This story follows events in Between a Rock and a Heart.
He couldn't stop, he had to keep going. He refused to even consider the idea he would fail. Pushing his legs harder, he covered the distance quicker than he imagined. He knew it was going to be close. At the last possible moment he pushed off hard with all the strength in his legs. Jumping high and across, hitting the man holding the gun. The man threatening the one who had saved him and his family earlier that morning. As he impacted against him, he heard the gun fire.
5am that morning.
"Chris this was a great idea. All of us going on a camping/fishing trip," Buck happily exclaimed as he saddled his horse and placing his heavily packed saddle bags behind the saddle and tying it down as well.
"When Orrin told me yesterday he was letting the whole team off for a four day weekend. That we had earned it, after this last three months taking down Walters and his whole network of arm dealers. It was the first thing I thought about, just getting away," Chris admitted as he finished up his own horse. Looking over to the other stalls he saw Josiah and Nathan were finished and leading their mounts out, as well as JD. His sight stopped next on Ezra. He frowned when he realized that although Ezra was finished saddling up, he was just standing there.
Josiah following Chris line of vision saw the same thing. They all knew that Ezra and Vin had been impacted the hardest by the last three months, having been undercover the whole time. Through-out the entire time they had been able to make contacts with the team only five times. Walters didn't trust anyone, not even his own people, so he kept everybody in his compound under lock and key. Vin could only cause a diversion so many times, allowing Ezra to slip out and call. With Ezra being Walters knew accountant, they though it best he make the calls to give the most information available at once. The Bust had gone down like clock work. Except for the facts that the two men had written in their reports, they didn't know what else had happen to cause Vin and Ezra to still be so tense. This was why Chris had requested they all go on a fishing/camping trip together.
Leaving from the ranch they would ride across Chris's land and over to the State Parks property camping area, to a special spot they knew Vin loved to go. It had surprised them when Ezra had readily agreed to go along, no argument just 'Thank you, I loved to go'.
Chris looked from Ezra to Josiah, and then lifted his eyebrows in a questioning manner. Ezra had stayed at Josiah's last night in an effort to be on time this morning. Chris hoped that if anyone had an insight to what was bothering the man, it would be Sanchez.
"Ezra, you alright?" Josiah asked softly.
Looking up Ezra felt warmed by the concern he saw in his friends eyes. Knowing what would put their minds at easy, he stated, "Why wouldn't I be all right considering you have me up at this ungodly hour, dressed in common jeans and about to ride across no man's land without the benefit or proper morning nourishment."
"There's the Ezra we all know and love," Nathan laughed.
Chris smirked and looked away. His eyes moving to the one that still worried his heart, Vin. He watched the man that was like his younger brother as he checked the packhorse. He insured that everything was strapped on sturdy and tight but not over-weighting the animal. His movements though gentle with the horse were still filled with tightly strung tension.
Chris decided to get them on the trail fast. The sooner Vin's was out in the mountains, the sooner he might be able to relax.
"Everyone ready, lets head out."
Walking their horses out of the barn, they all mounted with Buck taking the packhorse's lead in his hands.
"Buck, I'll take the packhorse when you get tired." JD offered, riding beside Buck as they started across the back fields.
Vin led the way with Chris right behind him, keeping an eye on his friend. Chris tried to look over his shoulder as they rode, checking on Ezra. He found he didn't have to worry with Josiah and Nathan riding on both sides of him, keeping him busy with their banter back and forth.
The group rode for several hours only stopping once for a quick trail breakfast. Vin stopped on a rise and just sat in the saddle watching the early morning light slowly creep over the mountains, waking the day in its warm bright glow. Chris sat sharing the sight with him in silence and relaxed slightly as he saw the tension ease from his friend. They were winding around in and out of the back of Larabee's property before the trail led up into the park lands once and for all when Vin suddenly stopped them.
Pulling hard on the reins Vin held his hand up signaling for quiet. Standing up in his stirrups he tilted his head, listening to a sound only he could hear. The guys watching him were again taken by surprise when all the tension he had seem to have lost in the last couple of hours was back full force showing clearly in his back, arms, and face.
Vin dropped back in the saddle as he spurred Peso into an immediate breakneck run. He was out of sight before they were able to react and took off after him.
Clearing the trees just in time for them to see Vin throw himself off Peso and tackle some man beside a truck. It wasn't until Vin jumped back up they saw the rifle he had taken off the stranger
The man, struggling to his feet, grabbed for the rifle as Vin brought the butt of it up clipping him on the chin.
"What the Hell is going on." Chris demanded, as he dismounted with the others.
"That madman jumm...ppped meee... fors no reasons. Hes made mee miss my shot at them deers," the man slurred drunkenly from the ground.
"Deer! You're so drunk ya can't even see straight. Ya almost shot that little family," Vin growled, pointing out the direction and targets the man had been aiming at and not attempting to hide how upset he was.
"Mister, not only is this private property youre trespassing on. It isn't even deer season, or any hunting season for that fact." Buck looked at the man in disgust..
"Don't matter, weren't nobody to see me out here if I get a deer," the drunk cheerfully replied.
Ezra stepped up beside Chris as he closed his cell phone. "Mister Larabee, I have taken the liberty to notify the Park Rangers about this intoxicated imbecile in hope that they maybe able to render us some assistance. While we are indeed on your property, they have informed me that they themselves have been looking for this sad excuse for a moron. It appears he has been weaving back and forth across both areas for some time. He started several hours ago on the States property driving over fences in protected areas and shooting his rifle out of his truck's window at anything moving. The Ranger assured me that fortunately no one was hurt, although he came close a couple of times. They are in route as I speak to collect this boorish drunk and we should expect them post haste."
"Hey I'm getting out of here. I ain't lettin' the law get me just for havin' fun hunting," the drunk stated, getting up off the ground and reaching for his rifle Vin had confiscated.
He grabbed it thinking he could jerk it out of Vin's hand. He found out quickly what a big mistake that was.
Vin yanked the rifle back just as the drunk grabbed it, bringing the man forward and right into Vin's fist, and hitting him square on his nose, breaking it.
"AAHHH he'd boke mi nos! He'd boke mi nos!"
Vin shook his head at the drunk, handed the rifle off to JD and walked away. Knowing if he didn't he just might do something worse to hush the man up.
"Shut up before I do something you'll regret," Larabee thundered, glaring down at the whining man.
Josiah reached down and pull the man up to his feet. "Why don't you let me help you get comfortable on the tailgate of your truck? Maybe Brother Nathan will take a look at your nose. He might be able to help."
The man held his hand on his nose as Josiah led the wobbling drunk to the tailgate and then let go of him as he sat with a thump.
The drunk looked up and saw Nathan approach with the first aid kit and commented, "I ain't lettin noo darkiee ..."
That's as far as the man got before Vin suddenly appeared with his Bowie knife pulled and placed it under the man's chin. "I'd think real hard and careful like before I'd say another word or ya might just loose that tongue of yours," Vin explained in a hard low voice, never breaking eye contact.
Chris gently lay his hand on Vin's shoulder to calm him.
Vin turned slightly, just enough so only Chris could see, and winked letting Larabee know he was only scaring the drunk to make the man behave.
"Thanks Vin, but it's ok. I can take care of him," Nathan assured giving him a grateful look.
Vin pulled the knife away and slid it back into the sheath inside his boot. He gave Nathan a nod and walked away toward the open field.
"A word of advice, brother Vin is a bit upset as you've seen, however you really don't want to see Brother Chris upset. Well, unless you've made your peace with God," Josiah informed the man who had sobered up a lot from the fear he had felt.
Looking up at the man in question whose glare sent terror running through his veins had sobered him up the rest of the way. Nodding his head, he sat still and quiet as Nathan looked over his injured nose.
"JD, Buck there's a stream over on the other side of those trees. Why don't you two take the horses over there and let them get some water," Chris suggested as he watched them gather up the reins and lead the horses away, and then looked around the large open field.
"If you are looking for Mr. Tanner, he is over near the forest edge talking with the little family he saved." Ezra watched Vin gently speak to the little ones with their parents. Looking back at Chris and seeing the expression on his face as he watched Vin, Ezra offered some information to him that he knew would help to explain. "Mr. Walters' right hand man Jake, well really his enforcer, was a brute and a bully. The whole time we were there, he would pick on the female cook or would terrorize her son. Jake appeared to be attempting to retrieve a response from Mr. Tanner, for he would only carry out these attacks when Vin was present and just before Mr. Walters arrived. He timed it perfectly. Mr. Walters allowed no fighting among his people. Discipline for those caught was harsh and immediate. Mr. Tanner was caught between a rock and quite literally a hard place. He couldn't help for it would have left me unprotect. However, it tore him up seeing the lady or her son terrorized. This went on at least two to three times a week during our time undercover with it escalating drastically toward the end. I fear had we not acted and busted the cretins when we did Mr. Tanner would have taken his chances and dealt with Jake. Even though it is over, and the woman and her son safe . . . the brute in a place he well deserves, it must be hard to justify your actions, or lack there of, when you have a heart as big as our Mr. Tanner's."
Chris nodded in understanding, his gaze going to Vin once again now that he knew what was bothering his friend. As he watched Vin, he realized Tanner's body language wasn't tense or angry, it was relax and calm. Saving that little family had helped heal him and with that knowledge Chris finally started to relax too.
Chris heard a motor approach and realized that Vin must have heard it too as the man stood and said something to the family before heading back to rejoin his teammates.
A truck appeared in the opening of the trees to the north, off the old wagon road. A hundred years before the road served as the main roadway for the stagecoaches but now was seldom used.
The truck pulling up beside them and parked and twp Park Rangers climbed out and identified themselves. They placed the hunter in the back seat of their SUV and began taking down Vin's statement. The older Ranger told Larabee that he would drive the hunter's truck back to the Park station and have the sheriff's department tow it from there to the impound lot, so no more of Larabee's land would be torn up.
"I'd appreciate that. If you need to reach us for any reason, you can either contact us by cell phone or you can find us down by Willow's Haven bend. We're going to be there camping and fishing until Sunday morning," Larabee informed the Ranger, handing him one of his business cards. The men shook hands and then the Rangers left with their prisoner and his truck. Buck and JD had returned with the horses shortly after hearing the Rangers pulling up. The team remounted and set out once again for the campsite.
Riding non-stop at a steady pace they finally reached the spot Vin and Chris had decided on.
Dismounting Chris handed out jobs as they all unsaddled their tired mounts. "Buck, you and JD go gather wood for a fire. Make a stock pile to last a couple of days. We'll cover it with the tarp just in case we get a surprise rain. Nathan, string up a picket line for the horses, then help Buck and JD. Ezra, you and Josiah dig a wide shallow pit and circle it really well with rocks for the fire. Set up the cooking grill-stand in the middle of the pit with a rock under each leg. Vin and I will get the tents set up. That should leave the afternoon free for fishing or what ever."
Working together the camp was soon set up and everything situated. The guys grabbed their fishing poles and tackle, and then headed through the trees and down the hill to the river. Spreading out and picking their spots, lines were cast in.
"Whoever catches the least amount of fish, say in two hours, has to do the cleaning and cooking tonight," Buck challenged.
"Sounds good," Nathan agreed and soon the competition was on.
"Hey Buck does your animal maggotism work on fish?" JD teased, moving a little way down the river bank.
"That's magnetism not maggotism boy, and it only works on the ladies. It's a gift that only the strong of heart can handle," Buck informed, stretching his arms and puffing out his chest.
"Is that so, Brother?" Josiah asked, leaning against a tree.
"Yes indeed Josiah, yes indeed. It takes a strong heart to handle this gift, because the ladies can give you a coronary. Yes, it's a gift I'll just have to bear," Buck answered, his grin lighting up his face.
"Buck, you're so full of crap," JD laughed.
Vin leaning against a tree as Chris did the same a few feet away. They shared a glance, grinning they both pulled their hats over their eyes.
The afternoon passed slowly with the men teasing one another as they raced to out do each other in their catches. Josiah saying it was all in the jerking of the bait. Nathan arguing that it was in the slow reeling in of the bait. Buck and JD both agreed it was in the type of bait. Ezra told them it was in popping the bait in and out of the top of the water.
"What do you think is right Chris?" JD wanted to know.
Pushing his hat back and glancing at the guys standing and waiting for an answer Chris replied, "It's in the quietness."
"We all know that, but which one of us is right?" JD asked, determined to get an answer.
Staring at them for a moment and then looked over to Vin who now sat on the very edge of the river's bank, his feet in the water and leaning over as if watching the river roll by, Chris smiled and said softly, "It's the water, JD."
"The water?" Buck frowned in confusion.
Chris's smirk, bloomed into a full mischievous smile as he nodded his head and then tilted it toward Vin. As the others looked on, Vin quickly reach into the water and pull out a fish throwing it up on the embankment. Still staring they watched as he got up and walk over to the fish, picking it up and carrying it to the cooler. Opening the lid he pulled out a string filled with several nice size bass and added the fish in his hand to the string.
"Looks like Vin and I win, so who's cooking?" Chris laughed.
"I'll cook, Cowboy. They can do the cooking tomorrow," Vin stated, carrying the cooler over to where Chris sat.
"Are you heading back to camp now?" Ezra asked.
"Well then, I shall accompany you and help. I can start the fire while you clean the fish," Ezra offered.
"Sounds good," Vin nodded, setting off for the camp with Ezra beside him.
Chris climbed to his feet and pulled his pole out of the water.
"You heading up to camp too, Chris?" Josiah queried.
"Yep, thought I'd give Vin a hand cleaning the fish."
"You want the rest of us to come?" JD inquired.
"No, stay, Fish, have fun. This is a vacation, enjoy it." Chris assured their youngest.
Leaving the others by the river, Chris walked into camp finding Vin off to the side cleaning the fish on a board over an open trash bag which lay on the ground beneath it as Ezra was started a fire in the pit. Going to a box by the first tent, Chris pulled out a large flat frying griddle. Sitting it off to the side, he shifted items around until he found the cornmeal, oil, and premixed seasonings Vin had made up the night before. Grabbing a clear, large, zip lock bag he took all the items over by the fire. Handing the oil and griddle to Ezra, Chris poured a fair amount of the corn meal into the zip lock bag then added some of the seasoning to it. Meanwhile, Ezra poured a little of the oil on the griddle and smeared it around, coating the bottom completely.
"Vin you got those fish ready?" Chris asked, looking over to his friend. The smile fell from his face as he yelled, "Look out!"
It was too late. At Chris's yell, Vin jerked and turned as the rifle butt swung down toward his head like a club. The only thing that saved Vin from having his head spit wide open by the force of the blow was the fact he had been moving when he was struck.
Chris and Ezra both jumped up to help Vin, then froze when the attacker turned the gun on them. Even though they knew they should keep their eyes on the man, neither could look away from Vin who lay unmoving on the ground. It felt like forever before they saw his head slowly roll over and heard a soft moan. Chris felt helpless standing there watching as Vin slowly rolled over and moved unsteadily to his hands and knees.
Knowing he needed to get control in order to help his friend, Chris turned to the man who had harmed his friend and brother. Larabee stared at the man with an icy cold glare from hell.
"You all think you're so big and bad because you're ATF agents. Well you don't looks so tough now. Yeah, I heard you tell them that your ATF agents," the attacker stated as he looked down on Vin. His eyes shifted back to Ezra and Chris, standing about twenty feet away, and he swallowed hard when he saw the dark glare in the blonde's eyes.
"How did you get loose?" Chris demanded, taking a step to his right trying not to let his relief show when the man turned with him. Taking another step to the right Chris realized that Ezra had taken one to the left at the same time.
Keeping his eyes on Chris the man answered, "The rangers forgot I was sitting in the corner when some lady came in crying that her brat had fallen and wasn't moving, and she couldn't get to him. They ran out of that park station so fast you'd think it was on fire , and lucky me they left my rifle, shells, and my truck keys right there on the desk. Real stupid of them rangers, and all over some worthless kid."
Chris and Ezra, both seething at the man's callous words about a hurt child, took another step apart.
"Just shows you're a low life to say that about a little one," came the soft voice of Vin as he pushed with his hands and sat back on his heels.
Ezra couldn't believe the overwhelming feeling he had upon hearing his friend's voice. Reaffirming, though his tone lacked strength, that Vin was alive. Not thinking, but reacting and taking a step toward him, he pulled up short at the sound of the rifle's bark as the bullet hit the ground an inch in front of his foot.
Two other groups, hearing the rifle report, reacted as well. One hid his family in the woods, and then went to investigate. The other group stopped dead in their tracks for a moment, then like a flash dropped their fishing gear and ran back toward the camp.
Buck, JD, Nathan and Josiah stopped on the edge of the camp and took in the situation. All were surprised to see the man they had handed over to the park rangers that morning with a rifle pointed at their friends. Buck signaled for Josiah and Nathan to work their way around the camp and to watch for an opening. They were going to have to hope for an opening to jump the man without getting the others shot.
The man waved the gun, "You just stay right there. You too, Blondie. You two didn't think I'd noticed you were trying to get far enough apart that you could get the upper hand. Well I ain't that dumb. She and her daddy both thought that too. Thought she was better than me, too good for me. Well they ain't thinking that no more. Nope, I saw to that earlier today, wanted to start it off right. That's why I's celebrating . . . until he spoiled it all."
Chris and Ezra realized that the man was crazy. Not only did he admit to either harming, or more than likely killing two people, but he admitted it to Federal agents.
He slipped up real quiet, peaking from the bush where he was hiding. He saw the madman from earlier, the one who had almost killed them. Searching the area he saw that the one who had saved his family. The long-haired man and his friends were all being held by the rifle pointing at them. He listened as the madman spoke.
"Now I'm going to take this boy here and teach him a lesson for messing with a man, but I need to do something with you two first. You two, back up to that one man tent over there. I want you both to crawl inside and lay face down. It should be a real tight fit so you can't get up or out too fast," The man ordered, explaining his plan.
"Like Hell we will. You're crazy if you think I'm just going to let you beat him," Chris growled at the man.
"Fine, I can just put a bullet in your leg, that'll work just as well to keep you out of my way, or better yet, maybe instead of beating him I should shoot him in his knee. That'll teach him."
The insane man smiled with a sickening hunger for the pain that he was about to cause. Pointing the rifle down toward Vin's bent knees he was surprised to find Vin starring up at him. He expected to see fear shining in his eyes; instead he found a glare burning from the deep blue orbs. In that instant, the madman had enough sanity to know this man could and would kill him. In the seconds it took to pull the rifle tighter and begin to pull the trigger, several things happened at once.
Chris and Ezra both jumped toward the man trying to reach and tackle him before he could harm or kill their friend in front of them. They knew they weren't going to make.
He couldn't stop, he had to keep going. He had started the moment he heard that he was going to beat him. He refused to even consider the idea he would fail. Pushing his legs harder, he covered the distance quicker than he imagined. He knew it was going to be close. At the last possible moment he pushed off hard with all the strength in his legs. Jumping high and across, hitting the man holding the gun, threatening the one who had saved his family and himself earlier that morning. As he impacted against him, he heard the gun fire.
The men burst out of the woods from four different directions yelling, "No!"
Ezra knocked Vin to the side, covering him with his body.
Chris snatched the rifle out of the downed man's hands and hit him with all the anger he was feeling, the one pouch knocked the man out cold.
"Chris, is he alright?" Vin asked in a weak anxious voice needing to know if his rescuer was going to be okay.
"Yea Vin, he's alright, not a scratch." Chris reassured him.
"I can't believe what I just saw! Buck did you see that?! He just jumped right into him!" JD cried, astonished.
"Yea I saw it, I don't believe it but I saw it, a stunned Buck answered.
The four walked over and look down at their friend who was sitting up with Chris and Ezra's help.
There in Vin's lap was the same huge black and white Jack rabbit that Vin had saved earlier.
Who Is, Who Isn't
[Note: Texas Jack Rabbits can get over 40lbs and are known to get bigger than 3ft long.]