More than One Kind of Hero
Despite his inbuilt reservations and distrust regarding the entire medical profession Ezra had already decided to make the call. The clinic was somewhat out of the city on the edge of a small group of shops in one of the better residential areas. They took some details and handed him a card.
"From now on you are E 72849 we never use surnames here only first names and numbers, don't lose this card you'll need it," the receptionist explained, she was neither judgmental nor pitying but rather just businesslike and neutral. It was an approach Ezra appreciated.
He was the only person in the small neat waiting room and he wasn't kept waiting long. The doctor's name was Nora Fitzgerald, and from her accent Standish realised she was as Irish as her name. A tall, slim, angular woman similar in age to Standish with long blond hair, Ezra found himself disappointed when he spotted the wedding ring. She was direct taking all the details with just the right amount of professional detachment and sympathy. She was particularly glad to hear he had seen no blood when he brushed his teeth afterwards.
"So how are you feeling now?" she asked.
"I'm okay I guess except for the taste, I can't seem to get rid of that blood taste in my mouth, I mean I know it's psychosomatic and it will pass in time, but it's not very pleasant at the moment." He surprised himself with his candour, he hadn't told Buck about this lingering problem, perhaps there was something about being an anonymous number, that he found relaxing when it came to talking about himself.
"I've not come across that symptom before but yes I think youre right it will pass in time. Now I have to tell you that the chance of you contracting HIV is very low with the kind of exposure you've had, about one in one thousand, or a 99.9% chance you'll be fine," she stated calmly.
"Good odds," Ezra thought.
The doctor continued. "But we can improve even these odds, there are anti-viral drugs that can help inhibit the virus, if you decided to take them it is likely to improve your chances to one in three thousand."
She went on to explain that this involved taking a cocktail of three drugs, seven tablets in all every twelve hours for one month, but that it wasn't that simple.
"The problem is these are powerful drugs and they have side effects."
Ezra felt his stomach tighten; he liked the idea of reducing the odds but didn't like the tone of her voice.
"Such as?" he asked.
"Well normally nausea and diarrhea, it can be quite mild, some people have no reaction, some have very severe reactions, we will give you tablets to counteract the worse symptoms if necessary. Sadly many health professionals in your situation give up after a week or so, because of the side effects."
"Well at least it's not Vin, he'd no doubt be sick as a dog the entire month," Ezra thought.
The tough and self-reliant sharpshooter appeared to be allergic to every drug in creation, if there were side effects on offer Vin got them. But he wasn't Vin, he was a gambler and he like three thousand to one better than one thousand to one.
"I think I'm taking the drugs," he heard himself saying.
"Good, I would in you situation," she said, her soft brogue was both calming and encouraging. "I really am not worried Ezra, honest."
They then moved to the matter of the Hep B, Ezra would need two injections right away, one in one month, then two months after that and possibly one at six and twelve months respectively. Then she took some blood samples and issued him his drugs explaining, he would have to return in two weeks for another blood test to see how the drugs were affecting his system. He wasnt too keen to hear he would have to fast for fourteen hours before this, but she assured him they would make the appointment in the morning, so it would just be an overnight fast.
"And we will also make an appointment for six weeks time, which is when Ill take some blood for the actual HIV test, then its a week before we get the results, youll need to come in for that as well," she explained.
"Could I not just phone for that result?" Ezra asked.
"Well we can do that if you really want to," she was hesitant. "But what if its not good news, do you really want to get that over the phone?"
Ezra wasnt sure how he felt about that, and some how she sensed this.
"Well we dont have to make that decision yet, here is our confidential help line, if you have any further questions, if the side effects are bad or youre not sure about something, just call."
+ + + + + + +
He told himself he could handle it, seven tablets every twelve hours wasnt that bad, he had also been warned he must take them with food. He started that evening, the little white diamond one was fine, the blue and white capsule went down easily, it was the five big blue ones that proved a problem, they began to dissolve as soon as they hit his mouth making them difficult to swallow, but after much gagging and false starts he did get them down. The next day he dutifully took his medication before breakfast and headed for work. The delayed meeting with the DA had been re-scheduled for that morning
The clawing nagging pain in his gut was making it difficult to concentrate, which since his evidence was going to be crucial was unfortunate. However, Ezra the consummate con man, actor, and liar managed to hide his discomfort and the increasingly pressing need to get to a rest room away from the assembled agents and lawyers. Once released from the conference room he tried to make his exit look nonchalant and calm, but once out of sight of everyone he bolted for the nearest toilet, arriving just in time to lose his breakfast. Once he had finished, washed his mouth out, and made sure he was presentable, he felt much better.
Just after lunch Ezra got a second call on his cell phone, he once again rose and with no explanation took the call in the corridor. And once again Buck followed him out.
"JD what is going on?" Vin asked.
The youngster frowned at the Texan sharpshooter. "How the hell do I know," he retorted.
"Because we all know Buck tells you everything," Josiah Sanchez explained patiently.
"Well that just shows how much you know, 'cause he doesn't, and I have no more idea what's up than any of you," the young easterner retorted.
The truth was he had also sensed something was wrong, but had no idea what or how to broach the subject. Buck had been unusually quiet since his return from Nevada and had told him nothing of the trip.
"It's to do with Standish," Nathan Jackson commented. "Buck is protecting him."
"Well it's what he does best," Josiah said quietly.
"Yeah but from what and why?" Vin asked.
"Well they were in Vegas, so ten to one is a woman or gambling," JD offered.
"If it was a woman it would be Ezra protecting Buck, so I vote gambling. Ez probably cleaned out the mob or cheated on them, or lost to them or something." Jackson snorted indignantly. He counted Ezra a friend, one of Team Seven's extended family but he still had issues with some of Standish's ambivalent attitudes to the truth and what Nathan considered to be incontrovertible rights and wrongs.
Out in the corridor Buck stood patiently as Ezra spoke.
"Yes I understand what does that mean I see just me or both of us where?" He snapped his fingers at Buck who fished in his pockets for a pen and something to write on coming up with an old envelope. "Okay go ahead." He looked at Buck as he relayed the phone number. Finally he hung up.
"Well?" Buck asked.
"Remember the double whammy?"
Buck nodded uneasily.
"Well now we have the triple whammy. She died because of TB, something called granulomata in her lung cursed the haemorrhaging, like we thought there was nothing that could have saved her."
"Oh God," Wilmington breathed. "What does that mean for you?"
"For both of us," Ezra corrected. "If you have had a BCG not much, if you haven't you need to be tested. I have had a BCG but still need to be tested. That," he indicated the number on the envelope, "is the number of a chest clinic here in Denver." He looked up at his tall friend. Have you had a BCG?" Buck shrugged.
"Don't know," he stated honestly.
Buck and his mothers nomadic existence on the fringes of society, while he was growing up, made keeping up with routine inoculations and vaccinations tricky. And since they could never afford medical insurance, (even if his mom could have found a company willing to give her cover) going to a doctor was something they only did in emergencies. Luckily Buck had been an exceptionally healthy child, and it had never been much of a problem.
"Well looks like we're both going to the chest clinic then."
Buck was amazed as he listened to Ezra. Normally the southerner would do anything to hide any infirmity, and avoided going to the medical profession for help. It was this that had prompted him to make Ezra swear to get help in the first place, and had further prompted him to make the preliminary inquiries about clinics. Now it was Standish taking the lead. Finally the penny dropped, now it involved both of them, it wasn't his health Ezra was endeavouring to protect but Buck's. Well Buck could live with that as long as it got Standish though the door.
A quick check in the rest room mirror confirmed Buck had no BCG scar and though this was not definitive proof he had missed out on the TB inoculation as a child, a call to his mother in Florida confirmed it. So the two of them made an appointment and curtly informed Chris they would be late for work the next day. Ezra had left the office when Chris called Buck back. He was clearly angry, but had for now decided to go along with Wilmington and let him take the flack for both of them.
"Well what?" Buck replied feigning ignorance.
"You dont think Im buying that line about you both having dentist appointments on the same day do you?" Buck remained impassive and silent, watching his old friend winding himself up, into a full Larabee rage.
"Buck I know you only went to the dentist last month and Ezra wont go near one unless we drag him!"
Still Buck remained silent. There really was no point talking when Chris was like this, best just to stand still and quiet and ride it out until he was more receptive to reasonable argument. It was a shame so few people had learnt this, apart from him only Vin had really mastered it. He considered that if he wanted to Nathan could probably do it too. But Nathan never got Chris this pissed so it was a moot point. Chris was still ranting as these thoughts flowed through Bucks head.
"Just what did go on in Las Vegas?" Chris asked.
"What was that?" Buck asked, realising he had tuned out for a second and missed a direct question, among all the rhetorical ones flying his way.
"I asked what happened in Vegas?" Chris made a feeble attempt at calm and reasonable.
"Dont you nothing me Buck I know you too well. Youre protecting him, why? What did our favourite weasel do? Clean out the mob? Bed the Godfathers daughter? No; wait, that would be you, so what trouble did he get himself into this time?" Calm and reasonable flew out of the window.
"Nothing, no one is in trouble," Buck explained quietly
"You know I know your lying, right?"
"So you gonna tell me what's going on?"
A shiver ran through Chris as he remembered a scarily similar conversation many years ago and an identical answer. It had taken more than fifteen years before he found out the truth that time. Even than Buck had not volunteered the information, events beyond his control had forced the truth. He knew his friend was never going to tell him what was going on. He would just have to trust Buck to handle it, whatever it was. He didn't like giving up control, not being in the loop. But he had known Buck long enough to know that despite the persona he projected, jovial, joker, office clown, Buck Wilmington was a professional lawman, with vast experience, and a good friend. Chris nodded his acceptance of the situation.
+ + + + + + +
Come the evening, Ezra took the second batch of tablets, doing much better with the hated blue torpedoes, but by the time he turned in his stomach was once again complaining, and he got little sleep, although he didn't lose his supper.
As the days went by Ezra developed a routine that suited him and his lifestyle. Eating before medication was the best way to keep down the cramps and nausea although they never quite went away. He took them at lunchtime and late at night, stocking his kitchen with bagels, English muffins, croissant and Danish pastries. One of these fifteen minutes before the late night dose, allowing him a reasonable nights sleep.
Only Buck noticed his discomfort, and only because he was looking for it. Both men now sported a small ring of six needle pricks on his left forearm, which they were at pains to hide from everyone. Buck's faded rapidly and was quite gone by the time they returned to the clinic, proving he had never been exposed to TB. He took the opportunity to receive a BCG jab. Ezra's was still visible but the reaction was mild, which was to be expected for someone who had received a BCG. Still the nurse was at pains to point out that he would need to return in nine weeks for a further test and possibly a chest x-ray.
After three weeks Ezra could see the end in sight, he was quietly proud of himself for keeping going, when he remembered how the doctor had told him how many gave up. His two-week check up showed that his blood sugar had risen, a common side effect and it was making him excessively tired, but this along with the other physical symptoms he hid. Most days all he did when he wasn't at work was eat and sleep, many days he got in from work, forced himself to heat some soup and a bread roll, before going to bed for three or four hours. Then he'd rise, wash and take the second lot of meds and go back to bed. He reckoned he was sleeping ten or eleven hours a day and as many as fifteen at the weekend, yet he was still tired all the time. Despite all this he kept taking the medication; kept telling himself three thousand to one was a hell of a lot better than one thousand to one.
The one thing that worried him was his own reaction to the whole thing, or rather his lack of reaction. He had expected at the very least nightmares and finding himself dwelling on things but he didn't. When he had locked himself in the rest room at the restaurant to clean his teeth, despite feeling very calm, he had half expected to break down, cry, puke even, that's what always happened on TV or in the movies, but he didn't. He sometimes caught himself thinking about it, going over what he had done but it was not too bad, and he was quickly able to shrug it of. He had no bad dreams at least none he remembered and he wasn't particularly worried about the HIV test, the Hep. B jabs were quick and fairly painless. The coppery taste of blood had lingered in his mouth for nearly a week before it faded away. Once he could stop taking the hated medication and was no longer feeling permanently ill and tired he was sure he would put the whole thing behind him.
On the Monday of the fourth week of the dreaded tablets Chris suddenly emerged from his office and told everyone to be in the conference room in ten minutes. Buck looked up and quickly over at Ezra, the one thing Ezra wasn't ready for was going under cover. Oh he appeared to be okay, but Buck knew he was feeling permanently unwell, he was having trouble keeping enough food in his system to keep him healthy, he had to take medication every twelve hours, and was permanently tired. Undercover you needed to be alert one hundred per cent of the time, and right now Ezra couldn't do that, he would be risking his life and theirs. Buck got up and walked in to Chris' office with out bothering to knock.
"Shit Buck do you ever knock?" Chris fumed.
"No. What's the job?" he asked.
"I'll tell you with the others." Chris wasn't in the mood for this right now. Team three had landed them with a case at short notice and he wasn't happy.
"Humour me Chris, tell me now," Buck softened his voice.
Larabee eyed his oldest friend, trying to work out what was behind this, Buck rarely presumed on their long association like this.
"Team three have identified a repair shop that is modifying weapons illegally. Unfortunately they just discovered the son was once put away by Fenandez. Fenandez was all set to go in as a new mechanic tomorrow."
Buck knew Fenandez, he was a good agent and also a skill car mechanic. Chris went on.
"The powers that be wanted me to lend you to them as replacement, but I said it was all team seven or none, so now it's our case."
Buck understood why he had been requested, all the work he had put in restoring his classic truck had honed his mechanics skills and knowledge. Along with Fenandez he was probably the only agent with the requisite skill level. Buck was relieved, this didn't sound like a case Ezra would have to go under for.
"So it's just me going under then," he wanted conformation.
"Well eventually Ez will have to go in as a potential customer," Chris explained.
"Don't send Ezra, let Junior do it, he's got the knowledge and he's getting quite good undercover," Buck suggested.
Chris frowned; Ezra was quite knowledgeable enough about weapons for this assignment, so why was Buck still protecting Ezra?
"Ezra will be just fine," he assured.
"No Chris send Vin in this time, please just trust me on this, don't send Ez."
"This is to do with Las Vegas isn't it?" Buck didn't answer. "Well I'm gonna need a good reason Buck," Chris continued.
But Buck didn't offer one, he just stood there impassively, waiting. Trusting that in the end Chris would trust him and give in. Eventually he was rewarded.
"Very well, Vin can do it. But Buck."
"This is the last time we do this, you got that pal!"
Buck had known going in he might well end up using his last stock of personal favours with Chris, but it would be worth it.
+ + + + + + +
Fernandez had secured a job as a mechanic through a supposed mutual friend of his and the owner Mr Jack Watson. But the owners son Darren, who was the one running the illegal gun shop, had never met him, only when Fenandez saw the latest surveillance photos did he recognise Darren. He had since called old Mr Watson to explain he had had some trouble, he was deliberately vague, eluding to trouble with the law but never actually saying it. He explained that he had a good friend who was just back from some time away and in need of a job. Team three still didnt know if the older man was in on the gun racket, ignorant about the whole thing or was just covering for his son.
The garage wasn't in a particularly rough part of the city, sited just off one of the main commuter routes into the city. It was as far as Buck could see used primarily by commuters who would drop off their car on their way into work, hop a bus or call a cab to get to work and then pick it up on the way home. Much of the work was routine servicing. Because of this they worked long hours starting at 7.30am and finishing at 7.30pm, plus 9 'till 4 on Saturday. In a week Buck had found no evidence of an illegal workshop and earned more in overtime than he ever took home as a federal agent. He found it somewhat comforting to know that if Team Seven ever went too far and he lost his job he always had a career as a car mechanic.
Old man McDonald had taken a liking to Buck, who was going under the name Bill Watson. They shared a love of classic trucks and the old man loved to talk with Buck about various restoration jobs he had undertaken. They was deep in conversation about a classic Ford at the end of a long Saturday when Darren walked past carrying his personal tool box, he stumbled and something fell out. Darren didn't notice but Buck did. He excused himself from the old man and picking up the object he walked after the younger man.
"Hey Darren," he called casually. "You dropped ya' 74 pin."
Darren turned to his father's newest employee, trying to decide if the big man really had said what he thought he had said.
"Sorry what did you say?" he asked, as Buck got closer.
"This, " Buck casually held out the pin. "It's a firing pin from an AKS 74, you dropped it, they're not easy to replace best take better care of it. Well it's late, been jawing with your dad too long I be off home, bye now." With that he turned casually to go.
Darren took a second to process the mans words, AKS 74 were illegal and rare, to be able to recognise just a firing pin on its own showed a remarkable degree of knowledge, and yet he was so casual about it.
In the surveillance truck JD groaned as Nathan let out an exasperated sigh.
"Way to go Buck, be subtle why dont you," JD commented sarcastically.
The wire Chris had forced Buck to wear was useless most of the time. Either some of the older machinery in the shop interfered with it sending only angry static into the listener's ears, or the general noise of the garage drowned it out. Luckily it was December; he at least didn't have to worry about anyone seeing it. The garage was unheated and since the outside temperature was constantly below freezing, everyone was well wrapped up all the time.
JD listened to the sound of Buck walking on the hard concrete floor, whistling tunelessly to himself.
"Watson." Darren called after him.
"Yeah," Buck replied turning back.
"Say this is what you said it was. Tell me how you know."
There was silence for a moment. Buck had concocted the cover story himself. The whole operation had landed in Team Sevens lap in such a hurry there had been little time to properly organise things. Ezra advised that it was easier to remember a story you invented yourself. It hadn't been that difficult, and with a little polishing and coaching from Ezra he reckoned he was ready.
"Used to work in California, near an army base, guys 'd come back from Europe with 'souvenirs'. 'Cause the armorers would disable them, but well, there's ways around that," he explained, in what he hoped was a believably casual voice.
This was precisely the job Darren has working on. His client had purchased the AKS from an ex-marine and now wanted it back in working order. It wasn't a gun he was familiar with and he was having difficulty. Wilson had just openly confessed to illegally modifying guns. Now he had the opportunity to ask some one who appeared to be an expert for help. He'd have to pay him of course, but it would be worth it. The question that now remained was, was it worth the risk?
"Is that all? 'Cause I got a life you know." Buck asked, adding a touch of irritation.
"How would you like to earn some extra money, cash in hand," Darren asked.
"How much, and what for?" Buck asked calmly.
"Doing what you just told me you did in California, pays $300."
Buck laughed and walked away.
"Wait," Darren called after him.
Buck turned back.
Buck regarded him; he reckoned the job was worth $1000, to McDonald, so he was being offered half. Still he didn't want to appear too eager, especially as McDonald had to be desperate to ask him strait out.
"$750," he demanded.
"Done," McDonald finally agreed.
Buck was glad the sordid little auction for his services was over.
"So where and when?" he asked his new employer.
"Can you be here tonight at about eight?" he asked.
Buck hoped by saying yes he wasn't going to throw a spanner in the works of their well, if hastily planned, operation.
"Reckon so," he said. "Right that gives me three hours for Vin to show me how to actually do, what I've only ever seen in a manual," he thought ruefully.
Buck met JD, Nathan and Vin's back at the federal building. Then they all went down in the basement ballistics department where a hurried lesson was arranged. Buck struggled to learn the intricate job at which he was supposed to be an expert. To his credit he never once lost his temper, even when Vin did. It seemed Buck's large hands were not best suited to some of the more intricate tasks. He was forever dropping the tiny screws, sometimes they would disappear inside the works of the gun itself.
"Aw hell Buck can't ya just hang on to one of them!" Vin fumed as yet another minute screw fell to the floor.
Buck actually winced at Vin's tirade, acutely aware he had disturbed Vin's day off and was pushing his patience to the limit. The fact that if they got it wrong, it could cost Buck dear didn't help.
"Sorry Vin, I'll find it." He was about to drop to his knees and feel for the errant screw when JD handed him something.
Examining the speaker from a car radio he had been handed, Buck shrugged and looked back at JD.
"Okay it's a speaker," he stated.
"And it's also a magnet," JD explained.
The penny dropped and Buck began using the speaker to sweep the floor for the errant screw. They were an hour into their lesson when Ezra walked in with a carrier from an expensive electrical retailer in his hand.
"I believe this would come in handy," he offered, holding out the bag. "Mr. Larabee and Mr. Sanchez are currently in the garage and will be here momentarily."
Vin took the proffered bag, and smiled when he realised what it contained.
"How'd ya know?" he asked.
"I called him, before someone got "
"Gotta ya', ow!"
"Hurt," Nathan, explained in between Buck finding the screw and hitting his head on the underside of the workbench.
"Well, what is it?" JD asked as Buck stood rubbing the back of his head and peering at the bag.
"A set of precision screwdrivers with magnetised heads," Ezra explained.
Ezras little gift improved matters immeasurably and Buck made rapid progress, despite the rather critical audience, and their less than helpful suggestions. Finally as Vin finished a test firing on the newly restored gun, Chris called them upstairs to their offices for a case conference.
"As I see it if this all goes as we hope we can wrap the is case soon as the gun is collected. Vin wont even need to pose as a customer." He looked around the table at his team, knowing they would have opinions and valuable input.
"I can give Buck a tracking bug to put inside the gun," JD offered.
"Right," Buck interjected. "So if for some reason we cant follow whoever picks it up, or dont see the exchange we can keep track of it. Id hate to be responsible for putting a gun like that back on the street."
Chris thought so too. "Do it," he instructed.
"I believe Mr Wilmington should also be equipped with a tracker in addition to the wire," Ezra suggested. "The wire has but a limited range, since Mr Wilmington has found no evidence of work being done at the garage we must assume it is carried on at a different location. Where it is, what mode of transport will be provided, or how easy it will be to follow we have no notion of."
"Jeez Ez make a guy feel safe why dont you?" Buck scolded.
+ + + + + + +
Buck attempted to look casual as he parked his truck behind the garage and strolled in a few minutes after eight, he carried a small tool set Vin had set up including the magnetic screwdrivers.
"Youre late," Darren commented with a hint of anger in his voice.
He hated that he needed help, he hated that the man knew how desperate he was, he hated having to give up the majority of the fee, and most of all he hated how well Watson and his father got on. Old man McDonald knew nothing of his sons little side venture. It rankled with Darren that his old man thought Bill Watson to be a straight-as-a-die good ol boy. He knew differently but he couldnt say anything.
"You said about eight, not at eight but about eight, you wana give orders son youre gonna have to be more precise."
"Oh great, Buck, piss the guy off some more!" JD fumed as he listened in.
"Mr. Wilmington is merely staying in character," Ezra advised. "Bill Watson did not get on with the little shit before why should he now? It would be out of character and therefore suspicious. A basic rule of undercover work is to make sure you don't change just because you are close to your goal."
The gun and the workshop were not in the garage, just as they had suspected. Buck was forced to travel in the back of a windowless van, as McDonald drove across the city. If he hadn't been sure the rest of the team were following him Buck would have been distinctly un-nerved, as it was he just concentrated on not picking up too many bruises as he rattled around in the back of the van. At one point he heard the unmistakable sound of a Harley being driven past the van, just as it were closes he heard the engine being gunned with undue enthusiasm.
"Thanks Vin," he muttered quietly, but loud enough for the listeners in the trailing van to hear.
When they arrived and the door was slid open he found they had parked in an unidentifiable alley lined on both sides with small lock-up garages. The close sound of a train told Wilmington he was somewhere near the goods yards.
"This way," Darren said tersely, pointing at a faded blue roll-up door, secured with a big padlock.
Inside the bitterly cold garage was set up as a workshop, with a workbench, lights, power tools even a small lathe. McDonald pointed at the partially disassembled gun on the bench, and handed over the new firing pin. Buck sat down on the stool in front of the bench, pleased to note McDonald was turning on a powerful-looking fan heater and placing a kettle on a small electric ring.
"You work, I'll make coffee."
Buck merely grunted his response and began to work. After four hours Buck stood, stretched his back and walked to the door, using his boot to lift the door it far enough for him to raise it with his hand without having to bend.
"Where the hell do you think youre going?" Darren demanded.
"I'm gonna stretch my legs, breath some fresh air and attend to a little personal business, okay?"
"I guess, stay in the alley."
Buck nodded as he walked out, knowing the younger man would follow him. As he looked up and down the dark alley he could easily make out the silhouette of the van parked at the far end, he knew Chris Ram and Vin's Harley wouldn't be far away. Heading in the van's direction he moved behind a dumpster, putting it between him and McDonald.
"Well guys, I'd rather it was you watching than him," he said quietly to no one except the six listeners crammed into the van at the other end of the alley. "I should be done in another couple of hours, trackers already in and on, give me a sign its working." He glanced up the alley to see the vans left indicator flash once. "Good." He zipped up his jeans and performed a mock bow to the van. "Shows over boys."
It was just gone two in the morning when he finished, firing the gun on an empty chamber three times to prove it was working. McDonald drove him back to the garage.
"Where's the money kid?" Buck demanded.
Darren handed over a wad of cash, which Buck counted.
"This is only a $100, where's the rest kid?" Buck's hand suddenly shot out and grabbed the younger man's throat.
"It's on account, $100 more tomorrow then I test fire it properly, the rest when I get paid," Darren stammered out, surprised by Buck's apparent threat.
"And when's that gonna be?"
"End of next week, Friday."
"Yeah, Friday." Darren gave a little shudder as Buck finally released him.
"Fine, I'll be here."
And with that Buck left, deliberately turning his back on the man to emphasise he didn't fear him, and walked to his truck and drove away, all the time his whole body tight with apprehension.
"Shit!" The listeners in the van heard before Buck ripped off the mike.
Flooring the accelerator, Buck pushed the truck to its limits as he headed home. Chris would be expecting him to go to the office for a debriefing but he was too wired and too tired at the same time to care what Chris wanted.
"Christ! How does Ez do this all the time on his own?" he asked himself as he drove.
Buck had worked undercover before, recently more and more but always with someone else, usually Ezra, and he was generally just the back up, the body guard, hired muscle, just standing behind Standish looking mean. Taking the lead, making the decisions all alone was a different thing all together.
He had just passed the turn that would have led him to the federal building when his cell phone rang. He pulled it out noted the incoming call was from Chris and switched it off.
Vin pulled his bike up beside the van and gave Nathan a "What's going on?" gesture. Jackson just shrugged, while Josiah at the wheel continued to follow Chris, who was following the truck.
"What he hell does he think he's doing?" Chris fumed.
"Going home?" JD ventured, knowing everyone knew this, and not entirely sure why he said it.
"I can see that, why?"
"Because Mr Larabee, Mr Wilmington is both tired and wound up at the same time and he needs to deal with this some place where he feels safe, and uninhibited, and alone," Ezra explained.
"But he won't be alone I " JD began to say.
"I know, but I believe you will find upon arrival Mr. Wilmington will have shut himself in his room. I would advise that you refrain from your usually if well intentioned efforts to get him to 'talk about it'. Just leave him be."
"How do you know how he's feeling, you don't disappear like this, you debrief first," Chris pointed out, glaring at Standish.
"I have been doing this a long time." His tone held a warning, it said "don't push Larabee", and said it very loud.
What ever was going on between Buck an Ezra was still going on, Chris realised.
"Mr Larabee I believe since it is now approaching half past three in the morning that we all go home and reconvene tomorrow over lunch at Marco's to debrief. Shall we say at two I will make the booking and pick up the bill?"
Chris could see the logic in Ezra's argument, he just didn't like having his hand forced. Finally he gave in.
"Very well, we'll head back pick up our own cars and meet tomorrow at Marco's."
+ + + + + + +
When he got home JD could hear music coming from Buck's room, light spilling out from under the door at the top of the stairs. He resisted the desire to run up and knock on the door. Instead he penned a note, informing his roommate about the meeting at the restaurant and slipped it under the door.
Buck and JD arrived at Marcos, looking bright and rested, at about the same time as Ezra and Chris.
"Ez? Kid says youre picking up the tab; that true?" Buck asked, apparently back to his old self.
"Indeed, Mr Wilmington, I am feeling generous."
"What happened, did hell freeze over, was the vale of the temple wrent in two, did ya' win the lottery?" Buck inquired incredulously.
"To answer your questions, I have no way of knowing, I believe the temple vale to be in one piece, and no."
Chris was about to make some comment about how come Buck knew about the vale of the temple, but though better of it. Buck wasn't ignorant or uneducated; he just chose not to display his intellect or education to the world, just why Chris had never been able to work out.
"So make the most of it. It may not happen again," Ezra continued.
"Hell, point me at a good steak and a cold beer and I'm gonna be a happy puppy," Buck announced as he and JD headed to the table where the others had gathered.
"What happened to him last night, that ever happen to you?" Chris asked.
"Every time Mr Larabee, every time."
Both men stood in silence for a moment, while Chris digested this.
"He has to go back tomorrow, you know," Chris said quietly.
"I know, and he knows, he'll be fine have no fear." With that Ezra joined the others.
During the meal and informal debriefing, Buck managed to get Ezra alone for a moment.
"So why are you paying really?" Buck asked.
"It is by way of a celebration, on Friday I finally finished those despicable tablets. On Monday I have the blood test," he explained quietly.
"Thats great, you feeling better now?"
"Indeed I am, much better, I can finally look at a meal and not calculate its irritation value before it's taste."
"An' how long after that do ya have t' wait?"
"As I understand it, a week."
Buck thought a moment, calculating something in his head. Finally he said.
"But that'll be Christmas Eve."
+ + + + + + +
Come Monday Buck groaned as he hit the alarm, grimacing as he watched it flash six am at him. He was not good at getting up extra early. Not that he would just not do it, like Ezra, but he was decidedly grouchy and uncommunicative first thing, especially a good hour before he usually rose. In order to be at work by seven thirty on the far side of the city, he had to leave at six thirty. Three blocks from the garage he had found a nice friendly bakery where he stopped for coffee and doughnuts or Danish on the way in. It had in a short time become a habit, it was even quite pleasant, but he no longer had the motivation to do it. The workshop was identified, the ringleader identified, evidence secured, all that remained was to identify the customer and see where he lead them.
"Just five more days," he told himself. "Five days and it will almost be Christmas, five days and I can relax again."
"Just seven days," Ezra told himself as he walked out of the clinic. A slight ache in the crook of his left arm reminding him he's just had yet another blood test. This was the big one, this was make or break. In seven days he would know, and then he could finally relax, he hoped.
He'd been telling himself he wasn't worried, three thousand to one were great odds, but at the back of his mind was something his mother had once told him. "If someone tells you something is ninety nine per cent safe, just remember it's the one per cent that kills you."
The days in question dragged, the weather was wet, and bitterly cold, freezing rain or wet snow. Buck and Ezra both found it hard the concentrate. Ezra hated surveillance at the best of times now it was torture, he needed to be doing something, something to occupy his mind fully, anything to stop it working on his fears and doubts. Buck just wanted out, wanted to be himself again, he even found the old man's chats about classic trucks interminable.
Team Three were now fully involved in maintaining the triple surveillance. The workshop was watched twenty four seven, Darren the same, followed everywhere, his phone tapped, his cell phone calls intercepted. The garage was watched whenever Buck was there, wearing his wire as always. He hated it so much he would only put it on in the rest room of the bakery, just before he set off for the garage.
+ + + + + + +
By Thursday the tension was mounting. JD had been up all night staking out the lock-up, Buck had heard him come in just before his alarm went off and he had to get up. They exchanged a mumbled greeting before JD hit the shower and was in his bed by the time Buck left.
What neither of them knew was that Darren had lied to Buck about the customer coming back on Friday. Chung and Martin from Team Three were watching Darren McDonald's apartment when he suddenly emerged at around six am. Following closely but discreetly, they called ahead to Vin and Nathan who were watching the lock-up, having taken over from Ezra and JD, informing them that he was headed their way. Darren removed the gun and drove to the garage. To begin with they thought he was going to stash it there until the next day, but he never removed it from his car's trunk. Josiah and Chris were on route to the garage, to take up station before Buck arrived. It took some quick planning from Chris to ensure the agents werent visible or tripping over each other.
Chris called for more of Team Three to watch the lock up, the gun may have gone but it still contained valuable evidence. At around seven fifteen a black Ford Explorer drew up and parked next to Darren's car. As more than half a dozen federal agents watched and a directional mike picked up every word, the exchange was made.
"You done it?" the customer asked, he was a tall, powerful man in his mid forties, with a buzz hair cut you could "land a chopper on" as Josiah put it.
"Done and tested, I do good work you won't find better," McDonald boasted taking all the credit.
"Let me see."
"Sure." McDonald opened the trunk.
There was the sound of material being moved and an empty gun being fired, disassembled and reassembled quickly and expertly.
"Looks okay, you fired it?"
"Just last weekend."
"It had better be okay 'cause I know where you and your old man live, you understand me?"
McDonald was heard to catch his breath. "It works fine, now where is my money?"
"Here $1200 as agreed, count it. I don't want no misunderstandings here, if this works out I might have more for you."
As the deal seemed to be concluding Chris swung into action, his orders barked into every federal ear.
"Vin, Nate follow the gun, Chung and Martin follow the gun too, nobody get too close, I don't want him scared off, work together people, this is not a race or a competition, I want to know if he really does have more."
He called the agents at the lock-up to tell them to call the forensic people and with them enter the workshop and gain evidence. He and Josiah would arrest Darren. Since he was the only person in the building two of them would be enough. The next hour was frantic, charged with aggression and relief and pride at a job well done. So frantic that no one noticed Buck had failed to show up at the garage at all. JD would have noticed, Ezra would have noticed, but they were safe at home asleep.
As it was, it was gone eight thirty when Chris suddenly turned to Sanchez.
"Where the hell is Buck?" he enquired.
The older man looked around, but neither Buck nor his truck was visible.
He shrugged. "Maybe he overslept?"
"Buck does not oversleep when hes working, ever!" Chris stated.
Chris couldnt ever remember Buck being more than a few minutes late for work in all the years they had know each other, and then only very rarely. He pulled out his cell phone and dialled Bucks number. The automated operator informed him the cell phone he was trying to connect to was switched off or out of order. Just then a patrolman from Denver PD needed Chris for something, and Josiah had to fill in the newly arriving members of Team Three. About half an hour later as Chris walked back to Sanchez his cell phone rang.
"Hello?...JD where the hell is Buck?"
The response was worrying.
"You mean hes not with you? Hes meant to be at the garage, he must be there," JD sounded panicked.
"Well hes not here now, whats wrong? JD?"
"Oh God, oh God," the younger man breathed. "Chris there was on TV I couldnt sleep so I turned on Channel 7 to see the news and they the new camera they said Sacred Heart I gotta go!" With that the line went dead.
Chris looked up at Josiah, at first he just looked bemused, then angry and then slowly the realisation of what JD's words had meant, he didn't understand what had happened but he deduced it was nothing good.
"What is it brother?" Sanchez asked, a rising feeling of dread taking over his gut, the feeling he got whenever one of them was hurt.
"I need you to stay here and sort things out, I'll call when I know anything at all." Chris was already turning to go when Sanchez court his arm.
"Has something happened to Buck?"
"I don't know but the last thing JD said was he was going to Sacred Heart."
"Oh God. I'll look after all this. Dont you worry, keep us informed."
"I'll do that. Don't tell the others until I call you." These last instructions were called out as he began to jog toward the Ram.
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