Chris looked up from his book as the truck that had come speeding
up the road skidded to a stop several feet from the porch, sending up
a cloud of dust that momentarily cloaked the blue Chevy. Chris
laid his book aside and stood up. This was his first visitor in
over a week. The others had all called once or twice to check
up on him, but no one had come up. Chris knew that McCain was
probably keeping his agents busy.
"Ay, pard!" Buck cheerfully greeted as he stepped
out of the cab. He had buried his anger on the way up deciding
not to tell Chris what was going on. What could he do anyway?
Travis had ordered him not to step foot in the building and by rights
McCain was in charge.
"What brings you up here at this time of day?" Chris
asked. It wasn't even lunchtime yet.
"Ah, well, I had some personal time coming so I thought I'd come
up and shoot the shit with you." Buck jumped up the two steps
onto the porch and grabbed a chair, stretching out his long form.
"So, how's this vacation been treating you?"
Larabee stretched and smiled. "Have to tell ya, Buck, I
didn't realize how much I needed this." Chris took a deep
breath, breathing in the fragrant scents of the wildflowers that circled
his ranch style home. His was the only house for three miles in
Wilmington gazed out at the majestic Rocky Mountains that surrounded
them, making it feel like their little plot of land was the only one
in existence. A golden eagle soared high above, relishing the
updraft he had discovered. "Yeah, this is the life,"
Buck solemnly replied.
Chris's brow furrowed at his friend's sudden serious and somewhat
sadden tone. "Everything all right at the office?"
Buck blinked and broke from his thoughts. "Yeah, everything
is fine. McCain is a bit of a horse's ass, but what do you expect from
a D.C. type."
"Uh huh," Chris muttered, his eyes not straying from Buck's
visage. The tall surveillance man couldn't hide anything behind
that betraying face of his.
Buck shifted uncomfortably. God, how did Ezra do it? Maybe
he could get away with only telling half the story. "Hell,
Chris, the man's a goddamn Glory Hound. He has poor JD running
around like some damn prairie dog scurrying away from land developers.
JD is cleaning his car, getting his suits. He put Vin and Ezra
on a mission right off the get go."
"What, no down time?" Chris asked, concern causing his brow
to furrow. He always gave Ezra at least a day to get his head
back on straight.
"Nope, and Becker is backing McCain's decisions all the way.
Josiah even tried to talk to the Captain only to be reprimanded for
not remaining loyal to his commander."
Buck went silent and hoped that would be enough. He knew if
he told Chris that Vin and Ezra were now working without a net the infamous
Larabee temper would flare up and instead of being on vacation he'd
probably be in jail for murder of a superior officer.
Chris eyed his friend. "Anything more?"
"Shit," Buck murmured only half under his breath.
"Well, I sorta got myself suspended."
This brought raised eyebrows and a smirk to Larabee's face.
"How you manage that?"
"Sort of spoke my mind," Buck answered.
Chris shook his head and smiled. Damn, it only took a week that
had to be a record. "That I can understand." Both
men started laughing. "Well, good, I could use some help
rebuilding my shed after that last wind storm."
Buck groaned then thought of the alternative. "Right with
Vin walked down the deserted alley way. He was supposed to meet
his contact here. He didn't like this. When he had met with
Heinz and his partner they didn't like that Ezra was missing and it
took a lot of fast talking to hang onto the deal, something that Vin
was not very experienced doing. He had explained that Ezra had
to meet with another distributor in the Midwest and that he'd be back
in two days. Vin hoped that by then he'd have things wrapped up.
This should have been easy. Ezra had already set everything up.
However, bad guys tended to not like change or deviation to their plans.
Vin leaned up against the brick facing, trying to ignore the smells
of rotting garbage and urine that floated in the air. A young
man in a t-shirt and jeans strode right up to him.
"You Conner?" Vin asked, looking at the young man who couldn't
be much older than eighteen. He already had the hard look of a
man twice his age.
The young man nodded and handed Vin a slip of paper. "Be at that
address tomorrow morning."
Vin frowned. He had thought that he was going to be taken to
the manufacturer now. Damn, there's that bad feeling again kicking
me in the stomach, Vin thought.
The young thug just sneered. "If you want to see the operation,
be there." He turned and left the way he had come.
Vin looked at the address then crumbled the paper in his fist.
God, he hated this. He was even more worried about Ezra.
No one even knew where he was.
"Listen, public opinion matters. Everyone knows that Larabee
is not well liked by the media, or some of his superiors for that matter.
You play your cards right and maybe you could be here permanently,"
Becker exclaimed, his sly tone music to McCain's ears.
When the Judge had called Becker after Larabee was wounded and suggested
that the ATF Leader needed a vacation, Becker jumped at the chance to
bring in someone he could control. McCain was a figurehead; he
played nice to the cameras and usually followed orders, but lately Becker
was getting a little nervous. McCain had not given him a report
on this latest bomb investigation, and he started to wonder if McCain
was not starting his own agenda.
Frazer McCain sat behind Larabee's oak desk as the Captain paced in
front of him. He rubbed his hand over the large polished top of the
desk and wondered what it would be like to be in charge of one of the
best ATF teams in America. He would be admired and extolled.
He would become as renowned as Colin Powell.
"Now, Fraz, I know you've been busy with the press and all and
believe me I know Larabee's men are a handful, but I really need to
see some reports and progress," Becker exclaimed. "I
have people to answer to also.
McCain broke from his reverie. "Oh, right, I have my report right
here. We're about to wrap up the latest case. Standish and
Tanner have done an outstanding job." McCain hadn't informed
Becker about Standish going undercover to infiltrate Ransdell.
Captain Becker smiled as he took the folder from McCain's outstretched
"I have Standish lined up for another job. I received
some inside information I'd like to follow up on," McCain reluctantly
informed the Captain.
"Fine, fine. Just keep me informed," Becker said as
he strolled out of the office.
McCain let out a breath. He knew he was taking a chance by not
keeping Becker informed about everything, but he wanted to wait until
he was sure that Standish could get in, when he nailed Ransdell that
little faux pas wouldn't matter anyway. He just had to keep everyone
in line and in the dark a little longer.
Tanner stepped up onto the porch of the condemned two-story house.
The windows were boarded up and the house sat in an empty lot, a victim
of the city's rampant growth. The boards creaked and groaned under
Tanner drew up to the front entrance, noticing that the weathered
door was hanging on brand new shiny brass hinges. Vin smirked
faintly -- good cover. Vin grasped the door knob, pushed the door
open a bit and stopped. His eyes narrowed as he spotted a thin
green wire snaking up and around the doorframe.
"Shit." Vin turned and jumped off the porch.
The explosion carried the sharpshooter twenty yards into the garbage
strewn area that was once considered a yard. Pieces of house rained
down upon him as smoke and ash filled the air.
Three cars appeared and quickly surrounded the now burning abode.
Tanner blinked and stared up at the sky, his head ringing, and his
limbs numb. Vin tried to raise his head, not really sure why.
Muffled voices assualted his ears then blurred images hovered overhead.
Several parts of his body were now sending signals to his brain that
they were in pain.
"Vin, Vin?" Nathan yelled into Vin's confused face.
Tanner stared back at his three friends who were looking down at him.
Suddenly McCain's face appeared over JD's shoulder. Vin heard
the muted siren of the fire engine that had pulled in. Everything
sounded like he had cotton in his ears.
"Is he okay?" McCain asked, trying to wave away the
smoke and dust.
Nathan quickly ran his hands down Vin's torso and on his head.
JD waved the ambulance over.
"Vin, can you hear me?" Nathan asked.
The sharpshooter stared blankly back. He wanted to tell everyone
that he was fine, but the ringing in his head and pain throughout his
body belied this obvious lie to himself -- it always worked for Ezra.
Nathan turned his head to look up at McCain. "He's got
a concussion and broken arm and some cracked ribs. We'll have
to get him to the hospital to check for any internal injuries."
Nathan stood to allow the paramedics to place Vin on a stretcher.
McCain and the others watched as Vin was quickly wheeled to the waiting
A media 7 news van suddenly appeared, and three newsmen exited from
the back, one carrying a camera. Ms. Gonzales stepped out of the
passenger seat and quickly surveyed the disruptive scene. Josiah
watched with half amused disgust on his face as McCain smoothed out
his suit, trying to remove the dead grass that clung to his sleeves.
He strode over toward Ms. Gonzales, a brilliant white smile appearing
on his face.
Josiah, Nathan and JD sat quietly in the waiting room of the hospital.
Their heads snapped up simultaneously when a loud and gruff voice broke
through the sterile environment.
Buck strode in stopping just inside the waiting area. "How
"The doctor is looking at him now," Nathan explained, standing
up and going over to the coffeepot. The next presence didn't need
to make a sound to bring everyone's attention upon him. Chris
Larabee had a poise that insisted on being recognized and respected,
or at least feared.
"What the hell is going on?" Chris growled at his
"I turn on my TV to see McCain's puffed-up face only to hear that
one of my men was injured."
"He's okay," Josiah supplied.
"What happened?" Chris growled, trying to ease out
of his anger.
"The house was booby trapped," JD explained. "It
was a set up."
"Did they know Vin was an agent?" Chris asked.
"I don't think so. I think they just got nervous when Ezra
was pulled off the case," Josiah added. He figured that Buck
had filled Chris in on everything, but the look on the stalwart leader's
face rebuffed this fact.
Chris's brow furrowed. "When did this happen?"
"A few days ago," Nathan nervously answered. "McCain
put him on Martin Ransdell. He somehow managed to get Ezra on
Chris looked at each of his agents, noticing that they were all standing
here, minus Vin. "No one is backing him up?" Chris's
voice was strained as his anger started to grow. He turned to
Buck, his icy glare causing his friend to bow his head momentarily.
"Did you know?" Chris asked his voice low.
Buck closed his eyes and nodded.
Chris threw up his hands and turned around; walking over to the wall
he then turned to face everyone again. "WHAT THE HELL IS
GOING ON? Vin's in the hospital after a botched mission, Ezra is god
knows where, Buck's suspended and I'm left completely in the dark."
Chris felt betrayed.
"You might wanta sit down, pard," Buck quietly said.
Chris remained where he was. "No, I don't." The veins
on his neck pulsed with his boiling temper. Buck had told him
about some of the problems but obviously was not telling the complete
"Why wasn't I kept informed about what was happening?" Chris
"Buck was only doing what we all wanted to do. We thought
you deserved the rest and didn't want to bother you with agency matters,"
Josiah said, trying to smooth out the ragged edges. Buck was definitely
going to have a lot of explaining to do later, in fact they all were.
They should have said something. "We thought we could handle
Everyone turned when they heard the soft Texas drawl. Vin was being
wheeled into the waiting area, his arm in a sling. "Hey,
guys," Vin greeted, he smiled when he saw Chris. "Ay,
pard." The orderly flicked down the brakes on the chair.
"Is he yours?" the young male nurse asked with a bit of
frustration flashing across his clean shaven face and tingeing his eastern
accent. Tanner had a way of creating that expression on people
in the medical profession.
Nathan stepped up. "Yeah, we'll claim him."
The orderly nodded and walked away.
Chris glared at his friend.
"Guess everyone told you what's been happening since you've been
gone," Vin surmised, noticing the unpleasant expression on Chris's
face. "Ah, how was your vacation?" Vin quipped and immediately
regretted the remark when Larabee's eyes seemed to darken.
"We want to know what happened with you." Nathan interrupted
before Chris blew a blood vessel.
Vin shifted in his chair. "Well, since Ezra left, Nichols
and Heinz had been nervous. I told them that Ezra had to go and
check on distribution in the mid west. I don't think they believed
"Hell, Vin, you can't lie as well as Ezra," JD mocked.
"Guess they thought it wise to blow up their operation as well
as the person who was making them nervous," Vin added, a faint
smile tugging at his lips.
Larabee continued to stand with arms folded across his chest.
He couldn't believe all that had happened in such a short period.
He looked at his five agents. He knew his friends had meant well,
by not telling him. He had enjoyed his vacation, but he had also
Chris took a deep breath. Now was not the time to fly off the
handle. He had to maintain control. He looked over at Buck
and threw one final threat at his friend, silently telling him that
when this was over they would be having a long talk. Chris exhaled
some of his anger. "Okay, does anyone know where Ezra is?"
All five agents regarded each other with a mixture of guilt and fear.
Chris wiped a hand down his face.
"Has anyone thought to call his cell phone?" Chris
"I tried a couple times," JD answered. "He either
has it turned off or left it somewhere."
"I tried also," Josiah added.
"Me too," Buck said.
"He told me he keeps it off a lot because he's afraid it might
go off at an inopportune time," Nathan supplied.
"Yeah, like on his day off," Chris growled, pacing the small
waiting room and forcing everyone to back up a step. Chris abruptly
stopped and turned around to face his five remaining agents. Buck
could see the gleam in his friend's eye and knew shit was about to happen.
"I can't get into the office the Judge even took my ID, so JD,
you need to do some snooping and see what you can find out."
"Sure," JD agreed, grateful to be doing something useful.
"I'm going to try and get in touch with the Judge. He ain't
going to like it when I interrupt his vacation," Chris said. "We'll
make the CDC our headquarters. I want each of you to check in
with me daily and let me know what McCain is up to."
"I believe he's after your job," Josiah suddenly stated.
"What?" Buck and Vin both voiced.
"It's pretty obvious really. Becker brought him in.
Becker hates Chris. McCain plays up to the media, and his superiors
well. If McCain manages to somehow make a major bust such as Ransdell
and his contacts, well..." Josiah left the rest hanging, everyone
going over what the ex-preacher was saying.
"Our first priority is to find Ezra. We'll deal with McCain
later," Chris stated.
Standish sat slouched over a beer in an upscale restaurant waiting
to be seated. He expected Martin Ransdell to arrive at any time.
The gunrunner had hinted about a large drug and gun deal going down
some where in Denver. Ezra had caught a glimpse of names on a
piece of correspondence addressed to Ransdell. The names kicked
his heart into over drive; some of the biggest celebrities in drug dealing
were on that list. Ezra was starting to feel that he was smack
in the middle of something bigger than just peddling a few guns.
Ezra sipped his imported beer and looked around the nearly deserted
bar. He felt alone, not that he hadn't ever felt this before,
but now it was painful. He had grown used to having one of the
others always close by watching his back. He was on his own on
this one. Ezra wiped the moisture from the glass. McCain
had assured him that back up would be in place when the situation warranted.
Ezra only hoped that situation wasn't him getting shot. Larabee
had never allowed him to work alone, even in the beginning when he had
tried to do things on his own. Larabee always found him and reined
him in. At first Ezra took exception with this believing that
the ATF leader didn't trust him, but then he realized that Chris, and
the others were only watching out for him -- No one had ever watched
out for him before.
Ezra glanced up at the TV that was mounted up over the bar.
He cocked an eyebrow at McCain's smiling visage looking down at him.
He had seen McCain on the news several times, mostly boasting
about the success rate of the ATF agency and how he was going to bring
an end to the criminal element in Denver. Well, Ezra guessed good
publicity couldn't hurt, but McCain seemed more concerned with his reputation
than any real plan on stopping crime.
The picture of a burning building snapshot over McCain's shoulder
got Ezra's attention. "Sir, could you turn that up,"
Ezra asked the passing bartender, who reached up and adjusted the volume.
"The bust was not a complete failure," McCain reported.
"Agents were able to apprehend two of the perpetrators in this
bomb making operation." McCain's smile brightened.
"This is only the beginning..."
Ezra grinned at the photogenic agent; his left side must be his best,
noticing how the man always turned to the left.
"And how is the agent who was injured in the blast?"
A woman reporter asked the still smiling McCain.
Ezra almost gagged on his beer.
"Mr. Tanner received only minor injuries and has been released
from the hospital. He will be on medical leave for a couple days,"
McCain replied. Ezra didn't wait for the rest of the question
and answer session. He quickly glanced around the bar then headed
toward the men's room
"Okay, gentlemen, I see we are rather understaffed," McCain
said with a nervous laugh. He wiped the smile from his face, as
he looked at Nathan and Josiah who sat on the leather couch, and JD
who sat draped sideways across a chair that sat by the large window.
None of the remaining three agents were amused by McCain's inane attempt
The phone rang and McCain immediately grabbed it, grateful for the
interruption from the now uncomfortable level of hostility coming from
the three agents.
McCain sat down in his chair a scowl forming on his clean-shaven face.
"Mr. Standish, what are you doing calling here? You're risking
your cover," Frazer said.
The three agents immediately came to attention and surrounded the
desk, causing McCain to sit back in his chair. McCain frowned
and remained silent for a moment.
Josiah smirked, wondering what the smooth talking southerner was saying
to McCain to elicit such an expression.
McCain removed the phone from his ear and pushed a button on the console
then seated the phone back in its cradle.
"Mr. Standish, you are now on speaker."
"How's Mr. Tanner?" Ezra asked.
Josiah swore under his breath. He could tell that Ezra was blaming
himself, feeling that if he had remained on the mission with Vin this
wouldn't have happened.
"He's fine Ez, just a broken arm and concussion," Nathan
explained, never so relieved to hear that southern drawl in his life.
"How are you doing, son?" Josiah asked, the knot of
emotion twisting in his words.
The amount of concern and emotion these men were showing for each
other surprised McCain.
"I am fine, Mr. Sanchez, although things have taken a definite
McCain's heart rate went up as his excitement grew. This was
it, this was the opportunity he'd been waiting for his whole life.
He'd show those stuff shirts back in Washington that he was more than
just some figurehead.
"Since you have called, what do you have for us?"
McCain asked, trying to contain his growing enthusiasm.
"Well, apparently Mr. Ransdell has connections to Richard Salerno
as well as several other notorious drug lords," Ezra explained.
Eyes widened and JD whistled.
McCain almost burst out of his chair with excitement.
"Salerno...now that's a big fish," Nathan remarked.
"Fish nothing, he's a damn whale," Josiah said.
"Are you good?" McCain asked.
"Yes, I believe I've endeared myself thoroughly within this little
society. There is rumor of some big meeting taking place sometime
in the immediate future," Ezra further explained. He knew
he was running out of time. He couldn't risk being caught by Ransdell.
"Okay, agent, keep me apprised of any further developments.
We'll talk later." McCain quickly snapped off the intercom,
prompting several muttered and questionable comments, which he chose
"Why didn't you find out where he was?" JD finally
"Yeah, we could have put a tail on him," Nathan remarked.
"I will not risk this operation by putting a tail on him too
soon. I'm in charge here. Now if you gentlemen will excuse
me, I have a pile of reports to finish."
The three agents knew they were being summarily dismissed and sauntered
out of the office.
"Damn, what was that all about?" JD asked as he returned
to his desk.
"I don't like this," Nathan said.
"Nor do I brother, Nor do I."
McCain lightly knocked on the oak doorframe of Becker's office.
He peered past the open door to see the room filled with ATF agents
and a DEA man.
"Ah, Frazer, we've been waiting for you," Becker greeted
and motioned the stylish agent to enter and sit. "Okay, now
that we're all here, Agent Jack Collier of DEA has something he needs
to tell us."
Jack Collier was a bull of a man, who kept his head shaved and sported
a neatly groomed goatee. Like Larabee, he was fervently protective
of his men. Collier stood and started passing out sheets of paper.
"This is a list of names, mostly gunrunners. DEA is preparing
to take down one of the biggest drug lords in the west. This is
a list of men, mostly gunrunners, who have been tied to him. For safety
and security reasons we need to make sure all ATF teams pull their undercover
operatives off any operation that has ties to any of the men listed."
Team 4 leader cleared his throat and looked up at Collier from his
spot in the chair. "Are you planning a raid?"
Collier paused a moment, before answering. "Yes.
This Drug Lord is planning a big summit meeting to try and consolidate
the illegal drug and gun trade, gaining him more power and wider distribution,"
Collier explained. "We're not sure who's all involved with
him so we don't want to risk any agents."
"Can we know the name of this Drug lord?" another Team Leader
Collier smiled. "Sorry, it's on a need to know basis."
Frazer scanned the list and ground his teeth, as Martin Ransdell appeared
halfway down the page. He had just got off the phone with Standish,
who was about to find out when a huge buy and meeting was to take place
with Salerno. Frazer suspected that this was what DEA was trying
to discover and that Salerno was the Drug Lord. If Standish found
out first it would definitely be a feather in his cap. He couldn't
pull Ezra out just yet -- He was too close.
Josiah, Nathan and JD sat quietly at their desks, waiting for an opportunity
to do some serious snooping. McCain had remained in his office
all morning since returning from the meeting with Becker. Nathan
caught a glimpse of the special agent sitting at his desk rolling a
pencil fretfully back and forth across the blotter. The temporary
leader's eyes were glued to the phone on his desk. Nathan glared
as McCain picked up the pencil and broke it in two; it was a mechanical
pencil. McCain was anxious and this did not give Nathan a very
confident sensation and, in fact, it down right scared him.
Nathan, JD and Josiah lifted their heads at the sound of a phone.
They stared at the closed office door.
"You think it's Ez?" JD asked.
"I hope so, JD, I hope so," Josiah muttered, clasping his
hands in silent prayer. Time was growing short, only the six ATF
agents were unaware of this.
The office door flew open and an excited McCain rushed out the door.
"Josiah, Nathan, I need you. Mr. Standish says they're preparing
to leave and head toward the meeting place. You two need to tail
him, but stay a safe distance." McCain handed Josiah a slip
of paper with an address.
"What's going on?" Nathan asked.
"Ah, Standish thinks he's being taken to a delivery point,"
Josiah and Nathan jogged toward the stairs anxious to see Ezra and
assure his safety.
"What about me?" JD asked.
"I need you to stay here. I need to do a few things before
I join Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Jackson." McCain headed toward
the elevator, pulling out his cell phone. He pushed the speed
dial for News 7.
JD was disappointed to be excluded, but then realized this was his
chance to search McCain's desk.
He checked the elevator then pushed away from his desk and headed
toward McCain's office. The young computer genius casually walked into
the large room. Even though Chris hadn't been here for a couple
weeks the workplace still seemed to hold his presence and take exception
to any intrusion. JD went around the desk and sat down in the
high leather back chair. He glanced over the papers that lay scattered
on the desk and tried a couple of the desk drawers, finding only one
that wasn't locked. JD looked down and stared incredulously at
the contents of the drawer. He pulled out a bottle of cover up
makeup, some blush and what looked like touch up hair dye.
JD was about to give up when he noticed a piece of paper poking out
from under the blotter. He eased the paper out and raised an eyebrow
when he saw that it was from DEA headquarters. He quickly read
the memo and scanned over the name, 'Martin Ransdell' his heart started
to pound heavy in his chest.
"Shit." JD dashed out of the office.
The address was located in an upper class area of North Denver.
Victorian style mansions lined wide tree-lined streets of a quiet neighborhood.
Josiah and Nathan parked inconspicuously at the end of the street.
They watched as two black limos pulled out and headed west.
"You think Ezra is in one of those limos?" Nathan
asked as Josiah pulled out onto the street.
"I certainly hope so, brother."