Title: Masquerade, Part Three
Back to Part Two
20, 19, 18…
Josiah counted in his head as he stuffed his phone into his jacket pocket.
Weapons at the ready, he waited…
17, 16, 15...
JD had to remind himself not to count too fast as he stuffed his phone in his pants. Every time they’d practiced this drill, he’d always ended several seconds ahead of everyone else. Not that it would be bad today, since he wouldn’t make his move until Nathan had blasted the music anyway.
But it would be nice if he could count the same speed as everyone else just once…
14, 13, 12…
Buck tucked his phone back into his boot and steadied himself. The people around him has already been briefed to hit the floor the second he jumped up.
He just hoped they’d actually do it…
11, 10, 9…
Nathan clutched the gun in each hand as Rain moved just a fraction of an inch away from him – enough that when he shouted she could dive without worrying if she’d be in his way. He checked his targets out of the corners of his eyes like a baseball pitcher checks his runners, then glanced at the disc jockey. The man looked terrified, but his finger was poised oh-so-casually over the green button on his consol just waiting for the signal.
Nathan prayed this all worked out.
8, 7, 6…
Chris’ fingers coiled around the leather in his hand as he reminded himself of his order: corner first, then Wolfman. He was positive that the lead criminal would take a moment to check his men before he opened fire. It would be just enough time to hit the other guy first.
Chris reminded himself that he would have to thank Buck for that summer in Nevada after this was all over.
The two men smiled as Ezra reached out for the velvet tapestry to his right…
“Now!” Nathan hissed. Rain dropped to the floor and rolled away. The D.J.’s finger jerked, hitting its target. And the speakers began blaring…
…big band music?
Thwack! Vin’s first arrow hit its target square in the stomach. The man fell with a yell.
Chris waited to see the leader whirl toward the bandstand before leaping from his seat and sending his whip lashing out at his target. The tip curled around the man’s wrist and Chris pulled, sending man and gun flying in separate directions. Chris recoiled his weapon and turned.
Ezra let out a wildman’s yell as he slid down the velvet curtain. The man directly below him looked up, stunned to see Zorro descending on him, sword at the ready. He hadn’t even blinked when the golden pommel connected with his cranium.
Josiah let fly the heavy silver shrimp tray at his more distant foe with perfect form. The tray sailed gracefully just over the heads of the various seated ball attendees to connect with a sickening crunch against the skull of his target. The man dropped like a stone.
Thwack! Vin’s second arrow pierced the shoulder of his furthest target. The man yelled, dropping his gun as he grabbed at his wound. Several men nearby jumped at him and wrestled him to the floor without difficulty.
JD leapt forward and dropped the crook of Casey’s Bo Peep staff over the head of his assigned bad guy. A hearty yank dragged the man into the wall head-first. JD grinned as the man hit the floor with a dull thud.
“ATF!” Nathan yelled, training his guns on his targets, one on either side. “Drop it, fools!” One man, obviously thinking the tall medic couldn’t focus to fire at both his targets at the same time, moved to take aim. Too bad for him that Nathan had set his aim before calling his warning, and could take his shots with his eyes closed at that moment. Spotting the idiot’s movement out the corner of his eye, he sank a bullet into the man’s shoulder without even turning his head. Said idiot dropped his gun as his friend on Nathan’s other side quickly raised his hands in surrender, and two men from the crowd shoved him to the floor as they stripped him of his weapon.
Nathan grinned. “Damn. Should’a come as Shaft.”
Buck let out a war whoop as he jumped up on the chair next to him. One good swing wrapped the cord of his prop microphone around the neck the bandit five feet from him, and with a solid tug the man was yanked over the table to the tall man in black velvet. Buck landed a solid punch to the guy’s face, and that was the end of it. The people around him broke out in applause, and Buck grinned widely. “Thank you,” he drawled, taking a slight bow as he pushed back his sunglasses. “Thank you very much.”
Thwack! Arrow number three sang from the bow, following Vin’s impeccable aim to the thigh of his target. The man fell to the dance floor with a screech and was promptly walloped into submission by a witch’s broomstick.
Josiah turned to his second foe; this man was closer, but not close enough to engage directly. And he had a gun. Then again, Josiah had a seltzer bottle and he knew how to use it. And while the guy was blinded and dripping, Josiah stepped over and punched his lights out.
Ezra didn’t waste any time checking his first target before he was leaping over the tables toward his second. The villain nearly recovered in time, lifting his gun as he realized he was being attacked. The flat of Ezra’s sword came down on the man’s wrist just as he fired, sending the bullet harmlessly into the floor, and then a pommel to the temple had the man dead to the world.
Chris stood in the center of the dance floor to face that last man standing. Wolfman had been whirling in shock as each of his well-armed men was quickly neutralized by essentially unarmed men in costumes. Furious, he turned to train his gun on the man who stood to challenge him.
“Drop it,” Chris growled, snapping his whip as a warning.
“I can shoot you before you can take me with that,” Wolfman sneered, training his gun on the blond.
Chris grinned wickedly. “Yeah, you probably could,” he shrugged. “But my man behind you will put a bullet in your brain if you try, and the guy on the balcony sounds like he’s having a lot of fun with that bow and arrow.” Chris noted that Buck had stepped closer to the dance floor to make his presence known. Wolfman glanced behind him to see Nathan’s two guns trained on him, and the hulking figure of Josiah closing in from the other side.
“I would sincerely suggest you reconsider your options,” Ezra drawled, hopping off his table and strolling through the crowd as he tucked his sword into his scabbard. “While it is entirely possible you could cause one man considerable damage, I assure you the consequences would not be to your liking.”
The criminal wilted quickly at the realization that he was being surrounded and allowed Ezra to pluck the gun from his hand as Josiah pulled the man’s hands behind him. Someone produced a pair of handcuffs – albeit hot pink and fuzzy, but workable nonetheless – and when the police arrived the man was still muttering about being thwarted by cartoon characters, Elvis and Indiana Jones.
The party, amazingly, picked up again almost as if it had never been interrupted. After all, everyone in attendance had to give a statement and that was over five hundred people the cops needed to talk to. So with the exception of a ban on further alcoholic beverages for the duration, the food was replenished and the music restarted (at a much more reasonable decibel level). The D.J. found it amusing to play a medley of “Wild, Wild West”, “Whip It” and “My Fist in Your Face” before dedicating a sing-along of “We Are the Champions” to their seven heroes. ATF Team Seven had the grace to not make fun of the bad singers.
It was several hours after the wounded criminals had been tended and carted away and the politicians had gotten a chance to make their sound-bites for the eleven o’clock news that Orin Travis was able to take a breath again. He’d listened to nearly every rendition of his team’s collective and independent actions and while he was relieved that the bad guys had been apprehended without a single wounded agent or innocent bystander, he was still certain there were seven men in the world sworn to driving him nuts.
At the request of the mayor, he corralled the five team members that he could find into the private offices off the main ballroom, leaving their dates to continue thrilling about their gallant warriors in a chatty gossip session over coffee. No one was terribly surprised to find Ezra and Vin having already picked the locks to the room and helping themselves each to a sizable double-scotch-neat from the museum’s premium reserve stock in defiance of the police chief’s ‘no more alcohol’ ruling. Orin simply sighed and said nothing… he’d only get snide witticisms in return anyway.
“The mayor and governor want to thank you boys for your courageous actions,” a tall scrawny beanpole of a political yes-man sniffed imperiously as the group settled into the comfortable sofas and chairs. “I have been authorized to notify you that you should anticipate a suitable reward for your efforts.”
“How about a raise?” Ezra drawled lazily. “And certainly they can pick up the dry cleaning bill for this lovely evening.” He brushed at the sleeve of his shirt as several of his teammates sent him puzzled looks. “Do you have any idea how impossible it is to get blood out of good quality satin?”
“More vacation time,” Nathan said wryly. “And maybe a paid vacation to Hawaii.”
“Bermuda,” Josiah countered.
“Barbados,” JD piped up.
“Gentlemen, please,” Ezra sniffed. “If anywhere, the Italian Riviera…”
“I got a better idea,” Chris interrupted, smiling conspiratorially at his friends. “How about we never have to attend one of these damn things ever again?”
“YES!” six voices cheered instantly.
Orin buried his head in his hands. “Deal,” he declared, to the beanpole’s surprise. Orin caught the man’s eye with a no-nonsense glare. “Tell His Honor it’s raises, vacation time and paid trips all around, and they never have to be social again.” The beanpole nodded stiffly and hustled out of the room, leaving Orin Travis with his agents. All of whom knew they’d likely never seen page one of their requested ‘reward’.
“You boys are out to give me a coronary, aren’t you?” the A.D. scowled at his men. “Sliding down curtains, taking down armed bad guys with bullwhips and sheep crooks… and seltzer?” He shook his head as if trying to make the whole thing go away. “Next time, can’t you just bring your guns?”
“Wouldn’t work with my costume,” Buck grinned. “Would’a spoiled the lines.” Vin rolled his eyes.
“What about you, Indy?” Orin asked Chris. “Why didn’t you just shoot that bastard, instead of taking chances with that damn whip? Hell, that’s what he does in the movie…”
Chris flushed slightly. “Well, uh…” He smiled sheepishly. “My gun isn’t loaded.”
“Hey, it was a costume party!” Chris declared in his defense. “How should I have known someone was going to try to hold the entire ballroom hostage?”
“Meanwhile, our most pacifistic member is packing more lead than an army platoon,” Josiah chuckled. “Although I think the best part of the evening was when that one guy realized he’d been knocked out by The Cat in the Hat.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” JD grinned. “Seeing the leader realize he’d been duped by three blonde chicks and a Velvet Elvis was pretty funny.”
“I liked Ezra’s show, myself,” Buck chimed in. “Damn if the man don’t know how to make an entrance.”
“Yeah, what on god’s earth were you thinking?” Nathan asked Standish pointedly. “Leaping off balconies, swinging like Tarzan, jumpin’ on tables like they was rocks in a lily pond. You got a death wish?”
“This from the man who got the D.J. to distract them with The Brian Seltzer Orchestra?” Ezra laughed. “Did he think they’d be too busy doing the Charleston to shoot straight?”
“It was what was in the player at the time,” Nathan retorted. “Like I had a choice what he played? And it worked didn’t it?”
“Be thankful it wasn’t ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’” JD added. “Now THAT would have been poetic justice.”’
“Or ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,’” Buck said.
“Hey, at least that would have made more sense,” Vin pointed out.
“All right boys, I’m done in,” Orin sighed. He hauled himself to his feet. “Feel free to take Monday off. Please. I need at least a few days of peace and quiet before I’m ready to try coping with whatever lunacy occurs in your presence again.”
“Sir, I do take affront…”
“Can it, Standish. You may not actually cause the problems, but they sure as hell seem to flock to the seven of you like children to an ice cream truck in July. Tuesday. Nine a.m. Not a minute before. My blood pressure can’t take it.” The group remained silent as the older man strode out mumbling his calculations on how long before he could retire.
“Well boys, it’s been a fun-filled evenin’ but I’m ready to call it a night,” Buck sighed, clapping his hands on his knees. “Oh, hey, Josiah, heard ya took out one guy with a shrimp plate?”
“Yeah, I saw the security tapes,” JD exclaimed. “Very cool! How’d you learn to throw like that?”
“Daytona May Day Frisbee champ, three years running,” Josiah beamed. “It’s been a few years, but I guess you never forget a skill like that.”
“How’d you learn to use a whip like that, cowboy?”
“Buck’s fault,” Chris shrugged. “Couple years back he dragged me off to a dude ranch in Nevada for a week of really playing cowboy. Talked me into taking lessons on how to use a real bullwhip.”
“Boy can also rope a steer in under ten seconds,” Buck grinned. “Hey, them lasso lessons came in handy for me, if ya didn’t notice. Never thought I’d be using a microphone though.”
“How come you had a corded mic for a prop, Buck?” Nathan asked. “Wouldn’t it have been easier to use a cordless?”
Buck stared at Nathan in shock. “The King didn’t use a cordless, Nate. Woulda been sacrilege.”
And that was the end of that.
The men started to filter out. As he followed four of his teammates, Chris glanced back at Ezra and Vin who were still comfortably sprawled on the couches with their drinks. “Lock up behind yourselves, will ya boys?”
“Mr. Larabee, whatever makes you think we have a key?” Standish asked, the picture of innocence.
Chris just laughed. “Who says you ever need one?” He saluted and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Silence fell for a few moments, until Vin hauled himself up and headed to the bar. “Ya want another, Ez?”
“Hm,” Ezra hummed lightly, climbing out of his chair and moving up next to Vin. “I have something else in mind.”
The shorter man whirled Vin around suddenly, grasping the sharpshooter around his waist and the back of his neck, and dipped him low. The kiss that accompanied that dip made Vin’s brain go numb – lips coaxed, tongues probed, teeth were counted. After an eternity and an instant, Ezra withdrew, lifting Vin gently back to his own two wobbly feet.
“Always wanted to do that,” Ezra muttered softly. Green eyes met blue for a moment, the blue eyes slightly confused.
“Ez?” Vin gasped breathlessly, his hands clutching the man’s shoulders tightly. “Wha… what’d ya do that fer?” he managed to whisper in a husky, dazed voice.
Ezra smiled softly, one hand stroking along Vin’s jaw line. “Because I wanted to. Because I adore you and I heard this rumor that you were equally enamored.”
“Uh-huh,” Vin breathed, raising a shaky hand to touch Ezra’s cheek, as though not entirely convinced he was living in reality. “Enamored… that’s a good word for it. Ya’ve had me all belly-quiverin’ for a while now.” He sighed as Ezra’s hand kneaded his neck lightly. “Guess I never thought you’d look my way twice.”
“Vin,” Ezra murmured gently, his tone thick with emotion. “Always you.”
Vin found the green eyes radiated love, and swallowed hard. “Ya sure?” Ezra’s finger continued to trace the lines of Vin’s facial features, causing Vin to close his eyes in rapture. He felt a kiss ghosting across his cheek, and then a breathy voice whispered in his ear:
“I must confess that it wasn’t for the ladies that I dressed you so decadently. I seem to have a slightly masochistic side.”
Vin saw Ezra’s devilish smile, and a matching one spread smoothly over Dracula’s lips. Hands clutching at Ezra’s back, Vin returned the kiss – softer this time, lingering over every taste, savoring, remembering… “So… ‘bout that dippin’ thingy…”
Ezra merely chuckled. “I am Zorro, after all. Doesn’t he always get to kiss his love interest after the bad guys are defeated?”
Vin pulled back slightly, grinning wickedly. “Funny, I always thought Zorro movies were a little tame, myself.”
“Oh?” Ezra leaned in to nibble lightly on Vin’s ear, making the Texan shiver. “And just what kind of movie did you have in mind, Vincent?”
“Well,” Vin said breathlessly, moving his arms tighter around his beloved. “Ya know in the vampire movies, the vamp’s always sneaking into somebody’s bed to bite ‘em…”
“Hm, you do have a point, Mister Tanner. Did you have a particular bed in mind?” Ezra’s tongue lapped deliciously at Vin’s earlobe.
“Uh-huh…” Vin muttered, his fingers moving down Ezra’s back, across the man’s waist and hips, trailing across the tight leather with enough pressure to make their presence known. “Know this gorgeous little condo over on Naper, got this king-sized bed… hear the owner near always got satin sheets on it…”
“Sounds… delightful…” Ezra grunted as Vin’s hands raked over his ass, seeking purchase. “Do you think… this owner might… oh, yes… allow us the use of this lovely abode? Oh, my…”
Vin chuckled, pressing himself harder against the man of his dreams. “We kin always pick the lock.”
“Meet you there in ten minutes?”
“Five if we use the lights and sirens.”
For some strange reason, they forgot to lock.
From the “In case you were interested” department:
Translation of the Team’s ‘chat’ short-hand (in case you need it):
< E on > Ezra signing on
< V on > Vin signing on
< B on > Buck signing on
< J on > Josiah signing on
< D on > JD signing on
< N on > Nathan signing on
< C= thawts? > Chris: Thoughts on the situation?
< B= D wr r u > Buck: JD, where are you?
< D= by b rms Bhnd curtains > JD: By the bathrooms, behind the curtains
< N= dj > Nathan: I’m by the D.J. table
< V= V/E n of W exits > Vin: Vin and Ezra are just north of the west exit doors
< C= d flr cntr E side > Chris: I’m at the dance floor, the center of the eastern side
< J= bar > Josiah: I’m by the bar
< B= E side ctr Btw exits > Buck: I’m on the east side of the room near the center, between the exit doors
< C= thawts? > Chris: Again, any thoughts?
< N= hw many? > Nathan: How many are there?
< C= c 12 plus ldr > Chris: I see 12 plus the leader
< D= 13 ttl > JD: I see 13 total.
< J= 13 > Josiah: Agreed, 13
< E= got idea > Ezra: I’ve got an idea
< C= WELL? > Chris: So what is it already?
< E= V to balc *snipe > Ezra: Vin will go the balcony as a sniper
< C= V has gun? > Chris: Vin has a gun to snipe with?
< E= bow arrow > Ezra: He has a bow and arrow
< C= ?WHAT? > Chris: You’re kidding me, right? How the hell…?
< V= later exp > Vin: We’ll explain later.
< C= count on it > Chris: You better believe it.
< E= N cre8 distr? > Ezra: Nathan, can you create a distraction?
< N= kind? > Nathan: What kind of distraction?
< E= dj make loud? > Ezra: Can the D.J. make some sort of sudden loud noise?
< N= no prb sy wn > Nathan: No problem. Just say when.
< E= will let u know > Ezra: I’ll give you the signal when we’re ready.
< E= all have wep? > Ezra: Does everybody have a weapon of some type?
< C= y > Chris: Yes
< N= loaded > Nathan: Hell yes.
< D= will make do > JD: No, will improvise
< B= will make do > Buck: No, will improvise
< J= will make do > Josiah: No, will improvise -----
< E= B need div > Ezra: Buck, I need a diversion. < B= not N? > Buck: From me? Not Nate?
< E= not N, u > Ezra: Not Nate, you.
< E= need gmen 2 lk ur way > Ezra: I need the gunmen to look your way.
< B= when hw lg > Buck: When and for how long?
< E= will say 2 3 min > Ezra: I’ll signal you. Need two-to-three minutes.
< B= ok ready > Buck: I’ll be ready. -----
< E= go Bdiv > Ezra: Buck, do it now. -----
< V= wr out hold 4 balc > Vin: We’re out of the ballroom, hold on for us to get to the balcony. -----
< E= in pstn > Ezra: We’re in position.
< E= asgn as flws > Ezra: You’re assigned targets are as follows:
< E= V gets ne of ne exit > Ezra: Vin gets the guy at the northeast side of the northeast exit.
< E= V gets ne of se exit > Ezra: Vin also gets the guy at the northeast side of the southeast exit.
< E= V gets nw dnc flr crnr > Ezra: Vin also gets the guy at the northwest corner of the dance floor.
< E= B gets se of ne exit > Ezra: Buck gets the guy on the southeast side of the northeast exit.
< E= D gets ne dais > Ezra: JD gets the guy at the northeast side of the dais.
< E= J can get 2 mst sw? > Ezra: Josiah, can you take out the two nearest the southwest corner?
< J= got w of s exit & > Josiah: Got em: west of the southern exit, and…
< J= s of w exit > Josiah: south of the west exit.
< E= N 2 se crnr? > Ezra: Nathan, can you take the two near the southeast corner? < N= easy > Nathan: Piece of cake.
< E= C gets wlf & ne dnc crnr? > Ezra: Chris gets the Wolfman and the guy at the northeast corner of the dance floor
< C= y > Chris : Done.
< B= E? 2 lft > Buck: Ezra, there are two left unassigned…
< E= mine > Ezra: I’ve got them.
< C= how? > Chris: How? You’re in the balcony.
< J= E? > Josiah: ditto
< N= u brk nEthg! > Nathan: Ezra, you hurt yourself and I’m gonna kill you myself.
< V= Es ok will work > Vin: Don’t worry guys, I know what he’s planning. It’ll work.
< E= trust me > Ezra: Trust me. (big evil grin)
< C= ok ready? > Chris: Not a chance, but we’ll discuss this later. Are we ready? -----
< E= N, ready? > Ezra: Nathan, are you ready?
< N= y > Nathan: ready
< E= ct dn fr20 thn go > Ezra: Count down from twenty, then go.