That's how Larabee's team felt when several hours of searching through the files and trying to crack the coded disk left them frustrated and short-tempered. They'd drunk four pots of coffee, but hadn't eaten anything as Teresa watched over her son and answered the questions she could.
"My head's going to explode," Dunne complained softly, but refused to stop searching the files.
"JD, Carl had a sick sense of humor so try typing in words that deal with battered wives," Teresa told him.
"I've been doing that, but so far nothing," Dunne said.
"Try shelter," the woman said and realized it was just the type of thing her husband would do.
"There are several notations in these files about shelters for battered wives," Jackson said. "The sick sonofabitch thought it was funny to reveal the locations to anyone who might be searching for their spouse or kids."
"I believe the Lord would agree with going Old Testament on this bastard," Sanchez offered as he studied the list of names and locations. They'd been through them so many times that the names and numbers blurred into each other.
"Shelter...she's right! I'm in!" Dunne said as the files on the disk opened up and a series of folders were displayed on his laptop. "The mother load."
"Only everything Browner wanted kept hidden. There are names, dates, deposits..."
"Is there anything on Morgan and Freemont?" Wilmington asked.
"There's a restaurant there, but it was closed down by the board of health last month," Dunne answered and clicked on another folder. "I think there's enough information here to bring down several organizations and not just here in Billings. Carl Browner kept files on everyone he dealt with.
"Carl was very angry when they closed that place down. I know he entertained some of his most important clients there," Teresa explained, checking on her sleeping son before joining the men at the table.
"Does it have an area where he could hold Chris and Vin without worrying about being discovered?" Jackson asked.
"It has a large basement area that was used for cold storage, but there are several places big enough to hold them," she answered.
"Can you show us the mostly likely places?" Sanchez asked.
"I know he would never bring them to any of the establishments that are still in use because he wants to keep everything clean, but," she stopped and tried to think, but it was hard to think of anything, but Carl Browner's cruelty.
"There are a couple of warehouses he mentions in here," Dunne said and showed the files to the others.
"Anything else in there?" Wilmington asked.
"Lots. Browner was a fool and this is a record of everything he's done in the last ten years including a list of his clients and the money laundering operation he's got going," the Bostonian answered.
"Holy shit! He's naming some high ranked city officials from the mayor's office," Wilmington offered.
"This man works for the security service Orrin uses," Jackson said.
"Sonofabitch, I had dinner with him and his wife last week," the rogue said. "I never would have guessed he was anything but an honest businessman."
"Not every businessman is on the up and up," Standish told them. "I suggest we search the restaurant and the warehouse here and here."
"Someone has to stay with Mrs. Browner and her son," Dunne said.
"Well, JD, since you're working through that disk you might as well stay here with Mrs. Browner and her son while the rest of us check these places," Sanchez told him. He saw the disappointment in the younger man's eyes and patted his shoulder. "We need everything you can find on that disk, Son."
"Okay, Josiah," Dunne said and started tapping the keys.
"Josiah, Buck and I will take the restaurant and these two buildings while you and Nathan check out the warehouses here and here," Standish said pointing to the addresses he'd copied down.
"Works for me...just be damned careful," Sanchez ordered.
"Believe me we will...we know exactly what's hanging on this," Wilmington said and turned to the woman standing behind him. "JD'll watch out for you two...he knows what he's doing."
"Thank you, Buck, I'll pray that you find them safe."
"We appreciate that," Sanchez said as the four men hurried out of the house, but he stopped at the door and turned to JD. "You hit that panic button if you think you need to."
"I will, Josiah," Dunne assured him and continued drawing back each layer of the disk.
Vin looked into the cold eyes of the bitch who held his life in a syringe and tried to control his breathing as she injected something new into his veins. He could feel Chris' body being rocked by the force of a convulsion and knew that the same thing was in store for him. The woman was a cold-hearted bitch who enjoyed causing pain and right now she was smiling at him as she cupped his chin and squeezed brutally.
"Your friend is not looking very well right now, Mr. Tanner, but you could change that by answering Carl's question."
"Ain't g...got no...nothin' ta say," the Texan managed as she forced his head back and placed her lips against his.
"You know it would be so much more fun to have sex."
"That's exactly what I was thinking, but alas business before pleasure," Natalia told him. Two hours had passed since her arrival and although this was the third injection, neither man had shown any desire to answer Browner's questions regarding his wife. The drugs were taking their toll on both men, but they seemed to defy everything she tried. This new cocktail would cause hallucinations and she'd added a drug that was similar to a truth serum. She stood back and waited for the drugs to take affect and smiled when Vin Tanner became violently ill, while Chris Larabee was rocked by a convulsion that made his body twist in the limited confines of the chair.
Nathan pulled his car to a stop in front of the main gate and waited for the security guard to finish his phone call. They'd called Orrin Travis and updated him on what was happening and were assured that the police were also searching for the missing men. He glanced at the man seated next to him and knew Sanchez was trying to figure out the most likely place Browner was holding Larabee and Tanner.
"Can I help you?"
"We have a meeting with Carl Browner," Jackson lied.
"Mr. Browner hasn't been here in a week," the guard told them.
"That's strange. I called him earlier and he told me he'd meet us here at six," Jackson said. "Do you know where he is?"
"No, sorry, I don't and if I did I wouldn't be able to tell you without his permission," the man said.
"Are you sure he's not inside?" Sanchez asked.
"No, this place was closed down a month ago and he put it up for sale."
"That's why we're here," Jackson said. "He was supposed to show us around. Is there any way we can just take a quick look around?"
"I don't know..."
"Look we won't touch anything, but our boss wants answers by tomorrow or our butts are out the door," Sanchez told him.
"I...I guess I could show you around..."
"Thank you, Mr...?"
"Johnson, Paul Johnson," the security guard answered and reached for the keys on his belt as the two men exited the car. "If you tell anyone I let you in I'll deny it."
"We won't say anything. This is more for our benefit than yours and very much appreciated," Jackson told him and followed the man through the main gate.
"Do you have any idea how many square feet this place is?" Sanchez asked.
"No idea, but I'm pretty sure that information is on the spread sheets," Johnson answered.
"Is there a sub basement?" Jackson asked, feigning interest in the size of the building.
"No, but it does have several offices at the back leading into a second level. That area's been closed down for months," the guard explained and opened the door. He flicked on the lights and they entered to find a dusty floor that showed no sign that anyone had been there in months.
"Are there any other entrances?" Jackson asked.
"There's a loading dock at the rear of the building and an employee's entrance halfway down the right side. There are also two emergency doors that open automatically whenever the fire alarm is activated," Johnson answered.
Josiah and Nathan followed the man through the building, but it was obvious that no one had entered the building. There were no telltale footprints in the layer of dust that had accumulated on the floor, and the guard explained that he did a walk around, but only of the outer perimeter.
"The main storage area is back this way if you'd like to see it," the guard said and led the two men to an area near the emergency doors.
The two agents listened to the man's descriptions disinterestedly and finally made their excuses. They exited the building, thanked Johnson for his help and hurried to Jackson's car, disappointed that they hadn't found Larabee and Tanner.
"How long until the pizza gets here?" Natalia asked softly as she watched the two men bound to the chairs.
"It should be here in a few minutes or it's free," Browner answered with a grin.
Chris knew what it was like to breathe fire, because that was just how he was feeling right now as the woman knelt in front of him. He fought to get enough air to speak, but it was a struggle just to draw air into his lungs. A hand touched his cheek and he tried to pull away, but he didn't have the strength as the woman pressed her lips against his while speaking softly.
"It's time, Chris..."
"Time f...for what?"
"Time for you to tell me where Teresa is?"
"She's...she's safe," Larabee answered, wondering why his voice sounded like he'd swallowed crushed glass.
"How can you be sure, Chris? Don't you want me to check on her? Wouldn't that make you feel better...knowing she's safe..."
"She's safe. They won't...won't let th...that bas...tard any where ne...near her," the blond spat.
"You look terrible, Chris. Would you like something to drink? I know your friend needs something. Would you like me to give him some water?'
"Yes...he's thirsty," Larabee answered.
"I can't just give it to him without getting something in return. That would be improper enrichment...so maybe you could give me something and I'll give him a glass of water. Will you help your friend?"
"Help Vin..." the blond muttered.
"Tell me where Teresa is and I'll give you both some water..."
"Lies...you're ly...lying," Larabee managed, crying out when an open-handed blow landed across his right cheek.
"She's not worth your life, Chris. She's not worth Vin's life..."
"Won't let him hurt h...her..."
"He's not going to hurt her, Chris, he's going to show her how much he loves her. He does love her and he wants her to come home. He misses her and wants to show her he's changed..."
"Never change...bas...tard beats women and children...a...afraid to fight...a real man," Larabee managed as darkness reached out for him. He felt the body in the other chair and knew the woman had moved to question him. "Don't tell her any...thing..."
"Ai...ain't goin' ta," the Texan managed, breathing through clenched teeth as she knelt in front of him.
"Vin, I don't think Chris can take much more. He's lost a lot of blood and looks really pale. You can save him..."
"Both goin' ta hell no m...matter h...how ya sl...slice it," Tanner told her and heard angry cursing from behind her. He looked up into the cold, hate-filled eyes and laughed as Browner struck him across the face. His head snapped back with the force of a blow, but he continued to laugh in spite of the nausea and pain running rampant through his body.
Buck pulled his car to a stop in front of the restaurant and watched for any sign of movement from inside. There were cars parked along the opposite side of the street, but they were unoccupied and could belong to anyone. He watched as Ezra pulled out his cell phone and called JD Dunne and knew what the conman was up to.
"Ezra, tell me you found them?"
"I'm afraid not, JD, but we are in front of the restaurant. There's no movement inside, but there are several vehicles parked nearby. Would you ask Mrs. Browner if she knows her husband's license plate number?" Standish said.
"Hold on a minute?"
Ezra listened as Dunne asked the woman for the requested information and heard her reply as the Bostonian came back to the phone.
"Browner owns a silver BMW. His license number is personalized..."
"Let me guess BMW4ME," Standish offered.
"JD, contact Nathan and Josiah and tell them we're pretty sure Browner's here. We're going to check the area out and move in," Standish explained.
"Careful is my middle name. We'll call as soon as we find anything," Standish said and placed his cell phone back in his pocket. "The silver BMW belongs to Carl Browner."
"So the bastard's here and that means Chris and Vin are here," Wilmington said.
"We don't know for sure, but it doesn't really matter because we need to check it out before barging in there. It wouldn't make any sense to get Chris and Vin killed now," the gambler explained as they exited the car.
"I hate it when you're right..."
"I'm always right," Standish offered with a grin as they moved toward the main door of the restaurant. The interior was dark, but they could make out shadows of tables and a small amount of light peeked out from beneath a door at the back of the facility.
"Somebody's in there," Wilmington observed and reached for the door handle
"If we go in there without a plan we'll get Chris and Vin killed," the conman explained.
"We can't just stay out here. God knows what that sonofabitch is doing to them," the rogue snapped.
"We need a plan," Standish said.
"Fine. Here's my plan. We go in there and get Chris and Vin out then we kill the bastard so he can't hurt Teresa and Joey anymore!"
"Buck, think...we have no idea where they are or how many men Browner has with him," Standish explained and smiled when he saw a car pull in behind them. "Pizza..."
"You can't be serious! How the hell can you think about pizza when..."
"I do believe pizza is the answer to our problem," Standish said and watched as the young man stepped from the vehicle carrying a familiar item.
"How?" Wilmington asked and turned when Standish tapped his arm.
"How would you feel about a new job position for your resume?"
"Pizza Delivery Man extraordinaire," the rogue said and hurried to meet the newcomer. "Wait up!"
"Hey, man, I don't have much money..."
"This isn't a robbery...as a matter of fact how would you like to make 50 bucks?" Wilmington asked.
"What do I have to do?"
"Just let me make the delivery for you," the ladies' man explained.
"I don't know..."
"Ezra, show the man that nice crisp 50 dollar bill you got," Wilmington ordered.
"And what's wrong with the one in your wallet?"
"I don't have a 50," the rogue answered as Standish reluctantly reached into his wallet and produced a crisp, new 50 dollar bill.
"I could lose my job..."
"Not if no one knows," Wilmington assured him. "Look, the guy who ordered the pizza is a long time friend and one I haven't seen in two years. We heard he was in town and figured we'd surprise him..."
"But this place is closed down. How do you know he's here?"
"His wife told us," Standish explained. "You won't get in any trouble and we'll even pay for his order so you can go do more calls."
"I promise you won't take any flack for this," Wilmington offered and reached for the pizza boxes as the man stuffed the money into his pants pocket. "Thanks, Buddy, you won't regret this."
"Hope not. They said to bring it around back and ring the doorbell," the man said and hurried back to his car.
"All right, Buck, you look the part of a pizza delivery man..."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Blue jeans and t-shirt...that seems more fitting than a suit and..."
"Snob," the rogue said and made his way toward the corner of the building.
"Buck, I'm going to try and gain access from here..."
"Just be careful, Ezra...the bastard's already got two of my friends," Wilmington said.
Ezra acknowledged the comment with a salute and a smile, wondering how he'd ever be able to understand why these men had welcomed him into the fold. He moved to the door and reached into his pocket for the set of lock picking devices he kept there. He knew if Browner and his men were here then the alarm system would be turned off. While Buck was busy with the people at the back of the restaurant, he could slip inside and do some reconnaissance.
It didn't take him long to work his magic and he heard the lock disengage. He stepped inside and gently closed the door behind him. There was just enough light seeping through the partially open blinds to show him where the doors leading to the back of the restaurant were. He carefully made his way around the empty tables and stood listening at the door for any movement from inside what he guessed was the kitchen area.
Buck rang the doorbell and looked disinterestedly at the man who answered. "Pizza delivery...man the food here must be shit if you have to order in?"
"I wouldn't know...how much?" Peter Warlock asked.
"That will be $27.50," Wilmington answered and listened intently as the man pulled out his wallet. He could hear noises from inside, but they were muffled and unintelligible. He took a 20 and a ten from the man and handed over the pizza boxes.
"Keep the change..."
"Thanks. You need a receipt?"
Buck could only stand there as the man closed the door in his face and hoped Standish had better luck with the front door. He moved quickly toward the front of the establishment and pulled out his cell phone. He hit speed dial three and was relieved when Sanchez answered on the second ring.
"Did you find anything?"
"Ezra and I are at the restaurant and we're pretty sure Browner's here. His BMW is parked out front and there was a pizza delivery guy here. We paid him to let us make the delivery and there's something going on in there. The lights are off in the main part, but there's definitely something happening."
"Where are you and Ezra?"
"Ezra's probably already inside the main restaurant. I made the delivery and I'm heading for the front door...don't think the alarms are on or we would have already been discovered," Wilmington explained and was relieved when he pulled and the door opened easily.
"Nathan and I are on the way. Don't go in there all piss and vinegar, Buck!"
"I'm not planning on it...least not yet," the rogue answered and hung up, turning the cell to vibrate so that it wouldn't alert anyone to his presence. He moved deeper into the shadowy interior and jumped when a hand landed on his arm. "Jesus, Ezra, stop my heart why don't you?" he whispered.
"Sorry, just wanted to make sure you knew I was here. Were you able to get inside?"
"No, he opened the damn door and took the pizza. Remind me to give you the 30 bucks..."
"Seems to me you owe me 50, but we'll discuss that later. There a supply room on the right side of the bar that has a second door. I believe it opens into the kitchen area, but we need to be careful," Standish explained.
"We need to take whoever's behind that door by surprise," Wilmington said. "Josiah and Nathan are on the way."
"Do we have time to wait?"
"I don't think so, God only knows what Browner's doing to Chris and Vin."
"It might help if we knew how many we're dealing with," Standish said.
"If there's only one man we can drag him out here and make him tell us what we need to know."
"As long as you let me do the questioning...you do tend to get physical."
"Hell, Ezra, they got Chris and Vin...physical is not such a bad thing."
"Perhaps not, but we need to keep the bastard quiet or the element of surprise is gone," Standish said and saw Wilmington nod as they moved toward the closed door.
Vin could feel Chris' body reacting to whatever new drug had entered his system and cursed the woman who now knelt in front of him. He'd lost track of how many injections they'd been given, but each one caused more violent convulsions than the one before. His body ached so badly, and it felt as if fire ran through his veins. Her hand touched against his cheek and he thought the touch was that of an ice cube being pressed against his fevered flesh.
"Come now, Vin, surely she's not worth your life..."
"Go...go t...ta hell..."
"I believe that's where you and Chris are headed. Is she worth that?"
"Damn st...straight!" Larabee vowed as he fought to stay conscious.
"Ya sound like shit, Cow...boy," Tanner managed.
"Smells like it...must be the com...pany we're keep...keeping," the blond stammered and got a weak chuckle from his bound partner.
"Gotta g...get outta the gut...ter," Tanner agreed and found his chin gripped tightly between her thumb and fingers.
"Oh, Vin, if you only knew," Natalia said and turned as someone entered the room.
"Pizza's here," Browner told her.
"About time. Torture has a way of waking up my appetite...and not just for food," the blonde woman said and ran her hands along Tanner's inner thighs before standing and walking away from the two men.
"I'm running out of time, Natalia," Browner said as she reached for a piece of BBQ chicken pizza.
"Carl, I can't do this too fast or we'll lose them before they give you what you want," Natalia explained.
"They're both going to die anyway."
"I know, but you have to give me the time I need. They're both weakening and the drugs are causing convulsions," Barshefsky told him. "Give me an hour and you'll have your answers.
"One hour...then I cut their balls off and feed it to them!" Browner snarled.
Peter Warlock leaned heavily against the wall and listened to the sounds from the basement. Whatever the woman was doing to Larabee and Tanner it sounded painful and he cringed at the thought of what was in the needles she brought with her. He reached for a piece of pizza, glad that Browner had saw fit to order one for him while he was on watch. God, he was bored though and wished he had something better to do than watch the spider spin its web in the far corner.
Warlock munched on the fully loaded slice of pizza disinterestedly and frowned when he heard a sound from the outer area of the restaurant. He placed the pizza back in the box and made his way to the door that separated the two sections. There was nothing new and he reluctantly turned away from the door, shocked when something struck him in the gut. The air escaped from his lungs as something was wrapped around his throat and he was dragged outside.
"One word and I'll cut off your balls and shove them down your throat! Understood?" Wilmington growled and heard the man grunt in surprise. "Understood?"
"Yes...yes..." Warlock managed and stared at the man standing in front of him, while a second attacker continued to hold him in a vice like grip. "What the fuck is this?"
"Is your boss in there?" Standish asked.
"What's it to you?" Warlock snapped.
"Just answer his fucking question!" Wilmington snarled.
"Browner's in there...he'll fuckin' kill you if he finds you here!"
"Then we'll make sure he doesn't find us. How many?"
"How many what?" Warlock asked, struggling against his assailant.
"How many are there besides Browner?" Standish asked.
"Go fuck yourself!" Warlock spat, muffling a curse as the arm around his neck tightened and cut off his air supply.
"You better answer my questions or I won't be responsible for what my friend does," Standish said. "Buck, ease off a little so he can talk."
"I'm not in the mood for this shit so you'd best be talking real fast. Understood?"
"Yeah...look Browner'll k...kill me if I..."
"I'll kill you if you don't and I'm the one whose got you in a choke hold right now, Asshole!" the angry rogue snapped.
"I would advise you to answer my colleague's questions because I can assure you he means what he says," Standish warned and moved closer to the man. "Isn't it better to tell us now and deal with Browner, if he survives, later?"
"How many?" the rogue snarled tightening his grip.
"I...I..." the man began to choke as Wilmington pressed against his throat.
"Buck, he can't answer you if he's unconscious...or dead," the gambler explained.
"How many?" the ladies' man repeated, easing off slightly as the man gasped for air.
"Brow...ner...Juan...and the woman," Warlock answered.
"Is that all?" Standish asked.
"Yeah. Browner didn't want too many people witnessing what he's doing," Warlock told them.
"Is there another way in besides the stairs?" Wilmington asked.
"No...the stairs lead to the basement. There's a door leading into a cold storage area...that's where Browner's holding Larabee and Tanner."
"How many guns?" Standish asked.
"Browner has one and so does Juan," Warlock answered.
"What about the woman?" Wilmington snapped.
"She's just got a case full of needles and shit..."
"Where are Larabee and Tanner?" Standish asked.
"In the basement..."
"Where in the basement and are they restrained?" the conman enquired.
"They are in the center of the room and tied back to back on chairs," Warlock answered.
"We need to get in there," Wilmington said.
"What do we do with him?" Standish asked.
"We could kill..."
"No, you can't! I told you everything you wanted to know!"
"He is correct...perhaps we could use him to negotiate Chris and Vin's release...then again..." Standish said and struck the man in the face, smiling when Wilmington staggered under the force of the blow.
"Sonofabitch!" the rogue spat as he released the unconscious man. "Warn a man the next time!"
"My apologies, but I had grown tired of his whining," Standish said and quickly produced a set of handcuffs. He waited for Wilmington to turn the man on his stomach and then snapped them in place.
"What do we do with him?"
"Put him in the trunk of the car," Standish answered simply.
"Works for me," the rogue said and lifted the man over his shoulder and followed Standish to the car.
JD paced in front of the window and wished he could do more than just check the computer. He realized protecting Teresa and Joey Browner was an important job, and that their lives depended on him being diligent in his duty. His thoughts wandered as he looked out over the darkened lake and thought about the missing men and what his job meant to them.
Chris and Vin had laid their lives on the line to protect virtual strangers and this wasn't the first time they'd done that. Carl Browner was a ruthless bastard who didn't give a damn who he hurt as long as he got what he wanted. He'd kill anyone who got in the way of what he wanted and JD knew Chris and Vin's lives depended on the others finding them in time.
Dunne hoped and prayed one of the locations they'd found would give some clue as to where Browner was holding the missing men. He strode back to the table and opened his laptop, glancing at the woman and child sleeping on the sofa. Were their lives worth the loss of Larabee and Tanner...Chris and Vin certainly thought so or they never would have taken this case and that was good enough for him.
"JD, has there been any word?" Teresa asked softly and eased away from her son.
"Not yet, but it could take some time for them to find Chris and Vin," Dunne answered. "Are you hungry?"
"Not really...but is there any coffee left?"
"I'll make a fresh pot..."
"No, let me," the woman said and moved past him into the kitchen. She busied herself with making the coffee and watched the man as he tapped at the keys on his laptop. He looked so much younger than the others, but she sensed a quiet strength behind his youthful veneer. How much had he seen in his short life and how had it shaped him into the man he'd become. She turned and glanced at her son and prayed he would find the same friendship and strength that JD Dunne possessed. A soft sob escaped as she thought about the things her son had already seen and she prayed he would never be like his father.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm...not really, JD, but I will be when this is all over and we have a new life," Teresa answered. "I just wish Chris and Vin didn't have to pay the price for our freedom."
"Chris and Vin knew what they were getting in to. We all did and it's worth it if we get people like Carl Browner off the streets for good," Dunne explained. "With your testimony that's going to happen."
"I hope so because I don't want Joey growing up in his father's shadow," Teresa said and reached for the box of tissues. "He's seen way too much."
"He's strong...because of you and he'll know that you did what needed to be done to protect him," Dunne assured her.
"Thank you, JD, you're a good man and someday you'll make an even better father so long as you listen to your heart," Teresa told him and sighed heavily. They grew quiet as the coffee brewed, thinking about the impact, both negative and positive, that people had on their lives.
Nathan drove away from the warehouse district, his foot pressed heavily on the gas, tires squealing as he took the turns sharply. He could feel the tension in every part of his body and prayed they'd arrive at the restaurant in time to help the others. He knew Buck and Ezra would not wait for their arrival...hell, he'd go in with guns blazing if the tables were turned.
"Easy, Brother, we won't do them any good if we don't get there in one piece," Sanchez advised.
"Shit. I just can't help thinking we're going to be too fucking late!" Jackson snapped.
"We'll get there...with the Grace of God and a good set of brakes," the ex-preacher quipped.
"Good thing I just had them replaced," the medic said with a hint of a smile as he took the corner sharply. He drove along the street, glad that the streets were practically deserted now that the rush hour was over.
"Take the next left," Sanchez ordered.
"It's a short cut, Nathan," the older man explained as Jackson braked long enough to make the turn and then sped up again. He made the sign of the cross on his chest and wondered where Jackson had learned to handle a vehicle like a race car driver with a death wish.
Chris could feel Vin's body shaking as whatever the woman injected into his blood stream caused his body to fight against the restraints holding him in place. He cursed as Browner moved to stand in front of him and slammed a fist into his gut. The fiery pain raced along nerve endings until he could hardly breathe and he knew neither he nor Vin could take much more.
"Where is she, Larabee?"
"Some...where you w...won't ever f...find her!" the blond managed as Tanner went still in his chair.
"See what your stubbornness got you, Larabee? Was it worth his life? Was that bitch worth more than Tanner?"
"Go t...to hell!" the blond managed and prayed he'd heard the man wrong, but he knew it was only a matter of time before death came calling on a pale white horse.
"I don't think so, Larabee, but you'll be joining Tanner there shortly. Natalie, how much longer?" Browner asked.
"I've saved the best for last. Tanner has already been injected with it and now it's Larabee's turn," Barshefsky said and loaded a syringe with a clear colored liquid.
"Will it kill him?"
"Eventually," the woman answered.
"I need him lucid enough to answer my questions," Browner warned.
"He'll be able to answer your questions, but that's about it," Barshefsky warned and tapped at the veins in the lean forearm.
Chris glared at his tormentor and worked up enough saliva to spit in her face as she tapped at his arm. He heard her laughter as the tip of the needle entered his vein. He leaned his head back and wished he could change how this was playing out, but his heart told him it was already too late for both of them.
"Where is she, Larabee?" Browner asked.
"Safe from you, asshole," the blond managed and cried out as the drug spread through his system.
"Get the fuck away from them!"
Was that Buck or a voice brought on by the drugs? No, it couldn't be...not when it was too late to save Vin. God couldn't be that cruel...not again. Too many lives...too often...too late. God, he couldn't stand to face another loss..."
"Where is that bitch!" Browner spat and slammed Larabee's head back so that it connected solidly with Tanner's.
"She's safe from you!" Wilmington snarled and grabbed the man by the shoulder, spinning him around as Standish shot the second man when he reached for his gun.
Natalie Barshefsky felt it all slipping away from her as the newcomers attacked Browner and his man. She reached for a loaded syringe and uncapped it as Standish turned toward her. She drove the needle deep in his shoulder and managed to inject some of the drug before he struck her with the butt of his gun. She staggered backward several feet and tripped over Gonzales' body.
Ezra ignored the burning sensation where the needle had broken off in his shoulder and reached for the woman as his vision blurred. He could hear Wilmington fighting with Browner, but there seemed to be a locomotive racing across his senses as whatever she'd injected into him set his nerves on edge.
"You're going to die with Tanner and Larabee!" Barshefsky vowed as she watched the eyes dart left and right before meeting her own gaze.
"No one is going to die here today except you and your employer!" Standish vowed, holding her arm in a vicelike grip as he watched Wilmington and Browner. "Buck, are you all right?"
"I'm fine, but this bastard's going to need a mortician when I'm done with him!" Wilmington snarled.
"Looks like we're too late for the party," Sanchez said as he entered the room. "Need any help, Buck?"
"Not with this bastard!" Wilmington vowed, ducking below an outstretched fist and sending the man flying with a blow to the face. "See to Chris and Vin!"
Nathan moved to the injured men and checked the bindings, cursing when he saw how the ropes had cut into their wrists and were slick with blood. He pulled out a pocket knife and began cutting through the bonds as Sanchez called for the police and paramedics.
"Ezra, are you all right?" Sanchez asked upon noting the beads of sweat on the younger man's face.
"I...I assure you..."
"Better catch him, Josiah," Jackson warned as Standish's eyes closed and his knees gave out.
"Sit down over there!" Sanchez warned the woman who looked ready to bolt as he caught the semi-conscious gambler and lowered him to the floor. He kept his eyes on her as she sat down and knew she was behind Standish's collapse. "What did you do to him?"
"None of your business!" Barshefsky spat.
"She hit him with a needle," Wilmington answered, but kept his focus on the weakening Browner.
Carl Browner knew he was losing the battle with the newcomer. He was desperate to find an opening and knew there was no way he could defeat him in a fist fight. Blow after blow rained down on him as Wilmington fought to win and Browner staggered back, tripping over his own feet as he slid to the floor. His eyes caught sight of Gonzales' weapon and he latched onto it, turning and pointing it at his nemesis even as a bullet plowed through his chest.
Buck turned to see Josiah holding his gun aimed at Browner and nodded his thanks as he grabbed the man's gun and handed it to the ex-preacher before staggering to Jackson. "Are they...?"
"I don't know, Buck," Jackson answered honestly and took several seconds to look the rogue over. "You need to sit down and let the paramedics check you over when they get here."
"I'm okay," Wilmington said, although his body seemed to disagree with his mind. He knew Browner had landed several well placed blows, but right now that was the least of his worries as he helped Nathan ease Tanner from the chair and place him flat on the cold floor before moving to Larabee.
"I don't usually hit a woman, but you move again and I'll forget you're one," Sanchez warned the blonde sitting against the wall.
"Josiah, how's Ezra?"
"He's unconscious," Sanchez answered and found the puncture wound in the younger man's shoulder. "It looks like a needle broke off in his shoulder."
"Okay, Bitch, what did you give him?" Wilmington snarled.
"Wouldn't you like to know!" Barshefsky spat.
"Bitch!" the rogue snarled and cursed when Sanchez grabbed him and held him back.
"She's not worth it, Brother," the ex-preacher said and placed a restraining hand on the angry ladies' man.
"We need to find out what she's done to them," Wilmington said, gasping as a sharp pain stabbed at his right side.
"Easy, Buck, sit down," Sanchez ordered when the man showed signs of blacking out.
"I'm all right..."
"No, you're not," the older man said and eased his friend to the floor.
"It's damn cold here," the rogue whispered, trembling as he tried to breathe past the knifing pain in his side.
"Nathan, Buck's in trouble here," Sanchez said and eased the man up so he leaned against his chest.
"He might have a punctured lung so keep him leaning against you like that until the paramedics arrive," Jackson ordered and listened as the muffled sounds of sirens reached his ears. "Sounds like help's arrived."
"'Bout da...damn time," Wilmington mumbled.
"Josiah, where are you?"
"Sounds like the cavalry to me," Sanchez said of the familiar voice. "Down here, Bob!"
"What the hell happened?" Robert Miller asked as he and several officers entered the cold storage room.
"That bastard kidnapped Chris and Vin," Sanchez answered, motioning to the unmoving body nearby.
"Isn't that Carl Browner?" Miller asked.
"Yes, it is. We've had his wife and son under protection for nearly a week," Jackson explained. "Are the paramedics here?"
"Yes, I told them to wait until we secured the area," Miller said and motioned for an officer to let the paramedics know it was safe as he moved to check on the unmoving body of Carl Browner. There was no doubt the man was dead and he motioned toward the woman seated nearby. "Who's she?"
"One of Browner's cronies," Sanchez answered and watched as an officer cuffed her and led her out of the cold storage area.
"What's wrong with Standish?" Miller asked.
"Looks like she gave him something," the medic answered.
"Th...there's ano...ther one locked in the tr...trunk," Wilmington explained.
"Buck, just be quiet until the paramedics arrive," Jackson warned, worried that neither Chris nor Vin showed any sign of coming to. He glanced toward Standish and added his state to his own fears. Whatever was in the case of vials would have to be checked, but something told him the answer would not come easily.
"I've called for another ambulance," Miller told them as two paramedics hurried into the room.
"Thanks, Bob," Jackson said as he looked around the room at his injured friends. He recognized one of the paramedics and knew the man would gladly accept his help.
"What have we got, Nathan?" Frank Galloway asked as he set down a case between the injured men.
"Chris and Vin were beaten and given some kind of drugs. Chris has a knife wound in his right shoulder," Jackson said as Galloway's partner moved to check on Wilmington and Standish. "Buck could have a punctured lung and Ezra was injected with some kind of drug out of that case."
"Jesus, you boys don't do anything by halves do you?" Galloway said as he moved to work on Larabee. "Nathan, get an IV started on Vin...lactated ringers."
"Got it," Jackson said and heard the other man explaining to Wilmington what he was doing. He hated the sound of the harsh breathing and hoped the ladies' man was not as bad off as he sounded. By the time the second team of paramedics arrived all four men were hooked up to IVs and oxygen masks. The second team took over treatment of Standish and Wilmington while John Rideout moved to help Galloway with Larabee and Tanner.
Galloway, Rideout, and Jackson followed procedure and soon had the two men ready for transport. They'd already relayed what little information they had to the staff at Saint Vincents and medical teams were standing by for their arrival. The two men were placed in cervical collars and placed on backboards before being moved to stretchers and moved out of the room.
"Nathan, you go with Chris and Vin...I'll call JD and update him on the situation," Sanchez offered.
"Okay, Josiah," Jackson said and hurriedly followed the stretchers out the door.
Josiah watched as Buck was moved onto a stretcher and secured with the straps. The paramedics had done everything they could for him and would soon be transporting both men to the hospital for treatment. Standish had yet to show any signs of coming around and Sanchez wished the young man would open his eyes and put his fears to rest. He reached for the case of vials used by the woman and prayed there was nothing lethal in what she'd given the three men.
Josiah reached for his cell phone and called the youngest member of the team.
JD continued to work his way through the layers of mystery surrounding Carl Browner's business dealings, but found he lacked the concentration to give it his full attention. He kept glancing at his watch, irritated that he wasn't in the thick of things, yet understanding that the job he was doing was an important one. He needed to keep Teresa and her son safe or none of this was worth a lick of spit. He smiled as those words came to mind, followed quickly by the face of a grinning Texan with a poet's heart and a warrior's soul.
Vin's unique colloquialisms were sometimes hard to understand until you got to know him. It had taken him a long time to know and understand what Vin was saying, but he considered himself lucky and enjoyed spending time with the sharpshooter. Truth was he respected and admired every man he now considered a 'brother' and was glad Chris Larabee had given him a chance to be part of this team.
JD closed down the laptop and reached for his empty coffee cup. He made his way to the kitchen just as his cell phone vibrated against his leg. The Bostonian grabbed it and flipped it open before anxiously placing it to his ear. "Josiah, tell me you found them!"
"We found them, JD, but they're in bad shape. We're on the way to the hospital and I'll call you from there with an update as soon as I know anything."
"Damn. What about Browner?"
"The sonofabitch won't be hurting anyone anymore. God have mercy on his miserable excuse for a soul."
"Yes, but that doesn't mean our job's done, Son. Browner had a lot of friends who are going to be angry they lost him and that means we need to watch out for Teresa and her son. I'll go through proper channels and see that they are placed in the Witness Protection Program as soon as possible, but that means you need to stay with them, JD."
"I hear you, Josiah," Dunne reluctantly agreed and glanced toward the closed bedroom door. Teresa Browner had taken her son inside and both were sleeping when he'd checked on them 30 minutes ago. "Call me!"
"I will, Kid, try not to worry."
"Easier said than done," the Bostonian said before closing the phone and placing it back in his pocket. The coffee suddenly lost its temptation and Dunne glanced toward the bottle of whiskey set on the counter, but he knew he could not chance drinking when so much was riding on this. With a heavy heart he strode to the sofa and flicked on the television, keeping the volume low in hopes of not waking the Browners.
Stacey Midland looked around the ER and was glad things seemed to be running smoothly for once. That would all change with the arrival of the first ambulance carrying Vin Tanner. They were expecting four ambulances, each one carrying a member of Chris Larabee's elite team. How many times had one or more of them graced her ER with anything from a minor scratch to a life or death gaping chest wound that could be the difference between life and death.
The staff was ready for them, and had been informed that at least three of the victims were injected with unknown drugs, but there was only so much they could do until the injured men arrived. She heard footsteps striding toward her and looked up as a familiar figure reached her. Stacey knew, in spite of the man's gruff exterior that he cared deeply about his patients. She'd known him for several years and when he'd decided to move to Billings she'd offered him a partnership in her private practice and he'd jumped at the chance. Since then he'd been involved with Larabee's team and understood exactly why the seven men had such strong convictions about right and wrong.
"Anything new, Stacey?" Roy Simmons asked gruffly.
"The first ambulance should be here any minute," Midland answered as the flashing lights signaled the arrival. The two doctors hurried through the double doors as the first paramedic opened the back of the ambulance and helped pull out the stretcher carrying Vin Tanner.
"Looks like he's all yours, Stacey," Simmons said as he hurried toward the newly arrived second ambulance.
"Nathan, would you get their charts started," Midland ordered as the paramedic began rattling off the treatment Tanner had received and his vital signs. Stacey rushed them into Trauma One and helped transfer the Texan to the hospital bed and checked Tanner's pupils while the nurses quickly removed the mobile equipment before hooking the patient up to the hospital equipment.
Stacey moved to check the patient's pupil reactions while Sharon Newman expertly drew blood from the man's arm. "Sharon, I want Tox screens, CBC, and Chem 8," Midland ordered.
"Yes, Doctor," Newman said as she hooked up a second IV line.
Midland knew they'd need a full series of X-Rays and from the looks of the damage to the Texan's face they'd also need a CAT scan. She moved to the side as the staff cut the remainder of the clothing from Tanner's body and whistled softly at the colorful array of contusions covering his chest and abdomen. Knowing they could be dealing with any number of internal injuries, Stacey gently probed the area, worried when there was no response from the injured man.
"All right, Vin, it's time to show me just how tough that Texas hide of yours is," Midland said and reached for the phone. She knew it would take some time for the Tox screens, but she hoped they'd have some good news when it finally came back.
Roy Simmons looked at the monitors over Larabee's bed and silently cursed the damage done to him. He'd ordered the usual Tox screens, CBC, and Chem 8 tests, and was waiting for portable X-Ray to finish with Vin Tanner. The wound to the blond's right shoulder was deep and would require stitches...he just hoped there was no underlying damage they hadn't seen yet. He lifted the blood soaked gauze and heard a sharp gasp from his patient.
"All right, Larabee, your timing is crap, but at least you're alive!" Simmons said as the eyes fought to open.
"What t...the...sonofabitch!" the blond snapped as bile rose up in his throat. He felt strong hands lift him forward and hold him while his body shook with the force of his retching.
"Lucy, set up for an NG tube," Simmons ordered.
"Yes, Doctor," Lucy Sturgis answered.
"Yeah, well right now you need it," Simmons told him and saw the panic born in the sea-green eyes.
"He's in the next room. Stacey's with him," the older man explained and waited for Larabee's eyes to focus on him. "You do trust her?"
"Yeah...f...feel like crap..."
"Well...let's just say you look like it too. Who'd you tangle with this time?" Simmons asked as he readied the equipment he'd need.
"Sick fuckin' bas...tard named Brown...Browner," Larabee answered, his stomach churning as Simmons readied the tube that would be fed into his stomach. "How...?"
"Time enough for questions once we get this done, Larabee, now relax so I don't have to miss my coffee break!"
"Your bedside man...manners are still c...crap!"
"I'll take that as a compliment. Now be quiet and we'll get this done as quickly and painlessly as possible..."
"Larabee, you're giving me a headache. Now pipe down and let me do my job," Simmons said and saw the hint of a smile being born as the eyes fluttered and closed. "'Bout damn time. All right people, let's get this done."