Conflicting Details
ATF Virtual Season
By Kris

All Disclaimers apply.

Buck bounced off the wall hard with the force of the hit. The hurt in his eyes compounded tenfold when he heard, “damm you, Buck,” come from Chris Larabee’s mouth in conjunction with another forceful blow from Chris’ fist.

As Buck slid to the floor, he looked up at Chris and asked, “what are you damming me for this time, pard?”

“You were in charge, Buck, you put Vin in the most dangerous spot. Put him there on purpose.” Chris forced the words through clenched teeth.

“That’s a lie…”

“Shut-up Buck,” Chris pulled his hand back for another blow aimed at Buck’s mouth so he didn’t have to listen to another lie.
One Hour Earlier, 11:45am

The ambulance EMT’s rolled the gurney thorough the emergency room doors hurriedly, sensing the urgency of the man running along side them. The corridor cleared immediately as the head nurse recognized Chris Larabee, team leader of Colorado’s finest ATF team. All the members of his team were regular repeat visitors. She pointed the EMTs to the first available room, but continued to keep the corridor clear waiting for the others, and, as if on cue, five men rushed in on the footsteps of the EMTs.

She prevented them from following their fallen partner into the room. “There’s not enough room for all of you, and I’m sure you all want the medical team to fit in there and do their work. Mr. Larabee is in there now, and I’ll get you up-dates.”

Buck, Ezra and Josiah still had their vests on, all had their ATF jackets on, they had just jumped into the police van and took off for the hospital. Buck slumped into the chair and put his head into his hands. JD sat next to him, not knowing exactly how to help him.

Buck looked up at the others, candor etched into his face, “Chris is gonna kill me. I don’t even know what went wrong.” He let his head fall once more into the cradle of his hands.

JD stayed by Buck, Nathan, Josiah and Ezra moved a bit away from them, then Ezra leaned closer, “until we review the tapes, no one can say….Ah, here’s the nurse,” Ezra said the last loud enough for Buck and JD to hear. All heads turned to face her.

“The bullet went straight through, nicked the heart, left lung and the pancreas.” Her face became even more grave, “it appears, gentlemen, that it was an armor piercing bullet. I don’t know what to say about Vin’s chances, first he has to live through the surgery, then, if he can hang on, the next forty-eight after that will tell.” All their faces fell at her news, “you fellas always tell me you rather have the truth, well, this is the real truth. This isn’t what I’d normally say.”

Ezra stepped forward, pale with the news of Vin, but he tried to infuse his voice with life, “thank you Helen. You are correct, no matter how difficult, we’d prefer the truth. Thank for being brave enough to tell it.” She gave him a sad smile and returned to the operating room.

Ezra walked over to the doors of the operating room and looked through the glass, people working skillfully, Chris scowling, all was being done that could be done. He turned back to his partners and joined them around Buck.

Buck stood up and paced, “I gotta write that report, Vin’s gonna be in there for hours, Chris ain’t gonna want to see me, he’s gonna kill me, Chris is gonna kill me……” Buck stopped rambling and looked straight at JD, “I hafta get it down fresh, you call me if you hear anything….anything, I mean it,” Buck kept eye contact with JD until he nodded, then Buck picked up his hat and headed toward the door.

Buck left the hospital, he knew Vin would be in surgery for possibly several hours, and five were there with him. He just wanted to write the damm report while all the events were fresh in his head. He knew he’d catch hell for it, so he wanted as much of it down on paper ASAP. He grabbed a cab and headed for the office.

Chris came out of the scrub room and pulled off the sterile gown he had been forced to wear. Chris had been allowed to stand back and watch the operation. The hospital staff had long since given up on keeping the team separated, instead worked out a compromise, where one would be allowed to watch. Thereby, only one would be in the operating room instead of six.

Chris looked around and growled, “where’s Buck?”

“To complete the report on this fiasco,” Ezra supplied the answer, then asked a question of his own, “how’s Vin?” Four pairs of eyes were glued to Chris, waiting for the answer.

“Bullet hit his lung and heart, both are bleeding, they don’t know if he’s gonna make it.” Chris’ voice cracked on the last words. He ran his fingers through his hair, closing his eyes. When he opened them, the vicious look in them did not bode well for someone. “How long ago did he leave?”

JD looked up at Chris and told him, “he just left. He’s feeling awful bout this.”

“Damm well should.” Chris punched the emergency door button, but when he saw another ambulance arrive, he used the side door, slamming it as he left.

Nathan saw JD’s expression and tried to calm him, “he’s real upset.”

“He looked as though he intended to kill Buck.” JD’s eyes were opened wide in fear.

Ezra raised his brows questionably at Josiah, who nodded in the affirmative. Ezra stood up as he said, “we’ll just run down and make sure no one else ends up in the hospital.”

Josiah stood also, “call us if you get any word. Any.” He looked Nathan in the eyes, then JD. Both men nodded, and watch forlornly as two more of the team exited. JD got up and began to pace.
ATF Headquarters, 12:46pm

Buck held his arm out, he wasn’t hitting back, but he was trying to avoid further blows. Chris ducked underneath it, and hit him square in the gut. Buck’s oomph coincided with his hit on the floor.

Chris shouted at him, “you’ve been jealous ever since Vin got here. But I never thought you’d go so low as to deliberately put him in mortal danger. You didn’t even stay at the hospital.” Chris grabbed him by the shirt and yanked him up off the floor only to throw him against the wall again.

You’re wrong, Chris…” Buck tried to make his voice forceful, but the pain from his ribs kept his voice raspy. “…..I care about Vin, and I was happy he came along, he got you out of the hellhole your mind had taken up residence in. Vin was in no more danger than any of us.” Buck sagged even further onto the floor. His face tilted upward at Chris, the hurt evident in his eyes, “I don’t know how you could even think that.”

“I don’t think it. I know it.” Chris picked up Buck again, his right arm rearing back to inflict another blow, when Ezra and Josiah got off the elevator. The shocked look from both men’s faces caused Chris to just throw Buck down and then he retreated to his office, slamming the door with such force the surrounding walls shook.

Josiah immediately crouched at Buck’s head, holding it up off the floor. He asked softly, “where do you hurt, my friend?”

Buck tried to laugh, “where don’t I?” But the tears in his eyes belied that attempt. Buck turned his head and searched out Ezra, he’d felt closer to Ezra since that time they went to that antique store and he needed Ezra to understand, “I’m not jealous of Vin, I didn’t set him up. Oh god, I really thought I’d placed everyone as safely as possible…..Ez, you gotta believe me…..please.”

Ezra nodded his head at Buck, not letting anything of what he was thinking register on his face. That Chris believed that of Buck…Ezra’s eyes met Josiah’s and his face mirrored Ezra’s thoughts. Ezra looked back down at Buck and connected with his eyes. They had never looked more serious than they did right now, “we know that Buck, don’t doubt that.”

Josiah added, “Chris will too, as soon as he calms down and begins thinking rationally again.”

Josiah and Ezra helped Buck up and into the lounge across the hall, away from any possible prying eyes. The amount of pain Buck was experiencing had Josiah thinking that he’d probably busted a few ribs. He was about to suggest that they head to the hospital when all their beepers went off simultaneously, the message……”he’s dead.”
Hospital Emergency Area, 1:00pm

Nathan couldn’t believe JD. He had walked up behind him just as Vin’s heart monitor flatlined and he rushed out of the room dialing the collective emergency number. He had inputted the-he’s dead-message, as Nathan could plainly read on his beeper, but JD hadn’t even waited to see what was actually happening. The plug had pulled out from the machine, as the nurse replugged it, Vin’s heart beat was as strong as ever. Nathan backed out of the room relieved and mad at the same time. He looked around and couldn’t locate JD. Nathan tried to dial out on his phone, but JD was still tied into the collective number and Nathan couldn’t get out. “Shit,” Nathan said aloud, Chris was probably dying, as were the others, and for naught. “JD!,” Nathan yelled as he left the waiting room. He checked the restroom and the cafeteria and was about to head to out the parking lot when he heard sniffles by the stairwell and headed straight for them.

JD looked up as he heard Nathan approach and was shocked at the lack of sadness on Nathan’s face. He was about to speak, but Nathan beat him to it.

“Damm, JD, what were you thinking? Your training, right out the door. Did you double check your facts?, oh hell no. Vin’s not dead. But you’ve caused a panic and if any of’em get here in one piece, you’re damm lucky. Now will you release the phone so I can call ‘em.” Nathan was bull mad and JD’s glazed look didn’t register till he saw that JD hadn’t moved.

JD moved his head a bit and repeated the only words he’d heard, “not dead?”

Nathan’s expression softened and he crouched down to JD’s level. He placed a hand on his back as he repeated for JD, “yeah, Vin’s not dead.” Tears streamed down JD’s face and Nathan knew that he’d have to scold JD again later, but now wasn’t the time. Still in the softer voice, Nathan suggested to JD, “let’s send that message out.” JD nodded, but handed his phone to Nathan.
Ezra was driving the police van as Josiah kept Buck comfortable in the back. They were almost to the hospital when their beepers went off again and the new message appeared.

“Thank the lord,” Josiah proclaimed aloud. The relief felt by Ezra and Buck was tangible as they continued on to the hospital with lighter hearts.

They arrived on the heels of Chris, who stormed in as a bear with a broken tooth. He growled a yell for the head nurse. She was unavailable but the Admitting Nurse responded quickly to him as one would to a drill sergeant.

“Yes, sir?”

“Where’s Vin? Tell me now.” Chris looked right past her, the worry paramount in his voice and on his face.

Helen, the head nurse exited the operating room and answered the question. “He’s still in surgery, the plug came out of the monitor, and the young one reacted before checking, but all is proceeding well. Better than can be expected, actually. He has a strong will to live.” She ushered him in, so he could see for himself.

The doors closed behind Chris, just as the emergency room doors automatically opened to Ezra and Josiah as they brought in Buck. The admitting nurse took one look at Buck and hurriedly indicated the nearest examining room. She motioned for the nearest doctor to follow her in.

Nathan and JD had heard Chris arrive and rushed out to meet him, instead they saw Buck arrive with Ezra and Josiah, in need of medical aid. JD got an awful look on his face as he ran to the room he’d seen Buck disappear into.

Nathan wasn’t sure who to check on first but hurried after JD.
The doctor wrapped Buck’s ribs and secured the velcro brace to hold his shoulders back for his broken collar bone. The doctor gave Josiah the prescription for pain medication on his way out. Josiah and Ezra helped Buck out to the waiting room to join JD and Nathan.

JD jumped up as he saw Buck and approached him cautiously. “Geez, what happened Buck? Did ya get hit by a truck?”

“Felt like it.”

JD looked questionably at Ezra and Josiah, hoping for a better answer. Josiah explained, “Buck got in the way of Chris’ anger.” JD scrunched up his face in continued puzzlement. Nathan‘s eyes widened as he understood what Josiah was implying.

Josiah felt weary to his bones, he feared this could divide the team. It was obvious to him that Ezra had instinctively comprehended this also. They needed to find out what happened first.

Josiah was right, Ezra was worried indeed, he feared that this tore at the very fabric of this group. And it was paramount to him this group stay together, for Ezra was beginning to suspect that he had finally found his niche and a family he could belong to. His thoughts hesitated at the word family, afraid that if he really used the word, it would all dissolve in smoke.
The next three hours proved to be extremely nerve-wracking. Chris never left the operating room, so the others didn’t get an opportunity to be in there with Vin. The nurse only came out once to let them know that it was proceeding as expected, “the longer he keeps breathing, the better his chances.”

JD, on the other hand, was afraid that Chris would come out and attack Buck again. Just the thought of one of his heroes hitting the friend he loved like a brother could bring tears to his eyes.

Josiah had Buck’s prescription filled and Nathan was continually checking on his condition. Buck wished he could be left alone, but knew that with this set of friends, that was impossible. He felt more pain in Chris’ doubt of his integrity than in the pain of the busted ribs.

Ezra figured that he himself had drained two urns-full of coffee, and Josiah was proposing yet another coffee run. He hadn’t been able to sit still the entire time and yet, he was thinking of getting an even stronger brew.

All thoughts were shelved as the surgeon, doctors and nurses exited the operating room. Chris emerged ashen faced, as he said to the room at large, “he made it through the surgery. Now all we can do is wait.” Chris ran his hand up and down his face as if trying to rub away the fear he experienced at seeing Vin’s bleeding heart. He looked about the room and his eyes hardened as they reached Buck.

Buck was laying across several chairs with his head in JD’s lap. JD didn’t flinch as Chris’ eyes rested on him and his stare hardened. ‘He wasn’t gonna choose, no one could make him,’ JD thought to himself as he returned Chris’ look.

No words were exchanged, but Josiah was afraid that Chris had drawn an invisible line and that this breech could be hard to heal.

The doors opened behind Chris where nurses and orderlies emerged wheeling Vin. Chris followed as Helen rushed over to the elevator and keyed it and locked it open. The gurney with Vin entered first along with all the tubes and fluid bags needed and an addition three staff to move Vin to ICU. As the elevator began closing, Chris indicated floor five with his hand.

JD rousted Buck and with Ezra’s help got Buck moving and they all proceeded to the fifth floor with the next available elevator.
Ezra  knew that Chris wouldn’t be leaving Vin’s side until he was out of danger. He’d made it through the long operation, but the next forty eight hours would be more determining. Ezra went in search of the head nurse, as Chris had been less than his communicative self. They all needed to know Vin’s real chances. He headed back downstairs.

He located Helen, the day shift head nurse at the admitting desk. He waited patiently for her to finish, he made eye contact as she was about to depart. She picked up a different chart and walked over to the waiting ATF agent.

“Mr. Standish…,” she began.

“Ezra, please,” Ezra used his most winning smile.

Helen returned the smile, “Ezra. Your partner made it through a very difficult operation, his own desire to survive made the difference. We really won’t know for forty eight hours, but after seventy-two, without complications, we all will be able to breathe easier.” She thought she caught  distress in his eyes, but in the time it took to blink the look was gone.

“I appreciate your honesty, Helen. My will remain on hand throughout it all.”

Helen nodded her head, all the permanent staff were well aware of the vigilant efforts that Team Seven put into all their wounded members.  Ezra patted her arm, then gave it a grateful squeeze as he turned to leave.

A bit hesitantly, Helen said, “Ezra?”

Ezra turned back with a question in his eyes. “Yes Helen?”

She leaned closer and lowered her voice as she divulged, “when Mr. Larabee first talked with the doctors, they all believed that the shot entered the heart first, through the front. During the operation, the surgeon discovered that the heart was damaged last. The bullet entered through the back, his vest deflected the bullet enough so that it missed hitting a bone. It traveled straight through instead of the internal implosion it was designed to do. I believe that Mr. Larabee is still under the original impression. The surgeon never spoke of it to him, but it is mentioned on his chart.

A dozen implications ran through Ezra’s mind in the second before he answered. “Thank you Helen, this is extremely important. I’m asking you not to repeat this to anyone else. This information will be instrumental in our investigation.”

Helen smiled as she agreed to do as Ezra asked.
Ezra entered the nurse’s lounge on the ICU floor to find all but Chris there. The nurse’s offered it to the team when they figured it was the only way to keep them out of their way.

Ezra made eye contact with Josiah and moved his head to the left with the slightest of movements. Josiah stood and moved over to the coffee pot.

Ezra poured himself another cup of coffee as he whispered to Josiah, “we need to retrieve the mission tape, before the evidence trail is harder to track.”

Josiah didn’t question Ezra on a thing, he gave him a quick nod and rejoined the group. “JD, you need to get Buck home. Stay with him.” JD didn’t miss the command that was evident in Josiah’s tone. He nodded. Josiah looked at Nathan. “Just make sure that Chris doesn’t keel over with exhaustion. I know he won’t leave, just get him to rest. Ezra and I are gonna get Buck’s report started.”
Understanding eyes followed them as they left the lounge.
Warehouse District, 5:30pm

The surveillance van was where they had left it. It had been JD’s domain throughout the bust and subsequently, it was his responsibility to get it back to headquarters. Ezra noted right off that the lock had been tampered with. The scratch marks were hardly discernible, but Ezra’s eye for detail rarely missed the small things. He motioned a silent shush at his lips as he indicated the marks on the van lock. Josiah drew his gun and aimed right over Ezra’s shoulder as he open the doors, slowly and cautiously.

Nothing looked amiss from the ground view. They both stepped up into the van and closed the door behind them. Josiah sat at the video-cam recorder and ejected the tape. They put it the player and watched as the mornings events unfolded. As Josiah was about to re-view the tape, Ezra stilled him with a hand movement and leaned over the recording table and reached behind to an unnoticed area and fiddled a moment then withdrew a second tape.

“Let’s see if JD’s second ‘insurance’ recording matches what we’ve just watched.” Ezra smiled at Josiah’s expression. He obviously hadn’t known of JD’s habit of recording a second tape. “Mr. Dunne hated explaining to our leader that the equipment had malfunctioned and he was unable to produce the tape of that McPhillips bust. Ever since, he has recorded a second copy.”

While Ezra had been speaking, Josiah put in the second tape and then hit the play button. The tape almost seemed the same, but it became obvious that several parts had been deleted from the first tape viewed.

“Bless JD,” Josiah said aloud as he popped out the tape and put it into his inner pocket. Josiah bent over and retrieved the ignition key and tossed it to Ezra. “Let’s take both these vehicles back to the office, small possibility we could get some prints from this one.”

Ezra’s skepticism was blatantly written on his face at that chance, but smiled at Josiah as he caught the key. “Lead on, Mr. Sanchez.”
As they were stuck in early evening traffic, Ezra pulled out his cellphone and dialed Nathan’s number. At Nathan’s pick-up he asked, “how’s Mr. Tanner?”

“No change, but for right now, that’s a good thing.” Some of the mornings stress was missing from his voice.

Ezra paused a moment, took a breath and said, “Nathan, are you alone?”


“The raid and bust tape has been tampered with….,” he paused again at Nathan’s in-drawn breath. “…But thanks to our Mr. Dunne’s diligence, we have a back up copy. No one must know of this.”

“Beneficial help?” Nathan had to ask.

“Yes, it collaborates what the head nurse told me, Vin was shot from behind.”

Nathan sucked in his breath again, as the implications hit him. “Shit.”

“Nathan, till we get the whole story, don’t tell Chris just yet. This may clear Buck, and Chris isn’t thinking clearly right now.”

Nathan realized how serious Ezra was by the usage of first names. “Chris is in with Vin, and no one is getting him outta there. He won’t miss me.”

“You need to stay with Buck, you’re an impeachable witness. We first have to establish that Buck was unable to tamper with it, then proceed from there. We need young Mr. Dunne to assist us with electronics.”

Nathan was already on the move, “I’m on my way as we speak.” Nathan broke the connection as hailed a cab out front of the hospital.

JD had finally got Buck down with a couple of pain pills into his bloodstream. He had just flipped the switch on the coffee maker when the phone rang. He ran out of the kitchen and leapt over the couch and got it on the second ring. “Yeah?”

“Mr. Dunne, you sound winded?”

“Ez,…I just got Buck down, and let me tell you, that ain’t easy.” JD said into the mouthpiece as he walked the phone onto the patio and drew the glass door closed.

Ezra smiled at JD’s agitation, he now sounded just like Buck. Into the mouthpiece he said, “we need your services down here at the office. Mr. Jackson is on his way to relieve you.”

“Ahh, I hate to leave Buck.”

“This is for his welfare.”

Ezra’s tone persuaded JD more than his words. “I’ll head out as soon as Nathan gets here.”

“Outstanding.” Ezra figured the line wasn’t tapped, but he had learned early, hedge your bets. He pulled into the parking garage and checked in the vehicle. He tagged it ‘under investigation’. He kept the keys, but readied the locks so he could easily ascertain if they’re tampered with.

As he exited the elevator, Josiah was already at Buck’s desk. He was rummaging through it, mumbling to himself.

“You’re hoping to find…?” Ezra asked as he joined him.

“A copy of the raid lay-out. His original could be here too, we don’t know how long he was here before Chris joined him.”

That gave Ezra an idea and he began looking under the desks throughout the office. He found the plan under the water cooler. They laid open the plans, and both men were surprised at how neat and concise they were.

“This appears very well laid out. Mr. Larabee is wrong, even if Vin had been shot from the front, it wasn’t out of negligence on Buck’s part. The plans alone should clear him.”

Josiah turned them over and exhaled a sigh of relief. “It has Chris’ sign off and time stamp. No one will be able to pass off other plans as the original. I believe we lucked out in having Chris so upset,…” Josiah smiled at Ezra’s puzzlement, “….it caused the plans to be strune about and if someone did attempt to steal them, they only found his copy.” As Josiah still had been unable to find Buck’s copy all the while.

While they waited for JD they made a copy of the tampered tape for use until they could get it fingerprint dusted.
ATF Headquarters, 9:15pm

JD worked on the tape for several hours. He kept calling Ezra and Josiah in to share with them each discrepancy. His final call was one of frustration, pointing to a blur spot on the freeze frame, he said, “with this equipment, I can’t get it any better than it is. But I know that we could see who this was, if we just had a more sophisticated piece of equipment.” JD looked expectantly over at Josiah and Ezra.

The look on their faces told JD that their thoughts mirrored his, Chris’ personal set-up at the ranch.

“Mr. Larabee does have excellent equipment and it would probably far surpass our requirements,” Ezra replied in favor of JD’s unspoken request.

Josiah felt compelled to be the voice of reason, “Chris probably wouldn’t be to keen on using his stuff without his being there.” Josiah could see the wheels turning in Ezra’s head.

“We can show him that he’s wrong about Buck, we can’t let this split us.” JD used his most persuasive beguiling look.

“Yeah, let’s go,” Josiah stood up and dangled the keys to Chris’ place.
“Hey Ezra, look at this,” JD yelled out to Ezra in the kitchen.

“Coming Mr. Dunne,” Ezra smiled to himself as he carried the mugs of freshly brewed coffee. He had already passed on the news that the lab had been unable to get any prints off the tape, so JD had been unusually dutiful since they had arrived at Chris’. He handed one mug of coffee to Josiah and leaned in close to JD as he said, “okay, dazzle me.”

“We have a man up on that crossbeam and he is definitely holding a rifle and it’s aimed directly at Vin.” JD let that sink in for a second, “this is the best one, but I still can’t get it clear enough for the program to fill it in.”

Ezra put his coffee down, “let me try something JD.” He sat in the seat that JD vacated, stretched his fingers and then let them fly across the keyboard. He contacted his computer via modem and began networking with it. He accessed an experimental program that Frolicke sent him. He altered JD’s work through it on the screen and the image began to come in clearer frame by frame.

“Oh geez, that’s an FBI jacket,” JD jumped up as he said it aloud.

Josiah’s look of disappointed matched his tone, “I was afraid of this, it was the only way this could make sense.

Ezra’s fingers kept up their fast pace as he augmented the program to bring the face into focus. He highlighted the face and the screen flickered and the face became clearer and sharper until the face was recognizable.

“My lord, that’s Assistant Director Mullins,” Ezra couldn’t conceal his surprise.

“What’s he even doing there?” Josiah asked, more to himself.

“Shootin’ Vin,” JD stated the obvious.

“Actually I meant, on the line, as part of the bust. AD’s rarely go out on a raid and certainly not on the front line.” Josiah pondered aloud.

“We need to research him thoroughly. We need to talk with Buck, find out if he is even aware that Mullins was there…..” Ezra paused,  “…we need to talk with Vin.” Ezra’s voice lowered saying Vin’s name.

Josiah took out his cellphone and called Chris, “how’s Vin?”
FBI Building, Downtown Denver, 11:00pm

Scared fingers rapidly dialed a number, “Someone’s accessed your files.”

“Block it,” Mullins yelled into the phone.

“The only way I could do that was unplugging it all from the wall.”

“Fine, how much did they get?”

“Hard to tell,” not wanting his boss to explode, he didn’t share that all the files had been accessed. “I could back-trace it to Denver, the rest was scrambled.”

Mullins wasn’t going to let Tanner or his stupid team ruin a good thing, “take out Tanner, he’s still in the hospital. We also need to discredit the agent in charge, get an internal investigation going.”

“Larabee?” the voice held much fear at the mention of his name.

“No, it was Wilmington’s assignment. Take care of it.” The line went dead.

Hospital, next morning, 5:45am

Josiah entered the ICU quietly, but not quiet enough to avoid waking Chris. Chris rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, then immediately turned his head to check Vin’s monitors. “Resting quietly,” Chris wasn’t sure he he’d said that aloud, but apparently so at Josiah’s answering nod.

Josiah added, “nurses said he slept better than you.”

Chris shrugged his shoulders as if to say, better him than me. Chris shifted in his chair as he turned to look at Josiah directly, “you’re here early.”

“Hoping I could spell you, after we talk a bit.”

Chris was already shaking his head as he said roughly, “don’t wanna talk about Buck.”

Josiah kept eye contact with Chris, “fine. There’s still a coupla things you should know.” Chris shook his head with a glare, but Josiah continued on with a flat statement. “Operations tape was tampered with.” He stood back waiting for Chris’ reaction.

Chris’ head came up sharply as his eyes narrowed dangerously, “tampered…how so?” Chris’ look turned suspicious and added, “how do ya know?” He couldn’t be sure that Josiah wasn’t just trying to defend Buck.

“After the McPhillips case,” Chris nodded his head as he recognized the reference, “JD never wanted to get caught out again, so he makes a back-up tape. Only Buck and Ezra knew this. Last night Ezra and I compared tapes and found several discrepancies.” But before Josiah could elaborate, the lights flickered and Vin’s equipment staring beeping.

Chris was up like a shot checking for Vin’s pulse as Josiah rushed out the door in search of a doctor. He was nearly flattened by the ICU team responding to the crisis in Vin’s room.

Josiah waited outside the room until the doctor exited, he was relieved at the doctor’s expression, Vin was still alive. Josiah went back into the room, finding Chris right next to Vin’s bed. Chris had one hand covering his face, fighting the tears that threatened to fall.

Josiah placed his arm around Chris’ shoulders and walked him on over to the chairs. With only a little push he had Chris sitting. Josiah gently rubbed Chris’ shoulders, willing him to relax. When he felt some of the tension drain, he said lowly, “lean back in the chair and rest. I’ll stay and keep watch on Vin.”

An emotionally drained Chris nodded and propped his feet up and closed his eyes. Josiah kept watch of both.
Buck and JD’s Apt. 6:30am

Nathan awoke at the sound of the shower. He shook his head, trying to gauge where he was. A quick sweep of the surroundings abruptly reminded him where he was. JD’s and Buck’s. The grimace on his face quickly disappeared though, as he remembered the reason he was there. He went into Buck’s room and was surprised to find him awake.

“In pain, Buck?” Nathan asked him.

“Ah some, but nothing too bad…….Nathan, I keep replaying yesterday, and I can’t find my goof.” Buck seemed unusually pensive to Nathan.

Nathan sat on the edge of Buck’s bed, “Buck, you didn’t, last night Josiah and Ezra with JD’s help proved that, beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Buck whole demeanor shifted with that news, “but what they discovered won’t leave you feelin any better.”

Buck looked at Nathan with earnest puzzlement. Nathan filled him in on all the discoveries the three of them had made, and the news didn’t sit well with Buck. Nathan wasn’t finished yet, “Buck, I keep going over the information and I draw the same conclusion each time. You’re not in the clear yet, nor are you safe.” Nathan held up a hand as Buck was about to interrupt. “Mullins is gonna try to implicate you…so, we need to keep you out of view and safe. We’re going out to Chris’ ranch.”

“Good idea, “ JD added as he entered the room dressed, but still toweling his hair.

“Now, hey…” Buck tried to object, but JD interrupted.

“Buck, roles reversed, you’d make me do it….so you’re gonna do it.” JD was adamant. Nathan was impressed.

Buck relented, “okay, okay.” But his eyes held respect as he looked over at JD.

“Good, now let’s make sure we take the Gameboy….” JD chatted on as Buck met Nathan’s eyes, sharing…well he can’t be grown up all the time.
 Hospital, 8:30am

Josiah’s silent beeper vibrated in his pocket. The message read urgent. He gently shook Chris awake. “Chris, I have an urgent page, but I didn’t want to leave until I woke you.”

Chris nodded, he felt better with the two and a half hours of sleep. Josiah left the room quietly. He stood up and stretched, walking about the room to get the blood flowing. His cellphone rang and he answered it after that first ring. “Larabee.”

“Chris, what the hell went down with that bust yesterday? We’ve got the FBI wanting an internal investigation done, and criminal charges filed on Wilmington.”

Chris’ stomach muscles tightened at Buck’s name, but he was riled, no one messed with his team. “Who’s calling for this shit, Judge?” He stepped outside Vin’s door so his yelling wouldn’t worry him.

Travis answered, “Section Chief Addison, said he had three teams in there and the complaints came from agent working in conjunction with Wilmington. Cited misconduct and dereliction of duty.”

“Buck was head honcho, he didn’t have no one working in conjunction with him. Get me the name of the complainer and actual incidents cited. I’ll call you back.” Chris closed his cellphone with a slap. He thought back to Josiah’s disclosure, the tampered tape. He was still leaning against the counter when the orderly passed him and entered Vin’s room. He looked down to his feet and noticed the pressed dress pants and wing-tipped shoes and knew instinctively that Vin was in danger. He rushed into the room as the man was injecting a fluid into the IV drip, Chris shoved him aside as he ripped out all of Vin’s IV’s. Beeps sounded as Chris tore into the man trying to escape the room. Chris slammed him against the wall, and with the force of all the pent up anger, his head hit hard and he fell to the floor unconscious.

The ICU team rushed into the room and the nurse immediately began connecting Vin back up to the IV drip. Chris yelled, “NO! Poisoned. He put it in the drip bag.” The nurse looked horrified.
The doctor, unfamiliar with Team 7, “now you don’t know that to be true.”

Chris’ menacing stare as he approached the doctor had the doctor feeling distinctly uncomfortable. The nurse, fearing for the doctor’s safety interjected, “Doctor Stevens, you can take Mr. Larabee at his word. If he says the drip has been contaminated, it has been.”

She handed the contaminated bag to Chris. As he took it from her he glanced at her name tag, “thank you, Janelle.”

“Team 7’s  dedication to each of its members is legendary here at the hospital, Mr. Larabee.” Janelle answered him. She returned to Vin’s side as the new IV drip was brought into the room.

Chris retreated to the corner of the room. Keeping an eye on the unconscious assassin, he flipped open his cellphone.
ATF Headquarters, 8:50am

Josiah got off the elevator looking for Ezra, his ‘just get here’ was ominous to say the least. He spotted Ezra in Chris’ office, at his desk, on the phone. Ezra waved him in as he spoke, “, if Mr. Larabee requested that you call him with that information, please respect that. We’ll work with it here, but he needs to hear it from you at his end. ……Yes sir.” Ezra replaced the phone and rubbed his face before repeating it all to Josiah.

“There was an attempt just now on Vin’s life, Chris saved him and caught the perpetrator. The Judge is sending down men to collect the perp and collect the evidence.” Ezra rubbed his neck, then continued, “Travis said he has several highly trusted men that he will be using for that job. He doesn’t want it to get back to Mullins that his man failed.”

“Travis is not bucking Mullins involvement.?” Josiah wondered.

“I told him we had visual proof and he said it fit with where this was coming from. We don’t know all who could be in on this, so he’s letting us run with it.” Ezra got up and walked over the fax machine and waited there. “This morning Section Chief Addison called for an investigation and for arrest of Buck. He said he’d fax the actual charges. He said he didn’t want to be able to reach us the rest of the day.” Ezra grinned at that.

Josiah nodded, “can’t give us any orders that way. We’ll need to head out to Chris’ ranch. Let’s call Nathan and tell to let the machine take any and all calls.” The fax machine rang and the transmission sequence started. They picked up the papers, and any others from the office that they might need and headed to Chris’ ranch.
Hospital, 9:15am

The nurses just finished moving Vin to a more secure room on the same floor when Chris’s cellphone rang. “Larabee.”

“Chris,” Travis’ voice responded.

Seeing the nurse waiting, he said into the phone, “hold for a sec, Judge.” He put the phone behind his back and looked at Janelle.

“Mr. Larabee, the doctor said that Mr. Tanner was improving faster than he expected. We’re not out of the woods yet. But we can be a lot more optimistic.”

Chris smiled his first smile in two days, “thank you Janelle.” He watched her leave the room before putting the phone to his mouth, “okay Judge, what do ya got for me?”

“Addison said that request came through channels, but he believed they originated with A.D. Mullins. Claims that Buck treated the liaison poorly, and chased after all the female agents and made unsolicited advances. Also suggested we check the tape, claims it was altered by Buck. Says he has a witness that saw Buck at 12:45 yesterday, at the van. This makes him look bad.”

Chris shook his head, “well Judge, at 12:45 yesterday, I was beating the hell out of Wilmington. So I know for a fact that he wasn’t at no van. This whole thing is a set up. I don’t know how Vin plays into it. But Buck is innocent of all those charges.” Chris paused, then added, “hell even his advances are verbal, never physical.”

“Chris, the most you all have is twenty four hours. I will be out of the office for the rest of the day.” Travis disconnected and Chris hit a different series of numbers.

“Nate, do you happen to know where Josiah and JD are?” Chris asked with a smile, knowing that he did as he asked.

“Yep, with me.”

“Where at?”

“Sitting in front of a computer,” Nathan smiled into the receiver.

“NATHAN,” Chris quietly bellowed.

“We’re all at your place, needed your sophisticated equipment.” The smile could be heard, then Nathan’s voice became solemn, “Chris, this is serious, you don’t have all the information yet.”

“Well then, maybe you boys need to get your butts down here and fill me in. What do you say to that?” Chris used his not so really mad voice.

“All of us?” Nathan needed to double check.

“Yes, all of you. Bring the computer set-up too.”
Hospital, 10:00am

Nathan entered Vin’s room very quietly and without any fuss. Under his arm, he carried the printer from Chris’ place. He nodded his head to Chris and the nurse, who was charting Vin’s vital signs. He casually placed the printer on the end table in the corner and plugged it in. He walked over and stood behind Chris asking, “how’s Vin”

The nurse answered, “improving steadily.” She smiled as she relayed that information.

Nathan slapped Chris on the back, “great news.”

JD entered the room on Nathan’s words, “what great news?”

Again, the nurse answered on her way out of the room, “your friend is doing much better.”

JD returned her smile as he watched the door close behind her. He turned around and said to Chris, “that is great news. He’ll be pissed that he’s missing this investigation.” JD opened up the bag he was carrying and took out the laptop and placed it beside the printer. He reached inside the bag, took out the cords and plugged them in. He smiled at Chris and Nathan before he let his fingers fly.

The room door opened quietly again and Ezra walked in. “Hope I’m not late,” he said as he carried the coffee maker over to the corner that JD was working in.

For just a moment, Chris looked bewildered. Nathan explained, “Ezra thought it best if we came in separately and without notice.”

“And if we plan on camping out here, we will need a higher quality coffee than provided by that dilapidated machine in the hall.” Ezra smiled as he plugged it in, then from JD’s bag, pulled out the coffee fixings and proceeded to prepare the brew.

JD signaled his connection to the home computer and Ezra slipped into JD’s place. His fingers flew over the keys as he accessed the vid equipment. He nodded to Nathan that he was ready.

Nathan looked Chris square in the eyes, “Chris, you need to be brought up to speed. So, first you need to see an important part of the operation’s tape.” He stood and with his hand, indicated the laptop screen.

Chris went over, knowing that he couldn’t avoid seeing it any further. Ezra hit play as Chris stood beside him. “This is one of the parts missing from the tampered tape.” The tape rolled and Chris could make out the figure up and behind Vin. Ezra froze it and his fingers sent the message to enhance that frame. Chris saw the rifle aimed at Vin’s back before he saw the face. As the face cleared, he too, was struck inarticulate at the sight.

Ezra held that shot as he explained more, “A.D. Mullins is the pressure behind the case against Buck.” Ezra paused as Chris nodded his confirmation of that info. “I accessed his personal files,” Chris’ eyebrows raised at his temerity, but didn’t say a thing. Ezra continued, “before I was shut out, I copied all his files. What JD and I have pieced together, is the following: Mullins has access to all weapons confiscated in FBI raids and arrests. Oddly enough, the department has an ongoing investigation on the disappearance of these weapons. On the gize of investigating, they are stealing the weapons and are selling them, sometimes to the very people they were confiscated from.”

JD added, “street market value of the weapons missing from just the last four years exceeds sixty million dollars.” JD couldn’t hide the awe of that much money from his voice.

Ezra continued with the newly ascertained information, “seems that some of the drugs confiscated from DEA raids have also been coming up missing. Working with the DEA on cross-jurisdiction busts seems to have gained him access to their evidence rooms and obviously he has the access codes. The drug records go back some five years. We have also come to the conclusion that weapons have been going missing for seven years, which coincides with Mullins getting the position. It was just a few weapons at first, but the enterprise must have proved exceedingly lucrative as it has increased steadily since.”

“What we can’t figure,” Nathan said in his quiet way, “is why Vin was targeted.”

Josiah and a very subdued Buck entered the room. Buck’s eyes first checked Vin, then strayed to Chris. Not meeting Chris’ eyes, Buck averted his and sought out JD. JD beamed a smile at Buck and gave him a thumb’s up. Buck walked carefully over to sit in the corner next to JD.

Chris quickly averted his eyes as the guilt assailed him on the knowledge that Buck did not set Vin up. Chris knew he would have to deal with that later. But right now they had to deal with the threat of Mullins.

“Mullins must really fear Vin as he made an attempt on his life here, was he mentioned in any of the files?” Chris directed the question to Ezra.

“No mention or hint of Mr. Tanner in any of the files. Both Mr. Dunne and I double checked each other.” Ezra held his hands opened wide with an apologetic look.

“The tape will prove that he shot Vin. But he does know that his files were accessed, so they’ll be wiped and without a warrant these can’t be used in court.” Josiah pointed out.

“But we have to get him for the weapons theft. Hell, we put our lives on the line almost daily to get those damm weapons off the streets. We sure as hell not gonna let him put those guns back out there.” Nathan spoke angrily as he paced the floor back and forth.

“No, we’re not. We are going to nail that bastard, and make all the charges stick.”  Chris was furious in his understated way. JD was elated, Chris was defending Buck, and this meant to him that the team would survive this.

Chris turned to Ezra, “we need to know when the most likely time of another weapons or drug pick-up. We want to catch him in the act. We need to apply a little pressure, so we’ll get a search warrant for his office. But we let him think that Buck is off the case, in bad standing. Maybe the combination will make him reckless. Josiah…” Chris turned his attention to the quiet man next to Vin’s head, “make a profile on his most probable reactions. I want to stay a step ahead of him from this point on. Damm, if only we could figure what Vin could know about Mullins….” quiet words from the bed startled everyone.

“Mullins’ whole team is a bunch of mercs. Recognize ‘em from the old days.” Vin’s voice was just a whispered croak. But it was the best sound the six men had heard in a long time.

“Mercs?” JD asked after Chris had moved over to Vin’s side.

“Mercenary soldiers.” Josiah’s tone said it all.

Vin whispered out some more, “didna put it together till I heard you all talking, just didna have the strength to talk out at ya. Two of his agents recognized me the night before the bust……jus couldna place where from……..sorry…” his voice faded as he fell back asleep. Chris stroked his head a couple of times before looking back out at the group.

“Ezra, find out about his team, I don’t care what you have to break into, use my clearance codes, and if they don’t work, steal the Judges. That whole team is going down. Nathan, go down to headquarters, get the Judge’s secretary to locate him and get him working on the warrant….use a secure line only. Let him know that Vin’s life is still in danger, but also tell him to put the word out about Buck’s imminent arrest. And tell him to make doubly sure that the last part gets back to Mullins.” Nathan smiled and Chris added, “let the nurse know our patient is awake.” Nathan nodded as he left.

Chris looked over to JD and Buck, “JD, you and me ‘ill take turns guarding out front, Buck, it’s best you stay inside here, out of site, so no fool’ll try to arrest you.”

Buck looked up at JD and nodded at him, telling him to go, he was okay. JD checked his gun, put it back in his holster, but left it unsnapped. He went and stood just outside the door.

Nathan smiled at Chris sitting outside Vin’s door. He held up the box of Chinese take-out and motioned for him to open the door. As he walked in, both Ezra and JD had their guns drawn on him. Nathan just shook his head and said, “okay, I’ll bring Mexican next time.”

Ezra put his gun away and stretched before raising to get his share of the food. He knew that with this motley crew, that he who hesitates, goes hungry.

After they ate the first meal they’ve all enjoyed since the shooting, Nathan shared first, “Judge said no problem, and he’ll deliver it personally tomorrow morning on his visit to Vin. He was taking it personally downtown to file it, so no word of it can leak before hand.”

Ezra took up where Nathan stopped, “Mullins met up with his eight man team in the Gulf War. They were selling scud missiles on the side. He got his position shortly after returning to the States. His team will do anything for a price. And gentlemen, I do mean anything. I trace these men to the bombing of that children’s bus in Pakistan. I do not know how strongly they are attached to Mullins, but their self preservation is high enough that they’ll take out the hospital if necessary. We must proceed carefully.”

Josiah added his profile, “for Mullins, the money is only second, first is the power and position, he’ll fight hard not to lose that. And he would do anything to insure that. Ezra’s right, taking out the whole hospital could be done without a second thought. From Ezra’s information, Chris is whom the team fears the most, due to his reputation of never backing down. For Mullins, it’s Vin. Somehow his downfall will come back to Vin, and he will attempt to extract his retribution on him if we don’t take him down first.”

Chris immediately looked over at Vin, “we’ll have to move him. That also means we can’t leave him unguarded at any time.”

“Just leave me a gun,” Vin’s voice croaked lowly.

Josiah’s laugh boomed throughout the room. “Now, I do believe that the hospital has some sorta rule against that.”

Chris walked over and placed his hand lightly on Vin’s shoulder, “No harm will come to you, we won’t let it.” The statement was spoken like a vow.

Josiah spoke up again, very serious, his eyes on Chris. “Chris you must be at the search. I will stay and no one will harm Vin on my watch.” Josiah’s eyes scanned the room and added, “Buck will stay with me, he’s not real mobile yet. He’ll be sittin behind the door, like an ace in the hole. “ Josiah’s eyes rested on Chris again, and communicated all Chris needed to know.

The door opened and Janelle, the nurse was about to enter, but froze in her spot, frightened by the gun barrel inches from her face.

Chris and Nathan replaced the guns into their holsters, as Josiah quickly apologized with the truth. “I’m sorry ma’am, Janelle, Vin’s life is in great danger from the same foe as earlier and we can’t lose him now. We will be on guard until we can safely move him. We don’t wish to endanger any of the staff here at the hospital.”

 Janelle, aware of the previous attempt on Vin’s life, understood, but still had to remind herself to breathe. “I’ll warn Elaine, the other nurse and…” Janelle paused, forced herself to relax and make some fast decisions. “…and I’ll have Ossie become the only orderly in and out.” Regaining her composure, she opened the door and signaled Ossie to bring in the new IV bags. They both went to Vin’s side. “Now let me see how our patient is doing,” she changed his dressings as the orderly set up the new drip bottles. After she finished she stepped over to Chris, lowering her voice, she told him, “we could possibly move him in the morning to a secure room used only by dignitaries. Let me check on that.”

Chris’ look lightened as he said, “thank you Janelle, we all will appreciate that.” She nodded and waited for Ossie to finish, as though protecting him.

Buck stood and seized up the last two egg rolls, “I’ll go sit outside the door.” He looked at Vin and smiled as he left the room.

Josiah and JD cleaned up after the meal and carried the trash out the door.

Nathan sat next to Ezra and couldn’t help but notice the highlighted information on the screen. “What do ya have there?”

“The most likely theft that we could catch them at.” Ezra announced it so calmly that it took Chris and Nathan a few seconds for the information to sink in.

Chris’ head turned from Vin to Ezra, “what ya got?”

“Day after tomorrow, the evidence confiscated from the Vansel bust is scheduled to be destroyed. One hundred kilos of cocaine and fifty-seven automatic rifles. Tomorrow evening is the only realistic time to abscond with it. We could keep it under surveillance and possibly alert the IA boys. It could be the golden nail in their coffin.”

“Good plan Ez, “Chris’ expression conveyed his pride in Ezra, and Ezra treasured that moment. Chris smiled ruefully as he added, “too bad we have to wait for morning to inform the Judge.”

Nathan smiled mischievously, “not necessarily.” He withdrew a card with a phone number. “I just happened to watch his secretary dial.”

“Mr. Jackson, you do have hidden talents.”

The day shift was coming in to relieve the night shift and their first order of business was getting ready for breakfast. Those aromas wafted through the air as Federal Judge Orrin Travis quietly stepped off the elevator onto the fifth floor. He saw Nathan Jackson standing alertly outside the door he was headed toward.

“Morning Nathan,” he said with a quick nod of his head.

“Mornin Judge.” Nathan opened the door for him.

He found the room surprisingly quiet, and for a few seconds wondered if the whole team was actually here. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dim lighting, his eyes encountered the other six men in the room. He couldn’t help but admire the loyalty this team had for one another. A quality that was not taught at any of the academies. This was due to the gift of one man’s leadership and his innate ability to chose the right men to surround himself with.

Nathan turned up the lights and it was easy to see that all seven men were alert and ready for the coming days events. Travis reached into his breast pocket, pulled out the warrant and handed it to Chris. Chris leaned over and handed the document to Ezra.

Ezra opened and read it thoroughly before commenting. “Perfect, exact wording.” He nodded to Larabee, their eyes connecting with some unspoken message.

The Judge was amused, oddly, he didn’t feel slighted that the acknowledgment bypassed him and carried directly to the enigmatic leader. Travis sometimes felt that Larabee was the only authority that the other six men would heed in the entire agency. He sat down in the chair vacated for him by JD. He spoke to the room, but his eyes rested on the man lying in the bed. With the tubes and their attachments connected to him, but with eyes so alert that he wouldn’t be surprised if he got up and joined in the search.

“I’ve arranged with IA for the entire surveillance of the evidence room at FBI headquarters. The tip has come through me, so, at least on paper, it can not be traced back to your team. I don’t want to add to the list of grievances Mullins will have against you all. He has survived on reputation, and they were unsure themselves if they wanted to pursue it further.” It was obvious to all seven that the Judge was disgusted by the lack of conviction their own IA had.

“The warrant is for 8:00am and backup will be ready and waiting if you need it. The warrant will be entered into the computer at 7:58. Called in a favor.” The Judge almost smiled, “the information regarding the upcoming arrest for Buck Wilmington has already hit the water coolers.”

Chris looked the Judge head on, “thank you sir.”

“No, thank you. A dirty agent is worse than an arms smuggler, and without your teams steadfast loyalty, this might have gone down as a raid accident instead of the assassination attempt it was.” Chris couldn’t squelch the twinge of guilt that assailed him.

The Judge nodded to the group and exited the room. Nathan followed him out and it was less than a minute later that he was opening the door again.

Janelle entered and immediately informed the team, “we have arranged to move Mr. Tanner. We are going up to the sixth floor and he’ll be registered under the name Dexter.” She opened the door and motioned the orderlies in to prepare for the move.

Ezra, JD and Nathan each packed up the equipment they’d brought in with them. They exited the room and took casual positions throughout the hall. Josiah and Buck seemingly meandered to the staff elevator and took positions on either side. Chris walked along side Vin as the move proceeded. Janelle keyed the elevator and the doors opened as Josiah and Buck entered with them.

JD and Nathan rushed up the stairs so as to be on watch and found that they couldn’t enter the sixth floor stairwell. Ezra shook his slightly at them and he walked over to the elevator to wait for Janelle’s return. The elevator doors opened as JD and Nathan dispiritedly returned from their mad dash. Janelle waved the key at them as she waited the doors on them.

When they arrived at the room, Vin’s equipment had already been hooked backed up. Chris thanked Janelle for all her assistance as she left the room. After they got Vin comfortable, settled and Josiah had cased the floor, it was time to depart to act on the warrant. Ezra approached Vin and used his eyes to direct Vin’s attention to his left hand. He ever so casually slid his extra gun to Vin who pushed it under his thigh. Vin’s stare and minute nod conveyed his gratitude at not being left unable to defend himself. Ezra gave his two-fingered salute to Vin and followed Nathan, JD and Chris out the door.
FBI Building,  7:55am

The four members of Team 7 exited the elevator of Mullins floor. Ezra carried the laptop and with the newly acquired key, entered the first room on the left. He plugged in his computer and signaled JD that he was ready. Exactly at eight o’clock, Chris knocked and entered AD Mullins office. The back-up team exited the elevators and stairwells, taking their positions there.

Chris placed the warrant in Mullin’s hand, “I need you to wait at the door.” Chris’ voice booked no argument.

Mullins dropped the paper on the desk, “what in the hell do you think you’re doing?” He yelled it right in Chris face.

“Delivering the warrant. Again, I ask you to move over to the door.”

Mullins grabbed at the paper and inspected it. JD and Nathan had already started to search the office. JD bent down and plugged in the computer cord. Mullins yelled at JD, “leave that alone.” And he make a move toward him.

Chris barred him with his arm and repeated himself. “For the last time, I ask you to move to the door. Do not interfere with the execution of this warrant.” His voice, so cold it would have frozen ice, caused Mullins to shiver involentarily.

Mullins moved to the door in a huff as JD rebooted the computer. JD slowly began a rudimentary search throughout the files. Nathan placed memos and receipts procured from various drawers into boxes. Chris returned to the desk as Mullins waited impatiently by the door.

Ezra entered the room by slipping around Mullins. He headed straight for the computer and replaced JD at the keyboard. He took out a pack of blank disks and placed one into the A drive. He began systematically coping all the files contained on the hard drive. Just as the warrant ordered.

Chris removed the answering machine tape and encountered a locked drawer. He motioned a “key” movement to Mullins, who ignored him. Chris said aloud, “I can bust it open if you like.” Mullins took out a small key ring and threw it at Chris’ head. Chris reached up and easily caught it. He placed the entire contents of the drawer into a box.

When Ezra finished filling ten disks, he indicated to Chris that he had completed the files transfer.  Chris nodded, he and Nathan covered their boxes, indicating that they were done. Chris signaled JD to come get one of the boxes and the four men left the office.

Ezra retrieved his laptop and locked the door behind him. The four of them headed for the parking structure. After loading the boxes, Chris relieved the back-up teams of duty and they left the parking lot in two cars.
ATF Offices, 10:15am

Ezra walked into Chris’ office and placed the ten disks on his desk. “A complete copy of Mullins’ files, obtained legally.” Ezra touched two fingers to his forehead and turned to leave. Chris’ words halted him.

“Good job, Ezra, you didn’t miss a thing. You never conceded and continued in the face of great prejudice.” He knew that Chris was actually referring to himself. “It would have gone down in the books as a blown operation, instead, it became a successful bust. And that’s exactly how it will go down in my report.”

Ezra nodded, his face giving nothing away, but he was soaking up Chris’ validation of his work.

The four men spent the rest of the morning finishing the paperwork and logging all the items seized from Mullins office. They were about to break for lunch and head back to the hospital, when a call came in from the Judge. Nathan, Ezra and JD watched as Chris went from a deathly shade of white to an intensively blinding shade of red.

“Somethin wrong with Vin?” Nathan blurted out worriedly.

“No, but thanks to you Nathan, the Judge had some bomb squad members at the hospital and caught four men setting up two different bombs there.” Before the barrage of questions started, he finished, “Both bombs were disarmed and the perps apprehended.”

JD smiled and slapped Nathan on the back. “Hey smart move, Nathan.” Chris nodded his appreciation but the anger still simmered at the back of his eyes at the effrontery of trying to harm any member of his team. His voice remained controlled as he said, “let’s go check on Vin.”

Ezra wanted to get his own car over to the hospital, so JD opted to drive with him. Chris and Nathan took off and Ezra pulled out of the parking structure after them. They lost sight of Chris’ truck as they pulled onto the freeway. After just a short bit of time, Ezra asked JD, “JD, check your rearview mirror and see if the green Dodge is following us.” JD nodded his head as he began checking the view behind them. Ezra headed for the fast lane as he picked up speed. His newly tuned car was maneuvering smoothly and Ezra changed lanes several times.

“Ezra, that van is staying three or four cars back, but changes lanes each time you do.” JD described for Ezra.

Ezra nodded as JD confirmed what he’d already suspected. “Okay, JD, tighten your seatbelt.” Ezra picked up speed and continued to accelerate the Jag until it reached one hundred twenty miles per hour. He bypassed the hospital and traveled out of town and up into the mountains. He was headed for the ski resort areas. He finally slowed to eighty as he exited, sliding JD smack dab against the window. He continued up the curvy, narrow mountain roads. JD continued to up date him on their tails progress.

Ezra now slowed to sixty as they transversed the sinewy roads. Traveling faster than JD would of, he commented, “you know these roads well, don’t ya?”

“As a matter of fact I do.”

The van following them continued to catch up as Ezra pushed up to even higher elevations. Ezra could see that the van was going to attempt to run them off the road. “JD, they’re going to try to ram us off the road, but I am going to go with it to throw them off. Then I’ll push back. Hang on.”

Ezra had no more than finished his explanation, when the van came up along side the Jag and moved in to ram them. Before actual contact, Ezra moved the Jag in the intended direction and increased his speed. Their pursuers, not expecting either move, focused on the Jag and not the terrain. As they came up along side to attempt the ram again, Ezra, unexpectedly rammed them instead. The force of the hit sent the van careening off the road and down the mountainside. Ezra pulled up and stopped the Jag along side the road. Both occupants jumped out of the vehicle to quickly look over the side. The van bounced and rolled it’s way down and crashed with a powerful explosion at the bottom.

Ezra looked over at JD and asked, “did you happen to get the license plate?”

With great exasperation, JD looked over at Ezra, thinking it was a little late, but said, “yeah. I wrote it down on my shoe while we were on the freeway.”

Ezra smiled over at him as he pulled out his cell phone and called Chris.


“Ah, Mr. Larabee, we…..”

“Ezra, where in the hell are you?” Chris interrupted him.

Ezra tried again, “as I was attempting to inform you, a green Dodge van, license number 62623, just tried to cause permanent harm to our persons. But as it turned out, they can now be found at the bottom of Stone Canyon in their own funeral pyre.”

“Shit. You both okay?” Chris asked as he handed Nathan the license plate number that Ezra had given him.

“Yes, Mr. Larabee, we are both fine. But my car has sustained some damage…..”

Chris could hear JD’s “some,….. oh shit, Ezra is that an understatement.” JD sounded as though he almost had intended to laugh, but had thought better of it.

“Ezra, is it driveable?” Chris asked, though not as solemnly as he could of.

“Not on this curvy road. We’ll have to be towed.” Ezra saw that the fenderwell was too close to the tire for safe maneuvering.

“I’ll have someone there in a short time. Then come on over to the hospital. Oh, and Ezra, try to see if you can stay out of trouble for just a short while.” Before he could hear Ezra’s sputters, he disconnected the call. He immediately set up the tow and returned to Vin’s room.
ATF Headquarters, 6:20pm

With a lively step Ezra made his way down stairs to the parking garage. JD was still talking to Buck and Ezra used that time to get his blood flowing after the slow tow back here. He entered the lower level and was surprised that Cuervo was there and not at his food bowl. “Hey, there, cat,” he called to her as he tried to continue on to find a temporary vehicle. She wound herself about his feet making forward motion impossible. He bent to hoist her up and it was at that moment when a shot rang out, slicing the air he had just been standing in. He rolled to his left with Cuervo in his arms. He had a gun in one hand and the cat in the other. A fusillade of shots against the wall behind him sent plaster fragments shooting in all directions. He worked his way back to the stairwell he had come from. Just as Ezra and Cuervo slammed the stairwell door shut a loud explosion shook the lower level and caused portions of the upper lot to fall and crash into the lower level. Alarm bells rang out.

Upstairs JD felt the explosion and quickly put in a call to Ezra. The phone rang and rang with no answer forthcoming. JD felt panic raising and dialed Larabee’s number. As Chris answered JD spoke rapidly into the receiver, “Chris there has been a big explosion and now I can’t reach Ezra. I’m gonna work my way down.” Both men could hear the approaching sirens.

Chris said in a clipped tone, “we’ll be there shortly.”
Hospital, 6:45pm

Buck stayed behind with Vin. He hated feeling so helpless, unable to do his job.

Vin rasped softly, “I hate being stuck here too.”

Buck smiled as he shivered, “sometimes you’re just spooky, Vin.” Vin returned his smile.

Buck sat back resigned and began reading Vin the latest on the gun law changes. As expected, Vin closed his eyes, but surprised Buck by saying, “was hopin for some of your how to attract females reading. This stuff is boring.” Buck couldn’t help the laughter that escaped in a loud guffaw.  It looked like Vin was about to join in the laughter when instead, he silenced Buck with a light slap and he pointed to the door.

Buck barely had time to push Vin’s bed away from the wall when the door was hit with a battering-ram. Buck rolled to his right, ignoring his collar bone and ribs. His gun was drawn and he began shooting as two dark-clad commandos entered the room. Buck shot one but the second one shot Buck, catching him in the shoulder. The force of the shot threw him hard against the wall. The second commando turned his gun on Vin, only to be surprised himself as he faced an erect Vin with gun steady in hand. He paused but a moment when he tried to pump a round into Vin. But Vin was ahead of him and got off two shots in the neck that pitched his attacker forward, crumbling to the floor. Vin listened for more, hearing none. Listened for some sign from Buck that he was still alive and found that the moan he heard from Buck was comforting. He wearily laid back in exhaustion.
ATF Building, 6:55pm

Ezra opened his eyes and saw the ceiling of the tilted stairwell. He looked down to his chest, expecting to see some fallen debris resting there and was pleasantly surprised instead. Cuervo was sitting there, relaxed as a cat can be and very much alive. He sat up and shook the dust and dirt from his hair, then checked for broken body parts. It wasn’t until that moment that he heard the phone ringing. He pushed the talk button and announced, “yeah? And what do you want.”

“Hell, Ezra, just wanted to hear your voice,” Nathan was elated to say those words aloud. Chris and Josiah were standing near enough to Nathan to over hear, both breathed sighs of relief. Chris relayed that information to JD. Who was being evacuated himself on the other side of the building.

“Mr. Jackson, it appears that we are unable to find a way out.”

“Hold on….we? Who’s with ya?” Nathan asked.


“Cuervo’s okay,” Nathan announced aloud and Josiah relaxed.

Chris said relieved, “I would hate to tell Vin otherwise.” Chris started throwing rocks aside as he tried to make his way into the parking garage.

Nathan talked to Ezra, “we working our way in. JD’s fine and is being evacuated as we speak. Seems most of the damage is concentrated to this side.”

“Shots were fired at me before the explosion.”

“Damm. Hang on while I update Chris.” Nathan said absently as he looked for Chris.

“As if  I have some where to go.” Ezra replied to the unmanned line. He stood up to look out the little window in the door. Cuervo again tried to trip him. He heeded him immediately and bent down. A shot shattered the window in the following second.

“Nathan!” Ezra yelled into the phone.

Nathan responded quickly, “what’s wrong?”

“Shots fired at me. Look out.” Ezra broke the connection. He took a more serious look at the inside door. Discovering that the overly tweaked door needed some serious equipment to open it. Instead he had to be satisfied with plugging up the window with a piece of fallen concrete. Ezra readied his weapons and waited.

Outside Chris was working at double speed at the current news from Ezra. Josiah matched sling for sling. JD joined them after showing his badge to the local cops manning the barricade. Nathan returned with more firemen and an ambulance crew. The ten men worked in silence for the next fifteen minutes before an opening was created.

Chris stopped the firemen and approached the opening on his belly. He let his eyes acclimate first then slid in head first. After Josiah explained the potential hazard to the firemen, he too joined Chris inside the opening. Chris radioed to Nathan, “we are at a ninety degree angle from where we think Ezra is. We’re proceeding carefully.” Chris crossed the open space first and was met by a volley of gunfire. He rolled and rolled until he reached the side wall and hid behind some large debris. Chris hand signaled to Josiah on the count of three. Then he counted, as he stood, shots were fired again. This time Josiah waited and struck the gunman, sending him to the ground. Chris stood up and began pounding on the door.

“Ezra, Ezra can you hear me?” Chris yelled as he removed more debris from around the door. He yelled over his shoulder, “we need a crowbar.”

Josiah ran to the opening, relaying Chris’ request. Josiah returned to Chris with the crowbar and additional manpower. Nathan and JD joined him. Together they cleared the door and with the crowbar, they opened the door to an ever ready Ezra.

Ezra put his guns away and picked up Cuervo, “about time, we’re hungry. This one here,” Ezra indicated the cat, “needs and extra large steak. For saving my life twice today.”

Nathan broke their air of celebration as he exclaimed, “there’s no answer from the hospital. Not Vin, Buck or the nurses station. Five men and a cat hurried for the opening.
Hospital, 7:40pm

Vin awoke due to the noises he began hearing. Some exited yells as nurses and orderlies were released from their captivity. Janelle wasted no time and she immediately headed for Vin’s room. She feared the worst until she saw Vin’s alert expression. She stared to approach him when he redirected her, “Buck’s hurt on the floor, check him first.”

Janelle nodded and went to Buck’s side, completely ignoring the two dark-clad bodies on the floor. She sat Buck up and bellowed into the hall, “we need a suture cart in here pronto.” Ossie responded to her call and all could hear the carts approach. On its heels were five men and a cat to check on their friends.

After assuring himself that Buck and Vin were fine, JD bent to take the stocking masks off the commandos. “Oh, my god, it’s Mullins.” JD was shocked. He took off the other mask and found one of his mercenaries.

“He came at me even though he knew I had the shot.” Vin retold quietly.

Josiah said it would all come down to you, guess he was right.” Chris stated grimly. “The ATF building was probably theirs too. Drawing us off Vin.” Chris looked back at Vin realizing how close it came. “Where’d you get the piece?”

“Ezra.” Vin’s only word. Ezra earned all the smiles in that room, and one meow.
ATF Building, Three weeks later

JD hung up the phone and looked at Ezra. “Nathan said that Vin was up and walking today.” JD smiled as he reported the news, “I could hear Vin growling, bring me some real burritos. So he must be feelin better. Josiah was just laughing.” He got up and headed for Chris’ office, “I gotta tell Chris.”

Ezra smiled at his enthusiasm, but he figured that Chris called over there every hour himself.

As JD exited the office, he said over his shoulder, “yes, sir.” JD then turned to Buck, “Chris wants to see you.”

Buck took a deep breath and headed in. As Buck closed the door behind him, Chris said, “Sit down, Buck.” Buck sat silently, more reserved than the usual Buck.

Chris looked up at Buck, the guilt he was feeling, evident on his face. Chris knew there was no easy way to do this, “Buck, I’m sorry. It probably won’t make you feel better, but I mean it. I think I knew the whole time that you wouldn’t do it, but I was so scared and angry, I took it out on you. You can hit me if you want.” Chris sat still, hoping Buck would hit him.

“Chris, it ain’t that you hit me, shit, I got used to that after Sarah died.” Then, with a wounded deer look, Buck said, “it’s that you could ever believe that I would hurt Vin. Damm Chris, that would be like hurting my kin.”

Chris rubbed his face several times with both hands, overwhelmed with the magnitude of hurt he’d inflicted on Buck. “Buck, I guess I’ve been thinking that you musta been jealous of Vin.” Buck looked at him askance, Chris answered that look. “Shit, Buck, you and I were so tight, and I still care ‘bout you like that, it’s jus…….” Chris broke off looking for lost words.

Buck supplied them, “It’s just after Sarah and Adam died, you died and you blamed me. Thought it would of been different if you’d only been here.” Chris looked over at Buck, surprised, hearing the same loss in his voice that matched his own. Buck continued, “Chris don’t you think I’ve blamed myself a million times. Why do you think I let you pound on me when you were so drunk those first coupla months…….hell….I deserved it.”

Chris looked at Buck’s posture, a bent up, broken man and realized in that moment, that it wasn’t Buck’s fault. “Buck, it was never your fault. I coulda said no to the training. All you did was pick me up. If I’d only done the driving….” his voice broke off, looking back down that tunnel to hell.

“Chris…about that,” the different quality of Buck’s voice caused Chris to look up. “A coupla months ago, Ezra asked me a question…did we always go to the quarterly trainings. I told him yeah, we did. He then asked if I always drove, and again I had to answer yeah. Told him, hell I had to if we wanted to get there faster than a snail’s crawl. So Ezra posed another odd question… do you suppose that it was a given that we went together, and that I drove……and that Sarah had been the target the whole time?”

Chris jerked up, “what the hell, Buck. You….”

“Whoa there,” Buck interrupted. “Jus listen here a sec…Ezra said that he had read over the case file. He asked me if I had realized that you were on leave for six months, and it’s possible that was the desired outcome so something could transpire and go undetected.”

“Shit, if that was the reason, then I was the target,” Chris stated flatly.

“No, Chris, you’re wrong, if you had been the target, the Capt. would have reassigned your cases immediately. But with you on bereavement, they were still your cases. Open cases. By the time you returned to duty, your cases were old and really hadn’t been worked on in your absence. I hardly work on ‘em myself. Capt. knew I was the only hope you had to return to duty.”

Chris sat back down and pondered Buck’s words, Ezra’s words. He remained motionless for several minutes, then he leaned back into the chair. “Hell, Buck, you both could be right.” Chris thought on it some more. “I’ll have to contact the old Capt. in Atlanta and see if I can get a copy of my old cases before the murder.”

Buck got up and sat on the edge of Chris’ desk. “Chris, Vin brought you back into the living world. I care about him as much as you. I’d protect him with my life, just as I would yours, ya gotta know it in your heart, pard.” Buck just stared at Chris’ eyes, then place one hand on his shoulder and squeezed. Chris gave a slight nod, and Buck smiled. He turned and walked quietly out the office, closing the door behind him.

The two men at their desks looked at Buck as soon as he exited the office. They both sighed in relief at the calm expression on his face.

“You appear in better spirits, Mr. Wilmington,” Ezra stated.

His gentle nod matched hid genuine smile. He walked over to JD and cuffed him on the jaw and then playfully grabbed him round the neck. JD started to fight Buck until he heard whispered in his ear, “Thanks, friend.” His voice serious, “Nathan told me that you never wavered and that you refused to allow a wedge to be driven between us. Thanks for that belief in me pard.” JD just squeezed his best friend’s arm in acknowledgment, but he savored the joy Buck’s words really gave him. Buck ruffled his hair as he unhanded him. JD sat down and tried to look busy.

Buck walked over to Ezra, who was pouring himself and Buck another cup of coffee. Ezra handed one to Buck before he sipped his own. Buck looked at him and said, “Ezra, thanks for…”

Ezra put up a hand, halting Buck’s words. “Understood.”

“Ez,” Buck’s usual jovial voice was replaced by an intensity rarely used by Buck. Even more emphasized as he lowered his voice to say, “Ezra in those first few minutes, your expression gave me more hope than any other single action. I really mean thank you.”

Ezra looked at Buck without any artifice and said, “never a doubt, Buck, never a doubt.”


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