Ezra Standish paced and drank coffee. He couldn't sit for any length of time. He had to keep moving. He kept replaying the horrible scene in his head--JD trying desperately to communicate with him-- and the photograph of him, evidently taken later, if the added injuries were an accurate indication. It was arresting, seeing the familiar jeans, sneakers, and shirt and enough plastique to take out a city block.
Damn bitter coffee. Ezra frowned as he studied the sludge in the bottom of the institutional white coffee mug that the ATF had provided. His jaw tightened. What good was it for the seven to be the finest and most covert squadron of the ATF if it meant that there was no protection against rogue avengers. It didn't matter to Ezra that the ATF deny its association with the seven, but for God's sake, give them some back-up.
He slammed the cup down on the god-awful linoleum counter. Who decorated this place? Who would've picked that flecked green surface? New, it would've been ugly. Now it was positively atrocious. And why didn't it bother anybody else? Ezra's eye studied the ancient counter with its discolored chrome trim, and stains that had set from years of institutional abuse, and new stains from six bachelors who could care less about it. Ezra cared about it only in that it represented the lack of concern afforded them by the powers that be. It was testament to his aesthetic suffering--a speckled green emblem of a community that had no taste and didn't care that it had no taste. And yet, hadn't he just defended the offensive counter when JD spilled a chocolate Yoo-Hoo all over it last week? There he had stood--the computer whiz agent whose apartment was decorated in "Early Poster" -- with a Yoo Hoo moustache. He had grinned, trying to suppress the laughter. "Gee, Ezra, where do you keep the furniture polish?" Then he had erupted, doubled over in laughter. He finally pulled off enough paper towels to wash the floor and wiped up the mess. Ezra smiled as he remembered, until the gut-wrenching vision returned.
Oh, JD . . .
He squeezed his eyes closed. He hated knowing that the young man had been suffering, and he hated not knowing what was going on right then.
When the phone rang, he nearly jumped out of his skin. He engaged the recorder and the computer before he picked up the receiver.
"Standish," he barked.
"Did you like our home movie?" The electronically-altered voice was still insipid.
"The cinematography was less than I expected, but the video communicated what you wanted it to."
"And the artwork?"
"I would have preferred to see more of the subject's face."
"In time . . . "
Ezra kept his voice casual. "How much time?"
"That depends . . . "
"Sir, the photograph you included has led us to believe that the young man is dead. If he is, then you have lost your bargaining power."
"Maybe we don't want to bargain."
Ezra felt a chill. Maybe killing JD was enough to satisfy these bastards.
"What do you want, then?"
The phone went dead.
"JUST TELL ME!!" Ezra yelled, but there was only a dial tone. "G**d****t!"
He read the information on the computer . . . ironically, JD's computer. But the signal had been bounced and forwarded before reaching the office.
There was no trace of the caller, and once again Ezra Standish could only wait and pray.
Vin moved like a cat burglar and was inside the warehouse three minutes after arriving. He would scout the premises, locate JD, God willing, and assess the situation. Ezra had rigged a tracking and communications device on a dedicated frequency so Vin could stay in constant communication with the others without being intercepted by JD's captors. Vin and the team had precious little time to study blueprints of the warehouse. They would get no help from the ATF, having actually been cut off from the agency's massive archives. There was no time to get a requisition. So Vin would have to risk himself if they were going to rescue JD.
Buck squatted beside Chris tracking the blip on the tiny monitor. Unconsciously he kept a strong hand on Chris' shoulder. They needed each other; he knew that. They would have to face . . . whatever . . . together. And they trusted each other. They had to. God knew they couldn't trust the ATF. They couldn't trust the police. They each had six men that would stand beside them--that would die for them. Sometimes they didn't even like each other. But they were bound to each other with a bond forged in tribulation and common cause--a bond some would call friendship, but they knew viscerally to be that of family.
"He's stopped." Buck stated the obvious and adjusted his headset to pick up any sound. He cut his eyes over to Nathan who was poised and ready to follow Vin's trail. Buck couldn't see Josiah, but he saw Nathan signal to both of them.
For a moment everything was suspended, and strangely silent.
Then they all heard the audio crackle to life and heard Vin's whispered oath.
"Oh God no . . ." For an instant, it sounded as if his breath caught in his throat. Then he spat instructions.
"Life flight," he hissed. "Three moving west, Nathan, heavily armed. You call the ball. Two coming to you, Chris. In 30, they'll reach alpha. I'll neutralize one, you get one, on my signal."
Chris and Buck moved to position and waited. They could hear Vin count down by fives, and at zero, the silent assault began.
As soon as he was confident that Chris and Buck had their two men under control, Vin bolted back to where he had seen JD. He couldn't tell about the other kidnappers. He could only trust that Josiah and Nathan had neutralized the situation on their side of the warehouse. There was no time to lose.
He ran across the hard concrete, skidding to a halt next JD. JD sat, his chin on his chest, bound to a plain wooden chair. There was blood splattered on the floor beside him, evidence of the blows to the kid's jaw. Vin lifted the young agent's shirt, his heart in his throat. The plastique with the wires extending from it was there, belted to JD's waist. Vin tried to study it without touching it. He had to force himself to focus on the bomb and not the bruised body.
"Get the bomb squad here," he said, softly. No sense in alerting anyone else in the building to their presence. "If the cops give you any grief, tell them there's enough explosive here to take out the entire warehouse district." He let the shirt fall and reached up to find the place on JD's throat where his pulse should be. "Come on. . ." Vin whispered.
Nothing . . .
Gently, gently he placed his hands on either side of his friend's face, and turned it up slightly so he could see. Oh God. The boy's skin was tinged blue and the cuts and bruises on his face were further indication that he'd been beaten. The blindfold was familiar -- JD's Diamondback T-shirt, torn and tied tightly around his eyes. Holding the boy's head up with one hand, Vin felt for a pulse again with the other. He waited a long moment until he detected a very slow weak throb under his fingers. "OK, stay with me, JD, we're gonna get you out of here." Vin worked quickly, but gently, easing the blindfold off of his friend's eyes.
Vin's breath caught in his throat. JD stared blankly with blood red eyes that didn't see. His pupils were not even, and he couldn't focus.
"Hey,JD," Vin whispered, leaning close to the young man's ear. "It's me, it's ok." For a moment JD's lashes fluttered, then his eyes closed. "It's ok, kid. We're taking you home."
JD's lips and chin were blistered and Vin remembered seeing the tallest of the kidnappers pouring something into his mouth. JD's body had reacted immediately, jolting him violently. He'd gasped and choked and fought for air. Vin could do nothing but watch. He'd seen the boy fight with what little strength he had--saw him grimace as the hypodermic was plunged into his arm. He'd heard the kidnappers talk in hushed tones and saw one of them suddenly backhand the kid. Vin had drawn his weapon, but forced himself to wait. If he had tried to stop them, JD would have been killed immediately.
Now as Vin assessed his friend's condition he realized JD was dying anyway. He eased his hand away from the boy's face so he could work on the bonds that cut into his wrists.
Suddenly, the warehouse thundered with the sound of rapid gunfire. Vin turned the chair with JD in it over onto its side and shielded JD with his own body. He could hear Chris yelling, but couldn't hear what he was saying. Furiously, he clipped the wires that bound JD's hands together, then he cut the tape binding his ankles. In a leap of faith, he sliced through the belt that secured the bomb to JD's waist and left it on the floor. He gathered JD in his arms and screamed to Chris, or anybody that could hear.
He had no idea where the enemy's shots were coming from. But he knew his friends were there. So hoisting JD in a fireman's carry, Vin ran like the devil was after him.
Ezra's foot tapped nervously as he pored over the confusing data on the computer. Surely there was something . . .
The phone again. Ezra jumped up, and engaged the the tracking and voice analysis devices before picking up the receiver, only to find a dial tone.
Another ring, and Ezra realized it was his cell phone.
"What?" His clipped word reflected his frustration. He reached over to shut off the computer and stopped cold.
"I don't care what you have to do," Buck was saying to him, "just get them over here."
"It's done." Ezra would see to it. He flipped his cell phone closed and, grabbing his keys, set off to find a demolitions expert who would save a section of the city, even if he wouldn't do it to save a young ATF agent. Sometime, after this was all over, Ezra would have time to figure out exactly what enraged him most--kidnappers who would hurt the most innocent of them, or his own superiors who would deny the innocent existed.
There would indeed be a score to settle.
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