"What do you make of it?" Buck asked as he read the
memo over Chris's shoulder. They had set up a satellite headquarters
at Buck and JD's apartment, commonly referred to as the CDC. Larabee
had been trying to get hold of Judge Travis for the past two days.
Apparently, the Judge really wanted to be left alone, as he kept his
cell phone turned off. Chris finally found someone willing to
go into the back woods of Lake Tahoe and search out the elusive magistrate.
Chris was getting a bad feeling about this. "This memo
says that all
ATF teams are to pull their undercover operatives off any missions,
if they're involved with any of the following people."
"Yeah, and Ezra is involved with Martin Ransdell," JD reminded.
"And he's on the list."
Vin sat on the sofa trying to reach an itch under his cast with a
bent coat hanger. "What are we going to do?"
The phone rang and Chris snatched it up quick. "Larabee."
"It's Josiah," Chris told the others as he listened to Sanchez.
"Okay, we'll be on the road shortly. Keep us informed."
"So what's going on?" Buck asked. He and Chris were
only barely on speaking terms, but Chris's anger toward him was nothing
compared to the guilt he was feeling.
"Josiah and Nathan are tailing Ezra and Ransdell. They're
heading up to Genesee," Chris explained.
Vin stood up. "Guess we're going after them."
"Yeah, after I make a phone call."
Chris dialed Jack Collier's number only to get his secretary.
"Is Jack in."? Chris's brow furrowed. "Everyone?
Do you know where? Yeah, I understand, thank you."
"Shit," Chris muttered as he slowly laid the phone back
in its stand. He looked straight at his three agents who stood
expectantly in front of him. "Everyone at DEA is out and
the secretary couldn't tell me where."
"Awww hell, it's a raid isn't it?" Vin asked.
"Yeah and Ezra's walking blind right into it," Chris said.
The limos traveled west on I70 maintaining the speed limit.
Josiah was grateful it was early on a weekday and traffic was sparse.
They were able to keep a considerable distance and not risk being spotted.
He only hoped that Ezra knew he now had back up.
Jackson saw the limos turn off the interstate and head north.
Nathan pulled out a map and checked it. "We're going to have
to pull off and walk in. There's some kind of private airstrip
about a mile back. It must be where they're heading."
Josiah nodded and began searching for a place to park his suburban.
The limos pulled up alongside a small plane hanger. The airstrip
was small, made for light aircraft and helicopters. Ezra was impressed.
He saw several Cessna's sitting out on the field, each one with a man
causally standing close by. Ezra's green eyes scanned the surrounding
hills. McCain had told him that Josiah and Nathan would be tailing
"Mr. Simpson," Ransdell addressed the suave southerner.
"Are you okay?"
Ezra shook himself out of his reverie. "Yes, just admiring
the view." Ezra followed Ransdell in to the building.
He had become Ransdell personal bodyguard, chauffeur and financial advisor.
Josiah and Nathan jogged to the top of a hill and looked down upon
the secluded airstrip. Nathan pulled out a pair of binoculars
and smiled when he saw Ezra.
"You see Ez?" Josiah asked seeing the delighted grin
on his partner's face.
"Yeah, and he looks alright."
Josiah couldn't miss the relief in Nathan's voice. Nathan watched
as Ezra as followed several smartly dressed men into the warehouse.
He hoped that Ezra knew how close they were.
Nathan looked over at Josiah. "What should we do?"
Josiah opened his cell phone. "I think it's time to call
in the troops," Josiah smiled. "Chris and the others
should be close by."
Nathan went back to looking through the binoculars again and his brow
furrowed as he watched several masked and darkly dressed men suddenly
appear and quickly subdue all the pilots near the planes. Several
dark sedans and a large black van came in. The doors flew open
and more darkly dressed and masked individuals jumped out of the truck.
"Shit, I think the troops have already arrived," Nathan
Josiah grabbed the binoculars from Nathan and looked. "Aww
hell, it's DEA and they're going to raid the hanger."
Collier gestured to his agents who quickly surrounded the hanger.
Two agents carrying grenade launchers came up under a window and aimed
Josiah and Nathan were running at break neck speed down the hill back
toward their vehicle. They would have to drive around the hill
to reach the hanger. They had no way of contacting the DEA agents
during a raid, only a commanding officer could interrupt operations,
and they didn't have time to call and explain that there was an ATF
Ezra couldn't believe his luck. Here he was surrounded by thirty
of the biggest hitters in the gun and drug trade. He only hoped
that Josiah and Nathan were able to call in the troops. He would
have to think of an excuse soon to quietly slip out. While Ezra
considered his options, he was unaware that fifty DEA agents were already
surrounding the hanger.
Salerno entered the bay from an office door and Ezra's eyes widened
at the sight of the prominent drug lord.
"Gentlemen, I'm glad you all could come. We have a lot
of work to do, but I think you'll all be pleased with the outcome.
We are going to make Denver the hub of our operations," Salerno
When the first canisters of tear gas crashed through the upper windows,
Ezra jumped like everyone else. How did they arrive so soon?
Were the undercover's first thoughts, which then turned to self preservation
as doors were smashed open and darkly clad and gas-masked agents stormed
Chaos now ruled within the hanger on top of the muffled shouts of
DEA FREEZE! This was not good. Noxious clouds of tear gas rose
and spread quickly within the confines of the hanger. Hazy forms
appeared and disappeared within the fog, some trying to escape the gas
others falling to their knees coughing and wheezing.
Ezra's eyes burned and watered. Why was DEA here? Moreover,
how had they found out? He was finding it difficult to draw a
breath. God, he hated this stuff. Ezra pulled a handkerchief
and covered his mouth as he drew back behind some crates. Rapid
bursts of gunfire filled the hanger as several bad guys still refused
to give up. It would not due to be caught in the crossfire.
He would remain quiet until things settled down a little then make his
presence known. Unfortunately, fate liked active participation.
Ezra's eyes widen when he saw one of the drug lord's take aim at an
unaware agent. Ezra knew that agents wore bullet-proof vests,
but it wouldn't stop the armor piercing bullets that some of the bad
guys used. Ezra pulled his gun from his shoulder holster and stepped
out from behind the crate. Taking careful aim through the fog,
he fired and watched the assassin crumble to the floor.
Ezra still held his gun when a bullet slammed into his chest, throwing
him back against the crates the shocked expression staying on his face
as he slid to the floor.
The young DEA agent was in adrenaline overdrive as he moved through
the fog and confusion of the building. When he saw the smartly
dressed man holding a gun, he quickly brought his gun around and fired.
This was the first time the young agent had ever shot a man. He
stared at the crumbled form watching the blood blossom across the man's
chest. He tried to calm his breathing that was coming out harsh
and fast through the gas mask. The shout of 'Building secure!'
broke him away from his remorseful musings, and he turned and walked
Collier was seeing to the clean up, standing in the middle of the
hanger and directing his men. Fans were brought in to quickly
draw out the tear gas. Collier pulled off his gas mask and wiped
the sweat from his brow. DEA agents were hustling demoralized
men out of the hanger and checking the dead and injured. They
had managed to take Salerno alive, and Collier was grateful his own
men had suffered only minor injuries - It was a good day.
"Hey boss, over here!"
Collier looked toward the sound of his second in command, Russell
Hancock. The huge black man was squatting next to a couple other
men huddled near some crates in the corner of the hanger. Collier
jogged over after barking out a couple more orders.
The DEA leader leaned over Hancock's massive shoulders and looked
at what his men were convening over. It was a man, only this man
looked familiar. The DEA boss wiped at his face as the blood suddenly
"Ah shit, that's an agent," Collier muttered.
"Isn't he one of Larabee's men?" Hancock asked, looking
up at his boss.
"Yeah, it's Standish. Is he alive?" Collier asked.
"Just barely," the agent who was applying pressure to the
bleeding wound replied.
"What happened?" Collier asked.
"Mitchard shot him." Hancock nodded toward the young
DEA agent who stood off to the side with a blank expression on his face.
The young man was thin build with close-cropped blond hair and green
eyes. Collier recognized the youth. He was new to the agency
and this was his first raid.
Shit, this was getting better and better. "Let's get Standish
out of here."
Collier stormed out of the hanger only to run into the mountain named
Sanchez, who was being flanked by two DEA agents. Collier recognized
Josiah and Nathan as two of Larabee's more steadfast agents, but now
Sanchez looked ready to rip someone's head off. The gentle giant
could sure be intimidating when he wanted. Collier didn't say
a word, but turned as a gurney came out with Standish's limp form sprawled
"Oh god, no," Josiah whispered. They had been stopped
a mile up the road by DEA agents and it took several minutes to explain
why they were at a covert raid.
Nathan and Josiah rushed to Ezra's side before he was loaded into
the ambulance. The southerner was pale and an oxygen mask covered
his face. His shirt was covered with blood and an attendant followed
alongside the gurney maintaining pressure on the wound in his chest.
"You go with him," Josiah said as he nudged Nathan to get
in the ambulance. "I'll wait for Chris and the others."
Nathan quickly jumped into the back, and Josiah watched as the ambulance
drove away, veering to the left to miss a black pickup truck tearing
up the road. The truck came to an abrupt stop. Before the
dust dissipated four formidable individuals exited the vehicle.
Larabee strode over to Josiah and Collier.
"Chris, Ezra was shot," Josiah abruptly exclaimed.
"Oh no," JD said.
Buck and Vin's face paled.
"Is he alive?" Chris asked.
"Yeah, Nathan went with him to the hospital," Josiah explained.
"What the hell happened?" Chris curtly asked, glaring
over at Collier.
Jack Collier was prepared to protect his man even from Larabee.
He stepped up toe-to-toe with the imposing agent. "One of
my men shot him."
Chris's eyes widened, and his jaw clenched so hard the veins on his
neck popped out.
"Who?" Chris growled.
"It's not his fault, my agent was new and didn't recognize Standish
and with all the confusion," Collier explained. He looked
over at his young agent who sat against the side of the building his
knees up to his chin, staring blankly.
Stephen Mitchard still couldn't believe it. One moment he's
riding high getting the bad guys, saving his fellow agents, the next
he finds out he might have actually killed a fellow agent. Mitchard's
gaze was blank, but he still saw Larabee and his four men. He
saw the dark scowl on the infamous leader's face. He had heard
about Larabee, and had hoped to one day meet the esteemed ATF leader.
Now he only wished he could hide down a hole.
Larabee was preparing to walk over when Collier stepped in his path
and put a hand on Chris's chest. "What was Standish doing
in there? Didn't he get the notice that all agents were to pull
out of any operation tied to Salerno?" Collier growled. He
was not going to allow Larabee to bury one of his men.
"No," Chris replied, some of his anger dissipating.
Collier was right it wasn't the boy's fault, even though at present
he was the easiest to blame.
"What the hell happened then," Collier growled, he hated
fuck-ups and this was definitely one of the biggest.
"I don't know, but I intend to find out," Chris voiced as
he looked over to see McCain standing in front of several news media
personal, smiling and gesturing toward the hanger.
Larabee started charging toward McCain. "Chris, wait, he's
in front of a camera," Buck yelled.
Chris didn't care. Ezra had trusted this man to protect him
and McCain had forfeited that trust for glory and fame.
"You son-of-a-bitch!" Chris yelled as he swung out his fist,
connecting with McCain's face and sending the pretentious man to the
ground. Chris bent down and grabbed a handful of McCain's expensive
jacket in each hand. He pulled the man up into this face.
"I swear if Ezra dies, you won't be able to put that face in front
of a camera again for a long, long time."
Chris felt hands grab his arms and pull him away. He shrugged
out of Josiah and Buck's grasp and headed back toward his truck.
Larabee, Josiah, JD and Vin all strode into the hospital waiting room
to see Nathan sitting in a chair, his face in his hands. Buck
had stayed and volunteered to retrieve Josiah's truck.
Nathan raised dark watery eyes to see his friends gathered around
him. "We lost him once in the ambulance but were able to
Nathan solemnly said, once again bowing his head and staring down at
the yellow tiled floor.
Chris fell heavily into the chair next to Nathan. JD turned
around to find himself looking at an aerial view poster of the Hawaiian
Islands. He clenched his jaw to hold back the tears. He
considered seriously about resigning. He had failed Chris, and
the others, and if Ezra died, he'd never be able to forgive himself.
Vin leaned up against the wall.
Josiah looked around and could feel the self-incrimination filling
each of his friends. He shook his head. He knew he had to
say something before they all fell into that dark abyss of remorse and
Travis marched determinedly into the hospital, not happy about being
pulled off his vacation up in Tahoe. He was dressed in neatly
pressed jeans and a flannel shirt. McCain was hot on his heels
trying to keep up with the angered Judge and talking to the back of
his head. His hand kept coming up gingerly touching the black
eye that now marred his perfect face.
As the two men entered the waiting area, McCain stepped around Travis
and pointed an accusing finger at Larabee, who only remained seated
in his chair and stared impassively up at the crowing peacock.
"I'm pressing charges against Agent Larabee!" McCain
screamed. "Look what he did." McCain pointed his finger
at his eye.
"Ouch, that looks painful," Vin smirked.
"Chris did that?" Travis asked. Chris gave the
Judge a tight smile he was still trying to get used to seeing the Judge
dressed so casually. He thought the man wore three piece suits
even when he went to the movies.
"Yeah, and I have it on tape," McCain smartly scoffed.
This would be it--the end of Larabee.
"Oh, yeah, and you should see it," Buck called out as he
entered the waiting room, carrying a VHS case and pulling out the tape,
holding it up to the light. "I think they got your best side,
Chris." Buck continued to pull the media tape out of its
case and let it pile up on the hospital floor. Vin and JD's bodies
shook as they tried to hold in their laughter.
McCain fumed, seeing his evidence piling up on the floor.
"Best be careful there, brother. You might pop a vein that
would look very unsightly in front of a camera," Josiah quipped.
"How is agent Standish?" Travis asked, silencing the
humor almost immediately.
"He's in surgery right now," Nathan replied. "Not
sure if he's going to make it."
Travis ducked his head and exhaled. What a mess. He looked
up and glared back at everyone. Until he found out what exactly
happened, everyone was guilty.
"I want everyone in my office tomorrow morning! And I better
get some answers." Travis turned and stormed out with McCain
quickly following having seen the deadly glint in everyone's eyes.
Vin tried not to look at the large numeral clock on the wall, the
second hand sweeping smoothly around its face. Nathan stared at
it, apparently fascinated by the device that controlled them, regulated
their every move. What would happen if the world didn't have clocks?
Ezra would never make it into work; the thought brought a faint grin
to ex-paramedic's solemn features.
Why did time seem to tick by so slowly in a hospital waiting room?
And the world outside its mundane, sterile walls speed past, ignoring
the inhabitants inside.
Buck plopped down in the chair next to Chris. He had to make
things right. He knew Chris had trusted him to watch out for the others
and he had failed. "I'm sorry."
Chris turned his head to the side to gaze dispassionately at his long-time
friend. He knew Buck had meant well and it wasn't like he was
in charge. McCain had held the reins.
"I know you are, so am I." Chris smiled and could
see some of the tension rise up off of Buck's broad shoulders.
"Mr. Larabee?" A deep accented voice came from the
doorway. Chris stood up at the sight of the doctor, still in his
"I'm Larabee." Chris approached the doctor the others
right behind him.
Dr. Lee nodded. "Mr. Standish got through surgery, although
we did lose him again on the table. The bullet did considerable
damage around the heart and to one of his lungs. He's on a ventilator
and is still unconscious." The doctor paused, letting what
he had said sink in. He could tell his words were deeply affecting
the six men in front of him. "We'll have to wait until he
"What are his chances?" Vin asked.
"He's young and strong, if he regains consciousness soon his
chances are good he'll make a full recovery."
"Thank you, doctor," Josiah expressed.
"We'll have him set up in a room shortly and you can sit with
him a bit." The doctor turned and walked out, leaving six
worried and scared men in his wake.
The next morning in Judge Travis's office the elder man sat behind
his desk going through several papers forcing everyone else to remain
silent as they stood or sat in front of his desk. Chris sat in
one of the chairs in front of Travis's desk with Buck, Vin, Josiah and
JD standing guard behind him. Nathan had remained at the hospital
in case there was any change in Ezra's condition for better or worse.
Captain Becker sat in the adjacent chair, with McCain standing smugly
behind him, his arms crossed over his chest.
Larabee was familiar with Travis's tactic of making a person uneasy
by allowing them to sit for extended periods in silence. Like
Larabee's intimidating attitude, which was like standing in front of
a bull elephant waiting for the charge, the Judge's more placid presence
was more in line with a lion waiting for the kill. The Judge cleared
his throat as he shuffled the papers together and sat back in his chair.
The lion was about to attack.
"How is Mr. Standish?" Was Travis's first question, and
his eyes showed the depth of his concern. He wasn't Ezra's biggest
fan, but the man had proved himself an exceptional undercover and reliable
"He's in intensive care, hasn't regained consciousness yet,"
Chris informed the Judge. He wanted this to be over with and get
back to the hospital. If Ezra died, he wanted to be with him.
"I want to know what happened," Travis sternly asked.
"Insubordination, Judge, it's as simple as that," Becker
piped in, bringing forth a series of fixed and angry stares from Chris's
men. If Becker had known how much McCain had gone behind his back,
the Captain wouldn't have been so eager to defend his colleague.
"I see," Travis smoothly commented. He pulled out
a single piece of paper. "It says here that you pulled Standish
off the case that he and Mr. Tanner were working." Travis's
gaze fixed on McCain.
"I got a tip on a major gunrunner and time was of the essence,"
McCain confidently replied. "I thought Mr. Tanner was capable
of completing the mission without Mr. Standish. Apparently, I
Josiah grabbed Vin by the upper arm holding the sharpshooter back.
Travis narrowed his eyes and looked over at Vin, and then returned
his gaze to Captain Becker. "I don't seem to have any reports
on the case that Standish was switched to."
Captain Becker's face fell. "Ah, I never received one sir."
Becker looked over his shoulder at McCain.
The Judge then shifted his gaze over to McCain.
"I've been busy," McCain explained as his eyes shifted nervously
around the room. "Between inept agents and having to deal
with defiance at my every command I was unable to keep up with the requisite
"You mean too busy grandstanding in front of the cameras,"
Buck spat out. Chris gripped the arms of his chair and clenched
his jaw, holding back a flood of unflattering epithets.
Travis sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers in front of
his face. "I understand that Mr. Standish had no back-up
throughout the duration of his assignment."
"I was in constant contact with Agent Standish," McCain
replied. His heart was calming as he began to believe that he
had sufficiently explained his actions.
"I see." Travis rubbed at the side of his face surprised
at Larabee's silence. "Mr. Larabee, do you have anything to add?"
"Yeah, ask him why he didn't pull Ezra off Ransdell when he received
this memo from Jack Collier?" Josiah curtly handed Travis
the paper that JD took from McCain's desk.
Travis's fleshy face seemed to harden as he looked down at the memo.
He locked McCain in a steely gaze. "Is there some reason
why you didn't pull Standish out of a potentially dangerous situation?"
"Ah...I," McCain began.
The Judge's booming voice cut him off. "And you..."
he looked directly at Becker. "Why didn't you know about
"Well, I did, sir. I mean, I knew about the DEA sting, but I
was never informed that Standish was involved with one of the gunrunners,"
Becker nervously replied, suddenly finding the office unbearably hot.
It was now time to save his own skin or at least what he could of it.
Travis snorted and slammed his fist down on the desk. This got
a response from Chris in the manner of a faint smile.
"So, you knew nothing? Is that what you're telling me?
One of your agents is put in the middle of a raid, completely unaware,
and you knew NOTHING?" Travis's voice rose, reverberating
throughout the stately office. "Are you that incompetent
or just plain stupid?"
Becker balked not knowing how to response. He had been a fool
to trust McCain.
McCain stepped forward. "Sir, I was..."
"SHUT UP!" Travis yelled. "As I see it,
you've managed to get one agent blown up, one suspended, and one now
in intensive care. Even on Team Seven's worst week they haven't
managed that. Agent McCain, Captain Becker, you are relieved of
duty pending investigation on charges of negligence and anything else
I can think of."
McCain was about to say something when he looked down to see Becker's
brown eyes glaring up at him.
"I suggest you both get good lawyers. Dismissed,"
Travis spat out.
After Becker and McCain left the office Travis released a long stressed
breath. He watched as Chris stood, preparing to leave. "Chris,
I'm sorry about your men, but I'm not sorry for forcing you on vacation
and that vacation still has three more days, which you will finish."
"You can't be serious." Buck asked. God, he
didn't want to go through that again.
"I'm very serious, Mr. Wilmington and if you'll accept the position
of acting leader I can return to my camping trip," Travis added
with a smile on his face at Wilmington's flabbergasted expression.
"Ah...," Buck stammered and looked over at Chris's smiling
"I still have to finish that shed," Chris said.
"Well, do you accept the position, Mr. Wilmington?"
"Yes sir, I do," Buck answered.
"Ah, geeze, Buck as our boss," JD good-naturedly quipped.
"You better hope the agency is still standing."
Buck cuffed his young friend lightly up side the head.
"Keep me informed on Ezra's condition," Travis asked.
Chris nodded and walked out of the office with the others close on
Larabee and the others returned to the hospital to find the young
DEA agent, Stephen Mitchard, sitting in Ezra's room. Chris looked
over his shoulder at his friends as they gazed at the forlorn figure
sitting next to the bed, his head in his hands.
Chris noticed with relief that Ezra was no longer on the respirator.
He approached Nathan who sat off to the side.
"How long has he been here?" Chris asked the ex-paramedic.
"Since you all left. Just came in and sat down, hasn't
moved since," Nathan explained.
Chris came up beside the young agent. Lord he was getting old
when every new recruit looked like someone who had just graduated high
"It wasn't your fault," Chris said, keeping his voice low
Mitchard didn't remove his gaze from the inert figure on the bed.
"I shot him." The sadness in the young man's voice almost
broke Chris's heart.
"Son, Ezra won't blame you, so you shouldn't blame yourself,"
"Yeah, it wasn't your fault, you didn't know Ezra was an agent,"
Mitchard smiled and looked up into Chris Larabee's hard, yet compassionate
blue eyes. "You think he'll be able to forgive me?"
"I can tell ya, without a doubt in my mind that Ezra won't hold
you responsible." Vin tried to convince the younger agent.
"My compatriots are correct," Ezra's raspy southern drawl
brought shouts of exhilaration.
Standish slowly opened heavy lidded eyes to look up at the much relieved
and smiling faces of his friends. Nathan immediately slipped an
ice chip between Ezra's dry lips. The cool melting water bringing
instant relief to his dry, raw throat.
"Mr. Standish, I'm so sorry I shot you," Mitchard exclaimed.
He saw how much these men cared for and protected one another.
As he sat watching over Ezra, he had feared that Larabee would barge
into the room and shoot him on the spot, and he wouldn't blame him.
It was the same in his DEA unit. They all felt a connection with
one another. It was an unforeseen bonus for working at a job that
put your life at risk everyday. It was just something that happened,
no one could explain it. Mitchard knew that Larabee's team went
a step beyond that connection to something that bordered on a tight
"Please, let's put the blame where it belongs, and I'm sure my
esteemed leader has handled that with his usual fineness and good humor,"
Ezra chuckled, grimacing slightly at the pain it caused. Ezra
turned his head to look up at Chris's smiling visage.
"How you doing?" Nathan asked.
"Always the concerned medic aren't we, Mr. Jackson. My
chest hurts somewhat, but this seems to be the extent of my pain for
which I'm sure I owe great appreciation to the fine drugs of this institution."
"Does he always talk that way?" Mitchard asked.
Buck slapped the young man on the back. "Yeah, that's our
Ezra. All pomp and circumstance, but we wouldn't have him any
"Hey, Ezra, guess who's going to be our boss until Chris's vacation
is over?" JD blurted out. "Buck."
"Good Lord, then it is indeed fortunate that Mr. Mitchard shot
me as I can reside safely in this fine infirmary."
"Hey is that a dig?" Buck asked with mock hurt sounding
in his voice.
Ezra's eyes slowly closed as his ears filled with the sound of his
family. He was never alone.