Disclaimer: I don’t own them. I’m not sure who does but that
someone is either in Hollywood or one of those TV filming places.
I borrowed them for fun and for the privilege of sharing my story to them.
Warning: I’ve never seen the show. Don’t know what the guys really look like so I may be off on my descriptions. Blame all the fanfic I’ve read. Unbetaed.
Thanks: Maggie for letting me play in the pond. Wnne for feeding me fanfic. Wyndewalker for introing me into the fandom.
Chris Larabee studied the layout carefully. The team was ready for this case to be over. More than ready. Four months of groundwork for six ATF teams plus two long months of careful with their best undercover operator maneuvering his way into position was too long in his book. He shook himself, refusing to let himself be pessimistic. He had not wanted to take this case; something about it had made him uneasy. Now it felt like he was walking unarmed into a trap.
He looked up, to see the rest of his team staring at him. In four years, they had learned his habits and they knew something was wrong. Wordlessly, he closed his eyes, fighting back the pain of foreknowledge. These men were his family, his friends, his sanity and he had to risk them all or they would lose their missing brother.
“Chris?” Vin Tanner’s voice was soft as it cut through the silence of the conference room. “Did Ezra call?”
“No.” Chris straightened his shoulders and opened his eyes. He had to tell them. “He’s missed his last two contacts and twenty minutes ago, Charlie O’Toole’s body was delivered to the FBI department in small boxes.”
The curses that rang out were one part fear, one part worry, and several parts fury. Forcing himself to remain impassive, he watched his team. They were his handpicked men, his responsibility. He let them become his emotional outlet because he couldn’t let himself lose it.
The youngest member of the team, JD Dunne went pale, his eyes staring up at Chris in horror. One of the best computer whizzes the Justice Department had ever run into, on either side of the law, JD was their lifeline to sanity, especially when a case turned sour. No matter how bad it got, he was always optimistic and usually found a silver lining to the situation for them. Despite his apparent youth, JD was a formidable agent.
Buck Wilmington sank heavily into his chair, a steady stream of curses slipping through his lips. Chris’s oldest friend, Buck had seen cases go bad before and he knew what Chris’ impassive mask meant - trouble. Nothing kept Buck down, over twelve years as either a police officer or an ATF agent, he had seen a lot. His hand went to JD’s shoulder, both to reassure the younger agent and to let him know his friend was there for him. Somehow, Buck had become the group’s backbone - wiry, resourceful, pure hell in a firefight - he could, would, and did obsessively protect the rest of the team to the best of his abilities.
Next to Buck, Nathan Jackson closed his eyes. The medic was not Ezra’s best friend; in fact the big man normally needled the undercover agent mercilessly. He was however, a serious proponent of the group’s mentality that the group was closer to a family unit than to a normal team And no one was allowed to break up the group. Nathan had fought death for each of them and he had watched them all defy long odds to help him in that fight. He might not understand their missing teammate but he had actually discovered that he liked he could almost like him.
A softly murmured prayer made Chris’ eyes flicker over to the big man sitting on the other side of JD. Josiah Sanchez was the team’s soul - often gruff, the man’s background didn’t seem to be such that he would make a good ATF agent. An anthropologist by trade, the blue-eyed man had trained himself as a profiler. Something in his past had turned a warrior into peacemaker - Chris had seen his military files and knew that most of Josiah’s career was classified and the older man never spoke of them, but they had marked him. Quietly religious until his temper broke, Josiah was know for his level-headed strength and his devotion to his teammates as well as the temper that had taken on and broken many of the worst situations.
Finally, Chris turned his eyes on the last person sitting in the room. Vin Tanner was watching him, his pale eyes serious, unspoken thoughts visible just below the surface. A former Ranger sniper was waiting for the information Chris hadn’t given them. Even after four years it still surprised the ATF leader that Vin could read him so well. Quiet was a misnomer for the sniper. Antisocial wasn’t a good word either. Vin found civilization too confining, too threatening. He was the team’s spirit, not completely wild, not fully domesticated. He often knew when things were about to go wrong, before they did. When this case had been handed to the team, Vin had privately asked Chris to refuse it. Now Chris wished he had.
There was space between Vin and Josiah. The empty chair was symbolic of their missing friend. Ezra Standish was as much of a misfit as the others in the team, but without him they were incomplete. One of the best undercover agents Chris had ever met, Ezra was good enough to make his superiors nervous and other agents worry about corruption. Somehow, he was not only the consummate Southern gentleman and conman, but he was probably the most stubborn man Chris had the misfortune of knowing. Standish had a streak of stubborn loyalty that made him wade through hell for his few friends while his pride refused to admit that he was doing it out of friendship.
“JD,” Chris kept his words even. “I want you to make of list of places Ezra would run to if his cover got broken and he couldn’t get back to us. Buck, I want you to go down to the armory, we need the heaviest gauge body armor you can get. Josiah, I need to know what kind of person could do that.” He looked from one man to the other. “Nathan, double check your medical kit, we might need it. Vin, the Judge approved any kind of ammo you want to requisition. You know what we might need, go get it. Saul is waiting for you.”
His words made the team silent. This was the first time they were being given complete autonomy like this. ATF agents didn’t normally get the freedom to chose and change their ammo. They had standards to follow, ones that had just been tossed out the window by Judge Travis’ approval - approval given before the sniper or the agents could ask for it. It told the team that they weren’t the only ones worried about the bust.
“Chris, Ezra’s the best there is. He’ll be fine.” Buck’s voice broke into Chris’ thoughts. “He’ll be at the exchange, dressed in one of his fancy suits, just a-waitin’ for us.”
“I hope so.” Chris replied soberly. From the look on Vin’s face, he wasn’t the only one who doubted Buck’s prediction.
The surveillance van was crowded as Team 7 finished getting ready for the meet. JD was muttering under his breath as he crosschecked camera angles against the building’s blueprints. Around him, computers and equipment whirred. He didn’t even look up when one of them beeped. He reached out, grabbed the printout with one hand and kept twitching the remote camera control with the other. Only when he was satisfied with the picture on the screen did he look at the paper.
“Chris.” JD called out softly.
“What do you have?” Chris placed his pistol in his holster. With the heavy gauge Kevlar vest under his suit, he was having trouble positioning the weapon so that it wasn’t obvious but was still easy to reach.
“Ezra’s cell phone, bank accounts, cover accounts, even his emergency calling card haven’t seen any activity in a while. The cover account hasn’t been touched since early last week.” JD kept his voice quiet, but his eyes betrayed his worry. “He made his last scheduled check-in five days ago, but he didn’t use any of the codes that meant trouble.”
Chris nodded, he already knew about this. He wondered by JD seemed so unhappy and knew suddenly that the young man had found something. “What is it?”
“Ezra Simpson’s wallet was found in a truck parked at the airport about an hour ago.” JD whispered but everyone in the van turned to look at him. “According to the report, whoever was driving it, was hurt pretty bad, lost a lot of blood. No one at the airport saw anyone who could have been the driver. Looks like a drop and run to keep the truck from being found.”
“We’ll find him.” Vin spoke up as he loaded his rifle. The sniper was carrying more hardware than the other men had ever seen on him. Double-checking his back-up pieces, he stood and exited the van.
”Brother Vin,” Josiah’s deep voice stopped the younger man.
“Be careful up there.”
The sniper stared at the bigger man for a long moment before nodding silently and walking away. As he walked towards the fire escape leading to the roof, Josiah spoke continued, “I have a feeling we are going to need all of our talents today.”
“This is Angel 1,” a voice crackled over the radio. “The party is starting. Five and counting, three minutes out.”
“They’re early!” JD grabbed his mic and flipped a switch. “Heads up, find cover. We’ve got company.” Behind him, men grabbed their weapons and scattered, rushing to their assigned positions.
Chris grabbed his suit coat and headed for his car, Buck beside him.
“This ain’t goin’ well, is it?” His old friend murmured, smoothing his mustache worriedly.
“It’ll work out.” Chris growled. “I’ll make sure of it.” The sad nod Buck gave him did not reassure Team Seven’s leader.
“The vehicles split up at the main entrance.” A disembodied voice came in over the radio. Chris mentally tagged it as Team Two’s sniper, Ben Morrison. “Three cars going north.”
“Vehicles four and five are moving around to block the south side of the warehouse.” Josiah’s deep rumble responded a moment later.
“Got ‘em.” The soft drawl of Team Six’s sniper answered. “I count three in each.”
“Last vehicle is moving in fast from the west entrance.” Vin’s voice was calm unless you really knew him. The tension in the sniper’s voice made Chris uneasy. “I see four cars stopping outside the perimeter fence.”
“I’ve got a visual.” Team Two’s leader spoke up. “Bill, Tim, cover them.” Two more voices acknowledged the new order and headed for the unknown vehicles.
“Buck.” Chris didn’t have to say anything else. There were three ATF teams in and around the warehouses, supported by over a dozen special agents. But they had been flanked. This could easily go very, very wrong.
Buck grimaced and switched off the radio, flipping the digital scrambler off. Now it was a simple walkie-talkie. Even if the suspects turned it on, they would be unable to hear the officers monitoring the area. “This is going to be fun.”
Chris shook his head and waited as the three vehicles pulled up nearby. The money for the sting was in the trunk. He had three teams of ATF agents watching his every move. The best surveillance and back up groups were hiding in the warehouse behind him. What could go wrong? He didn’t even want to know.
The lead car stopped long enough for a man to jump out and unlock another warehouse door. Chris relaxed slightly. Ezra’s information was right. They had staked out the right one, Vin was already inside, hiding in the rafters of the largest warehouse in the complex.
At the signal from the man at the door, Buck drove the car inside the warehouse. He parked a little to the side and behind the other cars. As soon as the vehicle was stopped, the two agents got out of the car and walked to the table set in the middle of the warehouse floor.
Ignacio Flores Puentes met them at the table. Normally the suave Latino was impeccably tailored. Most of Team Seven joked that Ezra’s wardrobe only outdid Flores’ because the undercover agent had better taste. Today, though, the arms dealer was wearing jeans and a dress shirt that were obviously new and straight off the rack. The smaller man was sweating and nervous, setting off alarms in Chris’ head.
Chris glanced at the two men accompanying Flores. Neither man seemed comfortable with the situation. Both were scanning the area, looking for trouble. Their hands remained close to their sides, ready to grab at the weapons barely concealed by their jackets.
The worst part of the whole deal was that Ezra wasn’t with them. Ezra’s cover was as a middleman, someone who connected buyers with arms dealers for special purchases. With his absence Chris knew trouble was about to come into play.
“Where is Simpson?” Chris growled at the arms dealer.
“You should know the answer to that.” Flores replied nervously. “I don’t know how you got him out of my estate in the middle of the night, but-“
“What are you talking about?” Chris didn’t try to hide his surprise.
The arms dealer’s swarthy skin grew pale. He looked around nervously. “Mr. Standish and his companion Mr. O’Toole left my estate three days ago. Without telling anyone they were leaving. None of my people saw them go. The deal is --.”
Gunshots rang through the warehouse. Chris and Buck dove for the ground, reaching for their weapons. Flores dropped to the ground, a single red spot decorating his forehead. His two bodyguards fell moments later, also hit by the marksman who had shot their boss. The table offered little protection from the sniper.
“Where the hell is Vin?” Buck asked, trying to peer around the edge of the table. A bullet ricocheted off the concrete in front of him. “We’re trapped.”
The amplified voices of agents calling for everyone to drop their
weapons echoed through the room. Gunfire and the screams of wounded
men came from all sides. Several bullets went through the thin wood
of the table, narrowly missing the two agents.
Chris made a dash for the safety of the car only to be knocked to the ground as a bullet slammed into his back. Even as he realized the danger he was in, he felt someone grab his arm and drag him behind the car.
The sudden booming roar of a heavy caliber weapon rang through the warehouse. Then a body fell from the rafters, landing on Flores’ limousine and flattening its roof. A few seconds later, a rifle shattered on the ground beside the limo. Moments later, silence filled the area.
Chris forced himself to his feet, ignoring the pain in his back. He could feel the bruises forming already. Beside him, Buck held his pistol at ready as they headed for the limousine. Every one of Flores’ men was down, shot by the sniper.
“Damn.” Buck cursed futilely at the sight. ATF agents were slowly approaching, checking for survivors.
Chris stared at the dead sniper. The face was peaceful and completely unfamiliar. From the look of the gaping hole in his body armor, Vin’s shot had killed the man instantly.
Slowly Chris looked up to meet Vin’s gaze. The young man was peering down at him, one hand dangling uselessly over the edge of an I-beam. The sniper’s face was covered in blood but even from this far away, he seemed relieved. Chris didn’t look away as he spoke to Buck. “You better have someone go get Vin. I don’t think he can get down on his own.”
“Sure thing. I’ll get Junior down, but only if you sit down, Chris.” Buck’s voice was soft as he helped Chris sit on near the limo. “You hit that concrete pretty hard.”
Chris didn’t argue. He closed his eyes and waited for Nathan to descend on him. Buck was right, he felt pretty bad. With his eyes closed, he missed the worried looks that passed from one ATF officer to another. When a gentle hand touched his shoulder, pain that he’d been ignoring flared up, making him nauseous.
Faintly, he heard Buck’s voice. “Nathan! Chris is hit!”
“Anything new?” Buck asked as Nathan reentered the waiting area. Only four members of ATF Team Seven were present, a fact that had seriously astonished the nurses. The hospital had become used to the group they called the Magnificent Seven. They were all frequent visitors to the ER and whenever one of the group was hurt, they expected the others to show up and get in their way while trying to find out how the wounded ones were.
Nathan shook his head and took a sip of his coffee. “Vin’s still in ER, the doc is waiting for him to wake up again. The doc was too busy with Chris to talk to me.”
Josiah stood by the window, watching traffic pass by the hospital. Just a few feet away, JD was typing away at his laptop, still trying to find their missing friend. Buck paced, moving from the window to the door to the seat next to JD. He only paused long enough to glance at the computer screen for a moment before returning to his circuit.
“Oh, no. No way.” JD’s voice brought the other three men to
his side. He was accessing a police report, filed only minutes earlier.
As the men read the words, dismay and shock crossed their faces.
If the report was right, Ezra wasn’t missing. He had just been found.
Behind them a door opened and closed but the four men ignored it as they read the preliminary police report on the screen of JD’s laptop.
“What is it?” Vin’s voice brought their heads up. A nurse pushed his wheelchair closer to them. Vin’s face was pale except where it was bruised, a long row of stitches arcing along his hairline. One arm was pinned firmly to his side, his shoulder immobilized to recover from being dislocated. “What did the Kid find?”
“Denver PD found a body, Vin.” JD hesitated. Ezra and Vin were the two loners of the team and as such had become friends. He didn’t know how to tell him. “They think they found Ez.”
Vin closed his eyes, his free hand moving to rub across his eyes. “I don’t believe that. Ezra is too good to be caught by some two bit arms dealer.”
“I agree with Vin.” Chris Larabee’s words were so soft that at first no one realized who had spoken. Then they heard looked over to see him leaning against the wall nearby. Behind him, a doctor was arguing with a nurse. Team Seven wasn’t surprised when they heard him complaining about the two fools who had just checked out AMA - against medical advice. Chris ignored him, saying, “We’d better find him before the hunters do.”
As they headed out the hospital doors, a young nurse darted over
to Nathan and shoved a thick sheaf of forms at him. The medic didn’t
even have to look at them. He’d read them later and make sure the
two wounded men got the care they needed, while the rest of the group hunted
their missing brother-in-arms.
Forty-eight hours earlier.
He hurt - badly. For some reason he knew he couldn’t stop. No matter how bad it got, he had to keep moving. He shifted his grip on the man leaning on him. If he felt bad, he knew his companion was worse. There were more torn scraps of bandages on the man, more dried rusty-brown stains on his clothes, and a hell of a lot less coherence. Both of them were bloody and bruised, barely able to stagger forward, but that wasn’t what scared him.
The thing that scared him was he didn’t know his name, he didn’t know his companion’s name, he didn’t know where they were, and he didn’t know where he taking them. Vaguely, something told him they were heading for safety. Or at least, somewhere safer than they’re present circumstances, he hoped.
The sun beat down on him, drying the high mountain air. He was warm enough to sweat and the salt burned in his wounds. The tall meadow grasses dragged at his feet, making him stumble, but he refused to fall. If they fell, he didn’t think he could get them up again. An occasional breeze brought sounds - sounds that meant little to him.
It was hard dragging himself and his friend forward - always forward. It was hard ignoring his pain. The handcuffs linking him to his companion, his friend, his partner - was that who the man was? - had dug into his wrist and his hand was swollen, thick, and painful, tugging at his thoughts. Something told him this was bad news, but he didn’t know why.
He stopped, distracted by the lonely cry of a bird. He looked
up and saw an eagle flying overhead, a fish in its talons. In his
memories, a voice called to him:
“Isn’t he beautiful? That is freedom.” A deep voice and a huge figure of a man spoke. “The city doesn’t show you all of God’s true wonders brother, you see them out here.”
Another voice joined it, this one soft and awed:
“If I had lived a hundred years ago, I would have been here - and you would have been my friend then too. I just know it. Friends stick together, we’re not loners like Josiah’s eagles, we’re pack animals like Vin’s wolves.” This face was only a dim blur, few features seen just an impression of youth. “No matter what anyone else says, I trust you. You’re one of us.”
Why was this so important to him - it didn’t make any sense. He glanced at the man leaning against him. His face wasn’t either of the ones he’d just seen in his memories.
He watched the eagle fly over him and made an unconscious decision. He turned from the slight game trail they were following and headed for the trees. The eagle had come from there, with fish. Water. They needed water.
The stream was knee-deep and cold but slow. He led the way into the waters at the first opportunity. It felt so good against his skin. The struggle of his companion threw them both into the water. The rocks hurt, digging into his legs, but from this position both men could and did drink. (And deep in the back of his mind, he heard a woman mutter angrily about barbaric behavior but he ignored it.) As he knelt there, soaking in the relief of the numbing cold and the wonderful wetness of the water, he noticed a flat wallet on the streambed. He reached for it but missed and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. As soon as it was out of sight, he forgot about it.
After a long pause, he forced himself and his companion to their feet. Brown eyes looked at him, pain making them dull. “Upstream.” He heard himself whisper and the other man nodded. He didn’t know how or why but they needed to go upstream.
They walked for a long time, the sun keeping silent vigil over them. He refused to let the other man steer them to the stream bank. Someone had told him once that tracking through water was hard -- not impossible but depending on the conditions real hard. From the pain of his wounds, the condition of his friend, and the heavy cuffs linking them together, he decided they were running from someone. That meant making it hard for anyone to find them. That meant walking up the streambed.
The morning sun slowly moved across the sky as he led them upstream, always up. He didn’t fight the instinct that turned him in that direction. The one time he had started to turn downstream a voice in his mind whispered, “It’s safe up here. With all the stuff I’ve added to cabin an’ it bein’ my land - it’s safe. Safer’n Purgatory when I need to rest.”
He let the voice coax him upstream and when the stream split, he followed it again, moving with the left feeder. His companion barely noticed. The man’s eyes were slitted with pain and exhaustion. But the man didn’t give up, he just kept his feet moving. He wished he could remember the man’s name, but it wasn’t important.
He wasn’t sure when the cabin appeared. Suddenly it just was. It’s worn walls fit in nicely with the surroundings. It didn’t look like much but he knew it was safe.
‘STOP’ the whisper in his head yelled. He froze, looking around. If this place was so safe it must be guarded. Cautiously he led his wounded friend to a rock ledge by the stream. Painfully, slowly they climbed onto the rock and crawled along its edge until he felt safe enough to drag them upright. The warm rock against his bare feet made him wince, cuts and bruises soaking up the heat and the cold numbness vanishing. Beside him his companion groaned.
The walk across the small clearing was more of a dance. He couldn’t fight the voice, obeying its commands to duck and weave, move left or right, pause, turn, and slid through openings without hesitation. He knew his companion hurt from the movements and he couldn’t explain why they were doing them. He only knew he had to follow the voice’s admonitions.
Finally, staggering from blood loss and fatigue, they arrived at the porch steps. He dragged them both to the door, wishing for a set of lock picks. Without them he would have to break a window and then help his companion climb through it. And the thought of putting more strain on his bad arm or his mangled hands was almost unbearable. The sight of a combination lock holding it shut made him smile, wincing as his split lip tore open again. His fingers trembling, swollen, and painful he undid the lock and opened the door.
After closing the door, he led the way into small cabin. He didn’t remember the cabin, but somehow he knew it was safe. After a brief hesitation, he led the way to a wall and moved several books. There was a sliding panel here, he knew there was - he remembered it. But the wood didn’t move. The hidden latch remained unfound. In despair he closed his eyes, leaning his head on the shelf.
A face appeared in his memory and the man spoke with a familiar soft Texas drawl, “I know you’re not the country kind of man, Ez, but this place is here. Iffen you need a place to hide, you come up here. If you’re runnin’ I always keep a spare here.” A long fingered hand showed him the way to manipulate the sliding wooden panel to open the box behind it.
It took him a frustrating and painful ten minutes to unlock the sliding panel. It had been created for easy access, if you knew which piece to move in sequence. But he doubted its creator had intended for it to be opened one-handed, with a wounded man leaning heavily on him. But his fingers, even slowed by bruised tendons and swollen knuckles still managed the key. A modified H&K with several spare clips, a satellite relay phone, a set of lock picks, and several passports met his curious gaze. He shuffled through the passports - none of them were his, they all belonged to the man from his hazy memory. He wondered briefly which name really belonged to the man.
Dropping the passports back into place, he took the pistol and checked it. Chambering a round, he shoved it into his waistband. Just in case their pursuers ever caught up with them. He felt better just knowing he could protect his wounded friend. The lock picks only took a moment to use, his skilled fingers barely slowed by their stiffness. A brief search for the correct tool, a pained curse, a twist, and the cuffs fell to the wooden floor.
With gentle hands he led his companion to the worn sofa and helped him sit down. He unbuttoned the remains of the man’s shirt and swore softly at the sight of the mottled bruises that covered his torso. But that wasn’t the worst of the wounds. The worst were the missing hand and the bullet wound.
“Ezra?” The glazed brown eyes were barely open, but Ezra was happy to see the recognition in them. “Where are we?”
“I am not certain I know where we are.” He replied, filing away the name. His name was Ezra, he’d have to remember that this time. Somehow he knew the other man had called him Ezra before, but it hadn’t stayed in his mind. He began tearing his own shirt into strips for bandages. “I think we may have located an oasis of calm in which we may rest and to some degree recuperate.”
“What do you remember?” The wounded man’s voice was fading. Ezra carefully began wiping dried blood away from the bullet wound. His hands shook as they noted the warmth of the skin around the wound.
“I do not know, sir. I seem to have forgotten much. Be that as it may, I need to call for assistance as your wound is becoming inflamed.” He picked up the phone and opened it. “Do you know the number I should dial?”
“NO!” The other man tried to sit up. Ezra held him firmly, trying to prevent any more bleeding. “We were betrayed, the others died. There’s a leak, we can’t call for help.”
“A leak?” Ezra’s mind whirled. He was a police officer? His grandfather would be so disappointed. His grandfather? - at the thought a craggy faced man appeared in his mind’s eye. Bright green eyes and a thick shock of white hair as well as a welcoming grin - then it was gone. He turned his attention back to the wounded man. “You are losing too much blood - you need medical assistance.”
“You can do it, Ezra. I trust you.” The man smiled at him and closed his eyes.
Ezra stared at the man for a long, confused moment. Finally,
he made his decision. He carefully laid the man on the floor and went searching
for the first aid kit.
Chris woke to the pounding of his skull and a sharp pain in his should. Less painful but definitely noticeable were his throat and his back. When he tried to speak someone placed a straw to his lips. He took a tentative sip and discovered it was water. He opened his eyes and recognized the apartment. At least he was at Buck’s place and not the hospital, he thought, closing his eyes again.
“Chris, are you awake?” Josiah’s voice spoke, not Vin’s.
“What happened?” Chris mumbled, trying to straighten his thoughts. Vaguely he remembered the bust going bad. Then it hit him, “Vin? Ezra?”
Josiah’s blue eyes became haunted. “Vin’ll be fine.”
Chris tried to glare but he knew he’d failed. Josiah sighed. “We haven’t heard from Ezra. The body the cops found at the warehouse was badly damaged. The ME hasn’t been able to get a positive ID.”
“It isn’t Ezra.” Vin’s voice came from the recliner nearby. Chris turned to look at his friend. The sniper looked decidedly uncomfortable lying tucked under JD’s blanket. “It can’t be him.”
“One of your feelings, Brother Vin?” Josiah asked, eyes locked on the younger man. The entire team respected Vin’s instincts as they were rarely wrong.
“Yeah. I just know he’s alive.” Vin closed his eyes, his good hand rising to rub at his temple. Josiah absently reached out a long arm to bat the fingers away from the bandage. From the easy glare Vin shot at the older man, Chris guessed they had been doing that all morning.
“Where are the others?” Chris asked curiously. “If JD or Buck were at the loft, they’d be in the living room, hovering over the two injured men.
“Trying to figure out where Ezra would go if he was hurt and couldn’t get to us.” Josiah held out his hand. The two small pills lay in his palm. “Nathan said that if you refuse your antibiotics he would drag you back to the ER and cuff you to the bed.”
Unhappily, Chris took the pills. He despised the loss of control that came with being injured. And since he’d formed the team, he’d been unable to ignore his injuries. Between them, the rest of the team hovered - making sure he followed the doctor’s instructions, took his medicines, and rested. He closed his eyes. Buck and JD didn’t know how to be quiet, they’d wake him when they got back.
“Ya find anything, JD?” Buck asked for the umpteenth time. The ATF agent paced through the area like a caged tiger - up to the windows, back out to the elevator doors, in through the main office, over to the door of Chris’ office, and back to the windows.
JD and Nathan barely looked up from their computers. Their search wasn’t going well and they were too busy to pay attention to him. No one had seen Ezra in days. None of his contacts knew anything. It was as if the undercover agent had vanished off the face of the earth.
The sound of the elevator arriving on their floor made all three of the men turn - half hoping to hear a familiar southern drawl. The leader of Team Two strode in the door, a set of file folders in his hands.
“Buck, Nathan, JD.” He greeted them with a grim nod.
“Mike.” Buck strode over to the man. “Why do I have the feelin’ you got bad news?”
“I do. Surveillance team four went missing before the raid.” The other team leader refused to meet Buck’s eyes. “No one noticed because they checked in with the office before heading to their homes. Since they pulled a double-header, they weren’t expected back until this morning. Looks like none of them ever made it home.”
“What aren’t you saying?” JD asked quietly, eyes wide as he contemplated the loss of more friends.
“The FBI is saying they think Ezra sold out.”
“Those yellow-bellied, slimy, good-for-nothing, no-account, scum sucking -“ Buck’s voice started out low but gained volume quickly. As his voice rose, his words grew more and more foul until the secretaries in the outer office raised their heads in shock. Even Nathan and JD grew impressed by some of their friend’s phrases. Finally Buck whirled, slamming his fist into a wall.
“I agree with Buck,” Nathan said mildly. “Ezra has proven himself and the FBI knows he didn’t sell out. We already proved that several times over, they just don’t want to admit that they keep placing the blame on the wrong man.”
Mike nodded. “I don’t agree with them either. I thought you needed to hear it from me.”
“Did the M.E. ever get an ID on the body?” Nathan asked the question his friends didn’t want to ask.
“Yeah, it was Sorenson from the surveillance team.” Mike placed the folders on JD’s desk. “Officially, you boys are off this case. Your access codes are being suspended on the possibility that Ezra might have gotten a-hold of them. Of course, none of you know mine, so that’s not going to worry any body.”
JD smiled as he palmed a small slip of paper. “I guess that means you’re our escort out of the building?”
“Yep. Told the FBI and Judge Travis I’d take care of you.” Mike’s smile was as sharp as a shark’s. He turned his back as JD quickly downloaded files onto a disk and placed it and the file folders in Nathan’s briefcase. “So, let’s go.”
The four men carefully locked down all the computers and file cabinets
belonging to ATF Team Seven and then left. Behind them, several quiet
secretaries watched, dismayed at the dejected slump of their shoulders.
It just wouldn’t be the same without them.
He no longer cared why the cabin was set up the way it was, but it was well supplied and perfect for hiding - he just accepted it gratefully. All of the windows had double layers of blackout curtains, waiting to be used so no one would be able to tell they were hiding there. The door that lead to the attic area was easily accessed when not hidden, but once hidden was darn near impossible to see. That meant he could hide his wounded friend from any intruders. Narrow plugs in the outer walls turned out to be view ports that gave complete coverage to the meadow. And the fourth wall of the cabin was snug against a small box canyon. The escape route was through a hole in the wall, one few would enter without just cause. They were safe, for now.
In the past forty-eight hours he had carefully explored the entire cabin. Finding and/or remembering the myriad hidden secrets of the place was a challenge. If only he remembered who and why he knew the place so well.
Ezra idly flipped a card across his knuckles. His movements were still too slow and painful for his comfort. Two days - forty-eight hours -- one thousand four hundred forty minutes - eighty six thousand four hundred seconds - no matter how he figured up the time spent in the cabin, it had been a long time. Not that he minded the time - it was his fear for the other man that was driving him to distraction. He didn’t want him to die.
A low moan brought his head up and for a moment his head spun. He dropped the card, his hand reaching instinctively for the wall. The flare of pain as he forced his wounded body to remain upright cleared his head. For a brief moment, he stared at his hand, not recognizing it. Deep blue and purple bruises marked the knuckles, the fingers were swollen until the skin was taut. That couldn’t be his hand - he was a gentleman, not a ruffian or a dockworker. How could a gambler play if his hands were damaged? The two thoughts flitted through his mind and then vanished.
“Ez?” The weak whisper scared him, as did the fever of the man on the bed. Every hour he seemed weaker. Pain reddened eyes watched him, lucid for the first time in quite some time. The silent frown was an acknowledgement of their grim situation. “That shoulder has gone bad.”
“Maybe.” Ezra gritted out the word between gasps for breath. He walked over to the bed and sat on it, keeping his eyes on the still figure lying there. “You aren’t doing much better.”
“Ezra, you have to go.” The man’s brown eyes were dull, his skin pale except for the two flags of red across his cheekbones. “If you found your way here, maybe you can remember the way to get home.”
Ezra shook his head and gently ran a wet cloth over the man’s face. “I can’t leave a friend behind.”
“Not friends, Standish. You have to go.” The argument made him shake, his strength visually draining from the sick man.
“Acquaintance, friend, it doesn’t matter. No true gentleman would leave a wounded companion behind.” Ezra said the words firmly. He might not be too sure of who he was, but he knew what he was and was not. He was not the kind of man who would leave another man in distress.
“Please, Ezra.” The whisper was fading fast. The man’s eyes drifted shut. “You’ve gotta… tell the… team… warn… traitor… will-“
Ezra watched the man for a moment, his green eyes thoughtful. He wished he knew the man’s name. He wished he knew his own name - oh, he knew the other man called him Ezra or Ez, but it didn’t connect with anything. It might or might not be his name. The bits and pieces of memory that crept up on him unaware never stayed long enough for him remember or to make more than a brief impression.
The only reason he knew how long they had been at the cabin was because of the notes. For some reason, he was compelled to keep compulsive notes. Even with double vision, a constant pounding headache, and the pain as he grasped the pen, he was compelled to make note of every single detail he noticed - their arrival time, the number and placement of the bruises and wounds on his companion, the details (the very few he remembered) of their flight to the cabin, his companion’s fevered words, the number and placement of the stitches he’d made to keep the man alive, sketches of the faces that appeared in his tortured dreams. Since his memory was so faulty, he wrote them all down. The original notes were carefully hidden in the secret panel lockbox. Copies of the notes he kept with him. Every time he realized he was lost, he re-read the notes and reminded himself of the things he’d remembered.
He turned his attention to his fingers. Once again they were playing with the deck of cards. Every single time he started thinking about the situation, he discovered his hands and fingers had a will of their own. He carefully knelt to pick up the card he’d dropped earlier - the Jack of Diamonds. Immediately a face appeared in his mind -- young, long black bangs hiding laughing brown eyes. And then it was gone and he was watching the card’s slow progression through his fingers. And idea surfaced.
Slowly Ezra crept down the stairs, his good arm wrapped around his waist. After checking that the small meadow was still secure, he moved to the sliding panel. His fingers were far faster and steadier than they had been upon his arrival and in less than two minutes he had it open. Removing the satellite phone he closed it and replaced the books. Then he inched over to the sofa and settled as comfortably as he could. He stared out the window, watching the falling rain, carefully not thinking about calling Vin. Instead he mulled over the fact that he couldn’t really remember Vin, just a name, an emotional impression, and a brief smiling face in his memory. All he knew was he trusted Vin and the picture in the passports seemed familiar - more familiar than anything else.
He didn’t notice his fingers dial the phone number. The voice that answered nearly made him drop the phone.
“The FBI thinks what?” Chris stood, only to have Nathan push him back onto the sofa. “D*****, Nathan!”
“You can’t go off half-cocked.” The medic didn’t budge. “If you tear that wound open, you won’t be able to help Ezra.”
Chris Larabee decided in that instant he hated injuries with a passion. In fact he hated the man who’d cracked his ribs by shooting him in the back (he couldn’t hate the Kevlar vest that kept the bullets from penetrating and killing him). He hated the ricochet that had skittered through his shoulder and made him lose so much blood. He hated the fact that Nathan was right 00 he was too weak to take on the FBI or IA. Those two groups he didn’t hate, in fact, he didn’t even despise them. What he felt for them was far beyond hate. He growled low in his throat but he subsided, for the moment.
Chris glanced over at Vin. The sniper was quietly watching, a wryly amused expression on his face. For a moment he wondered at Vin’s calm and the younger man grinned. Even though he was infamous for his refusal to follow medical advice, Vin was actually resting quietly and letting Josiah take care of him. Then it hit him. Right now there was nothing the sniper could do - so he waited and healed. The moment that JD found Ezra, there would be no stopping Vin from rushing to his friend’s side.
With a nod to Vin, Chris settled himself comfortably on the sofa. He would do the same thing… rest and let the others find Ezra. Once his missing undercover agent was located, then he could ignore Nathan and the medical advice.
“Look out, Nate,” Buck’s voice boomed through the living room. “Chris and Vin are doing that silent talking thing of theirs again.”
“They’re probably complaining about their health.” Nathan grumbled good-naturedly. He placed a warm mug in Chris’ hand. “Eat your soup - it’ll help you heal faster.”
Vin’s amused chuckles were silenced as Josiah handed him his own mug of the homemade soup. Both men knew it would be good for them, and at least Nathan’s soups were better than his herbal remedies, but they still hated being coddled by their teammates. The silent glares they shot the two big men made JD and Buck laugh.
“So is there anything interesting in the files Mike gave you?” JD asked, sipping his own soup as he perused the computer files.
“Well, we’ve got a pretty good idea why Fuentes was killed.” Buck answered, looking at his notes. The fun-loving ladies’ man could be 100% serious when dealing with his job and his neat, precise notes reflected it. The unease in his eyes as he looked over the neatly printed words made his companions stiffen. “How much do you all remember about the theft of an entire convoy of brand new military equipment?”
“About six, maybe seven months ago?” Josiah asked quietly, his eyes thoughtful and unhappy.
Buck nodded. Vin cursed quietly with enough vehemence to draw a sharp, concerned look from Nathan. Chris closed his eyes, fighting to keep his breathing steady. He remembered hearing about that case. It hadn’t involved his team, but like every other ATF agent in the country, he had kept a morbidly curious eye on the case. Three trucks and their jeep escorts had vanished without a trace. None of the vehicles or the missing munitions had ever shown up. After forty-four hours, the twenty men guarding the trucks and their cargo were returned to the U.S. government - in overnight express boxes.
“The biggest arms heist ever.” JD’s voice was awed as he read over the list of stolen weapons.
“One of the nastiest, too.” Nathan commented with a shudder. His eyes widened and he grabbed a file, flipping pages until he came to a description. “It’s the same group - isn’t it?”
“Probably.” Buck sighed as he put down his notes. “The sniper’s rifle was one of the new kind stolen in that heist. The techs are still trying to get a good casting of the serial number.”
“Fuentes wasn’t big enough or good enough to pull off the government heist.” Josiah spoke slowly, his eyes distant as he ran the dealer’s profile through his head. “He was strictly a broker - a good one, but a middleman. The only reason we hadn’t busted him was we wanted his sources and his customers.” The big man frowned. “Everything was fine until after the meet with the head guy was arranged. And that was set up a week in advance, which implies someone had to travel into Denver for the sale. If he arrived early to discuss term and other arrangements with Fuentes and recognized either Ezra or Charlie -“
“But why kidnap them from Fuentes’ home? Why not just have them killed?” Chris asked, watching Josiah pick his way through the mental puzzle.
“Because he has a mole in one of the agencies but doesn’t know Ezra’s contact schedule?” Buck asked.
“No.” Josiah mused. “He’s got a mole but not in the ATF or FBI. Only our people knew we had two men undercover. The Marshals and the DEA were brought in when Charlie told us about the drugs and other smuggled contraband in the warehouse.”
“They weren’t told about the bust until after their brass went to Judge Travis.” Nathan’s voice was tight and his glance at Chris distressed. “That would have about the same time Charlie and Ezra disappeared.”
“So, they didn’t know about our men until after the meet was already arranged.” Josiah nodded to himself. “He doesn’t want it to get out that he took out his own, so he set up Fuentes at the meet yesterday. If Vin hadn’t regained consciousness, he would probably have woken up with a new rifle lying beside him and murder charges.”
“Why Vin?” Buck asked, not understanding the logic.
“It gets all of us out of the way, we’d never let Vin take the fall. Fuentes is dead, Charlie O’Toole is dead, and Ezra is missing. Who could finger him?” Josiah explained patiently. “Who would know where to look?”
“And you think Ez knows the inside man?” Chris frowned. He had been growing more disturbed as the conversation continued. The idea that another agency had a mole was bad enough, that the mole was linked with all of this was worse. And, of course, his undercover agent had somehow gotten trapped in the middle of it all. “What’s your take, Vin?”
“Ezra’s in more trouble than you know.” The soft words were threaded with a steely tone. The tracker was frowning as he picked at the frayed edge of the blanket. “We need to find him and fast.”
“What aren’t you telling us, cowboy?” Larabee asked quietly.
“I can’t say, Chris.” Vin said, looking away from his friends. “I cain’t answer that an’ you know it.”
Chris nodded. Everyone in the team knew Vin had vanished within
hours of the missing convoy. Judge Travis had covered for the tracker,
saying he was on special assignment. All the rest of the team knew
was that when he got back, Tanner had showed up at Chris’ ranch with a
large bag of liquor. Without acknowledging the men playing poker
in the living room, Vin had grabbed a seat on the sofa and proceeded to
drink himself into a stupor. His only response to their questions
was to say ‘I need a safe place for the night’.
It was only when they got to the office on Monday that they had understood. And since then, they didn’t mention the heist near him.
“Then we keep looking for him and for the leak.” Buck said the words they were all thinking.
“JD, I want a list of everyone who knew about the bust and when they found out.” Chris ordered, grabbing one of the files from the coffee table. “Buck, check in the Virginia file for who was involved in the search and crosscheck the list.”
Silently, the two turned to their assignments while the Nathan and Josiah cleared the remains of lunch. The sudden shrill ring of a cell phone startled them all. It took a moment for Josiah to realize it was coming from Vin’s coat. He grabbed the phone and handed to the tracker.
“Tanner.” Vin’s voice was terse as he growled at the phone. A split second later, the man’s face went slack and he began talking quickly, with false cheer. “Doan’ tell me I forgot to pick ya up, big brother. You’re early. I’ve been trying to reach ya an explain.”
The words caught the rest of the team’s attention. They all turned to stare at the young man in the recliner. Vin cradled the cell phone between his ear and his shoulder while using his good arm to free himself from the blanket. As he stood, he grabbed his holster, adding, “Look, I’ve got to get someone to drive me up to the airport - I’ll meet you at the same place as last time, okay?”
Chris knew he looked stunned. He’d never heard so many words come out of Vin Tanner’s mouth in one setting. There was only one reason for him to be talking that fast. Ezra.
“I’ll make an appointment for you.” Vin spoke that last piece softly, his eyes on Nathan. The shocked look on his face had everyone on their feet as he hung up the phone.
“Vin?” Chris asked, trying to get a handle on what was wrong. If Ezra had found a way to call in, it was good news.
”Nathan, you have a medical kit with you?” Vin ignored Chris’ question, his eyes darting around the room frantically.
The paramedic nodded, his eyes widening. The undercover agent never admitted to minor injuries or illnesses. If he was asking for Nathan’s help then the problem was going to be serious. He grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.
“The airport? I don’t understand. Where on earth did he find to hide in the airport?” JD murmured, closing the programs he was using. “They did a search of the airport yesterday.”
“Come on.” Vin’s nervous impatience made Chris look at him sharply. The sniper kept glancing at the doors as if he expected someone to burst in any moment.
“JD, don’t forget to lock the back door.” Chris muttered grimly as he stood. The younger agent looked up, frowning as he grabbed a blank CD-ROM from a stack and handed it to him. Grabbing a piece of scrap piece of paper, he wrote, “Save this and wipe your files. NOW.”
JD went pale but obliged. He also began grumbling loudly, “JD, don’t forget to lock the door. JD… stay put. JD… call for back up. Get real. I ain’t a kid and I ain’t the one who leave the door open anyway.”
“I heard that.” Buck’s voice was teasing but his face was thunderous as he quietly strapped on his shoulder holster. Behind him, Chris noted that Josiah had grabbed all of the files and their notes, placing them in a briefcase and locking it.
Several blocks from the CDC, Vin rolled down his window. As they turned a corner, he threw something into a gutter. A few blocks farther down the road, something else went flying. The on-ramp to the interstate received another item.
“Our cars were bugged?” Chris’ quiet question made both Nathan and Josiah glance back at the two injured men. Vin’s nod told them the story. “What about your phone?”
“Don’t know. Not worth the risk.” Vin replied impatiently. “Any tails?”
“No.” Josiah replied. “Are we really going to the airport?”
“Nope. Take the next exit.”
“How was he?” Josiah asked, checking the mirror as Buck followed him down the exit ramp.
“Bad.” Vin looked out the window, his blue eyes distant. “Charlie’s alive.”
“What?” Chris stared at the back of Vin’s head.
Nathan turned around, eyes wide as he tried to make sense of what Vin had said. “How?”
“Don’t know. Ezra said he’s sick and needs a doctor.” Vin didn’t look away from the scenery. “I don’t think he’d’a called iffen it weren’t bad.”
“Tanner.” The voice was curt, but it was the one from his nebulous memories.
“Vin?” Ezra asked, half afraid he’d be wrong.
“Doan’ tell me I forgot to pick ya up, big brother. You’re early. I’ve been trying to reach ya an explain.” The words startled Ezra, but he listened quietly, his mind racing to make sense of them. Something must have gone wrong and his friend was trying to warn him, protect him. “Look, I’ve got to get someone to drive me up to the airport - I’ll meet you at the same place as last time, okay?”
If Ezra understood the other man’s unspoken message, there had already been trouble because of the leak. He hoped Vin knew where he was. He paused, how could he tell Vin how much they needed help, especially if the line were tapped? “Vin, your nephew is pretty sick. He doesn’t seem to like flying.”
Ezra heard the quickly indrawn breath and knew he’d surprised the other man. “I’ll make an appointment for you.” Vin replied before disconnecting.
Ezra stared at the phone. He hoped he had done the right thing. Just in case, he decided to prepare for the worst. This cabin could withstand a siege; he just hoped it wasn’t necessary.
Chris followed Vin along the faint trail. He wasn’t too sure about letting the tracker lead the group with his concussion, but since he was the only one who knew where the cabin was he’d had no choice. He shook his head at the sight in front of him.
Vin still had his arm tightly bound to his side, but he had managed to arrange his rifle so that it was slung across his body, in easy reach of his good hand. The mulish look and low growl had been enough that the rest of the team had simply accepted it as inevitable. Vin was going to carry his rifle and he was going to lead the group to the cabin.
After an hour’s hike, Vin paused, allowing the others to join him on the edge of a clearing. Through the dim light and rain, a worn, tattered looking cabin was just visible.
“We’re here? Hallelujah.” Buck started to step into the open only to have Vin catch his arm.
“Don’t move.” Vin growled.
“What’s wrong, Vin?” Chris asked, silencing his oldest friend with a shake of his head.
“Traps are still set. Ezra couldn’t have done that, so they came from the creek.” The tracker pointed to a fishing line stretched out along side the path. With deft fingers he undid the line and gave the others a warning. “Don’t stray.”
The five men followed him along the path, wide eyed as he pointed to small things that would leave a warning if trespassers had been through the area. Things no animal would disturb but a careless human would never notice brushing against or knocking into.
At the porch, they paused again while Vin studied the door. The young man grinned as he flicked his finger against the padlock. To a casual glance it looked like it was holding the door shut, but to Vin it was proof Ezra was there. He pulled out a key and unlocked the lock below the doorknob. With a twist, it opened, leaving behind the padlock and the long metal latch attached to the wall.
“How did you do that?” JD whispered, shaking his head. He studied the lock and the metal latch, noting how it latched onto the back of the door, at the lock. “Oh.”
Vin ushered them inside, shutting the door and sliding the latch into place. He glanced around the living area, noting the faint signs of habitation and held up his hand to silence the others. “Ezra? It’s Vin. Where are you?”
The other men turned startled eyes to the tracker, wondering about
the cabin and the empty rooms. A small creaking sound heralded a
movement in the wall and set of steep stairs appeared. Nathan, being
the closest, headed up the stair first, Vin close behind him.
Neither was prepared for the sight that met them.
The wide bore double-barreled shotgun was just out of reach, close enough to take out most of Nathan’s chest if fired. Erza’s lean form leaned against a wall, the shotgun braced by a chair, his face hidden by the shadows. He didn’t move or lower the shotgun as he stared at them.
“Ezra?” Nathan’s voice was soft, as he tried to see into the shadows. “What’s going on?”
Ezra didn’t say a word.
“Ez, you told me Charlie needed a doc. Nathan’s the best I could find.” Vin spoke up, eyes firmly locked on the shotgun.
“I don’t know him.” Ezra’s voice was tired, his southern drawl thick. “You trust him?”
“With my life.” The conviction in Vin’s words was firm.
The shotgun lowered and with a distinct click the hammers were gently lowered into a safer position. Ezra laid the shotgun against the wall and turned away. Silently he led the way into the front bedroom, pausing to check the view from a pair of portholes on the way.
Behind him, the six team members shot each other uneasy glances. This was not how they had expected their friend to react.
The room was lit by dim sunlight coming through a single skylight. All the other windows were draped with heavy black cloth. Lamps and candlesticks stood on every flat surface and a nearly empty first aid kit lay next to the bed. The figure in the bed made JD gasp.
FBI Agent Charlie O’Toole lay quietly against the bed. The vivid bruises that marked his torso stood out against the white bandages taped to his shoulder and side. His face, oddly unmarked, was nearly as pale as the pillow. Nathan was at his side in an instant, dropping his big backpack beside the remnants of the first aid kit.
“Ezra, how long has he been feverish?” The medic asked, laying his hand on the agent’s head.
“I don’t rightly remember.” The soft words were accompanied by a slow step forward. Ezra’s hand came out of the shadows and picked up a small notebook. The black and blue marks and the trembling in the hand were noted by all of them. Ezra kept the rest of his body in the shadows, edging away from the group of men as soon as he handed the notebook to the medic. “It should be in here.”
Nathan’s dark skin paled slightly as he realized the meaning behind Ezra’s words. He carefully kept his attention on the FBI agent as he questioned his teammate. He ran a finger along a set of tiny stitches on the man’s side. “You do these stitches?”
“I believe I followed the medical journal’s directions in that matter.” The drawl was defensive this time.
The others noted it and Standish’s withdrawal from their presence. With a tilt of his head and a slight hand signal, Chris had Vin and Josiah flank the southerner.
“You did a good job.” Nathan carefully removed the bandages from the bullet wound and inspected it. “Bullet wound’s the problem. Bullet still inside?”
“No.” Ezra took a step forward and picked up a plastic baggie. “I believe this is the one I dug from his shoulder.”
He turned to move back into the corner and froze, staring at JD. His green eyes grew wide and he frowned. He had avoided looking at Vin’s companions for a reason. He didn’t want to find out that he didn’t know them. It was bad enough to realize he probably knew Nathan but didn’t remember him. But the pale skinned kid with too long bangs that covered his light hazel eyes, him he remembered. A wondering smile broke out on his face, cracking his healing lip open again as he whispered, “I believe I remember you.”
At the words Nathan’s head shot up and the other men took a step closer to their friend. Before they could comment, Ezra slipped back into his former resting place, ignoring the two men flanking him. His eyes flickered from Nathan’s busy hands to JD’s face, a lost smile still gracing his battered features.
“Ezra?” Chris stepped up to his undercover agent. The brief glimpse he’d gotten had been bad and he was worried about the man. His behavior since their arrival was making him uneasy. “Do you remember what happened?”
Ezra ignored the man before him. The voice was vaguely familiar but not enough to make him look away from the medic treating his only link to the past.
“Ezra?” Chris lifted his hand only to find himself flying backwards. All the air in his lungs had fled when Ezra’s foot had contacted his chest, leaving him gasping for breath.
When they saw Ezra kick Chris, Vin and Josiah went into action. The big profiler moved behind the undercover agent and wrapped his arms around the smaller man in a bear hug. Vin grabbed the gun from Ezra’s waistband, handing it to Buck for safekeeping.
Pinned, Ezra panicked, his mind dredging up disjointed memories of being held down forced to observe the baseball bat descend on Charlie’s side. He fought against the hands holding him.
Warped wooden walls and a rusty tin roof marked the small, dilapidated hanger. The remains of ancient aircraft provided his tormentors more toys for breaking him and his companion. They hung from their cuffs, chained to the strut of an old prop biplane. Even as old and worn as the wooden frame was, it was stronger than either undercover agent was at the moment.
A familiar face that he had thought was there to get them out of this hell had appeared in the room. Then he saw the look in the man’s eyes and knew they were in even more trouble than he’d suspected. There was a leak. They had walked into a bad con job blind, without a chance to save themselves. And that meant his teammates were going to walk into a trap he had arranged.
He watched silently as Charlie was taken down and led to the chair. Ezra knew that chair intimately. He had been tied to it for a very long time while their captors asked questions. Even when his hands… Ezra shuddered and refused to think about the damage. He kept his eyes on his partner. God, he hated having a partner undercover. It made him responsible for another person’s life. If it hurt to lose the con to the enemy, it hurt even worse to know that losing the con meant another man’s life was hanging in the balance.
After just a little while, Ezra began admiring the other agent. Charlie didn’t break, wouldn’t tell what information had been passed to Team Seven. Not yet. The tormentor, however, was loosing patience with the recalcitrant agent. He grabbed something from the ground and Ezra knew he was looking at the end.
Desperate, he yelled, hoping to shock the man with the bat, “Forester, for god’s sake! You’re one of us. You can’t do this!”
“Shoot him.” Forester’s icy calm was obeyed instantly. The two men observing the proceedings drew their weapons, raised them towards Ezra, and fired. The pain was rapidly followed by oblivion.
Five men stared at the unconscious man, their shock almost as strong as their worry for their friend. Josiah gently lowered Ezra to the floor, his hands trembling at the thought that in the struggle he might have worsened the younger man’s injuries.
“Forester is the head of the East Coast ATF office.” JD whispered to Buck, shaking his head at the revelation. “That means a lot of bad agents.”
“No,” Charlie O’Toole’s voice was weak. “Only his personal groups, they’re modeled after your team. He has two groups - twelve men.”
Chris moved over to the bed, taking Nathan’s place as the medic went to tend Ezra. “Do you know where the weapons are?”
“No.” He grimaced painfully, his voice rapidly growing weaker. “Ezra figured it out once, but that was before he was shot. Since then he’s been in and out. Doesn’t remember his own name half the time.”
Chris nodded, resting his hand on the other man’s forehead for a brief moment. The fever burning in O’Toole was taking its toll. Before he could comment, the agent was asleep again. Resolutely, he turned to the others crowding around Ezra.
“How is he?”
“Not good, Chris.” Nathan’s voice was grim. “They both need a hospital and soon. Charlie’s got an infection in that bullet wound, a broken arm, a couple of broken ribs, and probably internal bleeding. Ezra - a concussion, broken ribs, cracked knuckles on both hands, his shoulder has been dislocated but I’d bet it was a long time before it was reduced, and then there’s the bullet wounds - one creasing his skull and one in his hip. Bullet’s still there.”
Chris handed his cell phone to Vin. “Call it in. We need a medivac and you know where we are.”
“How the hell did they manage to get up here that badly wounded?” Buck asked, staring down at the conman in awe. “How did they know it was here?”
“I told Ez he could come here if he ever felt like runnin’ again.” Vin answered as he opened the phone and dialed. “Told him it was a safe place, so he could put his head together.” The other men looked at the tracker curiously. The young man shrugged. “It belonged to an old Federal Marshal I knew. Used it as a safe house a couple o’ times. He left it and some money to me. I asked Ez to help me with it.” Before anyone could ask anything else, he started talking into the phone.
Chris motioned to his men. “They’re going to need 24-hour protection. Otherwise, Forester and his men’ll take them out before we can arrest them.”
“Twenty minutes.” Vin answered their unasked question as he tossed the phone to Chris. He then knelt next to Ezra, smoothing the hair off the injured man’s forehead.
Buck and Josiah began arguing quietly as to which one of them got the first shift in the hospital. JD rolled his eyes, knowing they were really arguing over the only comfortable chairs in the waiting room. He paced over to the blackout curtain and peeked out into the rain. A movement caught his eyes.
A lone doe slowly entered the clearing, her fawn close behind her. With a smile, the young agent glanced down at the table next to him. A stack of paper was held down by an old fountain pen. He recognized the neat script on the paper and picked it up. Quickly reading the notes, he began shifting in place as he scanned each and every page Ezra had written.
“JD?” Buck’s voice made him look up. Five sets of eyes were watching him. Wordlessly, he handed the pages to his best friend.
“Damn.” Buck’s response to the notes was short and simple. He scanned the page again before handing it to Chris. “Even hurt he kept notes about everything.”
Chris nodded, reading the detailed descriptions on the few memories that had kept Ezra going. “That’s what makes him a good undercover agent, only usually he makes his notes mentally.”
“He remembered where the weapons are.” JD grinned happily as he handed that particular note over to his boss.
Larabee smiled grimly. He had a name and he had a location. He was going to nail the leak, kill the man who’d hurt his subordinate, and bring in the missing weapons. He looked up to see the unblinking eyes of his team. “Who’s staying with them?”
They all looked at each other and frowned.
“I will.” JD whispered. “I’m the only one Ezra recognized besides Vin and you’ll need him. Not too many people outside our group know how good a shot I am, so if anyone comes after Ezra or O’Toole, I should surprise them.”
The other four men nodded. Outside, the deer startled and began running as the rescue helicopter arrived.
Chris Larabee stared at the man on the bed. Four days after surgery and the southern still refused to wake up. The tubes had been removed and he was breathing on his own now. The monitors were steady but the young agent didn’t open his eyes. Even the most optimistic of the doctors was beginning to lose hope.
The bullet had done more than crease Ezra’s head. It had cracked the skull, bruising the brain badly. For three days the agent had managed to stay awake and alert enough to care for Charlie O’Toole. The doctors had been shocked and disbelieving when they’d heard that - it was an unexplainable miracle.
Then during the flight to the hospital, Ezra had woken up and panicked. The restraints were the problem. The fact that he was tied down had sent the young agent into a flurry of movement. And sometime before the paramedics sedated him, he had sent one of broken ribs through a lung. Twice the undercover agent coded, once on the helicopter and once in surgery. According to the doctors that had been too much for the bruised brain.
“He woke up yet?” Vin’s voice was tired as he strode in, coffee cup clutched in his hand. The sharpshooter looked exhausted even though Chris knew he’d slept the night before.
“Damn.” The one word reply said it all. Vin shifted unhappily. He didn’t want to sit down, not with the ache in his side from shooting his rifle while it was against his hip. The bruises from its kick made him too sore to bend. Ezra’s notes had led them to the stashed guns. Forester had died in the shoot out and most of his men had died with him. Even Charlie O’Toole’s teammates had been quietly surprised by the ferocious firefight that occurred during the raid. “Nate been by yet?”
“Nope. He’s probably checking on Josiah.” The ex-preacher had taken four slugs in the vest and fallen from his perch overlooking the warehouse floor. Even with his leg broken, he’d kept firing until the last man surrendered.
Vin nodded and sipped his coffee. The noise from the hall announced the arrival of JD and Buck, bickering as always.
“It won’t work, kid.” Buck was arguing, his left arm in a sling. “Ez would never fall for it.”
JD just grinned and walked over to head of the bed. Placing a tape recorder next to Ezra’s head, he switched it on.
“Ezra, pick up the phone. Ignoring your mother is not going to work this time. I’m going to be arriving in Denver at two p.m. and I want to have dinner with my favorite son.” Maude Standish’s voice was clear and sharp.
Ezra’s eyes shot open, terror flashing through him at the voice so close to his ear. The bright white light and the common, overused white tile ceiling told him he was in a hospital again. Pain shot through him - from the soles of his feet to the top of his head he hurt. He whispered through the pain, “Oh, dear Lord, someone just shoot me.”
“It’s already been done, Ez.” Vin fought off a grin at the man’s reaction to his mother’s voice. He carefully stepped forward and into view. “How are you doing?”
“I’m in pain Mr. Tanner.” Ezra growled. Then his eyes widened. “Charlie! Where’s Charlie?”
“He went home yesterday, Ezra.” Chris stood up and moved closer to the bed. Reaching out a lean hand, he punched the call button. “What do you remember?”
The undercover agent blinked against the pain in his head. “Chief Agent Forester has lost his way and become a gun runner Mr. Larabee.” He licked his lips. “He tried to… he ordered our deaths and I believe he said he was going to place us in a mechanism to reduce us into small parts suitable for returning to the federal building with postage due.”
The doctor walked in and moved to Ezra’s side and moved the sheet back to study the stitches on his chest. Immediately the suave agent frowned. “Sir, I do not know you well enough for you place your frigid appendages upon my person.”
“He’s going to be fine, doc.” Chris grinned in relief as he listened to the familiar sound of Ezra chastising his doctor’s bedside manner.