by KellyA

Webmaster Note: This fic was previously posted on another website and was moved to blackraptor in June of 2004.

****Part 1

"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 made mistakes.

"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 conscious.

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 bay.

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.

****Part 2

"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 way. 

"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 do it."

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?" Travis reminded.

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 more.

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 babysitter."

"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 glibly explained.

"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.

****Part 3

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 men.

Vin and Josiah regarded each other with growing concern.  Could this guy be real?  He already thought he understood how they functioned as a team.

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 son's funeral.

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 overboard.

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 latte. 

"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 first mission.

"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 splendidly."

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.

*****Part 4

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 his office.

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 screwdriver.

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 fun. 

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 head.

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 greeted. 

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.

****Part 5 

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 town sooner.

"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 that wouldn't do, not at all. 

"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," Buck replied.

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 something."

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 Mr. Tanner?"

"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," he prompted.

"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 asked.

"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," McCain countered.

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.

****Part 6

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 was.

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 explained. 

"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.

****Part 7                              

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 this morning."

"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 window.

"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 badge!"

"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 your progress."

"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," Vin explained.

"I'm sure you'll be able to explain Mr. Standish's absence in a satisfactory manner."

Vin fell back in his chair.  Well, at least McCain was confident, Vin wasn't too sure at the moment.