Justin watched as the van pulled to a stop in the old junkyard. He knew it was late and he should be at home, but it was just this sort of thing he had been waiting for. He craved adventure and action, and this mysterious van just reeked of it.
As he watched a man slipped out the back of the van and crawled under it. He didn't miss the glint of gunmetal in the man's hand, or the uniform dents in the roof of the van that could only have been the result of rapid gunfire. He watched from the safety of his hideout and waited as the man ran some kind of scanner over the vehicle.
Justin allowed himself to drift out of his body and down towards the trees. He had learned to walk through walls when he was eleven. It wasn't until his fourteenth birthday that he learned the name for what he did. Astral projection sounded impressive enough, but he still preferred to think of it as shadow walking.
He allowed his shadow to drift around the van as he watched the man. The man made three circuits of the van before re-entering. Justin followed him inside and watched as the man shook his head and handed the scanner to a woman that was sitting at a console inside the van.
"Nothing on the scanner," the man told the woman.
The woman nodded and flipped a toggle on the console. Justin saw no change, but the two seemed to relax after they had flipped the switch.
"We've got trouble," the woman told the man.
"You think?" the man asked sarcastically.
"It's not just us," the woman explained. "They've been hitting the brothers and the teams."
The man shook his head, "why didn't you call me sooner?"
"I didn't know about the brothers until today," she told him. "And then there was a bouquet waiting for me at the club.
"Where to now?"
"Well, we may as well fade now," the woman told him. "What to do you have access to right now?"
"This van," he told her. "Your combat deck, my predator, and about 5K."
"They'll know the van, so subtract that from the equation. Add three more predators, and what three full clips and three empties." She shook her head. "Storage locker's got the 'Buffalo' and its gear, that plus the mission bag here should be enough to get us started," she offered.
"And we're up against..."
"Some major trouble," she answered with a nod. "Unknown force, unknown strength, high magic power, snipers, zombies, and a ubiquitous supply of black roses."
"Zombies?!" the man gasped in surprise.
"Remember that couple I told you about?" she answered then nodded.
Justin only half caught their the last part of their exchange, alarms had gone off inside his head at the mere mention of black roses. Black roses meant the Briar, and that meant nothing but trouble. He knew he'd stumbled into something big, but he also knew that he would have to tell his brother.
As he planned his exit, he saw the greyness that was seeping through the van. He recognized it and cringed. The Briar had marked their van , that either meant that these two were of the Briar, or soon would be. Either way, it didn't look good for Sable's folks, and again, that meant his brother. He forced himself to concentrate on the van's occupants.
They both seemed confident he could see that from the way they carried themselves. He also noted that they were both wearing shoulder rigs for their guns. The woman seemed plumper than her wrists and neck indicated, the tell tale signs of body armor that his brother had taught him to look for. The man wasn't wearing as much in the armor department, but he could tell from his movements that the man was just as well protected as the woman, perhaps more so. She was in her mid to late thirties, but her movements indicated that she was used to action. Red hair, and green eyes.
He could feel the traces of cyberware most of it in her head. He could recognize most of the equipment by location; eyes, comm-link, datajack, control rig and memory, but there was one that he'd never seen before and he couldn't even hazard a guess as to what it was.
He was surprised to note that the man had pretty much the same 'ware, with the exception of the eyes and the mystery ' ware, they were about the same. The man was taller, wiry. At first glance he seemed about as old as the woman, but then he saw something in the man's eyes that made him look much, much older.
They had talked of brothers and teams, but he noted that they used no names between them, and talked in an almost shorthand. That indicated a long term relationship and meant that dealing with one, meant dealing with both. If Briar was trying to get them, they were probably trying to get them both.
He allowed himself to drift through the van and flinched as he came dangerously close to passing through a magical trap. A cold chill went through him as he recognized the work. It was one of Mind Bender's traps. Mind Bender had once worked for Sable that was until the Briar 'absorbed' him. Back then his name was 'Tredaegar' he was the one who had taught Justin the ways of 'shadow walking.' But Tredaegar was no more he'd merged his mind with one of the Briar in an attempt to learn his secrets. Instead of controlling him, Tredaegar became like the Briar, he became the Mind Bender. Sable had ordered that his name be stricken from the record and forbid it to be spoken by any of his men. By Sable's orders, he was referred to only as 'the Mind Bender.'
Justin shuddered. If Tre, no Mind Bender, knew he was on to him, then he would probably end up one of the Briar as well. 'The stronger they grow, the easier they grow,' Sable had warned him. 'They take the unwise and the unprepared first, then use them to catch the next in their brambles.'
'These two seemed prepared,' Justin thought to himself, but then he realized, they were prepared for the physical assault, but not for magical. They were prime candidates for the Mind Bender. He quickly walked back into his body and headed towards his brother's apartment. Sable had to know what was happening.
Tracker turned as Duck shuddered. "What?" he asked warily.
Duck looked around and shrugged. "Don't know for sure," she stated. "Lets grab our gear and get out."
Tracker nodded. Years of experience told him that arguing with Duck was not only futile, it also wasted precious time. When she had a feeling, it was best to move and ask questions later. Looking around the van, he couldn't help but feel the same.
As Duck picked up her 'mission bag,' Tracker began putting equipment in his pockets.
"Five," he stated before she could ask how much time he needed.
She nodded then looked around then added, "breakdown," as she began breaking apart the more sensitive parts of the equipment. She disconnected the flying remote and dispatched it to the Backer Brother's building with a warning. It was as safe a place as any. Then she began pulling ammo from the rear guns. Once she had de-armed the van, she pulled the tapes from the video feeds and added them to her bag.
Within 5 minutes the van that remained was only a shadow of its former glory. Duck looked around one last time and reached into the mission pack.
"So who are we today?" Tracker asked stoically.
Duck looked at him then at the ID she'd pulled out. "Stormy," she announced with a smile.
Tracker nodded, Duck had gotten the message as well.. "Mark Weathers, fine, but if that's the case, I want Maddy."
"Ah, Maddy O'Brien, I've not been her in a while," she commented adopting a slight Irish lilt. "Ye wouldn't be missin' the wee lass would ya now lad?" she asked as she reached into the appropriate pocked and pulled out the required id's.
Tracker shook his head. Once again he was playing the quiet partner to her boisterous character. Some things never change.
Tracker accepted the ID and the script she handed him. He watched as she exited the rear door, waited a beat then exited from the front. Once they were clear of the van, he activated its security system. He knew they wouldn't be coming back for it, but he figured the enemy didn't necessarily know that.
"Where to?" he asked as they headed into the night.
"Left," Duck answered after a beat.
Tracker nodded as Duck took the lead and started down the street. "As long as you have a plan," Tracker agreed.
Duck turned and grinned at him. "Survive."
Tracker shook his head. Duck was the optimist in the crowd. The first to find the bright side of things, now he was following her into the unknown, covering her back and she'd rewarded him with an answer that should have come from his own mouth. He found himself wishing he'd had that drink at the Playful Dragon.
"Where are they now?" Fen asked anxiously as Justin tried to catch his breath.
"Ray's Wrecking Yard," Justin told him.
"Exactly what did they say about black roses?" Fen prompted. "Think Justin, this is very important."
"They were talking about trouble and taking stock of what they had," Justin stated as he tried to make himself remember. She said something about magic, and snipers... and zombies... and black roses."
"Focus," Fen urged. "Look at me Justin."
Justin looked into his brother's eyes and thought about the conversation. "She said they were in trouble, and then she said something about it not being just them. Something about brothers and teams being 'hit.'" Justin shook his head. "I can't remember much else."
"Okay, tell me about them," Fen urged. "Tell me about the van, about the Bender and the people inside."
Justin closed his eyes as he tried to think. "The van had bullet dents in the roof," he stated as he went through it in his mind again. "The man got up and scanned the truck, then went back inside. He told the woman they were clear, and then they started talking."
"Good," Fen stated. "What did you see in the van?"
"There was a console in the middle. The woman was sitting at it while they talked. There was a remote on the roof, and a gun..." he stated. "Guns, they talked about what guns they had and how much money they had available. A lot of it didn't make sense, I'm sorry Fen, it just didn't make sense."
"Its okay," Fen assured him. "Tell me about the man and the woman."
"They were both wearing body armor," he stated. "Subtle, full movement, but they were armored. Cybered, but mostly head cases," he added as he tried to remember everything. "Jacks, comm, memory... but they don't dress or act like any of the decker's at Draskos. She's got additional ware, eyes and something I couldn't place. They knew to handle their weapons, but they weren't modified for that, other than that... I'm sorry..."
"You done good kid," Fen assured him. "Now, I'm going to need you to relay this to Sable for me."
"Me?" Justin asked in surprise.
"You," Fen answered. "I'm going to go to Ray's and see what I can find."
"Watch the van," Justin warned him. "Tre... The Mind Bender's been all over it."
"I'll keep that in mind," Fen stated. "But I'm depending on you to get the message to Sable. From the sound of things, Briar wants them, and that means if we follow them, we may be able to use them to get to Briar."
Justin nodded, but something in his brother's tone of voice worried him. He was willing to use these strangers to get to the Briar. He remembered a time when his brother would have tried to protect strangers from the in-fighting between Briar and Sable. Those days were long gone he guessed. Nobody's on nobody's side.
Duck took the lead as they headed down the street. This was not a part of town either of them frequented, and they knew they had to be alert. As they moved along, Duck could tell they were being watched.
"Gang," Tracker alerted her over the comm-link. "47th Street."
"Aye," Duck answered, following 'Maddy's' speech pattern. "That'd be the one that are following us."
"How do you want to handle it?"
"Depends," Duck answered with a growl, "We're about to find out."
As she spoke, several members of the gang appeared in front of them. Duck stopped as another group headed towards them from the other side of the street.
"Plan?" Tracker/Stormy asked softly.
"Don't panic?" Duck/Maddy answered with a typical Duck shrug. "They're trying to box us in, heard us over towards that open area."
"So we're going to make them come to us?" Tracker asked as Duck stood there waiting.
"More likely than not," Duck answered.
Tracker watched the gang approach. They were wary. Their quarry hadn't run as expected, nor had they taken a defensive position, but instead, simply stood their ground.
"You know who we are?" A man asked as he stood before them.
"Well, " Duck/Maddy answered with a soft lilt. "If I had to venture a guess, I'd say you're the 47th Street Regulars."
"And what makes you think you can just walk through here without so much as a parley?"
"What makes ye think I didn't want to parley with ye?" she replied. "We're here are we not, talking?"
The man signaled two of his men to grab Tracker. "How many of you are there?" he demanded.
Tracker resisted the urge to fight the two men as they gruffly pinned his arms behind him. He knew that the entire idea was to keep them off balance, keep doing the unexpected, even when the unexpected was downright stupid.
"It's just the two of us," Duck/ Maddy answered. "Just me 'n Michael here, we're looking for safe passage through here."
"Well then, here's what you'll have to do for 'safe passage...'
Duck listened as the leader told her, in quaint terms, that she was to go to 'Gnat's place' and 'have some fun', or something unfortunate would happen to Tracker/Stormy.
Rather then take offence, Duck grinned one of her mischievous "Maddy grins." and walked over to 'Gnat' then looked at the leader.
"Ach, be fair to the wee lad, ya can see he's barely inta britches," she replied as Maddy. She gave 'Gnat' a once over then shook her head. "Bet his arse is still wet from the diapers. If ye don't want him to develop a complex, start him off with something easier, like yer sister, not an old woman like m'self."
Tracker, now 'Stormy', clenched his jaw tight as Duck went full bore into the roll of Maddy. She had managed to insult both the boy and the gang's leader in one sentence, and she'd managed to do it without pause or malice in her voice.
"I'm gonna a stick it to ya you..."
"Lad, if yer gunna talk to a woman that way, all yer gonna end up with is her boot up yer arse. You want to impress a lass, be kind and gentle. Ye'll have plenty o' time to play the drunken sot when yer married to her."
Tracker noticed that Duck's remark made some of the women in the group smirk, even the one that looked like she may have been the leader's sister. Gnat on the other hand was not taking it well at all.
"I'm going to make you scream you stupid..."
"Do ye really think one scrawny lad like yourself could satisfy me, let alone leave me screamin'? I've had grown men have less luck than ye're boostin' about, and t'be honest they were much more appealing than yerself."
Gnat started to sputter, then drew back to hit 'Maddy.'
"Gnat, leave the woman alone," one of the women spoke up.
"She called you a..." the leader objected angrily.
"She implied," his sister corrected him, then smiled at Duck. "But then again, she implied she was even worse."
Duck grinned at the woman and chuckled. "That I did lass, and I'm sorry if I caused ye any embarrassment. I meant only to put the lad off. No harm was meant by it"
"None taken," the girl replied as she jumped down, and put an arm around Duck's shoulders. "But you really must stay with us tonight," she added with a slightly less than cordial growl.
"I thank ye," Duck/Maddy answered. "But truth be told, trouble's been after me all night, and I'd rather not bring that on ye and yers."
"What sort of trouble?" the girl asked as she looked warily over at Tracker/Stormy.
"Seems I've picked up a 'secret admirer,' Duck/Maddy answered. "Right sick bastard too if ye ask me. Keeps leavin' me a trail a' black roses and dead bodies."
Tracker could see the woman's arm tighten reflexively at the mention of the flowers. Duck turned as the woman started over her shoulder.
"So, ye've 'eard of 'im 'ave ye?" Duck/Maddy sighed. "Is there no stoppin' 'im?"
"It's not a him," the girl warned curtly. "It's a them, and my advice to you is run. Run hard and fast and pray they never find you."
"Let 'em pass," the leader ordered as his sister took Duck's hands in her own.
"You keep this in mind," the girl warned as she traced a pattern on Duck's hands. "The Briar is strong and if it wants you, it will have you. Remember these patterns, they are the patterns of your life. It will take your future by stealing your past. Do not let them into your mind."
Duck watched as the woman traced the patterns of the tree of life on her hands, and said a quick prayer. "Now go!"
Duck\Maddy watched as the gang disappeared into the night then turned towards Tracker. "Well me boyo, it looks as if we now 'ave a name fer the beastie."
"Lets get out of here," Tracker/Stormy growled.
"Aye," Duck/Maddy answered as she surveyed the area, then once again took the lead.
"I'm not going to even ask what you did back there," Tracker stated through the comm unit.
"Confuse them, you may get hurt, amuse them however..." Duck quipped.
"And they'll kill you for sure," Tracker finished glumly.
"Boomer, wait up," Rico called as his brother started to climb into the van. Boomer turned and waited for Rico to catch up as Kenny climbed into the passenger's side.
"You talk to Duck?" he asked.
"If you call it talking," Rico answered. "I showed her the report then she showed me one of her own."
"Let me guess..." Boomer shook his head.
"Five hits that she knows of, two involving Voodoo, black rose at all of them," Rico confirmed. "She signaled me it wasn't safe to speak. Figured we'd meet up later on."
"You heard from her yet?"
"No," Rico answered slowly. "And there's more."
"There was a firefight out in front of the Playful Dragon," Rico answered softly. "Two cars were blown up, one's Trackers."
"What are Davy and Geoff doing about it?"
"Davy says we stay the course, you and Kenny try and track down the roses. Davy and Geoff are going to hold the main offices. The rest of us work on moving the operation to our new 'facilities.'"
"No," Rico answered softly. "They also want you to look for Duck and Tracker. A dozen Black Roses were delivered to Duck at the Playful Dragon. Probably has something to do with the firefight. The black rose folks have upped the ante," Rico paused as he tried to make sense of what had happened. "We haven't heard from Duck and Tracker since then. They've got a blind account where we can exchange info, but until we hear from them, we have no way of knowing how or where they are. They're pretty much on their own, and once you guys leave..."
"We're locked out for the duration as well," Boomer answered with a resigned sigh.
"'Fraid so, Davy says we can't compromise the new location," Rico confirmed. "Gets worse too, Transpo unit's off-line and it'll be at least three weeks before Tommy can bring it back online. We'll let you know what's happening as well as we can. I'll try and co-ordinate things through the blind account, but you guys are pretty much on your own."
Boomer shook his head. "Figures."
"What?" Rico asked.
"Lightning's due back tonight," Boomer answered softly.
Rico shook his head apologetically. "Sorry man," Rico stated as he put a hand on his brother's shoulder.
"Don't worry 'bout the porcupine," Rabbit stated as he brushed past them. "She knows the score, knows what she hooked into."
Boomer watched as Rabbit opened the back door to the van and climbed in.
"That was the other thing I needed to tell you about," Rico stated.
"I got Rabbit," Boomer stated shaking his head.
"You got Rabbit," Rico answered with a nod.
"It just keeps getting better and better," Boomer groused as he headed towards the van. "Tell Lightning I'm sorry."
Rico nodded. "You know I will."
"Take her somewhere nice," Boomer added as he started the engine and pulled out of the garage. He was really beginning to dislike the whole setup. He couldn't see the worried look Rico gave them, which was just as well.
Fen eased himself over the fence with practiced ease. The strangers had no way of knowing that Ray's wrecking yard was one of Sable's 'safe zones.' 'Unless they are of the Briar,' he thought to himself. It would be just like the Briar to plant a mystery in the middle of Sable's turf just to try and draw them out.
He focused in on the van with his binoculars and nodded. The van was generally nondescript, a common shade of off-white, and almost completely unidentifiable. He saw the bullet dings in the roof Justin had mentioned and figured the angle of the shots, 'Two snipers, opposite sides of the street.'
He stiffened as he felt something approach the wrecking yard. It seemed to seep in through the cracks in the fence, surrounding the area. Then he saw them, there were five of them. He watched as they moved through the yard towards the van. They'd known just where to find it. That went with what Justin had said about the 'markings' that had been placed on it.
He tried to identify them as they slipped through the shadows. Two of them separated from the group, going for the high ground. That would have to be Dillings and Bosworth. They were two of the best independent snipers he'd known, until they joined The Briar. The other three wore faded leathers of various gangs, that had long since lost their markings. Colors didn't matter to them anymore. They belonged to the Briar and all former allegiances were gone.
Fen pulled himself deeper into the shadows as Dillings and Bosworth took positions on either side of him. They were still concentrating on the van, but he knew that concentration would change in an instant if they noticed him. Sable would never forgive him if he allowed himself to be taken by the Briar.
He held no illusions when it came to the power of The Briar. He had seen what their forces had been able to do. Those they couldn't hire out right were 'absorbed,' taking their will and bending it to The Briar's use. A worse fate awaited those who resisted the control, leading an un-life, controlled by the Briar's right hand Ellingsworth, the self declared 'Puppet Master.' Three of his closest friends had been taken by the briar; Tredaegar, who now served as the Briar's Mind Bender, Cliff and Jenny who had died, only to be resurrected by 'Puppet Master.' Even in death they had been unable to escape Briar's control.
'At least they were together,' Fen consoled himself. Cliff and Jenny fought together and died together. 'Neither one could have survived without the other.'
Now he watched as they moved in on another couple. He forced himself to divorce himself from the reality he was facing. He was potentially sacrificing two total strangers for a chance to end this war. 'We've lost too much,' he told himself. 'Two people don't matter in the big picture. Not if it means a chance to get Briar and Ellingsworth.'
He fought the bile welling up in his throat as he weighed the costs. The world could not afford to allow The Briar to grow. It was that simple. Two strangers didn't even figure into the equation. If they were this careless, then they got what they deserved.
As he settled that in his mind, he turned his attention back to the van. The three former gangers had surrounded it with their weapons drawn. As they waited, he saw Dillings and Bosworth each load a tranq into their rifles. 'At least they're trying to take them alive,' he thought to himself. He wasn't sure if that was comforting or not. What did the Briar want with these two? And if the Briar wanted them this badly, did they dare let them have them?
He held his breath as they moved on the van. As the first ganger grabbed a hold of the door handle, all hell broke loose. The area was lit up by phosphorous flares as the van's defenses came on-line. They were all blinded by the flash then adding insult to injury, the sirens started. Fen watched as the gangers collapsed from the assault, rolling away from the van as they tried to escape the sound.
He was far enough away that the sound didn't hurt too badly, but he could tell by the way the gangers moved, it had done some damage. They staggered towards the snipers and Fen. Then the unthinkable happened. One of the gagners happened to look up as the last flares from the van fired. The flash lit up the area where he'd been hiding.
As the man raised his voice in warning and prepared to fire on him, Fen ran for the nearest escape hatch. His heart was racing as he activated his emergency weapons, but even as the area's defenses were activated, he felt the sting as one of the tranq darts found its mark. He forced himself to move on, but it was only a matter of time now. His vision was blurring as he tried to make it to the gate and safety, but it was too far.
As he fought the effects of the drug, he crashed through the gate. There standing before him was his greatest nightmare. Three people who used to be his friends were there waiting for him.
"Fen," Mind Bender called to him. "So good to see you."
As Mind Bender nodded to his companions, Fen felt himself being picked up, his arms pinned behind him. He screamed as he turned and faced the two zombies that had been Cliff and Jenny. They stared at him blankly as they waited for their next command.
"We've missed you," Mind Bender informed him.
Fen used the last of his strength in a futile effort to escape then fell unconscious.
"Fools," Mind Bender hissed as the others joined him. "He must be conscious for me to work on him. Now we will have to wait for our new teammate to wake up..."
"What about the two we came for?" one of the former gang members asked.
"They're long gone," Mind Bender answered. "But don't worry, we'll find them. In the meantime, let's take our friend home."
Justin fought the urge to scream, knowing all it would do was give away their position. It had taken him forever to get the guards to let him see Sable, and then it had turned into another cross examination. He realized that it probably would have gone on longer, if there hadn't been a report of gunfire at the salvage yard. At least their response to that was quick.
They got to Ray's just in time to see Mind Bender and his team loading Fen into the back of their truck. As the forward guard tried to stop them, Briar's snipers opened fire. Two of Sable's men had gone down in the first attack and the rest had scattered. If it hadn't been for Sable's Lieutenant, Chrys, Justin himself would have been next. He couldn't believe how quickly things had turned bad. Two more members of Sable's team were taken out by enemy gunfire and there seemed no end to it.
"Keep your head down. Find some place safe and stay there," Chrys urged him, then slipped from behind the car and took cover along the fence. Justin watched Chrys as he inched his way down the fence line and tried to get a bead on the snipers. He fired as they jumped into the back of the truck.
"Duck!" Justin yelled as he saw one of them pulling out a rocket launcher.
He held his breath as they aimed along the fence and fired. The Rocket flared as it flew down the line, locking on Chrys as he tried to move out of its path. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a second flare, as they launched a second rocket. He turned and realized he was the target.
In a panic, he hit the ground and rolled towards the only way out he knew: the storm drain. He managed to slip through the curb side of the grating and fell into the water in the tunnel below. Then the explosion launched asphalt and brick into the drain behind him. Then everything was still.
Justin shivered as he heard Mind Bender's laughter as the truck pulled away from the carnage.
Kenny checked the reports as Boomer steered the van towards the Playful Dragon. "Report says a combination of rifle and gunfire, four explosions, and nobody saw anything."
Boomer shook his head. It never ceased to amaze him how people always seemed to know when trouble was brewing, and yet nobody ever saw anything.
"Minh have anything to say?" Rabbit interjected.
"Not a word," Kenny stated as he turned from the report. "How do you want to work it?"
Boomer thought for a minute then let out a deep breath. "We park here, away from the Dragon and walk in. Rabbit, you cover the high ground, look for sniper positions. Kenny, you and I will work our way around the block and see what we can come up with."
Rabbit nodded. "You figure they had snipers."
"I would if I was going after Tracker and Duck," Boomer countered.
"Not me," Rabbit added after a moment of thought. "I wouldn't take them on together. Bad odds. Take them out separately, if you have a big enough team, do it simultaneously. Take 'em out when they're alone you might just pull it off."
"You've given this some thought?" Kenny asked in disbelief.
"Ever since the roses started showing up," Rabbit answered with a nod.
"Everybody?" Boomer asked.
"Just about," Rabbit admitted. "At first I thought they were trying to force us to close ranks, take us all on, but now... Now I think they were trying to isolate us. Thin the field of play so they can take on some of the individuals. Like Tracker and Duck."
"Come again?" Kenny asked.
"This was the first attack directed at any of us, before all the attacks were directed at people around us. Associates, clients... Normally, that would call for a pow-wow between us and all the folks we consider family. But Davy and Geoff played it loose. Sent Rico to see Duck instead of one of them going. If they were trying to take us all out, they'd've waited until we actually got together, take us then. Instead they got us nervous. We're traveling in small groups. Duck and Tracker, the three of us..."
"Okay," Kenny prompted as he followed Rabbit's reasoning.
"So instead of waiting for us to meet, they went after Tracker and Duck. That means either that was their goal all along, or they're trying to get certain individuals. Which is my bet, so, I started figuring what I'd do if I were trying to take any one of us out."
Boomer thought about it for a minute then shook his head. "Davy?" he asked with a grin.
"Let him think one of us is in trouble. Bait him out into the open, get him in the cross fire."
"Gina?" Kenny prompted.
"Same as I'd do for you, set you up at the clinic. Get you working on somebody, and when you aren't paying attention, boom."
"Me?" Boomer asked still shaking his head.
"Easy," Rabbit answered with a smile. "Just wait for you to ask Lighting out, let nature take its course."
Kenny let out a chuckle as Boomer made like he was going to hit Rabbit.
"Wouldn't hit a crazy man, would you?" Rabbit asked as he grinned wide-eyed at Boomer.
"Crazy man that's plotting the death of his entire family," Boomer countered with a laugh. Then he saw the look in Rabbit's eyes. "Rabbit?"
"You know I'd never..." Rabbit stated softly.
Boomer could see the lost look in Rabbit's eyes. "Easy Derrick, you know I was kidding," Boomer assured him.
Rabbit nodded, but the laughter was gone from his eyes. "I'll check the best sniper positions, give me five minutes" he stated curtly as he jumped from the van. "Keep your eyes open," he added over the comm-link.
"Going to be a long night," Kenny told him.
Boomer nodded as he waited for the all clear from Rabbit. "And I think we're going to have a lot of them."
Rabbit slipped out the back of the van and rolled into the shadows. He knew the area well enough, knew there were three key places for sniping. The best one was the parking garage two blocks from the Playful Dragon. It gave you a good range of view and you could see all the approaches. If he were staking out the Dragon, that would be his first choice. He second would have been the apartment building one block behind the Dragon.
Not as good a view, but more protected. The third was a clock tower, three blocks to the south. A little cliched, but it gave the shooter some serious advantages. From that vantage point, you could easily check a full 360 degrees, and with the right rifle, you could be gone before anybody even noticed you'd been shooting.
There was a fourth possibility, the roof of the Playful Dragon itself. But he also knew that would be a fatal mistake. Minh held very firmly to her policy of 'no trouble,' and sniping from her rooftop would definitely count as a violation of policy.
As he slipped further into the shadows he caught the faint scent of cordite and gun oil. Something was definitely wrong. He worked his way away from the van and around the clock tower so that he was approaching it from the opposite side from the van. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up as he began scaling the wall.
He pushed on something told him that time was of the essence. He could feel the anger. Anger had having been left behind, he didn't like the feeling because attached to the anger he also felt a desire to kill. As soon as he slipped into the nest around the clock, he could see them: sniper and cover man. The sniper was in his second choice area, with a clear view of the van. The cover man was positioned on the garage, his first choice. The cover man couldn't see the van, but once Rabbit fired, he knew the man would know his location. It was going to be close, but there was no other choice. He could feel the anger growing, and with it the desire to kill.
He radioed in.
Boomer watched the rear view mirror as Rabbit moved down the street and then disappeared. He and Kenny took turns looking out the front and checking the monitors.
"We got ourselves a sniper," Rabbit announced softly over the comm-link. "He's just watching, but he seems real interested in the van."
"Can you take him?" Boomer asked softly.
"Not alive," Rabbit answered in a steady tone. "Not without losing one of you two, our boy's playing for keeps."
"You clear?" Boomer asked worriedly.
"Yeah, his backup can't see me from here," Rabbit answered. "Just back up into the middle of the van on my signal then wait for an all clear."
"Got it," Boomer answered as he and Kenny waited for his signal. "Be careful."
"Always am brother man, always am," Rabbit replied.