Ryan looked around the gathered group. Less than a dozen men, a woman, a girl, and almost no reliable intel on the Garcia compound. What was he thinking? This was a suicide mission.
Despite the text from Laura assuring him that the agency would come. But when and with what kind of force was the question? He knew J. T. Tyler. That man was not going to become involved in anything that might become an international incident.
They were still waiting for Grandfather to come back. The old man should have returned by now. Had he been discovered? Or had something happened that had detained him? Perhaps he had even made contact with Mercy and the McBride women?
There were just too many unknowns. Of course, there always were in black ops. He knew this. He had lived with it for almost a decade in the SEALs. Then undercover with the agency. But this one was worst than most.
The only redeeming feature was how highly trained these men were. More than one hundred years of training and experience. But most of that was ancient history.
What was he to do?
“You know what he would say?”
Ryan laughed at his cousin’s question. They both knew the answer, “Trust my gut.”
Rex nodded his head, “I can get to the house. I did it before, and I can do it again.”
“And walk butt naked in there? What then? How do we get them all out safely? We need a diversion.”
“It’s not even midnight yet. Let’s wait for Grandfather. Maybe he’ll have more information,” Rex laid his hand on Ryan’s shoulder and squeezed.
“The girl and that woman in town both confirmed that there’s some big wedding there tomorrow. My guess is that there will only be few men left behind to guard the place. That’s when we make our move,” Jack came up to stand beside them. “Besides, don’t sweat it. You know when the three of us are together, there’s bound to be trouble.”
The men laughed, but it was rife with tension. This was nothing new to Ryan or Jack. They had been on enough missions to know the hours before were always the worst. Every doubt, every scenario rifled through your mind.
Ryan smiled at the younger man, “What worries me is that you’re not cussing.”
Jack laughed and nodded his head to the shadows where two female figures sat, “I try not to around kids.”
They were all silent for a long moment. The magnitude of the situation rested heavily upon them. The girl had been through things these past three years that made even Jack’s cussing seem inconsequential. All because of the Garcias.
Ryan’s eyes fell on the lone figure that leaned against Jack’s van. Will seemed to be looking up to the heavens. Was he staring at the stars? There was no moon in sight. That was a good thing. The darkness was their ally.
Was he praying? His grandparents had been preachers as well as active in the civil rights movement. Though Ryan did not remember his friend being particularly religious. But it was for certain that he and Chad had the most at stake here.
There was still tension between the men. He could understand that. If anyone hurt Laura or Chloe, he knew how he would feel. But as he had told Chad, he was honest enough with himself to know that had he been in Will’s shoes, he would have done precisely the same thing.
“Hey, I’ll be back,” he smiled at his cousin and friend that had been his companions since he was thirteen years old. They nodded as he walked across the dry dirt and rock to the lone figure.
“How are you doing?”
Will shook his head, “Hell, I don’t even know, man. I’ve spent almost three-and-a-half-years looking for her. And I never once imagined what it would be like when I found her.”
“Give it time…”
“Time? Time! Do any of us have any fucking time?” The man turned and looked through the darkness toward the girl and the woman who, if they survived this shit, could well become both their mother-in-law. Ryan felt what his friend did not say.
“We’ll get her back. I promise. The McBride’s too.” Ryan wished that he could believe those words. But wasn’t those doubts what had sent him running from the abandoned house into the darkness?
He also looked up into the black sky. While there was no moon visible, there were millions of tiny dots of light. Each was a sun, just like the one that would rise in the morning. The magnitude of that had never hit him quite the same.
As Ryan looked up at those stars, he felt the calm rise up from deep inside him. It defied explanation. His mind could come up with a hundred reasons this was a shit plan. It had been all night long. But at that moment, he knew – they were all where they were supposed to be. And this would all work out. Somehow.
Ryan allowed that realization, that feeling, to seep deep inside him. He knew he would need it before all this was over. The stars, the quiet, the calm all seemed to confirm that.
He wrapped his arm around his friend, “We’re going to get her back. Besides, we don’t have anything to worry about it. If we don’t, Laura and her Mama are going to kill us both.”
They both laughed so hard that they missed the first shot. They heard something, of course, but could not seem to process the sound. But the burst of fire that sounded a couple of minutes later left no doubt.
Ryan turned back towards the house. Men were racing out of the dark. Some half-dressed with sleep still clinging to them. “Head out. All of you. Now!”
A single shot might have been disaster enough, a sign that Grandfather’s deception had been discovered. But a firefight? Either Tyler and the federales had made their move without consulting them, which would be bad enough. Or, the alternative did not bear thinking about. Two highly armed cartels going head-to-head? It was easy for innocents to get caught in the crossfire.
Will seemed to be thinking the same thing as he raced across the desert, not waiting for any of the others. “Dammit,” but Ryan knew he could not afford to go after the man. He needed to make some sort of plan and lead the others.
“Shit, piss, cock, cunt, mother-fucking-son-of-a-bitch.”
Even in the chaos, Ryan caught himself laughing. “Now, you cuss, Jack?”
Reb was already heading towards his truck, the only vehicle capable of making it across the rough terrain. “Damn, that’s sweet music. Jack’s cussing was always a good luck charm for us.”
Jack eyed the other man, “Fuck you.”
Reb laughed, “And fuck, fuck, fuckity, fuck, fuck to you too, Jack. Get in the damned truck, and let’s roll.”
It was not how Ryan wanted this all to begin, but Fate had not left them much choice. He turned back to the women. Stacey was reaching for a sawed-off shotgun. Her eyes caught his, “Don’t you dare say it, boy. Or I swear I’ll make your life hell. Every mother-in-law joke you ever heard.”
“Yes, Ma’am, but the girl stays here.” He saw the pain in Bebe’s eyes, “You don’t know how to use a gun and you would be more of a liability out there. Please, if you want to do something, get the first aid supplies set up.”
He was afraid the girl would argue. The look in her dark eyes said she wanted to. But instead, she simply nodded. Most of the guns and ammunition were already loaded into Reb’s truck. He smiled at Stacey Reynolds, recognizing where Laura got her savvy, “After you, Ma.”
She chortled and patted his cheek, “Say that again, and I’ll fill your ass full of saltpeter when this is over.”