Rogers checked the rearview mirror one more time before he pulled over and killed the engine. There had been nothing behind them for almost twenty minutes, but he still couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched.
'Better watch it,' he thought to himself. 'You're jumping at shadows.'
After a beat he took a breath and looked over at Hammerstein. “How do you want to handle this?” he asked.
Hammerstein smiled nonchalantly. "Knock ‘em out, nab the girl..."
“Then what?” Rogers asked. He tensed slightly: he already knew the answer.
“She’ll have seen us... we’ll have to ... be too late to save her... But we’ll get the creeps that took her," Hammerstein answered
Rogers looked at him and slowly nodded: sometimes his partner was too glib about these sorts of things. Still he was right; they couldn't afford to have anyone around who’d be able to contradict their report. There were far too many people who would love to see them fall and this entire situation offered far too much ‘controversy.’ Still, they were in too deep to give up on this now. The girl would become just one more sad statistic in the war on crime.
He laughed nervously as he opened the door. "Better hurry, its just about show time.”
Hammerstein smiled at that. Rogers wasn’t sure if his partner was looking forward to the raid, or the carnage that would follow. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know anymore.
Rogers scanned the area one more time as he moved around to the back of the car. There was still no sign of pursuit. The street itself seemed void of life. He stopped, the thought making him shudder.
When he looked up, Hammerstein gave him an expectant look. He nodded: they were clear.
Hammerstein opened up the trunk and began pulling out their raid gear. He carefully checked their weapons, trusting Rogers to act as lookout. When he was satisfied their gear was ready he nodded to his partner. Zipping up the duffel bags he hefted them out of the rear of the car and handed one to Rogers.
Rogers checked his watch and nodded. "10 minutes," he warned.
"Plenty of time," Hammerstein answered with a nod. Again Rogers could see the anticipation in his partner’s eyes. He nodded and took the bag.
The moon was just beginning to rise as they moved off to the side of the bungalow. Rogers continued to scan the area as Hammerstein donned his gear. Once he was set, Hammerstein stood watch as Rogers prepared for the raid. In less then five minutes they were ready to go.
With a nod, Rogers activated his IR goggles and began scanning the house. "Three people," he confirmed. as he noted the heat signatures and their relative positions. "One in the kitchen, two in a middle room...one lying down...probably the girl."
Hammerstein nodded as he prepped the tear gas canister, then pulled his gas mask into place. Taking out the one in the kitchen would be no problem, but it would be better if Barry and Warren were together when the two of them struck. He shrugged: they didn't really have the time to wait. He was about to fire when Rogers put a hand on his shoulder.
"One of them's moving... towards the kitchen... girl's still in the room,' he confirmed.
Hammerstein smiled as he waited for Roger’s signal. He would wait until both of the kidnappers were in the same room. Then, they’d learn that they really should check into who’s hiring them before agreeing to anything. Not that the lesson would do them much good: he doubted that they’d survive long enough to put it to any worthwhile use.
Rogers cringed slightly as he saw the smile on his partner's face.
Tracker watched the Interpol agents as they went through their preparations. Once they moved to the side of the bungalow he disconnected and nodded towards Whisper. 'On the move,' he signed.
Whisper nodded as slipped on his jean jacket and watch cap. Tracker gave him a nod and shrugged as they both exited the car. They slipped into place without a sound and continued to watch as the Interpol agents continued to tighten their own noose.
Whisper shook his head in bemused disbelief as the men prepared for their raid. "Overkill," he signed to Tracker.
Tracker nodded, noting the men's Kevlar vests and helmets, the IR goggles, the gas masks, riot guns and tear gas canisters. He glanced at Whisper in his BDU pants and jean jacket. "Underdressed?" he signed.
Whisper shrugged: Tracker wasn't dressed much better. They both wore standard body armor under their BDU's with a minimum of frills. Unlike the Interpol agents, they were used to working 'off the cuff.' It was part of what gave them the edge. ‘Have what you need, improvise the rest,’ was pretty much their credo. The smart money was still their side.
As the Agents moved towards the back door, Tracker pulled his pistol from his shoulder rig and slipped in behind them. Whisper stood slightly and moved to the left, keeping a direct line of sight on the Interpol agents.
Tracker had stated their objectives and he wanted to be damn sure those goals were achieved.
Warren smiled at Barry as he exited the ‘guest room’ and walked to the fridge. He was still smiling as he emerged with two beers in hand and planted himself at the kitchen table. With a smile, he leaned across the table and handed his friend one of the bottles.
“So how is our little princess?” Barry asked him as he took the beer Warren offered him.
Warren gave him a leering smile. “She’s all ours,” he announced as he popped the top off of his beer and took a swig. “She’ll do anything we want for her next fix.”
Barry smiled as he rubbed his chin. "Anything?" he asked with a lecherous smile: he still owed her for the CS spray and the taser.
Warren chuckled, almost as if he was reading his friend’s mind. “She don’t even remember that...” he said with a smile. “That little hell cat’s long gone...”
Barry started to smile, leaned over to say something but was interrupted by the sound of breaking glass. They both turned in time to see the gas canister land between them. Barry tried to move, but it was too late. He fell to the floor, coughing and gasping as he once again felt the effects of CS gas.
Warren had enough time to push back from the table before he to succumbed to the gas. Looking up he could see the two men enter the house. They both wore gas masks. As he tried to move, he found the barrel of a shotgun pressed against his cheek.
“I wouldn’t,” a cool voice warned.
Warren nodded, the fight gone out of him.
Hammerstein smiled to himself as he surveyed the scene. Everything had gone off perfectly. Leaving Rogers to cover the two prisoners, he moved down the hall to rescue the girl. He wondered how they’d appear to her: Guardian angels, swooping down to rescue her or, perhaps as just another phase of her nightmare?
He shrugged. It really didn’t matter: she wouldn’t live much longer. She was, simply, in the wrong place at the wrong time. When he moved into the room, he was surprised to find that they hadn’t attempted to restrain her in any way. Then he realized why.
He snarled slightly as he inspected her eyes and realized that her condition would in no way convince her uncle that she was unharmed and would remain so.
She trembled slightly as he moved around her, but other than that there was no reaction. “Damn stupid...” He raised his hand prepared to take his frustration out on the hapless girl, then stopped. No, this wasn’t her fault. He should have realized that Barry and his friend would jump the gun. They hadn’t hurt her per se... but it was close enough. They’d have to come up with another plan.
In the kitchen, Rogers stood over the choking men and smiled. “Just breathe deep boys, it’ll be over real soon.”
Warren managed to glare at him, but Barry was beyond caring.
“Son ... of... a...”
Rogers smiled and shook his head. “Always know who you’re working for,” he said tauntingly.
An odd smile crossed Warren’s face a second before a gun appeared at Rogers' temple.
“Always know who you’re working against,” Tracker corrected as Whisper moved towards the hall to cover him should Hammerstein reappear.
“You have no idea who you’re talking to,” Rogers growled at Tracker as Tracker frisked him.
“You’d be surprised,” Tracker told him as he confiscated the man’s hold out piece and motioned for him to sit down on the ground. As Rogers complied, Tracker pulled his gas mask off.
Roger’s eyes immediately reddened, but nowhere near as badly as Barry and Warrens’ had. He glowered at Tracker as he heard Hammerstein calling from down the hall.
*** *** ***
Hammerstein let out a frustrated snort and headed back towards his partner and the others. As he moved forward, he saw Roger’s moving towards him.
“Hey Rogers...I’m going to need you here... the girl...” he stopped as he noticed Whisper looking up at him, not Rogers. He reached for his gun, then he saw Tracker in the kitchen with a gun pointed at his partner.
“I wouldn’t,” Whisper warned.
“This is a police matter,” Hammerstein growled at the strangers. “You are...”
“Here for the girl,” Whisper answered as he hit him with a sleep spell. “And to make sure nothing more happens to her.”
Whisper let out a slight sigh as he picked up the Interpol officer’s feet and dragged him back into the kitchen.
Warren sighed with relief when Hammerstein hit the floor. The agents were no longer a threat. He was about to relax when he noticed the expression on the other two men’s faces. Suddenly he realized that he had probably been better off with the Interpol agents. He put his hands in the air in surrender. Suddenly a blank wall of darkness swallowed him. Whisper hit him with a sleep spell, then turned to deal with Barry
Once Barry and Warren were asleep, Whisper turned his attention to Rogers.
Tracker studied him for a minute. "Guess you're wondering why you're still conscious?"
"You were going to kill them and the girl, once you got the information you needed..."
Rogers' eyes widened as he took a deep breath. Something in Trackers voice indicated that he knew.
"You were following us..." he sighed.
Tracker nodded. "And listening."
"Look... I'm sure we can arrange something..."
Tracker shook his head. "I'll tell you what I want to know... your survival will depend on your answers."
Rogers stared at Tracker and Whisper as he realized that they weren't wearing masks. Their eyes were tearing slightly, but both seemed rather unaffected by the gas.
Tracker merely nodded. "When your training involves walking through enclosed rooms filled with the stuff on a semi-regular basis, you develop a bit of a tolerance for the it..."
Rogers started to ask a question and then shook his head. "What do you want to know?"
Tracker smiled. "I want to know the identity of the man behind the Black Op's group. I want the name and address of the technician you and your partner planted in his camp and... I want to know why."
"Why? Why what?" Rogers asked.
"Why you didn't stop this guy. Why you want to get a hold of the Duck. Why you felt you were so far above the law that you thought you could kidnap... or hire someone to kidnap a woman that had nothing to do with this case..."
Rogers tried to think as he memorized Tracker's face. "I..."
"Time is running out," Tracker told him.
"This is an Interpol case. You have overstepped your bounds," Rogers growled.
"You have no jurisdiction here. Three of my teammates are dead... " Tracker added shaking his head. "Dead because you and your partner sat on information."
Rogers shook his head. "The General would have gotten away, and others would have died."
"The General?" Tracker asked.
Rogers shook his head. "That's all I'm telling. You can take it up with my superiors."
“I’m sure your superiors would love to have the information we already have on you two,” Tracker told him. “But I don’t have time for these games. While you play them... people are dying.”
“The conviction has to stick,” Rogers answered shaking his head. “What he and his men did... that’s what we’re trying to stop.”
“By letting it continue?” Tracker asked shaking his head.
“Some sacrifices must be made to get these people off the streets permanently. You’re a soldier, you understand that.”
Tracker shook his head. “You don’t get it do you? Its one thing to fight and die in defense of something... quite another to be used as a lab rat. An that is exactly what your ‘suspect’ has done to my friends. What he wants to do to The Duck...”
“That’s why you want The Duck, isn’t it,” he asked his eyes narrowing dangerously. “You want to use Duck to make your case...”
Disgust registered in his eyes as he realized that was exactly what the men were planning. "Hit him," he told Whisper.
With a nod, Whisper delivered another sleep spell and then started going through the Interpol agent's pockets. He pulled out his flip book and then began methodically searching his pockets.
"You got everything here?" Tracker asked.
"Then I'm going to check on Duck."
Tracker verified that the rest of the bungalow was secured and then went back to the room where Duck was being held. As he moved in on her, he noticed her trembling. He stiffened when he noticed the reason why. The night stand next to the bed was littered with BTL cases. He snarled as he pulled the BTL chip that was currently playing and looked at it. His face paled as he read the title.
Suddenly killing Rogers and Hammerstein seemed way too good for them. Their hirelings on the other hand had earned a one way ticket, straight to hell.
"Got a few leads," Whisper informed him from the doorway.
He was turning to reply when Duck made a feeble attempt to hit him. He blocked her punch.
"Easy there 'Red..." he urged gently as he caught her arm and started to lower it. Then he gasped when he saw the needle marks making their way along her arm.
"Tracker?" she managed to ask as she squinted at him. He noticed how unfocused her eyes were when she looked at him.
He nodded. "Yeah, that'd be me."
With his acknowledgment, all the fight went out of her: she was safe. He carefully bundled her up in the blanket, then turned towards Whisper.
"Get her out of her," he said in a barely controlled tone.
Whisper drew a deep breath and then nodded. He recognized the look in Tracker's eyes. As he headed out of the room Tracker handed him the chip.
Whisper's eyes widened as he read the title, and then nodded. He understood completely. He shivered slightly as he looked at Duck. Drugging her had been bad enough, but this...
Whisper was hefting Duck out of the bed when he heard the soft 'pft-pft' of two silenced shots. It was a professional answer to what had been done: he wasn’t sure if he could have done the same. As he thought of what they had done to ‘Red.’, what they obviously planned to do, his mind began supplying all sorts of alternatives. He was glad Tracker had handled it his own way. He didn’t like the direction his own thoughts were headed.
As he waited he could hear Tracker moving towards them again. "Clear," he announced.
Whisper took a deep breath and headed towards the kitchen. He was stepping over Rogers when Duck opened her eyes and looked down at the floor. She smiled when she saw the ruin that had once been Warren's head and nodded.
"That's more like... what I had in mind..." she said unsteadily.
Whisper looked worriedly at Tracker.
"Drugs," Tracker confirmed. "Can you ... clear her system?" he asked as he rummaged through Barry's drug bag and recognized the pharmaceuticals of choice.
Duck looked at them in a combination of longing and revulsion. "Please.." she gasped.
Tracker couldn't tell if it was a plea for the drug, or for him to get it away from her. It didn't matter; there was no way he was letting her anywhere near the stuff.
"Get her out to the car," he told Whisper.
"What about the boys from Interpol?" Whisper asked.
Tracker shook his head curtly.
Whisper nodded slowly then headed for the car. 'They asked for it,' he told himself. It was true, but somehow... it still didn’t seem like enough. His old teacher’s words came back to him. ‘When you start working like the enemy... you become the enemy.’
He used that advice to focus his attention on what needed to be done. They needed to get Duck to safety. They needed to get her someplace where they could undo what had been done to her. He knew he could purge the chemicals from her system, but the BTL craving was something else entirely. There was nothing to do for her in that department except old fashioned withdrawal.
He reached out mentally to see what else he could do, and was surprised by the wall of resistance that rose up to meet him. He pulled back, knowing this was not the time to investigate.
When he reached the car, he carefully placed Duck in the back seat. As he leaned over to buckle her in, she suddenly came to life and half kicked him out of the car.
'Tracker,' he sub-vocalized as he caught his breath. 'Better hurry.'
Gently he caught her legs and strapped them in. "I'm here with Tracker," he told her gently, but she refused to listen. Taking a deep breath he wove a sleep spell around her and breathed a sigh of relief as it took effect. He finished strapping her in and was closing the car door as Tracker arrived.
"Lets go," Tracker urged.
Something in his friend's voice told him that they needed to get far away from the area, rather quickly.
Ferron watched the house carefully as the man left it. It had taken him far too long to find the security man's house in the suburbs and now, it would seem, he had had company. He was torn between following the man and checking out the house.
He shook his head. The man would have to wait; his first concern was the woman. As he approached the house he could detect her scent. He could also smell something else, practically overpowering it: gas.
His eyes widened as he backpedaled away from the building. He was too late. A ball of fire engulfed the building, sending debris everywhere. His last thought was of how he had failed his friend.
"I am sorry," he thought, and then everything stopped.
Duke stiffened as he sensed something in the night. At first it appeared as tension, but then, his mind echoed the pain as his friend surrendered to the darkness that consumed him.
Another friend lost to the mindlessness of this contraption! Duke screamed in anger and frustration. Now it was up to him to end this mindless destruction.
Gypsy watched the phone worriedly. It had been almost two hours since the Interpol agent had called. They had received no communications from Tracker and Whisper as they followed the agents. Not that he expected any: there was no point in risking having their communications intercepted. Too much was at stake.
Papa Dan sat vigil with him as the others continued about their assigned tasks.
"No matter what happens," he finally said. "I am going to have to contact my people."
Papa Dan nodded. "'The Old Man' still running the show?"
Gypsy nodded. "Of course, but with the losses..." He shook his head. "It would seem that my niece was working with two of the team. According to her notes, they should have information for us by morning."
Papa Dan nodded and let out a sigh as Gypsy checked his watch again.
"They are late," he said finally.
Papa Dan gave his shoulder a squeeze. "Tracker and Whisper make an interesting team. If they went anywhere near where your niece is... " he nodded encouragingly.
"Thank you," Gypsy said. It was obvious from his tone that he didn’t believe it, but that he appreciated the effort.
Papa Dan snorted derisively. "Least I could do..."
Gypsy chuckled at that, but the worry never left his eyes.
A minute later the message came across the secure line: "One down... Two to go."
Gypsy smiled as Papa Dan relayed the message.
"Now we wait..." Papa Dan told him with a sigh of relief.
"Poker?" Gypsy asked, smiling innocently.
Papa Dan bowed his head. Some things never changed.