China Roses

Book Four

by Beth AKA Midge

ATF Universe

Notes: This is the fourth story in the series. You will definitely want to read the others before this one, I will continue to list them as I go to help you keep track. The order in which to read them is, The South Wind, The Mouths of Crocodiles, High and Dry and now China Roses. There will be ten or eleven stories total, I haven't decided yet. I have all the synopses written but every once in a while I get thrown a curve ball and have to make adjustments. Enjoy!

Special thanks to Julie, Jen, KellyA and OtakuLa, for the use of your valuable eyes.

Chapter 1

Ezra peered out from under his well-worn Seattle Mariners baseball hat and sighed. His informant was late. There were only two other men in the all night truck stop and diner on the South side of Denver. They sat quietly at the counter finishing their meals and smoking their cigarettes. The only waitress working moved around with little to no purpose refilling their coffee cups. Both men looked like truckers, their big rigs parked outside next to each other. The men were disheveled and unkempt. Though one was thin and lanky his heavy beard and mustache gave him the appearance of being much older than his youthful eyes expressed. His 'Grateful Dead' tee shirt and faded blue jeans were well worn but a tad to large for his frame. The back pocket on his jeans had been ripped off exposing the true color they once were. The other trucker was older and the two days of facial hair and the black-rimmed glasses he wore made him appear easygoing. However, that probably wasn't the case. The large bulge of his back and arms stretched the green flannel material of his shirt, and that wasn't something that went unnoticed. Except, of course, by the fools who suffered from 'Napoleon syndrome'. Ezra smiled to himself. He saw the bulge of concealed weapons under the cuffs of their jeans. They were both undercover agents driving trucks across country trying to apprehend assailants transporting stolen goods over state lines. It was a common cover, and one Ezra refused to take. To the unknowing observer they looked very much like everyday truckers moving across country. Ezra, however, saw the difference. It was the way they scrutinized a room after entering, and the acknowledgement of another undercover agent in the room. It was a sixth sense they shared. It wasn't something you were trained for, you either had it or you didn't. All three of these men shared it.

Ezra read the clock above the cook counter, 3:00 a.m. The coffee he'd ordered was now cold and the waitress had yet to refill his cup. The bell above the entrance door rang and Ezra looked up to see his informant search him out in the small confines of the diner. His bright red hair was disheveled, the clothing he wore looked older than he was, and holes lined his knees and elbows of his unwashed winter coat and jeans. The kid was maybe fourteen, and that was pushing it. Josh, or Red, as he liked to be called, was a throw away. He probably had a home he could return to, but the undercover agent seemed to think that as bad as street life could be, home was probably worse.

The young man slid into the bench across from Ezra and tapped his dirty fingers on the tabletop. The Southerner motioned for the waitress, who immediately came over and refilled his cold coffee, making it lukewarm, and took the order he placed, a ham sandwich, coke and bowl of hot soup, giving her something to do. It also gave Ezra the opportunity to feed the kid sitting across from him. As the thin older woman turned to leave, the order now placed, she eyed the youth and sighed, "Trouble makers, that's all they are."

Josh laughed and winked at the older woman before turning his attention to Ezra. "Well?"

Ezra pushed a small white envelope across the smooth tabletop keeping his fingers on it. "What do you have for me?" His southern accent was serious as well as the look in his eyes.

The youth eyed the envelope and swallowed. "Word on the street is a hit is going down." He moved to take the money but Ezra pulled it away from his grasp.

"I need more than that, Josh." Ezra shook his head. "You know that."

"Pigs are going to take down one of their own. Nobody on the street is touching this, too afraid of what will happen." Josh leaned back and waited for the waitress to place the plate of food before him. She nodded to Ezra then headed back to the counter.

"Who?" The Southerner asked watching as Josh quickly devoured his food.

"Don't know." He shrugged his shoulders. "Minimum price to take a pig down is a hundred and fifty grand. Who ever's payin' is only willin' to give up fifty. Ain't nobody on the street gonna take a pig down for that price." Josh finished his sandwich before continuing, "S'far as I can tell...pigs are gonna take care of it themselves."

"Who's the target?" Ezra glanced out the window.

"Some undercover suit. Supposedly, he has some info he ain't spose to have." Josh drank his coke down without stopping, and then quickly started on his soup.

"How'd you find all this out?" Ezra looked back to Josh.

"I was makin' a delivery, overheard some bald guy talkin'. He bought an unmarked semi." Josh quickly finished his soup and pushed the bowl away from the edge of the table. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and waited for his cash.

Ezra pushed the envelope back across the table and watched as Josh quickly picked it up and without counting the cash stuck it into his sock. The youth grabbed his stocking cap out of his pocket and slipped it on. He smiled to the Southerner before exiting his seat and all but ran out of the front door.

Chapter 2

Ezra pulled his Jag to a stop in the Denver Federal Building parking garage. By the time he'd made it home it was almost five thirty in the morning and instead of getting some much needed sleep he stayed awake and mulled over what Josh had relayed to him. The target was an undercover suit. There were only four Federal undercover agents working in the Denver area. One, FBI Agent Mark Johnson, had just come off a case and was finishing up his reports. The others, FBI Agents Denis Muller and Larry Dietz, were in Minnesota tracking down illegal sales of Bald Eagle feathers from Denver. Then there was himself. Ezra ran a hand over his tired face and headed to the elevator doors. He'd spent the last four weeks undercover, it was the team's second assignment, and by chance they got lucky. Ezra had overheard a phone conversation between his target and what could have only been his supplier. Jack Gillis, though he was small time operator, dealt with big time dealers. Gillis had taken over his father's business of importing illegal tobacco from Chile, and expanded it to include the exchange of weapons. Ezra had met with Gillis a couple of times wanting to purchase fifteen cases of military style semi-automatic machine guns. With an added condition that they be untraceable and encoded with false military policy numbers, Gillis had been happy to assist. He put his number one assistant on the case, Carlos Montoya.

Montoya was smart, much smarter than Gillis. Carlos had been the one to convince Gillis that by shipping weapons his income would increase ten fold. Greed took care of Jack Gillis's logic and the man agreed. Montoya, however, had made the mistake of leaving the undercover agent alone in the office next to Gillis while the dealer was on the phone and Ezra had heard all he needed. Gillis had agreed to meet his supplier at the week's end, which gave Ezra time to talk with Chris and rest of the team about taking down the organization. It was ideal. The team would wait until both parties showed up and then take everyone into custody, including the weapons.

Chris had been relieved when the Southerner told them about the delivery. To be truthful, so was Ezra, he wouldn't be in the middle of the action, but rather masked and waiting with the rest of the team for the go ahead. But a phone call had changed all that. While the undercover agent had been in a meeting with his informant, Gillis had called and left a message on his 'business line' letting him know he wanted Richard Louis, AKA Ezra Standish, to meet with him on Friday. He wanted Richard to meet with his supplier, that way, if he had a need for more weapons, the connection would have already been made. Ezra called back agreeing to the meet. He knew Chris would be pissed. However, they didn't have any other choice in the matter.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra stepped out of the elevator and headed straight for Chris's office, not bothering to tell the rest of the team what was going on. The team leader would take care of that later.

Chris looked up when he heard a knock at his office door. "Yeah," he hollered before continuing with the pile of paperwork the Judge had requested, requiring information on the case.

"Mr. Larabee?" Ezra stepped into the professional atmosphere of the small, lightly decorated room.

Larabee looked at his watch, eight forty five; Ezra was early and that couldn't be a good sign. "What is it?" He looked at his undercover agent in question noticing the dark circles under his eyes.

"Mr. Gillis has decided to change our immediate plans for tomorrow." Ezra sat down in the chair opposite the blonde.

"How?" Chris threw his pencil on the desktop and sighed...things could never go as planned.

"He has requested that I be there."

"Shit." Chris leaned back in his chair. "Everyone!" He yelled, "in my office...NOW!" He wanted the team in the office to hear the change of plans.

The five remaining team members entered the office and found their usual place. Josiah grabbed the chair next to Ezra, wanting more than anything to be comfortable. Buck leaned against the back wall content to cross his arms over his chest and listen to what Chris had to tell him. Nathan and JD sat in the small sofa stuffed in the corner of the room and Vin leaned against the wall next to the couch using the armrest as a footstool for his left leg.

"What's up?" JD asked leaning forward so he could see past the sharpshooter's leg.

Vin and Buck both knew something wasn't right when they stepped into the office. The look on Chris's face told them so. The fact that Ezra had shown up to work early was another clue to Larabee's deteriorating mood. "There has been a change of plans," Chris spoke up rubbing his face with his hands wishing he were someplace else.

"We aren't going in tomorrow?" JD sounded disappointed.

"Yes," Chris assured, nodding his head. "We're still going in tomorrow. Ezra's going to be in the middle of it so that changes how we handle things when we get on the ground." He looked around the room into the faces of all his men and decided they could handle whatever changes that would occur. "Carson's team will still remain outside until I give them the go ahead. Nathan and Josiah will concentrate on Jack Gillis, just like we planned. Buck and JD will work Carlos Montoya, don't let him get out of your sight," he emphasized. "Vin will get up high. When Ezra gives the signal I'll move in with Carson and his men."

"You gonna fit Ez with a wire?" Buck asked, knowing Chris would. The leader of this experimental team wouldn't take any unnecessary risks.

"Yeah," Chris agreed looking at the undercover agent.

"What's Ez gonna do when the shit hits the fan?" JD asked looking at Ezra then back to Chris.

"You'll arrest me just like you would any of the others Mr. Dunne," Ezra spoke up for the first time. "My anonymity is of the utmost importance. If Mr. Gillis or Mr. Montoya figure out that I was the leak, my cover will be blown."

"But the case will be closed anyway. What difference does it make?" The kid asked, looking to the undercover agent for an explanation.

"Mr. Gillis has clients as well as suppliers that we don't know about. It's imperative that we find them before they find me." Ezra's eyes relayed his concern to the young man sitting comfortably in the sofa.

"Josiah will place Ezra under arrest then drive him out of sight until the perps are gone. We don't need any leaks. Local PD and Carson's men will take care of the bookings that leaves us for clean up." Chris looked around the room making sure everyone understood. "Go get everything ready. JD check the bug Ezra will wear make sure it's working like it should. Buck, double check the surveillance van and make sure you communicate with JD about the recording devices. Everybody check your headsets, vests, and ammo. I don't want any fuck ups tomorrow."

"Sir, yes, Sir." Buck stood up and saluted. Chris tried to be serious but flashbacks of his time with the SEAL teams came flooding back, along with some of Buck's now famous antics.

"I mean it Buck." Chris straightened up. "No mistakes."

Josiah cleared his throat, "We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery." He looked around the room and noticed everyone but Ezra was looking at him. "Samuel Smiles."

Ezra chuckled and ran a hand over his face. Buck shook his head and headed out of the office followed closely by JD and Nathan. Chris shook his head and looked long and hard at Josiah and sighed, "No mistakes. This won't be a history lesson we're going to learn from."

"No it isn't Brother," Josiah agreed. "But it is an opportunity for discovery." The big man smiled getting to his feet and slowly walked out of the room with Chris and Vin's eyes following him, not quite understanding what it was he was getting at.

"Is Carson's going to be the only team with us tomorrow?" Vin asked, getting to both feet pushing himself off the wall.

Chris nodded his head, understanding the sharpshooter's concern. It was Larabee's as well. He watched as Ezra stood up and headed for the door behind Vin. "Ezra." The undercover agent stopped and looked back to his boss. Chris wanted to complete his thought. He wanted to tell the Southerner to wear his vest but after a heated argument that almost came to blows several weeks ago he decided not to. Judge Travis had made a point of coming down and relaying his concern to the team leader about his ability to trust his agents no matter what kind of situation they get themselves into. If Travis understood the concern Ezra had with wearing a vest then possibly Chris could learn too as well. "Be careful." He saw a slight smile creep up on the Southerner's face and Chris watched Ezra tip his imaginary hat then leave.

Chapter 3

Chris was nervous. There wasn't any other way to describe his quick temper or inability to sit still. Buck and Vin knew it as well; they seemed to be the ones taking the brunt of it. Everyone was suited up. Headsets, vests, and wires were all in place but Chris's nerves were putting him and everyone else on edge. Something wasn't right.

Ezra had called in early letting everyone know things were going as planned. He expected to arrive with Gillis and Montoya at 10:00a.m. The suppliers would show up shortly afterward. Vin was already in position in the loft of the warehouse. Buck and JD were across the street in the surveillance van, bugs, and headsets, all in working order. Nathan and Josiah had positioned themselves just inside the warehouse doors completely out of sight. Chris hung back with Carson. Larabee didn't want to leave the Agent to his own devices. Chris still had questions regarding the tire slashing with Ezra's car, but the Southerner was keeping his mouth shut, not telling anyone what had happened.

+ + + + + + +

The red Buick came up the alleyway and within moments Carlos Montoya was opening the large door so the car could enter the warehouse. Montoya left the door open for the suppliers and headed for the Buick. He opened the passenger side door and Gillis stepped out looking around the warehouse all the while straightening his finely pressed dark blue jacket. He ran a hand through his thick black hair and smiled, he liked making money, and he also enjoyed spending it.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra cut the car engine and stepped out of the drivers seat. He took a swift look around the warehouse and found Vin, Nathan, and Josiah in their designated hiding positions. The Southerner leaned patiently against the car and crossed his arms in front of his chest. He watched Montoya closely. The man knew what he was doing. He stood slightly away from the car but within arms reach of Gillis, he didn't want something to happen to the man that helped make his life easier. Montoya was a large man with forearms the size of Ezra's waist. Long black hair neatly pulled back into a braid hung smoothly over his shoulder. His dark eyes and square jaw caused those who were unfortunate enough to be on the bad side of his temper, to whimper long before the first punch were to get thrown.

The white delivery truck arrived shortly after the Buick. Nathan and Josiah signaled everyone to be on full alert. Three men jumped out of the truck, all three were dressed in black and fully armed. Just because they looked relaxed didn't mean they actually were. Ezra watched as Gillis stepped forward and with complete efficiency got the ball rolling. He shook their hands and slapped them on the shoulders as though he bought and traded illegal arms without a second thought. However, it seemed to relax the black clad gunman even more and that suited the Southerner just fine.

"Richard," Jack Gillis called wanting Ezra to join him for the buy. "I want you to meet Guy, Trent, and Aaron Spellman."

Ezra smiled and shook their hands. "You must be William Spellman's boys?" Ezra watched them closely. William Spellman wasn't somebody who would take kindly to having his sons arrested. Spellman's reputation in the criminal element was well respected.

"Yeah," the oldest boy, Guy, sighed. He didn't like new people, his father had always warned him to be leery of such individuals. "Jack say's you need Military weapons?" He looked at Gillis then to Ezra. Ezra nodded his head and waited. "You can take a look at what we brought Jack and if you have something more 'particular'," he raised his eyebrows, smiled, and added, "in mind. We can probably get it for you." He motioned for Trent to open up the back of the truck. The shortest of the three boys did so and moved away from the back allowing his older brother access to the stored weapons.

Gillis signaled for Montoya to bring the black leather duffle bag full of cash for the exchange. "One hundred and fifty." He threw the bag at Guy's feet, "Just like we agreed." He looked carefully over the weapons and smiled, they were exactly what he'd ordered.

Ezra sneezed and covered his nose. Then he sneezed again, "Does one of you own a cat?" He looked from Guy to Trent to Aaron looking for conformation.

+ + + + + + +

Chris heard the signal and motioned for Carson's and his own team to get into position. He wanted this case to go down without any hitches. The smoother the operation went the smoother the clean up would be and nothing made Chris happier than a clean smooth operation.

+ + + + + + +

Aaron stepped back from the individual only known as Richard. "I do," he acknowledged watching as the Southerner stepped further away from the group sneezing all the while.

"If you'll excuse me." Ezra reached into his pocket and pulled out a white cotton handkerchief. "My apologies," he sneezed again, "but I'm allergic."

"ATF!" Chris yelled, entering the warehouse with a barrage of FBI agents on his tail. ATF and FBI agents alike seemed to come out of every corner of the stockroom. Weapons were pulled, agents carefully positioned, and communications clear.

Carlos, Guy, Trent, and Aaron all drew their weapons ready to fire if the need arose. None of them had planned on something like this happening. The brothers needed to protect each other and Carlos needed to protect his boss. Jack and Ezra threw their hands into the air ready to be taken under arrest. Resisting arrest could only lead to disaster and neither wanted to get shot trying to escape.

"Drop your weapons!" Chris and Buck shouted at the same time.

Guy looked to his brothers and nodded his head then he threw his weapon to the ground placing his hands on top of his head. "How'd you find us?" He asked hoping to get some kind of an answer while his hands were being cuffed behind him. He had new questions for Richard...if that was his real name.

"We've been watching you for a long time." Chris finished cuffing the assailant. "You made a mistake and we were there to catch it." The tall blonde focused the assailant's attention to his own mistake and not toward the attention of the undercover agent.

Josiah handcuffed Ezra's hands behind his back and did a quick search just for show. He understood how the Southerner was concerned about his identity being found out and by making the bust appear as real as possible insured a little less worrying on the undercover agent's part. He grabbed Ezra around his elbow and pulled him behind the Spellman boys, Montoya, and Gillis, who were all being led toward the three squad cars parked outside.

Trent Spellman and Carlos Montoya were forced into the backseat of the first squad car. With Montoya's size they weren't able to force a third into the seat it would be difficult enough with Trent as the other passenger. Guy, and Aaron were forced into the back seat of the second squad car, both boys glared at each other before the car doors were opened and the uniformed police officers carefully forced them inside. Jack and Ezra were next. The uniformed officer standing next to the car opened the driver's side passenger door as the FBI agent leading Gillis escorted him into the inescapable confines of the back seat. Josiah opened the back door on the passenger side and started to force the undercover agent in.

Ezra blocked his entrance by placing his foot on the car, "I'm not riding with that son-of-a-bitch!" He pushed back toward Josiah refusing to move.

"Get in the car," Josiah added, once again forcing the Southerner forward.

"I demand to speak with my lawyer regarding your contemptible treatment..." Ezra again pushed against the big man. "Do my taxes go to pay for this?"

"You don't pay taxes," Josiah sighed and jerked Ezra backwards. "Fine!" he snapped, "You don't want to ride with 'im you can ride with me." The big man smiled and led him to the ATF truck and placed him in the back seat.

All the men arrested were tight lipped not wanting to admit to any wrongdoing until they had a chance to meet with their attorneys. Police officers took last minute instructions from ATF and FBI agents before heading back to the 'house', or police headquarters. The three brothers looked between each other as the police cars pulled next to each other for a brief moment. They were more afraid of their father than that of the police. William Spellman would of course get them out on bail since none of them had prior records, at least not any crimes that had stuck, and he would hire the best attorney in the area, nothing was to good for his son's.

Ezra sighed and leaned back against the seat. Guns had been drawn but not fired and the Southerner's alias was safe. Judge Travis would write up a false report identifying Richard Louis as a known arms dealer. He would soon have a phony warrant out for his arrest after jumping bail. Ezra watched as Josiah slipped into the driver's seat of the SUV and smile in the rear view mirror letting the undercover agent know everything had gone smoothly. Chris would be pleased.

"Well Brother." Josiah drove out of the alleyway and onto the main street. "It would appear our mission was successful."

"Those Spellman boys will be out in less than an hour." Ezra looked out the window at the passing traffic.

"Yeah," Josiah agreed. "But we got a truck load of guns off the street and Jack Gillis won't be importing anything illegal for quite some time." He glanced at the Southerner from the rear view mirror and paused. It was obvious there was something else on the undercover agents mind. "Something you need to talk about?"

Ezra glanced from the window to the mirror meeting Josiah's gaze. "No." The Southerner returned his gaze to the window.

Josiah turned off the main road and took some back streets to return to their previous location. He remained silent all the while keeping a concerned eye on the undercover agent. The scene hadn't changed much from when they had left. Vin and Chris were speaking with two FBI agents preparing to do a final sweep of the building. Buck and JD were by the surveillance van documenting data. Nathan was nowhere to be seen. Josiah stepped out of the truck and opened the back door so he could remove the handcuffs from Ezra. The big man knew how uncomfortable they could be.

Ezra stepped out of the SUV and handed the handcuffs to a stunned Josiah before walking away to look around. His gut was telling him something wasn't right and he couldn't for the life of him put his finger on what it was.

"Josiah!" Chris yelled getting the big man's attention.

Josiah jogged over to where Chris was talking with Vin and FBI agents Dwight Moore and John Zecca, still fingering the handcuffs. "What is it Brother?"

"Help Nathan and Agent's Stevens and Collins with clean up," Chris explained. He stepped up closer to Sanchez and pulled him away from the others. "Carson and White are inside as well." He looked the big man in the eye. "Keep an eye on them." He warned before returning to Vin and the others.

+ + + + + + +

JD and Buck continued to make copies of the conversations between the perpetrators and Ezra. Everybody's headsets were still on and the kid and ladies man could hear what was happening inside and outside the warehouse. Buck had to chuckle when Vin made a remark about Carson's now famous comb over.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra made his way to the back of the warehouse. The conversation he'd had with Josh two nights ago was still running through his mind. He was sure the murder attempt would have taken place during the bust and unconsciously Ezra rubbed his chest. He forced his hands roughly into his pants pockets and paced. He listened to his feet hit the pavement all the while playing out scenarios in his mind of the day's events and where he'd miscalculated.

Ezra stopped when he heard the sound of boot heels hitting pavement behind him. He turned around and forced a knowing smile onto his face. "Agent White." The Southerner pulled his hands out of his pockets. "Surely Agent Carson would have more for you to do than follow me around." Ezra wondered if he would get any kind of a warning and he hoped it wouldn't be a head shot.

+ + + + + + +

JD paused when he heard over Ezra's microphone the arrival of Agent White. "Buck."

The ladies man finished dating and labeling the last audiotape and raised his head hearing the uncertainty in JD's voice. "What is it kid?"

"Ez is talkin' to White." the kid turned up the volume to the microphone on Ezra's lapel.

"Shit!" Buck snapped, "Chris!" he yelled into his headset hoping the leader hadn't taken it off.

"What?" came the harsh reply.

"I think you should listen to this." Buck plugged his headset into the receiver, enabling not just Chris but Vin, Nathan, and Josiah to listen to the conversation between Agents White and Standish.

Chris glanced around the warehouse. "Where's Ezra?" he yelled into his headset. Receiving only shrugs and 'I don't knows' from his men.

+ + + + + + +

White scratched his chin and chuckled, "I don't know what Larabee's thinkin' by keepin' you on." He looked around the building searching for anyone who might be listening. "From what I've heard you've got connections with the mob...are they the ones that bought you that car?"

"Yeah," Ezra answered back, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "The mafia recruited a southern boy who worked as an FBI agent so they could get inside information on the conspiracy behind the Civil War."

Agent White ignored the jab and continued on, "You worked some sensitive cases in Atlanta?" He looked accusingly at the Southerner.

"And you would know that because...?" Ezra's mind was reeling, trying to pull any information from his past cases that could be useful.

"The Bureau must have had quite a bit of confidence in you, sending you in at such a young tender age. How old were you...twenty-three, twenty-four? Must have been hard refusing those large payoffs." White laughed, "Oh wait, you didn't refuse them, did you?"

Ezra clenched his jaw and looked hard at the man standing before him. "Who's paying you off White?"

Agent White smiled sadistically, "Are you wearing your vest?" He asked, knowing full well the undercover agent adamantly refused to wear one. Plus he liked the idea of Ezra knowing what was about to happen and not being able to do anything about it.

+ + + + + + +

"Where the hell is Ezra?" Chris yelled, coming face to face with his men and Agent Carson. A worried expression adorned his face.

"He's got his vest on Chris." in grabbed the irate leader by the arm trying to reassure him. "I watched him put it on at the office before he headed out this mornin'."

Chris looked long and hard at Vin."So he knew," the blonde seethed. "I'm gonna kill that son-of-a-bitch myself."

+ + + + + + +

White smiled at the undercover agent he'd been paid to kill. Everything had been planned this way. He would kill Standish then the highly paid professional shooter stationed on the high ground would kill him. His time with the FBI was short anyway, the cancer eating away at his body was insuring it. His wife and children would be taken care of with the money he'd taken. Everything was finalized. Agent White pointed the rifle he'd been paid to use at Ezra's chest and pulled the trigger. He put two slugs into the Southerner's chest and watched him fall backwards into the wall. White flew foreword as the bullet entered the back of his skull and exited through his right eye.

The gray cinderblock wall was the only thing keeping Ezra from being pushed back any further than he was. He blacked out before seeing Agent White succumb to the carefully placed bullet to his head.

+ + + + + + +

Buck and JD ran from the van, their weapons drawn after hearing the two gunshots. Nathan, Josiah, Chris and Vin joined the kid and ladies man at the entrance of the warehouse. "Shots came from the North side." Vin pointed in that direction and the men headed that way with caution.

Chris motioned for his men to move around the corner slowly with their weapons ready to fire if the need arose. He saw Agent White first. "Shit...Nathan!" he called for the medic

+ + + + + + +

After seeing Agent White's remains, Carson paused behind the ATF agents. He ran his hand through his hair and turned to head back to his men and to call for the city coroner.

+ + + + + + +

Before Nathan got close enough to touch the body of White he could tell the agent was dead. Brain matter was in his hair and blood shrouded him like a halo. "He's dead," Nathan yelled back to the others before stepping forward. The medic rushed forward when he saw Ezra lying unconscious against the wall, blood and gray matter had covered the left side of his face and shoulders. "Ezra," he called, relieved to find a pulse. Nathan sighed in relief when he noticed the blood wasn't the Southerner's but that of White's.

"He alive?" Chris asked concerned, squatting next to Nathan.

Nathan nodded his head. "Yeah." Ezra woke with a jump and panicked frantically moving away from Nathan's probing hands. "Ezra!" the healer yelled trying to get the Southerner's attention but Ezra continued to scramble away from him and the others. He backed up against the wall and promptly slide down.

"Damn that hurts," Ezra said through clenched teeth, trying to catch his breath, while frantically taking the Kevlar vest off. Buttons flew in all directions as the white shirt was hastily removed as well as the bulletproof vest.

"Let me take a look at your ribs." Nathan moved closer until he noticed Ezra moving away from him.

"I'm fine," the Southerner assured. "Is White dead?" He looked to the men standing around.

"Yeah," Chris answered.

"Who killed him?" Ezra asked. He carefully stood up all the while leaning against the wall for support. He hoped it wasn't one of his teammates who'd killed the agent.

Vin stepped back. "Who ever took him out had one hell of a sniper rifle. We only heard two shots, White here was hit by a third. Could've been more than 900 to 1000 yards away."

Chris ran a callused hand over his face and looked around to the faces of his men. "Josiah, JD, get Ezra back to the office, we'll follow when we're done here." He looked angrily at the Southerner. "I want to talk to you before the end of the day."

"Where are the tapes?" Ezra asked pulling away from Josiah's grasp.

"What tapes?" Buck asked questionably.

"You're not a fool, Mr. Wilmington, the mike was still working when White was talking with me," Ezra looked at JD and Buck hoping for some kind of an answer, preferably one that contained proof of existing tapes.

"Yeah," JD spoke up. "We didn't mean to eavesdrop Ez. Just got worried when White showed up. I mean after he slashed your tires and all."

Ezra smiled, which surprised everyone. "Do you have the tapes?" He looked to JD with pleading eyes.

JD slowly reached into his pocket and retrieved the tape containing the conversation between the undercover agent and White. "Something told me to grab it before Buck and I left the van," he handed the tape to Ezra.

"Instincts, Brother Dunne." Josiah grabbed JD on the shoulder. "Something inside you that reiterates why you became a cop. And a good one to boot."

"What is on this Mr. Dunne?" Ezra asked, pointing the tape in JD's direction.

"Just you and White. Buck and I were cleaning up when I threw a new tape in," the kid responded with a touch of pride in his voice.

"That's evidence against White." Chris stepped foreword wanting to get the tape back from Ezra before he destroyed it.

"Maybe," Ezra agreed. "But who ever hired White will change everything that has been recorded on this tape to fit their needs." He started to pull the brown tape from the clear plastic container.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Buck blatantly objected. "You're destroying evidence that could expose White, why are you destroying it?"

"Who ever shot White knows he was talking to me, and I'll bet my life on the fact that he doesn't know what was said. The only ones who do know are the seven of us. Who ever paid White off doesn't know what was said and more importantly they'll only think it was me, not the six of you. They'll want to know what White told me before they try something like this again." Ezra looked around to the unbelieving faces wishing he could better relate to these men the importance of his actions.

"You're takin' an awfully big risk here Standish," Buck debated.

"It's the only choice I've got."

Chris sighed and looked at his men. He ran his hands over his face in frustration, the bust had gone down so smoothly and now this. He was angry and knew if he started on the Southerner he wouldn't finish until blood was spilled. "Josiah, JD do what I said and get Ezra back to the office. Nathan," he added looking to the healer, "go with 'em and check out his ribs." Chris looked around at his men. "NOW!"

Josiah grabbed Ezra by the elbow and led him toward the truck. JD and Nathan followed. The slump in the Southerner's shoulders told Vin all he needed to know. The team had let Ezra down and without really understanding why.

Chris watched Carson come around the corner of the building bringing with him two city coroners. "We need to talk." The team leader grabbed Carson's arm before the man could get any closer to White's body.

"I think the situation is self explanatory," Carson snapped meeting Chris's gaze. "A federal agent was gunned down while protecting a dirty cop."

"That's how you're going to write this up?" Chris looked at him in surprise.

"Yes," Carson smiled. "Did you see what happened?" he asked, knowing full well Chris nor any of his team members had seen the happenings of late.

Chris squeezed Carson's arm tighter as he pulled him closer, "Back off and stay away from Standish," He warned. "...or I'll have your badge." He let go of Carson's arm and motioned for the remainder of his men to follow.


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