U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens settled his Stetson back on his head with a light hand and blew out a sigh. There were always boring and mundane tasks with any job, but since transporting fugitives bore the least amount of paper work, he really didn't mind the duty now and again. He preferred pursuit, but the mountain of reports required after the fact often took the fun away. The paperwork almost doubled if the incident included a "discharged firearm". Since Raylan had a chronic case of writer's cramp lately, this transport job was well timed.
Raylan grabbed his jacket from the San Diego office bullpen coat rack and checked his watch – just enough time for lunch before his flight home. A name spoken aloud at a nearby desk, though, caught his attention as he shrugged the jacket over his shoulders. Angling his head toward the voice on the phone, he located the source and walked to the desk, waiting for the man - Marshal Jarrod Adamson, according to his desk name plate - to finish scribbling notes and get off the phone.
"Yeah," the man said. "I got it." He hung up and, noticing Givens standing near, asked, "Can I help you?"
"Tanner," Raylan said. "I know him."
Adamson stood and began donning his jacket. "A lot of us know him. He's a fugitive."
"No, I mean I know him," Raylan clarified. "We worked the range together at the academy."
Adamson gathered his gun, checked the clip then holstered it as he evaluated Raylan's statement. "So he's a friend?"
"Not really. He's an aloof guy. He can shoot, though, and we did talk about tactics."
That made Adamson pause. "So you know his thinking?"
Raylan tipped his head aside, holding Adamson's attention. "Enough to be useful."
The man grinned. "Good. Then let's go. I just got some intel on his whereabouts."
Givens followed Adamson, mentally writing off both lunch and his flight back to Kentucky. He hadn't elaborated on his relationship with Tanner because his purpose in asking to tag along was to make sure the ex-Marshal got a fair shake; something about this whole Tanner affair didn't feel right from the beginning.
Yes, he'd worked with Tanner at the range and yes, he was aloof, but Raylan appreciated the man's low-key ways. Tanner was a talented sniper prone to fading into the background of a crowd. They'd had many quiet talks at the range and Raylan's respect for the quiet agent was high; much higher than many of his current, so-called peers.
The talk surrounding the Munos affair surprised him when he first heard about it and chose to keep his opinion of Tanner to himself; tar and feathers always flew fast when talk suggested than an agent went bad. Raylan followed the intelligence with deep reservations. None of what he read or heard fit the profile of the Vin Tanner he knew. Stationed in Kentucky, Raylan couldn't justify getting involved but now that he was in San Diego, how could he turn his back when his gut instincts belied all facts?
Marshal Givens knew that once he spoke to Tanner, face to face, he would be able to determine his guilt or innocence. Vin was smart but lacked guile - the man's eyes usually told the whole story. So, with an unconscious adjustment to his Stetson, he followed Adamson to the garage. Once in the car and on the road he notified the Kentucky office of his delay and received approval (visualizing his supervisor's eye roll at the request) to work the assignment. Adamson filled him in as they drove.
"Tapping his old unit's phones finally paid off. Tanner checked in and gave good indication that he'll cross the border at Tecate. The phone trace ended there, anyway. We need to be in the area when he calls again. Tecate is a pretty small place and we should be there long before his old team."
"Yeah, what's with them, anyway? They'd be better off washing their hands of this guy." He picked up the thick case file and raised a questioning eyebrow.
"Yeah, go ahead," Adamson said with a wave of his hand. Raylan opened the file while Adamson spoke. "I don't have much detail but there wasn't enough to charge the whole team. Maybe they're waiting to get enough to nail the whole unit."
"Or maybe Tanner's workin' alone."
"Maybe," Adamson conceded. "Time will tell, I guess. Anyway, it'll take at least an hour to get in the area, so get comfortable."
Raylan flipped through the file. As far as the Munos case went, there wasn't anything new but there was more on the latest shooting. He started at the beginning again, quickly skimming the things he'd already seen and absorbed the new stuff. He studied both ballistics reports closely, and then rechecked the evidence lists.
"Seems kinda odd there was no blood on the Munos bullet, doesn't it? Especially since there was a lot on the Judge's case?" he said. "And isn't the fact that Adrian Carnicero was killed but the Judge only wounded a bit weird?"
"Not my concern," Adamson stated bluntly. "I'm just pick him up." He gave Givens a sidelong glance. "You with me here?"
"Yeah," Raylan nodded as he put the report aside. "Don't think it's gonna be easy, though."
"The intel says he's injured so he's not up to par. How often do we get a stab at one of the Top Ten Most Wanted?" Adamson said, brightening.
Raylan didn't grace Adamson with a reply and, instead, watched the landscape fly by as he ruminated over the new information.
Tucked away in dusty hills dotted with yucca, cactus and mesquite, Tecate was very easy to miss if it wasn't your destination. "Town" was a generous description, but Raylan knew the scattered, sun-punished structures he saw held their own stories; it wasn't much different from the hollers in Harlan County, Kentucky. These people were survivors.
Adamson pulled off the empty main road onto a side street and tucked the obvious sedan away on a side street several blocks from the train station. "Let's do a little recon. There's an airstrip just outside town where Tanner's team will probably land. There are too many buildings to watch, so let's sweep the area and then keep an eye on that tourist train station until I hear his friends arrived. Then we'll follow them."
Raylan nodded. That plan would work for him because it gave him time to look at surroundings and figure where Tanner would feel most comfortable. "Okay, then," he said, stepping from the sedan and donning his Stetson. "Be faster if we split up."
"I'll take the south side of the street."
"Okay," Raylan agreed, not surprised Adamson would choose the area closest to the train station. "Meet back here in an hour?"
Adamson snorted. "A place this size won't take that long, but okay. We'll figure the best place to set up then."
They parted, walking opposite directions. As soon as Adamson was out of sight, Raylan stopped and studied the town, searching for the high ground he knew snipers preferred and committed it to memory.
Three hours. Chris stared out the window as he calculated. It had been three hours since hearing Vin voice on the phone, and now Chris was on a small plane headed to the airfield closest to Tecate, California, along with Buck, Nathan and his sizeable first aid pack, and Ezra. With that thought, he gave Ezra a subtle look – the agent seemed anxious to get to Vin and had arranged this flight in record time.
Knowing Ezra as well as he did, the "anxious" part of his evaluation came from experience. To an outsider, Ezra looked as he always did – calm, coiffed and all together too snooty for Chris' taste - but there was an edge to the man's eyes visible only to someone that knew him well.
Ezra's insistence of being here was suspicious, to say the least. When the six of them realized a tail followed them after leaving the Denver office, they made a quick decision. JD and Josiah volunteered to lead the tail astray while the rest of them headed to a small, private airport where they boarded a Doctors Without Borders craft bound for Tecate. No one asked how Standish managed the transportation on such short notice.
They touched down in a tiny airfield in the middle of a big patch of dust and rocks. Warm, dry air hit Chris' face when the door opened and he smelled mesquite on the breeze. He swept the horizon with his gaze, waiting for Nathan's final goodbyes to Dr. Pilot, as Chris dubbed the man. The two of them talked medicine the entire trip and Chris was relieved to pass the time without speaking; instead, his brain whirled and he tolerated Buck's worried glances. Ezra sat oddly silent in the rear of the small craft.
As soon as Ezra's Italian shod feet hit the tarmac, he excused himself. "I will obtain a vehicle," he said before heading to the solitary airfield structure that was a cross between a hanger and a business office. He hadn't uttered one complaint since Denver.
Buck joined Chris a few moments later and then after a bit, Nathan, hoisting his kit over one shoulder.
"Dr. Fellows gave me some good stuff," Nathan said brightly. "Sorry for the delay, but it could help."
Chris grunted an acknowledgement and followed Ezra's path, the three of them forming a loose triangle as they walked. They were a few yards from the doorway when Ezra reappeared with car keys. He paused, giving Chris an evaluating look and Chris returned the stare.
"I'm not asking questions, Ezra," Chris stated after several silent seconds.
Ezra nodded, turned aside and motioned for them to follow. Around the corner, Chris saw two unassuming sedans and a beat up truck parked in a small, dirt lot. "Unfortunately, I only have access to one vehicle. It will be very easy for the agents watching us to follow."
"We're being watched?" Nathan said as he inched closer.
"I observed them on our approach," Ezra explained. "They are in a black Lincoln parked on a frontage road near the exit."
"Not surprised," Buck muttered. "We'll have to split up in town."
Chris pulled out his phone and powered it on. "Since they know we're here, I may as well see if Vin's checked in." He dialed voicemail and he felt a wash of relief at the short message. "He's here at some empty building at the east edge of town. It's and old 'Free Clinic' building, two blocks north of the main street."
Chris turned to Buck and Nathan. "You two lose the tail. Ez and I will find Vin. Pick us up when I call."
"That's a pretty weak plan, Chris," Nathan protested. "And I should see him first. He's injured!"
"And they know that from the phone tap. They will follow you."
Nathan couldn't refute that, which added to his annoyance. "Well, take some first aid stuff with you, then."
"Let's get movin'," Buck said, nodding to Ezra. "Which one?" He indicated the vehicles with a sweep of his hand.
Ezra headed to the bigger, American made sedan. "Rather plebeian, but one has to do what one can under the circumstances." He wrinkled his nose as he handed the keys to Buck before rounding it to the passenger side.
"Nate, get in behind Buck. I'll sit next to you and get some supplies. Buck, drive around and get the lay of the land then dump Ez and me and ditch the tail. I'll call you."
They piled in the car.
"What then, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra asked as Buck left the lot. "Our options are few in a town - and I am being gracious with that moniker - this diminutive."
"We'll figure that out once we talk to Vin," Chris answered. Then he got busy loading his pockets with gauze, tape and antiseptic wipes.
"I don't know how they did that," Adamson snarled. He stopped in the middle of an empty intersection and craned his neck checking all directions. "I can't believe I lost them!"
Givens tipped his head and slid his eyes in his partner's direction. He decided it was best to keep his mouth shut.
"Larabee activated his phone just before they left the airport. Tanner must have left a message." Adamson stomped on the accelerator and turned toward the small train station. "If he's here already, he must be in walking distance of the station. We'll start there."
"He might not even be here yet," Raylan offered, amused at adding to the flustered agent's thoughts.
"He's here." Adamson sounded like he was trying to convince himself. "This is a once in a lifetime arrest. I won't let this one slip by."
Raylan cocked a brow at the comment and quickly figured the best way to get away from him: Offer up the chance that Tanner would practically walk into his arms alone. "Well, why don't you drop me here and I'll start lookin' for sign. You check the station again. Maybe he hasn't crossed yet and now that he knows his friends are here, he's on his way." A frown indicated that Adamson wasn't quite convinced. "Well, they do keep a pretty sharp eye on those trains," Raylan added, waving a finger at the uniformed border agent stalking the tracks near the platform. "I really don't think he'll be able to get by 'em, do you?"
Adamson watched the station and considered for a moment. "True. Okay, let's do that."
"All right." Raylan slipped from the car, then leaned in. "I'll make sure they spell your name right in the papers." He slammed the car door without waiting for a reply, chuffing as the car headed straight for the station lot.
Finally alone, Givens straightened and stepped up onto the cracked sidewalk. He stopped, turning a slow circle as he recalled his conversations with Tanner. He was injured and help was on its way; where would he hole up?
Snipers preferred heights. He decided to start with that, scanned the area and headed east toward the first taller building he saw, looking for pay phones along the way since he'd used one before. He reached the structure without results and began a spiral search pattern from there. The first pay phone he saw was in front of a busy convenience store. Well, what constituted as busy for Tecate, anyway. The Marshal only saw three cars on the road and a single car stood in front of the establishment. Still, he felt it was too open for Tanner's taste but checked it anyway. The phone was clean.
The next pay phone he spotted hung on an alley- side wall outside a liquor store. It, too, was clean. The next two he found as his spiral expanded were broken, the twisted metal cords dangling with exposed wires where the receivers had been. Finally, Givens came across a phone attached the wall of a small, boarded up market. Looking closer, he saw rust spots he suspected to be blood on the receiver. A flattened spot in the dirt directly below told him that someone sat here leaning against the building and the same rust colored spots were on the paint-chipped stucco.
Raylan turned his back to the wall and surveyed the area. All the businesses in this part of town were boarded up. Faded graffiti decorated most of the structures and there was no foot traffic. The closest two story building, two short blocks back, looked like a home. When Raylan got closer, it, too, appeared abandoned like the rest of the block. An old, wooden sign, chipped and faded with age, dangled by one nail next to the front door, the words "Free Clinic" barely readable. A rusty padlock secured the door.
When he was close enough, Givens noticed a smear of blood on a porch pillar near the front door and ducked to one side. After circling to check that the windows and back door were boarded shut, he approached the front entrance, cringing when the front step creaked noisily. In the distance, he heard a train whistle and used the noise as cover. Gun in hand, Raylan saw that the door only appeared to be locked - the padlock was open and the door ajar. He touched the termite pocked door and it swung open just enough to pass through the doorway. He ducked low so his hat cleared and once inside, he paused and listened.
Givens scanned the room until his eyes adjusted to the dark, and then moved on with his gun raised. It smelled like dust, mold and neglect. Dust and debris covered the floor and he saw a disturbed path leading to the staircase. Slowly and cautiously, he ascended the ramshackle stairs. Near the top, Raylan pressed against the wall and froze when he heard muted voices coming from a room at the end of the short hallway. When he reached the doorway, the voices stopped.
Raylan paused to see if they alerted to his presence. When he heard a guttural groan followed by a sharp apology, Raylan stepped into the shadowed room and found the business ends of two automatics pointed at his heart.
A/N: Thanks for the wonderful feedback! Hawk50, I didn't have a way to reply to you, so thank you, too! AJB