Don’t wait too long
Thanks to Mitzi, Debby Gerl & NotTasha for their assistance in making this a better story.
Story moved to Blackraptor in October 2009
Chris Larabee was one pissed off agent. He stormed across the warehouse floor until he reached his undercover agent. His wide stance was consciously intended to intimidate the shorter man by invading his personal space, but Standish, to his credit, didn’t budge an inch. “Who’s fucking side are you working for?” he shouted, not caring who witnessed the reprimand. Larabee stepped closer. “I went to a hell of a lot of trouble to get your ass into this team, and this is how you prove yourself?” he asked incredulously. “Maybe those rumours weren’t all lies after all.” He glared menacingly, daring Ezra to contradict him. Did the rumours surrounding the undercover agent in Atlanta tell the truth after all? Had Standish conned him so thoroughly that he’d believed Ezra when he stated that he’d been set up?
Disappointment surged through him. He thought he was a better judge of character. Had Standish straight out lied? He did have a propensity for making a person question whether he understood the difference between right from wrong. But then, as an undercover agent, that was a necessary skill - being able to slip in and out of different characters and personalities. Perhaps he should have listened to the voice of reason when he was considering the former FBI agent to join their team. Although his file did read well, apart from the reprimands he’d received over his going it alone. Not really a team player, he recalled AD Travis’ summation. And was he on the take? He did spend a lot of time associating with the criminal element. Did that make a man more susceptible to the power of money? He needed to sort this out. Larabee couldn’t afford to have a rogue on his team. Or someone who didn’t know where his loyalties lay.
When Standish remained
close lipped, Chris continued the verbal lashing. “I’m gonna
have your hide pinned behind a desk for the rest of your career,” he
threatened. “That’s if you even still have a job by the time
Internal Affairs have finished with you.” The leader of the ATF
Team 7 clenched his fists at his side. All his muscles were tense
and the flow of adrenaline was still raging through his blood.
“Mr. Larabee,” Standish
started, his tone neutral. The Southerner’s response was cut
short unexpectedly. The punch pounded forcefully across the side
of his jaw smashing molars deep into his cheeks. Blood spurted
from his mouth and dribbled down his chin. Standish grunted as his
head whipped around with the momentum of the hit. He turned back
to face Chris and all reason vanished. Why should he explain?
Hell, Chris was obviously waiting for this chance. The Southerner
glared defiantly and spat the pooling blood from his mouth to the
warehouse floor. Not a good move Standish, he chastised when he
was shoved up hard against the concrete post at his back in retaliation.
His head bounced on the pillar blurring his vision momentarily.
Standish swallowed painfully and
raised his hand to wipe at the blood off his split lip. His jaw
ached and he consciously ran his tongue over his teeth to ascertain if
any were loose. That was one hell of a hit.
“What the hell were you doing?”
Larabee hollered mere inches from Ezra’s face. “Is this what
you did in Atlanta? Any wonder none of them trusted you,” he
The Southerner valiantly raised
his head and smiled sardonically at the man in black. It was his
only defence to show his contempt and that he was unfazed by the mostly
verbal assault. That punch had taken him completely off guard.
He could see the doubt building in Chris’ blue eyes and the pure rage
that simmered just below the surface. He allowed Larabee to vent
his anger – this was nothing new to him, but damned if he was going to
sit back and accept the consequences meekly. He’d been
down that path before. Somewhere in all the explanations and
reports that would ensue, his account of the events would be misplaced,
mislaid or lost. Nobody would take his word over that of a
“You smug son of a bitch,”
Chris ranted. Glowering, the leader released his hold on the
wildcard, pushing him away. Turning his back, Larabee stalked out
of the warehouse not bothering to wait for a response or explanation.
He didn’t see Standish stumble and fall to his knees after Larabee
shoved him or the pained green-eyed look that followed his departing
back. He shouldered past his oldest friend, Buck Wilmington, and
with a sigh of frustration, ordered him to, “Clean up this shit!”
Wilmington nodded, staring after
Chris for a full minute before he headed inside the warehouse and
surveyed the damage. First things first, he crouched down beside
the Southerner, and shook his head wryly. Why couldn’t Standish
do like he was told? It was gonna be a simple raid, but that
didn’t work. He’d obviously done something to warrant
Larabee’s wrath, but what that was, Wilmington hadn’t a clue.
Both he and JD Dunne were outside in the surveillance van during the
negotiations and when the bullets started flying, he didn’t see either
Standish or Chris until the end. What Buck did see, was Chris
launch himself at the Southerner and give him a tongue lashing, but the
final physical blow had stunned the surveillance expert. It just
wasn’t like Chris to attack someone without provocation.
“Come on, Ezra,” Buck sighed
with resignation, tugging the downed man to a seating position.
Buck liked the easy going Southerner. His dry wit and quick humour
were an asset to the newest member of the team. He just needed to
relax a bit more and learn to enjoy their company. That’s
if they could ever get him to join them outside of the workplace.
Trouble was, he’d only been in Denver for two months before starting
his first assignment. That first few months hadn’t been an easy
transition for Standish, then he’d had to disappear for the last eight
weeks with his only contact to the team being his weekly meetings with
Vin, initially, then as the meet date was set and a buyer required,
Chris came into the negotiations. Buck knew that they had only
talked over the phone to go through the finer details of Larabee’s
cover and he was aware that Chris had been concerned about working with
the Southerner for the first time. Wilmington wondered if Standish
had picked up on Larabee’s hesitation in working with him.
Ezra winced as Wilmington pulled
him upright; breathing through the pain, he fought the rising nausea.
The undercover agent yanked his arm free of Buck’s grasp and glared
venomously at the older man. Climbing to his feet, Standish swayed
slightly and the ladies’ man once more steadied him, but Ezra glowered
at him and Buck quickly released his hold.
Wilmington frowned at the smaller
man; it seemed strange that Ezra should be so unsteady on his feet after
only one hit from Chris. Maybe Standish had been hurt during the raid,
but he hadn’t said anything. The ladies’ man would try
persuading the smooth talker into going to the hospital or at least have
Nathan check him over back at the office. “Time to face the music,”
Buck announced, a touch too brightly for Ezra’s liking.
“I’m not going with you,”
he puffed swaggering toward the open doorway. He felt the grip on
his arm wrenching him back around and swung his fist with the momentum.
Ezra stepped back, surprised and ashamed that he had resorted to
violence. Thank God Buck anticipated the Southerner’s strike and
sidestepped his aim. Damn, he didn’t intend that to happen.
Way to go Standish, get Buck mad enough to hit you too. “DID YOU
NOT HEAR ME?!” Standish yelled. “I’M NOT GOING WITH YOU…
In fact,” he shrugged out of his jacket and ripped off the bulletproof
vest, flinging it at Buck’s feet following it with his gun. He
would have added his badge to the pile, but didn’t have it in his
possession at the present. He’d send it later. “You can
inform, Mr. Larabee, that I have resigned, effective immediately,”
Standish snarled derisively. “And,” he growled in anger,
“I’ll have my letter of resignation on his desk by morning.”
Standish cast a forlorn look about the warehouse, feeling the probing
eyes of the remainder of team watching with interest. The hell
with them all! He didn’t need this! This is just what
he’d walked away from in Atlanta. So much for a new start, he
lamented. He thought he might have been able to fit in here with
this unique group of misfits. It didn’t take long to discover
his real worth among these men. Standish turned on his heels and
left the building.
Chris Larabee slammed down the
phone, crunching the handle into the cradle. He spun in the chair
to face the window, showing his back to the door. “Damn
asshole,” he muttered under his breath. A
light tap on his door had him spinning back to his desk, his face a
bleak mask of irritation. “Dammit, Buck!” he growled in
annoyance, standing quickly to his feet. “I don’t want to hear
“Fine,” Wilmington agreed, but
continued to walk into the middle of the room. “Then I won’t
say a word,” he added grimly as he opened the canvas bag he’d been
carrying and emptied the contents on his boss’ desk. The
surveillance expert tossed the bag in the corner and, without a further
word, reeled on his heels. He had the door jam gripped in his hand
when he heard the harsh intake of Larabee’s breath.
“I told you to clean it up!”
Chris shouted, not caring that his voice could be clearly heard through
the open door. “What the hell happened?” Larabee picked
up Ezra’s gun, turning it over in his hands.
“Now don’t you go blaming me,
hoss,” Buck countered, thumping the wall with his fist. “He
quit! And it ain’t anything I said or done that made him do
it!” Wilmington stared accusingly at Larabee. “I’ve known
you a long time, pard, but that don’t mean I’m about to take any
crap from you. You shouldn’t have hit him. Hell, you could
be facing charges, Chris, if he decides to make it an issue. What
was that all about?” Wilmington stood in the doorway, his hands
spread wide on his hips, his stance one of defiance.
Chris dropped his head guiltily and
rubbed at his aching jaw. It still smarted from where the
Southerner had hit him and, it irked him that the younger man had
managed to get the drop on him. That was probably why he’d taken
out his anger on Standish when the bust had concluded. Plus, that it had
gone so badly. He felt justified in hitting the damn Southerner.
He just hadn’t expected the loner to throw in the towel.
“You didn’t see what went down, Buck. He damn near got us both
killed,” Larabee riled hitting the desk and upending his cold coffee
spilling it over the collection of reports that covered his desk.
“Fuck!” he cursed, quickly lifting the reports out of the puddle and
relocating them to a drier position. “Buck…” he beseeched.
Wilmington looked out into the
bullpen and with resignation turned back and sadly shook his head.
He had to admit that being out in the van had its disadvantages at
times, but he still could hear enough through the others’ mics.
Or so he thought, but he must have missed something that had Chris so
riled and Standish resigning. Though he was there at the end to
witness Chris’s confrontation with their new team-mate. “I
hear what yer saying, hoss and I’m not gonna argue with you. Why
don’t you explain to me what went down?”
Chris sank back to the chair and
squeezed the bridge of his nose. Damn, he could feel the
beginnings of a headache – just what he didn’t need. “I
don’t know, Buck…” he paused trying to organise his thoughts.
“Things weren’t going so well…”
“Yeah, I’ll say,” Wilmington
agreed with a half-hearted chuckle.
Larabee wiped his face with both
hands and spread them on top of his desk. “Santaguiliano
didn’t fit with the profile we had of him, then he started acting
nervous. Ezra was trying to talk him around and I think I screwed
up by not asking to check the guns. He just didn’t seem…I
don’t know…maybe old enough,” he shrugged. “I got the
impression I’d met him before,” he tapped his fingers and screwed
his brow in concentration. “Guess it threw me a bit,” he
“Yeah, he sounded jumpy, like it
was his first time,” the ladies man added thoughtfully. “You
work out where you know him from?” Larabee shook his head in
reply. “So how does this fit with what’s going on between you
“After the shooting started we
dove for cover behind the crates. I don’t know why he did it,
but Standish shoved me back out into the middle of it,” Chris growled
bitterly, jumping to his feet again and pacing behind the desk. He could
still feel the impression of hands pressing against his back.
“Might not have been him,” Buck
“Wasn’t anyone else there,
Buck! It was deliberate. He
probably thought there wasn’t enough room for both of us, so he got me
out of his way. He must have changed his mind about
going through with it, ‘cause he then saved my ass getting me out
after that.” Larabee resisted against going with
Standish - that was when the Southerner had hit him.
“You need to sort it out, Chris.
That is, if you want him back. Go and talk to him,” he urged.
“What makes you think I want him
back?” Larabee asked tersely.
Wilmington tapped his fingers on
the wall. “Guess that’s your call,” he admitted and walked
out of the office.
Chris kicked the wastepaper basket,
sending the crumpled papers tumbling about the floor. When he
looked back up the door stood open and his oldest and longest friend had
gone. “Fuck!” he hissed, frowning in irritation. “He
deserved what he got,” Chris’ voice echoed in the office.
JD Dunne stepped sombrely out of
the elevator, having only just arrived back at the office. “So
Ezra’s really gone?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Tanner solemnly agreed.
Vin had heard Chris’ version of events surrounding his two friend’s
blow-up - in fact, Larabee had been so vocal in his explanation to Buck,
the whole floor would have been deaf, not to have heard. But Vin
was reserving judgement, as he’d yet to hear Ezra’s side. And
there were always two sides to a story. He couldn’t put his
finger on it, but Tanner believed there was something missing that only
Standish could clarify.
“But he’s coming back,
right?” Dunne doggedly persisted, unable to accept the outcome as a
Vin stopped and faced the youngest
member of the team, leaning against the junk vending machine. “I
dunno, JD. He ain’t answering his mobile or his home phone…”
“I say it’s about time,”
Nathan opined as he passed the stationary duo on his way to the break
“It ain’t right,” the Texan
argued, trailing after the African American.
Jackson shrugged and poured coffee
into his mug, grimacing at the dark mixture that flowed from the pot.
“You make this?” he absently asked Vin.
Tanner stared furiously silent at
the black man, wondering why Standish had bothered to try and form a
friendship with Nathan. The older man could not conceal his
pleasure at the Southerner’s departure from the team and was not even
attempting to. “One day, Nathan,” he warned, wagging a finger
at him, “One day, yer gonna need his help and he won’t give it
to you. Course, I wouldn’t blame him,” Vin snapped.
Jackson sipped at the brew and
arched his eyebrows. Nope, he couldn’t care less about the
Southern pain in the ass. In the four months since he’d joined
the team, the former medic had not been able to establish any sort of
rapport with the slick undercover agent. Fact was, that half of
that time Standish had been undercover and Jackson had rarely seen him.
In his opinion, he couldn’t understand Larabee’s appointment of the
younger man to the team in the first place. He wondered if Chris
had been ordered to take Standish into their midst. Well it
didn’t matter now. Standish had failed his first assignment,
almost got Chris killed into the bargain and all for nothing. They
had four dead nameless gophers and Santaguiliano, a stack full of crates filled with
sawdust and the organization now knew that the ATF had infiltrated their
business and would not allow any future negotiations. He
smiled satisfied with the ultimate result. Standish had quit.
Couldn’t even last the six months probation period that he had to
“I dunno why I bother, Nathan,”
Tanner slammed out of the break room and headed for Larabee’s office.
“Chris!” Tanner announced as he
flung open the door, slamming it hard against the wall. He stopped
mid-stride, his arm raised in anger. “Chris?” he questioned
the empty office as he looked half-heartedly under the desk for his
missing boss. The desk was cleared of reports, papers and writing
material - they were scattered haphazardly around the room. The
phone was off the cradle and lay broken in pieces by the upturned bin.
The computer buzzed with the screen-saver playing, but the monitor
teetered on the edge of the desk and at an odd angle. Vin absently
centred the machine back to its original position. The
pictures on the wall hung askew and the chair lay upturned on its side.
The three drawers of the desk were emptied and in an abandoned pile of
broken timber. In general, it looked like a whirlwind had ripped
through the office. If he hadn’t known better, he’d assume
that the office had been ransacked. But he knew intuitively that
Chris had caused this mess. Tanner walked thoughtfully out of his
boss’s office. “Anyone see Chris leave?”
Ezra Standish departed
McQuerters, a bar of discernible taste and was immediately confronted by
two of Michael Santaguiliano’s henchmen.
“Hey, Dave,” Rudy Benson smiled
asininely at his partner, “it’s Eddie Samuels!” Benson wore his
hair cropped short and bleached white. During the two months Ezra
had known the oafish henchman, Standish had seen the man change his hair
colour, and style, at least four times. Rudy had obviously been to
the barber’s that morning at the time of the raid.
“Eddie,” Dave Hendricks greeted
overly cheerful. One eye twitched as he forced the false façade,
anxious not to alert the pedestrians of any looming danger. Out of
the two bodyguards, he was more conservative in his mode of dress,
though he did sport a gold stud through his left earlobe.
Ezra barely glanced at the bulging
jackets, he knew what was hidden beneath their coats and had no
intention of waiting for either man to use them. He stumbled
slightly and laughed overly loud. “Rudy! Dave!” he
drawled, recognising both men from his interactions with
Santaguiliano’s business. Although, he’d never personally met
Michael Santaguiliano until three days ago, when they set up the time
for the meet. Smiling widely, he draped an arm around each of the
henchmen’s shoulders and ushered them along the pavement away from the
entrance of the bar. “Santaguiliano is dead,” he slurred,
easily feigning a shudder. “The Fed’s got the drop on the
He rubbed at his jaw
and winced at the fresh reminder.
He rubbed at his jaw and winced at the fresh reminder.
Rudy and Dave shared a confused
glance over the Southerner’s shorter frame, but moved along with him.
““Were you standing a
little too close to the action, Eddie?” Rudy sneered, pointing out the
darkened colouring on his face. Not interested in an answer he
continued. "There’s somebody who wants to
talk to you, Eddie,” Rudy stated.
“After the fiasco this afternoon,
I’m doubtful that my buyer will be too enthusiastic to re-establish
further contact with your company. And with Santaguiliano gone,”
he paused, stepping out of both the larger men’s reach, “I’m sure
your business will take some time to recover the loss of Michael’s
“That’s too bad,” Dave
grunted, reaching a hand inside his coat.
“Eddie, you should have known
that we’d find out your buyer was a Fed.”
Standish’s heartbeat jumped
erratically, but his face remained unmoved by the mobster’s
declaration. “I don’t know where you got your information, but
I can assure you that Mr. Larson is indeed genuine. I’d think
you’d be looking inside your organization for the traitor who tipped
off the ATF.” He could talk his way out of this situation.
After all, that was his calling and Ezra had been taught by the best.
“Hah!” Rudy barked with
contempt. “Chris Larabee, ATF. Forty-two, leader of Team
7, wife and kid were killed in a car bombing four years ago. Ring
a bell…. Ezra?”
Ezra took a step backwards and
re-weighed his options. This was not good. How had they
discovered both Chris and his true identities? Had he compromised
their cover? Had he let something slip? Ezra quickly ran
through several conversations he’d had in organising the scam and came
up empty. He’d have to work that out later; at the moment he
needed to escape.
“Now, Ezra,” Dave grinned
maliciously, “we need to visit Santaguiliano.”
Standish shook his head in
amusement and even chortled. “You gentlemen need to find a new
boss. If you haven’t already heard, Michael Santaguiliano was
killed in today’s raid.” At least Standish thought he had
died. Not that the undercover agent had checked the body, but it
was…well - obvious. Ezra wondered once again, why Benson and
Hendricks hadn’t attended the meet - other than the obvious - being
Bensons’ haircut. He was astounded to find Santaguiliano at the
meet without his usual minders. But Ezra had buried his concerns
as he recognised most of the others present. They were new in the
organization, but he had seen them around. And then, he had to
contend with Larabee’s nervousness and stilted exchange and
negotiations with Santaguiliano. Chris couldn’t stop staring at
the gun-dealer. Hell, he didn’t even ask to view the weapons
that he was supposed to be purchasing. Talk about running on
faith. Whether it was just because it was the first time Chris and
Ezra had teamed up together the Southerner couldn’t fathom, or more
likely Larabee just didn’t trust the undercover agent. Standish
thought he had handled Chris’ slip up, when Santaguiliano signalled
his henchmen. The group of four thugs he brought along started
blasting the warehouse full of lead. The noise was quickly
equalled with that of Vin, Josiah and Nathan who were strategically
dispersed throughout the warehouse, and the prompt arrival of Buck and
JD from the surveillance van. The end result being, that all the
dealers, including Santaguiliano, were brought down.
Standish glanced from Benson to Hendricks and back again. He looked at the identical expressions worn by both henchmen and couldn’t help the spark of suspicion that crept along his spine. Something was not quite right.
Rudy smiled and Dave barked with
laughter. “That’s where you’re wrong, Ezra Standish, FBI and
ATF agent,” Benson scorned. “You don’t think after only two
months that you’d get that close to the boss?” he guffawed, slapping
his partner wholeheartedly on the back. “But he’s mighty
pissed with you right now, and wants to see you. Before you die,
that is,” he smirked.
Standish bowed his head and slowly
nodded it as in resignation. Who the hell had been killed at the
warehouse then, if it wasn’t Santaguiliano? And if Benson and Hendricks
were telling the truth – and why, at this point, would they lie? -
What the fuck was going on? If it wasn’t Michael Santaguiliano
who Ezra introduced to Chris, then where was he? And why didn’t
he show? The Southerner’s head swam with the unanswered
questions. There were plenty of leads to follow up, but now he was
unemployed and at present his situation was more dire.
His Jag was parked on the side
street around the corner and he was certain he could out-sprint the
overweight ruffians. What he needed was a distraction. The
sidewalk was curiously deplete of pedestrians, but the road was heavy
with traffic for that time of day. A white van swept by them on
the roadside lane, whipping a surge of wind and spraying a sheet of
water from the gutter at the small group. Standish rocked on the
balls of his feet and nimbly shoved Dave into Rudy then took off in a
sprint. Pity he’d given up his sidearm to Wilmington, earlier in
the day. The undercover agent didn’t look behind him as he ran,
but kept his eyes on the Jag as it came closer. Using the small
remote attached to the key ring, he unlocked the Jag before reaching it.
Thank God for central locking. The door was opened roughly
and Ezra slid behind the wheel of the sleek machine and roared away from
the curb, filtering through the traffic.
Ezra pushed his foot down on the
accelerator and glanced up in the rear-view mirror to see both men jump
into a black Mercedes. He cut across the three lanes, dangerously
slipping in and out between other cars. He kept the pedal
depressed and glanced over his shoulder. “Damn!” he cursed.
The Mercedes was still on his tail. Standish slammed on the brakes
hard, white smoke spewed from his squealing tyres, he winced as two cars
crashed behind him, but he couldn’t stop. The Jag jack-knifed
into the side street and sped through the narrow access. He
gripped the steering wheel firmly and navigated the laneway with ease.
Standish sighed with relief as he
emerged at the opposite end and eased back into the traffic.
He was now heading the wrong direction, but he’d remedy that when he
was certain he’d lost his pursuit. Damn, he could do with his
gun right about now; even some back up would be nice. The agent
slowed to a stop, waiting for the lights to turn green. He checked
behind him and watched the laneway, which he had emerged through.
A blare of horns from impatient drivers behind, alerted the Southerner
to the changed signal. He drove cautiously through the junction
and was partway across when he spotted the black Mercedes in the front
row of the intersecting road. He kept his eyes on the road in
front of him and hoped that his pursuants didn’t recognise him, but as
was his luck of the day, the Mercedes ran the red light and swung out in
front of the oncoming vehicles.
Ezra stepped on the accelerator and
zipped between the cars, jumping from lane to lane and then back again.
The Mercedes stayed with the Jag. Before long it edged along side
of the Jag and Hendricks hung out the window aiming to shoot.
With a wary glance to his left, Standish swung the wheel pointedly at
the Mercedes. The driver, Rudy, followed Standish’s movements
and swung left just in time to avoid a collision with the Jag.
Dave’s bullet went wild and he was thrown back into the passenger’s
The vehicle in front of Ezra braked
suddenly and the undercover agent twisted hard on the steering wheel and
drove up on the sidewalk. He slammed the horn and blared at the
pedestrians. Fortunately they had the good sense to jump out of
harm’s way. Ezra grimaced as a cyclist fell from his bike, and
Standish glanced back in the rear-view mirror to see him shaking a fist
and cursing at the ATF agent. At least he wasn’t hurt. He
swung back onto the road and roared down the straight strip, the
Mercedes an ever-present threat.
Ezra jumped the Jag onto the
freeway and increased his speed. The Mercedes stayed with him, a
few car lengths back, and he wondered why they were maintaining the
static distance. Glancing back, he noticed the black vehicle take
the off ramp and he frowned in confusion. “Why the hell are they
giving up the chase?” Standish muttered, banging his fist on the
steering wheel. He stayed on the freeway for a while longer, then
took the next ramp off and in a round about route headed towards his
townhouse. Taking a decidedly different approach from usual to his
abode, Standish debated whether it was more advisable to find a hotel
for the night, until he was satisfied that it was safe to return.
He slowed the Jag to meet the speed
limit and considered the possibilities that Hendricks and Benson knew so
much about both his and Chris’ backgrounds. Standish wondered
exactly just how much they knew. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to
return to his townhouse at present. Staying in a hotel was looking
immeasurably better. Standish turned the vehicle about and headed
away from his home. And maybe he ought to call Larabee and inform
him of his confrontation with Santaguiliano’s goons. Not that he
relished doing that. He could picture the scene as it played out
in his mind, and grimaced at the inevitable outcome. The
Southerner glanced at his cell phone on the passenger seat and picked it
Ezra was four blocks from his home
when the Mercedes reappeared from a side road and ploughed into the side
of the Jag, shaking the vehicle askew across the road. The heavier
vehicle steadily pushed the Jag until it was hard up against a brick
airbag deployed explosively, slamming Ezra back into his seat.
His head swam as he attempted to regain his bearings.
A small groan slipped past his lips when he moved, feeling the fresh
bruises on his chest from where the seatbelt had restrained him.
The deflating airbag now hampered his escape.
Groggily, he unbuckled the seatbelt and pushed back his seat. The
Southerner sighed tiredly, realising that he’d have to climb into the
passenger seat to exit the Jag. And the waiting Henchmen
blocked that exit.
“Come on out, Eddie,” Rudy
beckoned smiling widely and waving his weapon at the trapped agent.
Somehow these men had predicted Ezra’s moves, right down to which back
streets he had chosen to use.
Chris Larabee glanced at the
elevator, fully expecting Vin to emerge through the doors, or even Buck
for that matter. It was easier to leave the building than he’d
anticipated. He waved casually at the security guard as he exited
the underground parking garage. Chris turned off his cell phone
and tossed it onto the vacant seat. Now they won’t be able to
contact him either.
The ride to Standish’s townhouse
took a little over half an hour. It was a pretty quick run as the
build-up of the evening traffic had yet to start. He wondered
briefly if Standish arrived late in the mornings and left well after the
other’s had finished, just to avoid the rush hour. Either way,
the man always managed to put in a full day’s work.
Chris parked in the street and
intently studied the Southerner’s house, mentally equating the
Southerner’s choice. It was a quiet neighbourhood and on the
better side of town. Probably pays a fortune in rent, unless he
owned it. He hadn’t been to Standish’s place before and
wondered what it would be like inside - probably neat and orderly, if he
had to hazard a guess. Not that he expected Standish to be the one
responsible for keeping his place clean – he probably employed a
cleaning maid for that. Chris realised that he didn’t know a
great deal about his undercover agent. What would Ezra do when he
discovered Larabee on his doorstep?
He rubbed at his stubbled jaw and
leaned back in the seat. The bust had been a disaster. Four
dead men at the scene and even the guy that Standish had introduced to
Chris as Michael Santaguiliano was not the wanted arms dealer - he was a
stooge. That means that the real Santaguiliano would be well aware
of the bungled raid as the Media had swarmed all over the bust this
morning. Larabee wondered if Standish realised he’d been set up?
Or was he part of it from the beginning? Surely the undercover
agent wouldn’t have been fooled? Then why did Ezra push his boss
into the line of fire? He’d trusted Standish, and the Southerner
had abused that trust. Chris could have been killed as a result of
that stunt, or seriously injured.
The crates, as it turned out, had
nothing in them other than sawdust. Where had the shipment of arms
disappeared? They’d lost the opportunity to secure the shipment
of weapons, now they had no chance of finding them. They’d
fouled up big time and AD Travis was breathing down his neck for an
explanation. One he didn’t have. He needed to
hear Ezra’s story before Travis and IA put their noses in. He
wanted Standish to talk to him, and he needed to remain calm enough to
listen to what the Southerner had to say - even if he didn’t want to.
Larabee hadn’t expected Standish to up and quit, at least not like
this. He still had another two months on his probation to
complete. Chris probably shouldn’t have hit Standish, but he was
riled. Pissed, was a better word. And disappointed, he added
thoughtfully. He drummed his fingers on the console and agonised
over what he was going to say to the stubborn man. Chris was
damned if he was going to allow the undercover agent to crawl out the
hole before he’d paid his dues. He had a lot to answer for.
Larabee wanted answers, and Standish had them all. With that
thought on his mind, Chris slammed out of the Ram and crossed the road.
He was about to hammer on the front
door, but his knuckles were still midair when he felt the prickle of
tension ripple at the back of his neck. The door was ajar barely
an inch and he thought even in the Southerner’s current frame of mind,
he wouldn’t leave it opened. Larabee pulled the gun from the
back of his belt and slowly edged the door opened with the toe of his
boot. Chris waited until the door lightly hit the wall before
stepping inside the apartment. The room was torn up, furniture was
overturned and papers strewn everywhere. He wondered if Standish
had done this or if he’d had visitors. Larabee noticed several
boxes in the middle of the lounge area, all empty. The contents
were scattered over the floor. Chris stepped over the Southerner’s
belongings and headed up the stairs. Once Chris had determined the
townhouse was empty, he returned to the living area and absently
surveyed the scene.
Sighing deeply, he righted one of
the overstuffed chairs and sank down into it. “What’s going
on, Ezra?” he asked, a worried frown marring his face. This
wasn’t how he’d planned this visit. His impression of his
agent’s home was a little skewed. The packing boxes, although
they were empty now, he’d swear that they hadn’t previously been
unpacked since Ezra had moved from Atlanta. Why hadn’t he
unpacked? Was he afraid to settle in? Was he planning on not
staying long? And why hadn’t Chris invited the Southerner out to
his ranch, like he did with each of the others, as they joined the team?
Make him feel welcomed.
Chris reached for his phone and
belatedly remembered that he’d left it in the Dodge. He spied
the phone socket and followed the lead under the pile of books and
papers. “Vin,” he paused, “look, I don’t have time for
that,” he interrupted. “I’m over at Ezra’s and somebody
has been through here, and good,” he emphasised the last word.
“Yeah, yeah…he ain’t here…Vin? Tanner?” he spoke loudly
down the disconnected line. Fuck! How’d he miss hearing
somebody entering the building?
“Mr Larson, ain’t it?” a
disembodied voice asked from behind. Larabee felt the cold metal
as it dug into the skin of his neck. “Drop the piece,” he
Chris obeyed and he saw the shiny
boot kick the weapon out of reach. He twisted his neck to see who
was behind him, but a punch to his lower back prevented the move.
A low moan escaped his lips and he reached around to massage the bruised
area. “Where’s Ezra?”
“Ya mean, Eddie?” he chuckled
sardonically. “He’s keeping company with the boss,” he
replied amicably enough. “Real nice of you to consider joining
This was the last Larabee heard as
he was plummeted into a blanket of darkness.
“Vin?” Buck dropped the article
he was reading and walked over to the sharpshooter’s desk.
“That was Chris,” he answered
“Told you he’d call,”
Wilmington joked, slapping the shorted man on the back. Sensing
that all was not right he signalled for the others to join them.
“What’s going on, Tanner?” he asked more seriously.
“Vin, has something happened to
Chris?” Nathan, ever the medic, inquired.
“He hasn’t been in an
accident?” JD’s voice quavered unsteadily. “Has he
talked to Ezra yet?”
“Vin, why don’t you just tell
us,” Josiah advised, halting the barricade of questions.
“Chris was calling from Ezra’s
place.” Vin scowled at the medic when he motioned to leave.
Staring intently at the dark-skinned man, he continued. “Said
the place was trashed and Ez wasn’t there.”
“So he’s human after all,”
Buck stepped between the opposing
forces, placing a hand in the middle of Tanner’s chest.
“Ain’t gonna get us anywhere,” he warned. “What else
happened, Vin? Does Chris think Ezra’s in trouble?”
Tanner shrugged, frowning as he
mentally revised the sketchy conversation. “Phone went dead.
And I just know something bad has happened to them both,” the
sharpshooter confided his gut instinct.
“Probably a perfectly logical
explanation,” Sanchez reasoned, hoping that he was right.
“Such as?” Vin spun and glared
at the older man. Josiah shrugged his shoulders.
“JD, try Chris’ cell phone,
would ya?” Buck ordered. They waited impatiently while the
youngest completed his task. They started to erupt with questions
the minute the younger man hung up, but Dunne held up his hand to
silence the group and redialled and then once more.
“Tried both Chris and Ezra’s
mobiles and Ezra’s home phone. Both the mobiles are either
turned off or out of range and I kept getting a busy signal on
Standish’s home phone,” JD informed the group of agents.
“That’s it!” Tanner thumped
his hand on the desk. “I’m going over there,” he declared.
He knew that both Standish and Larabee were in some kind of trouble, he
could feel it in the pit of his belly. He was marginally surprised
to see the group assent and grimly smiled his thanks. Even to
“Should we check the ranch?”
Dunne asked as the agents converged on the elevator.
“I’ll go with you JD,”
Sanchez offered. “We’ll let you know if we find either of our
Buck and Vin piled into Nathan’s
vehicle, while JD and Josiah climbed into the profiler’s suburban.
They nodded grimly to one another as the two groups separated and went
in opposite directions.
It was well after eight when
Jackson pulled up in front of Ezra’s townhouse. He remained
seated and glanced out through the tinted glass windows. “Looks
pretty quiet,” he acknowledged as both his passengers alighted the
“That’s Chris’ Ram.” Tanner set off across the road to the parked vehicle. He cupped his hands and quickly glanced inside, then returned to the others. “Phone’s on the seat.”
Vin flicked the light switch and
assessed the room with conviction. “Try not to touch anything
else,” he sarcastically informed Buck. Assuming the role of
leader he ordered Nathan to phone it in.
Vin rolled his neck and yawned.
It had been a long and exhaustive day. Leaning against the lounge
wall he made eye contact with the surveillance expert as he wandered
down the stairs. “Anything?”
Buck shook his head. The
place had been turned upside down and, they couldn’t confirm that
nothing was stolen until the Southerner had sorted through the chaos.
Fingerprints were taken, but it was likely that they would only turn up
to be Ezra’s and maybe Chris’. None of the others had ever
been to Ezra’s place before that night. Jackson even
needed directions to navigate them here. At least Buck knew the
Southerner’s address. “Told ‘em to pack it up,” he thumbed
his hand up the stairs. The boys in blue had been thorough in
their search, eventually, spending over two hours just photographing the
house with numerous rolls of film. The fact that Vin lost his
temper and threatened to call in their boss might have caused the
officers to make a more exerted effort.
Half a dozen police officers
trekked down the stairs, murmuring quietly to Wilmington on their way
passed. They filed singularly out the door and left.
“Let’s get some of this
straightened out afore Ez sees it,” Vin pushed off the wall and began
picking things off the floor.
Jackson waltzed in, holding his
cell phone in his hand. Both Tanner and Wilmington stopped and
glanced up at the dark-skinned man. “That was Josiah.
The suburban broke down on the way to Larabee’s. That’s why we
haven’t heard from them. They had to walk the last five miles in
from the main road. Nothing’s been disturbed at Chris’ place,
but they’re gonna be stuck out there for a while waiting for the tow
“So why did it take them so long
to call?” Buck frowned.
“Josiah tried fixing it,”
Nathan laughed. “Then after they started walking up the drive,
JD twisted his ankle.”
“That still don’t explain…”
“Maybe you oughta check if your
cell’s turned on, Buck,” Jackson pointed to the instrument attached
to his belt. He held up his hand to stall the comebacks and
continued. “Ezra’s is still unplugged, and mine was out in the
Tanner looked embarrassed as he
pulled it out of his pocket. “Ah…it kinda needs recharging.”
“Yep, figured,” Jackson nodded.
Rudy drove the newly acquired car
with economical movements. There was no point keeping the stolen
Mercedes, since its involvement in the accident. The crushed in
fender and hood would make it too noticeable on the Denver streets.
The replacement vehicle wasn’t as smooth as the previous one, but it
got them to their destination. Benson glanced over the
shoulder-rest at the unconscious agent in the backseat and grinned.
Santaguiliano would be happy. They finally had Standish, or
Samuels, as they had come to know him.
The blue sedan drove right up to
the private jet and both bodyguards leapt from the car and assisted the
removal of their unresponsive passenger. They carried the
unconscious agent aboard. The small plane was not ready to
depart, but the prisoner was secured and, in their opinion, had no
chance of escaping. They returned outside the jet and stood watch
over the aircraft.
The painful throbbing at the base
of his head caused the Southerner to wake. He didn’t immediately
open his eyes, but remained unmoving in the uncomfortable position
he’d been dropped and listened. After waiting for what seemed a
long while, he cautiously opened his eyes. If he expected to
be somewhere, it certainly wasn’t to be in the body of a plane.
He lethargically lifted his arm and discovered it handcuffed to the
armrest. The cuff clinked – the scratching grate of two metals
against one another caused him to wince, reminding him of the dull ache
that speared through his head. Damn, what had those gorillas hit
him with? Ezra tried lifting his other arm and found it similarly
trapped. The cuffs bit tightly around his wrists and twisting them
only aggravated the painful hold. Voices floated up through the
open cabin door and he craned his neck back to see if he could place
those voices with an image, but the owners were out of range of his
limited vision. Cursing softly he kicked the seat in front of him,
but it hardly moved under the aggressive jolt.
“Patience Mr. Standish,” an
unfamiliar voice echoed in the plane as he climbed through the hatch.
Ezra twisted in his seat and
scowled at the well-dressed figure. “Where are you taking me?”
“Michael will explain in due
course,” the veteran answered, threading his way down the aisle.
Standish shrank back into the chair
as the man dropped into a crouch and deposited a bag on the floor. Ezra
peered curiously over the edge and down on the bowed shiny bald patch.
“What are you doing?” he asked hesitantly. Dark brown eyes
lifted from the task he was applying and the balding man held up the
syringe to show the agent. Ezra’s eyes widened in panic and he
used his feet as weapons to keep the drug away. He kicked the
syringe from the man’s hand and continued to struggle in his seat and
“Benson, Hendricks get in
here!” the older man ordered, yelling urgently out the open doorway.
The two minders surged through the narrow space and converged on the
trapped undercover agent. “Hold him still while I get another
one ready, ” he directed impatiently.
Hendricks wrapped a death lock
about Ezra’s neck from behind, pulling the Southerner back and upright
against the seat, making it difficult for the agent to breathe.
Benson flipped a pocketknife open and slit the sleeve of the agent's jacket,
rolling the shirtsleeve up past the elbow. Ezra tensed in
opposition to the manhandling and attempted to kick the bleached blond.
Rudy slugged Ezra in the gut and when he groaned, pulling his knees up
to protect his midsection the henchman punched the uncooperative agent
in the face. Hendricks relaxed the neck hold a fraction, allowing
Standish to catch his breath. The needle entered his arm in all
the confusion and the effects of the drugs took effect almost
The cold shock of water roused
him from his drug-induced slumber. Droplets cascaded over his face
and soaked his shirt in the process. Through the foggy daze, he
squinted at the blurry images that hovered above him. He wanted
nothing more than to go back into the darkness, but for some reason his
mind urged him to consciousness. He licked the water from his lips
and grimaced at the salty taste. Blinking open the heavy eyelids
Standish searched his muddled mind to explain his predicament. A
tight grip around both arms lifted him off the floor and supported his
weight, his uncoordinated legs wobbling at the knees. His chin was
lifted and dropped after an initial assessment. He heard voices
that wavered in altitude and seemed to come from a distance far away.
And his head sagged between his shoulders and lolled listlessly from
side to side in a haze. The firm hold on his arms was released and
he was gratefully lowered back to the floor. With a supreme effort
Ezra attempted to regain control over his lethargy, but he could only
stare vacantly at the ceiling. His eyes glazed over and the
Southerner slipped back into the world of oblivion.
The cold seeped from the floor
through to his bones and the Southerner drew his legs up to prevent any
further warmth bleeding from his body. The movement reawakened the
numerous aches and pains his already abused body had received. The drug
was still in his system, and although he felt marginally better, the
sluggishness of mind and limbs was very real. Damn he hated not
being in control of his own body. It left him vulnerable and
exposed, and that was not something Standish was comfortable with.
He wondered where he was and how
long he’d been missing. He noticed that he was no longer on
board the plane, and the subtle movements rocking beneath him suggested
he was on a boat or a similar vessel floating on water. Ezra
vaguely recalled waking for short periods, but his memory was awash with
confusion and pain. He wondered if any of his former teammates
were aware that he’d been kidnapped and if they even cared.
Would they come looking for him? Or would they just assume that
since he’d quit, that his disappearance was probably a willing one?
If they found his Jag, then surely they would realise he was in serious
trouble, he reasoned logically. And although he was on the outer
with the tight-knit group, he prayed that the six agents would place
aside their differences and help him. That was assuming they had
some idea where to begin a search. And Ezra was fairly certain
that the trail to him was well concealed.
Standish flexed numb fingers and
rolled to his side, his gaze lingering on a pair of new Reeboks.
He tilted his head back and immediately recognised his companion –
Benson, leaning idly in the corner. He met the man’s gaze head
on and it was Benson who eventually dropped his eyes. The
bodyguard had been surprisingly quiet, the Southerner had not realised
he had company – probably a side effect of the drug he’d been
administered. “Waiting for something?” he slurred attempting
to get a reaction from his sentry. The older man grunted, but
otherwise ignored the agent. Mumbling under his breath something
about the oaf’s parentage, Standish wriggled on the floor trying to
get comfortable. With both hands tied behind his back and feet
also, it made the manoeuvre much more difficult. “I don’t
suppose you could loosen these?” he gestured with an optimistic look
to his bonds. “No?” he didn’t really expect Rudy to be
helpful. He licked his lips and a faint salty taste lingered
there. He wasn’t sure when he’d last had anything to drink and
his throat was parched dry. “I could do with some liquid
refreshments,” he hinted to the unmoving guard. After another
silent pause Standish tried again. “If you are not going to
assist me, then perhaps you could inform me, where we are?”
Benson crossed his feet at his ankles, but otherwise didn’t respond.
Ezra groaned inwardly, this was
worse than talking to a baboon. No, he amended, that would
definitely be more animated. A small satisfying grin curled
the corners of his mouth as he envisioned the ape in place of the
bodyguard. He sighed and wriggled backward until he was touching
the wall. His minder just stared, not giving the slightest notion
that he was interested in anything Standish was doing. Benson’s
expression was clearly one of boredom. “You do realise
kidnapping is illegal?” Ezra pushed against the wall until he
was sitting, never once taking his eyes off the guard. “Don’t
suppose I could interest you in a game of cards?” he queried.
The blond wrinkled his nose and
rolled his eyes. “Do you ever shut-up?” he groused in
The Southerner smiled, showing his
perfect white teeth, he was beginning to annoy Rudy. “Only when
I’m asleep,” he mocked.
Santaguiliano’s henchman shrugged
off the wall and squatted at Ezra’s side. He gripped the
Southerner’s shirt and pulled him forward. “I’ll take great
pleasure in making you stay permanently asleep if you don’t quit yer jabbering,”
“Never let it be said that I
don’t know how to take a hint.”
“Good,” he growled and returned
to his previous position.
“Hold him up,” Santaguiliano
suggested, gesturing by waving his hand in a lifting motion. The
gun-dealer stood back and watched while his bodyguards worked over the
ATF agent. He’d been surprised to discover the younger man
wasn’t Eddie Samuels, but an undercover agent. Santaguiliano had
checked out his background in the beginning of the negotiations and his
cover had been impressive. As was his habit, Michael didn’t meet
with any new buyers until a few days before the meet. It gave him
time to be satisfied of their genuineness – and kept his identity safe
Michael was mortified that the
ATF agent had infiltrated his organization so easily. And if it
hadn’t been for Al Swami’s timely warning, then he would have lost
control of the situation, and his haul of weapons into the bargain.
He owed his life and business to the astrologist. It had been fate
that placed the younger man at his disposal, and he intended to consult
him with a lot more regularity, now that he proved his worth.
Santaguiliano grimaced at the brutality that was necessary, but he was
well aware of the repercussions if the agent escaped. “Stop,”
he ordered. Two able bodied henchmen held the beaten man between
Standish lifted his head and
blearily looked to the man who called the shots. Santaguiliano, he
“I’m being generous – I’m
allowing you the knowledge that your friend, Chris Larabee, will be
sharing this momentous day with you.”
Ezra’s head snapped up.
“What!” What the hell did Chris have to do with his
Michael barked with laughter.
“He is your buyer…you brought him into this deal. It seemed
only fitting that as you were both part of this,” he paused, snarling
as he groped for the appropriate word, “…deception, then you both
should pay the consequences of deceiving me.”
Chris was here? With him on
the ship? His weight sagged in the restraining holds and he looked
bewildered as he tried to come to terms with Santaguiliano’s
allegation. How was he going to escape and get Larabee out as
well? “Let him go,” Ezra rasped, “It’s me you want, Chris
had nothing to do with the raid.”
“And if I believed that, I’d
believe in Santa Claus,” he retorted, unswayed by the Southerner’s
plea. He motioned that the punishment could continue and walked to
the door. He opened his mouth to speak, but the muffled grunt from
Standish interrupted his thoughts. “Hendricks, stay with him,
until we return,” he ordered.
Dave flexed his knuckles and
nodded in understanding and ploughed a final blow at the semiconscious
agent. They dropped him to the floor, and other than Hendricks,
followed Michael Santaguiliano out of the room.
Chris peeled back his eyelids and
winced at the intrusion of light, quickly closing them once more.
He moaned, rolling his head on his shoulders he realised, through the
deep foggy haze, that he was sitting upright in a chair with both arms
tied behind him. He struggled against the bonds, but he was firmly
attached to the chair.
“Mr Larabee, it is useless to
struggle. James here is a most proficient knots man.”
Chris snarled, and made a more
fervent effort to release the ropes. “Who the fuck are you?
And where am I?”
“I’m pleased to make your
acquaintance at last, Mr. Larson…Charles was it?” he asked
contemptuously, pacing in the small iron clad room. “We didn’t
quite have the pleasure earlier…” he hinted stepping closer.
“So you’re Michael
Santaguiliano,” Chris guessed. He squinted at the glowing light
and tried to see past into the shadows.
“That is correct. And I
don’t like to made a fool,” he growled backhanding the bound agent
across the mouth.
Larabee’s head flung to the side
with the momentum of the strike and very slowly he turned back to face
his captor. He caught a fleeting glimpse of Santaguiliano as he
stepped closer in order in inflict the punishment. A large gold
medallion swung about his neck on a thick chain, it stood out against
the black silk shirt and between the lapels of the purple (?) jacket.
A heavy moustache and a sickly aroma of musk aftershave and Havana
cigars completed his hasty image. Licking at the bloodied lip,
Chris curled his mouth up into a snarl and, if he weren’t tied to the
chair, Santaguiliano would know his full fury. “What do you want
“I like to tie up loose ends.
And as for where you are,” the crime boss spun in a circle and
eloquently waved his hand at the surrounds, “you are going to have a
front row seat in the demolition of this old Navy Frigate. Her new
home will rest one hundred and fifty feet below the surface. Oh,
it’s all very legal,” he proclaimed, “the government sinks these
beauties from time to time to make artificial reefs. Guess I’m
just taking advantage of the situation. And don’t be expecting
any help from your friends…that is if they even figure you’re not in
Denver anymore.” Santaguiliano lowered his voice and
spoke over his shoulder, the words not directed at the ATF agent.
“Is everything acceptable?” he questioned.
Larabee heard the obtuse question
and frowned at the meaning. His toes curled and he shrank back
into the chair at the distinctive tone of voice that answered
“Everything is just perfect,”
the robed man purred clapping his hands in elation. Chris swore he
could see the hips of the man jut to the left and the hands gaily
gesturing. “The moon, earth and sun are in perfect alignment,
this is the exact day for you to assert your control,” the astrologist
gushed. “And disposing of them this way will broaden your
“As you say Al Swami.
Your predictions have been accurate to date,” he praised. It had
been the astrologer’s suggestion that Michael not attend the meet the
day before. That he have a stand-in to assume his position.
And it certainly paid off nicely – at least for him. He still
had his shipment of arms and had a legitimate buyer lined up for later
that week. So he was short a few lackeys, but they were easy
enough to replace.
Larabee snorted and shook his head
in disbelief. “You’re doing this ‘cause some gay fortune
Al Swami interrupted Larabee’s
diatribe. “Astrologist,” he squawked indignantly. “I
take my work seriously and have never posed as a fortune teller,” he
huffed in a breathy quaver.
Santaguiliano ended abruptly.
“Where’s Ezra?” Chris
“He’s another loose end,”
Santaguiliano chuckled. “And he’ll be dead just like you.
James,” he turned to face his right hand man, “it is time to leave Mr.'s
Larabee and Standish to their fates.”
Chris heard the departure of at
least four pairs of boots. So there had been four in the room with
him. The group stopped, pausing in the doorway. He heard a
burst of laughter and was stunned by the assertion. “Chris,
you’ve got just under four hours to live. This tub is set to
blow at high noon. Such a fitting time. So you’ve got
plenty of time to say your prayers. Au revoiur.”
“Go to hell!” Chris screamed to
the closing of the heavy metal door. At least he now knew that it was
eight in the morning, and presumably Friday. He’d been out of it
for over twelve hours. Damn! They must have drugged him, he
concluded and began in earnest to tug at the ropes.
Wilmington picked up the phone on
the first ring. He rubbed his temples and stared out into the
bullpen, listening to the voice on the other end of the line. The
others had spent the entire night at the office chasing a paper trail,
and so far they come up with scratch. They had to assume that the
disappearance of Chris Larabee and Ezra Standish were connected, and as
a result of the Santaguiliano’s operation. The fact that no weapons
were seized in the raid and that the gun-dealer was still at large made
it too much of a coincidence. He dropped the phone back to the
cradle. “Listen up, boys,” he signalled the weary agents.
When five sets of eyes lifted, he informed them of his phone call.
“The boys in blue have found Ezra’s Jag…it was only a few blocks
from his place. It’s been in an accident and pretty smashed
“Do they know if the driver was
hurt?” Josiah asked anxiously. He wanted to believe that
Standish had escaped unharmed, but the incidence of that was rather low.
And where was he now? If he hadn’t been injured in the car
crash, then the possibility was even greater now that he was missing.
“They didn’t find any blood
inside the car, but there was dried blood on the road.”
“Where have they taken it?”
“They’ve impounded it at
present, waiting to see what we wanted to do.”
“Any prints?” Vin asked
“Figures. So we’ve
still got nothing,” Tanner slumped in his chair.
Standish ducked through the next
compartment and quickly surveyed the room. Pausing to briefly look
at his wristwatch he mentally counted down the timescale. Only two
hours until detonation. He wouldn’t still be on the ship if
Santaguiliano hadn’t informed him of Chris’ capture and subsequent
entombment on the ship. He figured that was part of the arms
dealer’s revenge - allowing the Southerner his freedom, but knowing he
would forfeit it in order to find Larabee. Santaguiliano didn’t
really believe that Standish had nearly enough time available to find
his friend. It had taken the undercover agent a few muddled
moments to register that the arms-dealer was authentic in his offer to
let Standish leave, and a while longer to escape the loosened straps
binding his hands and feet.
Ezra would have fled the moment
Santaguiliano left the vessel if it was only his neck at risk, but given
the choice, he was compelled to search the hulking beast for his boss.
Knowing that the other man was alive…well he couldn’t just abandon
Chris to the fates. It would be almost as though he were an
accomplice to the murder. And he couldn’t live with the anguish
of knowing he’d allowed a friend to die while he was allowed to leave
His meeting with the middle-aged
arms dealer had been nothing but a revelation. Ezra felt mortified
that he’d been deceived so easily into accepting the ruse. He
kicked himself for falling for the ploy. He should have known that
the Michael Santaguiliano he originally met wasn’t the genuine
persona, but a front man. Hell he’d been in this business all
his life – he had no excuse. He’d been taught by the best. His
mother would be appalled. The others must think him a total
incompetent, the way the bust panned out. Nothing on this case
seemed to have gone right.
Deciding that the best course of
action was to search the ship in sections, he worked his way to the
bottom level of the bow of the ship, planning on doing the middle
section next and lastly the aft. Hoping that he’d find Larabee
sometime before he had to search the entire ship. Not that he
thought that he had anywhere near long enough to do just that.
“Chris!” he called again, banging on the hull of the narrow
passageway with a length of iron he’d picked up. The iron
echoed loudly and he prayed that Larabee would hear the commotion and
respond. Up until now, he had heard nothing but the creaking of
The galley and mess were bereft,
stripped to the very bones of the ship; there was nothing left but the
casing. Standish figured that the battleship had to be at least
sixty or seventy years old and wondered that it hadn’t been scrapped
for metal long before now.
Standish swung down the ladder and
found himself in the bowels of the boat. This room appeared to be
the central engine and boiler room and was dark and grimy.
Tentatively he called out his boss’ name. There were another two
rooms similar to this one, either side. Slipping between several
pipes he stumbled backwards, landing on his side as a shot of steam
erupted directly in front of him. “Shit!” he swore, grimacing
at the near scalding. Where the hell did
that come from, he wondered bewilderedly?
Noticing the tripwire across the entry, he followed it to an
elaborate set-up. Had
Santaguiliano arranged the intricate trap?
And why, if he did? Sitting on his haunches he examined the new
injury that had been caused to his body. His upper arm had been
sliced when he fell backwards and now was bleeding freely. Ripping
a section off his shirt he quickly bandaged the arm and backed out,
intending to check elsewhere. “Where are you Larabee?” he
His chest and side ached from
numerous bruises, particularly the large knot on his lower back.
The lack of decent sleep over the past two months had sapped his energy
and he was anxious to relax and have time to recuperate. Except
now he’d have to spend that time searching for a new job. Maybe
he’d contact Maude and take her up on her offer to join her in Paris.
He shuddered inwardly, there had to be something else he could do
instead of that. He cursed himself for throwing away the only
decent job he’d had in years. Ezra found that he enjoyed the
company of the six ATF agents, and although he wouldn’t admit it to
them, he would miss them terribly. Even Nathan.
The ship rocked in the water and
unbalanced him, causing Standish to recheck his footing and reaching the
walls for support. The tub groaned softly as it listed, reminding the Southerner that he needed to hasten the search.
He wasn’t completely satisfied that both the fore and the middle
sections were empty, but as there was so little time to afford a
comprehensive search he grudgingly accepted the results. With the
aft section still to go Standish pushed on. With each passing
minute, there seemed less chance of him finding Larabee and exiting
before the bombs ripped the battleship apart. “Chris!” he
called again more fervently and lumbered down the passage.
Ezra started tapping the hull wall
in a pattern, using Morse code to call out his leader’s name.
Funny how he still thought of Chris as his boss. That was probably
why it hurt so much when Larabee lashed out at him after the failed
bust. Not physically, although his body ached from the persuasive
manipulations of Rudy and Dave and as a result of the car crash, but he
hurt inside - a gut wrenching ache. One that he felt was going to
stay with him for a long time. He knew that Jackson didn’t trust
him, but he had hoped Chris had established some measure of trust.
It seemed that he was mistaken.
A fine sheen of sweat lined the
blond man’s brow. He’d broken the chair straight after
Santaguiliano and his stooges departed, but was still frantically
pulling at the tight knots. His wrists were bleeding and raw and
stung from the bite of the rope digging into exposed flesh. Once
the chair was broken Chris discovered that there was a cord attaching
his feet to his hands, making it impossible to straighten out his lower
limbs. Trussed up like a roped calf. Hell! Even once
he was totally free of the confining bonds he wasn’t certain he could
escape the room. What if the door was bolted from the outside?
Then what? And if it wasn’t? How was he going to find
Standish anyway? That’s if the Southerner was still alive.
“Standish, I’ll kill you myself if you’ve taken the easy way
out!” he growled in irritation. He couldn’t get past the
suffuse worry he felt toward the absent Southerner. After what
happened in the warehouse, Chris was certain he’d only feel enmity
toward the undercover agent, but this emotion was overshadowed by the
mounting concern for the flippant man. He didn’t want it to end
this way, yet the longer he remained on the vessel, the less likely the
chance he’d have to remedy the situation.
Chris blinked up at the steel door.
Stopping his struggling, he concentrated on the rhythmic beating that
pierced through the hulking metal. After a while the repeated code
began to unravel and a sardonic smile crossed his lips.
“Conceited bastard,” he groaned with relief. Larabee wriggled over
onto his side and crawled to the door. He didn’t know how he was
going to do it, but he needed to make some sort of reply. Larabee
knocked the door with his knee, but it only thudded softly, he really
needed to hit it with his steel capped boots. With a sign of
resignation, Chris rolled onto his stomach and pushed up as close to the
door as was comfortable. As if, he moaned disgruntled. He
then began a reply, hoping that Standish would hear it and come to his
rescue. Interspersed with the toe tapping, Chris shouted and
hollered in desperation. Come on, Ezra!
What seemed like an inordinate
period of time, Larabee dry mouthed and extremely tense and rigid was on
the verge of losing faith when he heard the faint echo of the
Southerner’s voice. He answered quickly and recommenced in
earnest kicking at the steel door. The door swung outward and he
craned his neck at the intruder. “’Bout damn time!” he
sighed on a wheeze.
Standish stepped over Larabee and
crouched at his head and lifted it a fraction off the floor.
“Your directions leave a lot to be desired,” he drawled thickly.
Chris snorted and noted the
Southerner’s dishevelled appearance. Gone was the Armani suit
jacket and silk tie, wearing only white shirtsleeves rolled to his
elbows and trousers. And both garments had obviously seen better
days. His feet were bare and by the swollen eye and bruised face
he’d endured some more rough treatment since Larabee last saw him.
And he couldn’t see what was hidden beneath Ezra’s clothing, but he
probably sported more injuries there also. Chris noticed the red
stained bandage that wrapped about his upper arm and curiously wondered
what the undercover agent had done. “You okay?”
“You planning on releasing me
anytime this year?” Larabee smiled wryly, watching Standish
absently glance at his wristwatch. He twisted his face in
bafflement to realise that they hadn’t removed the timepiece from
Ezra crouched at Chris’ back and
tugged at the knots. It was made more difficult with the blood
that had seeped into the hessian rope. He glanced up and realised that
Chris was staring at his watch. “They thought it would be
more amusing to be able to count down the time left,” he answered the
unasked question. “We have twenty minutes to depart this
vessel,” he nonchalantly informed his boss.
Chris grunted as his feet hit the
floor, it was a relief to be able to straighten out his legs.
“Reckon you could work a bit faster,” he urged, attempting to sit
upright. Standish assisted the move and propped Chris’ shoulder
against the hull.
“If you stopped moving about,
I’d have a better chance,” he retorted in frustration. It had
been a hell of a morning.
Larabee twisted away from Ezra and
scowled, hearing only the anger in the Southerner’s words.
“I don’t need any of your favours, Standish,” he growled,
attempting to stand. “Don’t know why you even came looking for
me,” he grumbled. Although he hoped that it had something to do
with loyalty, trust and friendship. The fact that he was here, had
to mean Standish at least cared.
Ezra flew from his position and
flattened the taller man under him. “We don’t have time for
this,” he shouted, frustrated. “I don’t plan on being around
for when she blows!” He dug his knee into Chris’ back and
stifled a smile at the grunt that issued from the blond-headed man.
He released the last knot with a flourish and sat back and allowed
Larabee to move. He was surprised by Larabee’s broad smile that
greeted him and returned it with a short twitching of his lips.
Chris rubbed the circulation back into his hands and glanced out into
the passage. Ezra offered his hand to pull Chris to a standing
Both men stood chest to chest and
looked into each other’s eyes. Chris stepped back and lifted
Standish’s left arm, twisting it to read the time. “Let’s
move,” he ordered, flying out of the room, only to skid to a stop a
few paces from the door.
“Straight ahead and up,”
The thump of Larabee’s boots
clipped loudly as he sprinted down the passageway. A bare-footed
soft pad followed on his heels as Standish stayed close.
Occasionally Chris would glance over his shoulder, but Ezra had shoved
him in the back the last time he did that, so he counted on the
undercover agent to just be there. Chris gripped either side of
the ladder and hauled himself up to the next level. Why couldn’t
they have one set of stairs from the base of the ship direct through to
the top deck? He reached down the hole and grabbed at Ezra’s
arm, speeding his climb though the hole. “Which way?”
Standish rubbed at his injured arm
and rolled his eyes. “Up,” he drawled sarcastically and pushed
past the taller man.
“Smart Ass,” Chris mumbled, and
trailed behind Ezra.
Ezra didn’t reply. He’d
checked his watch only moments ago and found that their time had
elapsed. Every step they took was now on borrowed time. He
was sure that the next level would see them safely outside. He
couldn’t be positive, because Ezra hadn’t taken this route to find
Larabee. When he’d heard the dull echo of metal on metal, he
gave up any further systematic search he’d applied and headed in the
direction of the sounds. A tight smile formed on his lips as he
reached the bottom of the next ladder. This was it. And the
ship had not yet blown. Standish climbed four of the rungs and
pushed at the closed hatch. His first attempt didn’t even budge
it. Ezra climbed higher and wedged his shoulder into the metal
door, but it still remained tight. Chris was at his heels and he
felt the impatience flow off the older man. Ezra gave it another
shove and almost slipped off the ladder he pushed so hard. “It
appears to be stuck,” Standish lowered his foot to another rung.
“Get out of my way!”
Chris gruffly ordered, elbowing into the slim hole. Larabee
grunted, pushing his shoulder flat against the strong hold. He
glanced down, and Ezra was looking up at him. “Fuck!”
Chris slid back down, only just touching his feet when the first of the
timed explosives detonated.
Seven bombs in total had been
planted along the base of the old naval ship and each one was set off
ten seconds after the one before it. In the space of just over a
minute the ship’s base had been shattered and was beginning to sink as
seawater quickly filled the hull.
Standish rocked off his feet and
slammed against the hull. His head connected with the edge of an
open door and bounced on the hard steel. He clutched at the
opening to keep his balance, but the next explosion knocked his feet
from under him. Sprawled on the floor, he attempted to rise onto
his knees, but at the same time was pushed down with the weight of
Larabee falling into him. He passed out from the unexpected jolt,
striking his head on the floor.
Larabee curled on his side,
cupping hands over his ears. The ear-splitting sound had rung
piercingly through the empty hulk, incapacitating both its hostages.
After the seven blasts, Chris rolled to his knees, then crawled to
Standish’s prone position and turned the Southerner over onto his
back. Lightly slapping the bruised and pale cheeks, Chris sat
Standish against the wall.
Standish’s eyelashes fluttered
and his green eyes instantly sprang open. He surged to his feet
and swayed before catching at the wall. Rubbing his neck he felt
his stomach roll with the movement of the vessel. “We’re
sinking,” he rasped.
Chris grimly nodded. “You
know how to get us out of here?”
“Only the way I came in…”
Ezra leaned into the wall as the ship tilted sideways.
“Then what are we waiting for,”
“We’ll need to go down a level,
before we can head to the surface…”
“Great,” Chris groaned, holding
out his arm to gesture Standish lead the way.
The ship rocked and groaned as the
vessel took on water, expelling air and pulling the giant to the seabed.
The two ATF agents returned to the
ladder and climbed to the lower level. They passed the crew’s
quarters, but their main goal of reaching another section prevented them
from searching out a more easily accessible exit. Besides, they
didn’t have the time. The door at end of the passageway was
closed. Standish turned the handle and was thrown back with the
swell of water that spewed down the quarters knocking both men over in
Larabee shook his head, spitting
the salt water from his mouth. Shrugging out of his jacket he
tossed it carelessly aside and slipped out of his boots also - they
would only weigh him down. “Great exit,” he smiled ruefully.
Ezra bent over at the waist, his
hands rested on his knees, in the knee high water to catch his breath.
He glanced sombrely at Chris. “Wasn’t here before,” he
panted, flicking a handful of water at his boss. The ship tipped
precariously to the right and the water moved accordingly.
Balancing with a hand plastered to the wall, they trudged through the
The level crept higher as the ship
sank and the lighting flickered, alternately plunging them into muted
darkness and glitches of faded yellow light. The water lapped at
their waists and slowed their progress. With each tip and tilt of
the ship, the water sloshed from one side to the other sucking at their
footholds and drawing them into the deep blue oceanic waters.
Begging them to join the death throes of the naval vessel as it was
swallowed beneath the surface.
“How much further?”
Standish wiped at his face and
glanced at his watch. It had been fifteen minutes since the first
explosion. They were running out of time. “I don’t
Larabee dove into the water and
swam down the corridor. He could see a ladder and pulled himself
onto the metal framework. “This one?” he asked expectantly.
“I believe so.”
They entered the next level and
Standish pointed out the open hatch. Not that Chris needed the
clarification as seawater gushed sporadically down the shaft.
“Let’s get off this sinking ship,” he elated.
“Right behind you.”
The deck of the ship was about a
dozen feet above the waterline and rapidly sinking. The towering
middle section still had a distance to go before it settled beneath the
ocean. They jumped from the ship and swam toward the shore.
Both agents were exhausted as they touched the sand on the beach.
Ezra rolled on his side and watched
as the last of the vessel disappeared beneath the water, a rush of
bubbles and foam gushed on the final mouthful and the surf rushed
excitedly up the sandy shore. Flopping back, he collapsed to the
Larabee watched his agent with
concern when he didn’t pull himself higher up the beach. It had
been a long swim to shore from the ship. Standish covered his face
with his forearm to shield his eyes from the blazing sun, hitching the
soaked shirt up and exposing the deep reddish purple contusion on his
back. Chris’ eyes widened, disturbed by what he saw. “How’d
you do that?”
Ezra lifted his arm off his face
and glanced over his shoulder. He followed the direction of
Larabee’s gaze and pulled the shirt down and rolled over on his back.
“It happened at the warehouse.”
Chris frowned. He didn’t
recall Ezra getting hurt in the raid. He remembered shoving
Standish against a concrete pillar – could it have occurred then?
“I do that?”
“Would you like to take credit
for it?” Ezra asked wearily. Raising himself up on one elbow he
saw the look of contrition cross Larabee’s face. “No, you
didn’t cause it,” he assured and dropped back to the sand.
Chris continued to watch his agent
and the exhaustion was so apparent. How had he missed seeing that
yesterday? “If it wasn’t from me…how’d it happen?” he
Standish closed his eyes, the surf
lapping at his legs. That particular injury was the cause of all
his problems with Chris. He sighed tiredly. How did he
explain to Chris that it was an accident that caused him to push the
older man out from behind the safety of the crates and into the gunfire?
They had been so close together, that when the broad tubular piping
swung down and connected with the Southerner from behind it catapulted
him forward, seemingly shoving Larabee out in the open. Standish
fell flat on his face, and the pipe crashed back into the wooden crates,
breaking up the tower of boxes in the process. All Ezra could
recall was staring into his boss’ puzzled expression, then shuddering
as the narrowed glint in his blue eyes changed to thunderous fury.
His confusion had gone and in the space of seconds, been replaced with a
raging anger. Before Ezra realised, or understood, what was about to
happen, Chris started moving toward the opposite wall, away from him and
further into danger.
The Southerner launched back behind
cover. Immediately he spied the forklift and a smile crept across
his face as a plan came to mind. He broke cover, firing a few
rounds as he headed to the machine and dove behind the wheel.
It was as simple as driving through the hail of bullets and picking
Chris out of the middle. Bullets pinged off the yellow metal
machine and Standish sat lower in the seat. When the undercover
agent reached Chris, the blond-headed man refused to join him. He
yelled at Chris, then jumped off the forklift and traded insults to no
avail in the midst of the ear numbing confusion. So he did the
next best available option and sucker punched his superior, dragging him
back aboard the machine and relaying them back to safety.
Ezra groaned and shook his head -
Chris would never believe that. What did it matter now anyhow?
He’d quit. “Does it matter?”
Chris paused before answering,
watching the flickering emotions cross his face. “Yeah, I think
it does,” he replied.
They’d moved up the beach out
of the incoming tide and rested against the sandbank. Ezra had
reluctantly retold his side of the bust and Larabee had grown quiet
during the retelling. He felt ashamed at his handling of the
situation and more so that he’d assumed Standish had done it
“Thanks,” he acknowledged,
knowing that the one word wasn’t nearly going to show his gratitude,
but it was all he could come up with. “For back at the
warehouse…and for not leaving without me,” he pointed out to sea
where the naval ship had sunk. He broke into a wide smile at
discovering the undercover agent asleep.
Chris walked up the beach a
distance looking for some signs of life, but the beach where they came
to was clearly deserted. It was going to be a hike to get
home. He returned a short time later and Standish was still in the
same position. Dropping down on the beach beside Ezra, he dug his
toes in the sand. “You know where we are?” Chris asked.
“The coast,” Ezra drawled,
annoyed that he’d been woken again.
Larabee sighed, then broke into an
uncharacteristic grin. “You planning on going after
Santaguiliano?” He smirked as the Southerner arched an eyebrow,
but remained silent. Yep that’s exactly what the smart mouth
bastard’s got planned. “You come back to work for me and
you’ll get paid to go after him,” Chris coaxed. Ezra laid his
arm back over his face and rolled on his side. “Well?”
“I’ll let you know on Monday,” was all the Southerner would say before drifting off to sleep.
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