Team Retreat

by Heather

ATF Alternate Universe


The six men freshly showered and in moderately clean clothes sat on bunks and waited for Chris. Standish slept down the row still in the sweat stained dirt covered clothes from the hike.

JD finally found voiced his concerns, "Ez ain't gonna make it tomorrow."

Chris stared at the young man and then let his gaze travel down to the southerner. Standish was oblivious to world around him, lost in a healing slumber.

"Not to put him down or anything, Chris," Buck added, "he'll kill himself to keep up but they shouldn't push him into this he's not up to it."

Chris held his own counsel. This was where he hated being team leader. The others were obviously correct. Standish had the will and bull headed determination to go through the obstacle course and hike, but he would never make it. The stubborn southerner would push himself until he either collapsed or got seriously hurt. If they wanted to remain as a team they had to start and finish as a team. Travis knew this and still he pushed. If Chris refused then the seven would be separated and assigned to different teams. Larabee hated politics.

"I know," he spoke softly and then stared at each man, "we make sure he makes it and makes it through without killing himself." The others nodded in silent agreement. They would not disappoint the southerner and not let him shoulder the blame of being responsible for the disbanding of the seven.

"Lets get something to eat." Chris stood up the others followed his lead. On the way out he said, "Vin you want to drag that sorry southern arse to dinner. He needs to eat."

Tanner detoured and headed for Standish's bunk.

+ + + + + + +

Their problems were inadvertently solved by DC himself. At dinner he handed Chris a manual on the rules and regulations regarding the obstacle course. Larabee leafed through it briefly and placed it aside. The small but condensed plastic spiral bound book had made it's way down to Standish who perused it with great interest. In the end his dry sly chuckle got the notice of the other men. He shook his head, indicating they should discuss it later and renewed his interest in his meal. The undercover agent passed the book onto Josiah who flipped through it catching on to the southerners train of thought. Sanchez smiled and handed the book down to Nathan.

+ + + + + + +

Tuesday am

The morning run was not required, breakfast was eaten at seven am and the team got ready for the obstacle course. DC and his counselors watched pleased. The men seemed content with the challenge that faced them today. Cummings met them as they came out of the bunk house ready to start the obstacle course and run.

"Now gentlemen I want you to realize this has been developed to help facilitate you working as a team. It is very challenging but if you work together and help one another I think persons such as yourselves should persevere." Here he normally would suggest a group hug again, but these seven men still seemed terribly resistant to the idea maybe even down right violent. "We expect you back here in time for dinner," he paused and added, "you will be monitored along the way but you will not know when or where."

He clapped his hands in excitement. The team before him appeared ready.

"Get going gentlemen." He had expected them to rush right off like most teams had done in the past. Instead team seven lounged on the porch sipping coffee. They were still belligerent. "You are on a time table, gentlemen," he reminded them.

Larabee sighed and scratched at the back of his neck. He peered at his finger nail seemingly interested in the small mosquito he just killed. "Well boys I suggest we best get a move on."

The others groaned and sighed but pushed themselves up from leaning positions and nonchalantly walked off the porch and toward the wood trail that lead to the obstacle course.

Once under the cover of the forest Vin and Buck trotted on up a head. The other five men walked approximately a hundred yards up the trail before meeting their two grinning teammates. Buck and Vin both sat on ATV four wheelers. None of the others were surprised. They had hashed this plan out the night before under the auspices of a billiards game. In worn leather scabbards by both Vin and Buck's lower legs sat two small Stihl chainsaws. The bright orange plastic motor coverings stood out against the camouflage paint job of the ATV's.

"Lets go boys," Buck said. Chris fit on the back of Buck's seat, Josiah took the back cargo area. Ezra sat behind Vin with both JD and Nathan sharing the flat cargo area in the back of the second four wheeler. Buck and Vin guided the vehicles up the path to the first obstacle. Standish held tightly to the manual, they did after all have to adhere to the rules. They had all agreed to that the night before.

The night before while playing billiards, Chris,Vin and Ezra sat down and went through the guidelines for going through the obstacle course and subsequent cross country jaunt. The more they read and questioned it the more they found loop holes. With each loop hole came a plausible solution. Soon a plan was formed and people designated tasks to preform and the scheme was put into motion. As the others filtered out to do what was required Standish made to follow. Chris had stopped him, his voice stern, "Not you Ezra you stay in and get a full nights sleep." The undercover agent had argued all the way to the bunkhouse but his pleas had fallen on deaf ears. While the others gathered up their supples and prepared for a little 'misappropriation' of equipment, the southerner had actually fallen to sleep in his bunk. It was late evening early morning when the black clad six met again in the bunkhouse. Silent smiles and knowing winks confirmed they were ready for tomorrow.

Now the seven men on the back of ATV's made their way recklessly up the trail. JD and Buck jousted with one another whenever the two off road vehicles got with in swinging distance. Chris swore the next time he was going to tie those two up and drag them behind. His thoughts were interrupted as stick swung by Buck nearly knocked him in the head. Larabee silently promised revenge.

When they reached the first wall to be scaled, Josiah and Vin pulled out the orange chainsaws and fired them up. They choked to life humming loudly as triggers were depressed. He and Vin cut a wedges out of the back side of the support poles. They then stood around front and cleanly cut through both the right and left legs. The,one time, vertical plank wall suddenly became horizontal as it thudded against the ground. The smell of diesel hung heavy in the air. Sanchez loved that odor it reminded him of home. The kill switches were hit on the chainsaws and Josiah swept his arms in mock greeting. "You may proceed gentlemen." In pairs the members of Team seven picked up the ropes and walked the face of the wall to the other end. There was nothing in the manual that said they had to scale a vertical face. They remounted the ATV's and continued onto the next obstacle.

+ + + + + + +

DC and his counselors fumed at a discreet distant as they watched the slow but methodical destruction of their obstacle course. Judge Travis stood beside them chuckling. Orrin Travis held a pair of binoculars and watched as the team approached obstacle after obstacle. He watched as Larabee and Standish consulted the manual asked suggestions from the others and then set about addressing the problem they faced with an alternative solution. Typical Team Seven style, they tended to knock things down, or go through things. Travis held a copy of the manual and followed the progress of the group below, soon he found himself quietly making proposals to himself as to how the men could accomplish the task at hand without taxing to much of their energy. They were working as a team again. The Judge ignored the rantings of the counselors and nodded a congratulations to DC. The man did good work. The director accepted the thanks but cringed as the chainsaws fired up again and the fifty- two foot wall toppled to the ground.

+ + + + + + +

JD picked up the rope and was about to trot over the face of the wall, "JD it says here ya need to put the harness on." Standish read from the manual looking up at the young ATF agent.

"Yeah but Ez, it's not like I'm gonna fall it's already on the ground," Dunne explained.

"A rules a rule JD. Put the harness on," Nathan said. JD complied. They others followed suit.

When they reached the white water expanse with the rope and subsequent guide line, Buck and Vin dropped the others off and rode down the bank disappearing from sight. One at a time the others started crossing ,walking the rope. JD jogged across, enjoying the relative ease and spark of danger. Nathan followed, then Josiah, Ezra and Chris. Larabee stuck close to his undercover agent, confident that the young southerner was feeling fine but did not want a spell of dizziness to hit him midway. Ear infections could be tricky. (Adam had gotten them time and again as an infant and toddler.) The sound of approaching fourwheelers hallmarked the approach of Vin and Buck, they had crossed the river a half mile down on a small planked bridge. The two men hopped off the vehicles crossed the river using the rope and then reacrossed joining their partners.

"Lets saddle up boys. We got four miles to the meadow and the river," Buck said revving the engine in haste to get going. They were well ahead of schedule.

The two passenger laden fourwheelers bounced across the grassy plain. The same wild field they had seen the other day on the ridge. The box canyon lay to their left and the river to their right. The forest skirted the large grassy plain about two hundred yards away. Vin and Buck paralleled one another then shots rang out. Both Vin and Buck stared at each other. The others heard them too. More gun shots echoed the area. They slowed the ATV's to a stop. They killed the engines. The seven men stood and tried to follow the sound.

+ + + + + + +

Meaghan pushed her gelding to his limits. The dark bay crested the slight rise and headed for the cover of trees. The young impetuous Delany girl saw the seven men standing in the meadow watching her. As she drew closer she recognized the Texan and large older man, Josiah. With simple leg pressure she guided the galloping animal toward the oasis of men. Another gun shot echoed behind her and she hunkered down closer to the horse's shoulder.

"Hey isn't that Meaghan?" Tanner asked. Josiah merely nodded. They watched as she reined her blowing mount in their direction. Behind her taking shape were more riders, on horse back. They bared menacingly down on her. "Come on Meg. Come on girl," Tanner whispered to himself but the others heard him.

Delany drew her horse up short,causing him to hop to a stop. "It's the rustler's they've got the cattle in the box canyon shoot'in'em." she was as breathless as her horse. Chris unceremoniously dragged her from the saddle and tossed her onto one of the fourwheelers. Her feet never hitting the ground.

"Go get help," he simply explained. She appeared as if she would argue but Larabee warned her with a simple look. Meg bowed to the logic of the older man, besides she had seen the same look in her father and knew she would not win this verbal fight. Delany turned the engine over, kicked it into gear and tore off across the meadow heading for help, heading for home.

"Spread out boys and watch your backs," Chris said as the other riders approached. Larabee glanced at his men and continued, "I'll try and talk some sense into them."

Buck grunted, Josiah raised his eyebrows, and JD out right laughed. They all knew Chris was about as accomplished at negotiations as Sanchez was at fixing his truck.

"Oh great Atilla the Hun is going to play diplomat," Standish muttered under his breath, or so he thought until Chris hissed out.

"Shut up Ezra."


The eight riders pulled up and reined in just before the seven men. They were not the brains behind who was trying to run the ranchers and loggers off their homes. Larabee was sure of that, but at least these eight men offered a direct link to the master minds behind the whole scheme. Get these men into custody and get them to talk and the rest would eventually fall into place.

"Nice day for a ride boys," Chris said laconically.

"Ya ain't got no business in this so why don't ya get out of the way cowboy." The apparent leader snipped back.

Buck started laughing. Vin shook his head in sorrow. JD prepared for a fight. Ezra muttered an, "ahhh Hell," Josiah gazed heavenward and Jackson wondered who would need stitches before this was all through. Nobody call Chris Larabee cowboy.

"You just call me a Cowboy?" Larabee stepped forward the feral smile on his face held no humor.

"He don't like that very much," Josiah offered helpfully. He wondered if help would arrive before fists flew. Not likely.

"Yeah I did, ya got a problem with that COWboy?" The leader taunted. He no sooner got the words out than he was yanked from his horse and found himself getting slammed to the ground.

The area erupted into a brawl.

Rustlers dove from their animals onto the ATF agents below. Buck easily intercepted one yanked his straw hat over his eyes and nailed him with a quick jab, cross combination, sending the man reeling back. Nathan side stepped another individual letting the would be flying tackler go uninterrupted to the ground. Jackson quickly followed him to the ground. The chemist preferred ground fighting or grappling. Josiah enjoyed himself as he played cat and mouse with his opponent. Landing hard slaps to the man's head and face, irritating the individual more than hurting him. Sanchez believed humility was an important lesson to learn. Ezra found himself facing a monstrosity of a man. Fortunately he was overweight and slow, and Standish's pugilistic training came in handy. The quick gambler darted in and out landing solid punches all the while bobbing and weaving avoiding the big meaty paws that swung at his head. Vin nimbly used both his hands and feet, confusing his taller adversary. He would land a round house kick to the lower leg forcing the man to drop his hands and then throw a jab at the new exposed facial target. Tanner smiled he enjoyed physical activity.

+ + + + + + +

Judge Travis and the others watched the melee from the ridge above the meadow. Orrin smiled as his team soundly took on the other eight. He did not understand why the confrontation had occurred or what was the reason behind it, but he was thankful to see his men working as a unit.

"Turn around Josiah, Turn around, look at Standish," Travis muttered to himself as he watched the southerner go down after a large lumbering roundhouse punch landed on the right side of his head. Travis cringed, that had to hurt. He watched as the overweight opponent hauled the obviously dazed undercover agent to wobbly legs and landed a second and third punch.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah turned around and noticed Ezra in trouble. Sanchez quit playing with his man, landed one solid punch knocking the individual soundly on his backside. Josiah reached over and grabbed Standish's attacker twirling him around. The larger man was in the midst of landing yet another punch on the semi conscious victim when a large fist connected with the corner of his jaw. Standish quickly melted from his grasp. The rotund man back stepped trying to maintain his balance and put distance between himself and whatever train just hit him. He did not succeed. A second blow connected solidly with the point of his jaw, his head snapped back and he collapsed to the ground in a puddle of flesh and bones. Josiah turned his attention to the southerner who sat on his butt swaying and staring dumbly at the ground.

"You all right brother?" Sanchez breathed out. His attention was quickly diverted as another body slammed into him. The giant anthropologist found himself back in the midst of the fray.

The fight only lasted a few more minutes. Along time for the combatants. Both sides heaved for breath with leaden arms and legs. More ATF agents stood than rustlers. Vin let out a whoop, and Buck slapped JD on the back in congratulations, for a job well done. Chris asked Nathan to release the figure four leg lock he had on his challenger. Jackson sighed, he never got a chance to practice his moves on any of the others and now that he had someone to practice on he was not allowed to. The EMT let go of his potential victim and stood up slightly irritated.

Noone had cuffs so they were reduced to tying the outlaws up with segments of rope they cut from the lariats on the saddle.

"JD, Nathan, Buck bring these guys over to where Meaghan disappeared too. There has to be a road or something over there." The threesome nodded and shoved the group toward the trees. Chris watched them for a moment and then turned back to his other men.

"Vin, Josiah take the ATV and see if you can find some help," Larabee ordered as he held the reins to Meaghan's bay gelding.

It was a beautiful quarterhorse, if one did not look at the head. It was a product of its environment. It had a deep chest, typical well muscled haunches, as well as a toned and fit barrel but more importantly it had good feet. Not only well trimmed and apparently well shod but it had good size feet, not the tiny hooves that breeders and halter classes bred for nowadays. This horse was bred to work and from the looks of it it was no stranger to laboring all day on the trail.

He patted the bowed neck. "And where's Ezra off to?" Larabee asked as he watched his undercover agent walk in the direction of the box canyon. He had made it to the rise and slowly disappeared on the other side. Chris watched him perplex. Josiah and Vin sat on the ATV. It was out of gas.

"He thought he heard something," Vin answered. Sanchez figured it was just the ringing in his ears he heard.

"Chris this is just about out of gas. Buck filled up the other one but we left the gas tank on that one," Vin said. Larabee nodded still squinting in the direction the gambler had just disappeared.

"Get started I'll follow once I get Ezra," Larabee said.

Then they felt a low rumble. At first Josiah thought it was an earthquake but quickly dismissed it. He noticed JD and the others felt it as well because he could see Dunne questioning Buck. The rumbling persisted and then a low thunder began to roll. Chris and Vin exchanged confused expressions. There was not a cloud in the sky.

"Ey here comes Ez now," Tanner said and more quietly added, "what's got him so spooked?" Larabee turned and watched as the Southerner sprinted over the small rise bearing down on them in a full out sprint waving his arms frantically.

The rumbling became more pronounce, the gelding began to dance and blow, the other horses bolted. Larabee had to fight just to hold onto the reins. The thunder increased in volume to a dull roar. The three men watched as a rising cloud of dust began to develop behind the conman. They could make out Ezra waving his arms at them, almost like telling them to run or something.

Chris did not like the feel of the situation at all and quickly mounted up. The gelding settled down some what under the authoritative handling of his new rider. Standish was well over three hundred yards away when the mystery was suddenly solved.

"Oh shit" rang out across the meadow as Chris and the others spotted the source of the sound and vibrating earth. The first horned steer leaped over the rise running full out followed by a couple hundred head.

"Stampede!" Who yelled what and when, noone knows but everyone moved. "Vin get out of here!" Larabee screamed over the sound of stampeding hooves. Tanner needed no further encouragement, he threw the ATV into gear and with Josiah behind him tore off for the shelter of the forest.

Buck, JD and Nathan on seeing the enraged steers bolted for the trees as well, they were over three quarters of the way there already. The other eight men were on their own. They started this they could live with the consequences.

The threesome piled onto the speeding ATV as it blew past. The Vin gassed the fourwheeler to with in a few yards of the trees before it died. The men spilled off it sprinting into the forest. It then became a mad scramble to climb trees. JD latched onto one trunk with no branches insight, but with pure adrenaline scampered up like a grey squirrel. Buck jumped grabbed a low branch and swung himself up. He then hung down and reached for the leaping Tanner. Vin latched onto the outstretched hands and felt himself get pulled up just as the first steers bound passed. A horn caught his pants leg threatening to pull him back under the pounding hooves but Wilmington's grip proved stronger and he hauled the sharpshooter into the tree. Josiah and Nathan both sat breathlessly in the tree next to Buck and Vin and watched as the violent sea of steers and heifers raged passed down below.

Ezra ran for all his worth. Terror was a great motivator. Adrenaline pumped into his blood stream. Airway's opened, allowing the passage of air to travel less turbulently, secretions dried up. Eyes dilated, enhancing sight for distances. Blood vessels constricted in some parts of the body while dilating in others. Major muscle groups were fed rich oxygenated blood. Any reminders of the other night's sickness were disguised and hidden, conscious thought dimmed and the primitive brain took over. Survival became paramount. Instinct ruled the body as well as the brain. Run! Run he did. Arms pumping, chest expanding and legs stretching to their limits Standish ran. He sprinted across the meadow, his mind ignoring the thundering hooves behind him, compensating unconsciously for the uneven ground, the inner ear kept the bodies balance as he raced on ahead.


Larabee kicked the gelding into a gallop. Chris leaned low over the saddle keeping as much wind resistance down as he could. He kept leg pressure on the beast's sides as he closed the distance to his team member. In less than a few second he was upon Standish. Without slowing, holding the reins in his bared teeth, hooking his right knee under the swell of the saddle and wrapping his right arm around the horn he reached down with his left arm and grabbed for Standish.

Ezra would not recall any of this would not be able to explain how one minute he was on the ground sprinting for his life and the next reaching up with his left arm to Larabee. Chris latched onto the outstretched arm. The forward momentum of the horse, swung the southerner up onto the back of the horse behind the saddle.

Chris reined the horse around. The gelding offered no resistance. The quarterhorse slid his back legs under him slowing his forward propulsion spun around on it's hind feet squatted low and leaped off in the direction of the trees. Ezra kept a death grip on Larabee's mid section all the while looking over his shoulder at the encroaching wave of beefs.

The quarterhorse worked on basic instincts of survival as well. It's basic will to survive no greater or no less than the men that sat on it's back but it was geared better suited for such dilemma's. Horses are a prey species, they are made to run, out run their predators. The dark bay stretched his neck out low and straight, decreasing any resistance in the air ways allowing for maximum air passage. It's nostrils flared as ears laid back, his caudal chest expanded dragging in great gasps of air. Its large eyes were wide and unblinking. It's massive legs stretched out one foot pounding the ground at one time. It covered the distance in great leaps heading for the safety of the trees.

Chris stole a look around his upper arm. It was going to be close. He urged the gelding on. They entered the forest. Larabee no longer directed the horse. He let it tear through the trees on it's own. A windfall lay across the trail a few yards up ahead. The bay did not deviate, it sailed over the obstacle hiking back hooves up to hits belly stretching out front legs. It hit the ground still in stride. Ezra watched in horror as the first steers flanked them. Then the ground disappeared.

For a brief moment everything seemed to have stopped, no sound, no motion. Then they started falling. Larabee shoved the southerner from the back of the horse as he himself bailed from the saddle. Ezra felt himself free falling. The threesome splashed into the deep raging river at the same time.

Larabee burst to the surface fighting the current. With every other desperate gasp he seemed to take in more river water. The current swung him around and he faced upstream. The terrorized horse beared down on him from only a few short feet away. Then everything went dark.

Ezra broke the surface bewildered. He faced shore one moment and the next he was sucked back under. He kicked to the surface again losing a sneaker unbeknownst to him. The southerner saw the shore and started for it. Then he remembered something Vin had told him. Always look for the other shore line. It maybe closer. Standish was pulled back under but popped up again, spitting water and gagging. The closer shore was to his right. He saw a log floating in front of him and desperately reached for it.

His reaching fingers closed around the would be log and discovered it was soft and wore clothes. Larabee. The blonde floated face down tossed haplessly about by the turbulent current. Standish latched on to him, went under again, resurfaced and fought his way to shore.

+ + + + + + +

Buck searched frantically for Chris and Ezra. They had galloped right underneath them, amongst the stampeding beefs. The minute the cattle dispersed and slowed down the other ATF agents dropped to the ground. Vin did not even realize his left calf had been torn open and bleeding until JD pointed it out to him. "It can keep JD we have to find Chris and Ez." No one argued.

The five men trotted in the direction they saw the gelding gallop. They came to a twenty foot cliff. The river raged below. The five men stood there fearing the worse searching the river and its banks with furtive glances.

"There they are!" JD hollered pointing about three hundred yards down stream. The others spotted them too. It did not look good. Apparently Standish was giving mouth to mouth to Larabee. The five men headed back into the woods searching for a way down to the river.

+ + + + + + +

Judge Travis watched with terror as the stampeding beasts drew down on his men. It infuriated him. He watched as the seven dug in and reached the shelter of the trees. With fierce determination he started jogging back toward the one ATV vehicle that his team had not 'borrowed' last night.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan watched holding his breath from across the river as Ezra repeatedly repositioned Larabee's head, pinched his nose off and gave breaths to the unconscious man. This seemed to go on forever, instead of less than two minutes. Jackson was oblivious to the men around him. "Come on Chris don't you give up. Come on you son of a bitch," Nathan repeated over and over as Standish worked feverishly on his friend and boss.

Suddenly Ezra shot up spitting and wiping his mouth. Larabee's body jerked again in a retching fashion. Standish quickly rolled him over onto his side as Chris's body violently rejected the river water from his body. Standish slumped down wearily beside him trying to rid himself of the foul taste of Larabee's vomit.

+ + + + + + +

Both Chris and Ezra looked up as Buck, Josiah, JD, Vin and Nathan bore down on them. JD led the dripping gelding. They were soaking wet from the respective waists or midsections down. They must have found a shallow place to cross. Neither Larabee or Standish were in a hurry to gain their feet.

"Howdy pards." Vin smiled in relief as he drew closer slowing to a walk.

"You guys ok?" JD asked not stopping until he almost ran them over.

"You guys cut it kind of close don't ya think?" Buck asked trying to sound annoyed but not quite pulling it off.

"Brothers you have just used a couple more of your nine lives," Josiah's baritone laugh echoed out.

"You ok Chris?" Nathan asked the concern very evident in his tone.

Larabee gazed up at this five men and then at the southerner. They definitely made a strange team. "Yeah I'm fine but could definitely use a whiskey." His devious smile was met with six approving ones. Nathan and Josiah reached down and hauled the two unsteady men to their feet. As they walked down the river bank and nerves began to settle their gaits became more confident. A whiskey sounded good right about now.

+ + + + + + +

Dr. Sullivan looked up at the other men that lounged around his emergency room. He finished putting the final touches on his suture job for Tanner's let. Forty-eight in total. The others booed the Texan ,hell only forty-eight, a band-aid would have sufficed for that tiny scratch. Tanner threw a pillow at JD and told him to shut up. Dunne returned he cut himself worse when shaving. Buck had countered, they knew that to be a lie since ya can't really shave peach fuzz. Sullivan did his best to hide his laugh. He had also taken a blood gas on Larabee and found it to be adequate ninety-five percent. For someone of his athletic shape 99 to a hundred percent would have been expected but after a near drowning it was acceptable. The others appeared fine. With Josiah's and Buck's physical intimidation and down right hands on restraint they pinned the southerner to a gurney right ear up so the Doc could do an otoscopic exam. Ezra for his part moved his head back in forth in an effort to avoid the offending instrument until Nathan forcefully grabbed his forehead and held it still. Sullivan shook his head in dismay, and tossed a bottle of ear medicine to Jackson. His simple explanation, the canal was inflamed again, probably a result of the river. Jackson for his part smiled wolfishly at the gambler, he would enjoy putting ear drops in the obstinate southerners ear. Ezra returned the foul look with a leer of his own, there was no way in hell Nathan was getting close to him with ear meds.

Meaghan had visited them in the small emergency room with her dad and little brother. Sheriff Salisbury was not far behind entering the now overcrowded room with Judge Travis. The seven men immediately fell silent. They had never finished the obstacle course and it was well past six pm. They had met their doom. Travis noticed the looks of consternation on the men's faces, and downright fear on JD's. Though Orrin wanted to play with them a little he felt it would be better for them if he refrained. "Gentlemen I expect to see you all back at your desks Monday morning. You have a busy case load ahead of you." He turned to leave the room as sighs of relief escaped the seven men, hesitated and turned back around, "but until then you men have an obstacle course to rebuild and a trampled ATV to replace." He left the room to the sounds of groans.

The sheriff and his men had rounded up the eight would be rustlers and hustled them off to jail. They had already started singing a twisted tune about developers and ski resorts. There was a good chance with time they would get to the bottom of things. The Delany's offered their thanks and even better yet to meet them back down at the Korner Klub. Salisbury held up his hands and said he did not want to hear anymore and backed out of the ER.

Josiah loaded the four other men into the suburban. They would head down to the bar and meet Chris and Ezra there. Larabee wanted to talk to the undercover agent in private. This made Standish more than a little nervous and watched with apprehension as the other five left him behind with their volatile leader. Doc Sullivan hovered close by the emergency door just in case the mouthy gambler needed stitches before the talk finished.

The two men headed outside and sat on the bumper of the beat up stock trailer. Ezra wanted to bolt. Instead Chris patted the cagey tense Southerner on the shoulder, "Just wanted to thank ya Ezra for saving my life."

Ezra for his part stared at him bewildered and answered, "Mr. Larabee I'm touched by your sudden gratuity but must confess I was looking out for my own behalf." This caused Chris to stare at the southerner with a side long look. Ezra continued, "There have been so few people in this world that appreciate my given talents." Standish smiled when Larabee nodded in agreement. To hallmark the occasion the leader of Team Seven pulled out a stainless steel flask. He unscrewed the cap and took a swig. He handed it to the southerner. Ezra took it with raised eyebrows and took a mouthful. "My my Mr. Larabee you do have culture. Where did you abscond with such good whiskey?"

Chris smiled slyly and answered, "DC graciously left his liquor cabinet unattended. Vin found it." Both Ezra and Chris sat on the bumper of the trailer sharing the flask full of whiskey. Soon they had to dig into Ezra's personal stock. Before long that to threatened to run out.

Meaghan, her father and her brother headed for their old one ton flat bed with the gooseneck trailer attached. Meaghan climbed up onto the wheel well to check on Dakota, her gelding, and caught her breath the trailer was empty.

+ + + + + + +

The door to the Korner Klub swung open and all activity in the bar ceased. The bar was moderately busy for the middle of the week. All eyes stared as a dark bay gelding clopped into the confines of the building with two riders. Cheers went up, and people whistled. Larabee reined the horse over to the bar and ordered a whiskey. Ezra capped his own now, empty flask and accepted the double shot glass the barkeep handed him. The other five ATF members held up shot glasses of whiskey in toast to the two horse bound ATF agents. The barmaid offered no complaint. Plywood still covered the area where the window used to be, these men were serious about their down time. Besides the riders apparently had already indulged in some spirits elsewhere.

The Delany's showed up a few minutes later to find the seven men either playing pool or sitting at a table sharing a drink. Dakota munched quietly on popcorn at Larabee's table.

By the end of the night Buck was doing head stands on the table while drinking a beer much to the amusement of a crowd. Standish was taking bets collecting his winnings on Mr. Wilmington's hidden talents. Tanner had started tossing darts over his shoulder using Meghans compact mirror as a guide. Dunne attempted his hand at pool but gave up and resumed practicing his juggling technique, which was none. Josiah discussed the intricacies of fixing his suburban with a mechanic. He had 'parked' in the middle of the street. Nathan had quipped that Sanchez had a loose translation for the word 'park' considering the Tank had stopped on its own, shut itself off while they were still in gear and the ignition in the 'on' position. Sanchez merely returned that it was all just details.

By closing time Salisbury turned up and poured the infamous ATF team into two of his squad cars and shuttled them back to the Alpine Ranch. The suburban would be towed to Jim's auto repair and worked on there for the duration of the week. The sheriff did not want any excuse for the seven men to linger in his town longer than necessary.

+ + + + + + +

Monday morning in the ATF office, found JD in a headlock as Buck made him smell his armpit. Josiah and Nathan enjoyed a quiet cup of coffee. Vin loosened the bolts on Ezra's office chair and Ezra showed up two hours late for work. Chris smiled behind the closed door of his office. He muffled a cough, must be getting a cold. Larabee shook his head as he listened to the noise outside his office. It was good to be back, it was even better to have his team back.


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