JD poked a single key and the monitor screen redrew itself into a map of a section of Denver. "Okay, according to this, they've stopped at the new Sea World they just finished building "
"Sea World?" Larabee echoed over the radio.
"Why in the world would you take C-4 to Sea World?" Nathan asked, confused.
"Maybe they have developed a taste for sushi," Ezra suggested dryly.
Larabee scowled and shook his head, shooting a look at the man in the passenger seat of his truck. Vin was grinning. "That's not funny," he said, the comment meant for the undercover man and Tanner. "They're probably meeting someone there to re-sell the C-4."
"Or trade it for somethin' they want more," Vin offered.
"We can't rule out the possibility that they might want to attack the park. It's brand new so it would be high profile; draw attention to their cause," Josiah warned them.
"But it's not a government facility. The people there are going to be mostly families, kids," Nathan said.
"Depends on the kind of statement they want to send," the big profiler replied. "And this group didn't strike me as real particular."
"Josiah's right, we can't rule out the possibility they're planning an attack," Larabee said.
"Let me see if I can narrow down exactly where they are by tapping into the traffic grid " JD said, his voice trailing off as the others could hear him typing over their radio units. "Okay here we go It looks like they're parked in the overflow parking lot along Close Avenue."
"Well, at least they aren't inside the park itself," Nathan said, trying to remember why he had a bad feeling about this.
They had gone a few more minutes when they heard Dunne say softly, "Damn it. They're moving again I can't say for certain, but I think they're heading into the park."
"Pick up the pace," Larabee said, pressing down on the accelerator. "JD, contact the DPD, let them know we have a situa"
"Wait," Nathan interrupted. "What is today?"
"October thirtieth," Ezra immediately supplied. "What's your point, Mr. Jackson?"
"If I'm remembering the TV commercial right, this is the opening weekend for the park. Halloween weekend," he added.
"What difference does it make?" Buck asked him.
"Ohmygod!" JD yelped. "I saw those commercials, too!"
In the Ram, Vin was nodding as well. "Commercial says the park was only open t' people in costume. If we're gonna get in there without tipping them off, we're gonna have t' find something t' wear."
"A shame our ATF uniforms couldn't suffice, but I doubt it would help us get close to any of the Brotherhood of Christian Constitutional Patriots," Ezra commented.
Nathan nodded. "Vin's right, we'll stand out like"
"Feds," Chris finished sourly and then sighed heavily. "Damn it."
"Yeah," Jackson agreed. "Raine commented on it too when she Oh shit. Opening night at Sea World! They're honoring social workers and activists who've made a difference in local communities from all over the state!"
"People of color, feminists, representatives of the GBLT community, those are just the kind of targets the BCCP would like to go after," Josiah warned.
"Buck, you and Ezra find us something we can use to get in there and blend in," Chris instructed over the radio. "The rest of us will head to Sea World and coordinate a perimeter with the DPD. JD, you better have the bomb squad standing by as well. And alert the closest hospitals, just in case this gets ugly."
Larabee watched Ezra take the off-ramp in his side mirror, wondering what sort of costumes they would be able to find the day before Halloween.
Sea World, overflow parking lot
An hour later
The members of Team Seven exited their vehicles in the immense parking lot at Sea World, which was crowded, but no one seemed interested in the seven federal agents as they put the finishing touches on their ensembles.
JD shook his head, thinking, Thank God the DPD officers didn't see us in these get-ups!
"Buck, are you sure this was all they had left?" Josiah asked suspiciously as he tugged at the ample cloth at his waist, trying to decide if the baggy shirt should be pulled down tight or bloused over the six-inch wide faux-leather belt he was wearing.
"I don't know," Nathan said, "mine sort of fits, don't you think?" He grinned and pointed to the embroidered name over his left pocket, which read "Doc."
Buck leveled Sanchez with an icy blue stare. "Do you honestly think I'd pick these if there was an alternative?" he asked, tightening the wide belt that held up his baggy pants and wiggling his toes further into the pointed ends of his soft, knee-high lace-up boots.
Ezra shook his head sadly. "Indeed, these were the only possibility A shame." Well, at least the garments hid their handguns and communications gear, but he had to work hard to ignore the color combinations or they made him slightly queasy.
"I'll buy that you didn't have any other choice," Josiah said, his deep voice rumbling as he tried not to grin while JD and Vin pulled on their bright, floppy, pointed hats that completed their getups. "But I can't wait to hear what Chris has to say about it."
"Uh-oh," JD breathed, involuntarily cringing. Team Seven had been together for less than a year but, from the sound of Larabee's voice, it wasn't going to last the remainder of the day.
Vin, finishing with the chartreuse bows on his boots, stood and pulled the door to the Suburban closed. "Uh-oh is right," he muttered darkly.
"Buck," Larabee growled as he stormed around the end of the SUV. "Whose idea was?" He stopped short as the six men, every one of them a highly trained, elite federal agent, burst into laughter. Green eyes flashing as they narrowed dangerously, and muscles along his jaw pulsating, quelled the laughter to a few nervous chuckles. Special Agent in charge Chris Larabee was not amused.
"Damn, Chris, these were the only things the costume shop had left," the ladies' man explained. "They only rent 'em out as a set, which is why they still had 'em left at all."
"Follow me," Larabee hissed, pivoting sharply and sending the end of his long floppy hat sailing out behind him in a graceful arc and an accompanying jangle.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Mary Travis and her date climbed out of his silver BMW. The handsome man closed the driver's side door and gazed appreciatively at his companion. The low scoop-neck of the light, lacy gown she wore presented an acutely feminine picture of the journalist, one he thought he might get used to.
Together the pair cut a regal picture as "handsome prince" and "princess." A soft shuffling sound caught their attention and they turned in time to see Team Seven emerge out of the mass of cars, trucks and mini-vans in the parking lot. Mary's hand rose to cover her mouth as she fought back a laugh.
Chris came to an abrupt halt when he saw her. "Mary?"
"You all look uh, amazing," she said, her eyes crinkling at the corners. "I didn't know you'd" She stopped, her eyes rounding slightly as her journalist's instincts took over. "Is there something going on at the park?"
"Mary, it might be better if you put off your visit for another night," Chris told her.
She shook her head. "I can't, I'm presenting awards to several women who run shelters for abused women and children What's going on?"
"Hopefully nothing," he said, knowing that he couldn't stop her. And, not wanting to pique her curiosity any more than necessary, he looked at the others and snapped, "Let's go."
Buck gave Mary a bow and she curtsied sweetly in response.
"Cranky, Cowboy?" Vin questioned, not bothering to hide his amusement at Larabee's ire and his attire.
"It's Grumpy, Tanner," Larabee hissed, tapping the embroidered name on his chest. "I wouldn't want you to blow my cover." He marched off, the rest of Team Seven trailing behind him in single file.
Mary and her date cut across the parking lot to one of the entrance gates that looked less crowded. "I want to keep an eye on them," she told the man. "There's something going on here."
He looked less than thrilled about the idea, but he nodded.
In the distance, someone began to whistle. Then Josiah's voice picked up the tune from the rear of the line, "Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work we go "
Inside Sea World
Robin Hood, Maid Marion and several of the merry men who were very merry at the moment due to the imbibing of too much fermented liquid refreshment bowed as Mary and her date passed by.
A few moments later they spotted the seven dwarfs. The fair Maid Marion reached out and batted the fuzzy ball and bell dangling at the tip of Grumpy's hat.
With a strained smile, Larabee bowed and sidestepped the forward lass, trying to ignore her inviting look and call of, "I can cure your grumpies, sir."
After a quick survey of the entrance area, Chris led his men into a small outdoor pavilion that was unoccupied except for three Smurfs who apparently couldn't stand the competition seven dwarfs presented since they left in a huff.
Ezra watched them go with a smug smile.
"Okay," Larabee said tersely, "we're going to have to split up to cover the entire park." He glanced at Vin, who had a map of Denver's newest attraction open and was studying it. "Vin, pick out the four largest attractions. Teams will be Nathan and Josiah, Buck and JD, and Vin and Ezra. Stay alert for anything out of the ordinary."
"I beg your pardon," Ezra said, "but everything here looks a little out of the ordinary." To punctuate his claim, he nodded to a well-endowed female centaur accompanied by two women dressed up like Old West cowboys who were rolling and strolling into the pavilion.
"Neigh, neigh," Buck commented in appreciation of the centaur's bodice or lack thereof. Not one of the seven men missed the apple (with a bite missing) resting in her ample cleavage.
The larger of the two "cowboys" leveled Buck with a playful, if warning look, while the she-horse smiled broadly. "Careful, Mister, this here's my mare," the cowboy drawled.
The ladies' man raised his hands in a gesture of surrender and the threesome continued on, the buxom equus tossing her long auburn mane and tugging a string that swished her matching long tail. "Giddy-up," she cooed at the agents.
Buck fought back a smile. Under the right circumstances a visit here at Halloween could be very enjoyable indeed.
"I realize the situation is a little out of the ordinary," Chris told them. "But we have to find these guys, and fast."
The other agents all nodded their agreement, the bells on their hats tinkling in an off-key chorus, making Larabee roll his eyes.
Vin consulted the park map one more time and then grinned. "Sleazy, uh, Sneezy, you and Happy check out the seals and sea lions," he instructed Buck and JD.
Clearing his throat, Tanner continued. "Doc, you and Bashful check the dolphins and the killer whales."
Josiah smiled and patted Nathan's shoulder. "Come on, Doc, let's go see the big fishies."
"Mammals," the medic corrected automatically as they turned to go.
"I knew that," Josiah returned.
"Bashful?" Ezra asked when the two men were out of earshot, lost in the crowd-deco.
"It was the biggest one of the outfits," Vin explained with a shrug, then turned to Chris. "Guess Dopey and me will take the sharks. Good luck Grumpy."
"Tanner, get your Sleepy ass out of here before I"
"Oh, by the way, that leaves the penguins for you," Tanner told him.
"Thanks," Larabee muttered, shaking his head. Of all the places these guys could have targeted
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Waiting for King Arthur and several of his knights to make their way past the glass walls of the penguin exhibit, Chris carefully scanned the crowds passing by on the slow moving conveyer just below and in front of them. Jack and Jill inched by, necking and ignoring the penguins. Batman and his friends, Superman and Wonder Woman, were passing a neon-green water bottle back and forth, the liquid sloshing lower and lower, while Roger Rabbit coveted it from a discrete distance. Obviously it wasn't kryptonite.
No wonder this is such a wild night, Chris thought. The officials must have given up trying to inspect all the containers coming into the park, which was probably how the militia members could slip the C-4 in. Of course they could each take a few bricks and slip them into their costumes, just like he and his men had their handguns.
Larabee sucked in a deep breath. Nothing felt out of place, but he had given up judging anything from a visual perspective. Thank God they had all seen the men at the meet where they had handed over the C-4 in exchange for a good deal of cash. Luckily, the explosive had been rendered inert, but that wouldn't stop the BCCP if they wanted to attack the people at the park tonight since he knew for a fact that they were all armed.
Shifting his feet, Larabee reached down to scratch beneath the top of his knee-high soft felt boots, only to have Miss Muffit pat his tuffit. He lurched forward and bumped into the Incredible Hulk all 250 green pounds of him.
"Sorry," Chris muttered to the glaring mass of neon masculinity.
The Hulk growled at him.
"Don't make him angry," Miss Muffit told Larabee. "You wouldn't like him when he's angry."
A click from Chris' radio halted his comment and he fished it out of his baggy shirt and raised the instrument to his mouth, trying to look inconspicuous. "Larabee," he said softly.
"Chris," Josiah said, "we found them, at Dolphin Island. Six total."
"I'm on my way." He nodded at the Hulk, who immediately backed off, assuming Larabee was part of park security.
Chris wasted no time, stepping onto the conveyor and riding it to the exit. Once outside, he keyed the mike a second time. "Vin, Buck, Dolphin Island," he said.
"Roger," both men replied.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Larabee eased around a corner at the upper end of the main dolphin exhibit and arena, spotting Nathan and Josiah crouched behind the top row of seats. Spotting Vin and Ezra trotting up to join him, he gestured for them to follow him, and the threesome made their way over to the agents, crab walking to avoid being seen. Below them, three of the bridge crew from the Enterprise were all working on an electrical box used for the PA system in the arena.
"Can you tell what they're doing?" Chris whispered.
"We spotted them hanging around after a show let out," Nathan said.
"It looks like they might be rigging the C-4 into the PA system controls. That's enough to take out whoever is sitting up on the stage and then some," Josiah added. "I put in a call to PDP to have the bomb squad stand by to come get it as soon as we have the men in custody."
"Good work," Larabee whispered, watching as three militia members continued working over the equipment while three others stood watch just inside the main entrance, one of them a woman. "I don't recognize her," he said.
No one else did either.
"Did you see the other two men who were at the meet?" Larabee asked.
"No," Nathan said. "Maybe they didn't come, and she replaced them."
"I hope so. All we need is to miss two of them and have them open fire in a crowd." He keyed the mike. "Buck, any activity? We're missing two, but added a woman." He checked the faces of the men below. "Looks like Hebert and Carruthers."
"Negative, nothing happening at the seals and sea lions. We're almost there."
"Cover the west side."
"Roger. Dolphin Island, west side. Be there in a few."
"Targets are dressed like Star Trek characters," Vin added over his radio.
There was a momentary pause. "Classic, Next Gen, Deep Space Nine, or Voyager?" JD asked.
Chris looked up, confused. Vin supplied, "Next Gen."
"Next Gen, got it," JD said. "Hope they don't have Worf with 'em."
"We're at the arena," Buck said over the radio.
"Roger. Take your position." Chris looked over at the others. "Nathan, Josiah, stay here, I'm going to go see if there's a way out behind that backdrop."
"Watch your back," Vin cautioned him.
The blond's eyebrows rose slightly. "That's how I lived long enough to get grumpy," he replied. And, a few minutes later, he keyed his mike and said, "Vin, Ezra, make your way over to me. There's more holes in this place than a damn chunk of Swiss cheese."
The two men made their way over and then they split up, looking for the two missing militia members. Ezra found them, he and Vin managing to get the drop on them without incident.
Several minutes later...
"Heads up, they're all moving heading north and west. Repeat, three going north and three going west," Nathan announced over the radio.
"Damn," Chris breathed, heading off at a run for the far side of the building.
"Me and Ezra are on the way to the west side," Vin announced, having turned their prisoners over to park security, who would be escorting them to the waiting PDP officers.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
At the west exit Buck and JD caught Geordie, Data and Worf in a crossfire with Vin and Ezra. The militia members quickly surrendered without a shot being fired and, several minutes later, members of the bomb squad arrived to remove the inert C-4.
Rounding the far side of Dolphin Island, Chris caught sight of Buck and JD in pursuit of the three remaining crew members.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
The ladies' man cursed silently as he and JD pursued the two men and one woman. At least they didn't seem to be armed. A distant yell registered, but neither Buck nor JD could tell which direction it had come from in the crowd.
Reinforcements? the ladies' man wondered.
Buck jerked right in mid-stride to keep from plowing into Spiderman, but he kept going. From the corner of his eye, he saw JD reach him and then pull ahead slightly after twisting around two of the Three Bears in a move that would have made Terrel Davis proud.
"Shit," Buck breathed, pushing harder to catch up with the younger man. How the hell does he do that? I'm gettin' too old for this!
The yell sounded again, closer this time, and Buck squinted through the crowd, finally catching sight of the well-endowed centaur backpedaling on her roller-skate hooves while the heavy rear-end of her costume continued to pull her hind-end first down a rather steep hill that intersected with the walkway they were on.
"Ohhhhh," Buck groaned as "Riker" noticed the situation as well, but a moment too late.
"Whoa! Whoa, mare! Whoa!" came the now-coherent yell from one of the two female cowboys who had been escorting the centaur.
Running headlong into the female's heavy rear quarters, "Riker" executed a perfect forward somersault, landing face first in a patch of trimmed grass making up part of the landscaping along the walkway. The centaur squealed, spinning around in a complete circle and reaching out vainly for someone to stop her as Picard and Troi rushed past, followed closely by Grumpy, who had joined them out of the crowd.
The two cowboys finally reached their rolling steed, grabbing her flailing arms just in time to halt her further descent.
"When I say whoa, I mean whoa, damn it!" one of the women stated firmly and the threesome exploded into laughter.
Buck bypassed the women and caught the stunned "Riker" as he struggled to his feet. With a deft maneuver, he wrenched the man's arm back and shoved him into the stand of eucalyptus trees, then plowed in after him, yelling, "Ain't you got no respect for a lady, boy?"
And then JD was there as well, helping him take the guy down and get him into handcuffs. "I'll get him back to Dolphin Island," Dunne said. "You better go after Chris."
Buck nodded. "I'll take care of the witnesses," he offered.
Re-emerging from the trees, the ladies' man smiled at the three women as he dusted off his hands. "I'm sure he won't be botherin' you again," he told them, tipping his hat.
"Why, thank you, kind sir, a blessing on you and your boon companions," the centaur said.
"Thanks," Buck said and grinned, then set out to catch up with Chris. "We're gonna need it."
"Hi ho, Sneezy!" one of the women called. "Away!"
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"Hey, look! There's a dwarf chasing Captain Picard and Counselor Troi!" yelled a young man in a Star Fleet uniform and Vulcan ears. "Let's go!"
Larabee silently cursed and ground his teeth together. Just what he didn't need!
"Picard" and "Troi" shoved their way through a collection of cavalry and Native American-garbed young people.
"Hey! IDIC, asshole, remember?" one of the Sioux warriors yelled at the two Federation officers as they disappeared into a construction site clearly marked: Soon to be Sea World's Shark Walk. Closed. Do Not Enter.
"Shark Walk," Chris announced into his radio.
"I'm right behind you," Vin announced over the radio.
Following the pair, Chris gestured for Tanner to take the rear of the building while he took the entrance. He removed his Colt 1911 and eased into the shadows as the pursuing Trekkers paused outside.
"Hey, we're not supposed to go in there."
"But those are our people."
"Maybe ol' Jon Luc made a pass at Snow and peeved the dwarf," someone volunteered.
"Ooh, make it so," another chuckled.
"Well, I'm not going in there," countered a third.
"Yeah, violates the Prime Directive interfering with dwarf culture."
The group erupted into a noisy disagreement.
Good, Larabee thought, moving farther into the building. Maybe they'll argue long enough for Buck and JD to get here and secure the area.
The blond took a deep breath, allowing his senses to focus on locating the two militia members. The lights from the walkway, surrounding exhibits, and snack food vending machines cast an eerie combination of colors into the half-erected structure, making it difficult for Chris to see, but the dull thub echoing from the left was clear and he ducked lower, moving toward the sound.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Troi inched down along the side of a clear wall that would one day separate the sharks from the visitors. Picard was nowhere to be seen. Chris shadowed the woman, until she paused and turned, then he snapped up the .45 and said, "Hold it right there."
She hissed out a soft curse, but lifted her hands.
"I have one," Larabee said softly into his radio, moving in to handcuff her.
Two responding clicks on his radio told him that Buck and Vin were on the hunt for the last militia man. He keyed the mike once in reply.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Moving farther into the center of the future exhibit, Tanner paused, catching the sound of a distant ringing. The man had found some stairs.
He moved in on the sound, approaching at an angle until he located the metal steps. One section led up to what would probably be a control area, given the amount of wiring that terminated just above his head; going down, the stairs disappeared into blackness.
A shuffle off to his right caused the sniper to drop into a crouch and spin, his SIG 229 rising in his hands. A moment later, he jerked the weapon up, pointing it at the unfinished ceiling. A young Vulcan stood there, eyes wide, body shaking.
"Hey, hey, what are you doing?" he managed to ask, tugging nervously at the tip of one pointed ear.
"Park security," Vin lied smoothly. "We've had an attempted robbery. Did you see anyone else in here?"
The young man shook his head. "Just me, but I saw Picard come in, and another dwarf," he said. "You mean Captain Picard's a common thief?"
"Not so common," Tanner muttered, stepping closer to the young man. "I want you to stick with me, like glue." The boy nodded. "The 'captain' might be armed."
Vin knew he had to get the kid out of the building. With his own cover blown, he pulled the radio from the inside of his baggy shirt and keyed the mike. "Chris, Buck, over."
There was a soft click in reply.
"I lost the target. Found a November Charlie. I'm takin' him out."
There were two clicks as both men acknowledged his intent.
"C'mon, follow me," Vin instructed again as he headed for the quickest route off of the site.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Stepping into the night air, Vin motioned for the young man to go, and he quickly scampered back to his friends who were gathered around a pretzel stand manned by Batman. Tanner noted that DPD officers now covered the entrances to the site, so all was secure, on the outside, at least.
He turned and headed back inside to find Buck and Chris.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
The ladies' man crouched down along a run of drywall. On the other side of the material, Picard was inching his way along, trying to reach a hole in the perimeter security. Buck knew if he paced the man, he'd have a clear shot as he tried to squeeze through the opening in the distance.
Hearing the militiaman stop, Buck froze himself, waiting.
A sudden pressure on Wilmington's back was unexpected, and he lunged forward, trying to regain his balance as half the wall collapsed on top of him.
His hands came up instinctively to break his fall, the Glock 22 he carried clattering away. A strong grip snared the back of his shirt, yanking him to his feet, and before he could react, an arm snaked around his throat, cutting off his air.
Buck struggled to pull free, but the man was strong and nothing he did stopped the steady reduction of oxygen. The edges of his vision faded to black, and his struggles grew more and more feeble.
Buck opened his mouth to yell for help, knowing as he did that it was already too late. He was a dead man. The cry died in his constricted throat as blackness clouded over his vision.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Vin heard the sound of the collapsing wall and sprinted forward. Sliding to a stop near the two men, he watched as Buck's knees buckled as he tried to scream. The SIG jerked in his hand before Tanner even realized that he'd fired it.
Picard flew back, carrying Wilmington with him to the ground.
Bolting forward, Vin pulled Buck away from the militiaman and, grabbing his radio, barked, "Nathan, Shark Walk now!"
Setting the radio down, Vin shoved the SIG under his belt where he could reach it easily.
The big ladies' man struggled for air, his bruised throat already beginning to swell. Gently loosening the costume around the man's throat, Vin tried to inspect the swelling, but even his careful administrations caused Buck to whimper in pain. The big man finally moaned and tried to pull away.
"Easy, Buck, easy," Vin soothed, reaching out to grip the man's arm. "I didn't mean to hurt ya. It's okay. Nathan's on his way."
A few long moments later Jackson joined the pair, jerking the backpack that held his medical supplies off his shoulder. "What happened?" he asked Tanner.
"Guy was choking him from behind," the team sniper replied.
Nathan began to work and, a few minutes later, Larabee hurried over to join them. He looked down at his long-time friend and asked, "He okay?"
"Will be," Nathan said.
"Ambulance is on the way," Chris told him. "And park authorities are here with a medicar to take him to the entrance."
Nathan nodded. "I'm ready. You two grab his feet and let's go."
The three men lifted Buck and carried him out to the waiting golf cart.
Vin rested his hand on Chris' shoulder while they watched the medicar drive off, Nathan riding along with Buck. "He'll be fine."
"Huh, excuse me ? Hi."
The agents turned to find the buxom centaur and her two female cowboy escorts standing behind them, all of them smiling a little nervously.
"We were looking for Sleepy and saw him leave just now," one of the cowboys explained. "Is he going to be okay?"
Chris nodded. "Yeah, he'll be fine."
"Thank goodness," the thinner of the two cowboys said.
"He, uh, he helped us out earlier and we wanted to say thanks," the first said.
"You know him, right?" the centaur asked them.
"Yeah, we know him," Vin supplied with a smile. They seemed like nice enough young women.
"Great!" The centaur pulled a piece of rolled paper out of a blue denim bag she wore over one shoulder. "Could you give this to him? It's just a little thank you, for a gallant dwarf."
Vin accepted the proffered piece of paper. "We'll make sure he gets it," he promised them.
"Thanks," the three women chorused and then they faded back into the crowd.
"What is it?" JD asked Tanner.
"JD," Josiah chided, "that's Buck's. But I do have to admit, I'm curious, too."
"Can't hurt to take a peek, right?" Vin added.
The expression on Larabee's face told them he was curious too. He nodded, and Vin unrolled the paper as the others stepped in closer to see.
They all chuckled at the picture they found. A caricatured likeness of the surprised centaur was the central focus of the drawing. She was framed on either side by the two female cowboys, both of them twirling their six-guns. Flying through the air beyond the unusual mount was "Riker," his arms and legs akimbo. And, lastly, vaulting lithely over the centaur's hindquarters was Sleepy a wide grin on his face as he got an unobstructed bird's eye view of the woman's cleavage. The caption read: "Hi, ho Sneezy! Away!"
"I think he's gonna enjoy this," JD said with a grin.
"Too much," Chris replied, shaking his head, but he was grinning, too.
The next morning
"You were right, Josiah," Larabee said as he walked up to the collection of desks in the bullpen. "The awards for community action were going to be handed out at a ceremony at Dolphin Island at nine p.m. The C-4 was set to go off at nine-twenty, right in the middle of it."
The big profiler shook his head and said sadly, "There was enough there to kill and wound hundreds."
"Did you see Buck?" Vin asked the blond.
"Yeah, he's doing better. Can't talk very well yet, but the doctor said he'll be fine. They're letting him go home later today." He turned to look at JD. "He asked me to tell you to bring him some clothes. I don't think he wants to be wearing that costume when he checks out later."
The men chuckled and JD nodded. "I already have some with me. When should I go get him?"
"Anytime after three," Chris replied. "And take him straight home, no matter what he tells you, understand?"
"Okay," JD agreed. "I'll just tell him I'm under orders, and that you haven't forgiven him yet for the dwarf costumes."
"I haven't," Chris snapped in reply, but there was no sting in the words.
"And what did Mr. Wilmington have to say about his recently acquired artwork?"
"Oh, I think he liked it," Chris told Ezra, grinning. "I hadn't noticed, but the uh, horsewoman out her phone number in the corner "
"Bet ol' Buck'll be seeing her 'bout some ridin' lessons," Vin said, making the others all smile.
"More likely he wants to sample a bite of her forbidden fruit," Ezra replied dryly.
"Amen, brother," Josiah said, a slightly wistful expression on his face.
"The doctor said he'll be able to come back to work in a couple of days," Chris told them. "Until then Well, a little TLC couldn't hurt."
"Well, that's good news," Ezra said, leaning back in his chair. "After all, we wouldn't want to be a dwarf short out in the field."
"Speaking of which, Mary Travis has been callin' for you," Vin told his boss. "She wants to talk to the head dwarf 'bout what went down at the park."
Larabee blushed slightly. He didn't want to see the journalist any time soon, but he knew she'd just show up with her questions if he didn't return her calls. "Fine, I'll go call the princess."
"And who was that handsome prince she was with last night?" Vin asked innocently, knowing Chris and Mary had a friendship that bordered on something more. "He looked pretty impressive."
"The rest of you, get back to work," Larabee grumbled, frowning and wondering the same thing. He'd just have to ask her when he called.
"Grumpy, Cowboy?" Vin asked him, trying not to smile.
"No, I'm cranky, Tanner," Chris growled. "And don't you forget it!"
Author's Second Note: This story first appeared in the Mag 7 zine, Let's Ride #8, published by Neon RainBow Press, Cinda Gillilan and Jody Norman, editors. When we all decided to post the stories that have appeared in the issues of Let's Ride that are more than two years old, we opted to use a generic pen name because, while Mary Fallon Zane is the primary author of this story, she had so much help from the other folks writing for the press that it just made sense to consider the story to be written by the Neon RainBow Press Collective! Resistance was futile. So, thanks to the whole Neon Gang Dori Adams, Sierra Chaves, Dana Ely, Michelle Fortado, Patricia Grace, Deyna Greywolf, Erica Michaels, Nina Talbot, Kasey Tucker, Rebecca Wright, and Lorin and Mary Fallon Zane. Story lasted edited 10-6-2006. Art by Shiloh (firstname.lastname@example.org)