The Equalizer

Chad raced towards the little house. They should have been here quicker. He understood Ryan’s reluctance. It might have been another lifetime ago, but he had led men into battle, too. He was more than aware that this situation sucked. They had no idea what they were going into. This Grandfather was nowhere to be found. They weren’t sure if they would be fighting their own government.

But they needed to get the hostages out. Hostages? Two of those were his daughter and the woman he loved. Ryan had barely been able to control either him or Will. While things were still tense, the other man was right behind him as they burst into the house. True to his word, Travis Baker had his back.

It did not take them long. There were only three rooms, really. And a dead man in the bedroom. Will had lost his shit then. “If the Garcias know he’s dead…” Whatever else he was going to say was lost as he ran from the house.

He and Trav did one more round of the house, looking in closets, cupboards, under the bed, even knocking for secret compartments. But nothing. Other than bloody bedding in the living room and Rose’s equally bloody clothes in the bathroom. They knew that she was injured, but he had no idea that she had lost this much blood.

Chad felt his own anxiety rising as he stepped out of the house, looking around the compound. There was less gunfire coming from the main house now. Maybe they should head there?

Then he noticed the horses in a corral. A barn? That’s where his baby would go. Grace would head straight for them. He raced across the small distance. He knew that Travis would quite literally have his back on this one, running backward with gun drawn.

Even before they got to the barn, Will came out. Tears were running down his cheeks. There was someone in his arms. Chad focused on the woman. It could not be Mercy. This girl was black or multi-racial. Her long curls fell over Will’s arm. His cousin. What was Bebe doing here? They had left her at that abandoned house.

“Is she okay?” Leave it to Trav to voice his question.

“I think so. She’s covered in blood. But I don’t think it is hers. Roberto Garcia is in there.”

Chad felt the anger surging over. The other man that he knew was responsible for taking his daughter. And there was no good reason not to kill this one.

As if reading his mind, Will met his eyes. “He’s dead already. Shot. He and Bebe were…” Will bit his lips as he stared down at the young woman in his arms. “He raped a fifteen-year-old. But she fucking fell for his shit. She passed out when I pulled her from his dead arms, okay?”

It was a sucker punch to Chad’s gut. He had listened to this guy’s story, called them excuses. But not until that moment did he get it. What if that was Grace? What if she had been auctioned to the highest bidder? Forced into prostitution. And the only kindness she knew was from a man almost twice her age, who was only using her?

“I’m sorry,” he could barely push the words past the lump in his throat. Ryan had told him, but even then, he had not understood. The man was right. He faced the truth about himself in the face of that other girl. Yes, he would have done just what this man did. Or worse. To save his child.

But Grace was still missing, so were Rose and this man’s woman. “Any sign of the others?”

“No, but I don’t know how many horses were in there. If any are missing. Or even what Roberto was doing there. He swore he would help me get them out. Was that what he was doing? Did someone catch him? Shoot him and take them? There’s another dead man in there. A damned pitchfork in his back. But I don’t know…”

“We need to get her somewhere safe until this is over,” this voice was feminine. They looked up to see Reb and Stacey and the other guy, Mason, that was his name. “Take her to the house. I’ll stay with her there.”

Reb frowned, “You can’t stay with her alone, sweetheart.”

The woman smiled, patted his cheek, then held up her gun. “I’m not. I have Smith and Wesson with me.”

Mason laughed, “Damn man, I want me one of those.”

Reb glared at the other man. Chad had noticed that there was almost as much tension between those two as between him and Will. But he had no idea what their story was. “Find your own.”

Stacey put her hand on the man’s chest and gave him one of those looks. The kind meant for children when they acted naughty – or men when they did. “Carry her to the house for me,” she told Will.

The small band retreated the way he had come, with Reb, Trav, and Mason taking point. Stacey indicated that they lay her on the couch where that bloody bedding still lay. She turned to her partner, “Get me some water from the kitchen. Will, see if you can find some kind of cloth to wet. A towel, sheet, shirt, anything.”

It was evident that the woman had taken control of the situation. But Rose, Grace, and Mercy were still missing. He turned to Travis, “Let’s head to the main house.”

Will passed something to her the woman, and she smiled, “Thanks.” She wiped it across the girl’s bloody brow. The young woman blinked her eyes and looked up at Stacey. “Are you hurt?”

The girl shook her head and looked around the room. When her eyes met her cousin’s, she turned her back. “Make him leave.”

Chad felt that knife, too. This man had given up his career, broken his code of ethics, and placed the woman he loved in danger. To find this girl. And this? He put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder, “Come with us. Let’s see if we can find them.” That was what this man needed now. To focus on Mercy.

“Go with the others, Reb. We’ll be fine. Bring any other injured here.”

“Sure thing, Florence Nightingale.”

“That’s Clara Barton, and watch your mouth. She was my hero growing up.” The younger woman tried to sit up, but Stacey put her hand on Bebe’s shoulder. “Just rest a few minutes, okay.”

Reb looked to him and the other men, “You heard, Clara. Let’s go, boys.”

They kept low as they approached the house from the back. Reb seemed to be counting as they crouched outside under some turned-over wicker patio furniture. There were half-dozen bodies strewn around the area. But all were men. Most appeared dead, though one was crawling towards an old tree. He nodded to Travis, and he broke away from the others, following the man.

“Okay, we have no idea what we’ll find in there. But it’s been over two minutes since the last gunshot. The house is too big. We need to break into teams. Chad, you and your friend come with me. We’ll take the ground floor. Will, you and Mason, find some stairs. Cover the top floors.”

They all nodded, and Chad smiled at the man’s leadership. Putting the two men who were the center of the tensions together was the kind of genius that he would have done himself. In another life. Will and Mason went first. Reb’s eyes scoured the area, but there was no attempt to stop them. “Okay, let’s move out. But stay close.”

They moved faster across the open ground to the dim corridor that appeared to be the central passage in and out of the house. More secure knowing that no one had fired on the others. There were more bodies in the hallway.

Chad could see men streaming in through open doors straight ahead. They were heavily armed and wore armor. He hoped like hell they were the good guys, the support that Ryan said was coming. But they had no way of knowing. And even then, there was the possibility that they would be mistaken for the bad guys.

But even if they were government agents, their job was arresting people and gathering evidence. Finding his family would be secondary to these men. Reb seemed to be having the same thoughts, his face scrunched in a frown. “Where the fuck is Ryan and the others?”

Ryan, Reb’s father, Rex, and Jack had gone around to the front of the house. It would have taken them even longer to get into position, which was one reason Reb had held them back. But they had seen no sign of the other men. “Shit, we can’t wait any longer.”

“Let’s break up. Each of us takes a room,” Chad knew it was more dangerous. But they were running out of time. Reb paused; he knew the man weighed up the options.

But he’d be damned if he waited. He lifted his gun and took the first door to his left. He stopped just inside the room. He had seen natural disasters and war zones, but this room looked like something out of a Hollywood version of those. Expensive furniture, antiques, Persian carpets, and rows upon rows of books covered in blood. Dead people around the room like props. He knew this was no set.

A woman perhaps Rose’s age, maybe a bit older, lay on an expensive couch. Her body stretched out in repose. Her hands crossed lovingly over her heart. There was no sign of blood or any injury. As if the woman had simply died peacefully in her sleep.

An old man lay on the floor just inside the doorway. Two other men half covered him. They were all covered in blood. Their bodies riddled with bullets.

But what held his attention was the older woman that lay half in some ornate chair. Her arms flayed out across the chair. But her legs and lower half of her body slumped on the floor. Her dark eyes were wide open as if in shock. Chad could see red and blue marks around her neck, just above the string of pearls that she wore. Behind her lay a couple more bullet-filled bodies.

He was frozen in place for a long moment staring into the woman’s dead eyes. Then he heard the sobbing like a small child who had lost its mother. “She’s gone. She’s dead. She killed my Anna.”

Chad looked to his left and finally noticed the other men in the room. He recognized one face, the man who had led the search for his family. He flung himself at J. T. Tyler, “Where are they? Where is my family?”

The man stared at him as others pulled him off Tyler. Chad drew in a deep breath. Of course, Tyler had no idea who he was talking about. “Where are the McBrides? Where are Cassie and Callie?” Just the sound of those names coming out of his mouth was a bitter reminder of all they had endured. Thanks to McBride.

Tyler shook his head, “We don’t know. My men and the local authorities are looking for them now. We’re trying to question Garcia. But you can see…” The man motioned to the figure that Chad realized was handcuffed.

This was Garcia? The great mastermind of one of Mexico’s largest and most dangerous cartels. This man rocking back and forth with tears streaming down his face. His eyes never leaving the face of the dead woman on the couch. This mad man? Did all this? Sold drugs that killed people and destroyed families? Kidnapped little girls and sold them into slavery? Ordered the murder of Gerald and Stephen McBride? That pathetic figure? It made no sense.

“What? Who?” was all he could babble.

“That’s Anna Garcia. His wife. We’re still trying to figure out what happened here. But the old man says that Consuela Garcia, his mother, poisoned her.”

Chad shook his head, “Old man? What old man?”

The one they called Grandfather stepped from behind Tyler. “They are fine, I promise, my son.”

Chad had had enough of the old man’s mystical bullshit. He wanted answers. Now. But since Tyler and half a dozen agents stood between him and the old man, he went for the one he could get his hand on. Before anyone could react, he flung himself on Garcia. His fist connected with the man’s face. But still, those eyes never left the woman. “She’s dead.”

He did not know, was Garcia talking about Callie, Cassie, his mother, or his wife? He wanted to keep pounding the man until he gave him the answers he needed. But something told Chad that would never happen.

He felt the hand on his shoulder. He was prepared to do battle as he turned. But it was the old man who stood behind him. Chad drew back his fist, but something happened. Suddenly, the anger left him. And he collapsed into the old man’s arms, crying as loudly as Garcia.

Was this what love did to you? The girl had fainted when she was pulled from the body of the man who had raped her. This man who should have been nothing more than cold, calculating evil was reduced to tears and madness. And he was no better. Was that it? Was love the great equalizer? Rich or poor, young or old, good or evil? Did love trump it all?

“Of course, it does, my son.”

Chad pulled back, wiped lamely at his eyes with the back of his hand. “I’m not your son.”

The man laughed, “And there is another great truth. We are related. Your woman and child are safe.”

“Where? Where are they then?”

“On their way back to you.” Chad would have probably hit the man then. Except another shot rang out. From somewhere above them. He was still trying to figure it all out when it was followed a moment later by more.

“Fuck, find where that is coming from,” Tyler screamed as men raced from the room. Chad followed them, finding Reb and Travis in the hall.

Reb’s eyes met his, “Have you seen Will or Mason?”

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