"ATF, FREEZE!" The commanding words echoed throughout the large open
bay of the warehouse, adding to the cacophony of threats and expletives,
as ATF agents swarmed inside, taking the gun dealers completely by
surprise. It was a moment of controlled chaos as agents disarmed and
subdued flabbergasted bad guys.
Larabee relaxed the edges of his focus, doing his best to encompass the whole
warehouse, his gun following the systematic sweep of his gaze, automatically
accounting for his men, and then the men of the other team.
"Damn, I love this job!" Wilmington gleefully remarked as he stepped
up alongside his the blond leader. Chris slowly lowered his gun and
gave his friend a sidelong grin. "This is getting too easy."
"Good, then you can do the arresting paper work," Chris stated. He
never wanted Buck to think this job was getting too easy that's when people
"Aww hell, Chris," Buck sighed realizing he was being administratively punished
for his remark. Buck moved off to help the others extort any information
out of the gunrunners who were fortunate enough to remain unscathed and
Chris allowed the muscles in his shoulders to relax as he placed his gun
in his shoulder holster. He pulled his cell phone off his belt to inform
Judge Travis that all had gone well. The esteemed magistrate worried
about all the men under his command, but he had developed a fatherly concern
for the men of Team 7.
A shadow passed outside the window of the warehouse and then the fire exit
door was slowly pushed open. The barrel of a gun poked out into the
A shot rang out and ATF agents and gunrunners jumped. Agents forced
their prisoners to the ground and redirected their weapons before the echo
faded. The prone men shut their eyes, fearful of any retribution.
"Noooo!" Vin yelled when he saw Chris crumble to the cement floor.
He ran over to his fallen friend with Nathan right on his heels. Buck
and Josiah quickly scanned the area as the other agents kept their guns trained
on the gunrunners.
"Aww hell," Ezra murmured, glancing over at Chris's inert form on the cold,
dirty floor. He brought his angry gaze sharply down upon the man he
was guarding, causing the prisoner to hide his head within his hands.
The look in the southerner's emerald eyes made it very hard for the gunrunner
to take a breath.
Wilmington immediately took control, ushering some of the agents to search
the building for the shooter. Everyone froze when they heard the sound
of gunfire outside the warehouse. Buck stood silent a moment then looked
over to see an ATF agent gesturing that they had got the shooter.
"Alright let's get these gentlemen out into the van," Buck instructed.
Agents roughly pulled the criminals to their feet and forced them outside.
Buck and the rest of Team 7 quickly surrounded their fallen leader.
Vin was applying pressure to Chris's head as Nathan checked his vitals.
The bullet had run a ragged course across his skull. Chris remained
oblivious, his face slack. Nathan glanced over his shoulder at the
sound of a gurney being forced through the narrow doorway.
"Nathan?" JD asked with a calm that had somehow taken hold of his body.
He was trying to come to grips with what had just happened and hoping that
Nathan would say everything is just fine.
"He's still alive," Nathan assured.
JD lowered his eyes. He had been hoping, wishing for a little more.
He felt Josiah's large comforting hand squeeze his shoulder--Sometimes he
hated this job.
Buck and Vin helped the paramedics place Larabee up on the gurney.
Nathan followed as Chris was wheeled quickly out to the waiting ambulance.
The five remaining members of team seven stood silently, knowing they still
had work to do. This was where their training and dedication did the
most good. Even though their hearts were strangling inside their chests
they all had a job to do.
Buck released an audible breath. "Let's clean this mess up."
He wanted to get this over with as soon as possible and get to the
hospital. The gunrunners had become suddenly very cooperative, sensing
the agents would not hesitate to put a bullet in them for any errant behavior
that slowed their progress.
"I knew that unyielding cranium would prove advantageous," Ezra said, hiding
his concern behind a lackadaisical attitude. He had never felt such
unadulterated fear when he saw Chris fall.
Chris glared at his southern agent who stood beside the bed. Chris
reached up and touched the bandaged wrapped around his head. It felt
as if it was the only thing holding his head together.
"You were damn lucky, pard," Vin added.
Chris settled back into his pillow. He had been lucky. A concussion
was the worst consequence from a bullet that engraved a path along his
skull. Damn how had this happened? Was he losing his edge?
"Is everything taken care of with the bust?" Chris asked, ignoring the smart-ass
retorts from his agents.
"Everything is fine. Now don't you go frettin' about any of that,"
Buck stated. The man could be on his death bed and be worrying if a
report was submitted on time. Chris needed to learn how to relax.
Everyone turned as Judge Travis entered the room. The esteemed Judge
came up to the bed, and Chris saw the relief in the older man's eyes.
"Sorry, Judge, fucked up," Chris brusquely replied.
The Judge smiled down at his best ATF leader. Larabee had formed and
molded six unique, and at times, difficult men into one of the most cohesive
ATF teams in the country. He was also one of Travis's dearest friends.
"Well, I wouldn't call it a complete fuck up. You did manage to break
up a rather large gun ring," Travis replied.
The Judge glanced quickly at the other six agents, who surrounded the bed
and took a deep breath to ready himself for what he was about to say and
the reaction he would get.
"Chris, you'll be on one week convalesce then four weeks mandatory medical
leave," Travis abruptly stated, figuring just blurting it out was the best
"What?" Chris looked up into the Judge's serious face as he tried to sit
up only to be forced back down by a tremendous wash of nausea. For
a second he thought that maybe he was being punished.
"Hey, Judge it wasn't his fault," JD started, thinking someone was trying
to use Chris as a scapegoat.
Travis held up his hand. "This isn't a reprimand. It's a vacation."
"I don't need a vacation," Chris bluntly replied the curtness of his words
causing his head to throb.
"According to my records you haven't had a real vacation in six years. I
can't afford you burning out. If you feel it unnecessary to take one I'm
going to force one." The Judge smiled. "And don't think I can't
Buck was the only one not shocked by this fact. He knew that work had
been the only thing that had kept Chris sane after his wife and child
died. Nevertheless, he agreed with Travis, six years was too long to
go without a break.
"The Judge is right, Chris," Vin injected.
"Don't worry, pard, we'll be fine," Buck assured, resting a hand on his long-time
friend's shoulder. Chris snorted and shook his head, an action he then
reminded himself not to repeat as it caused the throbbing pain to circle
inside his head. He looked at the concern in each of his friends'
faces. Maybe they were right.
"Oh, don't think for a moment I'd leave you all unsupervised,"
Travis suddenly exclaimed as he took in the eager grins on the agents'
faces. He could already see the gears turning behind Buck and Ezra's
eyes, contemplating what they would be able to get away with.
"Ah Judge, we'll behave," Buck pleadingly assured. This was an opportunity
that had never happened before; how could they not take advantage of it?
It would be a vacation for all of them. Now, they all loved Chris as
their boss, but the man was relentless when it came to work. It would
be nice to be able to loosen up a bit.
"Like you did four months ago when Chris was gone for that week long seminar?"
Chris allowed the faintest of smirks to appear on his lips. He had
heard the sketchy details of that fiasco, something to do with a lost agency
car, JD hitch-hiking down from Fort Collins, and Buck nursing cracked
ribs. He had stopped Nathan from continuing, not wanting to know any
Apparently, Travis was well aware of his men's extracurricular antics.
Chris decided to stay out of this--he was now on vacation--Lord, he could
learn to really enjoy this. Let someone else handle all the mundane
day to day details, and idiosyncrasies of his six demanding agents.
"Hey, charges were never filed," Vin piped in.
Travis threw a don't-even-try-that-with-me smirk then caught the subtle smile
on Standish's face. "And don't think I don't know about you."
He glared directly at the suave undercover, who threw up an innocent visage
that would make a four year old proud.
"Sir, I was in no way involved in that altercation," his smooth southern
drawl voiced his innocence and brought guffaws of disbelief from the others.
"I bet. You just weren't caught," Travis muttered.
"Hey, Chris, help us out here," Nathan broke in. "We don't need a
"Sorry, boys, I'm on vacation." Chris pleasantly smiled. He laced
his hands behind his head and closed his eyes, already thinking of all the
projects he could now finish around his house. Had it really been six
years? He inwardly sadden as the reminder of his wife and son's death
didn't produce the gut wrenching pain that it used to -- Time did heal some
wounds -- He now smiled at the thought of his family.
"I believe brother Chris is starting to get in the spirit of his pending
vacation," Josiah said, humor filling his words.
"I've already arranged for a temporary replacement. He will be in the
office tomorrow morning, and I expect you all to be there on time," Travis
strongly stated, glaring directly at Standish.
"I wish to voice a formal protest," Ezra casually stated.
"Noted." Travis smiled.
"Who is this replacement?" Nathan asked.
"A Special Agent Frazer McCain out of D.C," Travis explained. "Assistant
Director Becker recommended him. McCain will be in charge of keeping
you all in line. Especially since I'll be out of town for awhile. I'm
taking my grandson camping."
The smiles dropped from the six men's faces faster than eggs sliding out
of a Teflon-coated skillet.
"Sir, no offense, but Becker has had it in for Team Seven from the
beginning. I doubt he has any of our best interests in mind," Ezra
"No matter, Agent Frazer McCain will be your acting commander for the duration
of Chris's leave, and I expect all of you to give him the same respect that
you give Mr. Larabee," Travis paused a moment and looked over at Chris. "Make
that the same respect you give me," he amended. This brought muffled chuckles
from the agents.
Chris opened one eye to look over at the Judge, surprised at the older man's
sense of humor.
Seeing that he now had Chris's attention Travis folded his arms over his
chest and glared down at the valued ATF leader. "And I'll tack on two
days each time I hear that any part of your anatomy entered that office before
your vacation is over. Do we have an understanding?"
Chris smiled unpleasantly at the Judge. He knew the older man was only
looking out for him. "Yes, perfectly."
"You go out to that ranch of yours and take it easy; you deserve it," Travis
added. "And don't worry about these yahoos; they'll do just fine."
The Judge turned and exited the room.
All six of the agents agreed with Travis. Chris deserved some time
away from the office, and they all silently promised not to bother him for
the duration of his vacation. They would handle and conquer any problems
that arose by themselves. Buck inwardly smiled. They'd show their
leader and friend that he had picked dependable and self-reliant men for
his team. They would make Chris Larabee proud, at least, that was the
plan that was going through all their minds.
As per Judge Travis's orders, all six ATF agents were accounted and present
in the conference room, awaiting the arrival of their acting supervisor.
Even Ezra made an unprecedented early morning appearance.
Standish was impeccably dressed as always; however, Vin swore the undercover
agent growled at him when he said, 'good morning.'
The conference room doors opened, silencing the occupants inside.
A tall, discerningly dressed gentleman stepped in, stopped, and then strode
down the length of the table. He had thick black hair, cut short and
neat, which accentuated his fine boned features. His eyes were a blue
that could only be obtained from wearing contacts. His squared shoulders
filled out the two-toned Armani suit. He walked on an air of arrogance
that filled the room like cheap perfume.
The intriguing supervisor stopped at the head of the table, his hands resting
on the back of the leather chair. He held a tight-lipped smile and
seemed to assess each and every man that sat around the table. "Gentlemen,"
he said, addressing the room. "My name is Special Agent Frazer McCain."
Frazer lifted his chin and came around the chair to sit down. He opened
the file folder that sat in front of him and began glancing through the papers.
"I hope Mr. Larabee is doing well." Frazer asked, not raising his
head from the folder.
"He's going to be released tomorrow," Nathan answered, not feeling as if
the senior Agent was interested one way or another.
"Good," Frazer curtly answered his mind already on other business. "I've
been through all your files, and I feel I have a pretty good understanding
of how you all work." He raised his ersatz blue eyes to gaze at the
Vin and Josiah regarded each other with growing concern. Could this
guy be real? He already thought he understood how they functioned as
Frazer continued, "Now, you'll have to understand how I work. I have
a few ground rules. First, you will all dress in slacks, white shirts,
ties and or jackets." Frazer McCain paused and stared directly at
Buck. "No T-shirts with any aberrant aphorisms or images."
Buck slumped down into his chair and folded his arms over the black, bold
letters embossed on his white t-shirt, announcing his dubious heritage as
Irish and that he should be kissed. A suit and tie! Why didn't they
just put him in a strait jacket. Buck glanced across the table at Vin
who seemed to have paled slightly. Buck couldn't recall ever seeing
the outdoorsman in a suit. He couldn't even picture it. Now that
Buck thought about it the last time he wore a suit was to Chris's wife and
Everyone turned their attention toward Buck, who they believed would be the
most outraged of their group, but the vociferous agent had already decided
not to cause any problems. Buck bit back a retort and instead replied,
"No, problem, Agent McCain." He smiled pleasantly then bowed his head
to look down at the table. 'I can get through this, I can get through
this', Buck kept repeating to himself. JD stared agape at his friend.
McCain shifted his gaze and looked directly at JD and Vin. "Mr. Tanner,
Mr. Dunne, your hair will be shorter by tomorrow." Buck squeezed JD's
arm to silence the young man. "It'll grow back," Buck whispered.
JD saw the pleading in his friend's eyes and knew that Buck was asking him
to go along. Vin had to bite his lip; he hoped that Chris appreciated
what they were going through.
McCain turned his attention to Ezra and his face darkened. Josiah's
brow furrowed at the sudden chill he felt between the two men.
"And Mr. Standish, you will be on time every day or face disciplinary action."
Standish raised a sarcastic eyebrow, a comment the others were all too familiar
with. They all held their breath waiting for the verbal war that was
about to commence.
Standish opened his mouth prepared to voice his displeasure and exercise
his acerbic tongue, but instead what came out surprised even him. "I
assure you, Mr. McCain that I will be prompt for the duration of your
obligation." Ezra ignored the looks of disbelief from his fellow
agents. He also felt that Chris deserved a respite, and he was not
going to be the one to rock the boat and have Larabee's wrath throw him
McCain eyed the undercover agent suspiciously. "Okay, as I assume you
all read in the case file that I put on each of your desks. Someone
is making and selling homegrown pipe bombs. We need to find them and
shut them down."
"Sir, we just got off a six week sting; usually, we get a few days down time,"
Nathan piped up.
"Well, Mr. Jackson, since I don't have a lot of time, I need to make every
day count. We have a lot to accomplish," McCain replied.
"Mr. McCain, we're all tired," Vin explained. "Hell, Ezra hasn't seen
the inside of his apartment in six weeks. We just need a couple
days." A slight smirk appeared on Ezra's face as he sipped at his
"Someone is making bombs and selling them. We need to find them before
someone uses them," Frazer explained, ignoring Vin's plea. "We have
a few leads, and I want Mr. Tanner and Mr. Standish to try and sell themselves
as interested buyers. This should be a simple assignment for one of
the best teams west of the Mississippi. So, I'd liked to see this wrapped
up in a week."
McCain slapped the folder closed and glared at the six agents. He
was surprised by the reception he received. He had heard of these men's
devotion to their leader and thought it would be difficult to get compliance,
but they seemed to be giving him a fair shake with minimal difficulties.
"If there are no further questions you all are dismissed. I wish to
be kept constantly informed of any and all progress," Frazer added.
The six agents began to file out of the conference room. "Mr. Standish,
I wish to have a word with you," Frazer voiced from across the room as Ezra
reached the door.
The southern agent's shoulder's dropped slightly as the others continued
to file out, giving him encouraging glances. Ezra turned and sat on
the corner of the table, folding his arms across his chest. McCain
walked to the door and closed it on the curious faces of the five other
agents. He turned and glared at the smug looking agent.
"I know all about you, Standish," McCain sneered.
"Do you now?"
"I have friends in the FBI. Now, I don't pretend to know the reasons
Larabee, or for that matter Judge Travis, allow someone like you to remain
in the agency."
Ezra inwardly cringed at the remark; he had wondered the same thing.
Larabee had actually given him a second chance after he had run out on their
"I don't trust you, and I believe you are only out for yourself." McCain
came up and stood in front of the southern agent. "But I'm paid to
do a job. You do your job and make me look good and we'll get along
Ezra remained silent seeming to consider this. "Is that all, Agent
McCain?" He finally asked.
"Yeah, but you watch your step. I'll be keeping an eye on you."
Ezra straightened and glared at the taller man. "I'm sure you will."
He turned and strode out of the room.
The elevator dinged and McCain strolled out, whistling, a suit draped over
his shoulder, his long strides coming to a stop at JD's desk. The young
communications expert was busily trying to put together a comm unit that
had the misfortune of pissing Vin off. "Mr. Dunne, would you be so
kind as to take my suit to the cleaners." McCain deposited the rumpled
suit and pants onto the young agent's desk. "I have a meeting to
attend." McCain didn't even look JD in the face, as he continued toward
Buck buried his face in his arms, trying to restrain the laughter that caused
his eyes to water and his face to turn red.
JD's hand was still on the small screwdriver that was stuck inside the comm
unit. He sat, flabbergasted, at what had just happened. He looked
over his shoulder to see McCain pick up the phone in his office. JD
stared down at the dark suit piled on his desk. He looked over at Buck
hearing his muffled snickers.
"Hey, JD, after you take McCain's suit to the cleaners I have a pair of boots
that need to get re-soled," Vin piped in from across the room. The
remark only darkened the young agent's eyes.
"Aren't you supposed to be on a case or something?" JD growled back
to the smart-ass sharpshooter. He had a hard enough time getting everyone
to treat him like a capable agent, now he would have to endure being treated
like some first year gopher.
"What the hell does he think I am?" JD yelled out, throwing down the
Buck stood and walked over to his young friend's desk picking up the suit
as if it was a dead animal. "Well, apparently he thinks you're his
personal valet," Buck announced, still trying to get control of his
laughter. He really felt sorry for the kid. McCain had no right
to treat an ATF agent like this, but he just couldn't help having a little
JD grabbed the suit out of Buck's hands and pushed past the older agent.
He headed toward the stairs mumbling something that Buck was sure had to
do with his relation to apes.
As soon as JD left the area the remaining agents busted up laughing.
Buck wiped the tears from his cheek as he sat back at his desk. Everyone
turned their heads at the rising voices that broke out of the elevator as
its doors slid open. The agents stared open-mouth as Channel 7's Action
News Camera crew spilled out of the elevator with a very beautiful female
reporter trailing behind.
Wilmington straightened and smoothed down his mustache, grateful he was now
in a suit. He stood up just as the reporter passed by. "Miss,
may I help you," Buck smoothly voiced.
Josiah and Nathan both rolled their eyes at Buck's obvious flirtation.
The female reported eyed the handsome rogue up and down and saw right through
him. "If I need to plan a funeral, I'll call ya." She continued
down the aisle disregarding the mustached agent as soon as she turned her
Josiah made a fading whistling sound then an explosion. "Ouch, shot
down in flames," the huge agent chuckled.
Buck fell back into his chair and watched as the attractive woman headed
toward Chris's office. 'It had to be the suit,' he thought, as he returned
to his paper work.
Josiah and Nathan watched as McCain stood up behind his desk reaching out
his hand to the young woman. "Ms. Gonzales, it's a pleasure," McCain
A young man broke away from the 7 news group that was gathered behind Ms.
Gonzales. He came up to McCain opening up a case and starting to apply
makeup to McCain's face. The senior agent smiled and continued talking
to the newswoman as his face was prepared for the camera.
"Lord, remind me never to taunt Ezra about his appearance," Nathan began.
"This guy has him beat."
"I understand you plan making some major changes," Gonzales said as the camera
men set up their equipment throughout the office.
"Well, not so much change. This is one of the best ATF teams, but I
would like to make an impact. I want the criminal element to think
twice before doing business in my town," McCain remarked, checking his face
in a hand held mirror.
Buck snorted as he and the others listened to the pompous agent.
Buck and Vin shoved the weasely man ahead of them. He barely kept his feet
as he was pushed into the interrogation room.
Vin threw the man into the chair that sat in the center of the room.
"Hey, I have rights. You can't treat me like this!"
Wilmington drew up in front of the whiney man. "You don't have any
rights here, scum." Buck leaned over and thrust a finger into the man's
chest. "Now, Hugo, you gave us the information on that warehouse bust
that got our leader shot. We checked out the shooter. He was
a hired gun."
Hugo's face paled, which was a neat trick on his already ghostly
complexion. "Hey, I told you everything I knew."
Vin placed a boot on the edge of the chair that Hugo sat on. "The person
who shot Larabee was not part of your information." Neither agent liked
being played the fool, especially by someone like the scum that now sat in
front of them.
"Yeah, you seemed to 'ave left him off your roster," Buck growled.
"Look, I didn't know there would be a hired gun there. He must have
been brought in at the last minute, I swear." Hugo's dark eyes darted
back and forth between the two lawmen. He knew he should have left
"Not good enough," Vin sneered, his piercing blue eyes caused Hugo to shift
uneasily in his chair.
"What's going on here?" McCain's voice came from behind. The
ATF leader stepped into the interrogation room.
Vin straightened and stepped aside as McCain stepped up to Hugo. "Who
is this man?" McCain asked, glaring at his two agents.
Buck walked around behind Hugo and patted the informant's shoulder.
"Oh Hugo here is one of our helpful citizens. And he was just about
to help us find out why there was an assassin at the warehouse. We
want to be assured that we weren't set up." Buck applied serious pressure
to Hugo's shoulder causing the informant to grimace.
"Listen, I told you that assassin wasn't there to hit Larabee. He was
there for someone else," Hugo stammered. When he had heard that Chris
Larabee had been shot at the warehouse, he had started packing his bags.
Unfortunately, he didn't get far before the two agents grabbed him.
Buck released his hold on Hugo's shoulder and Hugo reached up and started
massaging the sore muscle.
"We feel that we've only tapped the surface of Mr. Hugo's wealth of information,"
Buck sarcastically replied looking up at McCain.
McCain glared at his two agents. He didn't like being kept in the dark,
and he didn't like his agents threatening people, it wasn't good P.R.
"And why is he in such a battered state?" McCain asked, noticing the
bruises on Hugo's face and arms.
"He fell down," Vin smoothly answered.
"A lot," Buck added, allowing a smart-ass grin to take over his face.
McCain released a deep sigh and rubbed at his eyes. If word got out
that his men beat suspects for information...no that wouldn't do, not at
"Mr. Tanner." McCain glared at the lean Texan. "I believe Mr. Standish
is waiting for your presence." McCain shifted his gaze over to Buck.
"And Mr. Wilmington, I believe you have a report that is due."
"What about Hugo here?" Buck asked, not sure what McCain was up to.
"I shall question Mr. Hugo personally."
Vin glanced over at Buck, who shrugged. McCain was the boss.
"Should we tell Chris about this?" Vin asked as the two men walked
briskly down the hall after leaving the interrogation room.
"Nah, Travis was right, Chris needs this break. We'll handle it ourselves,"
Hugo let out a nervous breath as McCain slowly circled the chair he sat in.
Hugo was grateful that the other two agents had left. He didn't
think he was going to get out of this room alive. Both men had looked
quite capable of killing him and not batting an eye--Damn, what was the world
coming too when crooks weren't even safe with the police. Hugo's eyes
followed McCain's circular pacing around his chair.
"Hey, you the head honcho here?" Hugo voiced.
"Yes, I'm the boss," McCain answered, stopping in front of Hugo. He
detested dealing with the lower elements of this job, but sometimes it was
necessary to further his career. He really wasn't interested in any
assassin, but maybe this man could give him something more.
"What'cha plan on doing with me?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe I'll just release you and let Mr. Wilmington and
Mr. Tanner know," McCain replied.
Hugo's eyes widen and darted around the room as if expecting someone to appear
out of the cinder block walls. "Maybe you and I can work a deal or
McCain's eyebrow arched over his artificial blue eyes that seemed to grow
even more vibrant in anticipation. "Really? And what could you
possibly have that would interest me?" He kept his face indifferent,
but Hugo could hear the interest in the man's voice.
"I have some information you might be interested in," Hugo confided.
"Would it be similar to the misinformation you gave to Mr. Wilmington and
"No, no, that was a mistake, honest, I knew nothing about that shooter,"
Hugo said placing a hand over his heart.
Hugo knew he had to talk fast or else. He could tell that McCain was
a man who would rather talk than fight; he let others do his dirty work.
"You wouldn't have any interest in Martin Ransdell?" Hugo grinned at
the recognition in McCain's face.
"The gunrunner?" McCain asked.
"Yeah, one and the same."
McCain raised a hand to stop the man from continuing. He then stepped
out the door and checked to make sure that no one was listening. "Go on,"
"I can get one of your men on the inside," Hugo explained.
McCain huffed and turned his back on the informant. "You? Please,
Mr. Hugo don't take me for a fool." McCain turned back around to face
Hugo, who held an expression of self-assuredness.
"No, I can, really. See, I was suppose to introduce my cousin from
Oregon to Mr. Ransdell for a job position."
"And how are you and Mr. Ransdell acquainted?"
"Oh, a friend of mine and me did a job for him awhile back."
McCain glared at Hugo. "Don't worry, it wasn't nuthin' too illegal;
we didn't kill anyone," Hugo explained.
McCain rolled his eyes--what he had to put up with to get ahead.
"Well, you see," Hugo continued. "My cousin sort of run into some trouble
up there in Oregon, and I think he's feedin' the fishes now. So there's
an opening. Ransdell never met my cousin." Hugo flashed a sly
smile at McCain. He had to convince this man. If he went to jail
he wouldn't last a day, killed by an inmate for being a rat or killed by
a guard for setting up Larabee's team.
McCain rubbed his smooth chin with long manicured fingers. He couldn't
believe his luck. To take down Martin Ransdell would look very good,
and was sure to impress the Director, maybe, even assure his position in
the ATF. "And what is the price for this favor?" McCain hesitantly
"Oh, just a thousand dollars and a plane ticket to any where I want. I need
to get as far away from certain people as possible."
Frazer balked slightly, then the thought of him standing in front of the
media telling America that he had taken down one of the biggest gun dealers
sent a shiver up his spine. Who knows, they might even make a movie
about him one day.
"Five hundred and a bus ticket anywhere in the continental United States,"
Hugo thought on that a moment. McCain could just release him and then
Larabee's dogs would come after him again. What choice did he have?
"Done." The two men shook hands.
Ezra fumbled in his darkened room for the instrument that was interrupting
his sleep. He was tempted to pull the offending device out of the wall
but instead picked up the receiver. "Standish." His southern
drawl croaked. He cleared his throat. "This is Standish."
Sleep left him as McCain's voice came over the phone. Ezra looked at
the red glowing numbers on his alarm clock, four o'clock. Good-lord,
it wasn't even morning.
Standish rubbed his eyes and then his face hardened as McCain mentioned the
gunrunner Ransdell. Ezra had been trying for a year to get on the inside
of that man's operation. Now, McCain was telling him that he had an
in. Maybe McCain wasn't the vain, fame-seeking asshole he thought he
Ezra sat up and swung his legs over the bed still holding on to the
receiver. "What about the case Vin and I are on?" Ezra asked.
"We'll pick up who we have and see if we can get them to talk. I know
this was an important case, but I think if we arrest the two men you and
Mr. Tanner have been involved with it'll shut them down for awhile
anyway," McCain explained. "Ransdell is too damn important to
pass up and we might not get enough chance."
Ezra didn't like abandoning a case, but maybe Buck and Josiah could turn
on their iniquitous charm in interrogation and get the miscreants to roll
over. All they needed was to know where the bombs were being made.
"When am I to go?" Ezra asked, stifling a yawn. He'd barely had
five hours a sleep a night for the past six weeks; it was starting to catch
up with him.
"Who's going to be my contact?"
"I will." McCain didn't want to risk anyone else getting the credit.
He and Standish would handle this alone. Maybe he could even find
a way to omit the undercover from the acclaim. Standish seemed to take
pride in just doing his job and didn't go after any outside remuneration.
"Sir, no offense but I'm used to working with one of the others," Ezra
"Well, ah, they're all busy." McCain could feel Standish's hesitation,
which surprised him. He had always believed the man only watched out
for himself and was not above breaking the rules for his own ends.
Apparently, being on Larabee's team had altered the devious undercover's
principles. "Listen, Standish, if you're not up for this I'll give
it over to Team 4."
"That won't be necessary Mr. McCain, I'll be ready."
McCain smiled on the other end of the phone. Go for a man's pride it
worked every time.
JD stormed into the conference room where the others were already
convened. He was still fumbling with his tie and finally gave up, tossing
it on the table.
McCain entered. "Ah, Mr. Dunne, did you pick up my blue suit from my home
"Yes, sir, it's in your office," JD spat through clenched teeth. He
dropped into his chair; his arms crossing across his chest and a permanent
scowl erasing any of his boyish features.
"Good. Later, please take my car to that detail place. You know the
one at 6th and Downing. They do remarkable work there."
JD was ready to jump up and say things that probably would get him fired.
Nathan came up behind the young man and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Where's Ezra?" Nathan asked, hoping to ease the undercurrent of anger
that was traversing the room or at least redirect it.
"I've sent him undercover," McCain vaguely explained as he shuffled through
several papers he held and start for his office. "Now, I need to know..."
"You what!" Buck yelled, jumping out of his seat. "Without backup?"
McCain stopped and stared passively at the outraged agent. "I'm sorry,
there wasn't time. I had received some inside information on Martin
Ransdell. We had to move fast."
"The gunrunner?" Josiah asked as his brow furrowed.
Nathan swallowed trying to force down his growing anger, his fists clenched
at his side. It had been almost a week now, and this man had done nothing
but whittle away at the moral of this unit. They had all choked back
their pride for Chris's sake, knowing if word got back to their stalwart
leader he would be back in the office and probably throwing McCain out a
"Mr. McCain," Nathan calmly began. "It's against agency policy to send
an undercover agent in without appropriate back up."
McCain licked his lips. He knew he was breaking agency policy, but
he also knew he could get around it with Captain Becker's help.
"I assure you, gentlemen, that when the time arises I will see that Mr. Standish
is protected," McCain assured, his passive demeanor starting to wan under
the deadly glares of the five agents.
"And what if that time arises too late?" Buck continued to stand and
stare at the arrogant, self-serving agent who had visions of grandeur.
McCain stood a little taller. He didn't like his decisions
questioned. He wasn't about to let some two-bit bigheaded agent, that
Larabee only kept on because they were friends, ruin his plans. He
couldn't see why these men were called the Magnificent Seven; he'd seen no
proof of their magnificence. He couldn't see the close relationship
that these men shared, one that protected them. They were each a single
strand of rope, entwined together and garnering strength from each other.
When one of those strands was pulled away the rope weakened, and a single
strand could break.
"I've had it with your holier than thou attitude and blatant disregard for
procedure or safety," Buck snapped. "All you care about is getting
those expensive capped teeth as much media exposure as possible."
"You're suspended, Mr. Wilmington," McCain exclaimed. "Turn in your
"Shit," Buck muttered and stormed out of the conference room. He needed
to get out of here before he did something stupid, like kill the sonofabitch.
The room remained quiet for a moment as if out of respect for losing one
of its occupants. McCain wiped his face and took a deep breath as he
looked into four matching expressions of unbridled hate. Frazer quickly
lowered his eyes.
"Mr. Tanner, you will complete the mission alone and I'd like a report on
"Is that wise?" Josiah piped in, his voice low. He didn't like this.
No undercover went out alone, no one. It was Larabee's
number one rule.
"I assure you, Mr. Sanchez, every precaution will be taken." McCain
turned to Vin who sat slumped back in his chair his arms folded over his
chest. "Mr. Tanner?" McCain prompted.
Vin leaned forward and placed his clasped hands on the table surface.
"Me and Ez were to meet the main source tomorrow. Ezra convinced them
that we want to help with distribution of the bombs and that we can bring
them a lot of clients if they show us their set up."
"Good," McCain simply stated.
"What are you going to tell them when they ask where Ezra is?" JD asked.
Vin bowed his head and released a tired breath. He hadn't had time
to even think about that. He raised his startling blue eyes up to meet McCain's
harden features. "Don't know just yet."
"I'm sure you'll think of something, Mr. Tanner," McCain replied,
unconcerned. "It sounds like we'll be able to wrap this up soon."
Vin just stared at McCain. 'We'--where is he getting we from?
"They ain't going to like that Ezra is suddenly gone. Heinz, the head
guy, has taken a real liking to him that's how we got as far as we did,"
"I'm sure you'll be able to explain Mr. Standish's absence in a satisfactory
Vin fell back in his chair. Well, at least McCain was confident, Vin
wasn't too sure at the moment.