*** Giddy-up girls and boys (do boys read this stuff?)! Our Marshals are saddling up for some bronco busting fun...or craziness...or just running for their lives. This little adventure takes us for all sorts of rides...and some of them, I assure you, will venture into the M Rated Corral. But not quite yet ;) Join me for a story with action, adventure and plain 'ole badassery. If you liked 'And Your Little Dog Too', well, I think you'll love this! ***
*** I can never send enough thanks to my earthly muses and inspirations: Dispatchvampire, Rj_lupins_kat, and Roar526. You guys...well...you're the best! ***
*** Small print, fine print, stuff not fit to print...it's not for profit and you can have them if you want them...don't sue! ***
"All right Clanton, you called down the thunder and now you've got it. You see that? It says United States Marshal. Take a good look at him, Ike, because that's how you're gonna end up. The cowboys are finished you understand me? I see a red sash, I kill the man wearing it. So run, you cur, run, tell all the other curs that the law is coming, you tell'em I'm coming, and Hell's coming with me you hear? Hell's coming with me."
"Anybody that doesn't want to get killed best clear on out the back."
As the day grew long, the inside of the SUV felt less like a blast furnace and more akin to a spring day in Hell. Mary folded her arm atop the passenger door, resting her chin on her forearm in an attempt to get her head far enough out the window to catch the slight breeze now ruffling the leaves on the creosote bushes and sparse stand of junipers that only teased them with shade. The angle of the sun had finally allowed for a respite from the nearly overpowering heat of the desert afternoon, and the approaching evening seduced the weary marshals with a soft, shifting breeze that carried the scent of sage.
Mary pulled the material of her tank top away from her chest in order to coax the cooler air down to meet the sweat trickling into her cleavage as she again cursed the climate of the lower elevation. Late spring, my ass, she mentally groused. It seemed as though there was always a great karmic frown turned upon them during long stakeouts. The work of some sadistic weather god that took great delight in conjuring up the most uncomfortable of conditions whenever they parked a vehicle with plans to remain in it for more than a few hours.
Well, she thought, squinting at the cluster of buildings down the road that appeared to shimmer through the heated air, at least it's not freezing and raining and I'd have to spend the next four hours thawing out. Motel room air conditioning and a cool shower would quickly remedy both the crystallized layer of dried sweat and partially cooked internal organs before happy hour in the bar was over. Small consolations.
Her internal debate regarding which of the alcoholic offerings in said bar would be the most refreshing was interrupted by the echoing keen of a hawk and the muffled curse from her partner in the driver's seat. Shifting her head in order to peer at him, Mary couldn't help but grin at Marshall's frustration as he manipulated the length of rope in his hands.
"I know a guy who could show you how to tie a perfectly good knot in less than ten seconds," she teased. "Hold just about anything in place."
Marshall snorted as he shook the rope out again. "As I'm not planning on tying the horses to the headboard, I doubt his knowledge would help me here." He proceeded to mutter to himself while again folding and twisting the rope, and Mary cocked an eyebrow as he held up the final product with a soft crow of victory.
"Hold out your arm," he instructed.
Mary, bored and uninterested in mounting an argument, did his bidding. Marshall tossed the loop of rope over her hand with a flourish and cinched the slipknot around her wrist with a slight tug. "Voila!"
"Shouldn't that be 'yeehaw?'" she asked, testing the strength of the lasso with a few tugs.
Marshall ignored her. "Observe the honda knot. Used by gauchos, vaqueros, wranglers and other such manly men to capture and control everything from the majestic and wild mustang to the willful and equally wild saloon girl." He gave the loop another tug to emphasize his point, and the strand unraveled, freeing Mary's hand and landing in his lap.
Mary chuckled. "And, once again, it's obvious you won't be riding bucking broncos of any species."
"It was a good knot," Marshall protested, peeved.
He coiled the rope as Mary took a drink from her water bottle and stretched, his fingers stilling as he couldn't help but be distracted by the visual smorgasbord of anatomy displayed in the seat next to him. The heat had forced them both down to their t-shirts, and hers was hard pressed to contain her as she strained against it. His jeans would be joining the struggle shortly if he didn't refocus his gaze upon their objective nearly a mile down the road; visions of lassos, corsets and wrists loosely bound above a tousled mane of blonde hair hardly an appropriate train of thought to board during their wait.
Marshall was saved from further torture a few minutes later as a number of cars began to exit the small parking lot near one of the buildings on the property under surveillance. Switching mental gears, he sat up to grab the binoculars off the dashboard and quickly focused the lenses to give him a clear view of the individual vehicles.
"Tan Chevy Impala," he began rattling off descriptions, no need to ask if his partner was at the ready with the iPad. "Front passenger door, black primer. Plate number WE5 UX8. Single occupant, male." Marshall continued to supply Mary with descriptions and discrepancies, allowing her to add the information to the already catalogued comings and goings of the denizens of the Circle R Ranch, covertly observed for the last four days.
They had noted shift workers, early risers, latecomers and permanent residents. Reconciled the schedule of daily events on the Ranch's visitor brochure against the observed times of events as they occurred on the property. Identified both guests and employees and their typical interactions throughout the day and into the night. Notes had been discussed, diagrams created and expectations set as the pair of marshals used this information to ready themselves for the tasks of the week ahead.
"Remind me again why the humps in ICE aren't sweating their balls off in the desert and we are?" Mary grumbled as she tapped a few more icons to email the information to the USMS analysts and Stan. "It's their fucking party, after all."
Marshall continued to peer through the binoculars. "That question makes me wonder whether all the years of staring at your ass have been for naught."
Mary smiled crookedly as she glanced at her partner. Beads of sweat had gathered on his neck and his t-shirt sported more damp spots than dry. He was likely just as uncomfortable as she was, and his usual veneer of aloof civility was wearing thin.
"One of these days, I'm going to show up at work in hot pants and a halter top just to watch you spontaneously combust," she countered, attention back on the iPad in her lap.
Marshall hoped she didn't notice him fumble the binoculars as he shot her a sharp look. Mary's stomach took advantage of his inability to form a reply and complained loudly about their late dinner.
"Mmmhmm. Your attempt to engage me in discussions of workplace depravity are only a poor substitute for what you really crave; something deep fried and kept warm by a little can of butane." He tucked the binoculars back into their case as the ranch traffic tapered off.
Mary chuckled as she finished her task, then stowed the iPad also. "Let's take this show back to the motel. There're free chalupas in the lobby, and I need to shower before I can think clearly enough to coordinate with Stan and Agent Tallywhacker."
"Taliswell," Marshall corrected, starting the car and cranking the air to its highest setting.
Mary was infinitely cooler as she let herself into Marshall's room an hour later. Sweat and grime had swirled down the shower drain with a good portion of fatigue, and she actually felt alert enough to tackle the complicated process of finalizing the choreography for their dance of subterfuge in the upcoming week. A performance of effortless insertion and extraction, with artistry and charisma distracting all from watching what you were really doing too carefully. Suspension of disbelief, and a well hidden back-up piece in case the audience got too curious.
She was never one for scripted performances. Never blended in. Always brash and quick to react, Mary would never have been described as a wallflower. Since the first day of Kindergarten when she climbed the swing set and refused to come down in protest of nap time, she had been obnoxious and nearly fearless in her demand to be heard. Undercover operations were not her cup of tea, but Stan insisted, and Marshall reassured her she would be able to be her normal, disagreeable self with the added bonus of gratuitous cowboy ogling. They didn't tell her she was going to actually have to ride a horse until yesterday.
"I don't ride," Mary hissed for the hundredth time.
"Yes, you do," Marshall said. "I've seen you ride a number of times."
"I wasn't riding, you moron, I was hanging on for dear life. The horse knew I was going to have its balls for trophies if it so much as sneezed."
"It's a working ranch, Inspector," Stan chimed in from the video feed. "The guests are there to partake in the everyday working responsibilities. That includes riding…daily. You'll be fine. Marshall will make sure you're assigned a well behaved mount."
"I'm pretty sure she prefers poorly behaved mounts," Marshall murmured, too low for Stan to hear, and was rewarded with a dark sneer from his partner.
"He's to stay away from my horse." Mary pointed a finger at Marshall in warning. "I'll be riding upside down and backwards if he has his preference."
"Giddy up," Marshall replied, smiling widely.
Again cursing under her breath, Mary entered Marshall's room and immediately broke out in goosebumps. It must've been only a few degrees above arctic in the dim room, and as she rubbed her arms briskly her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She noted the array of electronics laid out along the table, dresser and sprinkled across the bed.
"Jesus, Marshall, did you dry hump the whole Geek Squad for this stuff?" Mary couldn't identify much beyond the usual PCs, scanners and a GPS unit. "When did you get all this?"
Marshall's voice emanated from under the desk in the corner, "Unfortunately, the fine community of Tucumcari, New Mexico does not benefit from the talents of a Geek Squad. And even if it did, I've found that politely requesting the use of technology from our fellow DOJ agencies produces desirable results."
"Yeah, right," Mary said, picking up a small, handheld gizmo with a miniature control stick. "People owe you favors, don't they?"
"Yep, pretty much," Marshall replied, sticking his head out from under the desk to see what she was doing. "Don't touch anything."
The device Mary held gave a defeated 'bleep' as the screen went black, and she grimaced while placing it delicately back onto the bedspread, surreptitiously glancing Marshall's way to see if he noticed. She continued to rub her arms for warmth while suspiciously eyeing a few other futuristic widgets decorating the room.
"Seriously, what is this crap and why do we have it now? As of tomorrow we're out of here and at the ranch." She peered at a baggie full of what looked like buttons as she wondered if her brain had the capacity to process yet one more piece of information concerning the operation.
Mary was unaware that Marshall had come up behind her until he draped his jacket over her shoulders. She startled, and he steadied her by leaving one arm around her as he leaned in to snag the little baggie she had been looking at. His scent settled around her shoulders and danced in her hair as his breath tickled her ear, and an unexpected endorphin cascade galloped through her gut. Awareness. A visceral tingle. Electric jolts teasing sensitive tissues. She found herself holding her breath in surprise as his presence enveloped her, overloaded synapses chasing cause and effect that tried to scatter like the wind. Realizing Marshall was talking, Mary forced herself to focus.
"…button cam. We'll both have a few sewn into various pieces of clothing."
Mary's fledgling attempt to re-join rationality fell well short of flight as Marshall then reflexively scooped her hair into his hand and pulled it clear of the jacket to fall free down her back. A gesture she had become used to over the years; one of many quirky manners she had failed to beat out of him. The brush of his fingers against the nape of her neck. The gentle tug of those digits in her hair as he then smoothed the mane against the jacket. Mary moaned softly as sensation zinged through her veins.
"I know you hate working with video feeds, Mare." Marshall misinterpreted her vocalism as displeasure and stepped back. "But I really just need to see what you see the first day or so in order to catalogue all the faces and places. After that, I'll have Agent Taliswell turn them to stand-by."
She missed his presence immediately, shivering both from lack of heat and some until-now latent want. Tracking him peripherally as he picked up the next object of interest, Mary mentally flogged her errant libido into submission and vowed to interrogate it later. They must've spent way too much time in that oven of a truck over the last few days. Her brain was decidedly cooked. Tugging the jacket tightly around her shoulders, she concentrated on her partner's ongoing litany of techo-jargon.
A few minutes later, during a particularly mind numbing exposition on gigabytes and data port expansion, Mary realized what he had recently said.
"What do you mean 'you need to see what I see?'" she asked, interrupting him. "I thought we were both going to be on the ranch."
"You're going in with this next group of guests arriving tomorrow morning," Marshall reminded her. "I have to be inserted with the summer crew of ranch hands and wranglers. They're not due until day after tomorrow. So glad to know you've been paying attention." He sounded irritated.
Mary huffed at him. "You're the detail man. I just ride along to make sure you don't get your ass shot off. I know what I need to know. Trying to shove all the rest in there just makes a mess." She picked up another interesting looking device and turned it over in a quest for a power button. "We didn't all major in OCD 101."
Marshall plucked her prize from her fingers and leveled a suffering gaze at her. "You minored in stats, Mary. You choose not to wallow in detail. Would you at least pretend to know the game plan this time? Humor me. This could be dangerous."
She met his gaze and saw the seriousness. "It's always dangerous, idiot. When have you ever known me to let my guard down?"
Reaching out, he straightened the collar of his jacket against her neck with one hand, dropping his gaze for a moment before looking back at her with a sigh. "It only takes a second."
She thought of fights in the desert and confrontations on porches. Moments of unguarded emotion that resulted in near tragedy. Time that couldn't be regained nor forgotten, and her gut clenched with the remembrance of near loss.
"Hey," Marshall called her back to the present softly, the back of his index finger barely stroking her jaw. Mary looked up to be captured by the deepening blue of his gaze.
A loud knock at the door occurred simultaneously with the ring of Mary's cell, and both marshals visibly startled. Chuckling nervously, Marshall rubbed his face as he stepped towards the door. "Taliswell, I'm sure. Right on time."
Mary just shook her head before answering her phone sharply, the past few minutes a confusing jumble of confusing emotions. It was time to step back into reality. This show needed to get on the road before players forgot the script.
*** Well...me thinks these two are already on their way to potential sizzling, don't you agree? What do you think? Interested so far? Please REVIEW! You know I love them and they spark some GREAT conversations! ***