“Jonas.” From behind his gun, Sam nodded with a hard smile. Not so hard Jonas couldn’t still see the grim kind of amusement, though, and as a rule, if Sam was smiling, he wouldn’t shoot first.
As a rule.
Jonas nodded back and didn’t lower his own gun. “Sam Axe. Been a while.”
“That it has, brother.” The barrel didn’t move an inch.
“Last I heard, brothers don’t try and shoot each other,” Jonas pointed out.
"Missed a few history classes?" Sam smirked. “And you’ve obviously never been to Thanksgiving at Maddie’s…”
Jonas raised an eyebrow and let that one by. “Planning to introduce your friends?”
With his free hand, Sam gestured to Jonas’ left. “The guy in the chokehold is Michael Westen; your buddy there might want to let up.”
“He’s fine where he is,” Mack growled. He had stabbing pains in his ribs and a bruised jaw to back him up; Westen hadn’t been easy to contain and to hell with letting him go.
“You seem really fam-“ Westen’s voice choked away as Mack tightened his grip.
“ – ‘ve we met?” Westen managed to finish on a wheeze, and then tensed.
“Don’t do it.” Sam said quietly.
Mack grinned, ignoring the twinge of complaint from his jaw. “I won’t hurt him.”
Sam’s smile tightened another notch. “I wasn’t talking to you. Mike, Jonas is a buddy of mine. He’s good people. His people are good people. We’re good, is what I’m getting at here.”
Westen relaxed again, but not before Mack felt the unsettling prick of something cold and sharp against his abdomen. Grudgingly, he released his hold and pushed the other man away. “Next time,” he promised.
The man stumbled a few steps forward and then righted himself, tugging his jacket back into place as he moved out of the line of fire. There was no sign of whatever he’d been about to stick Mack with in his hand.
When he reached Sam’s side, he nodded amicably with a polite, easy-going smile that even reached his eyes. “Hey, any time.”
Spook. Mack grimaced.
Sam went on quickly. “Anyhoo. The guy in the bushes behind you, that’s Jesse. He puts bullets through his friends, so honestly I don’t rate your chances if this goes down - but if it makes you feel any better, he’ll probably shoot Mike first.”
“Good to know,” Jonas said evenly. “So how are we going to-”
“If we’re still at introductions, I’m Raylan Givens,” said a voice from the other side of the clearing. “US Marshals.”
Sam swung his way and Jonas did the same. The man who’d crashed the reunion looked like some kind of dime store cowboy: lean and tall, hat pulled low. The only thing missing was the holster strapped to his thigh; it was worn on his belt instead, across from a silver marshal’s star.
Given’s hands were empty; he held them loose at his sides, palms out. He didn’t flinch when the combined hardware turned his way, just added, “Hey, don’t stop on my account.”
Jonas lowered his weapon; ex-military and spies were an operational gray area, local law enforcement was not.
After a second’s hesitation Sam warily followed suit. There was a rustling in the bushes - in the opposite direction to where Sam had indicated - that probably meant Jesse, whoever the hell he was, was stood down as well.
Givens walked forward, picking his way at an almost meandering pace across the camp. Jonas knew it was for effect, but he almost had to admire the showboating.
“So, here’s the thing,” the man said as he made his way over. “I’m over in Harlan trying to explain to a woman why it is she can’t arm her six-year-old grandchild, when I get a call from Art – Art being my superior – telling me there’s automatic gunfire reported down in the holler and would I mind maybe wandering over and taking a look.
“I’m thinking a hunting party got a little enthusiastic, or maybe there’s some gun thugs getting excited over some deal or other, but here I find you fellers and you don’t look like either.”
Jonas glanced around and saw no obvious backup; that didn’t seem too likely. “Reports of automatic gunfire and you came out here alone?”
Given’s mouth twitched and just for a moment the amiable southern boy slipped away, revealing something harder, and sharper. “Alone? Do I look crazy?” A bright smile surfaced. “Deputy Gutterson’s around here someplace.”
“You brought one guy?” Mack sounded dubious.
“Yeah, I did.” Givens rubbed thoughtfully at his jaw, then shrugged. “Although I guess you could say I brought a sniper, but they tell us all the time not to go pigeon-holing people. Apparently, it’s just not sensitive to needs of the modern workplace.”
“Well, I can also cook,” a near deadpan voice said helpfully, from somewhere in the vegetation; even Jonas couldn’t narrow down the source. He raised a questioning eyebrow at Mack, who shrugged.
Givens raised a finger, completely ignoring them. “There you go, he can also cook. So, are we going to do this dance or are you gentlemen going to put down the guns and tell me what’s happening here?”
Jonas straightened. “Stand down.”
Mack scowled, but relaxed just enough to comply. They crouched to put their guns on the ground.
Sam did the same, Westen just shrugged. “My gun’s somewhere over there.” He waved in the general direction of the entire holler. “You’re welcome to go and look for it. Actually, I’d appreciate it if you would.”
“I got it.” Another man, rifle slung across his back, came out of the trees. He was younger and stockier than Westen, and he looked more irritated than concerned. “Seriously, have you thought about putting it on elastic? Like mittens, maybe?”
Jonas guessed this would be Jesse.
When the man reached Westen’s side he started to hand the gun over and then caught himself at Given’s pointed cough. With exaggerated care and an innocently helpful expression, he put it and his rifle on the ground and then stepped back.
Gutterson spoke from the tree line again. “You want to tell your soldier what stand down means, sir?”
Jonas crossed his arms and spoke loudly. “I said stand down.”
Bob came out of the tree line looking faintly mutinous. There was a bruise on his cheek and he shot a glare towards Jesse as he passed him. Jesse grinned.
Givens clapped his hands together with carefully obnoxious good humor. “Well okay, that everyone?”
Behind him, a slim figure emerged. There was a rifle held carefully in his hands; he drew to a stop beside Givens. “That’s everyone,” he confirmed.
“Thank you. So, who wants to lie to me first?” Givens looked around the ring of faces. “No one? Come on now, you’ve had enough time to come up with something interesting. What’s it going to be?”
“We’re here looking for a friend.” Sam opened, when it didn’t look like anyone was planning to. “She’s not from around here, got herself lost and we just want to take her home. Say, maybe you’ve seen her – red hair, so high, stand side ways and you’d miss her?”
Givens eyes narrowed. “Would that be a Ms Fiona Glenanne?”
“Where is she?” Despite the white suit, Westen had been doing a credible job blending into the background, but when he spoke, even so quietly, something about the man sharpened to a point and even Givens tensed.
The marshal raised a hand and lowered it. “Settle down. She was with Boyd Crowder. Seemed they knew each other well enough. Far as I know, she’s fine.” He paused. “Probably.”
“That would be more comforting without the ‘probably’, Marshal,” Sam pointed out, after a pause.
“I imagine it would.” Givens nodded his agreement, if not sympathy. “So we have concerned friends on the right, who I’m guessing will say they stumbled their way into camp and got everyone jumpy. Who’s left?”
Jonas considered their situation. Radioing back to the base would clear them, but that would also break mission protocol and they were so close. Too close.
“Chances are it’s training,” Gutterson said quietly.
Raylan turned slightly spoke in a stage whisper. “As a rule, we try not to do the suspects lying for them.”
Gutterson shrugged, unconcerned. His eyes had been carefully tracking over Jonas and his men, the equipment at their makeshift camp, now he looked back to Givens. “They’re forces. Out here, it’s training. Most of the time.”
“You guys all have some secret signal or something?”
“Sure.” Gutterson played along, straight-faced. “And a cape.”
“Training,” Jonas agreed flatly. “Guess Art didn’t get the memo.”
Givens stared at them impassively for a long few seconds. “Huh.”
“So we can go?” Sam tried, hopefully.
“No, you can’t go.” Givens snorted. “We’re all going to a nice warm interview room while we get your stories confirmed.”
Jonas shook his head. “Sorry, Marshal.”
Givens shifted, for the first time his hand brushed towards his gun. “You don’t have to be sorry, you just have to –“
“Don’t move,” Grey said, from directly behind them.
Givens froze and then dropped his hand away from his gun. “Guess you missed one,” he said out the corner of his mouth.
Gutterson’s expression flickered; more with chagrin than worry. “Guess so.”
Ex-Ranger. Jonas would put money on it, if he had the leisure - which he didn’t.
“Thank you, Sergeant.” He bent down to retrieve his gun and didn’t make an issue when Sam and his team did the same. The marshals stood quietly, watching them intently.
Neither looked the kind to let potentially dangerous people just walk without a challenge; he could smell the situation going bad.
Before they could make whatever move they were obviously planning, he spoke firmly. “Here’s what’s going to happen, Marshal Givens: you and Deputy Gutterson are going to put down your firearms and start walking towards your vehicle.”
Givens eyebrows rose. “So you can shoot us in the back?”
He stared unblinkingly at the other man. “You really think that’s going to happen?”
Givens cocked his head back and then finally shook his head. “No, I don’t,” he admitted.
“Then drop the guns and start walking.”
Gutterson looked pained. “Drop?”
Mack cleared his throat in a gesture of support, and Jonas had to admit the rifle the man was carrying didn’t deserve that kind of treatment. “Put it on the ground,” he compromised. “And start walking.”
The rifle was carefully placed on the ground and Gutterson backed away. He glanced at Grey as he passed him. “Where were you?”
Grey smiled crookedly. “At your five, higher. I thought you’d seen me, couple times.”
Gutterson shook his head, apparently without hard feelings. “Didn’t see a thing. Nice.”
Givens looked between them. “I don’t want to sound like a poor loser, but if we’re done with the mutual admiration society, I think we can make it back to the radio in time for Art to yell at us before he heads home.”
They’d double back in a couple of minutes, Jonas was sure. Then follow any trail left.
So no trail would be left. “Pack it up, people – we’re gone.”
“Jonas.” Sam called, but not aggressively.
“You see a red-head, don’t shoot her. Not even if she’s shooting at you. I mean, I’m not saying she will be, but-” Sam trailed away, mouth twisting against badly disguised worry.
Jonas paused. “That likely to happen?”
Sam and the two men with him conferred in silent glances for a moment before Westen shrugged and returned the consensus. “She’s Fi.”