All feedback, positive and negative always welcome. Just know that the negative will be mocked merrcilessly and finally torched in a roaring bonfire, while the positive wille be framed and cherished for all eternity. <g>
Cast of Characters
Joey DelGado: Danny DeVito (a la Matilda)
Franko Vasquez: Eddie Valez (A Team)
Special Agent Tom Ledmore: Stan Kirsh (Highlander: The Series)
Agent Peter Martins: Sean Patric Thomas (The District)
Vincent Farino: Antonio Sabato Jr. (Earth 2)
Disclaimers: Stole a story line from Shawna's "Rough Beginnings." No I didn't ask, but I figured "Hey, I'm stealing these guys from the suits with the big bucks, I might as well steal from the other thieves as well." And I don't know who first came up with the rubber chicken thing, but I stole that too. I have also made brief reference to a couple of previous episodes, so I hope you've been following.
Acknowledgments: A huge "Thank You" goes out to my wonderful
beta, Monica <no I haven't finished that Vin story yet>, and my mother
who has supported my writings ever since I let her in on my dirty little
secret. Thanks also
to MOG for creating this universe, and Cindy Combs for getting me hooked on it. And finally, last but not least, a gigantic THANK YOU to the productions staff of the Magnificent Seven Virtual Seasons. You are wonderful and
you deserve to be recognized. Thank you.
Warehouse on 1600 block, Denver
Things had gone wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. And Ezra Standish was standing right in the middle of it. In fact, of all the people that had originally entered the warehouse, he was the only one left standing. That was the problem.
The ground was littered with the dead bodies of the gun smugglers and their clients. Buck Wilmington was being rushed to the hospital with a bullet in him that was meant for Ezra. JD Dunne, their computer expert, had ridden with his surrogate big brother and would undoubtedly stay by his side until his release.
There were FBI agents screaming accusations, the remaining members of the ATF Team 7 yelling back. Ezra didn't worry about his team believing him. They would back him. He knew that now. It had taken a lot of hard work and determination on their part to prove that to him, but they had eventually gotten through to him. No, Team Seven would back him, of that he was certain. It was everyone else he was worried about. There were still agents that believed everything they heard about the undercover agent, but his team believed him. That was enough.
Ten Days Earlier
Special Agent Chris Larabee entered his office Monday morning and stared at his desk. Specifically at what was on his desk. There were the usual endless piles of paperwork, all of which were due yesterday; several photos and some scattered pens and pencils... and a large vase of pink roses.
"Mornin', pard," his oldest friend Buck greeted. "Whoa," he exclaimed catching sight of the flowers, "there somethin', or someone, you ain't tellin' me about?" The jovial man moved into the room, ignoring his friends "Shut up, Buck" and admired the bouquet. Spotting a card nestled in among the buds, he snatched it away just before Chris could stop him.
"Buck," he warned. It was too damn early in the morning to deal with a mystery and the fun loving agent.
"Ooh, French," Buck sniggered, dancing out of reach and waving the card around.
"Damnit, Buck, give it here!" Chris snapped. Grabbing the card and moving behind his desk, set his briefcase down on it, eying the roses suspiciously. When he looked up, he noticed that Buck had ensconced himself in a chair and was watching him with raised eyebrows. "What?" he growled out.
"Come on, Chris," Buck wheedled, "don't keep me in suspense! Who is she? What does she look like? What does the note say? Spill it, man!" He leaned forward, eager for any detail.
"I don't know who sent the flowers, Buck," Chris sighed. "And as to what the note says..." he paused and smiled evilly. "That's for me to know." He couldn't help the small laugh at Buck's disappointed expression. "Now, don't you have some paperwork to do?"
Buck grumbled something about insensitive, mean-spirited slave drivers as he exited the office and headed for his own desk.
Chris sat down in his chair and stared at the note. It was, as Buck had said, written in French. It took him several minutes to translate; it had been a while since he had used the language. When he realized what it said he cursed out loud. "Chris, we have hit a snag. Meet me at the Saloon today at noon. VT"
A deep seated fear clenched at the older agent's gut. VT would have to be Vin Tanner, his best friend and subordinate, currently undercover with Ezra. They had gone under to investigate the DelGado Pipeline as Eric Samson and Vince Turner. DelGado was a man who could obtain any kind of weaponry desired, and he promised delivery in under a month. Ezra was posing, whith Vin as his bodyguard, as a middleman looking for hard- to- find heavy artillery. Because of DelGado's reach and his complete lack of trust in anyone, Ezra and Vin had not been in the office for nearly a week. They kept in touch with nightly phone calls from pay phones, but this unorthodox message was obviously indicative of something major.
"A snag," he muttered, leaning back in his chair, "what the hell is a 'snag'? Damnit, Ezra, couldn't you be more specific?" The fact that the note was in French told Chris that it had been Ezra who had called in the order for the flowers. If it had been Vin, the note probably would have been in Spanish. 'Probably his way of letting me know they were both all right, for now,' he mused. "And why pink?" he questioned aloud.
The morning seemed to drag on forever as Chris tried to concentrate on his reports and not worry about his friends and their 'snag'. However, the harder he tried to work, the more visions of Vin's body, beaten and bloody, tossed carelessly along the side of the road or Ezra's bullet riddled corpse lying alone in a warehouse invaded his thoughts. Finally the time came for him to leave for the meet. As he readied to leave, he paused in the door way of his office to study the other agents of Team Seven.
JD and Buck were horsing around at their stations. JD had gone and done something to annoy Buck, again, as the older agent was shaking his beloved rubber chicken at the youngest member of the team. JD appeared to be looking for more ammunition for his rubber band 'gun' with which he had been harrasing Buck. Meanwhile, Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez were going over last night's surveillance reports. Each one carefully reading each file before quietly discussing it and the implications they found therein.
Chris stood for a moment, drinking in the sight, and trying not to imagine the two absent agents gone from that scene forever. He cleared his throat to get everyone's attention. "I have to go to a meeting; I don't know how long it will take. Josiah, you mind the store." Everyone nodded, sensing the tension in their leader. They all understood that this was no boring budget meeting that he was going to, but something Important.
"Good luck, brother,"Josiah rumbled as Chris passed him, attempting to soothe his troubled soul.
Chris nodded and continued on to the elevator, his mind going again to his absent agents and their 'snag'.
The entire trip to the Saloon, various scenarios kept a running loop through his head, each more violent that the last. When he finally pulled up to the building he had worked himself into such a state that it was all he could do not to burst into the bar at a dead run.
As it was, when he did enter he slammed the doors back with such force that they rebounded off the wall with a resounding crash. The bar was mostly empty, but the few patrons in at that hour looked up at the sudden noise.
Chris quickly scanned the room, eventually spotting the one face he needed to see. He let out the breath that he hadn't realized he was holding as he moved towards his friend.
Vin was seated in a dark booth in the back of the room. Close, Chris noticed, to the kitchen and rear exit. As he hurried over he scrutinized the lean form, searching for signs of injury. Finding none, he sat down across from the younger man, questions brimming in his eyes.
"Damn, cowboy," Vin drawled, "nice entrance."
Chris ignored the comment and got straight to the issue that had been bothering him all morning. "What snag?"
Vin grinned and leaned back in his seat. "Nice to see you too, Chris."
Chris growled and gave him his best glare, the one that left the bad guys shaking in their boots. If Vin noticed, he didn't so much as blink.
"Okay," Vin capitulated, "but you ain't gonna like it, so try not to shout, okay?" When it looked like Chris was calm, Vin continued. "DelGado is looking to expand his operations, he's been talkin' to members of the Farino family."
"Shit," Chris muttered. "That means bringing in the Feds. What do you know about the Farinos?"
"The Farino family has their fingers in a lot of pies. Drugs, guns, prostitution, pornography, you name it they're part of it. Some o' the younger ones been in and out of jail. An' that's parta the snag." Vin shifted slightly, glancing quickly about the room.
"What is it?" Chris asked some of his earlier foreboding returning.
"I took in a couple a members of the Farino family a few years ago, back when I was still 'huntin'," was the soft reply.
Chris sighed and closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. "What are the chances of you bein' recognized?" he asked finally.
"Better'n average," Vin shrugged. He didn't talk much about his past normally and this was no different.
"Then that's it. You two are out," Chris declared with an air of finality.
"Chris, we can't scrub the whole mission just 'cause some folks might recognize me," Vin argued.
"It's too dangerous. I don't want you or Ezra gettin' hurt when we know there are complications now. You are out, and that's final," he stated adamantly.
"Oh, really," Vin glared. "And why is that?"
"Because I say so," Chris growled back. Why was he always so damn stubborn?
"That ain't a reason an' you know it," Vin shot back. "If you have to, pull me, but this is too damn important to throw away."
"We can't do that without raising DelGado's suspicions. It's too dangerous," he repeated.
"Chris," Vin tried again, "Ez an' I have talked about this an', while he didn't rightly like it, I got an idea," he paused, knowing that Chris was really going to hate his plan.
"I think I gotta die," he stated bluntly.
"What!?" Chris' yell caught the attention of the bartender and Vin hurried to quiet him.
"Geeze, Cowboy," he growled, "try to keep it down. Now," he continued once Chris had calmed down, "I didn't mean that I had to really die, but we gotta make it look like I did, like that other time. Then you can send Buck in as my replacement."
Chris could see the logic of the younger man's words, but such undertakings were always risky. There were so many things that could go wrong.
Finally Chris nodded. "I'll tell the others and see what we can come up with. What was Ezra's problem with the plan, besides the obvious danger to your life?" He couldn't help asking.
Vin rolled his eyes at Chris' comment but answered, "I think he still has issues about the last time he had to 'kill' me. He never really talked about it, but it upset him pretty bad."
Again Chris nodded, remembering the look on the undercover agent's face when he checked on him in the men's room of that bar after the event. The normally unflappable agent had definitely been upset.
"Can't rightly say as I blame him, neither," the sharpshooter continued. "Even knowing its all fake, its hard to look a friend in the eye and shoot 'em."
Chris thought a moment, then shook his head. "I'll try to find a way to keep Ezra from bein' the one to pull the trigger. Is there anything else? Any more 'snags' I should know about?"
"Nope," Vin quipped almost cheerfully, "that's all the snags I kin think of right now."
"Great," Chris muttered then rose to leave. "I had better get going then, get things set in motion. Call me tonight and I'll give you the details. What's our time frame, here?"
"Soon," Vin replied soberly. "DelGado wants Ezra to meet Vincent Farino this weekend."
"So in the next couple a days. Great." Chris paused and scowled at the lack of time, then focused on the younger man. "You watch yourself, Cowboy," he cautioned. "We don't want to go and kill ya, only to find that Farino got to you first, got it?"
"Got it," Vin responded with a grin. "Don't worry 'bout me, I got Ez to watch my back."
Chris nodded once more and walked back to his car. Vin would wait then leave when he deemed it safe.
On the drive back to the office, Chris' thoughts were filled once again with his undercover agents. They needed to find an effective way of extracting Vin without arousing the suspicions of a paranoid gun smuggler. Same old, same old.
Team Seven Conference Room One hour later
"So there we are," Chris finished explaining the situation to the rest of the team. "We need to get Vin out without Ezra getting pinched. Thoughts?"
The silence of the room was disturbed by JD's fidgeting.
"JD?" Chris asked, "you have something to say?""Well," the young man started slowly, "this is probably gonna sound silly, but.." he trailed off, uncertainty coloring his words.
"Go ahead, JD," Josiah coaxed. "This is just brainstorming. Say what's on your mind."
JD sent the large ex- anthropologist a small smile before continuing. "Well, the other day I was watching Lethal Weapon, the original, and there's that scene where the bad guys shoot Mel Gibson, right? Only he's wearing a bullet proof vest and he survives. Could we maybe do something like that? A drive-by? It might seem less suspicious then Ez turning on Vin." He looked around at the other men around the table, gauging their reactions.
"Well, it would certainly be public," Buck mused, "DelGado won't be able to deny it happened."
"Too dangerous," Chris interjected. "Too many things can go wrong with a drive by. The car hits a bump, and the bullet hits him in the head. No way."
"Actually, Chris," Nathan spoke up, "we can still use this. There's been a rise in 'walk by' shootings, nationwide. And we can have a getaway car standing by. That way, we can be close enough to choose the shot and avoid any unnecessary injuries."
Chris nodded, "Okay, better. Who's going to do it? And where. We're on the clock here. It needs to be soon." Much as he wanted to be the one, he knew that if Ezra needed to produce a buyer he was it.
"Well," JD began again, "I was thinkin' about that, too. They're staying over on Tenth, right? That's not too far from Purgatorio. I could do it, with Nathan driving, and head off in that direction."
"Are you sure, JD?" Chris asked gently. "This is pretty heavy stuff. You saw how Ezra reacted when he had to do it."
JD straightened a little in his chair. "I can handle it, Chris. And I'm the best choice. You guys might be needed to go in, and no one would buy me as a gun smuggler. But a street punk," he grinned, "I can do that, easy."
"Okay," Chris nodded, "but I want Josiah to drive. Nathan, I want you to be on the ambulance that responds to the call, just to make sure."
"Sure thing," the medic agreed and began making a list of all the things he would need to care for the soon- to- be- injured Texan.
"All right, let's get ready. I'll go tell Travis the plan. Let me know as soon as everything is set." On that note the meeting broke up and everyone set off to their assigned tasks.
Buck and JD set about concocting Buck's false history while Josiah called the motor pool about getting an unmarked car to use in their plan. Nathan called up a paramedic friend of his that owed him a favor about riding along for the case. For the four agents things progressed relatively smoothly. For Chris things didn't go so well.
"Have you lost your mind?" Assistant Director Orrin Travis bellowed upon hearing the plan. "You should be pulling them both out, not sending the kid out to shoot one of them."
"This is too important to back out now," Larabee disputed, unconsciously mimicking the sharpshooter from earlier. "Not only can we take out DelGado, but we now have a shot at the Farinos. I know for a fact that the FBI has been after them for years. Let us try; I have faith in my people."
"Fine," Travis grudgingly agreed. "Do it, but you know I have to call in the Feds. And you will play nice." The last part was a very definite warning that Chris knew he had to heed if he wanted to stay a part of the case.
"Yessir, we'll let you know how things turn out."
"You'd better, and Larabee," his voice softened, "Good luck."
"Yessir," Chris repeated before hanging up. He then propped his elbows up on his desk and set his head in his hands. He was so lost in his own thoughts that he didn't hear the door open and Buck enter.
"Don't worry, pard," Buck spoke softly, startling the blond agent. "The kid and Junior know what they're doing. Everything will work out, we'll get Vin out safe and sound."
"And I'll be sending you into the lion's den," he spat out. "Sometimes I hate my job."
"Chris," the seriousness in his oldest friend's voice caused him to look up. "It's okay. This is what we do. We go into the lion's den and we take out the bad guys. We. As in the team. I know that you guys will be out there, and I'll have Ezra with me to watch my back." Chris started to laugh quietly causing Buck to cock his head questioningly.
"That's what Vin said," he explained. "You're right, Buck. I know that, but I'm still going to worry."
"Deal," Buck grinned and clapped his friend on his back. "Now, about those roses?" He grinned and raised his eyebrows suggestively.
"It was from Ezra and Vin, arranging the meet this afternoon," Chris grinned at the utter disappointment on Buck's face.
"C'mon, pard," he whined, "couldn't you at least pretend?"
The other three agents in the bullpen all looked up at the sound of their leaders laughter and grinned. Leave it to Buck to lift the spirits of their boss.
Larabee's Office, Five O'clock
Chris was pacing his office, willing his cell phone to ring. So far all of the preparations were set, except one: He had yet to tell Vin and Ezra the plan. Buck had a new identity on paper marking him as a two strike looser out of Joliet, Illinois, with the explanation that a change of locale may change his luck. Josiah had a plain, nondescript sedan checked out of the departmental motor pool and had carefully plotted his getaway route to pass into the outskirts of, but not go into the heart of Purgatorio and end up at Four Corners Hospital, where Vin was to be taken. Nathan had made a deal to 'borrow' a rig and another paramedic for the operation. JD was currently downstairs in the firing range practicing his quick sighting. And Chris was left pacing, waiting for Vin's call.
At ten minutes after five, his pacing finally paid off when his phone rang. He quickly snatched it up and ground out "Larabee," into the mouthpiece.
"Well, it is good to hear you in your usual high spirits, Mr. Larabee," Ezra's soft drawl greeted him. "Have you made any decision regarding our mutual friend and the unfortunate resurgence of his past?"
"Yeah, I'm gonna kill him," Chris growled, he knew he was taking his frustrations out on the southerner, but at the moment he really didn't care.
"Really, Mr. Larabee," the undercover agent commented mildly. "I thought we had agreed to use you as our buyer, should the need arise?"
"Yeah, well, that's why I'm sending JD to do the dirty work. What do you two have planned for dinner?" he asked, getting down to business.
"Ah, I'm afraid we have accepted an 'invitation' by Mr. DelGado to dine with him this evening. At a quaint little place called The Garden, I believe." Ezra's tone indicated that the invitation was not entirely voluntary, but it was all right this fit with their plans.
"That's over on Ninth and Howard, right?" Chris confirmed. "Perfect, we'll do it when you guys leave. What time is this invitation for?"
"Six- thirty, we should be finished by eight o'clock," Ezra supplied. "Mr. DelGado does not lean overly much towards business talk in public places. I think he just likes to be seen with me. Staking his territory, as it were."
"Right, okay, this is how it's going down," Chris was again all business, there could be no screw ups. "After dinner, start walking south on the west side of the street. JD will approach, and if he gets the signal from Vin, he'll pull out his gun. First, he'll aim at you, Vin is to push you out of the way and take the bullets himself. JD will then jump in a car driven by Josiah and take off towards Purgatorio. Nathan and a friend of his will show up in an ambulance and take Vin to Four Corners Hospital. When you are ready, you will introduce Buck as Bob Williams from Joliet, Illinois."
"Agreed, Mr. Larabee," Ezra established. "And what is Mr. Tanner's signal to young Mr. Dunne to be?"
"A nod is fine," Chris sighed and rubbed his head. "Just something so that JD knows he's ready."
"Understood. Mr. Tanner will be vested and ready. Is there anything else?"
"Yeah, Ez," Chris added. "Why pink?"
Pay Phone Across Town
Ezra was chuckling as he hung up the reciever to the pay phone he had been using.
"What's so funny?" Vin asked, leaning up against the wall.
"It would appear," Ezra began slowly, making no effort to hide his amusement, "that our esteemed leader does not appreciate my choice in flora."
Vin grinned as he checked his gun. "Didn't like the flowers you sent, huh? Sometimes, Ez, people forget that you're no stranger to the practical joke either."
"Which suits me just fine." Ezra's gold tooth flashed as he grinned.
Vin just shook his head and retuned to the case at hand. "So, you talked to Chris?" he asked offhandedly. "What's the plan?"
"It would appear that our young friend, Mr. Dunne is contemplating committing a homicide this evening and you are his intended victim," Ezra drawled calmly as he started walking back to the hotel, Vin falling right in step with him. As he explained the plan Vin sighed and nodded.
"I hope the kid can handle it. Shootin' a friend ain't easy," he commented once the undercover man had finished.
"No, it is not, my friend," Ezra intoned with a haunted look in his eye. "It most certainly is not."
Ninth and Howard, Later
Vin and Ezra pulled up in front of The Garden in the undercover agent's Jaguar, at five minutes before six thirty, . Ezra pulled up and parked the car a block south of the restaurant itself in accordance with their leader's plan.
"Are you ready for the night's theatrics, Mr. Tanner?" Ezra inquired as they exited the car.
"Sure thing, Ez," Vin replied, straightening his collar to better hide the bullet-proof vest he was wearing. "Just wish these things didn't itch so bad."
"Really, Mr. Turner," Ezra said mildly, slipping into his role of a gun dealer as he spotted DelGado and his bodyguard in the restaurant, "perhaps if you allowed yourself a higher quality of clothing, you would not have such a problem."
"Well, Mr. Samson," he responded sarcastically, "I'm just a simple bodyguard, not a rich arms dealer. I can't very well save your sorry ass if I'm worried about dirtyin' up my duds." He grinned at the southerner to show that there were no hard feelings.
"Indeed, Mr. Turner," was all the reply possible before they entered the restaurant.
The hostess showed them to the table were Joey DelGado and his hired gun, Franko Vasquez, were just sitting down.
DelGado was a portly man, a testament to his good fortune, he was like to say. Personally, Ezra thought he was just a slob. He had thinning black hair, which he attempted to cover up by combing it over the top of his head. It didn't work, but no one had the guts to tell him. The man was as paranoid as they come: bug sweeps and pat downs were common, and it was not unusual for him to place a tail on his business associates.
Franko Vasquez was only marginally better. He was thinner and had more hair, but that was about it. He would do anything Joey DelGado told him to do, but that was all. He had the IQ of a cockroach, and the personality of one, too. But he was as paranoid as his boss, and he liked to hurt anyone that got in their way.
Tonight the two of them looked extra cautious as they both kept looking around the restaurant, as if expecting attack from all sides. As the two ATF agents approached, Vasquez stood and preformed the expected pat down before allowing them to approach his boss."Samson, Turner," DelGado greeted. "Good to see you. I have a few questions for you, if you don't mind."
"Of course not, Mr. DelGado," Ezra drawled smoothly. "What is it that you want to know?"
DelGado's eyes were on Vin when he spoke. "Where were you this morning and afternoon?"
Vin lazily met the man's stare and replied, "None o' your business."
Ezra winced inwardly, the man has no sense of tact.
"If you want me to do business with your boss, than it is my business," he snapped. A quick signal to his guard and Vin had a small gun pointed at him just over the top of the table. "Now, where were you?"
Vin's eyes flicked briefly to the gun, then to Franko, before returning to DelGado. "Somewhere that didn't need an audience."
"Who were you with, and what did you talk about?" Another signal and Franko cocked his gun still pointed unwaveringly at Vin.
Vin leaned back a bit and grinned. "Her name was Crystal, and we didn't rightly do much talkin'." He raised his eyebrows suggestively as his grin grew wider.It was all Ezra could do not to spew the water he was sipping all over the table. Vin making a lewd suggestion? The man was always courteous to and about all women. Of all the things Vin could have said, that was the last one he expected, but DelGado seemed to buy it.
The fat man maintained eye contact for a moment before an answering grin began to form as he caught the gist of what Vin was implying. "Ah," he stated knowingly. "I understand. But I don't appreciate having my associates whereabouts in question. Don't sneak off again." He punctuated his last statement by slamming his open hand onto the table, making all of the glasses jump.
Vin simply shrugged, unconcerned. He knew that he wouldn't have to deal with the gun dealer after that night so any ultimatum he chose to invoke was pointless.
Ezra sighed inwardly at the cessation of hostility and smiled politely when DelGado told him to try the Caesar Salad. 'One near tragedy down, one more to go,' he thought as he pretended to peruse the menu. 'I just hope the shooting goes as well as this.'
Down the Street, 7:45
"JD, can you hear me?" Chris' voice came in over the ear piece the young agent wore, shattering his illusion of being alone. He wore dark jeans and a green hooded sweatshirt. At Chris' inquiry he glanced down the street to where Chris and Buck were monitoring the encounter.
"Yeah, Chris, loud and clear," he whispered. "No sign of Vin and Ez yet."
"Don't worry, JD. They'll be here soon. Ezra said they would be having dinner with DelGado at The Garden. They should be leaving... wait. Here they come." Buck cut in then with his own words of encouragement. "Put on a good show for the audience, kid."
"Thanks, Buck, that is, like, so helpful," JD muttered as he rolled his eyes. He sobered up immediately, however upon sighting the object of the sham. He shot a look over to Josiah, who sat behind the wheel of a dark blue sedan parked across the street.
As the group of men got closer, JD pulled away from the building he had been leaning against and headed towards them. When he got close enough to look them in the eyes, he sought out the long haired sharpshooter and held his gaze. At the slight nod from Vin, he muttered "shooting" into the mic in his collar and pulled his gun from under his sweatshirt. To DelGado and his men, it looked like JD was aiming for Ezra, but Vin pushed the slick southerner to the side. JD took aim as quickly as he could and fired three shots directly into Vin's chest.
The report from the gun sounded incredibly loud in the enclosed street, JD, frozen with shock, watched as his friend fell to the ground as if in slow motion. He didn't hear the screeching of tires as Josiah swung the car around. He shook his head when he realized that Chris and Buck were yelling at him to get the hell out of there. He turned and dashed to the curb where Josiah had paused and pushed the passenger door open. As he jumped into the car, the other men in the group began shooting at him. He ducked his head as the window next to his head exploded.
As they drove off, JD took several deep breaths to try and control the shaking that had overtaken his body. He could hear nothing beyond the rushing in his ears as he closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the headrest. He slowly came to hear Josiah talking to him, reassuring him that everything was okay. "It's all right, son. Just take deep breaths. That's right. Everything went according to plan. You did good. Just breathe." The large man glanced over and realized that JD was once more aware of his surroundings. "Not quite as easy as you expected, was it?"
"Hell, no!" JD choked out. "Did ya see him fall? He went down like a sack a potatoes. He looked dead! What if I really killed him? Then Chris'll kill me, and I'll go straight to hell. Oh, God, what'd I do?" He snapped his jaw shut with a click and dropped his head to his hands.
Josiah reached out with one giant hand and placed it on the young agents shoulder in a comforting gesture. "Son, you didn't kill Vin. He gave you the signal, right?" At JD's nod, he continued. "That means he was ready for the shot. He fell like that to make it look realistic. He's gonna be okay. We're headed to the hospital ourselves now, just so you can see for yourself, all right?"
"Yeah, okay," JD whispered, raising his head to stare out the window
but not seeing the passing scenery. All he could see was his friend,
jerking from the impact of the bullets that he had fired and falling to
the ground. He had somehow convinced himself that, because it wasn't
real, it wouldn't seem real to him. Now, he wasn't sure how or why
he had ever thought that. It sure felt real. It sure looked
real, too. It looked like he had just killed his friend.
Back at the scene, Chris and Buck waited anxiously to see if DelGado and his men bought the ruse. They were hurriedly picking Standish up off the ground where he had fallen when Vin pushed him out of the way. Dusting himself off, Ezra looked down at the fallen body for his comrade. He refused to allow the emotions he felt to show, however, as he commented offhandedly, "Pity; good help is terribly hard to find."
Hearing sirens in the distance, DelGado urged, "We should get out of here, let the cops think it was a mugging gone wrong or something. I'll contact you in a few days about our arrangement, Mr. Samson. Sorry about Turner."
It was all Ezra could do not to grimace at the odious man before him, scoffing at the supposed death of one of his closest friends. "Do not worry yourself," he answered lightly, "I have recently received news of an old associate of mine who has newly relocated to this fair metropolis. Perhaps I should look him up and offer him employment, seeing as I suddenly find myself with a vacancy?" The laugh from the gun smuggler turned his stomach, but he forced himself to join in. Appearances, after all, were everything.
As they walked further down the street, Ezra cast a surreptitious glance at the van he was sure housed at least one other of his teammates, then headed back to his hotel to make full use of the courtesy bar.
Inside the van Chris breathed a sigh of relief. They had apparently bought it. Now the only thing keeping him from jumping out of the protective concealment of the van was the knowledge that Nathan was almost there and would take care of his best friend.
Still, Buck had to lay a restraining hand on his arm when Nathan pulled up in the ambulance. He and his friend, Harold, quickly scooped up Vin's inert form and put him in the rig for transport. Buck quickly started up the van and followed the ambulance with its lights flashing and siren blaring.
"It's all right, Chris," Nathan's voice crackled over the radio. "Vin's alive. Gonna have some pretty bruises, but he'll be just fine. He's already complainin' about not needin' to see no damn doctor." The amusement in his voice did more to reassure Chris than the words themselves.
"You tell him that he's gonna see the doc, and that's that," he called back, a grin of relief affixed to his face.
Four Corners Hospital, Thirty Minutes Later
"I'm tellin' you Vin, that doctor is gonna have a look at those ribs," Chris' angry voice could be heard in the hall as he tried to deal with the stubborn ex- bounty hunter.
"An' I'm tellin' you that I don't need to see no damn doctor," Vin snapped back. "I'm fine, just a couple of bruises."
"Damnit, Vin!" Chris exploded, "Take off your damn shirt!"
"Hell, Chris, you know I ain't like that," Vin grinned, trying to lighten the mood. His attempt at humor fell flat, however, as Chris opened his mouth to begin another tirade. But before he could start, Josiah stuck his head into the cubicle.
"Vin, please let the doctor check you out. JD is sitting in the waiting room thinking that he has hurt you, or worse. And I don't rightly think anything short of a doctor's approval will make him feel better." His low tone managed to do what all of Chris' cajoling and Nathan's insistence had not. Vin looked suitably chagrined as he realized what thoughts must be running through his young friend's mind.
"Shit," he muttered, then looked to Josiah. "You tell 'im that I'm fine, an' I'll be out as soon as the doc clears me." Josiah nodded and left as Vin tried to remove his shirt. He got it about halfway before the pull on his abused ribs made him pause and hiss in pain.
"Just a few bruises, cowboy?" Chris couldn't help but throw the stubborn man's words back in his face.
"Yeah," he grunted. "No big deal. Been hurt worse walkin' home from school."
"I've seen where you live, that ain't sayin' much," Chris deadpanned, eliciting an aborted chuckle from the wounded man.
"Shit," he hissed and wrapped his arm around his chest. "Don't you know it ain't polite to cause a wounded man more pain?"
"Sorry, Vin," he responded, "but you gotta understand, we're just worried about you. The Feds have been called in and we need all the support we can get."
"You mean Ez needs all the support he can get, don't ya?" Vin asked, reading between the lines. Everyone knew of Ezra's past with the FBI and how they had treated him. "Don't worry about me, cowboy," he assured the older man, "It's gonna take more than a couple a bruised ribs to take me out a the game." He attempted to grin, but it turned into a grimace as he shivered. "Damn, why do they hafta make hospitals so cold?"
Chris smiled and went in search of a doctor, but couldn't resist a parting
shot as he left. "Maybe you should have thought of that ten minutes
ago when you scared the doctor off. Serves you right, ya know."
The satisfied smirk on his face was answered by a exasperated snort from
Two days after the shooting saw the remaining members of Team Seven working in their office. The air of restlessness that permeated the office was obvious to any observer, not that anyone went near the men without good cause. Each man was busy working at their assigned tasks, or at least pretending to.
JD continually sent guilty looks to Vin, despite the fact that before leaving the hospital Vin had assured the younger man of his place among the living and complimented him on a job well done. Vin was busy at his computer, slowly writing up the reports on everything he had seen and heard in his time spent with DelGado. Josiah sat at his desk collecting data on the Farino family, every deal they were even remotely suspected of being connected to was added to the pile. Nathan was currently down in the records room, obtaining pictures of all the known players for the upcoming briefing with the Feds. While Buck was already laying low in preparation of his new role in the bust.
Finally, Vin looked up and looked JD right in the eye. "Kid, lay off. I'm fine. Now, find out about the Feds that are bein' sent in."
"All you had to do was ask, Agent Tanner," an unexpected voice came from the doorway. Vin and JD both had their hands on their guns before turning to face the newcomers. "Really, now," the man who had spoken before raised his hands as if in surrender. "We're all on the same side here, right?"
"That remains to be seen," Vin muttered, too low for the two men in the doorway to catch, but loud enough for his teammates to hear.
The ATF agents and FBI agents studied each other in silence for a few minutes. The two newcomers were as different as night and day. The man who had spoken was tall and well built, with blond hair. He wore a dark gray suit with a blue tie, and he lounged insolently against the doorjamb. The other man was darker than Nathan, but a head and shoulders shorter and much stockier. He stood stiffly in the doorway behind his partner in a blue suit and green tie.
Larabee chose that moment to exit his office, carrying some files for the briefing, but halted at the sight of the five agents facing off. He was debating whether or not to intervene when Nathan returned and nearly bumped into the men standing in the doorway.
"Oh, 'scuse me..." his voice trailed off as he looked at the newcomers. "Martins? Peter Martins? Is that you?""Nathan Jackson," the agent said in amazement, staring at Nathan like he was a long lost brother. "I knew your name sounded familiar. How are you? I thought you'd be half way through your residency by now."
Everyone else in the room watched as the two men greeted each other. Finally Chris cleared his throat, gaining their attention.
"Oh, sorry, guys," the medic broke away from the Fed to address his teammates. "This is Peter Martins, I met him back when I was in the army, during Desert Storm. We worked in the same evac hospital for a while. How are you doin', man?" he asked of his old friend.
"I'm fine," the shorter man replied. "But what about you? What happened to med school?"
Nathan grimaced and shrugged. "Couldn't afford it. Took a few classes, and worked in the forensic department of the Denver PD. Turns out I'm pretty good at that sort of thing. Then Chris here formed his team, and asked me to join. Been working here for 'bout five years."
"You work with Standish, too?" the first man interrupted.
Nathan glanced at Peter with raised eyebrows. "Sorry," Agent Martins apologized. "Nathan, this is Special Agent Tom Ledmore. He's been after the Farino family for years."
Nathan nodded, but before he could say anything else, Chris spoke up. "Ezra Standish joined my team soon after Nathan, yes. Is that a problem?" The look in his eye said that it had better not be.
"Well, now," Ledmore drawled out, "that all depends on you man Standish, doesn't it?" He pushed himself up off the door jam and looked around the room. "Is there a more comfortable place to go over this? I've waited three years to take down the Farino's, and I don't feel like wasting any time here."
There were several rolled eyes as Chris led the way to the conference room to begin the briefing. "Before we start, I think some proper introductions are in order."
"No need," Agent Ledmore interrupted, "we know all about your team. There's the bounty hunter, the preacher, the healer, and the kid. Not to mention the joker and the gambler. Quite a rag tag bunch you've collected for yourself."
"We get the job done," Larabee ground out, remembering Travis' warning to play nice.
"I'm sure you do," was the only reply.
Chris counted to ten- slowly- before clearing his throat. "As you know," he began, "because of the possible merger of DelGado and the Farino family, the FBI will be assisting us. But have no doubt," this he directed to the Feds sitting to his left, "that we are still in charge of the situation."
"That remains to be seen," Agent Ledmore snidely replied.
"Wrong," Larabee contradicted. "Those're our men on the inside, and we are not turning their safety over to a bunch of suits." His icy gaze bored into the two FBI agents until they dropped their gazes and shifted uncomfortably. Finally Chris nodded, seemingly satisfied, and returned his concentration to the files that he began passing around. "In front of you is all the information we have on Vincent and Julian Farino. They are the oldest sons of Anthony, figurehead of the Farino family. In recent years, Anthony Farino has been relying more and more on his sons to run his business; blame it on his failing health. If we can connect Vincent and Julian to DelGado, we'll be putting a huge crimp in their organization. Agents Standish and Tanner have fed us all the information they could, unfortunately, DelGado hasn't given them much for us to work with."
"Isn't that a surprise," Ledmore muttered, eliciting not one, but five cold stares. The silence stretched as the remaining members of Team Seven glared at the offending agent. "What?" he snapped, breaking the silence.
"I think you'd best explain yourself, son," Josiah rumbled, figuring that if anyone else were to speak up they wouldn't be nearly so diplomatic.
"I'm just saying that it's mighty convenient that your man Standish has been invited to a meet between DelGado and two of the highest ranking members of the Farino family after being undercover for less than a month," the tall man glowered. "We have been trying to get a man on the inside for years, and even they haven't gotten anywhere near any member of the Family. But even with this great break, he has no useful information to impart to us? Why is that, do you think?"
"Reason being," Vin's quiet drawl grabbed everyone's attention, "DelGado is a paranoid SOB who don't trust anyone who ain't him. An' if you think about it, you been tryin' to get to them for years, while we're the one's that got close enough to even try to get any information."
"Ain't that a surprise?" Larabee snarled.
"Now, look," Agent Martins broke in, trying to diffuse the situation, "we're supposed to be working together on this, not fighting one another."
"True, Agent Martins," Josiah said calmly. "But when you work with us, you work with all of us."
"I think what Josiah is trying to say," Chris picked up, "is that we don't take kindly to anyone bad mouthing one of our own."
Ledmore spoke up again, disgust clearly coloring his voice. "I just can't believe that you trust that man Standish. I've heard about him and his work in Atlanta. How long did it take for him to turn on them? And how long before he turns on you? He ran out on you on his first case here, and yet you didn't take the hint."
"What hint?" JD asked, speaking up for the first time.
"Oh, please," the older man scoffed. "Even you have to know that there's a reason Standish has been able to get so chummy with both DelGado and the Farino's in such a short time."
"Sure," JD smiled, before anyone else had a chance to react. "That's 'cause Ezra's the best at what he does."
Ledmore just rolled his eyes and collected his paperwork. "Well, if that's all we have to cover, some of us have real police work to do." He tapped Agent Martins on the shoulder and turned to leave. Martins shrugged and followed his superior out of the room, leaving five pissed off agents behind.
"Asshole." Four heads turned at the not quite unexpected curse coming form an unexpected source.
"What?" JD asked raising his eyebrows innocently.
"Nothin', JD," Vin said. "That was just... unexpected comin' from you, is all."
JD rolled his eyes. "Oh come on, that guy is a jerk. And I didn't feel like sitting here listenin' to him bad mouth Ezra all day."
"So why didn't you say something?" Chris asked.
"I did," JD replied cheekily.
"I think what he means is, why didn't you call him an asshole to his face?" Vin explained with a grin.
JD grinned back, but quickly grew serious again. "Well, it was pretty obvious that they don't really respect us. I mean, you heard him, I'm just 'the kid.' If I had tried to stand up and be taken seriously, he just woulda laughed and started talkin' down to me. Then one o' you woulda tried to defend me, and a huge fight woulda happened. We don't need to be making any more enemies right now. Those guys are gonna be watching our backs when we go in on this bust, an' I, for one, don't wanna be lookin' over my shoulder the whole time, seein' if someone's gonna put a bullet there. So now, they just think I'm some naive kid, which is what they thought comin' in here, anyway, so no big loss. Now," he paused and collected his files, "I need to get goin' on these. See ya." He left the conference room and headed towards his desk, already thinking about what kind of surveillance equipment he might need.
Back in the conference room, the other members of the team still sat in shock.
Josiah was the first to break the silence. "Do you get the impression that we may have underestimated that boy?"
"Do ya mean, are we as guilty as the Feds 'bout treatin' JD like a kid?" Vin asked, his eyes still trained on the door. "Maybe."
The others had no response as they slowly got up and drifted off to
their own chores. The 'kid' had suddenly given them a lot to think
Later that day, Agent Martins sat down next to Nathan's desk and watched him as he completed a report on his computer.
"What's up?" Nathan asked, keeping his eyes on his computer screen.
"Just thought we could talk a bit," the shorter man replied.
"Talk about what?" Nathan asked warily. "You probably know more about this case right now than I do."
"Yeah, but you know more about the people on the inside," Martins admitted, fiddling with a pen.
"You mean like Ezra, right?" The ATF agent finally pulled his eyes away from his computer to look at his old friend. He and Ezra still didn't see eye to eye in most situations, but they did have an understanding. Nathan knew that Ezra would not do anything to jeopardize the Team. "What do you want?" he questioned.
Agent Martins fiddled with the pen in his hand for a moment longer before beginning, keeping his eyes on the pen. "I noticed that you didn't say anything back in the conference room to defend him."
"Everything that needed to be said, got said," he shrugged.
"Look," Martins tried again," we all know that you and Standish aren't exactly bosom buddies, but I figure you would know if anything hinkey was going on."
"Hinkey, like Ezra bein' a turncoat, right? Never happen. Ever." He glared at the FBI Agent.
"Like that first case?" The look in the shorter man's eyes could
only be described as predatory. Nathan realized that this was no
longer his old army buddy, but a stranger. A stranger who was trying
to tear apart the best team he had ever been a part of.
"That was an accident," he ground out. "He came back and saved all our asses. He has risked his life time and again to make sure that the mission get completed. He's a good cop." Nathan was surprised at the fact that he was defending a person who had intentionally sparked more than one confrontation. Even more surprising was the fact that he believed each and every word he said.
"I saw those mission tapes, Nathan. He walked away. He left you to the wolves. And how do you explain the car and the clothes? You of all people should realize how corrupt he is." Nathan knew that Martins was no longer talking as a cop, but as a boy from the projects where he'd grown up. The type of person Nathan had been at one point. He saw the money and heard the accent and damn the rest. Nathan saw himself when he first met Ezra, and was sickened.
"Let me tell you somethin'," he leaned forward in his chair and looked straight into Agent Martins's eyes. "It's true that Ezra and I don't always agree, but I know that he would never do anything to disrespect his badge, or us. He is dedicated to his work, and he will do everything in his power to bring down both DelGado, and the Farino's. Now, if you have anything else to say, don't." Nathan stood, and marched over to where Josiah was working, ending the conversation.
"Are you all right, Brother?" he asked quietly, having witnessed the exchange.
"Yeah," Nathan muttered, "I just never thought I'd say those words, and believe them." He shook his head.
"I don't know, Nate," Josiah grinned, "I think you've believed that for a while, it just took this to get you to admit it."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Nathan replied stubbornly.
"I think you do," Josiah returned. "You and Ezra bicker about everything under the sun. I once over heard you two arguing over which one of the "Charlie's Angles" was best. You have a very unique way of showing concern about one another. You aren't like brothers like Buck and JD; you aren't best friends like Chris and Vin; and you don't have the history that you and I do. What you have is conflict. That is how you first related to one another, and that is how you are most comfortable relating. When you need to show each other that you care, you argue. Most people mistake this for the two of you not liking each other, but the rest of the team knows the truth." He grinned over at the surprised medic as he digested the information.
"You all know, huh?" he asked with a return grin. "Should'a known. I never was any good at keepin' secrets. Especially from my family."
"Amen, Brother," Josiah murmured.
The rest of the day was spent looking for information and checking with snitches. All anyone could tell them, however, was that something big was set to go down. And soon.
News of the FBI Agents and their attitude had made the rounds through building. Several members of the secretarial staff and the forensic department reported that the agents had been asking questions about Team Seven's undercover agent. Vin smiled and thought: 'Ez would sure appreciate knowing that all these people care enough to rat out any trouble makers for 'im. He still doesn't seem to realize all the friends he has in the building, but he is gettin' better.'
Just as everyone was packing up their things to go home, Chris stepped out of his office to announce that Buck had been introduced as Ezra's new bodyguard with no problems. Three happy cheers and one relieved sigh answered the announcement and the general mood was greatly improved as everyone packed up to go home. It had been decided earlier that all forays to The Saloon would be put on hold until the case was over.
Each man was alone with his thoughts and worries as he drove home. Chris constantly worried over the men he had to send undercover. Vin was safe, or as safe as he could be given the circumstances, but Ezra and Buck were in the thick of things. If anything should happen to them it would be all his fault. He was the team leader, it had been his decision to go after DelGado in the first place. And now the Farino's. Maybe he was being too ambitious. Maybe he should have pulled both men out when he had a chance. There was still the possibility that any one of the gun runners could find out who Vin was. Then Ezra and Buck would be compromised. Oh, Ezra might be able to talk his way out of trouble long enough for help to arrive, but what if they shot first and asked questions later? The Team was the closest thing any of them had to family. If anything happened to any of its members, they would all be lost. And now he had these annoying FBI Agents to deal with. He hadn't been born yesterday, they wanted to take Ezra down with the gun runners. He was not going to let that happen.
Vin was more concerned with his friends' mental health. He knew that Chris would shoulder the burden of any injury that took place during the case. That was his way. He knew from experience that his friend had a guilt complex deeper than the San Andreas Fault. The man just never knew when to cut himself some slack. Ezra was the same way only he was better at hiding it. Vin was quite aware of the fact that Ezra took his job very seriously. And if any of the others were partnered with him undercover, then that job included keeping the other man safe. He was sure that the slick Southerner has fretted the entire time he was out talking to Chris. He would rather have phoned in the information, but they hadn't had time to sweep the room for bugs. Vin knew that Ezra would do anything to keep his surrogate family safe, and that worried him.
JD's only thoughts were of his best friend, Buck, as he wove his Ninja carefully around the rush hour traffic. Was he safe? Was his cover secure? The two of them had worked to create a background that was no only plausible, but possible for Buck to pull off. However, one slip of the tongue and that was that. He knew that Buck was capable of taking care of himself, but now he was surrounded by a bunch of cold blooded killers and he only had Ezra to watch his back. Not that JD didn't trust Ezra. He had been the first to actually say that out loud, as a matter of fact. It was just that he would feel a whole hell of a lot better if they had more back up. Like a SWAT team or two. Trouble always seemed to follow the Team, and it always showed itself at the most inconvenient time. Like these Feds. They were up to no good, and now Buck was in the crossfire. As he pulled up in front of the apartment he shared with Buck, he shut off his bike and just sat there for a moment. Buck would be okay; he had to be. He stood up and, pulling off his helmet, headed up to his place, for a long night of more worrying.
As he drove, Nathan thought back to his days in the army. He and Peter had become fast friends working in the hot sun and caring for the sick and injured. That kind of makes you bond. The fact that they had similar backgrounds and outlooks on life had helped. They had both grown up on the wrong side of the tracks, but they both had higher ambitions and the intelligence to make it happen. Pete had been transferred out six months before Nathan's tour ended. They had written for a while, but they had lost touch, as he had with most of his army buddies. His thoughts broadened to the other Fed as well, as he pulled into the parking place in front of his building. What was their agenda? Were they just here to make trouble for Ezra again? They should have learned their lesson by now. Ezra may have a certain moral ambiguity that he couldn't understand, but he would never sell them out. Of that he was sure. He had tended to Ezra's wounds when he had refused to give away information last year. His respect for Ezra had skyrocketed that day. And now, on old friend of his was going around accusing Ez of being a turncoat. He sighed and collected his things and exited his vehicle. He would not let his old friend cause trouble for his new family.
Josiah's thoughts centered on the Feds as well as he drove to his house. Yes, they were after the Farino's, but he had no doubt that that was not all they were after. Would they sabotage the mission to get to Ezra? The friend of Nathan, Agent Martins, was his biggest concern. He knew after today's discussion that Nathan would stand by their difficult undercover agent, but would that be enough? The blatant way they had been questioning the staff was equally disturbing. They weren't even trying to hide their opinions. That could be dangerous. He had seen the ends to which some people would go to get what they wanted, and not all of those people were the 'bad' guys. They had been betrayed in the past by those posing as their friends. After all the attempts that have been made to prove Ezra's guilt, he had hoped that someone, somewhere would get the clue that Ezra was innocent. Of being a traitor, anyway. He grinned as he thought of the verbose undercover agent. The past few years had been good for him, and he had been good for the team. No sniveling, gullible Fed was going to break them up.
Across town, the two other members of the team were lost in their own thoughts as well. Ezra was still thankful that Vin's 'murder' had gone off without a hitch. As much as he hated to admit it, he liked the young Texan. He didn't say much, but he didn't have to. Vin didn't ask a million questions about his past like some of the others. Not that Vin took things at face value, far from it. He was highly observant, and that was the reason he was still around today. Ezra liked having Vin as his "bodyguard", as he tended to see more than the dealers expected him to. His sharp eye had saved all of their lives in the past. And he was constantly amazed at the level of clarity that the sharpshooter could bring to his testimony. Of course, knowing that Vin would be hidden somewhere high and nearby had a certain amount of comfort to it as well. Buck was okay, but good Lord, could that man talk! It was all he could do not to stick his fingers in his ears for some peace and quiet. He was also worried about JD. The young man had been the first to openly welcome him into the fold, both before and after the hated first case. That boy had such a forgiving nature, Ezra was afraid it would get him killed. But after what Chris had told him today about the meeting, and what was said afterwards, he might have to revise his opinion. These Feds were going to cause trouble, he knew it. He would have to be extra careful, but that was okay. He could do careful.
Buck was thinking about his young roommate. They hadn't seen or
spoken to each other since the emergency room two nights ago, and the boy
had been pretty upset. He had tried to cheer him up by pointing out
the pretty new nurses, but his young friend just wasn't in the mood.
Even when Vin came out, with a note from the doctor no less, he didn't
lighten up. They had stood outside before leaving to their separate
destinations, talking about what had happened. JD told him how scared
he'd been that he had really killed Vin and how he hadn't thought it would
be so hard. Buck had reassured him that the fear was a good thing,
that it meant he was still alive inside. That seemed to help a bit,
and they parted ways. Now he was stuck in a hotel room, wondering
what was going on. His thoughts turned to his oldest friend, Chris.
Watching Vin get shot was tough on him, too. If anything had gone
wrong, he could have lost two friends, Vin and Chris. After the death
of his wife and son, Chris had walked a fine line between living and dying.
Buck had tried for years to bring Chris back into the land of the living,
but to no avail. He had finally started living again after a certain
long haired Texan joined the team. Buck knew that Chris had been
afraid that he would be insulted by Vin's ability to reach him, but he
wasn't. He was just glad. Anything that got the job done was
all good in his book. Which brought his thoughts to Ezra. Getting
the job done. Ezra would get the job done, no question, but the addition
of the FBI had to be weighing on him. He tried not to show it, but
everyone knew that the betrayal of the FBI had hurt him deeply. Every
time they had to work with them, someone found a way to twist the knife
deeper in his back. It was getting to the point where they would
do anything to keep from working with them. That was no way to work.
Well, no one was going to hurt Ez on his watch, that was for sure.
The next morning, the five members of Team Seven met up in the elevator from the garage. All of them had dark circles under their eyes, and it was obvious that sleep had not come easy to any of them. Chris surveyed his people for a moment before speaking. "My office, five minutes." The others nodded, and simply hung up their coats and followed him into his office.
Chris set his briefcase down, thankful that there was no new bouquet of roses to deal with, and reached for his messages intending to set them aside for later. The moment he saw the first one, however, his plan changed. He started to smile as he flipped through the pink message slips, causing the others to look at each other in confusion. When he finally looked up he wore a broad smile that could not be denied.
"What's up, Chris?" JD asked, wanting to get to the matter of the Feds, and what to do about Buck.
The team leader just shook his head and looked up at the ceiling before answering. "It seems, Ezra has a lot more friends in this building than anyone suspected." At everyone's inquiring glance, he picked up the stack of messages and tossed them to the front of his desk where Nathan, the closest, picked them up and started reading them. After the first one, he had to grin as well.
The tall man cleared his throat and read out loud: "To Special Agent Larabee, from Marcia Stanton, Records." He was cut of by the startled exclamation from their youngest member.
"Stonewall Stanton? She won't let anyone see anything without, like, ten copies of the requisition forms. What does she want?""Let the man talk, and he'll tell you, JD," Josiah admonished. He wanted to know, too.
Nathan harumphed and continued, "To Special Agent Larabee, from Marcia Stanton, Records. 'It has come to my attention that there are several FBI Agents asking questions about some of your previous cases. They want to see the old case files, as well. Unfortunately, we appear to be out of 45-B's, and as you know, no file may be requisitioned without all the proper paperwork. Please explain this to the Agents. Thank you.'" He shuffled the papers and began reading from another. "To blah blah blah, from the secretaries down the hall, 'Our break room is off limits to all non secretarial personnell as of today, and we would appreciate it if all non- paperwork related talk is kept to a minimum. We are very busy and we cannot be disrupted for any questions not pertaining to the current cases.' From the forensic labs..." he trailed off and scanned another couple of papers. "More of the same. There are a good ten messages here from various departments politely saying that they will not give any more information to the Feds, although not in so many words. You're right. He does have quite a few friends here." The grin on his face was rivaled by everyone else in the room.
The mood was greatly improved that day and a big sigh was breathed by
all those that had to be near Team 7. It was so much easier to work
when they didn't have to walk on eggshells around that office.
The Feds, on the other hand, were not happy. No one in the building was talking to them. They had gotten very little information the day before and today was even worse. After his latest unsuccessful trip to Records, Ledmore made the mistake of trying to intimidate Larabee.
"You are withholding information from a Federal investigation! I can have your badge for this!" His shouted words could be heard out in the bull pen where everyone else was working. They all grinned at each other again at the evidence of solidarity by their coworkers.
"And what information is it, exactly, that you claim I'm withholding?" The glint in the black clad man's eye was enough to put Ledmore on the defensive.
"Well, no one will answer our questions," he was cut off by the biting words of the man before him.
"Questions about one of my men. Slanderous statements geared towards hurting his reputation, you mean?" The twin lasers that were his eyes cut through the self- centered agent like a hot knife through butter.
"Um, well, " he stammered before attempting to regain his composure. "We need to know everything we can about all the parties involved. If we know how your man operates..." once again he was cut off.
"He operates just fine," Larabee snapped. "It is your attitude
that is giving us cause for alarm. I am aware that you have upset
a number of department heads with your questions. I would suggest,"
he oozed, making it perfectly clear that it was not a suggestion but an
order, "that you confine your questions to those pertinent to the case
at hand." He dismissed the man with a look and was satisfied to see
the man's mouth gape open and closed a couple of times before he turned
and walked stiffly out.
The rest of the week consisted of pretty much the same. Still no information from their undercover men, save that the deal would go down soon and that they had managed to get good and chummy with Vincent Farino. Enough to get him to be present at the deal.
They also heard from some friends at the PD that there had been several calls regarding the shooting of one Vince Turner. The callers had been fed a line about an apparent mugging, but there were some indications of gang involvement. Chris had even convinced Mary Travis to print a small story on the escalating violence around Purgatorio, citing that incident in her paper.
Meanwhile, the Feds learned what a bad idea it was to piss off certain members of the ATF. Anytime they pushed anyone in the building for information on Standish, something would happen. Ledmore managed to corner a mail courier in the hall, and an hour later, he found that he couldn't get his coffee mug to budge from the counter where he had set it a moment before. Martins grilled a secretary in the elevator and later while attempting to wash is hands, got covered in water from chest to knees thanks to a malfunctioning faucet. It didn't take them long to make the connection, but they could never prove who was behind the accidents. The smug looks that passed between the members of Team Seven would never be accepted as evidence.
DoubleTree Suites Hotel
Ezra Standish was not having the best week of his life. In fact, he had spent better time in the hospital. At least there, he didn't have to put up with Buck's outrageous stories 24/7. He tried to lose himself in his deck of cards whenever possible but after a while, even that wasn't enough.
Going out to meet with DelGado was a slight blessing. Buck didn't talk as much around the gun runner It probably had something to do with the fact that DelGado had threatened to cut out Buck's tongue after their first meeting. Even Ezra's much touted poker face could not stand up to the immense feeling of satisfaction that filled him upon hearing that. A small grin slipped out, but he was able to cover it up before Buck got a chance to see it.
Unfortunately, this meant that larger agent felt the need to make up
for lost time after each meet, filling the small hotel suite with tale
after tale of the women he had known. By the time Tuesday rolled
around he was seriously considering using his back up piece either on himself
or his partner, he wasn't sure which. Just as Buck began telling
him yet another story about Miss Abigail and her double jointed hips, his
cell phone rang. Grateful for the distraction, he scooped it up and
motioned for Buck to quiet down.
"Samson," he drawled, attempted not to sound like he was ready to rip out a certain ATF agent's tongue.
"Mr. Samson, I'm sending a car to your hotel. I want to speak to you. Alone" Joey DelGado commanded.
"Really, Mister DelGado," Ezra allowed some of the confusion he felt at the request to leak into the query that he sent back. "Surely you of all people know how dangerous it is for someone in my position to be without proper protection. How am I to know that I will be safe on this little sojourn?"
"I give you my word. I just want to talk to you about an important deal without that annoying twit you call a bodyguard hanging around." The distaste in his voice was impossible to disguise, not that he bothered to try.
"I do apologize for that," Ezra sighed. "I'm afraid that in my hurry to find a new back guard, I was not able to be as picky as usual. I assure you, that should we continue to do business in the future, I shall find a more suitable auxiliary to guard my person."
"Good to hear, Samson," the gun runner grunted. "The car will pick you up in the lobby in fifteen minutes." That being said, the phone went dead. Ezra slowly closed the device and slipped it into his pocket, all the while wondering about this meet.
"So, come on," Buck piped up. "What does that surly little son of a used car salesman want?" One thing Ezra had to admit about Buck, the man had some very colorful descriptions.
"He wants to meet with me, alone," he admitted, and braced for the inevitable explosion. He didn't have to wait long.
"What? You told him 'No', of course. Didn't you?" Inwardly, Ezra grinned at the protective quality in his partner's voice. Outwardly, his only reaction was to raise his eyebrows.
"We really aren't in the position to refuse, now are we?" He calmly walked to the bathroom to check his appearance in the mirror. It wasn't that long ago that he had had the plastic surgery to repair the damage he had incurred at the hand of a crazed wannabe doctor. His initial doctors had said there would be permanent scarring, but they had not counted on Maude Standish and husband number four. Or was it five? One of them anyway, had been a plastic surgeon, one of the best. And so, here he stood, looking as dapper as ever, doing what he did best.
"You can't go in there without backup." Buck's insistence brought him out of his reverie.
"I do hate to be the one to tell you, Mr. Williams," he drawled as he collected his things for the meet, "but I have been doing this for quite some time. Alone even. I shall be fine."
Buck stepped forward, invading the smaller man's space in an attempt to intimidate him. "You can't do this. It's too dangerous. This guy is crazy and if he tries anything..." his voice trailed off as he realized that his words were having no effect on the undercover agent.
"Your words are touching, really, albeit wholly unnecessary. Mr. DelGado simply wishes to speak to me of a matter of some import, without you around. Apparently, he doesn't like you very much. Can't imagine why." He managed to look suitably innocent as he spoke and reached for the door.
"If I don't hear from you in one hour, I'm calling Chris," Buck warned, resigned to the fact that he wouldn't be able to watch his partner's back. "You watch yourself."
Ezra nodded solemnly and tipped an imaginary hat before exiting the room and heading down to the lobby. He stepped outside and was pleased to note that the car he was expecting was in the process of pulling up. It wouldn't do to wait on them, nor would it be a good idea to make them wait for him.
The short drive was pleasant. Or as pleasant as a drive can be when no one will talk. Ezra tried to engage the driver in some inane conversation at first, but gave up when there was no reply forthcoming.
They pulled up to a warehouse in the middle of what appeared to be a shipping yard. There were warehouses all about, and one could get seriously lost attempting to find a specific one without specific directions, which apparently they had. Ezra was lead up to the door of the chosen building, then his escort turned and took up position outside of the door. Ezra took that as his cue to enter and reached for the door. Inside the warehouse lights blazed, it was brighter inside than the late afternoon sun outside, causing the undercover agent to squint about momentarily.
"Samson," the bellow came from his right, "good to see you again." Joey DelGado and Vincent Farino approached from what looked like an office, the former calling out the greeting as they neared. "Sorry about the lights, new bulbs. What do you think?"
"What do I think of what, Mr. DelGado? So far, all I have seen are the inside and outside walls of a rather nondescript warehouse surrounded by other nondescript warehouses. How, pray tell, is this supposed to impress me?" He cast a disdainful look about the room as he spoke, carefully memorizing the layout, it may be important later.
"This is the new headquarters for Pipeline Enterprises, East Coast Division," DelGado proclaimed proudly, throwing his arms wide to encompass the entire warehouse.
"Well, congratulations," Ezra exclaimed. "I am glad to hear that the two of you have been able to come to a satisfactory agreement. However, I fail to see how that concerns me." He raised an eyebrow and looked from one man to the other. The two men glanced at each other before the latter one spoke.
"There is the possibility that this may concern you a great deal, so you may want to pay attention."
"Oh, really?" the slight man asked, now truly curious. "And how might that be?""I'm not a stupid man, Samson. You don't get far in this business if you are." Ezra nodded his agreement and the portly man continued. "I know that dealing with such a large and influential family as the Farino's is a huge asset, but with it comes certain liabilities."
"Like the FBI, perhaps?" Ezra led, realizing where this might be going.
"Exactly. I know that you aren't a stupid person either, Samson. I happen to be a good judge of character, and you are my kind of man. Shrewd, smart and with enough initiative to make a name for yourself, given the proper position." He paused then and glanced at his new partner.
"Am I to assume that it is you who is to grant me that position?" A sinking feeling began to form in his gut. He was suddenly not liking the direction the conversation was taking.
"Yes," DelGado practically crowed. "I want you to be my middleman for the Farinos.""Providing that you answer some questions to my satisfaction," Vincent once again spoke up.
"Of course, what is it you want to know?" 'This could be bad. Please don't let this be bad,' he pleaded internally.
"How well did you know 'Vince Turner'?" Vincent's first question caught the undercover agent off guard, especially the emphasis on the name. 'Do they know?'
"He was recommended to me by a mutual acquaintance," he replied smoothly. "We had worked together for a few weeks before meeting Mr. DelGado. He seemed competent. Why do you ask?" He glanced at the men once again, trying to figure out what they knew, or thought they knew.
Vincent then drew out a picture and handed it to Standish. "This him?"
It was obviously an old picture, but Ezra had to struggle not to smile. The man hadn't really changed all that much in the past years. The picture showed a slightly younger Vin Tanner sitting in his beat up old jeep, wearing jeans, a tee shirt and his favorite leather jacket. His long hair was shorter than it was now, most likely the photo was taken not too long after his discharge from the army. "Yes," he replied. There was really no point in lying, there was no denying that that was Vin."Turns out his real name's Vin Tanner, he's a bounty hunter," DelGado supplied.
"I beg your pardon?" Ezra allowed his face to go slack with apparent surprise, and his voice took on a flat tone. "What did you say? A bounty hunter?"
This time it was Vincent who answered. "Yes. Tanner is a hunter. He brought in a couple of my brothers on some inconsequential bail violations once. This picture was taken just before he left St. Louis seven years ago. He dropped out of sight soon after. Heard he was out this way, but this is the first we've heard of him since we got out here."
"And the last, or didn't Mr. DelGado tell you? Mr. Tuner, or should I say Tanner, was shot and killed last week by some young hoodlum. Perhaps I should find him and offer him employment?" He cocked his head and flashed a grin. "He can't be any worse than the ruffian I currently employ." The three of them chuckled.
"Where did you dreg that guy up, anyway?" DelGado finally spat out.
"Ah, I'm afraid Mr. Williams has spent the better part of the last two
years matriculating at the Joliet School of Charm. Apparently, the
lesson didn't take." Once again, the three of them shared a laugh.
Three hours later, Ezra was dropped off at his hotel, tired and with a headache. He managed to survive the meeting, but he was not looking forward to the future of this assignment. He knew that with this new development, they would want to keep him under to get more dirt on the Farinos. Not that he couldn't see the point, people like them were the reason he got into law enforcement. He had never liked bullies and now he had the chance to bring down an entire syndicate. But, Lord did he hate deep cover. Not to mention he was running out of bodyguards. They would never allow Buck to stay on in that, or any other, capacity.
He slowly made his way up to the suite he was sharing with Buck. He had called in at the assigned time, to let him know that he was still alive, and not to call in the reinforcements, but now he would have to explain. And his head hurt to much to sugar coat it. This would not be pretty.
Ezra opened the door to the room to see Buck sitting at the table with several listening devices laying on a piece of tin foil. Somebody had been busy. At the smaller man's nod, Buck quickly wrapped the bugs in the tin foil and threw them in the mini fridge. Then the questions started.
"Where the hell were you? What happened? What did DelGado want? Are you okay?" The last question caused Ezra to laugh.
"No, Mr. Wilmington, I can pretty much guarantee that I am not 'okay.' Nor will I be for the foreseeable future."
"What's wrong?" the question was asked in a more sedate and concerned manner, not like the rapid fire barrage of only a moment before.
"It would appear," Ezra began, as he shook out some asprin for his headache, "that Eric Samson is being commissioned to act as liaison between Joey DelGado and Vincent Farino. They want you gone as soon as possible, and they know that Vin wasn't who he said he was."
"They know..." Buck's voice trailed off, horrified.
"Oh, fear not. They do believe him dead, and they only know that he was a bounty hunter. They still know nothing about his current employment." He took a quick swig from his bottle of water and grimaced. "The meet is set up for tomorrow, by the way. Both DelGado and Farino will be there. To bad we can't end this charade then.""What do you mean?" the ladies man asked. "We have them, right? Buying and selling illegal arms. Isn't that what we're here for?"
"Indeed," sighed Ezra. "However, there is no doubt in my mind that once the brass hears about this, they will order me to stay under and try to obtain even more evidence about the entire Farino family. This is far from over."
"C'mon, they wouldn't really make you do that, would they?"
"In a New York minute. Now," he changed the subject, "how are we to alert our esteemed leader?"
Buck grinned, "Why mess with success?"
ATF Offices, the Next Day
Nearly a week after the shooting, another bouquet appeared on Larabee's desk. This time there were a dozen red roses and half a dozen large orchids. Once again, Chris stopped in the doorway to his office and stared. Then he shook his head and grinned. Buck was a bad influence. He read the attached card and followed the instructions to a small coffee house down the street, where a smiling girl behind the counter gave him a 16 oz cappicino and a large manila envelope. He quickly scanned the information then hurried to tell the rest of the team the news.
Chris rushed into the outer office after making the pick up and threw his coat into his office. "JD," he snapped as he continued on to the conference room, "round everyone up, we got the info." He barely registered the young computer expert completing his request as he entered the conference room and began spreading the information out. Within minutes the room began filling with the other members of the team followed by the two troublesome FBI Agents. Chris sighed inwardly at their inclusion, he knew that it was necessary; he just wished it wasn't.
"Got news from Ezra today," he dove right in, skipping the pleasantries. "DelGado and Vincent Farino are making their exchange tomorrow morning at ten a.m. Ezra has been invited to attend, it seems that Joey DelGado wants to hire Ezra to be his middleman for the Farino deals. I called the Judge as soon as I found out, and he has authorized a continuance on the case. He wants Ez to stay under and gather more information on the Farino family. Maybe get more of them on more charges." Before he could continue, he was interrupted by the angry shout from Agent Ledmore."What! No way! They are going down. I have waited too long to let this go now. I think that your man Standish is showing his true colors. He just wants to work for DelGado and rake in the cash. I am not going to just sit around and let you fall for his garbage." He was standing by this point and shouting at the top of his lungs. Next to him, Agent Martins was nodding in agreement.
Larabee's icy stare did very little to calm him, but it was enough to make him pause long enough for Chris to speak. "Our man is showing his true colors. He has informed us of this new information that could be used to take down the entire Farino family, not just a portion of it. He gave us the date, time and exact location for the meet. We now have detailed maps of the building and the placement of each and every guard. He is doing his job, which is what you should be doing. Now sit down and shut up." He was surprised, and a little proud, to note that he had not raised his voice during his entire speech.
Ledmore shut his jaw with an audible click and settled back in his chair, a dark glare in his eyes. Each of the remaining members of Team Seven decided to keep an eye on the Feds for the duration of their stay on the case, which wouldn't be long if any of them had a say in it.
Satisfied that he was in control again, Chris nodded and continued.
"Instead of busting DelGado tomorrow, we will be on recon only. There
is no way to wire the warehouse from the inside, so I hope you and Buck
have some hidden toys to use, JD."
"Yeah," JD stated slowly. "Buck an' I've been working on a couple of parabolic mics, we got their range to about nine hundred yards."
"That's impossible," snapped Ledmore, daring to open his mouth. "Even I know that a parabolic looses its efficiency after three hundred."
"Well mine do," JD snapped back, dropping the facade of the naive kid. Now he was an agent with a job to do. "I was able to boost the input gain and..." Chris cut him off before he could go into detail.
"Sounds good JD, good work."
"Yeah, well, it isn't perfected yet," the young man grumbled. "It still has a few personality quirks."
"What kind of quirks?" Vin asked, slightly concerned. The kid was smart, but they couldn't risk the lives of their friends on faulty equipment.
"Well, it tends to pick up a lot more background noise, so if anyone walks in front of it, all we'll get is them. Certain sounds can completely block out the sounds we're listening for. But there is a way around it."
"And what is that?" Chris asked.
"If there were fewer distractions for it to pick up, then it will be clearer."
"No shit, Sherlock," Ledmore sneered.
JD shot him what he hoped was a scathing look before continuing. "I was thinking that if we give one to Vin when he goes for the high ground, he may get a better angle."
Vin shifted uncomfortably in his seat when he heard that. "C'mon, JD. You know I hate working with them high tech gadgets of yours. I don't wanna break them. Besides, I don't know nothin' 'bout parabolics."
"That's just another name for a "shotgun" mic, Vin," Nathan assured the sharpshooter. "You just point and shoot."
"Yeah, don't worry, Vin," JD chimed in. "I'll have the controls in the van. You won't have to worry about tunin' it or nothin'. Just leave that to me."
"Just point and shoot, huh?" Vin relaxed a bit and grinned. "Think I might be able to handle that."
"Okay, good," Chris once again took charge of the meeting. "Now that that has been decided, Vin, where do you think you'll be able to get the best view?" He handed over a highly detailed map that had been included in the envelope. Vin scrutinized the paper closely, before choosing a nearby warehouse north of the target.
"So long as no one tries to land a chopper here, I should be good."
Good, Nathan, you take the east end. Josiah, you get the west. I'll take south and JD, you park the van down by the north end of Vin's building. Any questions?"
"Yeah," Ledmore spoke up, before Martin's could shush him. "Where the hell are we supposed to be? This is still a joint operation, remember?"
Chris glanced at the offending agent from the corner of his eye as he collected his papers. "You and Martins can sit in the van with JD and listen in on what's happening."
Ledmore looked like he was going to make an issue of the assignment, but Martins was able to silence him before he could spit anything out. "Thank you, Agent Larabee," Martins soothed as he all but dragged his partner from the room. "I appreciate the opportunity to witness your team in action. If you'll excuse us, we need to report in." With that, the two men were gone, leaving the five ATF Agents staring at the door as it closed behind them.
The silence stretched out, until it was broken by the youngest member of team. "Chris," he asked tentatively, waiting for his leader's acknowledgment before continuing. "What did I do to piss you off?" Everyone looked questioningly at the young man, silently asking for an explanation. "Why do I have to be stuck with them?" The question came out with more of a whine than he wanted, but it certainly got the point across.
"Because," Josiah answered, a solemn look on his face. "With the three of you in there, you won't have room to draw your gun and shoot them." He grinned then, and was pleased to see answering smiles on everyone's faces.
"All right, everyone," Chris caught their attention, "let's get these plans finalized, then I need to find a way to alert Ezra."
"What about his nightly phone call?" Nathan asked, slightly worried.
"No good," Chris sighed. "Last night they debugged their room to discuss their options, now DelGado is upset and won't let them out of his sight. And, by the way, we need a new bodyguard for Ezra."
"Why?" JD questioned. "Has something happened to Buck?" The panic that shone from the young man's eyes was mirrored in the hearts of the other men until Chris answered.
"Buck's fine, but DelGado doesn't like him. He wants Ez to get another bodyguard for them to continue to do business."
"Who's left?" Nathan asked. None of the others were used to going undercover, it was usually Buck or Vin that went with Ezra if a bodyguard was needed. Chris occasionally went under as a buyer, should the need arise, but even he was only under for a few hours at a time. This was serious undercover time, none of them were trained for this.
"I don't know," Chris muttered. "Maybe Johnson, from Team Four? They seemed to get along all right." He shrugged. "I'll see what I can do."
Two hours later, the meeting broke up and everyone was set on what they were to do. Josiah and Nathan went down to supply to requisition cameras and recorders for the next days excitement, while JD and Vin went over the assembly of the new microphone.
Chris ginned and headed to his office to place a few calls.
"Hey, Chris," Vin called out, as he saw the grin on his friend's face. "Where ya goin'?"
"Gonna make some phone calls," he replied. "Gonna order some flowers." His smile grew as understanding lit the young tacker's eyes.
Later that afternoon, a call came up from the desk to the ATF agent's suite.
"What is it?" Buck asked.
"It would appear that there is a package waiting for me at the front desk. The concierge asks that I pick it up immediately." He frowned as he considered what the package might be. "I shall return shortly."
"Sure thing, boss," Buck called out, grinning at the annoyed look that nickname got him before the door closed.
As he rode the elevator down to the lobby, Ezra once again contemplated his situation. He was currently under a mild form of house arrest, but after tomorrow he should have more leniency. This assignment was turning out to be far more than he had originally expected. He sorely missed his own condo, his soft bed, and seeing his friends. True, he had been living with Buck for the past week, and Vin for the week before that, but is wasn't the same. They weren't Buck and Vin, they were Bob and Vince. And he wasn't Ezra, he was Eric. They couldn't be themselves, and that always led to strained silences and awkward conversations. He longed to sit with his comrades around their booth at the Saloon, drinking and talking. Nothing special, or everything special, depending on how you looked at it.
He emerged from the lift and glanced about the lobby. He easily spied the man left there to watch him and nodded at him as he headed for the desk, allowing a small smile to emerge as the man realized he wasn't as inconspicuous as he had thought.
Waiting for him at the desk was a huge bouquet of flowers. Red, pink, white and purple roses surrounded by Queen Anne's Lace sat in a large glass vase waiting for him. Ezra could only stare at it for a moment before laughing out loud. He found the card nestled in the buds and quickly translated the short message from the French it was written in. They were the lines of a song, by The Police, no less. "'Every move you make, every step you take, I'll be watching you.' C. PS Turnabout is fair play." He laughed once again and tucked the note in his pocket. Then examined the bouquet in an effort to find a way to safely carry it. Finally, he turned to the watchdog he had acknowledged earlier and beckoned him over. 'As long as he's here, I might as well let him do something useful.'
"Would you be so kind as to assist me?" he asked smoothly. "My dear mother, remarkable as she is, tends to go a little overboard in her displays of affection. Would you mind?" The thug, a large man both in height and weight, nodded sheepishly and grabbed the vase under the flowers and managed to carry them without poking his eye out, much to Ezra's disappointment.
Warehouse District, 1600 Block
Eight o'clock the next morning found the five remaining members of Team Seven, plus two still-slightly-pissed FBI Agents converging on the warehouse Ezra had directed them to. Everyone was checking their microphones and cameras before setting out to their positions. Agents Ledmore and Martins just sat and glared at everyone else.
Before leaving the confines of the surveillance van, Vin pulled out and checked over his high powered rifle and scope.
"What do you have that for?" Ledmore asked, his curiosity dragging him out of his self imposed silence. "I thought this was 'recon only'?" His snide tone told them all exactly what he thought of the idea.
"It is," Vin answered with a small, deadly grin. "It just pays to be prepared." "You learn that in the Boy Scouts?" Ledmore sneered.
"Nope, Army. Special Ops," he replied. "That means if'n I tell ya more, I'd hafta shoot ya."
"So feel free to ask, anytime," JD muttered as he fidgeted with the dials on the recorder one more time. Vin flashed him a smile and slipped out the door.
The others took their leave as well, leaving JD and the Feds alone in the confined space. At twelve after nine, several large trucks pulled up in front of the warehouse and five large men jumped out, met by some even larger men exiting the warehouse. Through the mic Vin held aimed at them, everyone could hear what was said.
"You're early," the apparent leader of the warehouse men snapped.
"Better early than late," the driver of the first truck replied sounding bored. "Where do you want them?"
"Pull them in here," Goon Number One said. A couple of other lesser goons pulled open the large doors to the building and waited for the trucks to move through. Once the last truck was clear, the doors closed with a bang.
"Ow," Chris' voice came in over the ear pieces. "JD, you might wanna work on fine tuning that thing later."
"Yessir," he replied sheepishly. "But I did warn you."
"Yeah, yeah. Anyone see Farino?"
Two "No's" and a "Nope" answered him, so he sighed and settled back
to wait. He hated waiting.
Twenty five minutes later, a Black Cadillac Seville pulled up and the subject of their assignment emerged. Vincent Farino stepped out of the car with a briefcase, he looked around before donning his sunglasses and entering the warehouse through a small door next to the large garage door. Immediately after the door closed behind him another car, this time a Lincoln Towncar, pulled up behind the first and four men got out. DelGado and Vasquez were first from the front, followed quickly by the two undercover agents from the back.
Ledmore snarled when he saw that they had come together and started to pace in the small space.
"You know," JD snapped, "there really isn't room for that in here. You gotta sit down."
"Not fucking likely," he spat out and reached for the door. "I'm going for a walk." He stormed out of the van before JD could voice a complaint.
"I'll go get him," Martins offered quietly. "I'll try to talk some sense into him."
"I don't think that's..." JD started to say, but stopped when he realized that he was alone in the van. "Um, Chris?" he spoke into his mic. "I think we might have a problem."
Chris Larabee swore as he listened to JD. He really did not need this right now. Or ever really, but definitely not now. "All right, people, you heard him. Keep an eye out for those two. Let me know if they look like they're gonna do somethin' stupid." Affirmative grunts were the only reply as the agents concentrated on the task in front of them.
Over the headsets they could hear what was happening in the warehouse.
"Ah, Vincent, so good to see you. Everything is in order, I take it?" DelGado's voice came at them.
"Everything looks good," Vincent Farino agreed. "Here's the money." A soft rustle indicated the passing of something, probably the aforementioned briefcase, from one person to another.
"Aw shit. Chris," Vin's voice intruded on the conversation. "I found Ledmore and Martins, and you ain't gonna believe what they're doin'"
"Tell me," Chris growled, knowing he was going to regret not shooting those two the moment they entered his office.
"They're on the north west corner, tryin' to reach a window. Josiah, you see 'em?"
"I see them, Vin," Josiah's gravelly voice confirmed. "What the hell do they think they're doing?"
"Damned if I know," Vin answered. "What do you want me to do, Chris?"
Chris seethed. There was nothing they could do without revealing themselves and putting their men at risk. "Nothing," he growled. "Wait and see what happens."
For the next ten minutes, the only things they heard were the conversation inside the warehouse and updates on the FBI Agents from Vin.
"They got in," the soft Texas drawl alerted the Team.
"Can you see inside?" Chris asked, concerned. As long as the two idiots were outside, the chance of them causing trouble was reduced. Now that they were inside the warehouse, the opportunity to cause damage increased infinitely.
"Yeah, I see 'em," Vin asserted. "For now, anyway. There are a lot of dead zones in there.
"Got it, Vin. Do the best you can." Chris gritted his teeth in frustration. Those two were going to destroy everything, and damn all who got in there way.
The talk inside had gone on to the next shipment, including, Ezra was amused to discover, the shipment he was supposed to 'buy' for his original case. As he listened to the others talk, he took another careful look around the building. He had sent blueprints with as much detail as he could to his leader, but it never hurt to keep one's eyes open.
It was due to this that he saw the two forms moving from shadow to shadow in the rear of the building. He watched them out of the corner of his eye. He knew that Chris had intended to just observe, but plans could have changed. He needed to know what was going on, and as soon as possible. He felt Buck shift beside him, and knew that he had seen the men in the shadows as well. Both of them were good enough agents to not give away the positions of the mystery men; unfortunately, the men were not good enough to remain hidden. One of the truck drivers noticed them and sent up the alarm. Immediately guns were drawn and DelGado bellowed into the air. "Whoever you are, come on out. You can't win."
"...You can't win." 'Oh, shit.' The same thought crossed the mind of all seven ATF agents at the same time. From outside the warehouse the observers could hear Ledmore identify them as FBI agents over the microphone.
"This is the FBI, you are surrounded. Lay down your weapons and put your hands above your heads. Now!"
Ezra stared at the two men in suits incredulously. "Do you think that line ever actually works?" he found himself asking aloud, shaking his head.
As luck would have it, Ledmore heard him and focused on the southerner. "Standish, you traitor. I have you now! You won't weasel your way out of this one, I guarantee." He would have said more, if he hadn't gotten fired upon at that point by Vincent Farino and his goons. Agents Ledmore and Martins dove for cover, but not before Ledmore took a hit in the shoulder and Martins one in the leg.
Ezra just stood there, shocked, with his mouth hanging open upon hearing the agent's words. Was this man crazy? He just blew his cover a thousand times over. He barely registered the look of pure hatred blossoming on DelGado's face when the portly man turned his gun on the undercover agent. Ezra realized that he was about to die, but just as DelGado fired, he felt a shove from the side, and found himself stumbling into a pillar. Looking behind him, he saw Buck clutching his side, where the bullet from the gun runners firearm had struck him.
"It seems that you have quite a few people willing to take a bullet for you, Samson. Or is it Standish?" DelGado sneered. "Guess you're a lucky man. Too bad your luck is about to run out." He took aim again and was about to fire when all hell broke loose.
Bullets began flying through the windows, the first of which struck Joey DelGado square in the chest. Ezra flinched back as he was sprayed with the detestable man's blood. Finally his body and his mind realized that it wasn't safe for him to remain upright. He dove for the floor, reaching for Buck as he did so. Dragging the larger man behind the dubious protection of a heavy pillar, he examined the wound.
"I may not be a medical doctor," he commented, "but this doesn't look too bad." He hoped that the ladies man was too far out of it to hear the fear in his voice. He wasn't.
"You must be slippin', Ez" the dark haired agent choked out. "I kin tell you're lyin'" He groaned and squeezed his eyes shut as Ezra put pressure on the wound.
"My apologies, my friend," he murmured, "but I must stop the flow of blood."
"Shit, Ez. You called me 'friend.' Now ya really got me worried." The half grin, half grimace the normally cheerful agent supplied did little to ease Ezra's mind, but he forced himself to return in kind.
"Now, now, don't let it go to your head. You still owe me fifty dollars from poker. Don't think I'm gonna forget about that so easily." It took him a moment to realize that the croaking noise coming from Buck was actually laughing.
"Damn, don't make me laugh," he gasped, clutching at his side.
They both heard the doors to the warehouse burst in and knew that the cavalry
had arrived. Now they just had to sit tight and not get shot, again.
As soon as Vin heard the FBI agents identify themselves, he started swearing. "JD, you better turn this damn thing off, 'cause I don't have time to put it down nice."
"Okay, it's off," came the quick response.
Vin dropped the mic, and sighted through the scope on his rifle, just in time to see Buck get shot. His mumbled curses and "Buck's down," were enough to spur the others into action, but he barely listened as Chris started shouting orders. His sights were set on that pig of a man, DelGado. The gun runner was aiming at Ezra when Vin fired. He didn't have to see the plume of red to know he had hit his mark. In fact, he had already moved on to find his next target.
Down below, the others heard as Vin started swearing a blue streak and the ominous word of their fallen comrade. JD didn't waste another moment as he grabbed his gun and burst out of the van. Chris, realizing that there wasn't a chance in hell of keeping the young man away, began to issue him orders to keep him busy. "JD, circle around to Nathan and keep the side door covered. We don't want any of these guys gettin' away. Josiah, I'm comin' up on your right. Vin, I need you to take out as many exterior guards as possible. And try to keep an eye on Ezra. Since we can't hear in there anymore, we need to be extra alert. Let's go."
He barely heard the acknowledgements as he slowly began circling around to the front in hopes of getting in to his trapped agents. He was nearly to Josiah's position when bullets began to ricochet around him. He dove behind a pile of crates and blindly fired off a couple of shots. Over the headset he heard Vin giving Nathan and JD directions to a pair of goons that were trying to flank them. From Josiah, all he heard was some mumbled cursing and a hiss of pain.
"Josiah, you all right?" He asked between shots.
"Fine Brother. Just fine," the large man responded, but the pain in his voice belayed his words.
"Right, where are you hit?" His tone left no room for argument.
"Just a graze," came the reply. "Upper left bicep."
Chris nodded absently as he tried to get a clear shot at the man keeping him pinned down. Finally, he heard a yell and the cessation of shots.
"Ya got 'im, Chris," Vin's voice came in over the headsets. "You're clear for now, but there are more...Aw shit."
"What is it?" The question was asked by all four at once, which at any other time might have been amusing.
"Ledmore's in trouble. Gimme a minute." The sharp crack of the high powered rifle echoed loudly in the close confines of the alley. Chris jumped up and ran to Josiah, quickly examining the wound.
"You'll live, but you're staying here. I need you to hold this door. Shoot anyone who comes through and isn't one of us." He tied a hurried field dressing over the gash as he spoke.
"Does 'us' include Ledmore and Martins?" The ex anthropologist joked weakly.
Chris just grinned, and responded: "I didn't say that."
"Chris," JD's voice crackled over the headset. "I left the recording equipment on in the van, just so you know."
Chris sighed and amended his statement. "Try not to shoot them on purpose. Is that better?"
"Works for me," Josiah replied, then fired off two more shots, taking out another goon.
"Damnit!" Vin exclaimed. "I can't see well enough to get a shot."
Chris stood from his position at Josiah's side and pulled a second gun from it's holster at the small of his back. "Don't worry about it, Vin. I'm goin' in." Then before anyone could voice their opinions, and voice them they did, he took off. He managed to shoot the goon coming out of the door he was headed for before bursting through with a bang. He immediately dropped to a roll and came up firing, wounding two men and spotting his friends all in the matter of seconds. He quickly began making his way to his wounded friend, shooting at whoever shot at him along the way.
He finally got to them and assessed the situation. Buck had been hit high on the right side and was loosing blood at a rapid pace. Ezra had fashioned a bandage of sorts out of his jacket, and was attempting to stanch the flow of blood. As their leader approached, the slick southerner looked up and commented: "Please remind me to thank Mr. Tanner for his wonderful sense of timing, once we get out of here."
"If ya ask me," Buck croaked out, "he could use a little work. Howdy, pard."
"Hey, Buck. If you wanted to get to know the new nurses, there are better ways to go about it."
"Now you tell me," the ladies man groaned.
Just then, Chris caught sight of movement behind him. As he turned, he started to bring one of his guns to bear but knew he would be too late. Suddenly, he heard a shot and waited for the pain. It never came. Instead, he saw Franko Vasquez clutch his neck and fall to the ground, dying. He turned back to see Ezra holding a small two shot pistol still aimed at the fallen bodyguard. He opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by the sounds of more people entering the warehouse.
"Outside is clear, Chris," Nathan reported. "Any idea how many are in here?" Chris paused and glanced at Ezra.
"I counted six men with Vincent Farino, plus ten men in the warehouse when we got here. Four of those men went on exterior guard duty. Then there was Mr. Farino, himself, and the late Messers DelGado and Vasquez."
Vin spoke up then, delivering the tally so far. "The bunch o' us took out the four guards, plus three more reinforcements, I got two on the inside, an' DelGado."
"I got two coming in, and Ez got Vasquez, anyone else?" Chris added.
"Yeah, Nate an' I," there was a pause as shots were fired, "we just took out another one." JD announced. "An' we found Ledmore."
"Add another guard to the count," Nathan added. "Looks like Ledmore got off a lucky shot."
"Is he alive?" Chris asked.
"Yup, sorry, Chris," the medic replied.
Chris grunted and scanned the room again, looking for movement.
"Found Martins," JD announced. "He's alive, too. An' he took out the other two guards. All that's left is Farino, right?"
"Yup," Vin responded. "An' I don't....Wait, Josiah, to your left. Is that..?"
"Yes it is, Brother. Halt! ATF!" The large man's bellow made the four other members of Team Seven wince. "Give it up, son. There's nowhere to go."
Unfortunately, all Vincent saw was a wounded man with a single gun and was foolish enough to take aim. He never even got his gun past his waist when he was shot down by one of Vin's bullets.
Josiah sighed heavily. "Well, that's everyone. Did anyone call for backup?"
"No, why?" JD asked.
"Either I hear sirens, or I'm hallucinating," came the reply.
"'S'allright, Josiah, I hear 'em, too," Vin assured the older man with a grin.
"All right, everyone assemble in here," Chris ordered. "JD, you and Vin check out the rest of the warehouse, just in case there are any surprises waiting for us."
"Okay, is Buck all right?" the young man asked, worried.
"You know Buck, kid. Can't nothin' keep him down for long," Chris chuckled at his old friend.
"Yeah," JD agreed. "'Specially if there are nurses around." That brought more laughter by those that heard it, and the tension in the air dropped significantly as they waited for the reinforcements to arrive.
As they waited Chris glanced at Ezra and said: "Good work here, Ez."
"Thank you, Mister Larabee," the southener drawled out. "I must admit that this is not exactally what I had intended when I wished that this assignment would end early."
"Nope," Chris agreed. "By the way, where'd you get that pea shooter? I thought DelGado and his goons frisked you every meet."
"They do, but as I have spent an inordinant amout of time amungst the criminal element, I have discovered that there is one place where a man will very rarely frisk another man."
"Hey," JD's voice announced, "Isn't that a line from a movie?"
Ezra sighed, "Well, yes it was mentioned in that movie you forced me to watch at Vin's birthday get together."
"The Long Kiss Goodnight," Buck croaked. "Starring the delectible Geena Davis."
Chris frowned, "I don't remember that one."
"Quite all right," Ezra grimaced. "You didn't miss much."
"So where..." Chris began, but stopped when he heard the distinctive
sound of a zipper being pulled up. "Never mind." He grinned
and shook his head.
And so, when Assistant Director Travis arrived on the scene, he found that Agents Wilmington and Martins, and Special Agent Ledmore had been rushed to the hospital, accompanied by Agent Dunne and Officers Calloway and Dunlop. Special Agent Harrison was in the middle of a shouting match with Special Agent Larabee, with the remaining members of Team Seven, including a wounded Agent Sanchez, backing up their leader.
"Quiet!" he shouted, alerting all within the warehouse to his presence. "Now that I have everyone's undivided attention. Would you mind telling me why I come here to find four agents hurt, nineteen men dead, and you two yelling at each other like you weren't standing three feet apart? All this on what was supposed to be a non confrontational observation assignment. And what's this I hear about the mission tapes being tampered with?"
JD spoke up quietly, "Someone slipped a magnet next to the equipment in the van. Nothing got recorded."
"Three guesses as to who's responsible," Chris snarled.
"Just because your men are too incompetent to inspect their equipment before a mission..." As the shouting match threatened to begin again, Travis held up his hands. "One at a time,"
"Mister Travis," "Judge," Both men began speaking at once. Travis halted them both, then pointed to Harrison to begin.
"His man Standish blew this entire operation. He nearly got my men killed. This is all his fault."
"Like hell," Chris ground out. "It was your men who blew the operation. They snuck in here, blew Ezra's cover, and started this whole mess."
"That's not the way Agent Martins tells it" Harrison said snidely. "He says that it was that traitor who gave their positions away. He allowed them to get caught."
"He didn't force them to crawl in through the window, and it isn't his fault that they can't hide worth a damn. DelGado's men spotted them without any help from Ezra. According to him, they were careless and incompetent and we know it was Ledmore who blew Ezra's cover and nearly got my men killed."
"How can we be sure that's how it really happened?" Harrison sneered. "Without those tapes, there is no proof."
"We have all the proof we need," Chris replied, simply. Then turned and walked away, the rest of the team falling in place behind him. No one looked back.
A.D. Travis calmly looked from his best team to the flabbergasted FBI agent standing next to him. "There you have it," he said calmly.
"What!" Harrison sputtered. "You don't really trust them do you?"
"Yes I do," Travis said with a certain amount of spite aimed at the agent.
"How is that possible?" he choked. "What Standish said, it's all a lie, how can you believe that's what happened?"
"Because he said so," Travis stated, then turned to leave.
"And, by the way," he called over his shoulder, "I will be launching an
internal investigation into your department. I hope your books are
all in order."