Main Characters: Ezra, JD
Thank you Nancy for hosting my stories.
In conference room one, on floor eleven of Denver's Federal building, the mood was subdued as the debriefing came to a close. Sitting with his team around the room's oval table, Chris stared at his youngest agent. JD had been restless and quiet since the bust, and throughout the debriefing kept his head down, save for the occasional glances to an oblivious Ezra. Standish had come through the undercover assignment without incident, despite disappearing in the flurry of activity for a minute or so, as his hard work came to fruition.
Disastrously, the man they were after had been shot dead, a close up to the head, and no one had seen or heard anything. Chris Larabee decided this not to be one of their best results despite confiscating dozens of weapons. He had also wanted the main man. The team was convinced Liam Forbes was merely a front man; now they would have to start that side of their investigation from scratch. Debriefing over, and as the men dispersed, JD asked Ezra if he could speak with him, and the pair disappeared off.
In the copier room JD closed the door and faced the southerner. Ezra frowned. "What can I do for you, JD?"
JD's demeanor made it clear he was not merely kidding around. "Please Ezra, just smile for me."
The very request prompted an involuntary, if not uneasy grin. Ezra's gold tooth glinted in the fluorescent lighting as he did so. JD visibly wilted and leaned hard against a wall.
Ezra grabbed his arm. "Good Lord, what's wrong?" Shocked by the emotion in JD's features, he watched the younger man pull an evidence bag from his jeans pocket. Inside it was a gold tooth.
"It was next to Forbes's body."
"And you thought it was mine?" He intercepted JD's answer as it all became clear. "But you kept it from forensics."
JD nodded. "Only until I could check it out with you or the guys. I know I've done the wrong thing, but I had no one to turn to right then and," he swallowed, nervously "if I'd handed it over before . . . "
Ezra's eyes glistened. "I'm touched you would do this for me, but as you see, you have no reason to concern yourself. I fear this may be a plant. We'll turn it in." A familiar voice interrupted him.
"You should have come to me."
Five minutes after Team Seven returned from the debriefing, Chris came out of his office and glanced around the bullpen. "Where are JD and Ezra?" Blank stares greeted him, but a look shared between the group confirmed his concerns and he walked out.
Absorbed in their discussion, the pair had failed to hear Chris enter the room and now stared at their furious leader with unease and, in JD's case, shame.
The tension in the copier room was thick enough to cut with a knife. Chris glared at JD. "You should have come to me."
JD lowered his gaze, his complexion pale but for two dots of burning red on his cheeks. "I know, I'm sorry." He raised his head, desperate for the man he idolized to see his sincerity. "There was so much going on, neither you nor Ezra were around, the others were scattered everywhere. I just . . . acted."
Ezra jumped in, anxious to take some of the heat from Larabee's gaze. "Chris, the evidence is perfectly preserved, he just . . . "
Chris held up his hand to Ezra. "And that's the only reason I haven't kicked his ass outta this building. How do you think this will look when we present it?"
JD nodded, once again unable to look up. "I know."
Chris drew uncomfortably close to the smaller, younger man. "Get the bag over to forensics, then grab your stuff and go home. I don't want to look at you right now."
JD choked back a sob. "Yes sir."
Buck watched Chris ponder something, and then stared after the glowering man as he exited the bullpen. "What d'you reckon's going on?" he asked of no one in particular.
Vin stared at the office door as it reverberated from Chris's hasty exit, and wondered how much he should share. He looked at his friends, deciding enough secrets were in the air right then. "I think JD's done somethin' stupid."
Buck straightened at the accusation, his eyes narrowing in anger at the Texan. "Like what?"
Vin was unfazed by the look. "Like tryin' to protect a friend in the worst way possible."
"Ezra?" Josiah cut in, putting the pieces together.
Tanner shrugged. He had seen the actions at the scene from his high perch before descending, but not the contents of the bag. "All I know is I saw JD pocket somethin'."
Buck glowered, standing and moving to tower over the sharpshooter. "JD's no sell-out, Vin."
Vin had expected the reaction, and raised a placatory hand. "I know that, Buck, that's why I said he'd screwed up."
"Jesus, if what you say is true, Chris's gonna tear him a new one," Nathan stated.
Vin swallowed, a genuine look of apprehension in his eyes. "Or fire him."
The remaining four teammates watched when Chris and Ezra entered the bullpen and then Chris's office. The black cloud seemingly following them in suggested all was not well.
Closing the office door, Standish adopted a manner unfamiliar to him. He pleaded to the man now sitting behind his desk. "Chris, please. JD was wrong, but he did it with good intentions. The boy was merely protecting one of his own until he could speak with . . . "
"He should have involved me. We could have dealt with this at the scene. This is gonna get messy. You want to lay odds on there being your DNA on that tooth?"
Standish nodded. "I have already drawn that conclusion myself."
"Internal Affairs are gonna march in here with our team under suspicion over Forbes's death, a murder executed right under our very noses, to then learn one of us withheld evidence." He sighed deeply and eased back into his high-backed leather chair. "Get ready for a rough ride."
"Sadly, due to past experiences, I am already prepared."
Under no illusion forensics was unhappy about the delayed handover, JD returned to his desk with a heavy heart. Shutting down his computer, he began to gather his things.
Buck stood, concern evident on his handsome features. "Where you going?"
Not making eye contact, and continuing to pack up, JD answered. "Home."
Glancing toward Chris who was leaning against his office doorframe, Buck moved protectively closer to his roommate. "You okay?"
JD nodded, couldn't speak if he wanted to, the lump in his throat saw to that. Buck glanced between Ezra and Chris, his heart aching at the disheveled youth now heading out. "Someone wanna fill me in, here?"
"Later." Chris grabbed JD's arm as he passed, halting the youth and lending a gaze only JD could see. "I'll call by after work."
JD nodded and trudged out.
Once JD left, all hell broke loose. Waving off the barrage of questions, Chris left the office. Almost two hours later he returned, and guided them toward the conference room to fill them in. The revelation, while no longer a shock, concerned them all deeply.
"Is JD suspended?" Josiah asked.
"No, but he should be," Chris answered.
"Loyalty should not be dismissed Chris," Ezra insisted.
"Neither should withholding evidence," Chris shot back. "Luckily, forensics accepted my explanation that JD had stuffed it into his pocket when he got distracted."
He sighed. "Look, I know all the arguments, but the bottom line is JD should have brought his concerns to me. Because of his actions, I've had to stretch the truth. I'm hoping some time alone will make him think on all this."
Jolting on hearing his ringing cell, Ezra apologized for the intrusion and took it from his inside jacket pocket. Opening it, he frowned at no ID. Listening, the southerner paled and looked at his teammates before closing down the phone. His mind was reeling, his heart heavy. Whichever action he took next, would question his own loyalty.
Trembling hands curled around wood as JD leaned heavily on the rail of the CDC's deck. He stared out over the city, not that he was truly seeing it at that moment. While he still believed he had done the right thing morally, he also knew Chris was right. He should have found a way to bring it to Chris's, or someone's attention before leaving the scene.
But events got away from him. Chris had been ensconced in a heated debate with several members of the DPD that backed them up, the rest of his team were scattered around the crime scene, and before he knew it, Buck was yelling back at him to shut down the surveillance van and head back. Despite scanning the area, Ezra was still nowhere in sight, so JD made the decision that he now feared would end his career.
Unable to eat the cheese and ham sub he made for himself, and desperate to think of something else for a while, JD walked back into the apartment and started picking up the litter strewn around the living room and kitchen.
As late afternoon moved into early evening, JD had two filled garbage bags to dispose of. His mind once again whirling from the events of the day, he exited the apartment and padded barefoot to the trash chute at the end of the corridor. Being grabbed from behind as he passed the stairwell on his return from depositing his refuse, came as a complete shock. Cursing his lack of attention as he struggled with a large presence behind him and the clamp of thick arms around his body, he stared at an unfamiliar face.
"Forbes was an idiot, and had to be terminated. I saw what you did at the scene. Where is the tooth?"
JD gagged through the chokehold threatening to cut off his air. "I - don't know what - you're talking - about, and even if I did - it's none - of your - business."
The man hissed his disappointment. "Wrong answer. Planting that tooth was a bad move. Discrediting Standish in such an amateurish way will not encourage him to return what's mine. Perhaps I should test whether his loyalty to you is as devoted as yours to him."
Before he could ponder that, a sharp scratch to his neck put JD temporarily out of his misery.
Ezra's teammates watched in earnest, waiting to see what the call was about. Thinking back on Chris's anger and his valid points from earlier, Ezra made a decision. "Forgive me, JD."
He addressed his concerned friends. "It would seem whoever killed, or is responsible for killing Forbes and planting the tooth, believes I have something belonging to him. I was advised to share this next information with no one." He hesitated. "I've been informed to go alone to a specific location in one hour, or JD's life will be forfeited."
Realizing the implications of his message, the distraught team jumped up to take action. Chris approached and squeezed Ezra's shoulder. "You did the right thing."
Ezra's shimmering gaze met Chris's look. "I was torn between two loyalties. I hope JD can forgive me."
Understanding the silent message, Chris nodded. "Let's move."
In a dank room deep in the bowels of the old, rambling home he owned, Milton Knowles stared at the unconscious agent lying on the floor among the detritus. He checked his watch and a small smile emerged.
Milton turned to his employee. "Yes?"
"If we're not going after Standish, why'd we bring the kid here?"
"Oh, we're going after him, but not as he expects." Knowles tapped his watch. "Right now he and his teammates are concluding that their assigned rendezvous is a no show. If I've read this man correctly, my follow-up message will provoke self-isolation from his colleagues, and open up an opportunity to deal with this one to one."
"And him?" The goon pointed to JD.
Knowles shook his head. "He's of no consequence. Once I see Standish's reaction is as I expected, you can work him over, and toss his ass out on a highway. By the time he's found, and his teammates work out what's going on, Standish will already be dead." A thought occurring to him, he glanced at JD. "No, wait, why make this so difficult?"
The atmosphere in Team Seven's bullpen was intense. Ezra sat at his desk and watched his teammates' emotions play out between anger, frustration, to anguished concern.
Whoever called him had not made an appearance. Now Standish feared the worst, but didn't share his anxieties, he was too busy plotting his next move if it proved true. Ezra was so deep in thought, he startled when his desk phone rang. He answered it, quickly punching the speaker button as a familiar voice came through. All attention turned to the phone on his desk.
>>" . . . irritates me more than not having my instructions followed to the letter." There was a sigh. "As a consequence of your decision, and as promised, the life of the young man in question has been sacrificed. I'll be in touch."<<
As the call ended, Buck's accelerated breathing seemed to reverberate around the silent bullpen. Ezra's world narrowed. It felt as if the blood in his body dropped to his feet, while the words played in a loop in his mind. qqq*Your decision - sacrificed - your decision - sacrificed.*xxx
He had screwed up; made the wrong decision; he'd let JD down. Quickly realizing his blurred vision was not from lack of oxygen; Ezra hastily gathered his things and exited the quiet room. Swiping away a tear, his heart constricted at the sound of Buck's anguish, before anger replaced his sorrow, and he entered the elevator with one word uppermost in his mind.
Five stunned teammates jerked into life and Buck's mouth caught up with his brain. "No, he's bluffing, right? Oh God."
Vin's blue eyes shimmered, his haunted gaze resting on Chris, as Larabee placed a hand on Buck's shoulder, words eluding him right then. Josiah searched for something comforting to say, while Nathan dialed and attempted to trace the call. A long minute later, he had an area, but not a specific destination. The call had simply been too short, but it was a start.
Chris finally rallied. "Let's go."
"Where?" Josiah asked.
"Damned if I know, but I can't stay here while the kid's . . ." he stopped short of the word `body'. "While JD's out there, somewhere. Ezra, best you stay here. Call all the hospit . . . " Chris suddenly realized the southerner had left. Pulling out his cell, he dialed Ezra's phone, cursing at the voicemail pick up. "Damnit to hell, Standish, now's not the time to turn maverick."
After informing AD Travis of the situation, and with an assurance from him he would get every available agent and officer on the case, Chris led his distraught team into action. If JD really was dead, they would take time to grieve. For now, they needed to find the kid, and reel in one missing undercover agent, before they lost him, too.
Ezra looked around the apartment he was sitting in. This was the home of several of his alter egos. Only two other people knew of it; Chris and JD. Chris, well, that needed no explanation, JD, because their `boy wonder' had placed devices around the one bedroom dwelling to aid any investigation that led Ezra to encourage a meeting here. As he knocked back his fourth tumbler of whiskey, his heart ached to think their little set-up would never see the light of day. He knew Buck could handle the surveillance set up, but that was of little consequence, Standish wouldn't be in the job long enough to care. Whether it would eventually be due to expulsion, or death, remained to be seen.
Filling his glass for the fifth time, he acknowledged he was grieving, a big step for the one-time loner. He choked back the numbing liquid. Directly, or indirectly, he vowed a long time ago that the death of an innocent or a colleague, by any actions he deemed to be his, would end his career one way or another.
JD was both. So many times he could have taken advantage of the boy's naivety, and sometimes, teasingly did; but he had quickly learned he drew much more pleasure from schooling the youth than exploiting him. JD had come to them as an equal in his own field, but to be molded, shaped and educated in federal law enforcement; a task that, at first, he wanted no part of, but the more the team gelled, and he got to know the lad, the more he wanted to be involved in fashioning a future leader.
For that was where he believed JD's future would proceed. The rest of them, apart from Larabee, were beyond it. Regardless of their unimpeachable professional track records, their idiosyncratic habits had likely ensured it. But JD, while no doubt picking up bad as well as good habits from each of them, had an untarnished past, and that would be his salvation.
Ezra smiled as he poured his sixth drink and drained the bottle. JD was the first colleague to look up to him. It was not something he had sought, but once experienced, the sentiment was satisfying. Ezra believed the boy's adulation of them all, had been a large contribution to their bonding. Had Travis and Larabee known that when they took Dunne on?
There certainly hadn't been much bonding until he arrived. They worked together reasonably well, but each night they would head home alone, and Standish had been comfortable with that. But within JD's first week, the team paid a visit to a local Fed haunt known as `The Saloon', to, as he could recall Vin saying, 'whup the kid's ass at pool'.
That night, a tradition was born - in the pool - not the whupping. JD turned out to be no slouch in the pool department, much to Ezra's chagrin. He sighed, that was one bet which reminded him never again to assume based on appearances.
Catching a glimpse of himself in the blank TV, emotion overtook the numbness in his body. Snatching up the empty bottle, he threw it at the inanimate object; disappointed the explosion of glass wasn't as satisfying as he'd hoped. Curling up on the sofa, Ezra allowed the alcohol to temporarily take him from his hell.
Tomorrow, he would exact his retribution.
The team had just left the CDC and the multitude of DPD, and forensic officers in and around the apartment. It didn't take a genius to work out the kid had been snatched either right outside or from inside his home. The door was open, and the place turned over, someone clearly looking for something. Their next stop was Standish's apartment. The immaculate dwelling left only two clues that Ezra was long gone, an empty gun safe in his bedroom, and Ezra's police issue and badge that were left on his dresser. The vision answered Chris's deepest fear; Ezra was going after the bastards, and flying solo and shield-less.
Chris glanced at his team as they checked out the apartment. They were barely holding it together, Buck especially. This new development, while a bitter blow, was not really a surprise. Either one of them would like to dish out their own justice right then, but seeing one of their own already of a mind to do so, had brought them full circle. They would get their man, and justice would prevail; and if a few personal retaliations paved the way so be it.
Returning to the office, they found an Internal Affairs officer waiting to speak to Standish and Dunne.
Chris glared at Agent Wayne Purvis. "Get out!"
"Now. Later. It makes no difference, they have questions to answer," Purvis shot back.
"Well, one's not here, and the other may well be lying dead somewhere, and those two issues are all we give a shit about right now," Buck warned.
"Then I`ll start with one of you."
It took three of them to pull Buck off him, before he left vowing to return soon. As the IA agent walked away, Buck's emotions finally cracked.
Next day, and with only sunglasses to aid the hangover he was suffering, Ezra sat across from the warehouse in which the bust had taken place. He'd picked up his voicemail messages. Several were from Chris telling him they did everything right and to get his ass back to the office; one from each of his `brothers', including Buck, pleading for him to get in touch, and one from his mystery caller, telling him where to be and when.
He wasn't surprised when not long after he had arrived, the back door of his Jag opened and a gun barrel touched the nape of his neck.
"Follow the truck about to pass us. Say nothing, do no more than drive, and you'll live long enough to see this journey through." Another man sat in next to Ezra, and ran a hand inside his jacket, extracting a Sig Pro from his shoulder holster.
Ezra turned the key in the ignition, and pulled out after the black Ford Explorer just passing him. "Well, seeing as you asked so nicely." What he really wanted was to turn around and gouge a hole in the guy's face with his bare hands, before shooting off parts of his, and his companion's bodies, piece by piece; but figuring his answers would come when they rolled to a halt, Ezra obeyed, for now.
Having driven several miles from the city, he halted behind the truck, while giant electronic gates opened to reveal vast grounds and a large house beyond it. Starting again, the two vehicles rolled down a long gravel drive until they reached the rear of the property.
The shade of a carport heralded the end of their journey, and Ezra waited until urged, by gunpoint, out of his car. He was slammed frontward against the hood and frisked. He smiled when a loaded ankle holster was discovered. Half-turning, he shrugged. "Can't blame a man for trying." His head whipped around from the force of the weapon-laden fist that impacted with his face. Sliding to the floor, Ezra shook his muzzy head, seconds before two men manhandled him to his feet, and frog-marched him into the house.
Inhaling steamy air, JD tried not to panic as he assessed his predicament. Whatever he was in was dark, narrow and sealed. His heart lurched and it took all his resolve not to panic. Was he in a coffin? He realized his mouth, feet, and hands were bound with tape, and there was a smell of gun oil. Reaching out, he managed to touch the lid and sides. Whatever he was in was definitely shallow and slim. Oh God, that smell; was he in one of those long weapons cases? He was just about to start kicking at it, when voices halted his plans.
"Yeah, he's with the boss, now. Once he gives back what he took, he's a dead man."
"And if he don't?"
There was a pause. "Standish is dead either way."
JD froze. Oh shit, Ezra was here; wherever qqq*here*xxx was. He had to warn him, get Ezra on his guard, but how?
Chris stared around the small apartment. His hunch had played correctly, but he'd arrived too late. As the team picked their way through the broken glass on the floor, he stared at the empty whiskey glass next to the overturned coffee table. Alcohol was never the answer, Chris knew that now; but he also understood why Ezra had turned to it, God knows he could have used a glass or two himself last night.
“GPS tracker still states his cell as last active here.” Josiah wandered from the small kitchen to join his teammates.
“No prizes for guessing it was probably to tell him when and where these bastards wanted to meet him,” Chris replied.
“Boom! The Jag’s GPS tracked him going north in I-25,” Vin announced as he closed his cell. “And now it’s stationary.”
“GPS tracker?” Chris watched the exchange of glances between Buck and Vin. “When did JD do this?” He winced at the pain it caused, saying JD’s name.
“C’mon, Stud, we’ve talked about fitting them for a while now.”
“On company vehicles, yes, and they have been,” Chris agreed. “Tell me he didn’t attach one to mine.”
Vin raised a hand. “We all got one, but only the Jag’s is active. JD and Ezra decided to try it for this op as a trial run. The kid was gonna tell you about it before he activated them, Chris, he uh,” Vin swallowed. “He just never got the chance.”
“And how is it you know and I don’t?”
Buck’s, pale, drawn features looked at him. “The kid needed help. Electronically, he’s a genius, as a mechanic, not so hot, so Vin and me gave him a hand.”
“Just before the op. You, Nathan and Josiah had that seminar on criminal profiling and forensics.” Buck winced, Chris was positively fuming.
“I’m getting a little tired of being kept out of the loop.”
Vin approached, the look from the Texan almost berating his best friend for thinking that way. “It’s not like that. JD wanted to impress you. Blame us, not him, we indulged him.”
Chris waved a hand between them. “Oh, don’t worry, I do blame you, both of you. We’ll be discussing this again.” He began to storm off, and then turned. “Wait, where did the Jag stop?”
Vin bit back a smile and handed him a note. Reading it, Chris qqq*did*xxx smile. “Boom!”
It didn’t need a detective’s instincts to figure out the elevator ride down was not going to end anywhere pleasant. Ezra stumbled, and then regained his composure, as one of the three goons escorting him shoved him through the open car doors. The southerner maintained an air of indifference, despite feeling the opposite, on coming face to face with notorious, but elusive arms dealer, Milton Knowles.
“I must say, you cover your tracks well.”
“As do you Agent Standish. You led us a merry dance during your time with Forbes and his crew, impressive.”
Ezra forced a smile. “I aim to please.” Standing there, with three guns trained on him, and in an almost empty, dank cellar, he couldn’t help noticing the wooden weapons crate at the end of the room. He gestured toward it. “I see you bring your work home with you.” The feral grin he received increased his sense of discomfort.
Knowles pointed. “Oh, this?” With a gesture of his head, two goons pushed Ezra toward it. “This is for you.”
Perplexed, he watched as the third thug holstered his gun, took a crowbar and levered off the lid. His heart lurched and all pretense of a cool demeanor evaporated, when a hot, and sweaty, but very alive JD, stared back at him.
“Oh dear Lord.” He tried to move closer to his friend, but was held. He turned to Knowles.
“What do you need? It’s yours; just leave him out of this.”
Milton grinned. “An admirable gesture.” He closed in. “You have one million of my hard-earned dollars stashed away somewhere, I want it back.” He was a little disappointed with the reaction. Either this guy really was an incredible actor, or he knew nothing about the money.
“I have no idea of the money you’re referring to.” Ezra reeled from the second blow to his face that day.
“I arranged to kill Forbes and place you in the frame because I was convinced you were in it together, but the attempt to plant evidence against you was pitiable to say the least and nothing surfaced from Forbes’s side, so I must conclude that the money’s disappearance is down to you.”
Recovering from the strike, Standish straightened. “You’re delusional, but thanks to your efforts to prove otherwise, I have no doubt my home is being torn apart as we speak, not to mention an investigation into my financial affairs.” As he spoke, his gaze never left JD’s. The boy was trying to tell him something, and though he couldn’t be sure his assumption was correct, he raised his eyebrows in understanding of the message - these armed men were not about to walk away empty-handed.
“Well, we’re going to give you time and motivation in reconsidering your statement.”
A woman entered the room, and pulled out a small, black case. From it, she withdrew a syringe and gave it a little squeeze to test it, before approaching a now animated JD.
Knowles watched her, and then turned to Ezra. “I’m not a complete monster; I won’t allow the boy to remain awake while he suffocates.”
Alarmed, Ezra changed tack. “Alright, I concede. Leave him alone and I’ll take you to the money.”
Ignoring him, the woman injected the liquid into JD’s arm, before two more men with cordless screwdrivers entered, replaced the lid on the box, and secured it.
Ezra was done. He stiffened his spine in readiness to retaliate.
Ignoring the pounding from inside the box, Milton removed a gun from a shoulder holster inside his jacket. “Yes, you will, but it will be the truth born of necessity, not the wild goose chase you no doubt have planned to buy yourself some time.” With that, he aimed at Ezra, and fired.
A surprised Standish grunted as the fiery punch to his gut doubled him over. Clutching his side, he fell on his knees to the floor and stared back in disbelief at his assailant. He gasped out a reply. “This . . . won’t help.”
Knowles smiled. “Providing I haven’t screwed up, you won’t bleed out too quickly. I’ll return in thirty minutes to see if your predicament loosens your tongue in favor of the truth.” Nodding to his subordinates, he and the group left the room, locking he door behind them.
In considerable pain, Ezra curled in on himself. While overlooking the filth he was lying in, he tried to steady his breathing. It took him a few minutes to regain some control. Glancing up at what might easily become JD’s tomb, and despite the pounding from inside having stopped, he panted out a message in the hope JD could still hear him.
“Hold on, my friend, the Jag is on site and, fully activated as we agreed.” He pushed his hand harder against his wound. “This unscheduled inconvenience, has not diminished my, resolve.”
Outside Knowles’s mansion, Team Seven were primed and ready to move. Larabee checked his watch. “Where the hell is our backup?”
“They’re bringing the warrant,” Josiah reminded.
Chris waved it off. “Screw this; I’ve got an agent in there. Let’s go!”
Moving around the walled property to a wooden gate, they proceeded to clamber over it and sprint across the lush lawns toward the building. All they could hope for, was that the cameras tracking them weren’t manned, thought they were working on the assumption that was unlikely. Soon, the DPD would arrive and demand entry, and that would buy them some time.
The well-oiled team they'd become ensured that they entered the building effortlessly. Dividing into groups of two and three, they cautiously worked their way through the main level of the large house.
Gunfire erupted when they were met with resistance, but their opponents were up against dogged, dangerous men, whose main goal was to locate their missing agent and get the hell out of Dodge - alive.
The familiar bullhorn of their backup signaled the cavalry had arrived. On the verge of deciding where to go next, an elevator at the end of the hallway Chris, Buck, and Vin were in, chimed its arrival and opened its doors to reveal Milton Knowles and five of his entourage. Chris just had time to touch his throat mic and inform Josiah and Nathan, when all but Knowles opened fire.
Sweating profusely, and dizzy from pain and blood loss, Ezra knew staying still would increase his chances of survival, but he couldn’t simply lie there while a friend suffocated. Shimmying across the dirty, litter-strewn floor, he curled bloody fingers around the abandoned crowbar. Unable to stifle cries of agony, he pushed himself to his knees and leaned heavily on the weapons crate to gather his strength and catch his breath.
The southerner moved his face close to the lid. “Hang on, son, this may take a moment, but you have my assurance . . . one way or another, I will succeed in extricating you from this hell.”
Oblivious to the bloody handprints he was leaving, Ezra straightened as best he could, placed the metal edge of the crowbar under the crate’s lid and began levering. Though he should have been, he was unprepared for the searing pain his efforts caused, and collapsed in a writhing heap to the floor.
A mixture of tears and sweat stung Ezra’s screwed up eyes, and he almost gave in to the beckoning, pain-free Heaven he was teetering on, but instead, took a shaky breath, steeled himself, and once again forced himself to get up. Knowles would be back soon, but if he could loosen the lid and let in air, JD would survive; providing what he was injected with was merely to make him sleep.
The sound of gunfire from somewhere above urged him on. He hoped it was help, but couldn’t assume, so he continued. Seeing the lid raise enough to create a respectable gap, he collapsed and passed out, heralding the end of his exertions.
Knowles’s property was teeming with cops, and arrests were coming thick and fast. The report of gunfire inside the property saw the accompanying Team Eight and several officers, head inside.
Masonry and pieces of wood flew off in chunks, as bullets thunked into walls and doorframes. Knowles lay prone, while his henchmen propelled a barrage of gunfire at the five men threatening them. Using anything for cover, each of the five men of Team Seven dipped up and down, and in and out to return fire without getting hit themselves. One by one, the goons went down until just Knowles and a female companion remained; both calling out to surrender.
Cautiously the team emerged, Vin and Buck covering Chris, Josiah, and Nathan as those hit were checked, and any who could be cuffed, were. Team Eight arrived, and Chris directed them to continue, while he and his team got into the elevator to determine where Knowles came from.
Ezra groaned. It was there, the pain, but not as severe now. Laying there, clutching his side, he knew things were bad, but right here, in a place that was not quite in the real World, he could live with it. He was not satisfied with his efforts. He had promised to free his friend from the box, but Ezra knew that physically, it was no longer a possibility. He had, however, created a space to allow in air, and hoped it would be enough until help arrived.
The southerner had one more ace up his sleeve, literally. It had survived the body frisk, and he was saving it for Knowles’s next appearance. Hearing footsteps in the corridor beyond the locked door, Ezra got ready, and raised a weary arm. As the door suddenly burst in off its hinges, he activated his Derringer rig. It was pure instinct that made him raise his arm just that bit more when he fired, to stop the slug hitting one of his friends. Buck stared as a piece of the wall above his head took the hit and showered him and the others with plaster.
“Nice to see you too, Ezra.”
As Buck spoke, and Chris called for paramedics, Josiah hurried in and dropped down onto his knees. He propped the southerner up, while Nathan examined him. On Nathan’s instruction, the profiler applied pressure to the wound using Vin’s hastily removed shirt. He frowned. “How were you planning to take Knowles and his men out with two bullets?”
Ezra endeavored to answer Josiah’s question. “I uh, would have suggested they discuss amongst themselves . . . which one, alongside Knowles, was going to die.”
Chris, Vin and Buck grinned, but it didn’t belay the concern in their features. The former looked to his EMT. “How bad?”
“We need to get him to the hospital, now.”
To their surprise, Nathan’s words made Ezra restless, and he tried to turn toward a weapons crate just behind him. His efforts stole his breath, and he got more agitated as his friends tried to calm him, completely missing his directions toward the box.
Chris squatted down. “Ezra, settle down, you’re making things worse.”
“No . . . no . . . open . . . aaarrgghh . . . open . . . ” The pain overwhelmed Ezra, and he gulped in air.
Catching on, Vin and Buck approached the crate. “Must’ve found somethin’ interestin’,” Vin concluded, as he glanced around and picked up the discarded crowbar. Buck grabbed the lid, and as Vin levered, he pulled.
Before the others could comprehend what was going on, Vin and Buck had torn off the crate’s lid and were lifting something - no - someone, out of it. Seeing their efforts, Ezra smiled, and finally succumbed to unconsciousness.
Still applying pressure to Ezra’s wound, Josiah urged Nathan to take a look. He then eased his unconscious charge’s head down onto Vin’s discarded Kevlar. Buck and Vin were tearing off JD’s bonds. His sweat-soaked clothing was light, and with no socks and shoes, they could do little else.
Removing the tape over JD’s mouth, Vin placed an ear to the unconscious agent’s lips and smiled. “He’s breathin’.”
Chris began dialing again. “What’s taking so long? I need paramedics in the basement. NOW!” He watched as Buck reverently held his unconscious best friend, and pushed back the black, soaked bangs while he talked softly to him.
Josiah nodded to reassure his team leader that Ezra was hanging in there, too. There were no words for the five men standing as protectors over their downed brothers, just overwhelming relief. Team Seven were intact, and Chris paced until the paramedics took action to make sure there was a fighting chance it remained so.
Five men stood in the surgery waiting room as a doctor approached. “Gentlemen, I’m pleased to inform you Mr. Standish did well through surgery. The bullet was removed, and although he lost a large amount of blood, which was successfully replaced, he had no irreparable damage. He will remain in ICU for the first 24 hours, and then, if he improves as we expect him to, will be allocated a room.”
Chris stepped forward. “I’m his commanding officer. May I see him?”
The doctor nodded. “For a minute, yes, and one of you can stay in ICU with him if you would like. I understand another member of your team was brought in with him.”
Buck nodded. JD was still out of it, and in ICU as a precaution, but his doctor had assured them he was in reasonably good health considering, though it could take a while to come around. Unable to do much more, Buck had made a quick trip to check on Ezra.
“When Mr. Standish is allocated a room, if his colleague is still here, I’ll arrange for them to share. It won’t take long to arrange.”
Chris thanked the man, and then followed him into the recovery room. Buck pointed toward the door. “I’m just gonna go back with the kid.”
“We’ll be along soon,” Josiah promised.
“Would anyone mind if I stayed with Ezra first?” Nathan asked.
They all smiled. Nathan and Ezra would sometimes debate heatedly for hours, but the affection between them was evident. “Of course, brother. Between our two injured friends, I foresee a rota evolving, don’t you?” Josiah asked.
Vin nodded. “Yep, reckon I’ll go scare up some food.”
Nathan laughed. “A sure sign all is well, Vin’s hungry.”
Ezra blinked groggily at the figure standing to one side of him. “Mr. Larabee, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
Chris shrugged. “What can I say? It was this or write up our reports.”
Standish grinned. “And this won? I’m flattered.”
Chris sobered. “How are you?”
Ezra’s eyes shimmered. “Better for knowing my folly didn’t end in either my, or JD’s demise.”
Chris shook his head. “We did everything right, so quit beating yourself up over it. I know you were touched by JD’s loyalty,” he leaned in, “in truth, so was I, but if you ever tell the little shit that, I’ll have to kill you.” He grinned at Ezra’s sleepy smile.
“But the message is clear, right here, right now, what makes us strong is believing in each other, and not going off half-cocked, and alone.”
Standish swallowed, and gratefully accepted the ice chips Chris offered him. “Point taken.”
“Good. Get some rest, we’ll be right here.”
Ezra was almost asleep when he fought to look up at his team leader. “JD?”
Larabee smiled. “Thanks to you, he's doing okay.”
“Marvelous.” Satisfied all was right with his world, Ezra relaxed, and slept.
Leaning in with his arms on the bed rail, Buck grinned as black eyelashes fluttered open to reveal unfocused, hazel eyes looking his way. In seconds, the heavy lids were closed again. Buck's grin widened during a mental countdown as he waited for the realization to set in. Sure enough, those same sleepy eyes forced themselves open again to look at him.
Buck nodded. “I bet. Sleep, I’m here, the guys are here, and you got nowhere else to be right now.”
Easing back into slumber, JD fought one more time, his eyes reflecting alarm. “Ezra?” he asked, hoarsely.
“Doing great. We got Knowles, too.”
With a relieved sigh, JD slept.
“Just need to get IA off our backs and things’ll be just peachy,” Buck whispered to himself.
Two days on and JD had been discharged. He, Vin, and Buck were sitting with a much improved Ezra, but JD was barely talking. Suddenly, he and Ezra spoke together.
Ezra grinned, JD smiled, shyly. “You first,” the southerner offered.
The youth took a breath. “If I hadn’t screwed up at the crime scene, I wouldn’t have gotten taken out, and you wouldn’t have been shot.” Ezra’s smile widened and JD wondered if he’d lost the plot. What was funny about that?
“I was afraid my decision to inform our friends of Knowles’s ultimatum for meeting with him, despite being advised to the contrary, was the cause of your demise.”
JD shrugged. “It was the right thing to do, we both know that.”
Buck and Vin watched with interest. Vin leaned forward. “Takin’ everythin’ into consideration, would either of you have done anythin’ different?”
“No,” they answered, collectively. JD reiterated. “I guess I regret I didn’t get one of you to check out the evidence before I left the scene.”
“The intention was honorable; you should not be penalized for that.”
“That’s not your decision to make, Standish.”
Four heads turned when Internal Affairs Agent Wayne Purvis entered the room. Buck and Vin stood. “Get the hell outta here,” Buck warned.
“To what end, Wilmington? I’ve already heard enough to suspend Agent Dunne.” He stared at JD, who dropped his gaze. “Withholding evidence, Agent? A sure reason to kick your ass out of the Bureau.”
Ignoring a noise from Buck, JD looked up at Purvis. “I didn’t withhold it, sir. I just needed to clarify . . . ”
“I heard you say that you did myself, Dunne.”
“I believe what I said was, I regretted not locating one of my teammates to check the evidence before I left the scene,qqq *sir*xxx.”
Purvis stared at him for a good while. “Yes, you did. As you probably know, I had both of your finances checked.” He looked at Standish and moved closer. “And your apartment searched. As it turns out, it was recently uncovered that one of Knowles’s accountants skipped off with the money, so it would appear you’re in the clear.”
He leaned in. “But don’t get too comfortable, I’m watching you, and this team. If any of you screw up again . . . ”
“You’ll what, Purvis?” Chris entered the room. “JD’s still in training. I’ve always encouraged him to direct concerns, whether it’s in the office, or at a scene, to me or the team. We were preoccupied, and we failed him.”
His glare intensified. “Team Seven may be a little unorthodox, but we’re straight, so unless you intend taking anything further, piss off back to your cave, where you belong.”
There was a long pause, and JD thought his heart would punch through his chest as he waited for this man to seal his fate.
Purvis disregarded the hostility. “Forensics was content to let the incident lie. The tooth was dismissed as evidence, and ballistics verified none of your weapons killed Forbes, so I guess we’re done. I’ll send you a copy of my report.” He turned to leave, glancing back. “See you around.”
“Not if we see you first,” Buck hissed as the man left.
“I’m not gonna get fired?” JD’s quiet question snapped them out of their frustration.
Chris looked at him. “You got friends in high places, Kid, but don’t abuse it.” He almost laughed at the look of confusion, and momentarily reflected on a recent conversation between himself and AD Travis.
qqq>> “Call off the dogs, Orin. JD screwed up, but he’s clean. Put this in his jacket and his future with the Bureau is as good as over, and me and the guys are not gonna stand back and watch that happen. And this shit with Standish is getting old. Deal with it. Either you trust us, or you don’t, which is it?” <<xxx
JD’s question drew Chris back to the here and now.
Ezra flipped JD’s arm. “One doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, JD.”
JD shrugged. “Sorry, was just curious.” His cell vibrated and he took it from his pocket to read an incoming message. Grinning he stood. “Just gonna meet Josiah and Nathan.”
“Something wrong?” Chris asked.
He moved to the door. “Nah, they just picked up a load of Chinese food and need a hand to bring it in.”
JD left and silence descended on the room. “Chinese?” Ezra asked, eventually.
“It was that or pizza,” Vin replied.
“Good Lord. I assume you allowed JD to choose.” He waited. “Your silence speaks volumes, gentlemen.”
As Chris took a seat next to Vin and Buck, Ezra relaxed back, closed his eyes, and allowed his friends’ voices to wash over him. He had never considered he could one day feel this close to a group of people he worked with, or be this happy. It was a feeling worth getting up for each morning.
If only he could bottle it - he’d make a fortune.