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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 6 July 2007 - 12:22am.

Chapter 15

The moment had arrived and last minute orders were being given. Jenna would drive the car and after dropping off the men outside the estate grounds, she would drive farther down the road for about fifteen minutes. She would then return to where she had left them. This would allow one half hour to elapse and not attract attention. She was to wait one minute upon arrival, with her park lights on, outside the grounds. If they did not show up at that time, she was to drive slowly on down the road and return in ten minutes. In this manner she would not remain conspicuous for long, but could return for them at predetermined intervals.

Bill, Rudy and Mose sat in the back seat and Ron sat in the front with Jenna.

"Listen to me, young lady. Don't take any unnecessary chances. I know you are very emotional about this and I understand it only too well, believe me; however, you do none of us any good, Tom included, if you allow your emotions to make you foolish. Got that?"

His words were firm and she knew without doubt that he meant for them to be, but she also sensed his genuine concern for her safety.

"Alright—I'll do only what you asked me to do and nothing else." She, too, was sincere.

"Okay, then let's get going."

All but Jenna were dressed in the deepest black and she thought how ominous they appeared together in this small group. They sat in relative silence on the trip to the Rollins estate, until Rudy broke the spell.

"You know, it's kinda funny when you think of it. Here we are, all dressed in black and ready to hide in the dark, break and enter on private property and essentially kidnap a man, whisk him away and from whom? From a bunch of guys dressed in black, sneaking around in the dark, kidnapping people and whisking them away." He chuckled aloud.

"You forgot a minor point there, Rudy. They want to kill him and we don't." Mose stated matter-of-factly.

Taken back momentarily, Rudy simply responded, "Yeah, there is that," and again becoming very sober.

Jenna bit her lip through this short exchange, not ready to find any humor in it just yet.

As they approached the spot they had agreed upon, Ron instructed Jenna to slow and then stop.

"Alright Mose, you're in charge from here." Ron had always been seen as their leader in the service—their officer, their hero and their friend—even a brother. He stood aside now to a man he thought more qualified in strategies and intelligence operations than himself.

"Okay. Thanks, Chief. You all know what to do—do it quickly and do it quietly. Everybody out! Jenna, open the trunk."

Jenna deftly reached for the trunk release and pulled firmly and quickly, the cover responding with a soft pop and rising a few inches. When all were assembled at the back of the vehicle, Mose began to quietly and swiftly distribute the other devices and weapons as required. First were the night vision goggles, all fully charged and functional. The surroundings took on an eerie green glow as they popped into acute focus. A shoulder-fired missile was given to Ron and Mose kept one for himself, neither expecting to use them for anything but intimidation. Smoke grenades and tear gas grenades were quickly and methodically attached to belts and vests. Each man also had or was issued a fully loaded pistol and an extra magazine of shells.

"Rudy, run across the road and look over the wall—check for dogs. We'll be there in a second," Mose instructed.

"Sure thing." He wasted no time, obeying immediately.

Mose, too, wasted no time, handing two more things to each of the other men at his side. "Here's a standard grenade and here's an incendiary grenade," he said quietly. "You may need to start a fire or you may need to set the tear gas afire, in a pinch." They knew what that meant. If the tear gas were ignited, poisonous cyanide gas was created and anyone exposed to its toxic vapors would swiftly die. None of them hoped the need would arise to use them, but all knew it could happen. And all knew instinctively that Rudy had been intentionally excluded from their ring of confidantes, needing no explanation as to why. Loathe as they were to think of it, if his subsequent behavior demanded it, he would be entirely expendable.

Ron reflected on how it was that when you lived, worked with and learned with and from some men, you came to know them by means of an unspoken language and understanding. It was rather like a marriage, he thought—sometimes you just knew without saying.

The trunk lid came down, latching quietly, and Mose tapped on the side of the car, signaling Jenna to leave at once. Without hesitation she complied, soon disappearing beyond the curve in the road.

Rudy was descending the wall as the others came to his side. "I don't see or hear anything, but there are some lights on at the house and there are several cars in front. Too many, if you ask me, for the small amount of light I see coming from the windows. I suppose it could be a basement party, but that seems unlikely—doesn't settle my nerves any. How 'bout you guys?"

Bill had some ideas on that one. "Don't seem to me they'd be turnin' off so many lights in the house, 'less they were gonna be downstairs a long time, or they were usin' only candles or somethin'. Any reg'lar party'd be upstairs, so it's somethin' weird any way y'look at it, I'd guess."

"Yeah, I agree." Mose knew he was right. He could feel it in his bones. It made perfect sense.

Rudy stated what all the others were thinking. "Then, that means tonight is the night, guys. They're having their little murder ceremony tonight. Let's hope we get to him in time."

"Let's hope we're not too late." The others shuddered at the thought, but it was as likely as not that Tom could already be dead. If that were so, there would be no consoling Jenna and all that could be done is to testify against the perpetrators. He broke the spell with his next order. "Have the gas grenades ready in case the dogs discover us. Rats! I can never recall whether dogs can see infrared or not."

"Well! Finally lived to see something that you don't know!"

Bill was grinning from ear to ear, Mose knew. He took no offense, but no one else seemed to know the answer, either. There was no choice in the matter. They would have to take their chances.

"And be careful of wind direction, if you have to use them," he added. A short chuckle or two greeted his ears. "This is it. Quiet from now on; up and over."

Mose led the way, followed by Bill, Rudy and Ron—each spaced about ten to fifteen feet apart and moving silently across the grass beneath the trees and scanning left and right for any sign of men or dogs. The goggles made for quick movement once one became accustomed to them. The field of vision was narrower, but visibility so greatly enhanced that it seemed a fair trade. One never seemed to become comfortable with the ghostly green of everything, though.

The house came into view in its entirety now. Wealth was written everywhere upon the face of it. Even Rudy nearly choked, although he had known of the Rollins fortune for some time. Too bad that some folks let their money corrupt them when they could do so much good with their time and wealth; if they only chose to. Then again he thought, why couldn't I be tested like this?

Ron, Rudy and Bill turned from the house to scan the yard, as planned, while Mose switched off his goggles and peered through the windows, one by one in an attempt to determine the degree of danger upon entry and, if need be, whether another point of entry might be advisable.

"You aren't going to believe this," Mose whispered. "I think all the dogs are inside."

A silent inward groan, felt rather than heard, came from the other men. This would complicate things considerably. It was one thing to elude them in a large and dark area. It was quite another to face them in a relatively small room immediately upon entry into the house. Could they incapacitate them? Could they keep them quiet long enough for the tear gas to work its magic? This would require divine intervention to take the canines by surprise.

Mose worked his way silently to the rear entry where he hoped to be able to access the stairs to the lower level easily. Jenna had described one staircase and the architects' drawings had shown another as well. This second one would have the additional value of putting the men further from the dogs upon entry into the house and enabling them to possibly not alert the beasts through the noise of their entry. Mose was confident he could do so without tipping off any of the human occupants, but the dogs would have far keener hearing.

All paused outside the door and as Mose reached for the doorknob, they held their collective breath. It turned quietly and freely. All exhaled noiselessly in relief, though another danger was to follow hot on the heels of this one they had beaten.

The door swung slowly inward without alarming any of the inhabitants. Mose stuck his head in and looked swiftly about before stepping forward. This was the kitchen and the lights were dimmed. As he entered the room, however, the lights came fully ablaze and every man as one stopped dead in his tracks, blinded by the intensity of the light magnifiers they wore, but hands reaching for weapons and hearts racing in anticipation of the ensuing battle. All goggles were immediately placed in the off position and eyes adjusted to the ambient light of the room. There was no immediate threat to be seen here. Mose shook his head in exasperation. An automatic sensor had turned on the lights. How many more surprises were they to get?

Fortunately, the doors connecting the kitchen to the next room were closed. Operating from memory, they approached the one that would lead them to the dining area and eventually to the dogs beyond that. At least they hoped there would be none waiting beyond this first door. Mose put a finger to his lips in a silent shushing motion, and then reached for the first gas canister at his belt. All armaments had been secured so as to make no noise while being carried. Delivery must be the same—a perfect rolling motion and precisely timed release across the floor. Rather like bowling, but silent.

Peeking stealthily through first a hairline crack, then an inch wide opening, Mose pushed gently until the door was halfway ajar. Again the room was devoid of life and all breathed another sigh of relief. The next step would be for real, though. Bill and Mose were ready with their gas grenades. Both were fully aware that devices of this kind could ignite inadvertent fires. Fingers crossed, they prepared to deliver the implements into the next room. At a silent count of three, the door was flung open and the men, staying low, calculated and released the grenades as the door swung shut again. All that could be heard then was a slight growl, several whimpers accompanied by a continual subdued hissing and then the scurrying of the beasts to escape the noxious fumes. Mose surmised that the route they had chosen led upstairs, putting them even further away from the rescue attempt.

Mose motioned to the men to retrace their steps and again the lights blazed as they entered the kitchen and turned purposefully to the basement stairs. Gas grenades would be self-defeating in these areas.

The narrow stairway to the basement was soon before them and as Mose pressed against one wall of the passage, Ron flattened against the other. The remaining two followed suit and stepped slowly down the staircase, matching tread for tread as they progressed.

All proceeded with guns drawn and at the ready position, the two men ahead focused intently for any danger before them; the trailing two watchful and wary of any cause for alarm from behind. None presented itself.

The stairs spilled directly into the room below without turning or any landing along the way. The last part would be most dangerous as they would be visible to anyone below long before they could see any threat to themselves. The need for stealth would be absolutely mandatory at this point and the slightest creak in any of the steps would be an alert of their approach.

At last Mose and Ron achieved a position near enough the bottom of the stairs to allow them to crouch and survey the room in each of their respective directions. Again, there was no one present in the room.

Entering the room and flattening against the walls as before, the other two rapidly followed the lead men and assumed kneeling positions, arms ready for use. Mose moved to the nearest doorway—a set of double doors—and leaned close, listening intently to what might lie beyond. Voices could be heard coming from this adjoining room. This room was it and he motioned to the others, who swiftly took their positions where they could also hear and be ready for entry.

Ron responded to one voice in particular. He had heard that voice before in radio and TV spots locally. It belonged to the area's wealthiest and most influential man—Perry Rollins. Ron knew the voice, but had never made the connection until now. Several other voices were in the room, as well.

Rudy bristled as he acquired recognition of a few of them—the police chief, some of his old co-workers from the force, the mayor.... His upper lip curled in disgust. If there was indeed taking place beyond the door what he suspected, they would be outnumbered four or five to one, but not by any means outgunned. Though he had remained silent about it, he had seen the weaponry carried by these new friends of his and he knew enough about their destructive force that he had no question as to their superior force of arms.

Mose gathered a last minute assessment from the men, silently questioning by his gaze alone. Rudy nodded, his pistol held firmly aloft in both hands. Ron nodded agreement, also. Bill was a different matter. He was the best sharpshooter they had ever seen in the army, but he had an aversion to killing and he might hesitate a few precious seconds when time was of the essence. He had once hesitated when it meant saving a life. Ron made the shot that saved that life and Bill had felt great relief, though he knew that he could have saved time and worry if he had pulled the trigger. He'd had ample opportunity to relive that moment many times over and no new answers had ever presented themselves. In the end, in order to save a life, another had to be taken. This was fact and he could not dismiss it.

Bill made eye contact with Mose and saw the unspoken question, plain as day—are you ready to do what you must to save Tom, regardless of the consequences? Bill swallowed hard. Giving his own life was not an issue. He was the kind of man who would do that without a second thought. But could he take one to save one? He could wound and incapacitate anyone that stood in the way. The rest remained to be seen. He had no fond feelings for these men they were about to attack and they were cut from the same cloth as the man who had nearly killed Ron and Denise not so long ago. It was Bill who could have...should have fired the saving shot, but in the end he could not do so. He now had no desire to repeat that mistake. It had nearly cost the lives of two of his closest friends. It remained to be seen what he would do, but he nodded strongly, showing deep resolve and Mose motioned Ron and Rudy to the knobs of the double doors that waited threateningly before them.

Free hands were placed on the doors, knobs were silently turned to the point of release and the count was mouthed and motioned by their leader. The doors flew open upon signal and the advance two men took places on either side of the doorway as the other two jumped forward into crouching positions and swept the room with their guns, ready to fire if need demanded.

"Good evening, gentlemen. We've been expecting you." The voice was that of Perry Rollins, who stood at the far end of the room, behind a counter or table of sorts. The other occupants were facing the doorway, as well, as if they had indeed been expecting the new and uninvited arrivals. It was impossible to have predicted their imminent presence, but these men showed no surprise that they had intruders. They knew they were coming—but how?

"You have Tom Baird. We want him," Mose stated plainly.

Rollins looked amused. "Ahhh...such economy of words. So direct and to-the-point. No 'hello' or 'how do you do'. Just bluntly forge ahead and get to the point. That's the problem, wouldn't you say? No one takes the time to stop and enjoy the moment anymore. Far too busy."

Rollins was calm. Too calm. Mose was resolute. "If you don't turn him over willingly, we will take him anyway."

"Perhaps." It was stated plainly and with an air of still apparent amusement, causing minds to begin racing and calculating. Bill and Rudy wheeled about to cover their backs. It was already too late. Three men with automatic rifles and large capacity ammunition clips now occupied the room they had just vacated. It would not be, after all, a matter of simply taking what was wanted and walking out; but then, surrender was not an option either.

"You see, gentlemen, I have behind this altar a set of small screens from which I can monitor the approach of anyone bent on crashing our parties—or should I say...rituals?"

He had paused for effect before adding the last word. It verified their suspicions all too well.

"Embedded in the upper corners of the halls are micro-cameras, so you need not be surprised that we saw your arrival."

"You know that someone is going to get hurt, don't you? It isn't necessary. We can work this out peacefully." Ron worked his way to the bar along the sidewall, edging past the black-robed men in his way. All of them backed up at his approach, allowing him to pass without resistance. He suspected that all were in some way armed, for they showed no fear as he passed with all his own armament. There could be almost anything concealed beneath their loose fitting robes.

"Peacefully? There is no such thing! Look around you. The world is dog eat dog, take what you want, survival of the fittest. It isn't made for weaklings—only those willing to fight for their rightful places.

"What about just fighting for what is right? Don't you think there are some things inherently right and others inherently wrong?" Mose tried to occupy Rollins attention while Ron attempted to solve the riddle of the hidden room behind the wet bar.

Rollins laughed briefly. It seemed so normal and pleasant a laugh and might have been, had the circumstances been far different. His confidence was a problem and matter of concern. It could signal a valid reason for his arrogance or it could mean that he was an irrational lunatic who thought he could do whatever he pleased, when he pleased. His cohorts might even have succumbed to his brainwashing and be as much a danger as he was. Rollins was known to be unstable either way, but if the latter condition were the truth, he could snap without warning and erupt into an unpredictable fury. Neither possibility was pleasing to the rescuing party.

Rollins proceeded. "It is quite possible that some of us will be hurt or killed. All my associates have dealt with that decision already and are willing to do whatever is required of them to fulfill their duties and obligations. Can you say the same about your friends?"

The four rescuers looked about the room, each one assessing the faces present. "That ain't what I see. How 'bout you, Mose?"

"Me neither, Bill."

"I see doubt and fear," Rudy added.

"Then it's unanimous," Ron concluded.

Whether said as a bluff or not, it worked. The assemblage began to look uneasy and turn to Rollins for reassurance. He, too, appeared uncomfortable at this sudden loss of control. His resolve seemed about to crumble, but Mose knew that desperation could force his hand and make him do something stupid. Rollins glanced again toward the three cohorts to the rear of these intruders. He nodded to them and they closed in tighter, making the others in the room even more nervous, helpless to influence the outcome. They had expected a simple surrender and now found that there was little possibility of that as an option. It would undoubtedly be a night of death for some of the assembled 'worshippers'.

Ron redoubled his efforts to find the latching mechanism that held the door disguised as shelving. Stop and think! The cell lay just beyond the bar and he knew he must work fast. He moved several things on the shelf and there it was—an indentation large enough for one finger to be inserted and reach a trigger mechanism to release the door. Smiling to himself, he poked a finger into the hole and was rewarded for his effort with a sharp snap as the door budged sideways an inch or two. A noticeable hush came over the room and the tension rose to fever pitch, weapons raised higher and aimed more purposefully than before.

All eyes were on the secret door as it slid to the side and revealed the chamber behind it. It was dark inside, but as light flooded into it from the outer room, Ron caught sight of a body huddled on a cot along the wall.

"Very ingenious. How did you know there was a room there? You must have gotten some drawings somewhere. City Hall, I would imagine—architect's office. I'll have to remember to convert or purge all who work in any capacity where they could do harm. I digress, however. Do you really think there is a chance in hell you will get him out of here alive?" Rollins looked toward the room where Tom was beginning to stir and was shielding his eyes from the light that now intruded into the darkness he had become accustomed to.

"Tom, are you alright?" Ron pushed his way into the room and to the captive held there.

"Yeah, I'm fine; for now." He didn't sound as if he were drugged or hurt, but that could be verified once they had escaped to safer havens.

Irritation was now apparent in Rollins' voice." You cheated us of our chosen sacrifice. Now you intend to cheat us of our substitute. That seems a bit unfair to me—and none too wise." His intonation did nothing to hide the venom he contained.

Ron supported Tom firmly as he walked into the main room and looked about, his eyes adjusting painfully to the light. Looking at the black robes that permeated the room, he could not help but note, "Quite the fashion statement. Appears I'm the one out of uniform here." None showed amusement at the comment—it was neither the time nor the place.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen! You are still missing the point. As soon as you try to leave, those men at the door have orders to shoot you. The only other option you have is to surrender and stay as our guests." His smile betrayed his meaning, but there was still some uncertainty in his demeanor.

"As additions to your roster of victims, no doubt." Mose had none.

Rollins only made eye contact with his gathered crowd and nodded that they part to make clear line of sight for the riflemen to do their jobs. As the waters of Moses, the assembly divided in silence, all eyes on the five men who were so insolent as to believe they could leave with relative impunity.

This was going to be far more difficult than planned. It might even be impossible at this point in the game. There had been no expecting that these men would be so well prepared for them.

Mose glanced at Ron, then Bill. An unspoken message passed amongst them. Ron said softly to Tom, "The likelihood of us getting out alive has gotten much slimmer in the past few minutes. How do you feel about going out in a blaze of glory?"

Tom hung his head ands sighed.

"I had hoped to see Jenna again. I intended to propose to her. Maybe it was too soon anyway." There was discouragement and a hint of resignation in his voice, but he quickly took new resolve and spoke firmly. "Alright, then—a blaze of glory it is. I intend to cheat these vermin one way or another, even if it means taking some of them with me." His eyes locked on Joshua Freed for a few seconds before shifting his gaze to Perry Rollins. He was strong enough now to stand unaided and Ron released his hold on the younger man.

Ron recalled his vow as he too discovered Joshua in the group. His stare toward the young man said more than his words could ever convey. Freed shifted nervously from one foot to the other and swallowed, his eyes drifting from Ron to Tom and then to Rollins, seeking some sort of respite.

As one, Ron and Mose reached for the munitions attached to their vests and belts. Bill was not far behind.

"I assure you that my men are expert marksmen and can sever your spinal cords before you finish your intended actions. There are three of you, loaded down with your little fireworks and there are three of them ready right now to pull the trigger before you can use them. I could have you shot even if you attempt no further heroics. Let's be reasonable, shall we?"

Ron wanted so much to shout, Let's not, but for some reason held his tongue. It was true—the three armed guards already had their rifles in ready position, aimed at their separate targets and needed only to squeeze the triggers, which could be done much quicker than Mose and his men could act. For the moment time stood still and all held their breath. What had seconds earlier seemed to be a standoff now dissolved into an indisputable defeat, with the heroes turned victims and standing motionless in their unbelief.

"What is to keep me from giving the order right now, gentlemen?" Rollins seemed supremely confident again and spoke calmly and quietly.

"Me." The voice was a new one and came from behind the men Rollins waited to command. All eyes had been on Tom and his rescuers while this newcomer had stolen into the anteroom undiscovered.

Rollins' mouth dropped open in surprise and he strode forward to a standpoint where he could discover the identity of this new intruder. What he saw did nothing to make him close his still-gaping mouth. Jon-Jon stood fully ready with a shoulder-fired rocket and two grenades in the hand he supported the barrel with. Both the pins were in his bared teeth, indicating he meant business.

The men who stood guard for Rollins were now paralyzed and unsure whether to turn and attempt to cover this new threat. They had no idea what else he might be carrying, but they knew by the looks on the faces of their fellows that they should be seriously concerned with what they could not yet see. If they did try to turn on him, the chances were that he could blow away everyone in the room first. Was it check...or checkmate? The advantage had just turned in a big way and this was not what Rollins or anyone else had expected, Mose and his team included.

Rollins angrily signaled his men to stand down. It showed on the faces of all that they had no desire to die just yet. His bluff had been called and he had failed.

"It seems the tables have turned again, Mr. Rollins." Rudy did little to bury the hatred he felt at this moment and any reservations Ron or the others had regarding Javits now vanished.

"Good to see you, buddy." Ron was as sincere as he had ever been in his life. Jon-Jon grinned as best he could with his teeth full of grenade pins.

Mose again took the initiative. "Guys, it's time to go." It was now Rollins who felt helpless to act as the five men stepped confidently, but alertly toward Jonathan.

As Ron stepped even with Joshua, his fist shot out fast as lightning and connected perfectly with Freed's jawbone. Freed's head snapped sharply to the side and his body instantly went limp, knees buckling, taking him down in a crumpled heap. Ron didn't even turn to watch, though an audible gasp came from those nearest him.

It seemed that Mose had the same idea, for as Rollins turned to glare at him, Mose released his own stunning right to Perry's nose, sending his target backward into the floor and bleeding profusely. The others stepped back involuntarily, instinctively, gasping at these twin attacks. Rollin's three riflemen even lowered their weapons in their surprise.

Mose now stared them down and commanded in a booming voice, "Drop the weapons—now!" Flinching at the sound, the men obeyed. "Now, over against that wall!" he yelled. Again he found them all too willing to comply and as they now turned to catch their first real glimpse of the armaments that had reversed the tide, horror registered in their eyes and their hands went up in rapid and certain surrender. They would stay where they had been put.

Bill put his pistol in his belt and quickly recovered the semi-auto rifles from the floor.

"Alright, I recommend you do nothing foolish. I would hate to see such a lovely home go up in one big bang. That could ruin your whole day, you know." Javits was unable to restrain himself. The joy was immense. He was clearly exuberant. He cast a glance at Rollins, still unconscious on the floor and continued through the door toward the stairwell.

Every member of the rescue team seemed to gather energy from some unknown source, gaining speed as they continued up the stairs and to the exit that would mean freedom. Jon-Jon was the last to follow. Burdened as he was by too many live arms, he called out to Rudy through clenched teeth, "Hey, buddy. Take this, will you?"

Javits returned his .38 to its holster, turned quickly and took the rocket launcher, leaving Jonathan with the grenades, now one in each hand. The outer door was soon reached and Mose and Ron quickly replaced the night vision goggles on their faces and activated them.

Mose quickly formulated and announced a new contingency plan for their escape, based on the new circumstances. Some of their team was loaded down with firepower now and could not get a free hand to activate and place their goggles. "Okay, guys, 'daisy chain'. Hold onto our belts if you have to. We don't want to lose anyone in the dark and we need to make real speed getting to and over the wall."

Rudy had one hand free and ran as he adjusted the gadgetry for the second time this night. Not long now, he thought. The wall must be close and we can get those pins back in the grenades again. He had no sooner thought this than he was startled by a distinct growl and an ensuing bark coming from behind him. "Man, I knew this was going to be too easy!" he said facetiously. With luck he might make the wall in time to elude the dog, the darkness perhaps slowing it down some. Suddenly several more canine voices were added to form a hellish choir bent on his demise and Javits now redoubled his efforts to reach the wall he knew was there ahead of him in the stygian blackness. Javits' heart was pounding and he knew the dogs were gaining on him. Thank God for the goggles or he would have been caught already. He knew, however, that they only bought him time, not the luxury of slowing down in his flight to escape their vicious jaws.

Hearing the dogs gaining ground on them, Ron and Mose had fallen back to grab Tom by the arms, one to each side, dragging him through the obstacles he could not detect on his own. He had to trust them and their abilities to save him. Anything was preferable to what lay waiting in the mansion he had just left or to the pack of enraged beasts that now pursued them.

Time was running out and it was Bill that gave voice to their fears. "Hey guys, we're gonna have company any second now and they're mighty hungry!" He was panting from the efforts of their flight, but knew these dogs would have no more mercy than their master and he pushed himself to the limit of his endurance to evade them.

Reaching the wall, Mose and Ron lifted and pushed Tom to climb as fast as he could and then wheeled about to face the onrushing dogs. Bill and Rudy were in the trailing positions, loaded down with more than the others and Jonathan had made certain to stay close to the lead. Fearing the danger was now imminent, Javits instinctively spun about to search for the dogs. As he did, two things occurred simultaneously. First, the men in Rollins' employ had now acquired new weapons and were enroute from the house to catch them, along with the equally intent and angry entourage of carnivores the rescuers had in tow. Secondly, as Javits turned to face his foe he hooked his foot in the protruding root of a tree and began to fall rapidly backward toward the ground. Finger still on the trigger, Javits involuntarily clenched his hand and the rocket left the launch tube with a hiss and a fiery burst that left him and the others seeing spots through their infrared scopes.

The projectile, once gone, could not be called back and it made a perfect arc over the rapidly closing dogs and the newly armed guards. The precision could not have been more perfect if it had been a deliberate attempt and the missile slammed into the mansion with a fury of thunder, splintered wood and a blaze of light that surpassed the previous flash by far. The goggled men covered their eyes and turned their heads from the horrific intensity of the incendiary display.

Javits gasped as he struggled to get to his feet. Open-mouthed, he stared in stunned disbelief at the ferocity of the destruction. Where once had been a wall of the beautiful edifice, there was now a gaping hole that extended from first to second floor and flames belched forth as if from a ruptured gas main. The men near the house had been flattened from the concussion of the blast and the dogs were running frightened in all directions to escape what they felt must be certain destruction.

Bill whistled in amazement. "She's shore got a kick, ain't she?"

"That's our cue, men. Let's go." Ron started up the wall and he and Mose sat straddle of it to help the others, one by one, as they reached the top and dropped over.

Jonathan barked through clenched teeth, "Tarnation, Rudy! You almost made me swallow the grenade pins! What do you think you're doing?"

"Sorry, Jonathan. It was an accident."

"A darned good one, though. Remind me to thank you later. Help me get these pins in, will you?"

"Would you guys get a move on? We need to split before any cops show up...any more, I mean," Mose corrected himself.

No evidence was to be left—and none was, unless the bits of shrapnel could be found and reconstructed by the forensics investigators of the local authorities. It was unlikely at best. Any surveillance tapes, if they had existed or survived, would not likely be used by Rollins to plead his case. They could, however, if reported quickly to trustworthy authorities, convict him and many others. That matter would have to wait. They simply had to escape.

Beyond the wall, the men searched the road anxiously for signs of approaching vehicles. They did not have long to wait as the gleam of headlights came around the corner and grew brighter and brighter, stopping directly in front of them. The trunk lid was popped quickly, Jenna anticipating their next request.

"Let's do this quickly. Move it, move it!" The command was spoken softly, but with urgency. All gear that would not fit into the passenger space was placed in the rear compartment, with vests removed and dropped in as well. Nothing but the handguns were kept on their persons.

Jenna started as the back seat filled and someone began to crowd her in front to allow even more to squeeze in.

"Jenna!"

"Tom! Oh, my...I thought they might not succeed." She held him and kissed him hard, crying profusely.

The last one in was Jonathan, who swiftly leaped in across the laps of all those in back. "I hate to break this up, but we'd better go—now!"

The new and unknown voice took Jenna by surprise and she attempted to look for the source, but could see nothing in the darkness of the auto. Wiping her eyes, she threw the gearshift lever into place and tramped hard on the accelerator pedal, taking the car beyond the reach of danger as swiftly as possible.

The ride back to Ron's was made in relative quiet, but for Tom and Jenna talking softly to one another. The others reflected on how the mission had gone—and on how it could have gone awry. Thanking the divine powers that had provided for their rescue, they rested peacefully and silently for the entire trip.

Ron's home was full that night, but the abundance of friends carried with it a sense of security not often known among most people. Jenna and Tom could not turn loose of one another and Ron and Denise held one another close in silent love and gratitude for the success of their rescue attempt. It would have been obvious to any observer that there was a tremendous caring in this group and that all were in some manner celebrating

"Well, that was fun. We'll have to do that again sometime." Jonathan grinned widely as he said it, leaning back on the sofa and sighing.

"Jon-Jon, where did you come from? How did you find us?" Even Mose, the miracle worker, was puzzled. All ears and eyes were fixed on Jonathan in expectation of his answer.

"Wasn't so hard, really. I figured Ron would have his cell phone on him, even if in silent mode, so I hacked into the local wireless phone company systems and ran a triangulation program from there. His signal came through just fine."

"But my phone never rang and I never called anyone." Ron was still stymied as to how the trick had been accomplished.

"Doesn't have to ring, Boss. It's a silent locator signal that the phone itself answers. If the phone is turned on, I can find you. You would never know when it happened, or even if it did. From there I just punched up a local map and overlaid the target signal location. A piece of cake, really."

"We weren't there that long. A little over half an hour, at best. How did you get there while we were still in the house?" Rudy also pressed him for details.

"Took a cab. No biggie."

Rudy still looked bewildered. "Yeah, but...." The words would not come and he shook his head in disbelief.

"Dressed like that? Carryin’ armaments like that?" Bill interrupted, astounded by the admission.

"Yeah, I told him it was a costume party and he thought that was cool! Why?" Jonathan was starting to fidget, as if he were on the hot seat, receiving the third degree interrogation.

"And where did you find a computer at this time of night?" Ron wondered aloud.

"Uh...it's best you don't know that," he replied sheepishly and said no more on the matter.

The others just shook their heads in amazement and stared, but Mose had a look of admiration he could not hide and smiled and nodded to his partner in arms.

Jonathan held his hands aloft at his sides, palms upward in a questioning stance. "What?!" he asked with a puzzled face and looking about the room, from one seemingly stunned person to the next.



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