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There Has Got To Be a Better Way to Spend a Saturday!
It was 2am, it was raining, and Chris Larabee was watching television. The Cartoon Network, to be specific - all cartoons, all the time. He was wearing a T-shirt with what was supposed to be a Tasmanian devil on it (gift from JD), and he figured he might as well try to find out what the big deal was. Ordinarily, he would have been in bed, but his dreams lately hadn't exactly encouraged a good night's rest. At the moment he was watching a cartoon in which a pink bunny kept running up to the stairs to a large mansion and pressing the doorbell, which, instead of going "ding-dong" like ordinary doorbells, went "Mun-ley..." As far as Chris could gather, Munley was the name of the character that owned the mansion. Or maybe not...
Chris yawned, and considered going to bed despite the fact that he probably wouldn't sleep for more than three hours.
As Chris went to open the door, he briefly entertained the idea of rigging his doorbell to say "Chri-is...", but quickly dismissed it. It just didn't have the same ring to it (no pun intended). Thoughts of doorbells were replaced by thoughts of "who the hell comes and rings the doorbell at two in the morning anyway..." as Chris opened the door.
Standing outside, soaked to the skin, was Ezra Standish. He couldn't have been wetter if he'd run three miles in the pouring rain.
Chris stood aside and motioned for Ezra to come in.
"I... just... ran... three miles... in the pouring rain..." said Ezra, teeth chattering violently. "And... I doubt very much... that I was... followed, but it's... a possibility."
Chris led him to the lounge and ordered him to stand in front of the fire, before disappearing into another room.
Ezra stood there, shivering and feeling extremely guilty about dripping on the carpet, until Chris reappeared carrying a towel and some clothes.
He threw Ezra the towel. "Dry off and put these onů" his voice trailed off. "You're bleeding," he noted disapprovingly.
Ezra touched his side absently. "It's just a scratch."
Chris nodded slightly. "Put these on, but don't put on the shirt until I've looked at the 'scratch'. Then sit."
Ezra nodded and started to strip off as Chris vanished again.
A few minutes later, Chris reappeared (re-reappeared...), this time carrying a first aid kit, boots and a cellphone. Putting the boots and 'phone aside for the moment, he examined the wound on Ezra's side.
"Won't need stitches," he announced, covering it with a bandage.
"Thanks," muttered Ezra, teeth still chattering, but not as much.
Chris handed him the boots. "These'll fit okay if you wear both pairs of socks."
Ezra nodded and reached for the socks, and Chris went off in the direction of the kitchen, hitting buttons on the cellphone as he went.
Ezra tied the laces on the boots as tightly as he could. He had worn more comfortable shoes, but at the moment anything that warmed up the tiny blocks of ice that were trying to pass themselves off as his toes, were welcome. He put on the shirt Chris had given him, which was too big, sat back and turned his gaze to the TV, which, to his surprise, was telling the story of a tall thin mouse and a short fat mouse that were bent on taking over the world.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Pinky?" said the short mouse.
"I think so, Brain, but it's really a miracle that the other one grew back, isn't it?" said the tall mouse.
Ezra frowned, then shook his head. What his colleagues did - or watched - on their time off was really none of his business. Just then, Chris came back, carrying a mug and talking away on the 'phone.
"Sorry to wake you... No... Same here... Yup. Nope. Uh-huh..." He interrupted his conversation to hand Ezra the mug.
"Coffee," he explained.
Ezra accepted it gratefully, took a large sip, and had to bite his lip to keep from screaming.
"You might told me it was blisteringly hot..." he complained. Still, he was very glad he hadn't gone to Vin. The ex-bounty hunter wouldn't recognize a decent cup of coffee if it jumped up and did a rain dance on his head, waving around a sign that read "DECENT CUP OF COFFEE".
"Yeah, sure... No, not yet... I don't know, hang on." Chris held his hand over the mouthpiece of the 'phone and looked at Ezra. "You have a name?"
"Jacob Hendrickson... Yes... No... Hang on." Chris looked at Ezra again. "How many men?"
Ezra smiled nastily. "Three... now. Four with Hendrickson."
"Four, so it shouldn't be necessary. If you could just get the rest of the team... thanks. Okay, see you in half an hour. Thanks, Vin." Chris hung up and produced a gun. "How're you for weapons?" he asked.
Ezra shook his head. "I misplaced my gun while I was endeavoring to escape."
Chris tossed him the firearm and, after fetching another for himself - he had plenty to spare - sat down opposite Ezra.
"Care to tell me why I just called the whole team here in the middle of the night?"
Ezra sighed. "Mr. Hendrickson is a relic of my FBI days. He is rather a nasty man, not at all sane - nuttier than that bowl of cashews on your table, in fact - and is holding a grudge against me because I killed his brother when they both resisted arrest. I left Jacob with a rather pronounced limp. He is also enraged over the fact that many people that he considered friends disappeared once he was in jail." Ezra paused thoughtfully. "Fortunately for me, I suppose, or he would have come after me with a good deal more than six men," he added.
Chris raised an eyebrow. "You killed three of his men? And they say FBI men can't be taught."
Ezra grinned. "Anyway, he appeared at my residence at approximately midnight. I am ashamed to say I let my guard down, and he and his associates managed to get me outside. Fortunately they didn't search me very thoroughly. They were driving me to an unspecified destination when I discovered an opportunity to use my Derringer. Their car crashed and three of the men were... incapacitated, to say the least... Giving me the chance to escape. I thought it best that I seek help, and since your ranch was the only nearby source of aid... Surely it was unnecessary to call down the whole team for three men?"
Chris shrugged. "Better safe than sorry." And then, uncharacteristically for him, he went on. " Don't want anything to happen to you, you know."
Ezra blinked, surprised, but was prevented from replying when Chris abruptly leapt up and hit the mute button on the TV (cutting Speedy Gonzales off mid - "you loco duck!").
"Shhhh!" Chris hissed, holding a finger to his mouth. "Listen."
Ezra frowned - he hadn't heard anything - but listened. And then he heard something. A soft scrape... a thump... what sounded like a footstep...
Chris pointed his gun in the general direction of the door that led outside. Ezra reached for his gun to do the same, but before he got that far, the door blew open - literally.
When the dust cleared, Ezra found himself at the mercy of a nasty-looking man with a nastier-looking knife. He looked around frantically for Chris, and found him standing a few feet away, being menaced by a man that didn't look nasty so much as psychopathic.
"We meet again."
Ezra jerked his attention to the man that had spoken.
"Ah. Hello, Jacob. I wish I could say it was a pleasure." Ezra considered this statement. "Wait - no, I don't," he corrected himself.
Jacob didn't look too happy. "You killed two of my men, Mr. Standish, and put another out of action."
"Glad to have inconvenienced you," sneered Ezra.
Chris looked disappointed. "Only two?"
Jacob shot Chris a dirty look, but otherwise ignored him. "Really, Ezra," he went on. "You might have known better than to come to one of your partners for help. I did do some research before I came for you, after all. It was simply a matter of finding out which of your friends lives closest to where we... lost you."
Suddenly he grabbed Ezra by the shirt and jerked him to his feet. "Do you have any idea, Mr. Standish, how hard it is to find a phone book at this time of night? In the rain? Without a car?!"
Apparently disturbed by his loss of temper, Jacob shoved Ezra away again. "On the other hand," he continued, more calmly, "If you hadn't been here we would probably have killed your partner by now, so perhaps your lapse in judgement wasn't such a bad thing for you."
He turned to his men. "Bring them both. Bring their guns, too, and for God's sake search them properly this time. We'll take the vehicle I saw outside."
Vin was the first to arrive at Chris's ranch, closely followed by Buck and JD, who arrived to find him standing in front of the blown-open door looking very worried indeed, and getting wetter by the second.
"What happened?" asked Buck, jumping out of his truck and running over to him.
"I don't know." Vin seemed close to panic. "They're not here."
JD joined them. "Neither is the Dodge."
"What do we do?" asked Buck, getting mighty close to panicking himself.
"I don't know! We have no idea where they may have gone! All we have is a name! How the hell are we gonna find them?"
Nathan and Josiah arrived in the midst of this tirade.
"Man, did they damage Chris's house again? He is gonna be really pissed!" groaned Nathan.
"Sure, if we can find him." Vin had calmed down quickly, having decided that he was no good to Chris if he was freaking out more than JD.
"Doesn't Chris have that vehicle-recovery thing on his Dodge?" asked JD, quietly.
"What?" Everyone looked at the kid in surprise.
"I remember he once said he had that. It's a thing... they can track your car if it gets stolen? And, I mean... if they took Chris's car, and it looks like they did..."
Buck nodded thoughtfully. He had a vague memory of Chris mentioning something of the sort, and since JD hung on his employer's every word, he was much more likely to recall details.
Vin grinned. "Great thinking, kid!"
Buck shook his head. "I don't mean to be negative, but do you really think that anyone is going to be wherever it is you have to go to get it tracked, at -" He glanced at his watch. "3AM on a Saturday morning?"
"In case you've forgotten, Buck," said Nathan, "JD happens to be very good with computers."
"Well, then, what are you waiting for, JD? Get hacking!"
"I need a computer first, Buck." JD absently ran a hand through his rain-soaked hair.
"Well, hurry up and get in the car, then. You can use the one at work."
"Well, do you like my warehouse?" Jacob proudly waved a hand at the large room they were in. "It's abandoned and everything," he added, happily. He had to raise his voice a little to be heard, since Chris, Ezra and the two goons were still next to the open door, while he had delightedly skipped to the other side of room as soon as they'd arrived.
Chris looked around. "Is this it?" he asked skeptically.
Jacob narrowed his eyes. "Of course not! There's a longish passage over there, and a room on the other side even bigger than this one!" He waved his gun around wildly. "This is a good - a great - warehouse, dammit!" he shouted hysterically.
"Yeah, well, I've seen better," Chris snapped, irritably. He hated getting kidnapped by raving lunatics with guns - and no backup on the way... and he hadn't slept well in ages... and he was wet from standing in the rain while the incompetent Jacob attempted to open the warehouse door... No, he was definitely not in the best of moods.
"Hey, I've come a long way!" shouted Jacob. "I started off with nothing! I worked damn hard stealing other people's money to get this warehouse!"
"Oh, cry me a river, Jacob, really. My heart's bleeding for ya." Sarcasm dripped off Chris's voice like water had been dripping off Ezra a little over an hour ago.
Speaking of Ezra, the undercover man couldn't understand what Chris thought he was doing. Was he deliberately antagonizing a psycho with a gun? Suddenly he realized that Chris was probably just taking his bad mood out on the criminal.
"Oh, no, Chris," he murmured, trying to will his employer into backing off.
"Why do you have such an attitude problem?" sighed Jacob, sadly shaking his head at Chris.
"You ain't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, are ya?" Chris replied, icily.
"I'm getting tired of you. I'm going to have to ask you to shut up."
"Bite me," Chris retorted.
Jacob shook his head furiously, lifted his gun and shot Chris, who dropped like a stone and lay still.
Ezra gaped, too horrified to speak.
Smiling, Jacob stalked over to stand above Chris and pointed the gun at his head.
"No!" shouted Ezra.
Jacob raised his eyebrows (he never had gotten the hang of raising just one).
Ezra forced himself to calm down. "I mean, er, what exactly will you gain by shooting him again?"
Jacob frowned. "That's a singularly stupid question. He might not be dead."
"If he's not now, he will be soon," Ezra said, wincing inwardly. "You shot him practically point blank - well, close to point blank... well, not from very far away, and you can't be that bad a shot..." Ezra realized that he was rambling, and shut his mouth with a snap.
Jacob hadn't stopped frowning. "All right, that's a given... uh... he'll undoubtedly bleed to death quite soon. And he certainly doesn't look as if he'll be moving around. So? Why can't I kill him now?"
Ezra thought frantically. "Because... you're... too big a man to shoot someone when he's down?"
Jacob shook his head. "No, I'm not."
"Okay... how about because I'm desperately hoping you will?"
"He's my employer. He's an asshole. He never cuts me any slack. I hate the man," Ezra said, hoping he sounded convincing. While Jacob wasn't nearly stupid enough to fall for this, there was a tiny chance that he was crazy enough.
"You're just saying the opposite of what you mean so I won't shoot him."
"Ah, but I know that you know that that is exactly the sort of thing I would do. And you, being fairly intelligent, if madder than a mink on PCP, know that I know that you know that. So doesn't it follow that I would say exactly what I mean in the hopes that you would think I meant the opposite?"
Jacob's eyes glazed over as he processed this. "So... you'd be glad if I shot him again. You'd... enjoy it."
Ezra inclined his head. "Precisely."
"Hah! I'm not going to give you any pleasure at all before I kill you! You're not gonna trick me into shooting him again!"
Ezra managed not to collapse with relief.
"Let's see..." said Jacob, his hold on reality slipping another notch. "I can see the headline now... ATF agent kills his boss... who was far too slow on the draw to shoot him back..." He absently took Chris's gun from one of his men and dropped it near its owner's outstretched hand.
Gosh, thought Ezra, he's obviously as bad at researching cops as he is at picking competent help.
"Then... he... causes himself considerable pain in ways I haven't thought of just yet... before shooting himself and burning down the warehouse!" Jacob finished triumphantly.
"Uh... Sir..." said one of the men, uncertainly. "That's not very likely, is it?
"Shut up, Benson! Go patrol the perimeter! You other two, kindly bring Mr. Standish into the next room."
Benson sighed heavily, but left. After all, the pay was enough to make up for getting soaking wet. And it had to stop raining sometime.
"How much longer, JD?"
"Geez, Vin, it's not that easy to say. I mean, this is an art, you know? You can't put a time limit on art."
Vin nodded. "How much longer, JD?"
Chris groaned softly, opened his eyes. Damn, he'd been shot again. This was happening far too frequently... He managed to roll his head enough to see that he was alone. That wasn't very smart, he thought. I really have to learn not to lose my temper around insane men with guns... Okay. Situation assessment: hopeless. There was no chance of backup, he was injured, and Ezra... had no chance of getting the situation in hand. Fine. Wound assessment: serious, but not fatal. Not just yet, anyway; he probably had a good hour before he bled to death. And he had to get up and help Ezra...
There had to be a better way to spend Friday night - no, Saturday morning.
Jacob watched idly as his men tied Ezra to a handy chair.
"What now, boss?" asked one of them - call him Goon#1.
Jacob considered. "Well... suggest a way to cause him pain."
The two goons and their boss launched into a spirited discussion on the best ways to make grown men cry. Ezra used the brief reprieve to decide whether or not to scream. This was, contrary to appearances, a difficult decision. On the one hand, there was no way he wanted to give Hendrickson the satisfaction of hearing him scream. But, if he didn't scream, Jacob would keep doing nasty things do him until he did - and he needed to avoid getting shot until he could figure out a way to help Chris, if he was still alive. On the other hand, he needed to be in relatively good condition if he wanted to help his friend, and Jacob would stop doing nasty things sooner if he screamed, since he was easily bored. But when Jacob got tired of hearing him scream, he'd kill him.
"I've heard that the hand has more nerves than anywhere else on the body..." said Goon#2.
"Ooh, okay!" said Jacob, sounding like an excited six-year-old. "Let's start by breaking his fingers!"
Goon#1 nodded cheerfully, picked up Ezra's left hand, and snapped the little finger.
Ezra's decision turned out not to be so difficult after all.
Chris was struggling to sit up when he heard Ezra scream.
"Shit..." he muttered. He somehow managed to prop himself up on his right arm, noting with detachment that his left arm wasn't responding very well. However, his elevated position enabled him to see the gun that Jacob had dropped nearby.
"That was stupid," he observed. Then he noted that in order to reach it he would have to lie down again and really reach with his right hand. Damn. He lay down - carefully - with a sigh, then winced as he heard Ezra scream again, and tried to hurry.
"JD, I thought you said two minutes?" Even Josiah was getting impatient.
"Yeah... I have the location of the Dodge."
"Then what the hell are we waiting for?!"
"Well, Vin," said JD angrily, sounding completely unlike the kid they were used to, "Unless you want to search all twenty of the warehouses in the area, you'll damn well wait ten minutes until I've cross-checked to see if Hendrickson has connections to any of them."
Vin blinked, startled. JD had never yelled at him before.
"Yeah... good idea... sorry..." he mumbled, flustered.
Chris had managed to get hold of the gun, and had tucked it behind his belt. He had also managed to get into a sitting position against a wall, and was attempting to push, pull, and otherwise maneuver himself to his feet. With a great effort of will, he succeeded.
"Okay... okay," he gasped, surprised at how much just getting up had taken out of him. He set his sights on the passage to the room where they were holding Ezra, and set off determinedly in that direction, using the wall as support.
"That one." JD pointed to an address on the screen.
Nathan noted the address. "That's a ten minute drive."
"We'll make it in five," said Vin, calmly, grabbing his keys.
Ezra had decided on a nice mixture of showing defiance and agony, in an unequal mix, to keep Jacob guessing.
"Really, Mr. Hendrickson," he said through gritted teeth. "Is that the best you can do?"
"Not at all!" said Jacob. "We haven't even started with the hammer yet!"
Ezra flinched. "The... hammer?"
Goon#1 - the psychopathic looking chap that had been menacing Chris back at the ranch - picked up a hammer and slammed Ezra's hand - which now had five broken fingers - onto a nearby table. He grinned evilly.
Chris clenched his teeth and tried very hard to not fall over. He wondered fleetingly what the hell it was that he thought he was doing. He wasn't sure he'd even be able to hold the gun straight, for crying out loud! And he was so tired... and it would be so much easier to just collapse...
He winced in sympathy as Ezra let out a particularly tormented howl.
"Coming, coming," he groaned.
"Josiah, Buck, JD, you go in through the front. Nate, you're with me, we'll go in that door there."
"What about him?" whispered Buck, prodding the prone form of Benson with his foot.
"He's out for at least an hour," Nathan whispered back.
"Synchronize your watches - now. You have two minutes to get into position, then go."
"I'm bored," sighed Jacob. "I've had enough of hearing him scream - my ears are starting to hurt."
"Do you want to kill him?" asked Goon#2.
"Nah, one of you do it. I might get blood on my clothes."
"After you," invited Goon#1.
"No, no, really, you go ahead," encouraged Goon#2.
"Oh - well, all right. Thanks. You can kill the next one." Goon#1 leveled his gun at Ezra's head.
Ezra shut his eyes in anticipation of the shot, and flinched when it came. He soon discovered, to his surprise, that he was still alive - and Jacob was yelling frustratedly. His eyes shot open and focused on the door. Chris was leaning against the frame, making agonized noises, his left hand hanging uselessly by his side, his right holding a gun, although it wasn't pointed in a useful direction. Goon#1 was lying on the floor at Ezra's feet, suffering from a terminal case of lead poisoning.
Ezra winced. The recoil from the gun had to have hurt.
"Hey..." said Goon#2, who was rather slow. "That was my friend you just shot!" He picked up his gun and pointed it in the general direction of Chris, and was about to pull the trigger when the other door - the one leading outside that, due to a continuity error, hadn't been mentioned before - burst open.
"ATF! Freeze!" shouted Vin, gun pointed right at the head of Goon#2.
Goon#2, as has previously been mentioned, was not very quick on the uptake and, after a surprised glance in Vin's direction, turned back to Chris.
Vin pulled the trigger first, however, and Goon#2 went down in a spray of - well, hey, let's not go there.
"Oh... hey... Vin... Nate." Chris said, eyes slightly unfocused.
"I'm sorry, Chris, but that shirt is completely unsalvageable," said Nathan, moving towards the injured man with a concerned look in his eyes.
"Damn... was... one of my favourites..." Chris sighed. "I think I'm gonna fall over now..."
Josiah arrived just in time to catch Chris as he fell, and lower him gently to the floor.
"Ambulance is on the way," said Buck, kneeling next to his friend.
"Good," said Vin, absentmindedly slapping cuffs on a vehemently protesting Jacob Hendrickson.
"Somebody... untie Ezra." Chris ordered, somehow managing to make his tone threatening.
JD was already there, trying his best not to jar Ezra's hand.
"Thanks." Ezra stood up cautiously. "I'll take care of Mr. Hendrickson, if you would be so good as to hand me your gun."
Vin glanced at him and frowned, noting that the undercover man was gently cradling his left hand in his right.
"I don't think so," he said. "Not until Nate looks at that hand. Actually," he added, noting the pallor of his teammate's face, "Not even then."
Ezra gave a long-suffering sigh, but didn't argue. Instead, he took a short walk to the other end of the room.
"I'll watch him," offered JD, glaring at Jacob.
"Thanks." Vin went and knelt next to Chris, who was now covered with Buck's coat.
"Hey, pal, how ya doin'?" he asked quietly.
"Tired," replied Chris, and sounded it.
"Don't go to sleep just yet, Chris, okay?" said Buck, urgently. "Stay awake."
"...'kay," muttered Chris, and fell asleep.
"Bastard," said Buck irritably. "He never listens to me."