CHASING SIGNALS

By Jackie

The Magnificent Seven -ATF / Rated PG-13 / Word Count 18,570

CHASING SIGNALS image by Jackie
Image Created by Jackie

The pinks and purples of another miraculous sunset peaked through the dense fall foliage, turning the yellow, gold, and reds to shimmery fire.  The beat up Jeep that Vin Tanner insisted on nursing along for what seemed like an eternity, plodded slowly up the narrow, pothole infested paved road, its engine laboring all the way.  Chris Larabee, leader of the ATF’s infamous Team Seven, peered down at the sheer drop off on his side of the road, and tightened his seatbelt. Should have brought the Ram, he thought to himself, his thoughts interrupted as a large rock the size of a softball, plummeted from above denting the hood of the Jeep. Cringing while waiting for Vin’s impending shout, Chris thought to himself, Okay, maybe it was a good idea to have left the Ram at home.

 

Part 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Damn it, now I’ve got a big ass dent in the hood.  Do you believe that?” Vin snapped as he gestured angrily at the damage.

 

Chris smirked and shot Vin an innocent look, “I don’t really think anyone will notice.  I mean really,” Chris ticked the items off on his fingers, “you’ve got three different paint colors, a primer coat, a dent in the door, from when you kicked it for not starting, and a twisted rear bumper from when you backed into my barn last week.”

 

 

 

 

“I’ll have you know, she is a work in progress; besides I told you I’d fix your barn, the clutch slipped.  You‘re just lucky you’re still as spry as you are or you would have had tread marks across your skinny butt.” Vin pointed out as he gave the Jeep a little more gas to get up the rapidly increasing incline.

 

Chris let the “skinny ass” remark pass without comment.  “How much further do we have to go anyway?  You said this was the ultimate spot for a jaw dropping sunset, well as I see it, the sun is setting; without us.” Chris stretched in his seat and shifted around trying to find a more comfortable position, “It’ll be dark before we get there and I have no intention of sitting in the moonlight with you; you don’t have the right equipment.”

 

Vin scowled over at Chris, “Just hold your horses, they told me to follow the road until it ends.  It’s just up ahead, I can feel it.”

 

“Ha! I would believe it, if you hadn’t been saying that for the last forty-five minutes.” Chris glanced ahead at the lengthening shadows, “Maybe you should turn your headlights on?  We wouldn’t want you to take us over the side of the mountain by mistake.”

 

“Didn’t know when we started this little sojourn that I was going to be ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, so just hush and watch the scenery.” Vin snorted as he made a sharp turn around a fallen log.

 

Chris frowned and crossed his arms refusing to take the bait.  “You’ve been spending time with Ezra, “sojourn’ is not a word I would think to find in your colorful vocabulary.”

 

“I’ll have you know he took me to an opera last weekend and it was very cultural.” Vin replied as he stuck his tongue out, “it was entirely in Italian.”

 

“You don’t speak Italian, Vin.  I’d be surprised if you made it through the whole opera without falling asleep.” Chris cackled “Did Ezra tell you it would be in Italian before you went?”

 

“People hate a smartass,” Vin frowned and pulled off into a small gravel area, “All right Cowboy, you will soon be eating crow,” turning off the Jeep’s engine and hopping out; he turned back to the team leader, “Ok, even you have to admit,” Vin gestured through the opening in the trees, “that is jaw dropping beautiful.”

 

Silhouetting the mountain range before them, were a multitude of hues ranging from the darkest violet to the palest pink, and the sun just peaking over the mountain tops as it sank further into the west.

 

Chris slowly stepped from the Jeep trying to mentally process the scene laid out before him.  Blinking in astonishment he moved to stand at the edge of the clearing; looking out over the valley below, to the mountain range where the sun was slowly diminishing.  He had to admit that Vin was correct; it had been awhile since he’d seen such awe inspiring vision.  He felt a presence beside him and looked over at Vin, who had a serene look on his face.

 

Grinning, Chris sank down onto a nearby fallen log to wait for the “show” to end, content to rest in silence; alone in his thoughts.  Darkness was not long in coming, and all too soon he noticed Vin turning to head back to the Jeep.

 

“I don’t know about you but I am starved,” Vin pulled the door open and slid behind the wheel, “time to end our commune with Nature and rejoin the real world.”

 

“There you go; channeling Ezra again.” Chris dragged himself up from the log and made his way back over to the Jeep, noticing through the windshield that the sharpshooter had a perplexed look on his face.  Opening the passenger side door, Chris stood there as he watched Vin turn the ignition and nothing happened, “What?”

 

Vin tried turning the key in the ignition again with no result, flipping on the headlights he cursed, “Some beech!  Probably the starter,” popping the hood and hopping out, he went to the back of the vehicle and dug a flashlight out of the crate in the small storage area.  Sauntering to the front of the Jeep his raised the hood, “You wanna lend me a hand here, Cowboy?” Vin peered around the hood waving Chris over.

 

“What exactly do you want me to do?” Chris squinted down into the engine as Vin aimed the flashlight inside, “cause if you do in fact need a starter I’m fresh out.”

 

Vin shot Chris a look, “Remember what I said about smartasses?  Just hold the hood up for me.”  Chris grabbed the hood as Vin reached in and started wiggling hoses and wires.  After a few moments of mumbled curses Vin batted Chris’s hand away and dropped the hood with a bang.

 

Aiming a look at Vin, Chris asked, “And what did your assessment of the situation tell you?”  Vin just opened the driver’s door and flopped onto the seat ignoring the team leader, “Okay, guess I’ll make that call to the auto club now.” Chris snorted and dug in his pocket for his cell phone.  Scowling down at the phone when the display read “Searching for Network.”  Dropping onto the passenger seat next to Vin, Chris laughed harshly holding up the useless phone, “No signal.”

 

Vin dug out his cell and before he even looked at the display he knew it would read just as Chris’s had, “Mine too.”  Dropping the phone into the center console Vin banged his head against the steering wheel, “Guess we’re going to have to walk down the road until we can get a signal, better grab your coat and we’ll get a move on.”

 

“Yeah, yeah.  I got it, wasn’t planning on being out in the cold for an extended period, Vin.” Chris grabbed his fleece pullover and put it on as Vin grabbed a backpack out of the back.

 

Vin zipped up his coat and slung the backpack over his shoulders, “Helps to be prepared.”  Digging in the back of the Jeep he pulled out a canvas jacket and held it out to Chris, “Here, looks like you could use this.”

 

Chris pulled on the coat and buttoned it up, “Thanks, appreciate it.”

 

~o~

 

Chris glanced down at his cell phone and moaned, still no signal.  What?  Were they in the Bermuda Triangle for cell phone signals?  According to his phone they had been walking for about thirty minutes, not a car had passed by them, nor had he seen any lights indicating dwellings nearby.  Disheartened Chris slid his cell phone back into his pocket and buried his hands in the sleeves of the coat Vin had given him.

 

“Maybe we should cut through the forest instead of following the road?  Should cut our trip in half,” Vin replied thoughtfully, as he aimed his flashlight into the darkness.

 

Chris stopped beside Vin, his gaze following the flashlight’s beam into the darkness, “You know normally, I’d say let’s give it a shot, if just the other night you hadn’t made me watch ‘The Blair Witch Project’ with you.  Right now, it’s dark, damp, cold, and spooky.  I believe that is the perfect recipe for disaster.”  The team leader pointed out as he kicked at a rock that was lying on the road.

 

Vin frowned and walked in a circle around Chris, looking him up and down, “Is the ‘Bad Ass’ leader of Team 7 sporting a yellow stripe down his back?  You know there might be a hint of yellow showing up, didn’t think I’d live to see the day when that happened.  Chris Larabee scared of being in the woods, in the dark.”  Vin cackled slapping at his leg, “Do I need to hold your hand?”

 

Chris’s face darkened and he flashed a scowl at the sharpshooter, “I am not yellow, I’m just weighing our options.  We are both experienced in the outdoors, but at this particular moment in time we aren’t properly prepared, and I don’t want to end up on the news, because we got lost out here or succumbed to the elements.”

 

“Look,”  Vin tried to explain pointing to where they should start their trek through the woods, “All we got to do, is head northwest and we’ll be down the mountain in no time, we find a phone, call the auto club, and we’ll be home before midnight.  It’s simple and it beats walking twice as far if we were to stay with the road.  We’ll be fine, there are no ‘Bogey men’ out here; and if’n there are?” Vin slapped Chris on the back and smiled, “you can have the satisfaction of knowing you were right.”

 

“Fine,” Chris threw his arms up in exasperation, “we’ll do it your way, but I’m warning you.  If I meet my end in these woods, I’m gonna haunt you; but good.”

 

Chris sent a quick prayer up as they stepped off the asphalt road onto the forest floor, Vin lead the way and every few moments Chris would pull his phone out of his pocket to check the display.  He was usually met with disappointment and frustration.  He followed along beside Vin, who was trekking through the forest like he knew exactly where he was going; Chris hoped that was mostly the case.

 

After Chris tripped for what seemed the thousandth time Vin stopped their progress, “Is there something wrong with your feet, why are you tripping so much?”  Vin shined the flashlight at Chris and noticed he was shivering, badly.

 

“Probably because I’m frozen through and through, and can barely feel my toes.  Vin, we have not crossed the road once, we haven’t come across one house.” Chris complained though chattering teeth.  “We’ve been walking for an hour; we should have come across something by now.”

 

“We’ve got to be close, check your phone.  You got a signal yet?”  Vin asked and watched as Chris dug his cell from his pants pocket with shaking fingers.

 

Chris brought the display up, “Nothing, not even one bar.  All this ‘Searching for Network’ crap is killing my battery.”  Powering the phone down, he pushed it back into his pants pocket.  “I’m tired and ready for this little ‘sojourn’ to be over.  Let’s keep moving.”

 

“It should only be a little further; we’re still going in the right direction.  Any time now we should come across someone or you could get your signal back.” Vin continued down the trail, listening as Chris trekked along behind him.

 

They spent the next twenty minutes trudging along in companionable silence, Chris, miserable as his teeth chattered, despite his best efforts to stop it.  Vin stopped and waited for Chris to catch up to him, “Let me see your phone.”  Vin held out his hand as Chris tried to pull the cell out of his tight jeans pocket.

 

“Damn it!” he growled as finally came free and shot from his grasp, skidding along the forest floor.  “Sorry, I’ll get it.” He grumbled and bent over to grab the phone at the same time Vin did.

 

Vin pulled up short, right before they banged heads together, he watched as Chris ungracefully grabbed up the phone; slipping on the wet leaves and falling into an untidy heap at Vin’s feet.  “Ouch! Are you okay?” Vin asked as he took the phone from the team leader’s up raised hand.  Chris nodded and let his arm drop at his side.  Vin shook his head in sympathy as he turned the phone back on and stared at the display waiting for it to come up.

 

“What’s it say?” Chris groaned as he tried to pull himself up off the forest floor with some difficulty, hissing as he tried to put weight on his left ankle.  “Son of a bitch, that hurts!”

 

“No freaking signal,” Vin looked over to where Chris was trying to lean against a tree, “Thought you said you were okay?”

 

“Thought I was, I guess I’m just too frozen to feel anything.” The team leader grimaced as Vin helped him limp over to a fallen tree.

 

“Guess this is the end of the line for you, Cowboy.  Sit tight while I gather some wood to get us a comfy fire going,” Vin grunted as he shrugged the backpack off his shoulders and dug through it until he found the thermal blanket. The sharpshooter tucked it around his friend and set about searching for adequate fuel.  “That should keep you warm until I can get the fire rolling; it looks as if we are going to be in the forest a little longer than I thought.”

 

“Unfreaking believable!” Chris groaned as the throbbing in his ankle intensified.  “Is someone trying to tell me something?”

 

Vin chuckled as he roamed the immediate area; looking for wood dry enough for use, “Don’t ask me?  That little stunt was ‘all’ you.”  Chris just waved him off and pulled the blanket closer about his quaking shoulders.

 

Chris realized that at some point he must have dozed off, because when he peeled his heavy eyes open, the sharpshooter had a cozy little fire going and the team leader was sitting on pine needles, leaning against the log.  Vin was squatting near the fire, stirring something in a mug.  “Sorry, I must have fallen asleep.” Chris remarked on a jaw cracking yawn.

 

Looking over his shoulder at his groggy friend, Vin smiled, “Welcome back, Cowboy.  You looked awfully worn out, so I let you rest.”  Vin reached forward and grabbed a second mug he had warming near the fire, “Here, drink some of this, it’ll warm your insides.”

 

Chris untangled an arm from the blanket, reaching for the mug with a trembling hand, “What is it?”  He sniffed at the mug before taking a tentative sip, smiling slightly when he realized it was chicken noodle soup, at least it hadn’t been plain broth; he absolutely detested plain broth.  When he finished he set it back on the ground, sleep trying to over take him once again.  Vin dropped down beside him and they sat in companionable silence until Chris could fight sleep no longer.

 

As Vin sat there he realized that Chris was lightly snoring, “Why do we have this kind of luck, can you tell me please?”  Vin called softly to the sky above.

 

Sometime during the sharpshooter’s musings Chris had fallen over and was leaning against him, he didn’t have the heart to disturb his friend immediately, so he waited; keeping vigil as the night lengthened.  Looking down at his watch he groaned, now he was missing Monday night football.  They were all supposed to meet at the Saloon to watch the game.  At least the boys would start looking when he and Chris didn’t show up, only problem was, they had no idea where to start looking.

 

Vin slowly pulled himself out from under Chris and put a few extra branches on the fire.  He knew the road had to be close; he’d kept them on a true path down the side of the mountain.  Once he was satisfied with the strength of the fire he dropped back down next to his friend.

 

~o~

 

“It’s halftime and they still haven’t shown up, this is not like Vin or Chris.  They would have called if they were delayed or not coming.” Buck checked his cell phone for messages and swore when his voicemail was empty.  Where were they?  He just knew they were in trouble.  When those two got together, trouble was never far behind.

 

The waitress brought another round of drinks, as the five agents sat around the table waiting for their two missing comrades.  As Josiah sat at the table he twirled his beer bottle in a ring of condensation that had gathered on the tabletop, “What were Vin and Chris supposed to be doing this evening before the game?”

 

Ezra let out a bark of laughter and grinned widely; causing his gold tooth to glint in the neon glow from a nearby sign, “Vin was taking Chris up on one of the mountains nearby; he told me it was to look at a spectacular sunset.”

 

At that particular moment Buck was taking a sip of his beer, when what Ezra said registered he almost choked, “What!  Vin took Chris to see a sunset?”  Wiping his chin he giggled, “Can you picture ‘Bad Ass Larabee’ sitting still long enough to watch a sunset?”

 

“That still doesn’t explain where they are now, the sun set hours ago.  Maybe we should go look for them.” Nathan supplied as J.D. suddenly jumped up and yelled at call a referee made.

 

“Where do you think we should start?  They could be anywhere.” Josiah grabbed up the bowl of pretzels sitting near J.D. before they became a missile, “Should we split up or stay together?”

 

“We could cover more area if we split up, but cell signals are spotty at best on many of these mountain roads.  How about splitting into groups of two?” Buck suggested as he peeled at the label on his longneck; waiting for input from his teammates.

 

J.D. dropped back down into his chair with a harsh grunt, and grabbed a pretzel from the basket in front of Josiah, “I hate to point out the obvious, but there are five of us, which does not split evenly.”

 

“Mr. Tanner has mentioned wanting to explore Castle Rock, Mount Zion, and South Table in the past.  Maybe we should start there.  I believe he’d told me that they were ‘just a hop, skip, and a jump’ from one another.” Ezra leaned forward, drawing designs in the water rings on the table and looking expectantly at the others.

 

Josiah pushed back from the table, “I think we should go.  I can go with Ezra.  Nathan, you take J.D. and Buck; sorry, but you will be on your own.  We can each take a mountain and start from there.  Check any scenic routes first.”

 

“Sounds like a plan to me, we should check in with each other every thirty minutes, or as long as the cell signals hold out, just to keep track of one another.” Nathan explained as he checked his cell for a charge.

 

Buck drained his beer and requested the check when the waitress stopped by; as he dug out his money; Buck sincerely hoped that Chris and Vin were somewhere safe and warm; and that the time had just gotten away from them.

 

Once outside the agents met at the end of the lot where they had parked their vehicles, looking at each man Buck directed, “I’ll take South Table. Ez, you take Castle Rock, and that’ll leave Mount Zion for Nathan.”  Then Buck pulled open the door to his truck, slid in and turned the key in the ignition.  He grinned as the engine roared to life, “That’s my girl.” He crooned to the truck, patting the dashboard lovingly.  Waving to the boys; he pulled from the lot.

 

Watching the GMC’s taillights Ezra sighed dramatically, “And so the adventure begins.” Strolling over to his Jaguar, he called to Josiah when he noticed that the Profiler had gone to his own vehicle. “If we are to spend an extended period of time in a vehicle searching for Messer’s Tanner and Larabee, I should think we should travel in comfort.”  There was no way he was going to ride in the behemoth of a vehicle; the thing needed shocks or struts or both.  Why Josiah would not invest in a newer vehicle was a mystery to him?

 

Josiah’s forehead wrinkled in thought, as he looked back at the undercover agent, “What if Vin went off-road?  Your Jaguar was not built to handle the mountain terrain, unlike my Suburban.”

 

Pulling open the door on his car Ezra groaned melodramatically, “My dear Mr. Sanchez, the last time I rode in your conveyance I needed a spinal adjustment.  My vehicle is much more comfortable.”

 

Giving Ezra a toothy grin Josiah countered with, “Yes, but my vehicle is much more practical.” In pure dogged determination he unlocked his vehicle and pulled open the driver’s door, which chose that particular moment to squeak loudly in protest.

 

Nathan and J.D. had been watching the whole scene unravel and Nathan was fast approaching the end of his tether, “Ezra, take Josiah’s vehicle.  You know how Vin is, he’ll have gone off-road or pretty damn close to it.”

 

Scowling, Ezra thought to protest again, but his cell phone’s incessant ringing dissuaded him.  “Standish here.” He answered matter-of-factly.

 

Buck’s voice blared through the ear piece, “Ezra you better stop arguing and let Josiah drive his Suburban.”  Then the line went dead, ending the conversation.

 

“How does he do that?  He must be taking lessons from Mr. Larabee.” Ezra grumbled as he secured his vehicle and tromped over to Josiah’s; giving the Profiler the “Evil Eye” the entire way.

 

“Do you have something wrong with your eye, Ezra?” Josiah asked as he started the truck, piercing him with a meaningful look.

 

Ezra shook his head as he made a great show of putting on his seatbelt, “No, Mr. Sanchez, let’s get this rescue mission started.”  Ezra raised his gaze to look out the windshield and did a double take, “What in the world is that?” he asked aghast, pointing to the figure sitting on the dashboard.

 

Josiah grinned, “That my dear sir, is my bobble head angel.  A couple kids at church gave it to me, said it was my guardian angel.  There are no words to describe her.” He tapped her halo and her head started bobbling up and down.

 

“I am speechless.” Ezra choked out trying to sink down in his seat, he hoped no one recognized him in the ancient Suburban with the bobble headed angel camped out on the dashboard.

 

Josiah chuckled and turned the Suburban out into traffic, “Glad you came around to my way of thinking about taking my truck, Brother.”

 

“Not like I had a choice.” Ezra mumbled under his breath and turned his gaze out the window.

 

“Sorry, I did not hear you? Could you please repeat yourself?” Josiah pulled the truck to a stop at a red traffic light and slid a glance at the pouting agent.

 

Ezra huffed, “It does not bear repeating, my dear sir.”  The undercover agent pointed to the traffic light which had just turned color.  “The light is green you may proceed.”

 

~o~

 

As Vin sat against the log with Chris leaning against him, he could of sworn he heard a car’s engine.  He held his breath hoping to hear the noise again, there it was.  It was coming from just to the right of their location, “Chris! Chris, Wake up!” Vin called and patted the team leader lightly on the arm.

 

Groggily, Chris opened his eyes and shivered violently, “What is it, Vin?  I was having the most wonderful dream.  I was at home, sitting in front of the –,” Vin clamped his hand over Chris’s mouth.

 

“I heard a car.  You wait right here, I’m going to try and find it.”  Vin snagged up the flashlight and took off in the direction in which he’d heard the vehicle.

 

“Be careful!  It could be a trick; you know ‘things that bump in the night’? ” Chris called after the sharpshooter as he gathered the blanket tighter around his quaking limbs, and tried to move his ankle into a more comfortable position from where Vin had propped it on the backpack, “Hope he finds someone soon, I really don’t want to be what’s for dinner.”

 

Walking for several minutes, Vin noticed that the engine noise was gradually getting louder.  Whoever it was, the sharpshooter figured that they had stopped for some reason, and he hoped they remained still until he found them.  After what seemed like an eternity Vin could see what he thought were headlights shining through the underbrush.  He was not disappointed. “I really wasn’t looking forward to being a news headline, talk about embarrassing.” He whispered to himself.

 

Vin flipped off the flashlight and crept closer, it paid to be cautious; he had not the slightest inkling if these people were friend or foe and Chris’s life depended on him making the correct decision, the poor man was already thinking something was waiting in the darkness for him.  Quietly moving branches out of his field of view he noticed that the vehicle appeared to be a late model Suburban that looked suspiciously like Josiah’s, could it really be the Profiler?  No way could he be that lucky. Inching closer Vin tried to discern who was inside the vehicle, but it was too dark.  He could hear what sounded like arguing coming from inside, but it was muffled by the auto glass and engine noise.

 

As Vin was about to step out and request assistance, safety be damned, the passenger door was flung open and a man burst from within.  It was Ezra, he’d know that Southern twang anywhere.  “Ez! Ez, am I glad to see you!” the sharpshooter called as he pushed through the brush where he’d been concealed.  He’d never been happier to see the undercover agent as much as he was right at this moment.

 

At the suddenness of his name being called, Ezra whipped round to where the voice had come from, and from the tangled undergrowth the sharpshooter made an appearance.  Stunned to silence, all Ezra could do was stare.

 

Vin laughed in relief, “You can’t imagine how happy I am to see you.  Chris hurt his ankle and I think he’s on the verge of being hypothermic if his skinny ass isn’t already.  I had to leave him back at the fire, I wrapped him in a thermal blanket, and gave him warm fluids.  Who’d you bring with you?”  Vin realized he was rambling, but he couldn’t stop himself, he was giddy with relief. 

 

“I have Mr. Sanchez with me, how far away is Mr. Larabee?” Ezra asked as he finally was able to shake himself free of his stupor.

 

Josiah came around the front of the Suburban, “Vin, what in the name of Heaven has happened?  You were expected at the Saloon hours ago, what have you and Chris been doing?”

 

Vin moved to the edge of the roadway, “Chris and I got into some trouble a few hours back.  The Jeep broke down and we took off on foot.  It’s been all downhill from there.”

 

“I mostly certainly agree with you, Mr. Tanner.  Now let’s collect our friend and head home.  We’ll arrange for the removal of your vehicle in the morning, it should be safe until then.  I don’t know of any sane person who’d want to steal it” Ezra directed as they followed Vin back through the forest. 

 

Vin just stuck his tongue out, “You’re just jealous because she’s a work in progress.”

 

“I take it that your cell phones weren’t working?” Josiah asked, effectively changing the subject, as they moved over a fallen tree stump.

 

Vin chuckled darkly, “We couldn’t get a signal, been trying for hours with nothing.  I didn’t want to leave Chris behind, he seems to think there maybe something hiding out to get us, but I heard a vehicle’s engine.  As luck would have it, it turned out to be you two.  Where are the others?”

 

“Mr. Tanner, you neglected to tell us what mountain you planned on exploring, so to save time we had to spread out.  As soon as I can get a signal on my cell I will contact the others to let them know we’ve found you, or that you found us.”  Ezra huffed as he tripped over a protruding root and landed ungracefully in the leaves and dirt, “I hate nature.” 

 

“Keep telling yourself that Ez, it shouldn’t be much further.  We should see the fire soon.” Vin aimed the flashlight in the direction they needed to go.

 

“I am fine, really, don’t concern yourselves;” Ezra snapped sarcastically, picking himself up and brushing off his hands, he scowled down at the dirt now ground into the knees of his slacks. “Typical.”

 

Josiah and Vin turned to look at the undercover agent, Vin grinned at Ezra, “Thought you’d be squawking louder if you’d actually hurt yourself.  You okay?”

 

“Lead on, Mr. Tanner, there’s no need making Mr. Larabee wait longer than necessary.”  Ezra huffed and followed Josiah into the darkness.

 

 

PART 2 / PART 3 / PART 4

 

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