ATF AU Crossover The Sentinel
Mag7 and Sentinel crossover in the ATF universe This story follows New Direction and New Alliance.
The sun was just waking up as the silver jaguar made it's way through the city streets toward a newly built convention center next to the equally new parking garage where Team Seven was assembling. Vin Tanner, Sentinel of Denver Colorado was behind the wheel, he was talking to his boss and friend Chris Larabee over the cell phone headset as he drove.
"We should be there in about twenty minutes." Vin said into the mike. He laughed at something Chris said on the other end of the connection. "Nope, he's sound asleep." Vin looked over at his guide in the passenger seat of the car. Ezra Standish was not a morning person. He was catching a little more shuteye before being forced to start the day at what he called an ungodly time in the morning.
Vin decided to let Ez sleep till they got to their destination. His guide needed his rest. Ezra had caught up on most of his sleep from his last undercover assignment (mercifully short) but Vin still worried about him. But that was part of being a sentinel, the guide's welfare was crucial to his sentinel. As their mentors told them, the guide was at the center of a sentinel's territory. If the guide was well, then the tribe was thriving.
Vin shook his head. It was still hard for him to accept everything that had happened to him in the last year. It was not long ago that he'd thought he was losing his sanity. Everything was out of control with his senses. Food tasted wrong or had no taste at all. He could hear everything that went on in his apartment building. And the smells, he had to take the stairs at work so as not to be enclosed in the elevator with people. Most of them needed to wash more often or use a better deodorant. It was the same with touch and sight, too strong or not there at all.
Afraid of being locked away for going crazy, he turned to Ezra for help in finding out what was wrong with him. Vin hadn't gone to the more conventional members of the team for assistance knowing they'd have insisted that he go to a hospital for tests. They would have dragged him there if they had thought that it was the best thing to do for him, even if he said no to the idea. Vin didn't think once they got him inside a hospital that the doctors would have let him out again. Vin needed someone who could think outside the box, who would reinvent the box, if necessary, to find answers. Ezra had not only figured out what was going on with him but found another person like him.
Jim Ellison was the sentinel of Cascade Washington and Blair Sandburg his guide. The Cascade pair had become their mentors, as they explained and showed the Denver pair how to control and use Vin's abilities. A sentinel was an individual with heightened senses who could see, hear, feel, smell and taste better than the average person. He could control them by mentally dialing them up or down as needed, a skill he had to learn and practice until it became instinctive. But Vin, like all sentinels, needed a guide to do so. The guide helps the sentinel use his abilities and gives the sentinel someone to ground himself on in order not to be overwhelmed by sensory input, or when he connected on one sense too much. That loss of awareness was called a zone. The guide was the one person the sentinel would respond to no matter how deep he became lost in his own mind. Ezra Standish was Vin's guide.
Ezra was also am empath, he was able to feel other people's emotions. As a child, Ezra had subconsciously used this ability to protect himself. He had grown up believing he was just good at reading people's body language, never making the connection. He just seemed to know whom to trust instinctively. His subconscious mind, in order to protect itself from being overwhelmed by other people's emotions had built mental shielding to hide behind. It was not till he met his sentinel that he became aware of his talent and started to learn to use it consciously.
Vin mused this over as he waited for the traffic to clear to make a left turn into the parking garage. He reached over to Ezra and shook his shoulder. "Rise and shine Ez, we're here."
Ezra straightened in his seat and smoothed down his clothes. "Ah may rise but Ah refuse to shine." He looked up at the multi-story garage they were about to enter. "This is were Ms. Travis is doing her story? Refresh my memory, clarify why we are partaking in her quest for truth, justice and the American dream? Not to allude to the quest of higher ratings for her local news program."
"Cause when Mary told her father- in-law, our boss Assistant Director Orin Travis, just who built this garage and that she was going to investigate him, Travis informed Chris and Chris asked us to help be her back up. Mary got a tip that some of the supports weren't up to code. The owner wants to be sure he's getting his money's worth from the construction company that built the place for him. He's allowing Mary to bring in an engineering expert and a crew to look around. They can take as many X-rays of the place as she wants."
"Ah presume the construction company has a reputation of putting in substandard efforts?"
"Not that its been proven. Toby Cline has been real careful, things don t start to fall apart till after the warranty runs out." Vin pulled into the garage and started looking for the others while he talked. "If ya believe the rumors most of the buildings Barness Construction Company builds are done by illegal labor. Again, no one's been able to prove it, at least to a point that they can take it to court. When any one from immigration shows up, all they find are authentic workers on sight, every one else is home sick that day. Cline's got somebody in immigration tipping him off. He s also got some way of getting rid of anyone who doesn't play ball with him. A few of the families who had people disappear have gone to the police. But they haven't been able to come up with anything, not even any bodies."
"A most disagreeable state of affairs. What function are we playing in this melodrama?"
"Chris thought I might sense something the others missed or at least make a good guess to which supports to x-ray." Vin reminded his guide.
"Ah see, does our superlative superior also remember we don't perform in front of strangers?"
"You where asleep by the time we got around to talking about that. Josiah suggested we keep to the background and walk around the different floors and see if anything sticks out to us. JD is going to be in the van with Mary's technician so he can keep an eye on what gets recorded."
"Are you comfortable with this Vin?" asked Ezra. He was concerned with his sentinel's frame of mind. There were times the sentinel must feel like a sideshow performer, going through his tricks for the benefit of others. While Vin had used his senses numerous times on the job, he had always been surrounded by his teammates, no outsiders allowed. Still Ezra wasn't picking up any distress or discomfort from Vin, more like excitement.
"Hell Ez, it's about time Chris let us out of the nest to try our wings without the whole team watching over us."
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Vin parked the jaguar between Chris'black Ram and Buck's classic Ford pickup truck. JD's bike wasn't in evidence, he must have rode in with Buck. Both Josiah's Suburban and Nathan's Explorer were there as well. It looked like all the seven were in place. Vin and Ezra climbed out of the jaguar and wondered where everyone was. An SUV with the local station's logo on the side showed that the news team was there. There was a Town-car parked across from the team's cars and a silver sports car.
Vin and Ezra looked over the garage. Who ever designed the structure had avoided the usual cavern feel like similar closed in spaces, using semi-transparent material for the outer walls allowing patrons to see out as well as allowing natural lighting in, while at the same time keeping Denver's weather out. That with the internal light fixtures to illuminate the large open space gave the parking area an open airy feeling. Walls and ramps going to the different floors were specifically placed to support each level and to add to the open feel. No dark corners to hide in and no one else around.
"Where are our bravura colleagues?" questioned Ezra.
Vin listened to the sounds within the garage to pinpoint their friends, he tilted his head to one side as he listened in on something or someone. "Next floor down," Vin smiled. "The owner of the garage is flirting with Mary... Chris doesn't like it one bit, he's mumbling under his breath." Vin shook his head. "Such language, cowboy ya'll get your mouth washed out with soap talking like that." Both men laughed at the mental image. "Guess we better get down there and keep old Chris from blowing a gasket."
They started toward the ramp leading down to the next floor. "Have they started X-raying any of the supports yet?" asked Ezra.
"No, the news van with the equipment isn't here, it's running late and they haven't agreed where to start."
It was one of the things Ezra enjoyed about being a guide to a sentinel. Vin shared what he overheard with him. While Vin didn't usually listen in to private conversations (he had better manners than that) he would and did listen in on his teammates when they were in the field to keep tabs on them. He needed to know where each was located just in case a bust went bad. He tuned out private matters but general information he listened to and shared what he heard with his guide. Vin wouldn't admit it to anyone else other than Ezra, but their teammates had a habit of talking to themselves about whatever interested them at the moment, at times on some of the most bizarre topics. It had given him and Ezra a way to add a new slant to their practical jokes.
As they started down the ramp Ezra asked. "Any one else in the garage with us?"
"Well there's the guys, Mary and her news team, the engineer, the owner, his aid... " Vin tilted his head again, "The maintenance people, there are four of them and they're on the top floor now. They're talking... planning on working their way down cleaning each floor of anything the construction crew let behind. They are also the ones who turned on all the lights in the place." With his guide beside him to keep him from zoning, Vin had no reservations about using his senses fully.
The next floor down was below street level, the basement of the garage was just as open and well lit as the rest of the garage. The convention center s private entrances were down here for performers and the like. Vin and Ezra were about to walk over to join the rest of the team when Vin stopped and looked toward the ramp to the sub-level of the garage.
A young Asian boy was staring back at him, once the kid was sure he had Vin's attention he turned and ran down the ramp to the sub- level, a place he had no business being. Vin hadn't picked up a heartbeat or any thing else from the boy, which told the sentinel that the kid wasn't flesh and blood. Why would the spirit of a kid be in the garage?
"Vin?" Ezra had stopped when he realized that Vin wasn't moving with him.
Chris had seen them come down the ramp and walked over, mostly to get away from Egbert J. Brooks the owner. He was old enough to be Mary's grandfather, far too old to be flirting with Mary the way he was and way too old for Chris to hit. He was beginning to think the old goat was doing it because he knew Chris didn't like it.
"Gentlemen how nice you decided to join us." Chris addressed his men.
"Cowboy we may have a problem." Vin said as he turned to his friend. "I just saw an eight year old boy go down the ramp to the sub-basement."
"There aren't supposed to be any kids here, maybe he belongs to one of the workmen that came in today."
Vin shook his head. "This kid didn't have a heartbeat, he's a spirit."
"A ghost?" asked Chris with skepticism.
"Are you sure Vin?" asked Ezra, not wanting to doubt but hoping Vin was wrong.
"I counted all the heartbeats and their locations and he didn't have one."
Ezra looked toward the ramp and said. "Damn."
Chris felt a headache coming on. "You two want to check it out?"
"Yeah." Vin told him, Ezra concurred he would follow Vin's lead in this.
Chris shook his head in resignation. "Got your phones on you?" Both men nodded. "Call if you find anything, call in twenty minutes even if you don't find anything. Understand?" Chris growled out the last word.
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Vin and Ezra walked down the last ramp into the sublevel of the building. Here the open feel of the upper floors disappeared making this level more cave like. The thick walls that made up the foundation and those that supported the upper floors gave the area a closed in feeling. You could almost feel the weight pressing down from above. This section wasn't open to the public, this was where the maintenance equipment and security vehicles for the garage and convention center were kept. Here parking for employees was tucked in between the massive reinforced concrete fortifications that held up the floors over head.
"Any sign of our young phantom?" asked Ezra. They had made their way to the middle of the basement, their footsteps echoed in the empty space. Ezra found himself speaking softly, not wanting their voices to carry even though there was no one else down there with them.
Vin smiled, Ezra may not believe in ghosts (at least publicly he denied any beliefs in them) but he did believe in Vin and that belief had him following Vin even when he didn't know where Vin was leading. The atmosphere was getting to the empath causing him to speak softer than usual, but then the atmosphere was getting to Vin as well. The closed in space was making his inner sentinel claustrophobic. He really would like to just get the hell out of here but a sense of duty kept him there as well as a need to know why the child's ghost was down here. Again Vin caught a glimpse of the kid standing in front of a far wall.
"Over there." Vin pointed to the back foundation wall. There was still some debris left from the workmen causing them to watch where they put their feet. Once they made their way across the rest of the parking lot Vin stood before the fortification and asked. "What now?"
Ezra studied both the wall and his sentinel. This was the part of being a guide that he dreaded; coming up with answers when he didn't even know the questions. A sentinel had all of his five senses heightened. But in Vin case there seemed to be a sixth sense as well. Even Jim Ellison admitted to having seen a ghost once after his senses came on line. But Vin apparently had seen them all his life and didn't think anything about it. Sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste Ezra could relate to, it was the paranormal that unnerved Ezra to no end. If Ezra was truthful with himself it was too close to his own talents and Ezra wasn't comfortable with them yet.
Mentally Ezra sighed and placed his hand on Vin's arm, trying to sound more sure of himself than he felt. "Let's run through the exercises we've practiced, using the wall as the focus point. Perhaps you'll pick up something."
With Ezra's heartbeat in the background and the feel of his guide's hand on his arm, Vin was as ready as he was ever going to be. One by one Vin dialed up his senses and used them on the wall. First his sight, he didn't see any thing out of the ordinary. No hairline cracks or discoloration, hearing didn't help any either. Holding his hand just off the concrete, he did feel some heat near the center but not a lot. He didn't know if concrete held heat or not. They decided to skip the taste test, how do you taste concrete? Ezra agreed with him that left smell.
"Vin, identify each smell down here and than filter them out. If you find one you don't think belongs concentrate on that one and follow it back to its source." Ezra advised him.
Vin let his guide's voice wash over him holding him to the real world as he let his mind identify then catalog each smell. Dismissing the mineral mixture that made up the concrete and the trash left behind by the workmen. Ignoring what belonged and looking closer at what didn't. He went through each smell as he had been taught till there was only one left. It was faint but some how familiar, Vin knew he knew it but couldn't quite place it.
"Ez, there's one smell left, I know it from somewhere and I know it doesn't belong here, but can't remember from where."
Ezra though about it before saying. "You haven't try taste yet. Try to piggy-back taste to smell, maybe together it will help you to remember what it is."
"Alright," Vin decided to try. He hadn't yet mastered that skill of using two senses at once but he needed something more to help him remember. Maybe it would help him to identify the smell if he allowed it to flow over his sense of taste.
Ezra moved so he was standing closer to his sentinel and could lay his hand on Vin's back. He began stroking circles on the small of Vin's back to help ground him. This was another novel experience for Ezra since he had became a guide; this need to touch and be touched. Neither Vin nor Ezra had been raised in environments that had encouraged touching. But with each other it wasn't a problem, more of a need, a way to reassure themselves that their partner was all right. It had taken them both time to accept that the rest of the team could and had the right to touch them and that they meant them no harm in doing so. Josiah and Buck were huggers and often forgot that not everyone was comfortable with impulsive hugs. Vin had accepted it first, mainly because of his time in the Rangers where touch was a way to communicate when talking wasn't possible. It had taken Ezra a little while longer and he still wasn't completely comfortable with it even now. Before joining the team only his Mother and a very small number of close relatives were allowed in his personal space without hesitation on his part.
"Alright Vin, listen to ma heartbeat, feel ma hand on your back."
Vin took a deep breath and shook his head yes, wherever his senses took him he'd be able to follow Ezra's heartbeat, voice and touch back. Ezra kept talking.
"Find that odor," Again Vin nodded his head, he had it. "Now follow it back to where it's coming from. Let your sense of taste help you identify it."
Vin gave his senses free rein, unconsciously he let his mouth drop open. Pushing his senses farther into the concrete mass, he found the source of the smell. Yes, he knew the smell, it was coming back to him.
Suddenly Vin stiffened under Ezra's hands and pulled away from him. "VIN?" Ezra asked in concern as the Texan staggered away from him and the wall. Ezra started to go after him when Vin waved him off.
"Give me a minute Ez. I need a few minutes." Vin was bent over and breathing heavy as he tried to clear the smell from his mind and the memories that came with it. They wouldn't go away. What was it Jim told him? A way to get rid of something foul was to replace it with something good or comforting, like the scent of his guide. Hell, and I told Ezra to stay away. Stupid, stupid... Vin looked over to where Ezra was studying the wall. Vin got a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach; that wasn't a good thing for Ezra to be doing. Vin watched in apprehension as Ezra lifted his hand to touch the wall.
"No, Ezra don't!"
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Ezra wasn't sure if giving Vin what he asked for was the right thing to do but he did as his friend asked and left him alone to pull himself back together on his own. While Vin was doing that Ezra studied the wall. What was it about the massive concrete foundation that bothered Vin so? Letting his curiousity get the best of him Ezra decided to try something he and Josiah had been experimenting with. Josiah had been getting Ezra to see if he could pick up emotions left by people on inanimate items. It hadn't worked with any measurable success. Only objects or places where profound emotional upsets had taken place could Ezra pick up any traces of emotions. Josiah likened it to imprinting, the stronger the emotional outburst the more likely something of that energy would be left behind, impressed onto whatever physical matter the person giving off the emotional energy were next to.
Ezra touched the rough concrete wall and deliberately let his shields drop opening himself to whatever sensation that might have been left behind. He was unprepared for the strength of those emotions that came pouring out.
Fear; so much fear slammed into him so hard he lost his balance and had to lean against the wall to keep from falling. Suddenly he couldn't get enough air into his lungs. Gasping for breath as the feeling of weight came, a wet crushing weight pressing down on him. Squeezing the air out of his lungs. Ezra fought to get away, he couldn't move, he couldn't breathe. The world was graying out, he heard Vin calling to him as everything went black.
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Ezra woke with a jerk and found himself looking into Nathan's concerned eyes. He was laying on the back seat of Chris'Ram, his head in Vin's lap.
"How embarrassing." mumbled Ezra as he tried to get up only to have two sets of hands push him back down.
"Not so fast, you stopped breathing on us and we had to get you started again. So take it slow and tell us what the hell happened." Nathan told him.
Ezra avoided the question by looking up at Vin and asking. "What transpired after Ah lost consciousness?" he asked him.
"I panicked, that's what. After pulling you away from that wall, I realized you weren't breathing and called for help. Started CPR and thankfully you started breathing on your own but you wouldn't wake up. Told Mary and her crew that ya slipped and fell knocking yourself out, Nathan covered for us."
"Thank you Nathan, this is quite embarrassing." Ezra was unhappy with showing any weakness. A loud noise from outside the Ram startled them. "What's going on?"
"Told Chris that damn wall needed to be X-rayed." Vin said. "Mary and Chris were talking when I called him on his cell, she came along to help out. Got him to suggest to Mary they start with that one since they were down here anyway. The news van with the equipment got here while they were discussing it and came on down on their own. They're X-raying it now." Vin looked to Nathan and got his ok before allowing Ezra to sit upright and looked out window. He confessed to his guide. "I walked away because I did find a smell I recognized Ez. From my time in Special Forces, the smell of rotting human flesh and I didn't want to think about that kid being in there. Sorry I didn't tell ya."
Nathan had been studying how pale Ezra still was, he should have regained his color by now. "What was it that set you off? He asked the Southerner again. Ezra didn't answer him, he kept on watching the back of the van. Suddenly the back doors burst open and the tech came flying out to deposit his breakfast on the pavement.
Ezra sighed, closing his eyes. "They were alive when the concrete was poured."
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Nathan had gone over to check on the young tech and see for himself what was going on. He left Ezra in Vin's care. The explanation Nathan was going to give anyone who asked was that Ezra had knocked the wind out of his lungs when he fell and hit his head. Vin was staying with him to make sure he stayed put. Once Nathan had seen the pictures coming from inside the wall he felt his last meal wanting to rise too. Never before had he appreciated JD's professionalism as much as he did that day. While the tech was losing his breakfast JD kept the computer and X-ray machine operating, recording everything the X-ray saw. He than relayed the pictures to the monitors outside the van that had been set up for the expert to scrutinize. Only now it wasn't an engineer looking for a weakness in the concrete but cops studying a crime scene.
Nathan hadn't understood what Ezra meant till he saw the pictures from inside the foundation wall. Inside the thick mass were the bodies of four people. Two adults and two children, the youngest in the arms of one of the adults. It wouldn't be official until the coroner declared it but to Nathan it looked like the adults were trying to shelter the young ones from the concrete. Nathan wanted to find the person responsible and beat the crap out of him.
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Once the local cops got there, they took over the crime scene and the ATF agents were allowed to leave after giving their statements. Mary and her crew planned on staying till the bodies were excavated from the foundation wall. All the agents wanted to leave, they saw enough bodies in their line of work that they didn't need to see any more. JD though did make copies of everything the camera saw and took it with him on one of the extra computer memory cards he carried when dealing with anything CP related.
No one really wanted to be on their own after the morning's dark discovery. They decided to meet up at the duplex Ezra and Vin had bought by pooling their money together. Larger than Josiah's or Nathan's, closer than Chris'ranch and it was clearer than the CID (the apartment Buck and JD shared). The house was located in one of the older suburbs of Denver, build around the end of WW II. One of the main reasons Ezra and Vin had bought the residence was that the property butted up to one of Denver's many parks. It only had houses on three sides of it, cutting down the people's noises from their neighbors. The two-story house was divided in two, from the outside it still looked like two individual dwellings.
Ezra and Vin had the insides completely redone with the sentinel's comfort in mind. This left the house almost completely gutted. All the old rugs, compressed boards, insulation, or anything that could hold dust or mildew was ripped out and replaced with more sentinel friendly products.
The floor plan on the bottom floor was the same on each side of the duplex. Each dwelling had it's own fully equipped kitchen but the wall dividing the two kitchens now had a glass door. As you left the kitchen you entered the rest of the ground floor. First the dining area that meandered into the living room. Wooden arches took the place of walls to give the space a more open feel. The living room had a stone fireplace that all Denver homes seem to have. The staircase that came down from the upper floor was located on the duplex's dividing wall. Near the front entrance that same long central wall that divided the two homes now also had French doors. This would give each man privacy, but also allow them access to each other's homes when the rest of the team was present or when they needed to interact with each other. The front and back porches were shared by both residences.
It was upstairs that most of the remodeling had taken place. On Ezra's side of the house there were now two bedrooms instead of three. The third bedroom's space had been utilized into the master bedroom and bath. Ezra now had a state of the art bathroom complete with hot tub as well as a shower stall and a walk in closet that held most of his clothes.
The other side of the house, adjacent to the park was Vin's side of the duplex. The walls that had made up the three bedrooms had been removed, as well as the ceiling. This opened the upstairs into one large living area with cathedral ceilings. Following the theme from downstairs, wooden arches replaced the support walls that kept the roof up, which now had new skylights in it. The hard wood floors under the old rugs had been sanded smooth. The small windows had been replaced with bigger, floor to ceiling types, giving Vin a view of the park and the mountains beyond. The bathroom walls had been replaced with frosted glass blocks, giving privacy and a sense of natural light. Vin kept his clothes in an old cedar wardrobe that he had found at a used furniture store, Ezra insisted on calling it an armoire. That along with a bed, desk, bookcase and a few comfortable chairs and floor lamps made up the rest the furnishings. The sentinel in Vin liked the open space.
Behind the bathroom was the only door upstairs in Vin's half of the duplex. It led into Ezra's half of the house. It was there not only because a sentinel and guide needed to be able to get to each other if needed, but because over the years both men had made their share of enemies in their chosen vocation. It was the rationalization given when asked why both homes were accessible to each other. One only had to look at Team Seven's history of arrests to understand that there were a lot of people out there who would like nothing better than to take out any of them.
Chris didn't hesitate to tell anyone who would listen about how glad he was that Vin was finally out of that apartment in Purgatorio, a poverty-stricken area of Denver, overridden with street gangs and crime. Vin had first moved there when he was a bounty hunter on the trail of a bail jumper who lived nearby. He found the average people friendly and the children in need. He stayed even after he'd gotten his bounty. It kept him close to the streets and the informers he needed to take down his prey. Vin volunteered his time at the local community center and worked with the teens trying to get them to see something in their lives other than the street gangs. After becoming an ATF agent he didn't see the need to move. He was actually making less money as an ATF agent than he had as a bounty hunter. Fortunately Vin had learned from his impoverished childhood and had always put a part of his income aside in a savings plan. He was more than able to pay his share of the cost for the duplex and the remodel.
Vin knew Ezra wouldn't be safe or happy in Purgatorio. They made a compromise, while the duplex was outside the area known as Purgatorio, Vin still volunteered his time at the center, usually with Ezra by his side. Ezra was great with the kids, tutoring the children in their schoolwork. Surprisingly there were a few parents who came and asked for help with their English. They understood that speaking proper English would get them better jobs and that would help them get out of the slums.
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It was late afternoon by the time everyone had arrived at the duplex. Chris was the last to show, having stayed long enough to make sure Mary was all right. He needn't have worried, Mary was in her element, a news reporter with a breaking story. She had already contacted her station and had airtime waiting. As soon as the local police gave the ok she'd be on the air. Chris wasn't needed, he headed out to join the others.
He found all but Vin and Ezra eating a late lunch at Vin's dining room table. Buck and JD had stopped for fried chicken and Nathan had stopped for salad fixings. Nathan was bound and determined to get his teammates to start eating better. He knew the others would stop for some kind of meat so he always brought some kind of veggie. Ezra kept several kinds of salad dressing on hand in his kitchen for just this kind of occasion. It would be better if Nathan's teammates didn't keep drowning the greens in dressings but it was a start.
None of the men had felt like eating after this morning's grim discovery but experience had taught them that low blood sugar and lack of rest made it too easy to make mistakes. An important bit of information could be missed by not keeping themselves fit. So they ate and for the moment didn't think about what they had seen that morning.
"Where's Vin and Ezra?" asked Chris
"Downstairs processing." Josiah told him. "Ezra needed to work through what happened."
Chris nodded his head. It was Ezra who had a hard time meditating and not the sugar addicted Texan. But then Vin was into yoga and getting into a Zin state of mind, becoming one with the universe. Maybe with his sentinel senses he was.
Ezra on the other hand felt exposed and vulnerable when he tried to sit still and meditate. He just couldn't let down his guard enough to relax. His years as an undercover agent and the FBI's betrayal in Atlanta had left the Southerner a tad paranoid. Justifiable or not the man had a hard time letting his guard down. Only with the team and only after he had learned to trust them was Ezra able to relax that much. He knew he now had six brothers who would watch his back and keep him safe.
Chris took the stairs down to the basement. The underground room ran the entire length of the duplex. As with upstairs there was a large doorway cut between the two subdivisions. On Ezra's side were the usual items found in the residence's basement, washer, dryer, hot water heater, worktable, tools and the like. Chris was pretty sure the tools probably belonged to Vin. But the racks of fine wines kept at an even temperature in the cool cellar were all Ezra's. Tucked under the porch behind locked doors were racks of Ezra's favorite wines, kept locked to keep out anyone who might stumble into the house. It was a highly unlikely occurrence, considering who had put in the doors, locks and security system.
Vin's side of the basement had been turn into a well-equipped gym. Doe-Jo might be a better term to describe the place. For Vin had some interesting workout weapons on one end, wooden swords and long wooden poles. At the opposite wall were the usual weight machines and rolls of workout mats. In between the outer walls had been covered in mirrors from floor to ceiling. For the first time Chris realized they covered the windows as well. He checked and sure enough the windows on Ezra's side were covered as well. No one was going to get into the house by the basement windows or take a shot at those inside through those same windows. Chris shook his head. Ezra wasn't the only one who was paranoid.
The two men Chris was looking for were in the middle of the room going through a Tai Chi routine, what Josiah described as moving meditation. They were the image of that flowing form; perfectly balanced and coordinated to each other. Their movements were in sync with their counterpart, as if one was the mirror reflection of the other. It was even more amazing when you realized their eyes were closed. Somehow they just knew where the other one was and what the other was doing. It seemed effortless till you noticed the shine of sweat on their skin and the dampness of their clothes. They must have been at it for a while, it was time to stop and get them to eat something. Chris waited for them to acknowledge he was there.
Two pairs of eyes snapped open and studied him as they brought their routine to an end. Blue eyes turned to green.
"You alright Ez?"
"Bettah than Ah was, thank you."
"All right you two enough is enough, it's time you ate something." Chris told them.
Turning to Chris, Ezra said. "Ah believe Ah'll pass on the meal, ma appetite isn't with me."
Chris shook his head no, no excuses. "Now, both of you upstairs, shower and change." He wasn't about to let the southerner get away with not eating. "Meet the rest of us on Vin's side. We've got plans to make." Chris started back up the stairs, calling back over his shoulder. "You've got twenty minutes boys so get a move on."
+ + + + + + +
Toby Cline had problems, not only had his accountant got arrested for drunk driving again. One of these days Toby was going to let him rot in jail and not get the charges drop. Some nosey reporter had gone looking where she shouldn't have been. If he found out who had tipped her off it would be the last act of conscious the snitch would ever make. Cline couldn't go after the woman for she was too well connected with the local ATF. So he was forced to brazen the matter out. His construction company was mostly legitimate, his people (for the most part) build good quality buildings. Only occasionally was something more added into or under the foundations.
For Toby Cline's real money making enterprise was in the relocation of goods and people, mostly people. His PR people had created a reputation for him as a humanitarian. Cline sponsored several families who were resettling in America. His reputation help cut through the bureaucracy to get them into this country. What wasn't known outside of his own people was for every person or family brought into the country legally half a dozen were smuggled in illegally. Cline preyed on those who were desperate, who lived in fear of their lives, those that would pay anything to get into this country. And Toby Cline was there to take their money, in most cases it was everything they had.
Even after the immigrants made their way here their troubles weren't over. Toby added additional fees on top of the one he charged for their transportation. New identities, green cards, jobs, and his silence that he wouldn't turn them in; so much money that they'd be paying him for life. For who would take their word over an important businessman and humanitarian like Toby Cline. The few who did stand up to him and threatened to go to the police disappeared. Sometimes it was just the troublemaker; sometimes it was the whole family.
Liang Ping had been a troublemaker. He hadn't wanted to pay Cline anything more than he already had for getting his family out of Singapore. When Toby's men had threatened to turn him and his family over to immigration Liang Ping said go ahead, he'd take his chances with immigration and the American press. No one had thought of going to the news media before. Infuriated, Toby ordered his men to deal with Liang and as an object lesson Liang's family shared the same fate. Liang, his wife and children became part of a new convention center and high rise garage.
For now Toby Cline would pretend to be outraged that this unspeakable act had taken place on one of his company's work sights and even offer a reward for information that would lead to the arrest of the people responsible for this appalling crime. All the while he publicly demanded that the police take action like any good citizen would. For now he'd lay low and wait till the cops hit a dead end and had started working other cases.
+ + + + + + + The seven had made plan to investigate Cline, but had been forced to allow the local PD to take over the case by the higher ups. Twelve weeks had passed and the police were no closer to finding out who the victims had been than they had on the day the bodies were discovered. The only facts they had were that the victims were Asian, most likely Chinese. That information had been ascertained from their bone structure, clothes, shoes and dental work. They were also probably in the country illegally. But there had been nothing on the bodies to tell who they were or if they had family in the states. No one came forward with information, no one claimed the bodies. It was still an open case but its priority level had been dropped down for more current cases. Most people had forgotten all about it, but not seven men and one headstrong woman news reporter. While working other cases and stories both groups had kept a lookout for any information dealing with the four lost souls.
It was at the end of the thirteenth week when the higher ups decided to let another law enforcement agency take over. Mary Travis was still talking about the case on her news show giving them a hard time, reminding people that the case had stalled. If Orin Travis couldn't get his daughter- in-law to back down than he could take it over. That had lead to Team Seven being put in charge of the case.
The seven now sat around the conference table with the case's lead detective, Mick Richardson and his partner Raymond Sing. They had brought all the information the Denver Police Department had gathered over the last few months. The men were obviously unhappy with losing the case to another department. But at least it was going to a local ATF team and not the FBI. The last two hours had been spent going over the reports.
"This is good work gentlemen." Chris told them. "You've covered the local Chinese community as well as the immigration agencies."
JD interrupted. "How did you find out they were Chinese?"
Nathan passed the coroners report to him. "Bone construction and what flesh they could find that hadn't been destroyed by the minerals in the concrete. The body of the youngest wasn't damage too much, the parents protected him by putting him between their bodies, and cement didn't cover him directly."
"Sorry I asked."
Chris turned to Detective Richardson. "What did immigration have?"
"Immigration had little on illegals with construction ties. If you find out they're involved somehow I won't be surprise."
Richardson answered. "The supervisor was too helpful, insisted we talk only to him and wanted all the information we had on who we talked to and what was said. We didn't give him anything." He indicated his partner. "We both got a bad feeling off him."
"What did your instincts tell you about the interviews in little Asia?" asked Josiah
"That most didn't have a clue as to what was going on. But a few were scared, it seemed like it was the poorest ones who were the most fearful." Richardson said.
"We got no information on the case; but third and fourth generation Chinese had a lot to say on the subject. How the cops were not willing to find out who did it just because they were Chinese." Sing shook his head. "They were telling me this to my face. I can trace my ancestors back to the Chinese who build the railroad across this country back in the eighteen hundreds."
"Give it a rest Ray." Ordered his partner, who had heard the story before, many times before.
"What about Toby Cline or his construction company?" asked Chris wanting to cover everything.
"What we got is in the report. Most of that's hearsay or said off the record, we put it in anyway just in case it might helped, Cline's not as clean as he looks but nothing's ever been proven." Richardson told them, he didn t look at his partner who shook his head but didn't say anything. Neither man would look the ATF agents in the eye. "It's not a lot. We were told to not inconvenience the man. He an ... an... "
It was a soft Southern draw that answered for them. "Understood gentlemen, Ah've been there and wasn't wise enough to back down. Mr. Cline will be investigated."
Buck had been watching the pair, they seemed like good cops. But he wanted to be sure they had given the team everything they had. If they had been told to back off they might of left something out. He caught Ezra's eye and nodded toward the detectives, Ezra in turn tapped Vin on the foot and subtly indicated the pair. Buck asked his question.
"How do you two feel about us taking over the case?"
Both detectives looked at Buck than Chris. It was common knowledge that both agents had been Denver cops working their way up the ranks before joining the ATF. It was the junior detective who answered first.
"Can't say I like it. Would have been nice to be the ones who put this bastard away. If things turn out like I think they will, it will take your clout to take him down"
Richardson added, "Since we had to give the case up I'm glad it was to you guys." Richardson caught Buck's raised eyebrow and added. "You're local for one thing and for the other... well I don't like being forced to back off on the best suspect we had. Besides the bureaucrat attached to our office from the FBI isn't competent to do... ." Remembering that Ezra had been FBI before joining Team Seven, he apologized. "Sorry Standish."
"No apology necessary Detective Richardson, Ah don't like the local office either," smiled Ezra. His days with the bureau were long over.
"Anyway at least I know you guys will keep us in the loop." His pager went off. "Sorry." Richardson took it out of his pocket and looked at it. "Damn, we've got to go." Standing up the two detectives shook everyone's hands and before they left said. "If there's anything we can do let us know."
After Denver's finest left Buck said. "Well they seem to be good cops." He looked over at the sentinel and the guide.
"They were telling the truth as they know it." Vin told his colleagues. "They weren't nervous, heartbeats were steady throughout the meeting and there was no smell of apprehension at any time."
"Ah concur, their only hostility came when the discussion turned to the immigration supervisor and being compelled to relinquish the case to our care." Ezra said.
"At us or the situation?" asked Josiah.
"You two are better than a lie detector." Claimed the ladies man.
Everyone smiled at the comparison but Nathan lost his as he looked through the pictures of the crime scene again.
"We've got to find out who was responsible for this." Tapping the pictures with his hand.
"We will Nathan," Josiah assured him, then Josiah looked to Chris for his own reassurance.
"We made plans when the bodies were discovered, now we get to put them into action." Chris looked over at Ezra. "You better get started on the importance of being Ernest."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra had put a lot of work in creating Ernest Perceval Seffner. With JD s help they created a complete history for Ernest P. Seffner's life. Any one looking into Ernest P. Seffner's life would find a complete computer trail; where he was born, lived as a child and where he went to school. Schools records would show he was a mathematical geek of first order. His high school successes took place in the math competitions he entered, even the math scholarships he won in order to go to a New York State run college. All that information was carefully added to the records of that state university. Ezra had friends in the IRS who helped him by having their computer red flag any inquiry about Seffner, allowing JD to answer them. Also, the contacts Travis and Josiah had back east would cover for them if anyone called there checking up on Ernest. That left what Ernest should look like. Ezra couldn t chance anyone remembering him from the garage. A change in appearance was in order.
+ + + + + + + Ernest P. Seffner came highly recommended as an accountant and lawyer, he specialized in tax law. His résumé stated he was an expert at keeping the IRS from sending people to jail for tax evasion. He knew all the loopholes as well as when and where to employ them. He knew the tax laws and rules better than the agents of the IRS did. Ernest could and did point out their mistakes, always sure to have hard evidence to back himself up with. He would pull out the IRS'own manuals, books of tax laws and computer programs to prove his case. If anyone in the country could honestly say they understood the country's tax laws it would be Ernest P. Seffner. Off the record Toby had heard Seffner had worked for several of the big players back east, just not who or when.
Toby Cline had need of a good tax accountant and tax lawyer. His accounted of the last ten years had been arrested for drunk driving again and thrown into jail for outstanding warrants. Sam Towner wasn't going to see the light of day for a long time and when the SOB got out he wasn't coming back to work for Toby. Too many drunk driving charges. Towner was a drunk but he did his job well or at least Toby had always thought so. But now the IRS wanted to go over the books. Towner may not have been a great accountant but he had been adequate and he knew when to turn a blind eye to what went on around him. Now Cline was unsure about going through an audit with the books in the shape they were in. Cline had never bothered to pay taxes on his ill- gotten gains from illegal activities Toby had never even though of it. Towner who had only worked on the books for the construction company didn't know to suggest it. Toby Cline kept his own records on those matters, not well, but well enough to keep track of how much he took in each year and whom he paid. Now the scum at the IRS were asking questions on where all his money came from; some nonsense about him spending more than he was reporting the construction company making. Toby had put out feelers for someone who could do the job and keep his mouth shut. He needed someone to take care of the mess his books were in; maybe even both sets of books. Seffner's name had come up and after having him investigated Toby had issued an invitation for him to come to Denver.
+ + + + + + +
Toby Cline sat in his lavish downtown office and looked across his desk at the man who was supposed to save him from the IRS'hands. What he saw was a short man with tinted glasses that hid the color of his eyes. Long straight black hair was tied neatly behind his head with a golden clasp. Seffner was wearing a suit that had come from an upscale men's store; it might have came off the rack but it had been altered to fit. It all said I am successful, but not too successful. I know what I'm doing without being arrogant about it or flashy.
Toby got the impression that Ernest P. Seffner was use to keeping his mouth shut. He hadn't asked any questions about the business but waited for Cline to speak. He didn't mention any of his other clients either. If rumors of the man were true he had every right to brag. He had taken care of some important people both in and out of organized crime. He was at ease with Cline and wasn't afraid of him. Obviously Ernest P. Seffner was used to dealing with dangerous men. Nor did he underestimate his clientele, there was a man out in the anteroom that had been introduced as Seffner's assistant but whose body language screamed bodyguard. Ernest didn't take chances. Toby liked that too, it showed Seffner was careful. Toby wouldn't try to cross this man as long as it was in his best interest or at least till after the audit. But till then Toby wanted to see how far he could push him; partly because he liked to push people around and partly because he needed to be sure that Seffner understood what would happen if he talked about Toby's business.
"Well Mr. Seffner I understand you are one of the best at straightening out any tax faux pas with the government. As I told you my bookkeeper had gotten himself arrested for drunk driving and isn't able to take proper care of his duties. He took care of the Barnes Construction Company's books and I want to be certain they're ready for this IRS audit." Cline didn t want to mention his other set of books, not yet. He'd wait and see how Seffner did with the company books first, but still... "After that there might be another matter for you to deal with."
Ezra sighed and with a slight shake his head said. "Mr. Cline if there is another set of books or other business ventures that brings in capital I need to add that information to the numbers I will be working with. I will need to show balance between them and what information the IRS has. There s also the need to pay taxes on such revenue. There's even a place for listing income from illegal undertakings." Ernest told Cline.
"There is?" Tony hadn't known that but then he had never thought about paying taxes on that money.
"Yes, the wording is somewhat perplexing but it is there."
"Seems stupid to pay on... ill gotten gains." Toby smiled at the sound of that. Ill gotten gains', almost sounded poetic. "I always thought the construction business would cover having any extra money."
"Mr. Cline that is where the IRS will get you, the unaccounted for funds that don't show up in your paperwork in their files. Of course this might be one of those times when the IRS's computer simply spat out your name for a random audit but you and I know better. More likely you annoyed someone who called the IRS with an anonymous tip. Or is there another reason for them to be investigating you?"
"No, of course not. Unless that fool Towner said something while he was drunk." Toby than paused for a moment to think it over. "Even then he doesn't know anything to tell. Outside of the one set of books for the construction company he doesn't work on anything else. Towner has always known when to look the other way. One of the reasons I took him on was his attitude of I don't see anything the boss doesn't want me to see'. " Cline looked at Ernest, "Is that your belief too?"
Ezra answered coldly. "My beliefs do not enter into my job, I deal with numbers. I can straighten out your books in a manner that will allow you to pass anything the IRS throws at you or I can walk out of here and return to New York."
"Wait a moment Seffner. I'm offering you a job but I've got to know if you'll be running off at the mouth about anything you find in the books."
"The choice is mine if I take this job or not. There are others waiting for my talents with numbers. You were merely the highest bidder for my skills this time." Ernest stood up. "If you fear my ability to keep my mouth shut you haven't spoken to any of my previous employers. Perhaps you should do that." He started to walk to the door.
"Hey wait a minute. You didn't give me any names of your previous employers." Tony called out to him.
Ernest P. Seffner smiled at Toby Cline and said. "Think about that and then ask yourself if I can keep my mouth shut." Ernest opened the door to the office. "My assistant and I will be staying at the Denver Hilton, if you wish to reconsider, call me. I'll be there till we can get a flight back to New York." With that he closed the door behind him.
+ + + + + + +
Toby watched the young man leaving his office and felt his anger start to rise. Who did this bastard think he was? No one spoke back like that to Toby Cline. He had clawed his way out of the slums using every dirty trick in the book to get where he was today. One thing Toby learned early that was if you wave enough money in front of someone's face they'd do anything you ask. So why wasn't this Ernest falling over his feet to get Cline's business? If he didn't need the best to clean up his books before the IRS got to them he'd get his boys to mess up that sophisticated prick and his little watchdog too. Toby would have Clint, his assistant run another check on Seffner and if he checked out Toby would apologize; an act Toby hated more than giving some one a free ride. No matter how much Toby needed Seffner's skill with numbers he kinda hoped Clint would find something on the accountant to let the boys ruff him up a bit. It would be fun to watch. ++++++
Vin had been listening in on the conversation going on in the inner office. He was ready and was waiting for Ezra by the door as soon as he heard his partner give Cline the ultimatum, falling in step with Ezra as he cleared the office door. Together they walked out and cleared the building before speaking to one another. Standing outside on the sidewalk with no one close enough to overhear Ezra asked. "Well?" Knowing full well Vin had listened in all the while he and Cline had been talking and to Cline after they left.
Vin chuckled "He was on the phone even before we got on the elevator. Got his assistant calling people who you might have worked for in the past or might know who you worked for. He's not getting anything, no one is talking." Vin gave Ezra a look. "You are sure he'll call back aren't you? If he doesn't Chris will skin us both."
"He'll call." Ezra reassured his friend. "Men like Cline are bullies and will push till whoever they are bullying pushes back. Cline's used to getting his own way and doesn't like it that I didn't kowtow to him. I didn't let him bully me and that's why he is going to let me look at both sets of books."
Vin waved down a cab playing the part of bodyguard as he scrutinized the street for anyone who might be following from Cline's building. Most of it was for show but Vin was also keeping his guide safe. It wasn't too often that Ezra
et Vin give him the kind of protection he'd like to. His guide was important to him, Ezra's friendship even more so. Ezra took too many chances as far as Vin was concerned, but then trouble seemed to find Ezra Standish regardless of where he was.
This time being Ezra's bodyguard had came with a price and Vin was going to make sure Ez didn't forget it anytime soon. Ezra had finally convinced him that it was necessary to wear a suit. Vin had to agree to dress as required to fit the illusion that Ezra had created. Vin was wearing suits that Ezra had personally picked out for him and that had been fitted to conceal his weapons. While Vin wasn't comfortable in any suit, these weren't so bad. But his hair, while he hadn't had to cut the length he was made to get it trimmed. Ezra's own hair stylist had cut it and they had dyed highlights in it when Vin wasn't paying attention. Ezra had read all the labels on the bottles and did his homework on the net before letting the stylist work on Vin's hair. He made sure only natural dyes and bleaches were used that had been tested and cleared for people with ultra sensitivities. Vin didn t recognize himself when he looked in the mirror.
Ezra had dressed down for the part of Ernest. His suits, even though from an up scale men's clothing chain, weren't Armani. He replaced his normal Southern accent for a neutral New Yorker accent. His own locks had been dyed dark brown and extensions added to lengthen his hair. Put it all together with the dark glasses that both men were wearing, and the rest of the team could walk by them on the street and not recognize them. Ezra was very good at creating an illusion and fitting himself into it, making people believe he was who he was pretending to be. Even Vin got into the spirit of things and played his part to the hilt.
+ + + + + + +
Toby Cline called that night and grudgingly apologized, asking if Ernest could meet with his people tomorrow morning to work out the details. Cline had done his best to find anyone who would talk about Ernest P. Seffner, or who had heard Seffner talk about any of his jobs or clients. Everyone knew who Ernest P. Seffner was but Cline hadn't found anyone who would admit to having heard Seffner talk about their accounts or anyone else's. Cline had been impressed, it seemed Ernest P Seffner was all he said he was. It never entered Cline's mind that the reason no one had heard of Seffner talking about his clients was that there were no former clients to talk about.
+ + + + + + +
The next day found Buck Wilmington at a Barnes Construction site. Buck had gotten himself a job there as a day worker. He had gotten there early and waited for the foreman to come in, asking if he needed any help that day. Buck had picked up extra money while going to college by working construction sites and knew there was always something that needed to be done that no one else wanted to do. Foremen were always watching their bottom line, trying to come in under budget. If they kept their crew short handed they could hire day workers as needed, pay them in cash and there'd be no need to keep records of them being on the site.
Buck leaned on his shovel and wiped the sweat off his face with his bandana. It was hot work, working construction even if all he was doing was picking up and moving dirt and rock from one place to another. He found most of the other workers standoffish, not surprising after being questioned by the Denver Police Department and news reporters. They were suspicious of any new face that showed up. Buck didn't ask any questions of anyone. In fact he ignored most of them and did whatever was asked of him till they all broke for lunch. He went out to his truck and pulled out a cooler and a loaf of bread and made himself a couple of bologna sandwiches. He was sitting on the tailgate when two of his fellow workers walked up to him, eating sandwiches from the lunch-cart. They gave him the once over before speaking.
"Got a lot of stuff packed in that truck." Observed one of them.
"Everything I've got left." Buck answered.
"You homeless or something?"
"You could say that." Buck replied taking another bite from his sandwich.
"Lose your job and everything?"
Buck gave out with a dispirited grunt that would have done Ezra proud and said. "Just got a divorce and the ex got everything."
Buck gave than a hard look. "Why do you want to know?"
"No reason, just trying to get to know you." He backed of a few steps away from the truck.
The other man who had been listening to the exchange between Buck and his friend suddenly asked. "You going to need work tomorrow?"
"Can't promise how long but the foreman is going to need extra hands for at least the next three weeks, we're setting up two sites and are stretched a little thin right now. If you're interested ya got a job."
"Why me?" Buck asked with suspicion in his voice.
"You've worked hard, you seem to be a good guy that could use a break and you haven't asked any questions."
"Haven't you been watching the news?"
"Don't own a TV any more." Buck gave them both a look. "I'm not interested in doing anything illegal."
"Nothing illegal, just don't ask questions about anything you see around here. Got it?"
Slowly Buck nodded his head, "Yeah, I can do that and I need the money, thanks."
"Name's Clyde, tell the foreman tomorrow I said ya got the job."
Later that night in the cheap hotel room off the interstate Buck checked in. "Got the job and looks like I'll be on the site for a while... Yes. Mother I will be careful... Goodnight."