Christmas Day, 2009, 5:04 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT
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Near Jack's House, Anaheim, Saskatchewan
Matthew Thunderchild's senses tightened as he watched the black van come into view, pull over to the side of the road, stop, and turn its lights off. Invisible from his position, hunkered down beneath a stand of evergreens whose thick branches swept to the ground, he put his earpiece back in and keyed his radio.
'Got a coyote here.'
'I got one here, too,' a voice replied.
'I got another one, pulling off the road 'bout five minutes North.'
Matthew's mind raced. The windows of the vans were tinted. Each might hold one or two occupants and a lot of sophisticated surveillance gear. Each might hold five or six men armed with automatic weapons, or worse.
'Crap, they're getting out!' the first voice said. 'One of them's talking into his collar, so they're wired.'
'What about it, Hank?' Matthew asked the first voice, his younger brother. 'Can we listen in?'
'I'm on it. Okay, got it! They're using a digital signal . . . and it's scrambled. Which shouldn't be a problem . . . okay, I'm in. Tom, you there?'
Their massive cousin shifted his bulk, from where he lay concealed within a show drift next to a fence post, and keyed his radio. 'I'm here.'
'They're saying something about more vans, and spreading out. You see anything?'
Tom frowned, pulled out a powerful pair of binoculars, and scanned the field of view.
'Got a pack of coyotes here! Repeat, I got a whole pack of 'em! They're spread out, crossing the field.'
Matthew grinned a warrior's grin. He'd fibbed to Yelina, telling her he was going up North to spend Christmas with family. He'd also had a bad feeling they were being spied on, that someone was waiting for the right moment to move in.
'Give 'em a little taste of ACDC, Hank.'
From inside his rusty, powder-blue van, Hank grinned and gave his buddies the thumbs-up. He then proceeded to load a CD of ACDC's Thunderstruck, cranked up the volume to ten, and then . . .
As one, the dark forms crossing the snow-covered field stopped in their tracks and began frantically pulling out their earpieces.
'Make 'em dance, boys!' Matthew said into his radio, raised his shotgun to his shoulder, and fired a blast of rock salt at the butt of the last armed man to leave the black van.
At once, the silence surrounding the outskirts of Anaheim was shattered by a volley of shotgun blasts. After a few minutes there came the roar of engines as a dozen black vans sped off into the dusk like carrion-fowl startled off a kill by the ripping teeth of a predator.
Matthew Thunderchild took a deep breath and schooled his nerves to calm. In orderly fashion they had put the run on the bad guys without killing them, had then preceded to blast away at the vans, marking them to arouse suspicion. Each one now had only one headlight. There was now the chance that they'd be pulled over before they got back to base, which Matthew suspected was somewhere in or near Porcupine Plain. He keyed his radio.
'They goin' back your way, Tom?'
'Yup. All of 'em in a line, like ducks in a row. You sure you want us to stay put?'
'Don't you even think about going anywhere!' Matthew told him. 'Let the boys handle them at the roadblock. These bastards are smart, and they're dangerous. They're as liable to double back as they are to go back and regroup.'
'I think you're right about that, bro,' Tom told him. 'A couple of 'em just stopped. They're turning around. Now they've pulled over and stopped again. Looks like they're thinkin' 'bout tryin' their luck again. The rest of 'em've stopped now, too. I don't like the look of this.'
Matthew cursed under his breath and pulled out his satellite phone. 'Guys, it's me. We ran the coyotes off, but they're not going your way. They're coming back. I'm calling in the cops, but it'll be maybe an hour before they get here. Remember, pin 'em down, but try not to kill 'em. This time it's war. You copy? It's war.'