It seemed like a good idea at the time

Friday, May 13, 2011

8:24PM - TARGET US Marshal master story part two

Across the street from the only brick building they’d seen on Fortieth Street, the three men paused. “They didn’t give a freaking address?”

“No. not to make an ass out of you and me, I’m going to assume it’s this one since it’s the first one on the way from the park.” Raylan frowned as he squinted into the sun shining above the building.

Without a word, Tim started walking across the street in a determined way. Car and truck brakes squealed as they avoided him.

“Shit!” Tek took off, holding up his hand like a traffic cop.

Raylan held up his badge. “I sure hope this isn’t going to cause someone to decide to be neighborly and call 911.”

Tim had already gone inside when they reached the building door. As soon as he crossed the threshold, Raylan’s phone rang again and he listened for a moment, then hung up, looking worried. “I don’t like this.”

“What did he say?” asked Tek, glancing worriedly at Tim whose jaw was set. He knew what that look meant although he‘d only seen it once since he‘d known Tim.

“He wants you and me to go to the second floor. Room 212. But Tim’s supposed to go to the fourth floor. Room 420.”

The color drained from Tim’s face as he turned stiffly to Tek. “If this all goes to hell, promise me you’ll find Luke and take care of him.”

“Jesus, Tim.”

“Promise me, Thomas. Please.”

“You know I’d do anything for you, Army.”

A small sad smile crossed Tim’s face. “Port in a storm, Navy.”

After a second when all was said with the look between them, Tek took a step back from Tim who nodded to Raylan. With a nod of his own, Raylan added his own unspoken promise and that anything said earlier in anger and frustration was forgotten.

The elevator opened and Tim stepped into it. There was a distance in his gaze as the doors swiftly closed and he was gone before the other elevator opened.

~~~~~~~

When Luke, Casey, and Jensen made it up the stairs, they were greeted by the sight of their fellow hostages surrounded by ten armed men whose faces were covered with balaclavas. They were dressed in typical special forces type gear and there were no insignias or personal identifying touches to anything. One of them held a handgun against the boy’s temple.

Jensen held his hands up to show good intent and thought it was pretty unnecessary when one of them smacked him on the back of the head with the grip of his Glock but he made no protest although the blond girl whose name was some kind of liquor gasped a little. He was more concerned with the asshole who was holding Nick. He sure could have used Cougar right about now.

“We’re going on a little field trip,” one of the goons announced as he twisted Jensen’s arms back to put cuffs on. Each of the other hostages were cuffed too which at least got that asshole holding Nick to holster the weapon. There was a little imprint from the barrel on Nick’s forehead and that really pissed Jensen off. There would be payback for this, he swore to himself. If it was the last thing he ever did and he had to use his teeth, that particular asshole was going to wish he’d stayed home that day.

When one of the others brought out the hoods the others had apparently had to wear before, Luke surprised everyone by breaking away and bolting down the stairs he’d just come up. The fear in the boy’s eyes had broken Jensen’s heart and he took the two giant steps it took him to drive his shoulder into the balaclava-clad asshole who drew his gun and started after the kid. Four of them went down like Dominoes before the lead moron threatened to shoot Nettie and Jensen froze.

“Leave him alone, assholes!” he shouted. “He’s just a little scared kid.”

The elbow in the face he received knocked his glasses askew but didn’t do much other damage to him. Giving the man a disdainful look, he got out of the way when one of them shoved him against the wall.

“Take him.” the apparent leader tilted his head in Nick’s direction. “Tell Road Runner Kid down there you’ll blow his little friend’s brains out if he doesn’t come back and be a good boy.”

“No!” Casey stepped in front of Nick. “Leave the boys alone.”

The man told to take Nick ignored her and grabbed the boy by the arm, dragging him with him down the stairs.

~~~~~~~

When Raylan and Tek walked into Room 212, the other teams were all there, sitting uncomfortably around a conference table.

“Where’s Gutterson?” Talmadge seemed to be trying to look beyond the two men in the doorway.

“He missed the shot?” guessed Mary, looking glum.

“Didn’t have a shot,” corrected Tek. “We got there too late.”

“They sent him to the fourth floor.” Raylan sank into one of the chairs. “We really need to figure this thing out or it looks like we’ll be picked off one at a time.”

Chris Larabee frowned. “The most connections between all of us in this room seemed to be with Deputy Gutterson.”

“He seems to have been weeded out first.” Marshall gazed out the window, obviously wishing he was out there, somewhere, anywhere else. “Which logically, seems, well, flawed.”

“What would they gain by taking him out?” Mary clearly meant she thought Deputy Gutterson was being or had been executed. “What are they gaining by any of this?”

“High profile targets?” suggested Cougar Alvarez.

“Making us all into assassins for a cause we have no idea of?” Vin Tanner angrily stood, pacing.

“Our targets weren’t people.” Talmadge was playing with the small penknife which was his only weapon until his newly acquired sniper rifle.

“Ours was.” Tek pulled out a chair and sat down. “And we still don’t know where the hostages are. It’s obvious we can’t call in help in this situation. They’re watching everything we do.”

Suddenly Talmadge looked up. “How close were you to getting the target?”

Raylan squinted over at Talmadge, trying to figure out why he was asking. “There was some kind of commotion at the park. Breaking glass. Screaming. That you?”

“Jesus, you were there too?” Mary looked around the room. “Why was your team the only ones with a human target and then you don’t get there in time because of what was going on? It sounds like a stacked deck to me.”

Marshall shook his head. “Meaning they wanted Gutterson and they got him? Why such an elaborate set up? Why all of us?”

“Maybe they just wanted him most.” Cougar shrugged.

The room went silent.

~~~~~~~

“Hey, Brat!” called the man who was holding Nick by his cuffed hands. “Your little friend is about to become your ex-friend if you don’t get your ass out here and go upstairs with the others like a good little boy!”

From behind him Luke tackled the man at the knees. With an “oof!” the man fell, nearly dragging the boy down with him but Luke grabbed Nick, steadying him as the two ran down the hall.

~~~~~~

At the sound of gunfire from downstairs, Jensen jumped to the top of the stairs, stopping short when all the drawn weapons aimed at the blond woman and her mother whose terrified eyes begged Jensen to do as he was told.

“What the fuck are you guys doing? Shooting at little boys?” Jensen seethed. “How can you get paid enough money to be such lowlife scum?”

A gun pressed against his forehead. “You are fast becoming more trouble than you’re worth. Shut it.”

Nettie’s eyes begged him to stand down and he shook his shoulders and took a deep breath. He wasn’t going to help anyone if his brains were all over the wall behind him. He kind of needed them and should probably try to use them a little more.

He shut it.

The Leader pointed to two others. “Try not to be as incompetent as the first moron I sent and you idiots might want to think that those kids are worth less money to us all if they can’t wave to the camera.”

~~~~~~

Luke’s still cuffed hands shook as he held the gun on the man he’d taken it from as the man had fallen.

“When I get that back, I am going to kill you kid,” threatened the man who was clearly shaken at how close the bullets had come to him.

“My Dad is going to come get us and he’ll kill you!” the kid taunted back.

“Your old man’s probably dead by now anyway. He’s not coming for anyone.”

“He’s just trying to upset you,” Nick soothed quietly. “This is a bad idea, Luke. My aunt and your dad are going to come for us. We have to make sure we don’t get us or anyone else hurt before then.”

Luke shook his head. “They’re taking us somewhere. Men like this took my Mom somewhere and killed her. Now they‘ve killed my dad.”

“He just said that to upset you.”

Two more of the armed men showed up behind the one who’d lost his gun, seeming disgusted with him for losing his gun to a kid. One of them stepped toward the two boys.

“Come on upstairs, kids. No one’s going to hurt you.”

The gun wavered in Luke’s hands. He lowered his head as his hands went down.

Roughly the two men who’d just arrived, dragged the boys back to the stairwell, tossing the weapon to the one who’d lost it.

“Hey, don’t tell the boss what happened,” the incompetent begged.

Without a word, the other two pushed the boys up the stairs ahead of them. In spite of the risers creaking and groaning, they all held as they made their way up.

When the boys appeared at the top of the stairs, all their fellow hostages relaxed.

Until the Leader back-handed Luke who lost his balance and flew backwards to land on his back on the floor.

“Do that again and I’ll put a bullet in your head, myself, you little shithead.” He gestured to the other men who herded the hostages together. “Now let’s go. Any problems and you’ll be one short and the big boss will just have to fucking deal with it.”

~~~~~~

Behind the hated hood over his head, Luke was feeling a little sick. His lip was bleeding and the taste of blood in his mouth wasn’t helping him feel any better. The rocking of what felt like a bus might have lulled him into sleep in a different circumstance but all he could think of was what that man had said about his father being dead.

He wanted to have a father. He’d never had one but he had been sure his would like him. Now it all seemed like something a baby would believe. His grandmother had probably been right to tell him his father had died. Can’t kill a hope that doesn’t exist. No one had been able to protect his mother, the illusion that his father would protect him had been stupid and childish.

From now on, he was going to rely on himself. Not any of these worthless adults or the hope that his father was going to come busting in saving them all. None of the adults had actually had the balls to get a gun from one of these jerks, not even the strong, smart guy.

The only one of them he cared about now was Nick. Even though the other boy hadn’t tried to get away, he seemed to understand the way things were. If there was any possibility the two of them could get away, Luke vowed he’d do it.

Maybe even save his dad while he was at it.

Grimly, he smiled.

~~~~~~~

Jake Jensen was unhappy. One too many witty quips had resulted in him now being gagged and one too many instances of slipped handcuffs had resulted in him being duct taped at nearly every joint. It was going to hurt like hell to pull off his arms later, not to mention his calves.

Luckily these kinds of operations, the goons kept their links open. During one of the handcuff slips, he’d pocketed a cell phone off one of the assholes who apparently hadn’t yet missed it. Now if only he could unbind himself enough from two rolls of duct tape to use it.

Things were looking up. He smiled as much as he could without cutting the corners of his mouth.

~~~~~~~

Nettie had played the elderly frail woman card, whining about the cuffs chafing her delicate old lady wrists until they’d gotten tired of her voice and one of the idiots let her out of the cuffs when she whispered a promise to behave, flattering the idiot with how big strong he-man could easily overpower her should he have to. Fool.

She’d seen Jensen lift the phone and slide it into his pocket. Once the hoods were removed, providing they were all being taken to the same place, she planned to use that phone.

She bided her time sitting with her hands tucked primly in her lap, mind going over contingencies.

~~~~~~~

Lost in their thoughts, each person in the conference room was uniquely alone in a crowd.

Several jumped or twitched when Raylan’s phone went off. He pulled it out of his pocket like it was a snake, holding it a little away from him while looking at it before holding it up like a clue. “All it says is Consequences. Givens. Kincaide. Room 420.”

No one spoke. No one met anyone else’s eyes.

Tek stood and wordlessly headed to the door. With a sigh, Raylan stood, then followed. Although the door was closed softly, it seemed very loud to those left in the room.

Talmadge threw the knife he’d been fiddling with down onto the table with a loud clatter matching the hopeless anger on his face. “So not just Gutterson. The whole Charlie Team.”

~~~~~~~

Raylan took his eyes off the elevator numbers and held his hand out to Tek. “Can’t say this was a pleasure but it was nice to meet you.”

Tek smiled, a glint of dark humor in his eyes and they shook hands. “Hasn’t been boring. There’s that.”

“One thing I could never abide is boring.” Raylan grinned.

“Every once in a while boring is a good change of pace though.”

The bell dinged, informing them they’d made it to the fourth floor just before the doors slid open.

“Another deserted floor,” observed Tek. “Little odd for a weekday.”

Raylan looked down the hallway. “Guess we’d better go and see just how much odder it’s going to get.”

“Can’t say I’m looking forward to it but I agree.”

They casually strolled down to Room 420 and paused at the door. Cautiously, Tek turned the door knob and entered first, quickly moving to the right side of the interior doorway while Raylan quickly moved in to pause at the other side.

There was an arrow on the floor. After a glance at one another, they both followed the arrow, being careful not to walk too closely together. It led to a long dark area with only the foremost part lit.

On a table lay Tim’s rifle.

Beside it was an instruction sheet which Tek picked up.

In large print it read:

GIVENS takes the shot.

Under that simple message it had a diagram. Raylan recognized it from a training manual on execution by gas chamber. Added to it was a target which appeared to have a lever which would prevent the lethal potassium chloride pellets from dropping into the acid which would activate the gas.

A curtain at the end of the long gallery opened and a light came on.

There was what looked like a large Plexiglas chamber.

“God,” Tek breathed. “Tim.”

Stretched out on a bench, Tim was shirtless and shoeless, unconscious and unmoving.

With a click, a distant countdown clock started.

2:00.

1:59.

1:58.

Raylan rushed forward and picked up the rifle.

~~~~~~~

The movement of the bus stopped and the hostages were herded out, guided by the guards who removed the hoods before they all left the bus. Nettie was surprised to see that night had fallen. It looked like an airplane hangar they’d been led to. When they’d all paused so the door could be opened, she sidled her way up to Jensen who’d been forced to hobble like a mummy because he was so taped up. They’d also left his hood on when they’d removed everyone else’s.

He stiffened when she put her hand in his pocket but she leaned in and whispered, “It’s Nettie. Let me take it.”

He nodded, then leaned against her like a big cat. She almost laughed at how irrepressible he was but they were all in such dire straits that her urge to laugh was strangled. Now she needed to make sure no one remembered she was the only one not cuffed and the guard whose phone is was didn‘t realize it was missing from his own pocket.

And she prayed there was cell reception here.

~~~~~~~

Vin Tanner was pacing up and down the room and Mary couldn’t stand it anymore. “Hey, Tanner. Park it.”

He glared at her then deliberately paced again.

By the time Mary looked at Tanner’s partner Larabee, he was looking innocently out the window with nothing giving away that the earlier amused snort they’d all heard had come from him.

“What if we went up to the fourth floor to see what’s going on?” Talmadge asked.

“No way.” Mary was watching Vin as if she was trying to decide whether or not to shoot him. “We need to see what happens here before we commit to any actions. As far as we know, this was the end of the line for their team and we’d only be jeopardizing our own people. It might take all of us to get their hostages as well as our own out. It‘s not just us that have to make it out of here. All of those people might depend on any of us or maybe even come down to just one of us to save them all.”

“She’s right.” The others had almost forgotten Cougar was there. He unfolded himself from his chair, staring out the window instead of looking at any of the rest of the others in the room.

None of them wanted to admit it but she was right.

Feeling hopeless, they all returned to feeling alone in a room full of others.

~~~~~~~

The countdown clock read 1:22 and Raylan was beginning to sweat.

“You all right?” asked Tek. “You’re familiar, right?”

“I was a firearms instructor at Glynco.”

“But that’s not just any target.”

“Right.”

1:15.

Raylan swallowed hard, then blew out a breath, sighting down to the end of the room.

Downrange Tim’s hand twitched.

:38.

Tim’s eyes fluttered, then opened.

“Don’t move!” shouted Tek.

Startled, Raylan jerked the rifle.

:29.

Tim’s eyes, vague and cloudy, opened, then widened and the other two men saw his mouth form the question, “Raylan?”

The rifle shot was loud in the room and there was a sharp crack.

Raylan lowered the weapon, then covered his eyes with his hand.

Tek slapped Raylan’s shoulder. “Great shot, man.”

Wide-eyed, Tim sat up, looking bewildered.

~~~~~~~

When the hoods were pulled off, they found themselves sitting at a long cafeteria-style table facing a tv on a stand. Luke looked around to make sure everyone was still there, especially Nick and was relieved that his friend was right there, one person over.

The man whose gun Luke had earlier stolen grinned at him with what Luke recognized as hateful joy even though he could only see the eyes and mouth. Something was up and whatever it was, Luke knew he wasn’t going to like it.

One of the other men turned on the tv and put a disc in the dvd player hooked up to it.

There was a man sitting at a table. He was glaring at someone out of view who must have been right behind the camera. Luke recognized the man.

His father.

A man’s disembodied voice came over the speakers. “We’re prepared to offer you a deal.”

That got the man’s attention and he stiffened.

The thought, that’s my father, I’m finally seeing my father, he’s alive, ran over and over through Luke’s mind.

“You know we have your son. We can bring him here. Release you both. Just walk away from the others.”

“No.”

Luke sat up straighter.

“What do you care what happens to the others? Walk away with your son and the game is over for you. Stay and there’s no telling what will happen.”

Luke held his breath.

“Fuck you.” The words dripped with contempt.

It took a moment for the wonder of seeing and hearing his father as if he were there before he realized what his father had just said. He was going to leave him here. Abandon him again.

In shock, Luke shook his head.

“You’ve made your choice,” the voice said.

There was the sound of a shot and then his father crumpled forward, head to the table.

The video cut off.

The man who had been grinning at him earlier leaned forward. “Your Daddy don’t care if you die here.”

“Fuck you!” shouted Luke, hoping he sounded as badass as his father had.

The man slapped him and his head hit the table as his father’s had.

He didn’t care.

Now he had even more of a reason to save his Dad. It was all about not taking the easy way out and, instead of him being mad about it, he steeled himself.

~~~~~~

Tim was groggy when Raylan and Tek carefully opened the small door and pulled him out. He looked back at the box he’d been in and his eyes widened. “Is that…”

“One of the best shots I’ve ever made.” Raylan glanced back at how close he’d been to missing.

“They hit me with a fucking dart,” Tim said wonderingly, touching the back of his neck. “Offered me a deal.”

Raylan’s phone went off.

The other men froze into silence, Tek supporting Tim who was still shaky on his feet.

“We’re supposed to go back to the second floor. Await instructions.”

~~~~~~~

There was sarcastic applause when Charlie Team made it back to the conference room on the second floor.

Vin Tanner took off his denim jacket and offered it to Tim who nodded gratefully, pulling it on. “Sorry, can’t do anything about the missing shoes, Army.”

“’ppreciate it,” Tim pulled out a chair and sat down. Clearly still woozy, he closed his eyes, hand to his forehead.

“What happened,” asked Mary. “Was there another target?”

“In a way,” replied Raylan. “Makeshift gas chamber. Had to take a shot.”

Tek sat down beside Tim. His voice was soft. “You said they offered you a deal, Tim. What was it?”

“They said they’d let me and Luke go if I just gave up on all of you and the other hostages.” He rubbed at his forehead as if it ached.

“What did you tell them?” Mary leaned forward in her seat.

“I told them to fuck themselves.” He glared at her as if she’d had something to do with the whole situation.

Chris Larabee stood, glancing at the darkness outside the window. “It doesn’t make sense. The most links are to you. You miss the shot. They offer you a deal.”

“I don’t miss,” Tim growled.

Vin frowned thoughtfully. “But it was a set up where your team had a nearly impossible goal and there was no shot to take. If this is a way of taunting us, it’s pretty effective.”

“They’re jerking us around. Making us wait.” Mary looked around at the others. “And no one has any clue as to why anyone would pick us to do this to? Why is it we’re all Deputy US Marshals but in different sections?”

“And why are Kincaide, Alvarez, and Talmadge with us but were brought in from somewhere else?” asked Raylan.

Cougar came over and sat on the table behind Tim, looking closely at his neck. “Shot with a dart?”

“Yeah.” Tim reached back, feeling for the little pinprick on his neck. “I didn’t even know there was a shooter in the room.”

“We’ve been over and over the links we have.” Marshall began to mirror the pacing Vin had been doing earlier which had so irritated Mary. “We got nowhere so what if those links are all there to throw us off instead? Get rid of Gutterson and what do we have? Who do we have who’ve known one another?”

Mary shrugged and looked at Marshall. “I only know you.”

“I’ve met Tim’s son and I know Vin.” Marshall’s gaze went to Vin.

Vin looked up at him from his seat. “I only know you and Chris.”

“Only Raylan and Vin,” put in Chris.

“I know Gutterson and Larabee but I’ve seen your hostage, Deputy Shannon.”

Still feeling the small injection site in his neck, Tim shrugged. “You know me. Hub of connection central.”

Marshall’s eyes went from Tek to Cougar to Talmadge. “And all of you men know Tim.”

A slight “yes” from Tek, a nod from Cougar, and an “I do,” from Talmadge showed the only link the three of them had. Except for one thing. They had all been together somewhere else and had come in after the others had already been there.

“And they are all snipers,” put in Tim. “Cougar taught me things that saved my life, Talmadge was my sniper scout partner, and I did some training with Tek.”

They all were silent in thought for a few moments.

“Maybe the hostages have something in common?” wondered Marshall, hand absently rubbing his chin in thought.

Chris Larabee’s phone rang, startling them all.

~~~~~~~

Brandi suddenly stood up and the two gunmen now guarding them trained their weapons on her. She put up her hands, still linked in the cuffs. “Um…I have to use the restroom. And I think someone should look at that cut on Luke’s face.”

Jinx stood up too. “And put your guns down. Don’t point them at my daughter.”

The gunmen looked at one another and one took spoke into his comm system mike.

Another guard came in. “One at a time.” He gestured at the door.

Brandi held up her hands. “I can’t pee if I’m cuffed.”

One of the guards snorted with quickly stifled laughter as the new guard glared at him.

After Brandi came back, Jinx went. Then it was Nettie’s turn. The new guard frowned when he saw she’d been uncuffed the whole time.

“You idiots, get cuffs on her when she gets back. Go on, grandma.”

Nettie was happy to find that the guard stayed out in the hallway while she was in the rest room. He was far enough away from the double doors of the restroom that he wouldn’t be able to hear what she was about to do. Before taking the stolen phone from her pocket, she closed her eyes in a quick prayer that there would be phone service here.

There was.

“Thank you,” she gratefully whispered as she dialed.

“Larabee.”

“Nettie here. We’re all okay so far. Somewhere that looks like an airplane hangar twenty, maybe thirty minutes outside the city.”

“We’re being watched,” he said briefly.

She understood that to mean probably videotaped as well. “They showed us a tape of something happening to the father of one of the boys.”

“Just drugged. How many?”

“There were ten with us at the other site. No telling how many are here. Looks like a command post.”

“Threats?”

“Pointing weapons. Nothing overt but they’re dangerous.” Nettie could hear people in the background and it dawned on her. “You’re not at the office, are you?”

“No. We were shown slides with the hostages. There are nine of us. Related in some way to everyone there.”

“So we’re being held over your heads. You and JD?” Nettie pictured the husband of her niece worrying about her.

“No. Tanner.”

Time for the call was running out. “Should I call the office?”

“If they see any activity at the office…”

Chris didn’t have to continue for her to get the picture. Of course they would be watching the Marshal’s office. She took a deep breath. “I’ll try to keep everyone calm. There’s one man here who can probably help us.”

“Be careful.” Chris warned but there was so much more in those words. Frustration and anger at not being able to help the helpless was in there.

“Don’t worry. They’re like the gang who can’t shoot straight,” she joked. “I have to go.”

She disconnected the call before he could say anything else. Well, she thought, I guess we’re all on our own.

~~~~~~

Jensen looked up as Nettie reentered the room. When she nodded, his hopes raised until she saw it and shook her head. So she got through but there was no hope of rescue. Well, that sucked.

He’d been working on getting out of his multiple layers of duct tape so that was more important than ever now. These two clowns were the worst guards ever and it made him wonder about the whole enterprise. Clearly they were being held for some kind of leverage but what that was he had yet to figure out. And he was really worried about the determined look on Luke’s face. Seeing his Dad like that had hardened the boy in a way that Jensen really hated to see. The kid was brave but, honestly, that wasn’t a safe trait in a twelve year old. He certainly remembered being twelve and indestructible.

Now Nick was different. That kid was looking around with different eyes, ones that were taking in all the dangers and still maintaining an incredible amount of poise. It was a different kind of bravery and one that Jensen reached for inside himself, usually failing. It was a waiting patience that Cougar had. A calmness that could be counted on.

Luke was a point man and Nick was an overwatch guy. Hopefully Jensen could use them both should the situation arise and there was desperate need.

Nettie was a fearless ally that these idiots were underestimating and that was a very good thing for them all. Casey was a fighter, deceptive for her size and, if he could get weapons in her hands and his own, he was pretty sure they could get out of here. Brandi, he congratulated himself in remembering the correct liquor which shared her name, could be an asset. She was a good distraction and seemed to be pretty assertive about wanting someone to be able to look at the cut on Luke’s face. Put Brandi in danger, and he had a feeling Jinx would smack a bitch. Hard.

So they could possibly have the makings of a good team. Now if only they were free and could communicate. Of course that was asking too much.

But it was amazing how sometimes the smallest of things could turn the tides in a person’s favor.

That’s the moment he would wait for.

~~~~~~~

Chris put away his phone. “I guess you realized that was one of our hostages. Seems to think they’re at a small airport hangar. She said they’re fine but one of the boys was shown an upsetting video of his father. Sounds like they’re hanging in there but there’s only one man there. I don’t remember seeing anyone but women and children in the slides. Anyone know who the man could be? You guys?” He looked at the three men who’d joined them after the parking garage had been opened.

Cougar raised two fingers. “I know who it might be.”

“How good is he?” asked Mary, clearly concerned for her mother and sister as well as the others.

Cougar shrugged. “Depends on how well they have him locked down.”

Before anyone could say anything else, three different ringtones went off in the conference room and there was a moment where everyone stared at one another wide-eyed before Chris Larabee, Marshall Mann, and Raylan Givens took out their phones, looking at the texts there. They all stood, preparing for whatever was to come next.

“How screwed are we?” Mary Shannon asked, trying to see over Marshall’s shoulder.

“We’re not allowed to discuss it with the other teams.” Marshall looked apologetic.

“So really screwed.”

Talmadge walked over to stand by the other members of Team Bravo and the other two snipers joined their respective teams. He shrugged. “It could be worse. We could be each other’s targets.”

“We aren’t.” Tim looked over at the other two teams. “Are we?”

The three who’d gotten the messages shook their heads and there was a collective sigh of relief.

“But we have to all leave our phones here.” Raylan sat his on the table and turned away.

The others put theirs down on the table with different stages of reluctance.

“We have to get moving.” Chris turned to the door as Vin and Cougar followed him.

“Good luck.” Marshall addressed everyone and the nods all around the room wished the others good luck as well.

Vin glanced at the wall full of large windows. “At least it’s dark.”

“And we’re getting away from those fucking windows.” Tim glanced at them too. “No feeling so wonderful as being a big freaking target in a lighted room.”

Talmadge glanced down at Tim’s bare feet. “You going to be okay?”

“Yeah. Stay safe out there.” They bumped fists and Talmadge walked off with Marshall and Mary.

Cougar briefly squeezed Tim’s shoulder and they nodded to one another before both moving out with their teams.

At the front door of the building, the teams looked at one another one last time but no one had anything more to say. They all went different directions.

~~~~~~

“What are the chances we can slip out of this and head out for that airport where they have everyone?” Mary asked as they hurried along the street to a location only Marshall knew.

“None considering we don’t even know which of the four or five small airfields in proximity to the city they’re being held at. Too many even if each team took one location.”

“Added to the fact that whoever is giving us these assignments is clearly watching us and will do who knows what to the hostages,” grumbled Talmadge.

“Just what are they holding over your head, Talmadge?” Mary glanced at him with suspicion.

“Same fucking thing they’re holding over you. Someone I know.”

“Who?”

“I’m not allowed to talk to you about it.”

“Mary,” warned Marshall.

“How would they know you told us here out on the street?”

“That’s enough, Mary. We have somewhere to be and only ten minutes to get there.”

Clearly unhappy with the lack of information, Mary clamped her mouth shut, refraining from adding anything more even though she wanted to. She just wanted to get this done so that she could get her mother and sister free. And everyone else as well. Clearly, they all wanted that.

~~~~~~~

The Organizer pulled back the guards. Ordered pizza. Ordered their hostages uncuffed and unduct-taped to enjoy that pizza.

Waited for another escape attempt.

Waited for new video of his little flock of shooters.

Smiled.

~~~~~~~

“Can we discuss the target now, Chris?” asked Vin as they loped down the street.

“We could if we had one. We’re going somewhere to get our instructions.” Chris had looked grim since getting the call.

“Was it Nettie or Casey?”

“Nettie. She said they were all right but there was something in her voice. That don’t worry about us thing where there’s something she’s holding back for our protection so we don’t go nuts.” Chris halted. “Here we are. I think it’s better if I go in and you guys and your weapons stay here. We don’t want to panic anyone here.”

Both his team members nodded acquiescence and he calmly walked up to the building, then inside.

~~~~~~~

“It’s a warehouse,” Raylan informed Tim and Tek as he came from the hotel where he’d had to get their assignment from the front desk. He slipped the card back into the envelope. “We need to get in the back entrance, get in, and our heavily guarded target will be there ripe for the picking. You know it actually says that on here?”

Tek shook his head, frowning. “And we don’t even know who they are or how many there are or even why they’re there. Anything from mob guys to a legitimate business.”

“Where is it?” Tim was all business and the other two men couldn’t blame him.

“Lucky for your feet, we’re supposed to take that cab over there.” Raylan pointed to a cab parked in the middle of the block, engine running but off duty sign lit.

“First luck I’ve had all day.”

~~~~~~~

Leaving the others outside, Marshall strolled into the you-print-it store. As soon as he stepped up to one of the fax machines, it started printing, surprising him with the acknowledgement that they were being closely surveilled.

Once outside, he shared it with the other two members of Bravo Team. “We’re supposed to get in that cab over there and go to a building down near the docks. We’re supposed to take out two guards on the roof.”

Mary took the sheet of paper and stared at it. “Take out two men we don’t know who could just be doing their shitty little guard job at a shitty little place. Maybe veterans or off-duty cops or college kids. What the hell are we doing?”

Talmadge started walking. “What we have to do.”

~~~~~

“We’re getting a ride to somewhere. The driver knows. Once there, we’re supposed to take out the guards at the front entrance and engage the target inside.”

Cougar shook his head sadly.

Vin frowned. “That’s it? That’s all the info they’re telling us?”

“Let’s just be ready for anything,” Chris warned and they headed for the car waiting for them.

~~~~~~~

Apparently the guards had been told to uncuff everyone so they could have some pizza, which did, in fact, smell really yummy. Jensen could smell it but unfortunately for him, he was still bound.

Then the guards got their own pizza and disappeared. That would sound like a good thing if it didn’t have trap written all over it. As soon as the guards left the room, Jensen was surrounded by the others who worked at the tape until he was free.

His first words were, “Put me back, it’s a trap.”

“We can sneak out while they’re eating,” Brandi gushed.

All but Nettie and Casey, who were looking thoughtful, nodded enthusiastically.

He almost didn’t have the heart to tell her there was no way that was going to happen. It was likely another cruel joke like the one they‘d pulled before or the tape they‘d shown Luke. Then again, were they at the point where they needed to do this or maybe just be waiting in a slaughter pen? The others were right. They had to try.

“All right.” He stood up, trying to think fast. He looked down for anything that could be used as a weapon. Forks. Who ate pizza with forks?

“What if we hide, then jump out?” suggested Nick, glancing toward the door.

“They have guns,” Luke reminded him glumly. Then he straightened up. “But I think we can take ‘em. There are a lot of us.”

Jensen stifled a sigh. God love ‘em. Now he really did need to come up with a plan and come up with it quick.

~~~~~~~

“It might be a dangerous assumption but we’re going to go ahead and assume the same two morons are coming back in.” Jensen looked at his soldiers and grinned. “We’ll teach them that the little guy can triumph!”

“Yeah!” agreed Luke who was the littlest of them. There was a light in his eye that worried Jensen just a little.

“No way I’m letting them put those cuffs on my hands.” Brandi rubbed her chafed wrists. “My sister taught me some things. I’m willing to fight.”

“I am too.” Jinx put her arm around her daughter.

“You guys ever play soccer before?” he asked with a grin, taking off his glasses and adjusting them a small bit before slipping them back on.

Luke and Nick enthusiastically raised their hands, as Brandi and Casey nodded.

“Great!” He rubbed his hands together. “Instead of passing a ball, though, we’re going to pass the distraction.”

Nick grinned. “What if the distraction is a real ball?”

As if connected together, they all looked over at the table littered with paper bags, napkins, paper plates, and paper cups. Slowly, smiles formed on all their faces.

“Nick, you are a genius!” Jensen briefly slung his arm over the boy’s shoulder and gave him a slight squeeze. Then he grabbed Luke and did the same for him. “You two are my half-backs. Gotta move fast. You haven’t had enough pizza to slow you down have you?”

“No!” they both protested.

“Good! Get your game faces on, my boys, because we are about to take it to these goons! Make us a soccer ball!”

The boys high-fived Jensen and then ran over to the table to start on the ball by rolling different items together.

Jinx anxiously looked over at the door. “Are you sure this is a good idea? What if these guys have orders to shoot first and worry about their boss later?”

Before Jensen could answer, Nettie put her arm around the younger woman. “There might not be any help coming. I got a message out. There are some very good men trying to find us but it might take a while. They might be too late. Or not make it here at all.”

Jinx nodded. “I understand. I’m just worried about the boys. Shouldn’t we just get them to hide or try to sneak them out while the guards are distracted?”

“That’s a great idea, Jinx!” Jensen stepped up to them. “Ladies, the boys will go down the field of play, we will regain their attention and our little soccer stars dribble their little hearts out right out of here.”

“What about the other men?” Brandi had her arms held across her stomach, almost literally holding herself together. “Isn’t this too dangerous?”

Casey stepped up. “That’s when we follow the boys out after the two guards that have been with us are taken out of commission.”

“It’s all dangerous,” Nettie warned. “But we may never get another chance when we’re free and when there are so few of them and more of us.”

“My sister works for the US Marshal service and I’m sure she and her partner will figure out how to make a deal or give them an offer or something to get us out of here.”

Nettie looked interested. “I heard Luke say his father works for them and Nick’s aunt does too. Casey and I have very good friends who are Deputy US Marshals too.”

Jensen shrugged. “I don’t know any Marshals.”

The women all looked at him with renewed interest which made him blush. “Ladies?”

“Then why are you here?” asked Brandi speculatively, as if seeing him for the first time.

“I have no idea!” He crossed his arms in a subconscious mirror of how Brandi had, until recently, been standing.

“Well,” interrupted Nettie before it could get any more awkward, “We don’t have time for speculating on motives. We need a plan. The boys will lead, we will distract, and Jensen and Casey will take our goons down. Everyone with that plan?”

Nodding heads showed acquiescence.

“Right! It’s a go, then!”

Not comfortable hanging with the ladies anymore, Jensen high-tailed it over to the boys’ table, helping them make their soccer ball and leaving the ladies momentarily forgetting just what a dire situation they were in and laughing for the first time in a very long time.

8:17PM - TARGET: US Marshal master story part one

The man watching the bank of monitors was very pleased. Things were following schedule very well and, with so many complicated computations, that wasn’t an easy thing at all. So many lives had to intersect in the same place at the same time that it was a nearly impossible feat, yet here was the proof that he’d done it.

The three men who would become coaches were already secreted away, kept in the dark literally as well as figuratively, just until all the pieces were in place. Soon. Very soon it would all begin.


BOLO: ASSHOLE IN A HAT

“US Marshal Service. Put your weapons down!”

The four voices yelling the same phrase in unison would have been funny if not for the deadly serious weapons in four pairs of hands in the small enclosed space full of shadows. No one moved until one man relaxed his arms, pointing his weapon to the cement floor and squinted.

“Raylan Givens? So you‘re the asshole in the hat that we got the BOLO on.”

The man in the cowboy hat lowered his weapon too. “Chris Larabee, what the hell are you doing here?”

The shorter man beside him sighed resignedly, lowering an impressive rifle, and addressed the similarly weaponed man across from him. “Apparently these two know each other.”

“Appears that way.” The other man with the rifle still looked suspicious.

“Let’s go over there and…compare sights.” There was wry humor in his voice and a bit of mischief in his eyes.

Walking over, the man put out his hand. “Vin Tanner. Arizona District. Fugitive Task Force.”

The shorter man nodded. “Tim Gutterson. Lexington, Kentucky. Shit no one else wants to do division.”

“FNG, huh?”

“Oh yeah.”

As those two walked away politely out of earshot, the two remaining men holstered their weapons, then shook hands vigorously.

Raylan grinned. “And you’re the dude in the tie with the receding hairline. Before I forget, just why are you here?”

“We’re supposed to meet some…”

“US Marshals. Put down those weapons!”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” muttered Tim.

The blond woman was obviously not kidding around and she was backed by a tall man whose face was just as serious. The man suddenly squinted. “Vin Tanner?”

“Come on in and make yourself comfortable,” grinned Vin.

Tim made a small sweeping motion of welcome with one hand. “Might as well join in. It’s a regular prayer meeting.”

The woman looked puzzled but was apparently willing to trust her partner’s recognition of one of the men.

Chris Larabee crossed his arms across his chest. “Maybe we should figure out why six deputies from different districts have ended up in the same place at the same time with a very real lack of any sort of planning.”

“Mary Shannon,” announced the woman. “Albuquerque. This is Deputy Mann.”

One by one they introduced themselves, just finishing a round when there was a sliding noise which attracted all their attention. Large slabs of solid steel crashed down around them, trapping them in the enclosed parking garage.


CELL DAMAGE

COUGAR

Carlos "Cougar" Alvarez was being kept in the dark. Literally.

Cougar didn't like being in the dark in any manner or form.

Waking up in a dark cell which smelled of fresh cement and barely dry paint being the first thing he could recall after innocently laying his head down to sleep the night before was not his idea of a good time. In the approximate hour since he'd awakened, he'd already gone through the cell four times, examining every inch, even jumping up to touch the ceiling to test the limits of his enclosure.

Frisking himself to see if he’d been left anything to use as a tool or a weapon, all he found was a pocketknife that wasn’t his. Cheap piece of shit.

He’d used it to try to chip at the wall but had made no progress. Sitting in silence in the corner, he found he couldn’t hear any ambient noises either.

Cougar was a patient man. Knife open and up his sleeve, he waited.


NICHOLAS

Again. Damn it.

Why did he always get in ridiculous fucking situations?

Even though Nicholas Talmadge had no idea what was going on, he knew it couldn’t be good. A chosen life of close calls and dangerous jobs was something he usually didn’t mind but being shanghaied after a nice night out at a bar didn’t fit in with his control freak manner of choosing his own jobs.

If anyone was going to do any kidnapping, it was fucking going to be him.



T.E.K.

All right. An unknown cell in an unknown location. Thomas Edward Kincaide, Tek to his friends, had been in worse situations, so he wasn’t immediately worried. Walking around the perimeter in the tiny pitch black room, he didn’t panic. There had to be a reason he was imprisoned and not dead. It didn’t have to be a reason he’d like, but he figured they would have killed him before this if they’d wanted to. Satisfied that there was no way out, he stayed low, hunching in the corner, hand on the small folding knife he’d found in his otherwise empty pockets.

He’d find out soon enough. In the meantime, no reason not to catch some z’s.


SIX LITTLE MARSHALS ALL IN A ROW

The crashing slam of the steel doors coming down had resulted in the interior becoming pitch black.

From the silence, Raylan Given’s voice broke through. “Tim, were you glad to see us all or do you have that night scope thing in your pocket?”

“Already ahead of you, Cowboy,” murmured Tim, obvious humor in his voice.

Vin sputtered, cutting off a chuckle as a hand smacked against his arm.

“We’re still all on our lonesome. No egress as far as I can tell. Looks sealed.”

“Any of you boy geniuses have flashlights?” Deputy Mary Shannon was clearly unimpressed.

“That takes all the fun out of buying all this expensive and endlessly entertaining equipment, ma’am,” drawled Deputy Gutterson. “Where’s your flashlight?”

“I left it in my other suit, Mulder.”

A light clicked on, illuminating Marshal Mann’s face, making him look gaunt and creepy.

Mary snatched it from him, outlining the room as they all watched the beam showing what Tim had already told them. There wasn’t a way out that wouldn’t involve an acetylene torch or maybe a tank.

“I don’t suppose this is some kind of mechanical failure, us getting trapped in here,” asked Raylan, not expecting an answer.

“That’s highly unlikely given that we were all seemingly here for different purposes but on erroneous or possibly bogus calls.” Marshall Mann walked over to examine the seam of the door while Mary shown the light on it. “There’s no panel so either there is a control panel on the outside that may have shorted out, someone locked us in deliberately with that panel or it’s remotely controlled.”

“Bingo!” A voice which had obviously been altered into sounding metallic and robot-like came from somewhere high in the corner. When Mary shone the light there, they could see a small speaker nearly blended into the ceiling. “It’s so good to see you’ve all made it here.”

There was a whirring sound and then a small previously invisible door opened. Six hands brought up six weapons and the metallic voice laughed at them. “Should you decide to unload your magazines into this harmless video display system, you would never find out just what has been done to you. As a side note, I am remotely operating all of this from a safe place none of you have the ability to trace.”

A projector came from the small door and a slide showed up on the bumpy cement wall. Two boys, both looking frightened toward something to the side of them, bound together, one boy‘s right arm duct taped to the other boy‘s left arm.

“Jesus. That’s our Deputy Rachel’s nephew Nick!” Raylan looked around at the others. “I don’t recognize the other boy though. Any of you?”

Even in the near-dark room, they all saw Deputy Tim Gutterson grow pale. “That’s my son.”

Raylan stared at Tim in shock, obviously trying to add up ages. “You have a kid?”

“That’s my son Luke.” Tim swallowed hard, visibly shaken. “Jesus. How did they find him?”

The photo suddenly changed to that of a grandmotherly woman with white hair and a young one, both glaring defiantly at the unseen photographer.

Vin Tanner and Chris Larabee exchanged worried glances.

“So these two are your people.” Mary Shannon glanced back at the projector, obviously bracing for the next slide, looking like she already knew whose faces would appear. Marshall Mann moved closer to her, providing obvious support.

“And these are your near and dear ones,” the mechanically altered voice announced as they all looked up at the next slide of two women who appeared to be emotionally somewhere between the frightened boys of the first slide and the defiant women of the second. “Your mother and sister as I’m sure you’d begun to suspect.”

The six Deputy US Marshals stood silently side by side, eyes fixed on the women projected on the wall.

“Await instructions.”

With those last words, the projector shut off, sliding back as the small door snicked closed.

Marshall broke the tenseness by saying something they’d all noticed but someone had to start somewhere. “They’re all women and children.”

“No obvious connection between the groups,” murmured Vin Tanner.

“Except us,” pointed out Chris Larabee.

A few seconds passed without anyone saying anything and, as one, they realized they were all still facing the wall where the projections had been, almost as if hoping a solution to all this would present itself in the same manner.

A solution was not forthcoming.

~~~~~~~

When the cell door slid open, Carlos “Cougar” Alvarez, not one to sit and wait until trouble found him, went to seek it out on his own. Cautiously, he did a quick glance outside his cell, then processed the information. As he was thinking on the narrow hallway which had looked more like a science lab than a prison, he heard another door slide open. Then another.

This could either be very bad or very good depending upon who or what was behind door number two and door number three. Should the newly liberated beings mistake him for a jailor, he didn’t want to become either food or a victim so he took another quick peek around the corner.

A man had been hugging the wall between his cell door and the next one. He gripped his knife.

“Hey, if you’re the one who put me in there, we’re gonna fight. If you’re not, maybe we can get out of here together. Name‘s Tek.”

“Tex?” another voice asked.

Cougar remained silent, ready to spring if necessary, even with nothing but his bare hands and this shitty little knife.

“No. Tek. With a ‘k’ at the end, not an ‘x’. “

The man called Tek with a ‘k’ peeked into the cell so quickly Cougar almost didn‘t see him. “Hey, man, all I have is a crappy penknife some asshole put in my pocket when he roofied me and took everything from me including my dignity. I figure if we join together, we can gather some info about why we’re here and who to take all this out on.”

Obviously Tek was no idiot and knew they probably couldn’t trust one another but there was always the whole the enemy of my enemy is my friend dynamic going on here. “I’m coming out,” he warned, taking the opposite side of the doorway than the side the other men were on and ready for anything.

The man was standing with his hands held up waist high. Angled so that his peripheral vision would catch anyone moving in the hall behind him, the man called Tek tried to show he was harmless. Well, harmless enough. There was steel in the man in spite of his casual I’m-not-a-threat stance.

“Cougar,” he simply said.

“Nicholas Talmadge here.” The man from the third cell stepped out into the hallway. “Either of you know where the fuck we are?”

~~~~~~~

After the slightly scary guy with the dark net mask over his face and dressed all in black took some pictures of them and then left, Nick glanced at the other kid. Figuring if they were in this together it might be a good idea to say something, he opened with, “My Aunt Rachel’s a Deputy US Marshal and she’ll find us and get us out of here.”

“My Dad is too.”

For some reason, that made Nick happy. With two deputies looking for them and all the others his aunt knew helping, it would only be a matter of time. “That’s cool. I’m Nick.”

“Luke.”

The other boy was not making this easy. He didn’t talk much. “My Aunt works in Lexington. Where does your Dad work?”

“The same place.” Luke seemed to finally get what Nick was trying to do and took a deep breath. “His name is Tim Gutterson. My grandma raised me though, not him. I don‘t really know him except I looked him up on the internet.”

“I know him. Him and my aunt go fishing together sometimes.”

“Are they…together?”

“No,” Nick assured his new friend. “They’re just friends.”

“Oh.”

Not sure whether that meant Luke was unhappy or relieved, Nick confided, “Your Dad is funny and sarcastic. My grandma said it’s because there’s some kind of pain in his heart he’s trying to hide. Maybe it’s because he’s missing you.”

Nick looked the other way because he thought Luke might be crying a little and he didn’t want to upset the other boy. But he had one last thing to say. “When him and my aunt come to get us, you should ask him.”

The boy nodded silently and they both felt a little comforted just by being together and completely trusting two super-deputies to come get them.


THE WAITING GAME

After a moment of staring at the disappeared video equipment, Raylan pulled Tim aside and they all broke off in groups of two discussing what they’d seen.

“So that was your kid.”

Tim rubbed the back of his neck. “What can I say, Raylan? I’m a cliché. The 17 year old asshole who knocked up his high school girlfriend. Said all the stupid things. We’ll get married. I’ll get a job. Next thing I knew, she had the baby and I was sitting in front of a lawyer signing away any rights I might want to have in the future. If I told you I wasn’t relieved, I would be lying. Even after I found out my father handed over a string of horses or suitcases of cash, whatever he did, her and her mother took that boy and I never saw either of them again. I held him for five minutes. I didn’t even know how to do that. I was an only child whose Mom had died when I was four. What the hell did I know about babies?”

“You said you only held him for five minutes when he was first born. How did you know that was your kid up there?”

“I’ve been looking for him since I joined the Army. Never had any luck.”

“Why then, Tim?”

Looking uncomfortable, Tim frowned. “I wanted him to get the death benefit.”

“Is that why you picked the Marshal Service?”

“Part of it.”

“And you found him recently?”

“No, that’s the thing. I got an email with a picture. I’m not sure who sent it. Tried to trace it but it was from one of those burner phones. All it said was ‘this is your son Luke’. That’s what we named him. I thought maybe it was her. I emailed back but no one answered.”

“When was this?”

“Two weeks ago.”

Marshall walked over. “Excuse me, guys, but, although it took me a couple of minutes because he’s older, I know that boy. Luke.”

Mary nodded encouragement at her partner as the other deputies stared at him.

“We’re with WitSec and four years ago I relocated him and his grandmother. His mother was a C.I. in a drug case. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you but his mother was murdered before she could give her testimony. The perps walked.”

Tim shut his eyes briefly. “God.”

“His grandmother told me his father was deceased.” Marshall looked apologetic.

Raylan looked at Mary. “I recognized one of your people. The younger one. Knew a detective in Miami who was tracing a drug cartel doing some business from New Jersey. He had her picture.”

“That was my sister.”

The others now stared at her.

Chris and Vin joined them. Obviously having overheard, Chris suggested, “There might be a drug connection here. One of our friends in those slides is a DEA agent. The other one is her aunt.”

Tim nodded, seemingly just remembering. “Miss Nettie Wells. I met her at an outside shooting competition my roomy and I entered when I was at Glynco. Damned good shot.”

“So there are definitely connections there but it still doesn’t seem to make much sense.” Marshall glanced back over his shoulder at the wall where the video projector had come out.

Mary followed his line of sight. “Whoever is calling the shots is the only one who knows how it all fits together. We’ve got to come up with some kind of plan.”

Vin shook his head. “Any plan would have to have an endpoint and we don’t even have a beginning. Revenge for something? Would we even know who to plan against? One person? An army of people?”

“They have to have a way to send us all out on bogus calls,” Raylan reminded.

“And to have a hell of a lot of personal information on each of us.”

“Especially since as far as I know there’s zero paperwork on me being Luke’s father,” added Tim.

“And that can’t be random.” Vin looked speculative. “You don’t know anyone who would have given that information out, would you?”

“My father’s gone so unless Luke’s grandmother told someone which I think is unlikely since she told Marshal Mann I’m dead. Unless Luke told someone.”

“Or someone has a database.” Chris Larabee frowned. “One hell of a complete database.”

“So we have no way of knowing what we’re dealing with.” Vin slung his rifle over his shoulder. “And we’re stuck ‘awaiting instructions’ from some asshole we don’t know.”

All six deputies looked around, nervous and angry, all hoping something would all add up and give them what they needed to make sense of the whole thing. Nothing else to do.

Just awaiting instructions.

Being people of action, that was not something any of them had much patience with.


RECON: PHASE ONE

The three newly freed men stood in the middle of a deserted hallway in what appeared to be an old-style local jail, one more used to being used as a drunk tank than anything more serious. There were about ten cells, all on the same side facing a blank wall. A quick look inside the other cells had shown them there were no others. Only the three cells they’d been in had been recently cemented over and freshly painted.

With nothing as weapons but the crappy knives they’d each found in their pockets, all of them were feeling slightly naked as they used a leap-frog style of heading to the door at the end of the hallway. Each end had a door but they’d rock-paper-scissored the winner who got to pick which door got reconned first and a triumphant Nicholas Talmadge had picked the red door rather than the green one.

Once at the door, one look at Tek’s sturdy legs by the others and they both pointed at him to be the kicker. He rolled his eyes and wound up for the kick as the other two crouched down to fill his void so he could drop back to catch his balance.

The door slammed backwards pulling part of the frame with it and Cougar gave a quick grin before turning into the open room. Silence covered them after the door had finished banging open.

The room was empty but for a desk in the middle. No chair. Just a large wooden work desk, the old-fashioned type of desk that would be in an old jail. Three pairs of eyes scanned the room and came up with nothing.

Still cautious, they approached the desk from different sides, looking for trip wires or pressure plates but saw none. On top of the desk were three folders.

Glancing at one another first, they all reached and grabbed the folder with their respective names on them.

“Someone has a James Bond fetish,” murmured Talmadge as he read the large red letters on the cover page which said YOUR EYES ONLY. He began to hum the Sheena Easton tune from the movie For Your Eyes Only as he looked through the pages.

Cougar flashed a disgusted look at him, then concentrated on paging through his own folder.

“Who the hell are these people?” Tek asked, bewilderment causing to shake his head. “How did they get us here? You guys know?”

“Nothing.” Talmadge slapped his folder shut. “But this says I need to be somewhere and meet someone and I’m going. As soon as I find my way out of this fucking place.”

“The other door,” Cougar said simply.

The three of them hurried, but still cautious, to the other end of the hallway where they stopped in front of the green door.

Tek spoke what they were all thinking. “Seems like it would be a waste of their time to get us all here to blow us to hell when we try this door.”

The other two men nodded.

“And, thinking outside their little box here, let me try something. Maybe you two might want to get back in those cells?” With one significant glance at him, Cougar and Talmadge both melted back into one of the cells. Blowing out his breath and closing his eyes for a brief moment, Tek was ready, nodding his head to an internal one, two, three.

He pulled on the knob and the door creaked open.

He’d hit a brick wall. Literally.

A door to fucking nowhere.

“Uh, guys,” he called, standing completely upright from his defensive crouch. “On a fucked scale, I believe we’re at eleven.”

Cougar and Talmadge peeked out seeing the solid brick behind the open door.

That was when they all heard the sirens and the warning blast from an airhorn.

“Or maybe a twelve.” Cougar shrugged wryly.


RECON: PHASE TWO

The three men stood in the hallway staring at the brick wall as if looking hard enough would magic it away and fresh air and blue skies would appear. The sound of heavy equipment outside changed that strategy.

“Back away!” yelled Talmadge but the other two were already jogging backwards down the hall as he opened his mouth.

There was a loud crunching noise and the end of the hallway disappeared. All three men skidded to a halt, caught traction and ran full tilt toward the opening before the machinery they heard outside got to rewind and do it again. As they poured from the opening, several men began yelling at them. Ignoring it all, they kept going, files flapping in their hands, except for Cougar who had folded his and tucked it in his belt.

Racing behind a building two blocks from their former prison, they stopped, panting, to catch their breath.

Cougar was the first to recover, standing upright, and giving them both a little salute. Tek glanced at Talmadge.

“That was fun. Let’s never do it again.”

“I’m with you on that,” Talmadge agreed.

Tek was about to head out when he noticed they all seemed headed the same way. “I think we might still have something in common,” he said loudly enough for Cougar to hear and pause, turning around.

When they were all looking at him, Tek held up his folder. “I don’t know what’s in your folders but mine is telling me that if I don’t get to the Weller Building within the next two hours, someone I care about a hell of a lot is going to be killed. I’m not fond of losing people I love. It never fails to suck.”

Cougar nodded. “I know where it is.”

Talmadge looked unconvinced. “But is this one of those cases where there’s safety in numbers or is it better to find our own ways?”

“We don’t know how many we’re facing. No time for a plan.” Cougar was clearly unhappy with the available options.

“This doesn’t mention working alone.” Tek looked back and forth between the two other men.

“I agree,” Talmadge finally reluctantly agreed. “We’ll go together. Let’s get moving. I don’t believe in putting things off.”

They set off for the Weller Building at a comfortable run, following Cougar who apparently knew the way.



THE SIX MARSHALS

It had gotten hot in the sealed up garage and the deputies had all taken off their jackets, showing various holsters. They’d all surreptitiously made comparisons amongst themselves.

Vin Tanner glanced at Tim Gutterson’s arm, sighting a tattoo. With a grin, he leaned close enough so only his partner Chris Larabee heard. “Rangers LOSE the way.” Just a little twist on an Army Ranger motto of Rangers Lead The Way.

Looking used to good natured cross-service ribbing, Tim grinned. “Let me guess. Former SEAL.”

When both Vin and Chris grinned, Tim nodded, resignedly. “Both of you. Should have known.”

Chris slapped him on the back in a friendly way, then got serious. “We’ll get them. All of them.”

The metallic voice was back. “It’s your lucky day, folks, you’re about to have company.”

All six deputies unholstered their weapons. Vin, Chris, and Tim faced the one sliding door as Raylan, Marshall, and Mary stood at their backs facing the other panel.

Like that, they waited their further instructions.


LEARNING CURVE

From across the street, Tek, Talmadge, and Cougar stood in the shadows. They’d already circled the block and Cougar had gone up to the roof of the building next door to their target and seen no obvious, obvert surveillance. That didn’t mean there wasn’t any. There were people going about their business and a couple of cars had pulled up to the building which had an apparent parking garage in it but had backed out when the saw it appeared sealed up.

Tek opened his folder, moving some pages around. “Says to come here. Doesn’t say to find a way in. What do you guys think?”

“I think it’s a perfect trap.” Cougar never took his eyes off the building but there was a dangerous glint in his eye as if he was ready to tear the sealed doors open with his bare hands.

“We don’t know what’s in there,” reminded Talmadge as he pulled out his pocketknife. “And all we have are these pieces of shit and our animal cunning.”

They all laughed. It was bitter amusement but just what they needed to get the ball rolling.

As they were about to cross the street, a man in a dark suit wearing darker sunglasses approached their target building and took out a key ring full of keys, fitting one into a lock on the side door they’d seen padlocked. When he disappeared inside, Cougar, Talmadge, and Tek jogged across the street, glancing around to make sure that no one else was in the alley.

Cougar went ahead of the others and peeked around the doorway, then signaled the others to enter. When they passed him, he followed them in, feeling naked without any of his usual weapons.

~~~~~~

When one of the panel doors started lifting up into it’s channel in ceiling, the three deputies with their backs to it, spun, joining the others to make a line of six, weapons all facing the opening. Like a wave, each bent a little to lean and Gutterson and Tanner each took a knee.

“One,” was all Gutterson said and the line relaxed just a little.

“No. Four!” he amended, lying flat and sighting. Vin, the only other one with a rifle, followed him down to the floor.

“I don’t know what the hell you guys are playing at but this isn’t a paintball emporium!” came the voice outside, soon to be revealed as a man in a suit who stared at all the weaponry facing him. “What the fuck? Are those real?”

He hadn’t noticed the three men behind him but the marshals had and he followed their line of sight to three men behind him, visibly shaken. “What?”

“US Marshals!” declared Chris Larabee holding up his open bifold badge.

Tim Gutterson stood, looking bewildered. “Tally?”

One of the men in the hallway peered around the shoulder of the man in the suit. “Guts?”

The man in the suit had his hands up. “I don’t understand any of this. Why are you all here? I’ve had complaints about the parking garage being closed.”

Chris Larabee stepped forward. “You’re the owner?”

“Yeah. I don’t know why you have my garage closed up. I have contracts with people to park here and they’re complaining.” He glanced anxiously over his shoulder at the three men behind him.

“Stay right there!” warned Mary when one of the men behind the owner started to move forward.

He put up his hands, calling out. “I know Gutterson.”

“Could we have a word?” Chris gestured for the owner to come closer, clearly wanting to move him from being between the deputies and the three suspicious men in the hall.

The man in the suit apparently figured that out and hurried over to where Chris brought him behind the line of marshals.

Tim tilted his head thoughtfully, studying at the three men in the hall. “Alvarez? They said you were dead.”

The man in the cowboy hat tipped it with two fingers. “Exaggeration.”

Raylan holstered his gun. “You know the other one too, Tim?”

The third man gave a little wave. “Hey, Tim.”

Mary made a disgusted, exasperated sigh. “Who the fuck are you, Gutterson? Miss America?”

Tim shook his head ruefully. “Fuck if I even know anymore…”


ESCAPE PLANS

Nettie Wells and Casey Dunne, who were aunt and niece, had just about worked out of their bindings when the door to their cell opened. Staring forward, they were surprised when the door creaked open yet there was no one there. Almost too fast to see, a man’s head peeked around the doorway then disappeared. They waited.

When he stuck his head in again, he scoped around, apparently decided it was safe or safe-ish, and entered. “Hello ladies. I’m doing a little exploring. Wanna hang out?”

“We were about to go for a walk ourselves.” Nettie indicated the ropes they’d nearly worked themselves out of. “I’m Nettie and this is Casey.”

“Allow me.” Quickly, he undid the rest. “Jensen here. Any idea what this is all about?”

Casey rubbed her wrists. “We’ve heard others. Women’s voices. Kids.”

“We can split up and each take a door,” suggested Nettie.

“Do you know how many are locked up?” asked Jensen, taking a look out into the hallway as he spoke.

“We’ve just heard the voices.” Casey got on the other side of the door frame, peering into the half-lit hall.

Jensen put a finger to his lips, then pointed left to Casey and right to Nettie. Both women nodded and headed in the directions he’d indicated while he went across the hall to peer into the little glass window in the door across the hall. He moved on when he found it empty.

With the next door down, he hit the jackpot. There were two boys inside and his heart sank. Kids. Kids in danger. For a half a beat, he almost pretended they weren’t there and continued on.

But he couldn’t. They were all alone.

He opened the door and the boys looked up, fear in their eyes. It broke his heart but he forced a grin on his face to try to put them at ease. “I’m here to get you guys out. Ready?”

Both boys nodded wordlessly and Jensen worked them loose. When he was done, he waved them on to follow him. Once in the hallway, Nettie and Casey were there with two other women.

“Jinx and Brandi,” Nettie brusquely pointed to the other women.

One of the boys said, “Nick”, the other said, “Luke” and the little group gathered around Jensen who looked around at them all.

“Well, folks, now we’re all loose, how about finding a way out of here. Anyone actually conscious when they were brought in?”

“They had hoods over our heads,” Brandi smoothed down her hair at the apparent memory of the unpleasant experience.

The others nodded and Jensen sighed. So he was the only one who’d been drugged. Figured.

“Okay.” Down the hall he saw one of those little signs that said EXIT. It was risky but they needed to get out of here. There didn’t seem to be any cameras around but that didn’t mean there weren’t any. “We can break up in teams or we can stick together.”

The women looked at the others they’d been tied up with and the two boys looked at each other as if there was no way in the world the either of them were going to go anywhere without the other. Good, that was good. They’d work together, probably protect each other. That could be an advantage.

“Stick together it is,” he grinned.

Nettie split them up to walk down the sides of the hall rather than down the middle as the boys, Jinx, and Brandi had been about to do. Jensen appreciated that this elderly woman just might be an asset. She’d make a good team leader and he wondered what kind of career path she’d had.

But that was speculation for another time. Now they had to get to the end of that hall.

As they went by the different rooms, he peeked in the little windows, noticing that Casey was doing the same over on the other side of the hall. No one in any of the other rooms apparently.

The EXIT door was the typical one. A fire door with one of those wide bars that you could hit at a run and be gone. Somehow he had a doubt it would be that easy. They stopped and he looked it over, not seeing any charges but that didn’t mean anything. It could be on the outside.

Jensen made eye contact with Nettie and tilted his head to the side. Immediately she herded everyone into the last room in the hall. No sense in all of them being blown to hell and if it was just them, they could make a run for it through the Jensen shaped hole he’d make. That brought a grim smile to his face.

He backed up a few paces, then ran forward and stiff-armed the door bar.

The loud buzz was the last thing he heard before flying backwards and landing on his ass, his ears ringing so he could barely hear the klaxons going off.

Damn.


FIRST ASSIGNMENT

Mary Shannon grabbed Tim Gutterson’s arm. “Look, you have to know something. This is turning into some kind of ridiculous six degrees of Deputy Gutterson.”

“I’m a nobody. I work in a tiny office in Lexington, Kentucky for Christ’s sake.”

Marshall Mann stepped closer as he observed the tense way those in the room who seemed to know Deputy Gutterson had become when Mary acted aggressively toward the man. “What I’m sure Deputy Shannon and all of us are wondering, Deputy Gutterson, is do you know anyone, have any enemies, who might be behind all this?”

“You think there’s some Lex Luthor type lurking in my past?” Tim looked like frustration might be about to lead to anger. “I went to high school. Joined the army. Got out. Joined the Marshal service. I don’t have any enemies that could pull off a convenience store robbery and not get caught. No offense about your convenience store robbery experience, Raylan.”

“None taken.” But Raylan did frown as if he really had taken offense to it. Damn it the man Tim had referred to had taken his fucking hat.

The man in the suit was getting more nervous every second. “Ah, guys, I know this is all very serious but is there any way I can get out of the middle of this? I have a family…”

His words ran dry when nine pairs of eyes focused like laser sights on him.

Mary kept on as if she’d never stopped talking, pointing at the three men standing in the doorway. “Take these guys for instance. Who are they anyway? And why do they show up just when our door opens? Incredible coincidence that they all know you, Guttterson?”

Marshall stepped over to the man in the suit. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to not discuss this with anyone. Part of an ongoing investigation, you know. We’ll see you’re kept out of it. No need to worry. We’ll just clear a couple of things up with our office and maybe have you sign a little paperwork later. You know how the government is. Forms and such. Thanks for your cooperation.”

By the time he’d finished speaking, Marshall had effectively walked the man around the three in the doorway and out.

“He’s good,” commented Raylan, watching as Marshall headed back in.

Mary smirked. “Yes, he is.”

One of the three in the doorway walked inside, holding his hands up. “Name’s Nicholas Talmadge and as much as this reunion with my old sniper/scout buddy is becoming ever so much fun, I have the little matter of being forced here for some reason I don’t have any way in hell of knowing. Apparently we all have been. Tim?”

“I have no idea but they have my son.”

Talmadge’s face lit up. “You found him?”

“No, they did.”

One of the other men stepped up, briefly clasping Tim in a hug. “How did they find him?”

Tim hugged back, then pointed upwards to a corner in the ceiling. “We’re waiting for further instructions, Tek.”

The large door slammed shut again, trapping them all in darkness.

“Christ. Here we go again,” came Mary’s disgusted voice.

MEANWHILE…

Jensen looked up at the door which had so cruelly betrayed him, scolding it. “You suck, man, that hurt my feelings.”

Nettie peeked out from the room where they’d taken refuge. “You all right, son?”

“I will be.” He stood, dusting off his behind. “More hurt to my pride than anything else. It’s rigged with a non-fatal but disruptive electrical charge.”

“You got tasered.” She seemed to be having a hard time keeping a serious expression.

“Back to square one, I guess,” Jensen surrendered to momentary defeat.

The others appeared behind Nettie.

“Are you okay, Mr. Jensen?” asked Nick, the only one who looked more concerned for Jensen than their predicament.

“Yeah, sure, kid. Just no one touch that…thing…there. It’s not…nice.” It felt good when he saw the tentative smiles on the others’ faces.

“There’s a little dark stairway behind a partly sealed door at the other end of the hall,” came a small voice.

Jensen looked at the boy called Luke. “How do you know that?”

The boy flushed. “The hood they had on me. I could see under it. I tried to remember the way in.”

Jensen nodded. “Good job. Show me.”

The group followed the boy down the hall, once more hopeful. Without anyone telling them this time, they split into two groups and cautiously made their way. Jensen felt a tug of pride in his heart. This just might turn out to have a happy ending.

~~~~~~

There was a hiss of anger from Cougar Alvarez as the projector came out, showing a man running toward a door, then bouncing off with a small shower of sparks, and landing unmoving on the floor. There was no sound and it cut off there. Tim glanced over at Cougar in wordless sympathy. The man in the hat just shook his head.

The projector slid back into the wall and the lights came back on but the doors remained tightly sealed.

There was silence for a moment where no one met anyone else’s eyes.

~~~~~~

Tim Gutterson had spent much of his adult life in shadows, through the sights of a rifle. He’d acted upon targets but now found himself to be one. The worst part about the whole situation was that he’d dragged others into whatever this was. Revenge for something he couldn’t even recall or place. Innocents like his son, Rachel’s nephew Nick, those women in the slides, were all in danger for something he may not even have realized he did. There appeared to be no other connections among these people than the ones he was a key to.

And there was nothing he could do. Nothing.

~~~~~~

After pulling the boxes and broken crates away from the hobbit-sized door, Jensen cautiously opened it and the others, hearing no explosion or crisp sound of another taser-like shock, came forward to look down a rickety set of stairs. It was dark and a strong scent of mildew floated up from wherever it led.

Nettie frowned. “Casey and I weren’t brought up these stairs. Who besides Luke was?”

The others shook their heads.

“Could be they wanted him to remember this and it’s booby-trapped,” suggested Casey.

Luke looked crestfallen, as if it was his fault that their one possible out might be somehow tainted merely through his remembering. “I’m sorry,” he murmured.

Nick put his arm around the other boy’s shoulders. “It’s okay, Luke. They might just have been being sloppy letting you see this. It could still be our way out.”

Smiling encouragingly, Casey tapped Luke’s arm. “We’re just being careful, that’s all.”

He gave her a wavering smile and briefly leaned against Nick before standing straight, obviously gathering his courage.

Jensen peered as far down into the darkness as he could, rubbing his chin in thought. “I’ll go scout this out. All of you go back to that room and wait.”

“No way.” Casey laid a hand on Jensen’s arm. “No offense, Mr. Jensen, but you’re, well, kind of big. Those stairs are rotted. You might go right through them.”

Eyebrows raised, he frowned ruefully. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt as much like a big dumb ox before. Thanks.”

The others let out little nervous laughs at his expression and he grinned.

“I’ll go take a look around and be right back.”

Nettie looked concerned but nodded her agreement and Jensen gave in, spreading his arms wide in a gesture of surrender.

“Be careful.” Nettie gave Casey a strong hug. “Yell if you need us.”

Casey looked at the others, seeing fear but determination in all their faces. She smiled cheerfully, as if going for a pleasant stroll. “Be right back, guys!”

~~~~~~~

It had been fifteen minutes since the little show of the man being thrown back from the door projected onto the walls. Nothing from the projector since.

No one said anything, all lost deep in thought, sitting backs to the wall, all in a row but each alone in a way.

The small sliding noise of the projector coming out again brought them all to their feet.

“Gentlemen,” came the voice, not pausing when Mary Shannon snorted disdainfully. “I have helpfully divided you into teams. Your shooting competition coaches have the locations of your first assignments in the folders they have been given. If they managed to hold onto them during their brave ‘escape’.”

It was clear the voice was amused that those men had thought they’d escaped when it had obviously been planned. That didn’t make anyone feel any better.

“It’s on the page marked First Assignment.”

“Prick,” muttered Talmadge under his breath.

“The following will now make up the three teams. Team Alfa: Alvarez, Larabee, Tanner. Team Bravo: Talmadge, Mann, Shannon. And Team Charlie: Kincaide, Givens, Gutterson.”

There was a long pause during which they all looked at each other.

“You have thirty minutes to get to your first targets. Good luck.”

~~~~~~

Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner walked over to Cougar. “Alvarez?”

The men shook hands and Cougar opened the folder. “Can’t show this to you. They have someone.”

“We’re all in the same boat,” admitted Chris. “This isn’t our town. You know it?”

“Well enough to find where we’re going but we have to go on foot.”

As the doors ground open, Vin told Chris in a low voice. “I need something from the car.”

As the others walked out in their own teams, Vin came to a halt and Chris nearly ran into him. “What the hell, Tanner?”

“It’s gone. Son of a bitch must have had it towed.”

Cougar nodded. “Makes sense. Come on. We don’t have much time.”

With a short nod to the other teams who were apparently heading in different directions, Chris followed Cougar and Vin as they made their way through small streets and back alleys, they kept up an almost jogging along at a comfortable pace.

“Got anything on you?” Vin asked Cougar as they passed through an alley only big enough for one car to fit.

Cougar knew he meant weapon-wise. “I was drugged. Woke up with nothing but this piece of shit.” He held up a small pocket knife.

“Looks like they really cut your balls off there, my friend,” commiserated Vin with sadness.

“I’ve been in worse condition.”

Vin laughed. “I believe it!”

After that, they all concentrated on getting to the target before the time ran out for them and the hostages, Cougar leading the way. He held up his fist and they all stopped, following his gaze upward.

Without a word Vin slid his belt out of the loops in his jeans, holding out his hand to Chris who did the same. Hooking their belts together, Vin slung it up to hook the fire escape and pull the ladder down. It wasn’t a good idea to go through the lobby with a sniper rifle, even with their badges so this was the best option they could see.

As silently as possible, they climbed the metal stairs until they reached the roof. Once there, Vin looked to Cougar who pointed to a distant building. Sighting, Vin studied the other building’s roof. “It’s a water tower but it looks like there‘s a charge on it.”

“File says blow it.”

“You have any idea what this is all about?” Chris was surveying the other roofs in the surrounding area.

Cougar shook his head. He held up the folder. “Not a damn clue. But this says we need to blow that charge or they send a picture of a dead hostage to one of our phones.”

“Shit.” Chris put a hand on Vin’s shoulder. “Anyone on the roof?”

“Not a living soul but it looks like a right nice garden.”

“Blow it.”

Vin took his time, got set, then took the shot. They all watched as the direct hit detonated the charge, splitting the old-fashioned wooden water tower. Water gushed out, washing away the garden and sloshing over the sides of the roof. People in the street screamed and looked upward, pointing and rushing out of the way, some into the street where car horns blared.

The sound of a phone went off.

Exchanging worried glances with the other two men, Chris reached in his pocket.

“Larabee.” After listening a moment, he shut his phone. “We have twenty minutes this time. Fortieth street. Brick building. Cougar?”

“I know it.”

Vin shouldered his rifle once more. “There are people looking over here. Let’s get the hell gone.”

They didn’t waste any time going back down the fire escape.

~~~~~~

“Shit!”

There was an explosion and then, seconds later, a cascade of water just missed Talmadge, Marshall, and Mary as they ducked under an overhang on their way to their first assignment.

Talmadge repeated himself. “Shit! First our cars are gone, then I get put with the fucking team that doesn’t have anything long range, and now this.”

Mary rolled her eyes as she jogged along, slanting a look toward Marshall who just shook his head.

“This is it.” Talmadge stared at the building. In the shop window it said Ten Pins of Doom. In smaller print: Paintball, Pinball, and Bowling Emporium.

“You’re kidding.” Mary put her hand on her hip.

“I believe we have a time limit,” reminded Marshall. “Does it say where in there we need to be? What we need to do once inside?”

“Behind the bowling shop there are apparently lockers which we are supposed to check out and then go to a second address. Looking up as if in prayer, Talmadge entreated. “Please let me have my baby.”

“Time crunch?” prompted Mary and they moved inside.

Like an old movie theater, which the building might have at one time actually been, the inside had three entrances. The one all the way on the right apparently led to the bowling area and once through the door, they could hear the sounds of pins falling and the reset machine. Trying not to attract any attention, the three members of Bravo Team followed the sign that said “lockers”.

There was one that had a post-it note hanging on it. Printed in blocky letters, it simply read Happy Birthday Talmadge. They stared at the lock as if their glares could cause it to pop open.

Marshall’s face lit up. “Try your birth date.”

“I hope to hell it’s that easy,” murmured Mary.

Talmadge moved the dial, then pulled the handle and the locker banged open. Inside was a canvas case which Talmadge took out and hugged to his chest. “Thank you! Now let’s haul ass!”

“How much time do we have?” Mary looked over at Marshall as they rushed out of the Ten Pins of Doom building.

He checked his watch. “Twelve minutes.”

“We need to get to a park. It’s only two blocks so we should make it in time.”

“What’s the target?” asked Marshall worriedly. “If it’s out in the open, we are going to be drawing a lot of attention we don’t want.”

“If they haven’t taken anything out, I have a suppression system.” Talmadge patted the bag. “If you guys stand on either side of me, no one should be any the wiser except for our camera happy competition organizer.”

“In other words, any of the people enjoying lunchtime at the park by taking pictures of their families and friends could be taping us for that guy. Or even have weapons trained on us.” Mary looked distinctly unhappy with their prospects.

Marshall checked his watch again. “I doubt if the plan is to kill us. He could have killed us any number of ways in that sealed garage. It’s a game to him and we are just starting to play it.”

Once at the park, Talmadge stopped at a wall where there were a bunch of flyers posted. “Look for something with one of our names on it or something that would make sense to us. It will be our target.”

Mary grabbed a green sheet of paper. “Win an all expenses paid trip to Shannon, Ireland! That has to be it!”

Talmadge tried to reach for it but she brought it closer to her with Marshall reading over her shoulder and he frowned. “Clock is ticking, WitSec-cers.”

“Funny.” Mary was reading to herself, lips moving as she tried to figure out the target.

“Visit the historic bell tower, aiming for a sight of the famous bird sanctuary,” read Marshall with a frown. “I think we know our target.”

Above the tree-line they could all see a small tower which would have been more at home in a Spanish mission. As they headed for it, Marshall warned, “Seven minutes.”

They hurried to the bell tower to find it locked. Marshall and Mary stood in front, pretending the flyer they’d taken was a map of some sort while Talmadge broke the glass in the door. All three sighed with relief when no alarm sounded and Talmadge whipped the door open for them to enter. Running up the stairs, Talmadge was removing his rifle from the case and checking it over.

Once up in the tiny space in the top of the bell tower, Talmadge readied his rifle, while Mary and Marshall took different directions to search for anything like a bird sanctuary.

“There!” Mary shouted, pointing toward a glass-walled building. “There’s actually a freaking target painted on one of the roof panels!”

Ready, Talmadge sighted, then took the shot. From the distance, they could hear glass shattering and screaming.

Mary’s phone rang and she stared at the other two in horror as the screaming continued and she pulled out her phone. “Shannon.”

“We have to get the fuck out of here,” whispered Talmadge.

“Right.” Mary put her phone away. “We have to get to a brick building on Fortieth Street.”

Before she finished the word “street” Bravo Team was headed down the spiral stair and out into the park. No one seemed to connect the bag Talmadge had shouldered with the screaming people in the opposite direction they headed.

~~~~~~~~

Casey Dunne carefully made her way down the musty stair steps wishing she still had the little flashlight she’d had on her keychain or even the light from her phone. But their kidnappers had taken all that from them. There was a little light coming from the dim hallway where everyone else was waiting and, half way down, she saw a little bit of light coming from whatever floor she was heading for.

There was silence and she was hopeful that the place was deserted, the kidnappers having supreme confidence that their bindings would hold. They hadn’t and that was the one bit of satisfaction Casey held tightly to her. There were people depending on her right now and she really wanted all of them to be safe, especially the two boys.

When she made it to the door, she took a deep breath, the mildew smell nearly making her cough, the cracked it open a little. Then wider. Nothing down the side she could see. When she opened the door wide enough to see the other hallway, there was a man.

“Going somewhere, bitch?”

She drove the heel of her hand into his nose and he shrieked, blood pouring from between his fingers on his face. Blindly, he reached for her and she brought her elbow down on his head.

There was a loud noise in back of her and she turned, taking a defensive stance, prepared to take another one of the bastards out.

Out of breath, Jensen stood, the worried look on his face turning to one of relief. He high-fived her and announced, “Hey! I didn’t break the stairs. But that’s probably because I think I only hit every fourth one!”

She grinned up at him.

~~~~~~

As they hurried along, Tim Gutterson checked his watch. “We almost there, Tek? We’re getting short.”

“Day like today, you’ll smell it when we get close enough.”

Just then there was the sharp sound of glass shattering and screaming. Tek came to a dead stop, Tim almost running right into his back until Raylan grabbed the younger deputy’s arm, steadying him. After a small hesitation, Tek took two steps toward the screaming when Tim swung him around.

“I’m a med tech!” protested Tek.

Tim looked desperate. “They could kill my son, Tek. And the others too. Is it DJ that have on you?”

In the distance they could hear sirens.

“Look, Tek is it?” Raylan subtly came between the other two men. “There appears to be help on the way for whatever this is that we’re hearing but there’s only us to do this assignment. And we are running out of time.”

Tek nodded. “Let’s go.”

A few steps and they found out what Tek had meant earlier when he’d mentioned being able to smell their destination. A strong odor or animal dung hung on the air. They paused outside a little fenced in area.

“A petting zoo?” asked Tim incredulously. “This guy is a fucking danger to everyone.”

They looked at the group of parents gathered around a security guard who was talking on a radio and whose eyes suddenly landed on the bag over Tim’s shoulder. The rifle shaped bag.

The three of them turned, breaking into a run when the guard yelled, “Hey! Stop!”

“What’s the target?” Tim was unzipping the bag as they ran.

“Give me the bag!” Raylan reached out as Tek dropped behind to cover the Tim passing the empty bag to Raylan.

They all split up, heading in different directions as Tek told Tim, “We’re supposed to be getting the target at the camel pen.”

“How?”

“Doesn’t say. Look around!” Tek peeled off and Tim watched the guard stare at them all before deciding to follow Raylan.

Hurrying to the camel pen, Tim jumped up onto the enclosure‘s fence, figuring camels were tall and he’d be able to see it from where he was. People were heading the opposite way of him, obviously trying to find out why people were screaming. There were none of the fun rides some parks had so obviously people were worried but none of them seemed to notice he had a rifle slung over his shoulder. Maybe it was because he had his Marshal Service ID card on the lanyard around his neck.

Just as he thought that, he saw something around one of the camel’s necks that looked disturbingly like his ID. Running over, but stopping just before the pen so he wouldn’t scare the animal, he saw that it was an old ID of his. Since they always handed in their expired IDs and they were supposed to be destroyed, it made him angry.

There were no employees around so he merely unhooked the gate and walked in, glancing at his watch. Three minutes.

Tek ran up to the gate, panting, then stopped, calming his breathing when Tim raised his hand in a stopping motion. The camel leaned down, hoping to be fed, and Tim grabbed the lanyard, turning over his old ID. There was a picture of the park’s administration building with an X over one of the windows.

“Jesus,” gasped Tim. “Who?”

“Is it the target?” asked Tek. He spun around when someone approached, only to relax once he saw it was Raylan.

“I lost our guard but there is something going on here that we need to get away from ASAP.”

“Two minutes,” warned Tek.

They ran, Tim following the tiny map on the back of the ID.

Finally they reached the small clearing in front of the building and Tim pulled the rifle up to his shoulder, trying to regulate his breathing as he looked through the sight. A man was sitting at a desk but stood as Tim slid his finger from the guard to the trigger.

As the man moved out of view, Tim cursed.

“One minute.”

Desperately, Tim panned the sight.

“Thirty seconds.”

“Fuck! I don’t have a shot!”

Over his shoulder, Raylan warned, “ We are about to have company and he has his gun drawn.”

“Tell them you have everything under control. Use your badge,” suggested Tek.

Raylan left them, holding his badge out in front of him. “US Marshal Service. We’re investigating this scene and have everything under control. Stay back!”

Raylan’s phone went off and they all stared at him.

The second floor of the administration building exploded into flames.

~~~~~~~

“I missed the fucking shot,” muttered Tim, pupils dilated in shock.

Raylan took out his phone as they all froze in a weird tableau, the guard with his handgun drawn but facing the ground and Tim with the rifle still at his shoulder but pointing downwards.

“Givens.”

The guard began talking on his hand held radio.

“We need to get out of here,” warned Tek as uniformed men began running toward the administration building and families rushed the other way. “Now.”

“All right,” Raylan said into his phone before putting it away. “Fortieth Street. Brick building.”

“What if my son and the others are in there?” asked Tim, eyes wild.

“We have no way of knowing that, Tim. We need to follow these instructions. That doesn’t mean we have to stop trying to figure this whole thing out.”

“They don’t have any of your people, Raylan.”

Raylan looked as if he’d just been slapped.

“Think, Tim,” advised Tek. “He wouldn’t do that or he’d have no leverage over any of us. We have to get the hell out of here.”

Raylan handed the rifle case back to Tim as if it could be taken as a peace offering and Tim nodded his thanks. The three men took off running, nearly daring the guard to shoot them in the back if he felt he had to. All that mattered was getting to that brick building on Fortieth Street.

~~~~~~~~

The grins had not had time to fade off their faces when here was a noise from the stairs. Casey and Jensen immediately tensed up.

Luke, eyes wide with fright, looked from one of them to the other. “The man upstairs told me to tell you that if you don’t want some people to be dead, you better come back up. He‘s holding a gun to Nick‘s head.”

Dejected, Casey and Jensen followed Luke up the dark stairs.

~~~~~~~

4:14PM - Kinda forgot this

I have to admit I kind of had forgotten I had this journal until it said it was going to be deleted. But now I think it's perfect!

I am going to use this to talk about my writing.

Oh, and there's going to be Camp NaNoWriMo this summer! NaNo Summer!!! YAY!!! :D

Current mood: excited

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

5:31PM - Hello and Welcome!

Hi there to anyone who's made their way over here and Welcome! Don't hesitate to come on in and talk or friend me or just say hello!