By the time Chris dropped him off on Tuesday morning, he felt 100% better. He took a hot shower, grabbed a bowl of cereal and jumped onto his computer. He saw the blinking mailbox and clicked onto his email. He glanced at the mail from Buck, from Saturday morning. It was a couple or URL's. He clicked onto the first one and a list of references to newspaper articles popped up. He spotted the headlines and remembered using Buck's computer to try to cross Cambria and Roberto Carlino somehow.
He read each one and printed out some. Each article seemed to tie into another one, and hours went by. His stomach reminded him it was way past lunch. As he ate, he made a mental list of things to be done. The rest of the afternoon was spent downloading more articles. Dinner came and went and Vin's headache resurfaced. There was a small deck on the roof below his loft. He grabbed a beer and settled back, watching the traffic go by. He glanced at the mountains in the distance and wished her were away from all this mess. He longed to have Sierra next to him. He closed his eyes, hoping that would stop the pounding. It was close to ten o'clock and Vin decided to call it a night. He organized the information he'd printed out and start fresh in the morning.
"Evening, Brother Vin" a voice beckoned
Vin peeled his eyes open under protest and saw Josiah on the steps. He frowned, remembering Nate and Josiah were undercover with Border Patrol. He motioned for the tall preacher to join him. He closed his eyes again and for awhile they sat like that, stilled by the sounds of the night.
"Nate okay?" Vin finally asked
"He's fine. Wish I could have been here on Saturday. Took a day to get permission."
"Didn't have to go to all that on accounta me, Preacher," Vin said softly, "Reckon yer needed more down there." He said of the hazardous duty of patrolling the border.
"Seems to me savin' a lost soul takes top priority. How you doin' Vin?"
"I've been better, Josiah,"
It was barely audible, but the pain tinged with defeat felt like a knife to the former man of the cloth. He'd read the report, talked to both Ezra and J.D. and now needed, somehow, to comfort Vin.
"Guess y'all saw Ez, huh?"
"Yesterday. He needs to clear his head and think about what he's doing. This thing is going down next week. J.D. feelin' poorly too."
"He ain't got no call to hang his head," Vin argued, "He only knows what he thought he saw. She had a gun, Josiah. I don't know how she dumped it, but I saw it. It was there, and she's gonna kill Ezra. Still ain't sure she won't."
Vin sighed and wearily got to his feet. When he moved closer to the overhead light, Josiah saw the visible effects of the ordeal clearly stamped on the young man's features. He could only imagine the inner scars were just as painful.
"You're not naked and alone, cast out among the sinners." Josiah said softly, reading Vin's eyes.
"Sure as hell feels that way," Vin shot back, "'ceptin' for Chris and Buck. Hell if I know why Bucklin is fightin' so hard. Been like m'damn shadow. Figured his arms would be tired of pickin' me up."
"Buck's a good man," Josiah noted, "his arms are never weary and his back is strong. More so, his heart is as noble as they come. You do well to take that hand, Vin. You need take shelter in this storm."
"Hard to fight without a badge and a gun." Vin sighed, "'specially when yer all alone."
"You're never alone, Vin," Josiah aided, "The Lord always hears you. He gave you two tools when you were born," Josiah took each of Vin's hands and turned them palms up, "Faith and Will. Use them wisely, Vin and they will never fail you."
Vin stared at his hands and then felt the large man's hand across his shoulders.
"Catchin' the red-eye," he said of his late flight to Tucson. He turned toward the steps leading down to the street. He looked at Vin in the doorway. "I believe you, Vin."
Vin looked at the blue eyed soul catcher and knew his words came from the heart. He made his way over to the railing and stuck his arm out, clasping Josiahs.
"Thanks, Preacher," He said softly, "When y'all hit yer knees tonight, ya tell yer boss he's got a damn fine disciple down here."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra wheeled Cambria back into her room. Up until today, she'd been exceptionally well adjusted to the situation. She had been the comforter, holding him close and trying to chase the blues away. Her positive attitude was inspiring. Ezra brought a picnic lunch from the gourmet European deli around the corner from his condo. He wheeled her out onto a sunny terrace and they'd had a fine lunch. They shared some passionate kisses and Ezra allowed the intoxication to carry him away. His trained hand slipped beneath the silk robe and caressed her.
The trip back to the room had been too quiet. He'd seen that lightness and laughter slip away. She hadn't said a word and he lifted her onto the bed and sat on the side, holding her hand.
"If I've done something to cause your downheartedness, I offer my deepest apology."
"Don't Ezra," She put her fingers to his lips, "You're the most wonderful man I've ever met and It's I who need apologize to you."
"Whatever for?" Ezra kissed her fingers, "That's preposterous!"
"These last few weeks we've shared have been magical for me, Ezra." She sighed, gazing into his eyes, "I had even thought, perhaps, maybe in time, a long aisle, white dress and a child."
"Cambria, this doesn't change how I feel about you..." Ezra started to rebut, his shattered heart sinking.
"Shh!," She covered his mouth, "Please don't make this harder for me. I can't see you anymore, Ezra. You deserve better than half a woman."
"Now see here, I won't allow..."
"Don't" She stammered, tears in her eyes, "I can't feel anything from the waist down, Ezra. Don't you understand how important that is for me? Your lips and touch ignited a fire in me, and I couldn't bear to be around you and feel that loss. Please go..." She turned, sobbing softly.
Ezra's face recoiled in pain. How could it be gone? She was the first woman in many years who he allowed into his heart. He too, had hoped for a future with the beautiful model. Now it was shattered, thanks to Vin Tanner. A nurse entered, and asked him to leave, needing to ready Cambria for a bath.
He drove around aimlessly, lost in her laughter. The radio announcer reminded him of the late hour. Tomorrow was Friday and he'd be leaving for Nogales with the Carlinos. He heard the radio announcer give the time. He turned the car around and headed for the Federal Building. Ted Dempsey and the other agency reps involved would be waiting. He'd finish his job, and take down the Carlino's. Then he'd make sure Vin Tanner knew what pain was.
"Darling, you're late," Gia cooed, as her disguised lover entered the room.
"Negotiation problems with the Columbians. They're getting greedy." He replied, locking the door behind him. He eased the bedrail down and sat on the edge of the bed. He leaned down and captured her lips, assaulting her mouth. She groaned and started to laugh, causing him to pull back. "What's so funny?"
"Look for yourself," She pointed to the foot of the bed, where her toes were wiggling, "Your kisses thrill me right down to my toes..."
"When did this happen?" He jumped up, pulling the sheet away. He watched in amazement as he lifted her leg, bending it to the knee. "But...those pin pricks and other tests..."
"That's becoming more very difficult. I can bend my legs to stop circulation long enough to get through most of those tests. But you have to get me out of here." She stated, "I had tingling sensations on Sunday and it's been getting better every day. Today I actually stood up and took some steps." She smiled, watching him caress her legs and turn back to her.
"I'll stop at the nurses station and tell them that I've arranged for you to cared for by a private nurse. Be ready to leave early."
"I don't think it's wise to tell them. That blond boss of Standouts has been lurking about. You get here early and I'll sign myself out. When's your flight?"
"Tomorrow morning, as soon as we pick up Standish. If you're up to it, you can come down on Sunday morning; I'll rent a charter for you. Wait to you see the villa, Cara Mia. It's on the side of the mountain. Very private and well hidden."
"Alright. I'll leave word for Toni that I've gone away to a friend back east to recuperate."
"Why is this door locked?" A voice inquired.
"Go," She murmured, kissing him, "I'll see you in the morning."
+ + + + + + +
Vin's research had netted few, if any clues. In addition to the internet research, he'd been staking out the hospital. He found an old set of blue coveralls; he used a year ago while undercover as an exterminator. He managed to move around the hospital freely, hiding his camera in an empty gallon jug with a nozzle. He crouched behind the plant down the hall from Cambria's room and waited. Other than Ezra, the only visitors she had were hospital personal. Then a priest arrived. Vin snapped several photos, using the zoom lens. The priest wheeled the girl outside and Vin followed. He took several more photos. The next afternoon was the same; the priest arrived at the same time. Intrigued, Vin followed him. He pulled several yards away from the house where the priest parked.
Vin furrowed his brow and got a shiver. He frowned, trying to remember why this street seemed familiar. He took several photos of the house and got a close up of the license of the car. He waited for quite some time, but the priest never exited. Vin returned home and set about developing the film in the darkroom he had. He added the photo's to the evidence he compiled. He sat at his computer and dialed the phone.
"Hey Randy, it's Vin Tanner," He greeted, "Yeah, thanks, it ain't over. I'm gonna get my badge back. Listen I need a favor." He asked his friend at the DMV. "Aw, hell..." Vin complained at hearing the computer system was down.
"Sorry Vin, I'll keep trying. I call you when I get through."
"Email me too, okay Randy? Thanks..." Vin hung up and logged on to the computer.
He had some leads, but not enough time to track them down. He typed in a new string of keywords in the search box and hit the enter key. Several seconds later, another list of archived news accounts appeared. He read through several, and deleted them. Then an idea occurred to him; maybe he wasn't going back far enough. He backtracked to the original periodical listing and typed in the same command, adding the year 1990.
Once again, a list appeared. The third document he opened was written in Italian. He paged down and sat up, transfixed. His heart raced and his weariness left him. There in the photo at the bottom of the screen was a young woman with Roberto Carlino. She also appeared in another photo with an older, heavyset man. Vin printed the article out and eyed the clock. He couldn't read the script under the photo, but wrote down the name of the woman. In the photo with Roberto Carlino a woman's name appeared in the line of unfamiliar script, Gia Baracini. In the other photo, the name Gia Vittello, appeared. But there was no question it was the same woman. Vin stared at the small face which looked familiar. He couldn't be sure until he got a closer look.
He found the name of the author of the article and emailed him, requesting an English translation and the urgency.
Flipping off his computer, he grabbed his keys and headed for the office. It was almost ten o'clock on Thursday night and he could guarantee its isolation. He found a copier down the hall from his office that had the capacity to enlarge. He held up the two photos he'd blown up and studied them carefully. He made his way back to the Team Seven Office and flipped the lights on. The first photo, with Carlino, had the girl with long hair. He stared at the second enlargement and felt his heart hammering. The girl's long, dark hair was pulled back and tucked under a hat. The caption read Gia Vitello, but the face was Cambria Santanna. The same face he'd posed with, her hair under a fur hood in Rocky Mountain National Park.
He opened the file of clippings he'd collected and made copies. He made two files, including copies of his photo's and all his notes. He paused at the empty workstation near J.D.'s desk. He set the papers down and began to collate them. From his own desk, he typed out an outline of what he'd found out, with the key URL's and newspaper articles. He crossed over to J.D.'s desk to get a stapler. He scanned the memo J.D. scrawled on his flipover calendar. He recognized the code as the new Border points. The updated information traced a thirty-mile path between from Nogales, AZ eastward. Vin scanned the rest of J.D.'s notes about the buyers, and truck routes. He stapled his copies and placed each one in colored folders and took them with him. It was midnight when he got home. He'd visit the hospital in the morning on his way to see Chris.
It seemed to the ex-agent; he'd barely put his head on the pillow, when the alarm went off. He showered and dressed quickly in jeans and a tee shirt. He flipped the computer on and saw the mailbox flashing. He opened the note and was pleased to see it was from the reporter in Italy. He gave Vin an overview of the article. Vin read the article and threw a triumphant fist in the air. It wasn't as good as the gun, but it tied Cambria to the Carlino's. He forwarded the article to Chris and Buck, at the office and home, with a note of explanation. The article cited Gia as a 'Black Widow' who'd married and buried two husbands in short order, inheriting their fortune. The private investigator the first dead husband's family hired traced her to New Orleans. The article was over a year old. Vin took a chance and looked the P.I. up. It took about twenty minutes, but he found an Internet listing. He dialed the international number and waited.
"Indagini Di Farelli"
"Uh...Hello, um...do y'all speak English?"
"Un momento prego"
"Hal-lo, who is a speakin'?" a new voice asked.
"My name is Vin Tanner. I'm callin' from the United States. I'm lookin' fer a Peter Farelli. I may have information on the Vitello investigation."
There was the distinct sound of muffled voices and then Vin was asked to wait. Several minutes later, a male voice got on the phone.
"It this line safe?"
"Huh? Are y'all Peter Farelli?"
"Call me back from a pay phone, collect."
Vin was then listening to dial tone. He printed two copies of the article out and forwarded them to Buck and Chris. He gathered up his folders, intending to hide them until he could contact Chris. He started to dial Chris at home and thought on the P.I's words. There was no bug in the phone, but that didn't mean that Carlino didn't have somebody listening, especially if they were on to Ezra. He packed the documents in his backpack and headed out the door. He drove several blocks to the bus terminal and deposited two of the folders in a locker. He pocketed the key and made his way to the pay phone. He checked the area and proceeding to redial the P.I.
"It's Tanner. I'm on a pay phone."
"I'm sorry, but that was necessary." Farelli spoke, "What do you know about the Vitello case?"
"Well, I'm a Federal Agent and my badge got pulled over a controversial shootin'. The woman who was shot claims to be Cambria Santanna, but I had a feelin' she was tied in to the Carlino's, who we was investigatin'. I found an article from about a year ago, mentioned y'all and her havin' buried two husbands. Once I seen the picture in the article, I knew it was her."
"She may have murdered a third husband in New Orleans. A wealthy novelist named Phillipe DeMoynette. The widow disappeared in March."
"That's about the time she showed up in Denver. Claims to be a model, workin' for Rainbow Dancers, a local agency." Vin spotted a man well across the terminal watching him. He couldn't be sure, but he looked like one of the clan at the gathering he'd recorded with J.D.
"I gotta go, I think I'm bein' followed."
"Don't take any chances, Mr. Tanner. These people are deadly. I've had other leads and witnesses who've disappeared. Find someone you trust and go now."
"Chris Larabee...ya remember that name, Iffen somethin' happens to me, y'all can trust him."
"Is there something only the two of you know? I have to be safe."
"Uh..." Vin hedged, eyeing the watcher move closer. He rubbed a hand across his eyes, as if to force an answer out. Then he remembered a conversation at the cabin several months before. He imparted the information and hung up. He skirted through the crowd and wove his way around several buses. He jumped on his jeep and made his way out to the highway. He was too far from Buck's or Chris's, and didn't want to put them in danger. He flipped open his cell phone, spotting the black Lexus behind him. He made two sudden turns as he dialed and his tail stayed with him.
"Shit..." He waited, as he got a busy signal dialing Chris. "Who the hell are ya talkin' to at five a.m.?"
He had to lose the key. He got an idea and sped up. Three turns later, he was at the cemetery. He scratched out a note and rummaged in his backpack until he found a candybar. He slipped the key and note inside the candy bar. He walked quickly to Jack's grave and dropped to his knees. He spotted flowers a few graves away and made his way over.
"Sorry...I'll replace 'em next time I come." He apologized to the dearly departed.
He put the flowers in front of Jack's grave and slipped the candy bar inside. He laid his hand on the cold stone of the beloved man who'd been like a father to him. He still got a pain when he recalled the day Jack died, too young of a heart attack.
"Iffen y'all's got any connections up there, I could use a favor, Jack."
He made his way back to the car. He kept trying to call Chris but the line was still busy. Wasn't like Chris to be on the phone this early, unless they got to the team leader.
"Shit..." He started to dial Buck and noticed the low battery signal. Buck didn't pick up. He was only a block from the hospital and decided to stake out Cambria's room. He was certain the visiting priest was Roberto. He would continue to call Chris and Buck from there.
He ducked in the elevator and dialed Chris's cell phone.
"Who the hell were ya on the phone with! Been tryin' to call fer a half-hour. Thought y'all was dead."
"Dead? Vin? I can't hear you clearly. What's wrong?"
"I was right, Chris. She's tied to the Carlino's ...got...proof...need...see...ris..."
"Vin, I'm losing you. Where are you? Vin!" Chris shouted, "Dammit...Vin!"
"...bein followed...shit...he seen me..."
"VIN!" Chris shouted, only to be met with static. He was on the highway, but only one lane was open, due to an accident. He punched Buck's number.
"Wilmington...Chris? What's wrong?" Buck jumped from his kitchen table, hearing the fear in Larabee's voice.
"Vin's in trouble. He just called; his cell phone was dying. What I did hear was that he was right. She's tied to Carlino and Vin has proof."
"Where is he?"
"I don't know, Buck. But he was being followed and they spotted him, just as his cell died."
Buck winced as Chris leaned on his horn and issued several colorful expletives.
"Where you at, Chris?"
"I'm tied up on the freeway, be an hour or more before I can get to you. Go to Vin's and see if you can find anything. I'll meet you at the office."
Buck tapped his pockets, in search of his car keys. He remembered pulling them out of his pocket in the laundry room. He eyed the shelves over the washer and spotted the keys. As he grabbed them, a piece of paper floated down.
"What the hell?" He said outloud reading Vin's scrawl. It was Cambria's name, the word's 'buggin' Ez's phone'. and an address. Buck slipped the paper into his pocket. He remembered fishing it out of the exhausted man's wet pocket, the night he'd found him in the rain. That must have been where Vin was. He must have seen her plant the bug at Ezra's and followed her. He grabbed his keys are raced out the door, hoping he'd find more evidence at Vin's.
Vin hoped Chris heard his transmission before the phone died. He slipped it in his pocket and made his way up the hall. The same man entered the lobby, just as the elevator shut. He got off on the right floor and looked for a phone. The nurses station was down the other end and empty. He headed there, seeking to call Chris back. The line was busy again. He didn't have much time, he dialed Buck at the office. His shadow was closing fast and Vin had to make it short. Buck's voice mail came on. He hurried and hung up, slipping back down the hall. He sensed he had company.
"Don't move Mr. Tanner," The voice warned, backed up by the distinct impression of a silencer in his back, "Inside room 415 and don't make a sound."
Vin complied and went into the room. She was dressed and waiting, turning as the door opened.
"You're early, Darling...What do you think you're doing, you fool!"
Vin was just as surprised at the sight of her, standing and then walking over to him.
"He was just outside. Gino's been tailing him, he's been a very busy ex-pig." Roberto shoved Vin hard, sending him to his knees. He pulled Vin's head back by the hair and leaned down.
"I think we're going to become good friends..." He punched Vin hard in the kidney, doubling him over. "You know, the kind of friends that tell each other everything."
"Go to hell." Vin gasped, eyeing the deadly vipress.
He didn't say a word but his eyes spoke very clearly. He looked right through her. The cold hard stare gave her a chill.
"You know, don't you?" She whispered, grabbing his chin. He narrowed his eyes and curled up his lips in disgust.
"Get yer hands offa me ya murderin' bitch."
Roberto punched him hard again, in the kidney and Vin nearly blacked out. He felt the hands throw him face down on the bed. A pillow then covered his head. His heart hammered and his mouth went dry. He swallowed hard, realizing what a mistake he'd made. Sierra, he ached thinking of all they could have shared. Chris...he saw the anguished green eyes and shattered soul.
"No," Gia hissed, grabbing the gun, "We need to find out how much more he knows and who's he's told."
"We'll have to take him with us." Roberto decided eyeing the clock, "The plane leaves in less than an hour. We can interrogate him in Nogales. When Tony and Marty get done with him, he'll be on his knees, begging like the dog he is."
"What are you doing?" She asked, watching him draw a small leather valise out of the black suitjacket of the priest's garb.
"Sending him to La La land for a few hours." Roberto replied, drawing the drug into the syringe.
"You carry that with you?"
"Insurance. It takes up no room and comes in handy."
While they debated, Vin got his wind back. He felt the pressure ease up on the pillow and realized he wasn't going to be executed. He felt his arm being grabbed and fought against the pressure against his head. A warm rush and a burning sensation inside his arm followed a painful stab. He used all his energy to throw himself backward, knocking her onto the bed. Two well-placed kicks had Roberto on his knees.
Vin staggered as the drug hit his bloodstream. His legs turned to rubber and the room became distorted.
"Fuckin' Fed," Roberto growled, climbing to his feet. He grabbed Vin by the back of the collar and shoved him hard.
Vin hit the bedrail, splitting his lip and crumpled to the floor. The cellphone dropped from his pocket. He felt the blood flowing freely from his mouth and coughed up more, covering the phone. With his last strength, he pushed it under the bed, hoping somehow, Chris would find it. He could hear the sound of his heart beating and let the black curtain fall.
"How are you going to get him out of here?" She hissed, "The nurse will be coming in soon."
"Let me think," He paced, eyeing Vin's body, "You stay in the wheelchair. I've got an idea, I'll be right back." He pulled Vin into the bathroom and shut the door.
Ten minutes later, Gia looked up as the door opened and Roberto pushed a small cloth covered wagon on wheels inside.
"It's a hamper, I spotted them emptying one the other day." He explained, "There's a freight elevator just around the corner, it goes down to the basement. I'll take Tanner down there and move the car around to the alley out back."
He pulled Vin onto the floor and searched his pockets. The wallet had only his driver's license, keys and ten dollars. He pocketed the items and moved Vin into the hamper. The hall was deserted and he'd have to move fast.
"I'll be back," He said, kissing her before he left.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra saw the black limo approach from inside the lobby. He flipped his cell phone off and approached the curb. He tipped the porter who followed him with his bag and climbed inside the luxury car.
"Good Morning, Mr. Auberge. It promises to be a very exciting week."
"The knowledge of increasing my extensive empire and holdings always is exciting, Mr. Carlino." Ezra replied
"It's Roberto, Etienne."
+ + + + + + +
"Damn!" Buck swore, jumping in Chris's truck, "Ezra's not picking up."
"You turn up anything at Vin's?" Chris hoped
"Yeah. Randy left a message on his machine. Vin called him last night to get run a plate. It was a rental. I called the agency and it's rented to Roberto Carlino. I got something else too." Buck pulled out the paper.
"What's that?" Chris recognized Vin's writing.
"The night I found Vin, it was in his pocket. I hung his jacket out to dry and it must have fallen out. I found it this morning. He was tailing Cambria from Ez's that night. The address he wrote on here, matches the one Carlino gave the rental agency. He was right all along, they're connected. Ez's is walking into a death trap. Jesus, Poor Vin..." Buck broke the sentence off, thinking the worst. Vin executed on some deserted road outside town.
"I should have talked to him sooner," Chris lamented, "I've been so tied up the last couple days. Damn it!" He pounded the wheel.
"J.D.'s in the van, following Ez to the airport. I caught Ted Dempsey and updated him. They'll keep their ears open. He's gonna alert his men." Buck said, eyeing Chris's icy eyes.
"Chris, where are we going?"
"To the hospital. That bitch is going to talk to me."
Buck hurried to keep up with Chris's frantic pace. Chris's eyes followed the numbers until he reached the right room. He threw the door open and paused, frowning at the empty bed. Buck moved by him and looked in the bathroom. Chris stuck his head in the hall and flagged down a nurse.
"Where is the woman who was in that room?"
"Hold on I'll check." The nurse replied, heading for the nurse's station. Chris waiting, hands on hips, eye's angry and impatient. Finally the nurse returned. "She checked herself out early this morning. The priest picked her up."
"Priest?" Chris repeated, puzzled.
"Yes, he's been a real comfort. An old family friend."
Buck heard footsteps and stood, pulling the bed back. "Looks like Vin's." He moved aside and heard the sharp intake of air as Chris saw the bloody phone. Buck could almost feel the pain coming right off of Chris's tense frame. He watched Chris's hand shaking slightly as it ran through his hair.
"Call the lab, seal off the room." The leader said tonelessly, touching a spot of blood on the floor, "It's dry but not that old. A couple of hours maybe. Not enough for bullet wound."
"He must have been here when he called you. Maybe whoever spotted him, forced him in here. Carlino's on his way to Mexico with Ezra. She might be at the address we uncovered." Buck watched as Chris sat on the bed, and his head dropped slightly. "What?"
"They didn't kill him." Chris said quietly, looking up at Buck with haunted eyes, "If they've been tailing him, they're gonna want information. You remember some of those poor bastards we found in Bogota?"
"God..." Buck slumped, as the vision of the tortured Special Op's team slammed into his head.
"Carlino's got millions tied up in this deal. You know what methods he'll use on Vin before he kills him." Chris's quiet voice held such agony it made Buck wince.
"Maybe not. They haven't landed yet. We'll get word to Ezra."
"We can't do that, Buck." Chris said, barely audible. "We can't compromise the mission."
"Fuck the mission. This is Vin's life." Buck roared, only to find himself backed in the wall in a chokehold. Chris's eyes glinted with fury as they bore into him.
"Do you have any idea what his life means to me?"
Buck rubbed the spot on his throat where Chris gripped him. He eyed the wounded man as he left the room. He knew Chris was torn wide open and he had no idea of how to reach him. He doubted if anyone could. Well, anyone except a missing blue-eyed Texan. The security guard arrived and Buck filled him in, then quickly made his way outside. He jogged to the truck and climbed in. Chris pulled out, heading into town. Buck pulled out his phone and dialed J.D., sending him and the surveillance van to the address. He gave J.D. a brief update and heard the guilt resounding on the phone line. They were at a red light and Buck spotted a camera mounted over the roof of a large, local discount store. His heart began to hammer and his squinted in recognition.
"Hey, Chris, pull over," Buck said as the light turned. He jumped out before Chris could argue. Chris pulled the truck in and jumped out. He followed Buck's line of vision and wondered why he was festinated by the overstocked outlet.
"What?" He growled, eyeing the street.
"Take a look at that," Buck pointed to the camera.
"Yeah, so?" Chris frowned, "Get to the point."
Buck eyed the public elementary school across the street. "You figure that camera catches action over there while it's searching the parking lot?"
Chris glanced up at the moving camera above them. Its roving eye captured the goings on in the parking lot. But its range would also pick up the activity in the schoolyard. "It would have to, it's directly ahead. Why are you driving at, Buck?"
Buck smiled that 'I've-got-a-secret' grin and clapped his oldest friend on the back. "Paydirt, Pard! Guess what store is across the street from that French restaurant."
Chris spun and locked eyes with Buck, watching the taller man nod. "Shit! How come nobody thought of that sooner?" He shot back as they raced to the car.
The store manager was only glad to help. He pulled the tape from the morning in question and queued up the time slot starting at eleven a.m. Buck and Chris watched as Roberto Carlino entered. They fast forwarded and watched Ezra enter the terrace and stand in the area where the garden meets the passage to the restaurant. Then Cambria entered from the right side of the screen. Ezra's back was in front of her, several feet away. Buck and Chris both held their breath and leaned forward, hearts pounding.
+ + + + + + +
The wheels of the plane touched down and Ezra unbuckled his seat belt. He detested these 'crop dusters' and would be only to glad when he got off. He eyed his host suspiciously. Carlino had been agitated for the entire flight. He made several trips to the back of the plane, to check on some mysterious cargo. They landed at a deserted airstrip in the middle of nowhere. A van was waiting and Ezra ducked inside, overwhelmed by he stifling heat. Three more of the party climbed in with him. He watched at the window as Carlino spoke to the pilot. An older make car pulled up close to the rear compartment. The luggage was place in the trunk of the car. He turned away, as Dom Carlino distracted him. He didn't see Vin's bound body, draped in a blanket, being placed in the back seat.
"The villa is not far. It commands a spectacular view and I'm sure you'll find it most appealing. Your room has a private deck. We won't be meeting the Colombians until early next week, so you have several days to unwind and relax." Dom said.
"Haven't we forgotten someone?" Ezra said as the car pulled away.
"Roberto has some business to attend to," Dom answered "He'll join us later."
The villa was beautiful, and no cost was spared in decorating it. The room Ezra was assigned to was luxurious. In addition to the large bedroom and bath, there was a living room, with a good sized bar. The private deck commanded a stunning view. The heat was stifling and a sticky Ezra climbed out of his clothes. He took a cold shower and changed into shorts and a polo shirt. He pulled a bottle of Evian from the refrigerator and slid outside, easing himself onto the chaise lounge, covered by a large umbrella.
In another part of the house, Dom and his brother conferred. The two stood in the shadows of the entrance to the cellar.
"How's our other guest?" Dom asked.
"Come down and help me get him settled in.." Roberto invited.
The musty staircase led to an underground, stone cellar. Part of the cavernous room housed a large selection of wine and food. The two brothers continued past and down a narrow hall. Ducking as the ceiling lowered, Dom followed Roberto into the damp, darkened room.
Vin had been stripped of his jeans, shoes and socks and was suspended from the wall. Clad in his underwear and tee shirt, the rusty manacles that bound his wrists painfully, were suspended over his head. His lower body was sprawled on the dirt-covered floor, head resting on his chest.
"When's the party?" Dom asked, eyeing the table full of 'toys' Tony and Marty had already assembled.
"Shouldn't be long," Roberto replied, squatting in front of the stuperous captive. He grabbed Vin's hair and pulled his head up. "Wake up, bastardo." He slapped Vin's face hard.
The first thing Vin was aware of was the smell. Before he could open his heavy eyes, the awful, dank smell attacked him. A combination of mildew, mold, urine and decay filled him. He heard voices, but they seemed far away. He shivered feeling a dampness invade him. His arms ached and he couldn't understand why he couldn't find them. He felt his head being lifted; the slap forced his eyes open. He blinked at the garish faces, which seemed larger than normal. He tried to speak but his lips wouldn't move and his tongue felt too big for his mouth.
"Don't you like your room?" Roberto jeered, taking the small cigar from his mouth and placing it against the prisoner's wrist. The body buckled and a small moan fumbled through the dry lips. Vin's blue eyes blinked at him in confusion.
"Roberto, where are your manners?" Dom moved forward, "Offer our guest a drink."
Roberto grinned and pulled Vin's head back. Dom forced his mouth open and began pouring a quart size bottle of water down his throat.
Vin panicked, fighting the hands and chains that held him weakly. The water was coming faster than he could swallow. He couldn't breath and began to cough and sputter. Finally it stopped, and he vomited, sending the unwelcome water all over Roberto. The vicious backhand clipped his cheek and eye. He looked up and heard a stream of Italian. He was roughly hauled to his feet and slammed with a hard fist between his legs. He didn't feel the cigar burn that followed, he was already unconscious.
Marty moved the irate drug lord out of the way and checked the prisoner's eyes.
"His pupils are all wrong. It's gonna be a few hours yet until's he aware. I'll let you know." The senior guard said, tightening the manacles that held Vin Tanner's wrist. He added a throat choker, noting the jagged edges that would cut into the soft skin, if the head moved.
"What about Standish?" Dom asked
"We still need him. Once the buy is done, we'll ice him. It's only a few more days, I don't want the Colombians to get suspicious."
"When's Gia arriving?"
"Tomorrow," He grinned eyeing the battered agent; "You know how she loves my toys. She's chomping at the bit to help loosen that whore son's tongue."
They left; leaving the shivering prisoner in the dungeon - oblivious, alone and unaware of the horrific night that would follow.
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