Title: Masquerade, Part Two
Back to Part One
JD felt silly enough holding wearing the big tall striped Cat hat. Now he wore a big tall striped Cat hat and carried a six foot tall pink crook-staff with a big white bow on the top while waiting for Casey to come back out of the ladies’ room. And he was pretty sure someone had snapped a picture of him doing it.
Twenty bucks said that somehow that picture got back to Buck’s hands, too.
He was pondering this very thought when the sound of gunfire jolted him out of his reverie. Instincts kicking in, he took a fast step to his right and yanked on of the tall velvet decorative curtains in front of him, concealing him from the view of people in the room; he hoped no one, particularly whoever was firing that gun, had seen him do it.
Josiah pulled out Linda’s chair and helped her maneuver her piles of lemon-yellow satin skirts under the table. He had to admit she looked fabulous, even if he felt a little silly in his matching outfit. Then again, they made the pair perfectly - what with her being so much smaller than he was. He had paused a moment to run a hand through her long dark caramel tresses and adjust the bow in her hair… yes, she certainly was every inch the Disney princess she was dressed as.
Grinning at her, afraid that if he paused to kiss her he’d never leave to get their food, he’d brushed down his blue velvet jacket and moved with deliberation to the buffet. As he approached, he caught a glimpse of the serious faces on both Chris and Ezra following the departure of one Vin Tanner. Ezra turned to look at Chris, some words were exchanged, and then Ezra departed in the same direction as Vin in an entirely new and distinctly happier air. Chris, for his part, suddenly smiled and headed off on his own.
Wonder what that was about, the former preacher thought. But judging from the expressions he’d seen, likely it was good for someone.
Josiah collected a large plate and began gathering various finger foods. A passing stranger made an obnoxious comment about talking clocks and singing candlesticks, and the profiler refrained from braining the man with the nearly empty silver shrimp tray on the table before him. Setting his plate down next to the bar he wandered around to the back of the currently unattended bar and helped himself to two glasses of soda.
Which he dropped at the sound of gunfire.
Buck had found himself a trio of lovely ladies dressed in vintage fifties costumes and was having a fine time. They cooed at his sideburns, giggled at his pelvic wiggle, and sighed when he sang in their ears. He’d even shown them a few tricks he’d learned to do with his microphone, which had been entertaining enough for ‘Peggy Sue’ to request a private performance. Of course, sadly they couldn’t leave anytime soon; Buck knew the A.D. would never forgive him for sneaking off prior to the governor’s big speech about how much money had been raised, how many people were being helped, and oh look how close we are to another election year… So he’d had to regretfully decline for the present, but had been sure to get her number for the following Tuesday.
When the gunfire started he’d pushed the girls under a nearby table and hit the floor in a crouch. His hand had automatically gone for his hip gun… which he realized very quickly he didn’t have.
“Remind me next time not to wear a jumpsuit,” he grumbled, and began to take stock of the situation.
He searched among the hundreds of attendees until he’d spotted Vin and Ezra with Mr. and Mrs. Travis by the emergency stairwell. His eyes found Nathan and Rain on the D.J.’s platform, and Chris and Mary hastily ducking under a table from their original place on the dance floor.
No sign of JD or Josiah.
Buck absently pushed at his pompadour and waited to see what would happen next.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may we have your attention please.”
Chris gritted his teeth as he pinpointed the speaker, a man in the typical waiter’s tuxedo wearing a large Wolfman mask. And carrying a really big semi-automatic handgun. A quick check around the room had him picking out twelve other waiters-in-masks-with-guns at carefully plotted positions, mostly near building and room exits.
“Now that the governor has taken his customary moment away from the party, it is our pleasure to take over his hosting duties. If you all do exactly what you’re told, there’s no reason why anyone has to end up dead.”
“What do you want?” some overfed probably-a-politician blustered. Chris sighed heavily; there always had to be one inquiring moron who wanted to know.
“Not that it’s any of your business,” the spokes-criminal responded, “but you’re presence here tonight will help some very undeservingly incarcerated men gain their freedom. Now if everyone will just move to the nearest chair and sit down, we would greatly appreciate it. If you behave, you’ll live through tonight unscathed. If you misbehave…” The man’s trailed off, but allowed just enough malicious mischief into his tone to suggest he was almost hoping people wouldn’t behave.
“Chris, do something!” Mary hissed, yanking the scarves of her harem girl costume around her. Chris tossed her a withering gaze – who did she think he was, Bruce Willis? Sighing and making sure he was not visible to any of the gunmen, he pulled out his cell phone and started pushing buttons…
Vin and Ezra both felt the movement at the smalls of their backs at the same time, and they grabbed for their phones. They glanced at their companions as the Travises crouched with them under the table where they’d all taken cover when the shooting started.
“Good thing Chris reminded us to put’em on vibrate, 'stead’a turnin’em off like we was s’posed ta,” Vin whispered, grinning at Orin’s bewildered expression. He glanced at the text message on his display. “S.O.S. – no shit, Larabee.”
Ezra quirked his lips as he followed Vin’s example and entered in the code that would hook his phone into ‘chat’ mode with the other seven, and offered up a quick thanks that JD had been able to convert the phones in such a manner.
“Mister Mayor, if you would be so kind as to take a cell phone from one of your people and place a call to the governor’s cell phone?” the bad guy was saying, loud enough to ensure the entire room could hear him. He appeared to be getting off on the power of holding several hundred people hostage.
< B on >
“And just what am I supposed to tell him?” the mayor asked nervously.
< J on >
< D on >
< N on >
“Tell him we want Markus Cavanaugh, Jesus Ramirez and Benito de Consuelus taken from their cells at the Colorado Super Max and driven to a location which I will provide only to their driver. They are then to be released and the driver will be allowed to leave unharmed.”
< C= thawts? >
< B= D wr r u >
< D= by b rms Bhnd curtains >
< N= dj >
< V= V/E n of W exits >
< C= d flr cntr E side >
< J= bar >
< B= E side ctr Btw exits >
< C= thawts? >
The messaging paused as likely everyone was considering their positions, the positions of the gunmen, and their options.
“If our friends are followed, or if anyone remains in the area to watch them after they have been released, I will start shooting people.”
< N= hw many? >
< C= c 12 plus ldr >
< D= 13 ttl >
< J= 13 >
“However, if my requests are followed precisely, no one will be harmed this evening. I do not have any desire to commit murder, Mister Mayor. I only wish to see my friends released.” The ballroom was filled with the murmurs of the hostages as they commented to each other their captor’s demands. The mayor was nodding nervously as someone handed him a phone.
< E= got idea >
Vin glanced at his friend, frowning. Ezra cocked his head at Travis, and Vin’s eyes followed. He studied the man, looked back at Ezra and frowned again. Ezra sighed and pointed to the longbow at the A.D.’s side.
Ezra pointed upward, and Vin followed the finger to take note of the Regency Balcony above the governor’s dais at the north end of the ballroom.
< C= WELL? >
< E= V to balc *snipe >
< C= V has gun? >
< E= bow arrow >
The mayor was talking quietly on the phone, keeping his eyes on the Wolfman at all times.
< C= ?WHAT? >
Vin grinned at the impish twinkle in Ezra’s eye.
< V= later exp >
< C= count on it >
The Wolfman seemed pleased with the mayor’s compliance, as well as the general atmosphere among his captives.
Ezra glanced around and assessed the twelve cohorts who accompanied their criminal mastermind. He frowned as he thought. Vin simply waited, then watched as Ezra began tapping his phone again.
< E= N cre8 distr? >
< N= kind? >
< E= dj make loud? >
< N= no prb sy wn >
< E= will let u know >
< E= all have wep? >
There was a long pause while everyone took stock of their belongings. The ballroom continued to buzz in quiet anxious murmurs around them.
< C= y >
< N= loaded >
< D= will make do >
< B= will make do >
< J= will make do >
“What does ‘will make do’ mean?” Evie whispered, having read the message over Vin’s shoulder. Vin winked at his boss’s wife.
“Means they ain’t got a weapon at the moment, but they’ll improvise, ma’am.”
“Dear god, we’re all doomed,” Orin muttered darkly, which earned him a small whap on the head from his wife.
“Hush dear, and give Vin your long bow and arrows.” Orin sighed, removed the quiver from his back and handed it to the sharpshooter from Team Seven. “Do you need some sort of distraction for whatever you’re going to do?”
“No ma’am, you jist sit tight,” Vin replied soberly. He glanced at Ezra, who was nibbling on his lip as he considered their position. They could crawl unnoticed under the tables to a certain point, but there was about eight feet of open space between the last table and the small exit door that led to the stairway to the balcony. A door which, while not wired for an alarm, would be locked. Ezra would be able to pick it, no doubt in a minute or less, but during that time he’d be out in the open, visible and vulnerable to the single gunman who stood on the dais corner nearby.
“Buck?” Vin asked Ezra softly. Ezra glanced in the direction of where Buck had indicated he was, then nodded. They didn’t want Nate drawing attention to himself until they needed their BIG diversion, and Josiah was currently concealed and likely unknown. If either one of them created a diversion, they might end up out of position when the time came. JD was also concealed, and Chris was too centralized to get the attention far enough away from them. It had to be Buck.
< E= B need div >
< B= not N? >
< E= not N, u >
< E= need gmen 2 lk ur way >
< B= when hw lg >
< E= will say 2 3 min >
< B= ok ready >
Ezra looked at Vin, who had removed his long satin vampire cape and strapped on his newly acquired arsenal. “Alright, let’s move.”
“Ladies, could I get you to assist me a moment?”
“Sure, Buck, what do you need?”
“Could be a little dangerous…”
“You’ll protect us, won’t you?”
Buck grinned at Laura’s coy pout, hoping she really understood. “I’ll sure do my best, darlin’. Now, here’s what I need…”
Vin followed Ezra as he snaked on his belly and elbows around the crowd of seated attendees. Luckily most of them were too terrified to take their eyes off the gunmen to notice two men crawling by, and those who did notice seemed to understand the prudence of remaining silent. They got to the end table and surveyed the distance between them and the door they needed to get through. One glance over their shoulder determined where the nearest guard stood - on the edge of the governor’s dinner dais.
Now, all they needed was to keep him or either of the other two guards within visual range of the door from looking their way for a few minutes.
< E= go Bdiv >
Buck glanced at the trio beside him and winked. “Showtime, ladies.”
From his position in the corner, JD had been able to spot Buck at a table by the doors to the veranda. So when he heard the commotion from that direction, it didn’t take long for him to find his friend in the midst of the crowd.
“What’s going on?” the leader of the bad guys shouted sharply. “Speak up before I start talking with my gun.”
“She’s fainted,” a girl in a hot pink poodle skirt whimpered desperately. “She’s got a heart condition; the stress of this must be too much for her.”
“Is anybody a doctor?” a second girl begged the crowd, pushing off her cashmere sweater to reveal the spaghetti straps of her own frilly dress. “Please, someone needs to help her!”
“I’m a doctor,” a man at a table near the buffet announced, standing on shaky legs. He looked to the criminal for permission to cross the room. The criminal seemed to be considering the situation.
“Come on, buddy, you said you didn’t want any deaths, right?” JD heard Buck’s voice pipe up from among the crowd hovering over the downed girl. “Let the doc help her.”
“Fine,” Wolfman spat. “Move it, Doc.” The doctor nodded and scurried around the room to join the crowd. Soon there was only some low murmuring as the doctor obviously consulted with his patient’s friends and cared for his charge.
Ezra hesitated only a moment at the first sound of their distraction, long enough to check that the gunmen with line of site to the door had been properly distracted. He then led Vin in a fast, low dash to the door, the bobby pin he’d secured from Evie already in hand. He could feel himself sweating slightly – it had been a very long time since he’d used a simple bobby pin to work a sophisticated lock and his skills were likely to be a little rusty. Vin had brought his black vampire cloak with them and draped it around them, hopefully assisting the corner’s shadows in disguising their presence.
Ezra also took a second to pray that the door was still properly oiled as was required by the museum’s specifications, and that the lights in the hallway beyond were off as he anticipated they would be at this time of night. A noise from the door or the sudden light from the other side could quickly foil their entire plan.
“Got it,” he hissed, feeling the lock release. Doubling his prayer, he turned the knob and pushed the door open.
Silently into the darkness.
He felt his heart start beating again as he and Vin quickly slipped through and closed the door behind them.
Chris grinned as he saw his screen change.
< V= wr out hold 4 balc >
“What’s happening?” Mary whispered.
Chris shook his head. Damn woman was more nosy than was good for her. Reminded him of Lois Lane sometimes. And he was hardly Superman. “Waiting for Ez’s signal. You stay low and try to keep the rest of these people from panicking.”
The hardness of his eyes had Mary nodding. Despite her usual instincts to jump in with both feet, she did know better than to disobey when Chris was in ‘Team Leader’ mode.
Though she was dying to ask what Ezra’s signal would be.
Nathan hadn’t been able to move too much in his position without attracting attention, but he had been able to pull Rain into his arms in the appearance of comforting her. With her just in front of him turned into his shoulder, her body had affectively concealed his actions with his phone from the gunmen who stood about fifteen feet away on either side of him.
Now it allowed him to cast a guarded glance over to the terrified disc jockey a few feet away. He just had to get the man’s attention…
“Lipstick?” he whispered into Rain’s ear. She turned confused brown eyes up at him, but nodded ever so slightly. Moving slowly, she dipped her hand into the Indian handbag she wore slung along her waist and drew out a long thin lip pencil. Nathan kissed her forehead tenderly. “When I tell you, hit the floor, okay?” She nodded into his shoulder.
He turned her as if to move her closer, which made it possible to step closer to the musician’s table. Reaching out slowly, he snagged the napkin that was next to the man’s snack plate. The movement drew the man’s attention, and Nathan caught the man’s eye with a heated look. He cocked his head slightly toward the napkin, showing the pencil in his hand, and the D.J. took a step closer. Nathan noted the fear in the man’s eyes and hoped to God he would keep it together long enough to pull this off.
He scribbled with the pencil on the napkin.
DO YOU HAVE SOMETHING CUED UP IN YOUR PLAYER?
The man read the note and nodded slightly. Nathan let his eyes sweep around the room, checking his closest enemies, then turned back to the disc jockey.
WHEN I TELL YOU, CRANK IT LOUD AS YOU CAN AND HIT PLAY. THEN HIT THE DECK.
The D.J. studied the medic carefully, obviously trying to decide whether Nathan was a lunatic or not. Nathan smiled slightly and added to his scribble:
</i>I'M A FED. MY PARTNERS HAVE PLAN.</i>
The D.J. smiled and nodded. Nathan watched nervously as the man’s hands ghosted over a few knobs. For a brief moment he wasn’t sure the man had understood that they weren’t ready yet, but eventually the man stopped moving things and made the ‘okay’ gesture with his fingers. Nathan smiled, then turned away to wait for Ezra’s signal.
Vin tossed aside his black cloak as he and Ezra took the stairs up to the balcony two at a time. It took another long moment for Ezra to manipulate the lock on the balcony entryway, but soon enough they were scrambling inside, making sure to keep low and out of the line of anyone’s vision from the ballroom floor. They moved to the balcony’s edge and peeped over, checking the positions of their adversaries carefully.
“Thirteen to seven,” Vin murmured. “Just our kinda odds. Not even.”
“Child’s play,” Ezra chuckled. “The mythic number for evil verses the mythic number for good. How very apropos.”
“What’s the plan?”
“How good do you think you’re aim will be with that thing?” Ezra asked. He’d known Vin would be able to adapt to the weapon – the sharpshooter was nothing if not versatile – but he didn’t want to take chances at hitting hostages if Vin didn’t think he could trust his speed and accuracy.
“Like lickin’ butter off a knife,” Vin grinned. “Use’ta go bow huntin’ with one’a my army buddies. Got damn good at it. Arm’ll be sore in the mornin’, but I kin pick the sequins off’a Buck’s costume and leave him still decent if ya want.”
“Excellent,” Ezra smiled. “I suggest you take out the gentleman at the north side of the veranda door first, then the one north of the south veranda door, then the man at the northwest corner of the dance floor. We shall instruct Buck to take the man at the south side of the north veranda door, have JD dispense with our villain on the east side of the dais, and leave the four men at the furthest south to Josiah and Nathan if they believe they can address them.”
“And Chris gets the leader?”
“I doubt he would agree to anything else. But he will also have to subdue the other man by the dance floor.”
“What about that guy and that one?” Vin asked, pointing to the men at the north side of the western great exit and on the west end of the dais.
“They are mine,” Ezra said simply.
Vin frowned. “Ya gonna go back down through that door again?”
“Nonsense,” Ezra smiled wickedly. He gestured to the plush velvet curtains that decorated the pillar decorating the corner of the balcony from floor to ceiling. “I intend to make a grand entrance. After all, I am Zorro.”
Vin’s frown deepened. “Ya be careful, Ez. I ain’t gonna like pickin’ up pieces of ya later.”
Ezra’s smile softened and the man reached out a gloved hand to touch Vin’s cheek lightly. Vin jumped slightly at the touch, blue eyes widening in surprise, then felt himself leaning in slightly to the caress.
“My dear Mister Tanner, I wouldn’t dream of denying myself the pleasure of your future company.” The statement was fairly straightforward, but there was an air behind it that made Vin shiver with anticipation. Their eyes held for a brief moment, and then Ezra grinned and turned to his phone.
< E= in pstn >
JD studied his phone display warily. The time of reckoning was at hand; he only hoped he could do his part.
< E= asgn as flws >
< E= V gets ne of ne exit >
< E= V gets ne of se exit >
< E= V gets nw dnc flr crnr >
There was a pause, and JD noted which men Vin would apparently be ‘sniping’. Three down.
< E= B gets se of ne exit >
< E= D gets ne dias >
JD nodded to himself. His quarry was barely five feet from his hiding spot. Now all he had to do was figure out what he was going to do to get the man…
< E = J can get 2 mst sw? >
JD watched nervously as a long pause ensued. He assumed Josiah was calculating whether he could take both men Ezra was asking him to handle. Finally, the screen blinked.
< J= got w of s exit & >
< J= s of w exit >
JD released the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. Seven down… six to go.
< E= N 2 se crnr? >
< N= easy >
< E= C gets wlf & ne dnc crnr? >
< C= y >
Eleven. Two to go.
JD frowned. But, that only left Ezra to take anyone, and he was in the balcony. JD was sure the southerner wasn’t wearing a gun tonight, so how…
< B= E? 2 lft >
< E= mine >
JD glanced at the remaining unassigned gunmen and then at his phone screen.
< C= how? >
< J= E? >
< N= u brk nEthg! >
JD choked down the giggle that desperately wanted to erupt. Only Nathan could still nag via text messaging shorthand.
< V= Es ok will work >
< E= trust me >
JD bit his lip to keep from laughing. He could hear Chris now…
“Trust him!” Chris gasped, only remembering at the last minute not to shout at the top of his lungs. “Trust him. Coming from Standish, those are the two scariest words in the English language.”
“Do you have another option?” Mary whispered pointedly. Chris glared at her, and she stared back unnerved.
He really needed to find a different girlfriend. One that wasn’t so nosy. One that wasn’t so immune to his glare. One who didn’t have a thieving gray psycho-kitty.
Maybe Louise in accounting…
< C= ok ready? >
Ezra’s face showed surprise as well as satisfaction. “Well, that was less fuss than I expected.”
“He’ll ream you out later.”
“He’ll be too busy getting congratulated by the governor.”
“Positive thoughts, Mister Tanner.”
“Ez… could ya call me Vin?”
Ezra glanced up from his phone into clear liquid pools of soft azure. He could drown in those pools… He felt his face melt into a purely honest smile in spite of himself, and he let his lips savor the sound as he said it in a husky whisper: “Vin.”
Vin’s face lit up at the sound. They held each other’s gaze for a fraction of a moment, conveying all sorts of unspoken promises, until Ezra pulled himself away. Time to do or… well, just do.
“Ready, M… Vin?”
Buck glanced at his group. The doctor had recovered quickly from the shock of his ‘unconscious’ heart patient stifling a giggle as he touched her throat to check her pulse. A quick whisper in his ear had covered his role: “It’s a distraction: fake it. I’m a cop.”
Now Buck was preparing for his own move, calculating the distance between himself and his target.
Weapon, he needed a weapon…
He glanced at his waist…
It had been a few years since he’d tried anything like this, and he hoped he still had the touch. Josiah had quickly figured which of his two targets was more likely to hesitate when the chaos erupted, and had his plan of attack. He just hoped he’d picked the RIGHT plan…
Nathan’s hand closed on the Richards conversion that Rain had managed to subtly slip out of his shoulder holster at his request. He carefully tucked it into the front of his pants, slipping off the safety. He’d already clicked off the safety of the Remington at his hip, but he couldn’t draw it until his hand was free of the phone. He watched nervously, waiting, until finally the screen blinked.
< E= N, ready? >
He hesitated only a moment before entered his response.
< N= y >
< E= ct dn fr20 thn go >
“Take this,” Nathan whispered to Rain, pushing the phone at her. As he counted in his head, his hands found his guns…
“Here we go…”
Continue to Part Three