Vin and Chris followed the Durango into the city. They used an ‘illegal’ tracking device. Illegal in the sense that the proper paper work might not have been filled out in a timely manner. Chris had had his fill of proper procedure. The minute he had been told he did not carry the clout of ‘Need to Know’, he took matters into his own hands. He warned the others last night of his intentions and certain procedures might be side stepped and formal disciplinary actions might be made against him. He would not force any of his team down that path. The others had a decision to make, Chris would not judge them either way. He hardly finished his speech when the others spoke up both in volume and indignation. They were a team, they would do what was necessary to get Ezra back, Tedeschi behind bars and Hawkins held accountable for the potential wrong doings he was accused of performing. Larabee expected no different from his men, still they deserved an out, options. They all stood their ground, they were a team. By the end of this detail they would remain a team the seven of them.
Larabee weaved quietly between traffic while Vin gave directions. After JD and Nathan’s description of Buck’s driving it was decided that Wilmington would not be allowed to drive anywhere.
The Durango stopped at a run down brick building. A simple weather worn sign read “GYM” The paint had peeled exposing grey wood. Same kind of grey that lined the streets and sky.
Trash littered the area, people stood leaning against wrought iron railings, cement steps led both up to doors and down to doors. Black rusting bars lined the first story and basement windows. No greenery dotted the street. The buildings were mostly aged brick, the windows elongated, no curtains laced the dwellings on this street. A few potted plants sat on sills but they appeared wilted and dying.
Mancini stepped out of the truck followed by Standish. The Durango then pulled away.
Tanner picked up his cell phone he hit speed dial, “Yeah,” Nathan’s voice rang out clearly.
“Durango’s moving North headin’ yer way,” Vin said, “Mancini and Ez got out here at the gym, we’re stayin’ with’em. You’ve got Guidino and Burkhardt.” Tanner nodded absently when Jackson answered. Vin folded up his phone and laid it on the console.
He and Chris sat back and waited.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra followed Andre through the gym door. The smell of sweat and breath hit them like a physical barrier. Standish was about to turn on his heel and walk out of the fetid place but Mancini’s restraining hand stopped him.
They crossed the black rubber padded floor. The concrete flooring was visible in the locker rooms and showers. Hanging bags dangled on the ends of chains from the water marked ceiling. A few speed bags clung to lower overhangs. Free weights dotted the far wall. Leather boxing gloves hung from wooden pegs. Fluorescent lights hummed, the wire guards missing on some of them. The walls were an army green with a dull yellow stripe running horizontally.
Most of the occupants stood a head taller than the southerner and easily outweighed him anywhere between ten and a hundred pounds. They all dressed basically the same, baggy shorts no shirts, white socks and high laced grappler shoes.
What were they doing here?
Standish followed Mancini across the floor past the regulation size boxing ring, into the stagnant locker room.
Then trouble started.
André watched and listened while the other occupant of the locker/shower room decided to verbally assault his charge. Mancini let it go. Burkhardt wanted the Kid to blow off some steam. Standish was angry, frustrated and tense. He had become a ball of energy with no outlet. Andre figured finding a ‘lady’ would do the southerner some good, but Henry said ‘No’. The Kid did not need to be finding comfort and security in someone who was paid for the service. Let him work off his frustrations then bring him home.
Andre and Terry knew just the place, it was safe, relatively speaking. Burkhardt ran it, most of his men frequented it. The doors did not need locking at night, though the ritual was observed every evening, the reputation of it’s owner protected it better than any lock.
Mancini watched quietly as Standish ignored the instigator. Andre figured he would let this boil into a fight. Get them in the ring and take a few swings at each other. Everyone would be satisfied.
Mancini began to get frustrated. Damn Southerner kept his mouth shut. Did not even seem upset. Andre was getting as angry as Julio. He knew Julio. The man had a foul mouth, bad temper and hated whites. He made the mistake of bumping into Andre....once. The same folly never was repeated. Julio sought out trouble normally in individuals smaller than himself.
Ezra watched unperturbed as the gentleman before him continued on his tirade. Ezra became privy to slights in his own lineage that Ezra never knew existed before. The dark skinned well muscled person pointed out defects in Standish’s background and upbringing that Standish himself must have missed while he lived it. Amazing how observant bullies were, or thought they were, when taunting ones smaller than themselves. Ezra had dealt with his fair share of Goliaths in his time since he was a kid. Normally all wind, push come to shove they backed down. There were a few painful lessons in his past when the bully actually stood their ground. Standish really did not care. The man before him had no idea how little influence his opinion had on the southerner. Then again judging by his darkening countenance maybe the Neanderthal did realize how much Ezra really did not care about his opinion.
Then another voice spoke up, sealing Ezra’s fate.
“Bet ya can’t take’im in the ring, Julio,” Mancini leered out changing into his shorts. Both Julio and Ezra stared at him as if he had lost his mind.
“Is that so?” Julio smiled smugly. He would make ground meat of this white boy.
“Best be careful Julio,” Andre continued as if he warned a child of the dangers of poking a stick at a chained dog, “he’ll hurt ya.” Mancini stared past the shocked expression of the southerner to larger man behind Ezra.
“I’d make a hamburger of this guy,” to make his point he shoved Standish on the shoulder. Ezra ground his teeth. He hated being shoved.
“Ya want to make a wager on it?” Andre asked. He had seen the slight anger that flashed across the southerner’s green eyes. He just put the icing on the cake. Damn fool could not resist a bet.
+ + + + + + +
Five minutes later Ezra stood in the far corner of the boxing ring with Andre taping his gloves in place. The Southerner wore borrowed gear.
“Explain to me again why I am here?” Ezra asked. His stomach churned as if a pit full of rattlers had suddenly taken up residency. He had not boxed seriously since the academy. Sure he still worked out and still laced on the gloves but nothing that would allow him to enter the ring.
“You need to relax,” Andre answered. He would not let Julio hurt him to badly. Besides the ref was a friend of his, he would watch out for the kid.
“Engaging in a game of cards is relaxing, a game of billiards is relaxing, getting my head handed to me by that Titan over there is anything but relaxing,” Ezra sputtered out.
“Listen Kid, just keep out of his reach,” Mancini coached, “besides I bet a hundred of Henry’s dollars that you would last three rounds.” Andre smiled at the widened green eyes. Nothing like the lure of money.
“My life is worth more than a hundred dollars, dear sir,” Ezra bit out. Andre slid the mouth guard in strangling off the angry words.
“Sure it is kid, but just think, three rounds or six minutes you make over a hundred bucks who can be a deal like that?” Mancini chuckled stepping out of the ring. The bell rang. Ezra swore adjusted his headed gear and faced the ‘man’ that stalked forward.
+ + + + + + +
Vin Tanner took the dark narrow wooden stairs two at a time. His snake skin cowboy boots rung hollow on the warped wooden steps. A naked light bulb and string decorated the landing. Vin strode out onto the Gym floor. He quickly glanced over all the occupants. Gyms such as this did not vary much across the country. The same forceful exhaled breaths were punctuated by muffled blows of leather gloves on bags. The rapid,steady staccato rhythm of the speed bag on its short ball and socket, the sounds of jump ropes tapping on the matted flooring filled the air. He did not see Ezra anywhere. Vin found Mancini poised like coach on the floor by the far corner of the boxing ring. A white towel draped across his shoulder. Tanner frowned and watched the two boxers. Both wore head gear and mouth guards. They were grossly mismatched. The dark golden skinned, red, trunked fighter had both height and weight on his smaller paler opponent.
Vin paused, damn he would recognize those chicken legs anywhere...Ezra. Ezra?! What the hell was the crazy southerner doing in the ring?
When Standish had to sing at a night club in drag, Buck and taken numerous photo’s. They would inadvertently pop up in the mail, on posters in news letters all through out the Denver Federal offices. Standish had promised retribution. He had yet to wreak his revenge. It had been over a year now. In all those color and black and white photo’s those same legs adorned the pictures. Ezra and his legs had been the butt of jokes for months.
Vin crossed the black rubber flooring side stepping the blue grappling mats. His faded worn blue jeans and time weathered leather jacket were enough to allow him to slip in innocuous.
He kept his distance, Mancini might recognize him. He watched as Standish bobbed and weaved placing a few jabs on the giant before him. His opponent for the most part ignored the jabs. A bad sign.
Julio lashed out with a crushing jabbed. Standish slipped his head to the right barely escaping with his nose intact.
Vin noticeably winced. ‘Just keep dancin’round Ez, wait out the bell,’Tanner silently coached.
One moment Tanner thought Ezra might actually escape with his head attached to his shoulders and the next Julio landed a solid blow. Vin grimaced,turned his head in sympathy and then squinted open one eye. Standish’s head swung around on his shoulder’s like a cartoon character’s barber poling neck. He instinctively took a step backward, his arms fell dumbly to his sides. His knees wobbled and legs shook. His legs folded and he collapsed unceremoniously onto his butt.
The bell rang.
Mancini cringed and jumped into the ring.
Vin ducked to the side behind the growing number of observers.
Mancini sat the gumby compliant agent down on a stool, “Yer doin’ good kid,” Andre encouraged. He waved smelling salts under the slack features. The eyes were open but no evidence of recognition was evident. The olfactory senses still worked and Ezra flinched moving his head away from the offending odor.
“Cut it out,” He whispered trying to figure out who loomed over him and what smelled so bad.
“Come on kid, one round down only two to go,” Andre added.
“Oh great,” Ezra mumbled. He was unaware that Mancini washed his face with a wet rag.
“You see ok kid?” Andre asked again directing the head to face him by the chin.
“I don’t know,” Ezra stuttered out his drawl thick and slow.
Andre stood to the side, “What do ya see over there?” He pointed to the standing Julio.
The bell rang again. Julio took a few steps forward. Mancini still stood on the mat.
“Big fuzzy brown thing,” Standish replied lazily, he was in a boxing ring, sparring some giant. Great.
“Good, that’s Julio, just stay out of his way,” Andre said. Four minutes anyone could last four minutes. “You’ve got four minutes left, two rounds, and we’re rich men. ‘Sides Henry’s got money ridin’ on ya kid,” Mancini added. Not a complete lie.
“Never let Chris down’fore, won’t let’enry down’either,” Standish mumbled climbing to unsteady feet. He grabbed Mancini’s arm for support but getting the older man’s attention, “could’ya redirect the referee’s attent’n fer a moment durin’ this round?”
Andre stared at the younger man and nodded.
Vin stood close enough to the corner to hear the exchange. ‘Ya ain’t ever let any of us down Ez, not in a long time.’
Julio marched out to the middle of the ring. It was time to play.
Andre loudly called to the ref. The grizzled ring master’s took his eyes from the two sparring individuals.
Ezra made his move.
Tanner started laughing and spoke into his mic, “He cheats at everthin’.” Chris sat out in the truck and smiled knowingly. If money was waged, Ezra would be determined to win no matter what the course of action.
Julio made to swing at the skittering man. One minute the white meat was in front of him and the next he was gone. Suddenly a weight jumped on his back and before he knew it sinewy arms wrapped tightly around his neck and back of his head. Julio recognized the figure four head lock, understood he only had a few seconds to break the hold.
Ezra clenched his eyes closed, wrapped his legs desperately around the larger man’s midsection and held on for dear life. Just a few seconds. He bowed his head nestling it between the shoulder blades of the larger man avoiding desperately sweeping gloves. He gasped when his back was smashed into the plastic/rubber coated cables that made up the ring’s ‘ropes’. Just a few seconds.
Julio’s legs wavered. His knees folded. Dots danced in his vision. He clawed desperately at the form that clung to his back, shaking his shoulders trying to dislodge the weight that followed him downward. Finally he fell face forward to the mat, unconscious.
Ezra hesitantly released his grip. His opponent stayed down. Standish climbed wearily but victoriously to his feet.
Mancini and the ref watched the play grinning. Julio was a bully. The elderly grizzled black man shook his head. He had seen alot of things in his time and alot of underhanded tactics but nothing quite like this stunt.
“Come’ere kid,” Mancini called out directing the dangerously swaying man back to his corner.
“You won,” Andre said helping Standish through the ropes. Mancini worked the bloodied mouth piece from the weaving southerner.
“You had your doubts,” Ezra chuckled dryly. He really wished the world would stop swimming in and out of focus.
“Git ta the locker room, I’ll be right behind ya,” Mancini ordered gently. Damn kid won, who would have thought.
Vin heard his chance. He threaded himself through the dispersing thong of people and followed Standish into the room.
Ezra sat heavily on the worn bench and attempted to unwrap the white tape from the wrist of his gloves with his teeth. His ears rung and it was hard to focus on anything. Then some one knelt before him.
“’Ey Ez,” Vin spoke softly, his Texas drawl held a smile, “we’ve bin worried’bout ya.”
Ezra tried to lift his head to stare at who ever was speaking to him. The voice sounded familiar.
Standish merely nodded his head, still working the tape with his teeth. He had no idea what was being said but it was easier to agree than disagree. He only heard a dull roar.
“ ‘Ez, kin ya hear me?” Vin asked holding Standish’s head up by his chin. Damn, pupils were dilated slightly unequally. The sharpshooter knew he was no Doctor and certainly did not have Nathan’s experience but he understood the signs of a concussion when he saw them. Vin spoke into his mic, “Chris he’s had his bell rung, he ain’t gunna remember me bein’ here,” Tanner’s frustration rung out hollowly in the empty room.
Larabee swore and slapped the steering wheel in anger. Could nothing go right for them?!
Vin heard the commotion outside. Mancini was coming back. He turned a sympathetic gaze to his lethargic friend, “Ez we’re watchin’ yer back, jes’ hang’n there a few more days,” Tanner patted Ezra’s sweat slick shoulder. He stood and slipped from the room using the side entrance. He crossed the gym floor ignoring and being ignored from the many bodies that worked out diligently.
Tanner jogged across the pot marked street, his coat open and blowing in the winter breeze. Chris watched him silently. There had to be away to get a hold of Standish.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan drove calmly through the streets of New York. JD sat beside him intently reading his tracking unit. Every once in a while the Durango would become visible and Jackson would ease off the accelerator. They followed the shiny ebony truck to through the business district. The Durango pulled into a parking garage. Jackson swore. These garages allowed access to multiple business opportunities. They would not be able to discern where Burkhardt had business.
“JD, did McDermit mention whether or not Burkhardt had a business around here, or Tedeschi?”
Jackson double parked pushing in the hazard button on the top of the steering column.
JD put down the device and began rummaging through the files of paper that littered the front seat.
Nathan ignored the younger agent and peered out the window his restless mind wandering back to Denver. He sat up straighter. Nathan could not believe their luck. He nudged JD as he watched their two targets exit the front door of the garage and start walking down the concrete sidewalk.
Jackson slid into his coat. They would follow on foot.
“Antiquities,” Dunne answered triumphantly.
“What?” Nathan asked
“Burkhardt has a shop down the road, deals with antiques and stuff, Tedeschi a few blocks over has a Tai restaurant.” JD clarified.
Jackson merely nodded. Both men exited the slate grey Camery. A ‘92 model. The Judge pulled some strings. Inspite of Bucks ‘slight dents’ on the first car, team seven had been allowed access to a nice vehicle.
Nathan smiled shallowly. What a mess.
+ + + + + + +
Guidino and Burkhardt knew they were being followed. A life time on the streets, a life time of fighting, defending themselves and partaking in aggressive hostile takeovers, in a life where everyone was an enemy, the twosome learned to sense a ‘tail’. Neither man felt threatened. It was the medic and the computer kid. Larabee was just being thorough. They had noticed the white surveillance van last night. Larabee and his team had to see for themselves that their undercover agent was safe. Burkhardt could not fault them. Trust was a hard commodity to find and faith was only for fairy tales.
The arms dealer and bodyguard entered the antique store. It was time to contact Michael Tedeschi. It was time to get the ball rolling. With the gentle manipulation of Standish, McDermit had unearthed enough information to put the Denver hounds on the scent. It was time for things to fall into place. Larabee and his men were in town. Judge Travis was tearing up the political halls of law enforcement. Foundations were being shook, people were harried, and everyone looking over their shoulders. Burkhardt had his domino’s in a line, it was time to nudge the starting block. He smiled quietly things would turn out. Patience.
+ + + + + + +
Chris and Vin watched from the confines of the Pontiac Grand Prix. It was a mundane maroon, with a dark red interior. Neither ATF agent noticed the colors. The Judge had some influence even though he had no jurisdiction.
Mancini and Standish exited the gym. Andre kept a guiding hand on his smaller charge. Chris smiled half heartily when Ezra shrugged his upper arm out of the supportive grip. The southerner did not appreciate a helping hand if he did not believe it was necessary. Pain in the ass.
The two men stood quietly on the sidewalk. The brisk wind whipped at blue jeans and wool coats. Andre held a small gym bag in one hand. A smirk creased his lightly freckled face. Something amused him that was evident. Beside him, Standish stared down at the side walk his hands buried deep in his coat pockets. He stood with a slightly widened stance trying gamely to maintain his balance. Occasionally he rubbed at the right side of his face.
Vin, slouched down in the front seat, smiled grimly. They would just have to try again.
The Chris’s cell phone rang, “Larabee”. His tone was curt, his frustration revealed for all to hear. Larabee wanted nothing more than to drive across the street toss Standish in the car and head back to Denver. It would be so simple, so easy. With the death of McDermit, the possibility of taking down Tedeschi and maybe putting a stop to Burkhardt, Ezra became another ends to a means. Chris knew it, they all did, JD vocalized it last night.
The night before
The Judge had come to the hotel. He ‘revised’ the plans Chris had set into motion. Though the surveillance equipment had been swept out of sight, Larabee knew the Judge was no fool. Travis came with more information, more ideas and a stern ‘request’. Leave Standish where he was for now. The outside world had discovered McDermit’s death. Murder it was labeled, as well it should be, his contact was being named as a possible trigger man. Hawkins had made that connection the loudest. A Cop might have killed another Cop. Standish would not be safe in the law enforcement community. Samuel Hawkins planted the poisonous seed in the hearts of other lawmen. He fed on the blind undying loyalty that all law officials had for one another. With obtuse finger pointing he labeled the murder on an individual already tarnished by rumor and unable to defend himself. If Hawkins played his cards correctly Standish would never make it to trial. A blue coat would gun him down resisting arrest, or maybe an ATF agent would surgically remove the cancer that had infiltrated its way into New York. Yes, Hawkins was playing a dangerous game with another’s life.
Travis passed on this information. The others had heard the muted whisperings and ignored them. They knew the truth, not who squeezed the trigger, but knew who did not squeeze the trigger. Rumors swirled and wrapped themselves around the halls of the law enforcement agencies. A cop killed a cop. Larabee and his men denied it, ignored it and worked to get their man back. To accomplish such a feat they needed time, a plan, and help. Travis provided the help, outlined a plan and bought them some time.
Leave Standish in the hands of Burkhardt. The southerner would be safe right now, rumors were not fact. The Judge and his fellow bench mates and thus the DA and his masses would sit tight on the local law enforcement. Standish would be given some distance for now. The leash holding back the lunging, snarling predator of the local law would eventually fall by the wayside. Larabee would have to move fast.
Travis turned a blind eye to Chris and his teams clandestine activities. Affidavits and warrants were signed with unseen proficiency and filed in the appropriate places. Red tape seemed to have fallen harmlessly in the Judge’s wake. Illegal wire taps and tracking equipment suddenly became very legal.
Leave Standish, let Burkhardt make his play. Follow his lead. Let Hawkin’s go for now let him snip and bite at Standish’s reputation. In the end they would all go down, all of them.
Then JD’s simple question left them silent.
“How’s that make us any better than Hawkin’s or Palamon?” They were using Ezra as bait, a tool. They left him out there alone a victim to others schemes. Their own included.
No one had an answer. No one could see much of a difference, though in their hearts they knew there had to be a difference.
Outside the gym
Chris sighed. He watched the two men on the side walk, as he listened to Nathan. Last night, JD had innocently cut to the quick of the matter.
There was Ezra, no more than fifty yards from them and Chris could not grab him, could not reassure him things would be alright. Larabee would not give up. They would reach Ezra fill him in on the plan and straighten this mess out. Dunne was wrong. They were different from Hawkins and Palamon. Chris just could not clearly make out that difference.
“Ok,” Chris answered as Nathan finished speaking. The leader of Team seven folded up the phone and pocketed it.
“Durango’s heading this way.”
Vin merely nodded.
Fifteen minutes later the Black Dodge pulled in front of the Gym. Mancini and Standish climbed in through the back doors. The truck pulled away. The Grand Prix sat a few more intolerable minutes and then pulled into light traffic to follow.
+ + + + + + +
The six ATF agents pooled their new information. Buck and Josiah revealed McDermits findings. Hawkins was rot. Concrete fact was lacking but there was enough for them to make their own conclusions. Did Hawkins find out about Shawn’s investigation. Did Hawkins squeeze the trigger that killed the young agent? They did not know. They could not be sure, but somewhere deep inside where inner voices and instincts kept them alive, they knew Samuel Hawkins played an intricate part in the young agents murder.
Josiah pulled Chris aside. Quietly sitting at a small round table often found in moderately cheap hotel rooms Josiah relayed his fears of Stockholm syndrome. The late afternoon winter sun cast long shadows on the table. The over head hanging light remained off. Larabee had listened quietly, intently. He doodled on a piece of hotel note paper, tracing a figure 8 over and over with a small black ink pen, again compliments of the hotel. A figure 8 up and around and back around. Stockholm syndrome? Did Ezra really identify with Burkhardt? Would Ezra cut and run with Henry Burkhardt when they charged in for the arrests? Standish had not been kidnapped.
Josiah had a point, however. Ezra had been exhausted when summoned to New York. The last case in Denver wiped them all out. He was then uprooted shipped off under the false impression of falling victim to vicious accusations. Standish had been broken down, tired, set a drift with no where to turn. Burkhardt took him in, gave him a safe place, something to eat, called him by his given name and provided stability and security. Hawkins and the ATF had knocked Ezra down and run him over, Burkhardt and his body guards picked Standish back up and pieced him back together.
Larabee nodded listening, tracing his figure eight continuously. Ezra’s loyalties? Chris finally gazed up and stared at the older man before him. He nodded grimly. Josiah made sense, unfortunate, cold revealing sense.
The urgency to contact Standish rose exponentially. Josiah and Chris kept their discussion to themselves.
“Its owned by Tedeschi,” JD said. The six men were crammed back into the van. The Judge lent it to them. They sat watching as Guidino, Burkhardt, Standish and Mancini walked single file into the Italian restaurant.
“I thought you said he owned a Thai restaurant?” Nathan pointed out slipping JD a side glance.
“He does and an Italian one, this one,” JD responded. No law says you can’t own two different types of restaurants.
“Whatdaya think he’s doin’ goin’ here?” Buck asked as he sat back in the van. He kept watching JD. The kid was young full of energy, smart too. As smart as JD was, the dumb kid did not realize how he intelligent he was, especially with computers. He kept trying to prove himself, just like McDermit. Gawd what if it had been JD? Wilmington admonished himself. It was not JD he had to get off that train of thought.
“Who knows?” Josiah answered. Ezra had made no more efforts in trying to contact Larabee or the team. It had been three days since they arrived in New York and no ‘new messages’. Ezra had given up on them. He had begun to accept his fate.
Chris watched the foursome disappear into the restaurant. Josiah’s observations ringing painfully true. Larabee had read the short messages Standish had tried to send. The confusion, the questions the lack of direction were all very evident now. In the end the last few attempts at communication had become laced with despondency. The last message a clear loss of hope and faith. If Chris had only known. If he had only searched harder, pushed New York with more vigor maybe he could have reached Standish.
The restaurant door closed softly.
Larabee made a decision.
“I’m going in.”
+ + + + + + +
Ezra sat next to Guidino. Terry was a hulking man and took up half the booth. There was no way either body guard could share a seat. Burkhardt carried Chris’s height but the added weight of age. He was not lithe, nor overtly heavy. Henry filled out his six foot frame. Due to size constraints, Ezra sat next to the larger heavier body guard facing the front door, with Standish pinned to the dark stained wall. Burkhardt faced him from across the table with Mancini beside him.
“Got enough room kid?” Mancini joked. He had to speak up over the din of the restaurant and bar. It was not a fancy place by any means. Patrons packed it, voices rang out as laughter rolled around the room. Glasses clanked, orders given and alcohol consumed. Smoke swirled and meandered around the crowded room wrapping its smoky blue tendrils around the patrons. The place was bustling.
Ezra merely raised a sarcastic eyebrow. Sardines had more room. Standish ignored the front door. There were too many people coming and going for him to notice anyone. Besides with Shawn dead there were not many people left for him to recognize. He had seen the front page of the New York times. ATF Agent Found Shot. He did not get a chance to read the article nor had he been afforded the opportunity to watch television. If he did not know better he would have thought the others were trying to keep him away from the media. It really did not matter. He had made no effort to contact Hawkins, nor any of McDermit’s team mates. He had not attempted to reach Larabee. Either Hawkins did not know how to contact Ezra or Standish was falling blame for Shawn’s death. It did not matter, he faced this dilemma very much alone.
Who was he suppose to contact? Was he still considered undercover? Ezra paused, he had forgotten he was working on a case, instead he had tried to focus his energies on discovering Shawn’s killer. He had no interest in bringing down Henry. In fact Ezra would do what he could to protect his friend. He would watch Burkhardt’s back as well as Guidino and Mancini’s it was the least he could do for them. They had treated him fairly took him in like family. He would treat them better than family, better than a team. He would try to live up to Henry’s expectations. What they were Ezra did not know, Burkhardt had asked nothing of him.
“How’s the head?” Henry asked, a friendly smile creased his face. He had seen the dark shadow that crossed the young man’s countenance. Time for redirection.
“Fine,” Ezra answered, “thankyou.” He liked Henry, felt safe around him and trusted him. Funny the only other ones he could say the same for was Palamon and Larabee. Great where did that get you? Maybe third time around was lucky? Ezra dismissed the thought. He did not believe in luck, people made their own luck whether they knew it or admitted it or not. Henry had dealt him a fair hand so far. He would play his cards and decide what to do later. Not today, maybe not tomorrow. Some day he would have to decide what side of the fence he sat on, until now he would walk the railing. To bad Larabee never tried to reach him. Chris would know how to direct him. He always did.
“Come on kid,” Terry grabbed Standish by the arm, “lets go get some drinks. We wait for a waitress we’re likely to go thirsty.” Guidino pulled the smaller man out of the booth and into the crowd. Mancini had indicated Tedeschi had made his appearance.
Michael Tedeschi slid into Guidino’s still warm seat. Larabee entered through the front door wearing a concealed mic.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra leaned against the bar sipping on a beer. He did not really want to eat. What was he going to do? Guidino leaned on the bar beside him talking to the bar keep. Standish realized the two men knew one another.
“ ‘Ey buddy buy me a beer,” A large man shoved Standish’s left shoulder. What was it with this town and personal space. Ezra turned his head and gave the giant man an appraising look. He then dismissed the larger intruder and turned his attention back to his beer. Guidino still engaged the bartender in quiet but forceful discussion, something about lineage again.
The construction worker sighed. His employer, Kevin Tedeschi, eldest of the Tedeschi boys, had sent him over here to start a fight with the smaller man. He was not sure why he was to do it but knew better than to question his boss’s orders. Good way to get fired or worse. Kevin did not have the patience of his father or younger brothers. His scale of forgiveness ranged with the tide differences on a full moon.
“ ‘Ey shorty,” The larger man, a laborer, Ezra mused, judging by the size of the calluses on the meaty hands, grabbed Standish’s shoulder.
“Listen you imbecile,” Ezra started. He was getting tired of being pushed around, told what to do and what to think by people who held no meaning to him.
The large leather like paws that Standish had made note of just a few seconds before suddenly balled into a fist and swung at Ezra.
Ezra had had enough of getting hit. He ducked landing a hook swiveling his hips putting momentum behind the swing. He would have buried his fist to the wrist in the midsection of the overly large man but tensed abdominal muslces stopped the fist’s forward momentum. His wrist cracked and popped. Uhoh.
Chris sidled up next to the construction worker who badgered his undercover agent. Figures. Ezra’s in the place not ten minutes and already he picks a fight with the biggest guy present. Some things just do not change.
The flying roundhouse punch sailed over Ezra’s head and smashed onto another patron of titanic matching sizes. The giant fell back into Chris knocking the ATF agent to the floor. Larabee in a desperate move to remain on his feet pulled on the arm of another patron, spilling the man’s drink. Sacrilege.
+ + + + + + +
In the van five men cringed at the commotion. What ever happened did not sound good.
+ + + + + + +
For such large men, they were fast. The construction worker lost sight of his original target but not his mission. Start a fight. He did so with vigor. He grabbed a lanky blonde with fierce hazel eyes. It was a mistake he would not clearly remember. Curses were uttered, fists were thrown and a full fledged fight suddenly erupted like a smoldering forest fire. The flames of dispute spread quickly and an all out brawl flashed.
Ezra kept his head down. He sat on the brass railing that circumvented the bar and quietly drank his beer. He had had enough of getting hit. Guidino suddenly appeared beside him, squishing his large frame under the over hanging oak bar.
“You start this?” Terry asked, he draped his forearms over his bent knees his beer haning casually in his hand. Damn kid was more trouble than a box of matches.
“Depends on whose version you care to heed,” Ezra answered nonchalantly sipping from his bottle. He leaned away from an encroaching knee, and tucked his feet up out of the way of falling bodies.
“Think we better go,” Guidino said. A fight like this would not go unnoticed by the law. It was time Burkhardt made his exit. With any luck Andre already had him in the truck.
Terry put a protective arm around the smaller southerner’s shoulders. Together they exited the restaurant bar by the back exit. Standish quickly finished his beer and calmly dropped it in the trash recepticle by the metal emergency fire door. The alarm bleared when it was open. Guidino smiled Tedeschi would be paying fines from now to Memorial day.
+ + + + + + +
The five remaining ATF agents in the van heard the exchange and ensuing melee. Vin chuckled. Ezra attracted trouble like JD did computer games. Nathan swore, the southerner just could never bring himself to keep his wise mouth shut.
They heard Chris swear and then go down. The mic went dead. The five men spilled from the van and rushed the restaurant.
They exploded through the front door just as the back door whisped closed.
+ + + + + + +
Judge Orrin Travis stood outside the holding cell doors peering in at the five sorriest looking ATF agents he had ever seen. Still the five men, who held ice packs to various parts of their anatomy, were reputed to appear better than the other poor souls involved in tonight’s fist-a-cuffs. The Restaurant would survive with major reconstruction.
Tedeschi dropped the charges. Imagine...
“Boys,” Orrin said. The simple word rang out authoritative and very possessive. This did not go unnoticed by the NYPD captain that accompanied him.
“You want to explain to me why I’m having to bail out one of my best teams,” the friendly sounding inquiry was anything but cordial when one read the stern look in the Judge’s eyes.
JD sat on the cot and leaned back against the wall holding ice to his bottom lip. The collar of his t-shirt had been ripped loose. Buck sat beside the kid fingering a deeply purpled ear. Tanner sat on the floor his head rested on his forearms on bent knees. Josiah kneaded the knuckles of his left hand while Nathan rubbed absently as his own midsection. The five appeared sore but ambulatory.
Larabee stood holding an ice pack to his left eye. He crossed the small cramped cell with a few stuttering steps.
“I tried to contact Ezra,” Larabee answered quietly. He did not need the whole law enforcement community to know where his undercover agent was at the moment.
The Judge held his tongue. They would discuss this later.
+ + + + + + +
One hour or one formal apology later and one stern ‘Judge Travis lecture’ later, the five agents were once again back in their adjoining hotel rooms. They were in various states of recumbency. Vin was sprawled diagonally across the bed his arm bent over his eyes. JD sat on the foot of the bed watching television. Buck claimed the other bed while Josiah and Nathan occupied the sturdy wooden chairs found in hotels around the nation.
The Judge closed his eyes and shook his head, Standish would start a fight in a monastery.
“Where are they now?”
“Probably back at Burkhardt’s house,” Wilmington mumbled out quietly. He had a splitting headache.
“Well Burkhardt walked into the lion’s den for a reason, you best find out why,” With that Orrin Travis disappeared out the door. They had to wrap this up soon, New York and Team seven were not compatible.
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