Back on the Road Again

by Hombre

Main characters: Ezra, Vin

Notes: Some of the medical information is from the First Aid Manual for the St John's Ambulance and the rest from Black's Medical Dictionary. This is the third and last episode in the Bikejack series. I never intended it to be a series but that'll teach me for not finishing the first story properly and then receiving queries about what happened next! You can blame Greta C for this. She dared say could she suggest a part three and that is like waving a red rag at a bull. It's been a long time coming but then I'm easily sidetracked and even now I'm not sure if it is any good. Sandy can also have some of the blame too. She mentioned about imagining a particular person riding on a bike, no prizes for guessing whom, so I had to have it happen. He rather seems to have taken over the story but hopefully not too much. If you haven't read the other two stories you may want to before reading this. If not, here's a quick summary. Story one, Bikejack: Vin has his bike stolen after being walloped on the head. Story two, Harley - Lost or Found?: The bike stealing gang is caught and Ezra finds Vin's bike in very small pieces. Vin and Chris, of course, come in for some hurting in the process. Now read on to see what happens now the bike is back on the road again.

Vin polished the bike's headlamp and stood back to survey his work. He smiled at the gleaming machine and felt well satisfied with all his hard work.

“Vin? Are you sure Ezra gave you back the correct bike? I've never seen it look so good,” Chris praised as he sat watching from the ranch's porch.

“Just shows what a bit of hard graft will do. It won't stay this clean for long so you'd better take a picture quick.”

The blond laughed and asked, “You taking it home today?”

“You bet. I'll ride into work and take it on from there.”

“Okay. I'll meet you at the office then.”

Chris walked to the Ram and watched Vin get astride his bike and ride out onto the road. The blond smiled and followed behind at a safe distance and his smile broadened as Vin accelerated and disappeared into the distance. Chris knew the sharpshooter was a good rider and wouldn't go faster than the limit and, after all, the man hadn't ridden the bike for months and was just taking pleasure in its power. The blond, meanwhile, took his time and pulled in at work to find Vin lounging on his bike waiting patiently for him.

“What took you so long, cowboy? That thing couldn't beat a snail,” the sharpshooter said disdainfully as he unfolded his arms and stood up straight.

“Slow but sure. I got here, didn't I?”

“So did I, but in half the time.”

The two men walked to the elevator laughing and joking and rode up to their floor companionably.

“Hey Ez. Ready for a ride on my bike?” Vin asked as he strode into the office and immediately sought out the dark-haired man.

The undercover agent looked up as he shook his head and grimaced. “As I said before, I like to be inside a car.”

“Yeah, yeah. Yer just a chicken, Ez.”

“Well, at least I'm a live chicken and not one that's been splattered on the road by that infernal bike of yours,” Ezra replied as he fixed Vin with a haughty look and blew his breath noisily down his nose like an angry bull.

“I'm a safe rider. You can trust me to bring ya back in one piece,” Vin replied, sounding slightly hurt.

“I know Mr. Tanner, but each to his own mode of transport and mine definitely has four wheels.”

“A baby carriage?” Vin smiled as he sat on Ezra's desk and swung his legs like a child.

“Oh, what a good idea! You can push me if you're good,” Ezra said as he grinned broadly and patted Vin's knee delightedly.

Vin laughed and then said persuasively, “Come on, Ez. Just a quick spin round the block. You never know, you might even enjoy it.”

Ezra shook his head and seemed uneasy. He raised his hands and studied the backs of them with fingers outstretched, rather in the fashion of a lady checking the state of her nail polish. He put his hands back down and sighed before saying quietly, “I do have an admission to make actually. I used to ride a bike in my distant youth. When I was in my late teens in fact, but it was only for a year.”

“Really? Then why won't you ride on mine?” Vin asked, mystified.

“I had rather a bad accident and I'm ashamed to say I lost my confidence. It took me an inordinate amount of time to learn to drive a car afterwards and I've never been back on a bike since.”

Vin could see that the undercover agent was very unsettled at reliving the memories. “What happened, Ez?” he asked quietly as he put a comforting hand on the man's back.

“I was hit by a truck from the side. He ran a red light and we met in the middle of the intersection. Both the bike and I became wedged beneath the front of the truck and were pushed along until it stopped. Luckily he wasn't traveling too fast but I was incapacitated for several months all the same. I broke most of the bones in both hands, which was why I was studying them earlier. They mended, as did all my other many injuries, but it wasn't a pleasant experience.”

“Jeez, I'm sorry, Ez. I won't bug ya to have a go then but if you ever change yer mind just ask.”

“Thank you, Mr. Tanner. That is most kind.”

+ + + + + + +

After work Vin found Ezra in the parking garage staring at the motorbike and standing as still as a statue. The sharpshooter stayed in the shadows and watched the man for a while to see what he was going to do. Ezra eventually reached out and gripped one handlebar and then looked round furtively before straddling the machine.

“Caught ya!” Vin called as he stepped into view.

The undercover agent leapt off the bike looking guilty as he put a hand to his chest in fright. “Good God, Mr. Tanner! Are you attempting to slay me?”

Vin turned a mock stern look on his friend and said seriously but with a hint of amusement in his tone, “What were you doin' on my bike, Ez?”

“Just reliving old memories. I do apologize because I should have requested your permission first,” Ezra admitted sheepishly.

“It's no problem. I don't mind at all,” Vin said as he put a hand on his friend's shoulder.

Ezra looked back at the bike longingly and then sighed.

“Ez?” Vin said curiously.

The green-eyed man shrugged and confessed, “I feel the urge to give into temptation, Mr. Tanner.”

“You want a ride?”

“Well………I……..Oh, God,” Ezra stuttered, unable to say yes or no.

Vin could feel Ezra shaking beneath his hand so he ran his hand back and forth across the width of the man's shoulders and said, “I did say you only had to ask if you changed yer mind.”

Ezra turned back to face Vin as he contemplated his decision. “Alright, but not in this vicinity.”

“Sure, meet me at my apartment at the weekend if you want. We'll go outta town somewhere.”

“I think I only desire a ride on the back, though. You won't ask me to take charge, will you?” Ezra asked apprehensively.

“Not if you don't want to. We'll only do whatever ya feel happy with. If you just want to sit on it that's fine and we don't have to go nowhere if ya don't want to.”

“I appreciate your understanding, Mr. Tanner. I'll see you then,” Ezra said quickly as he turned and hurried away to his car. He hoped he wasn't going to regret his decision.

Vin stood and watched him leave and he could tell what a tough decision his friend had just made.

+ + + + + + +

The weekend came all too soon and Ezra wandered anxiously up and down the sidewalk outside Vin's apartment block. The sharpshooter saw him striding back and forth so he hurried downstairs while struggling into his coat.

“Hey, Ez. Why didn't you come up?”

Ezra stopped pacing for a fraction of a second before continuing to try and work off his nervous energy while saying, “I was on the verge of running away. I knew if I actually met you upstairs I'd have no means of escape.”

“If you've changed yer mind again, that's okay. We don't have to go anywhere if you don't want to,” Vin said as he studied his nervous, pacing friend. It was rather like watching the action in a tennis match. Vin found his head moving from one side to the other as Ezra wandered up and down in front of him constantly. Vin began to feel dizzy so he pleaded, “Stand still, will ya? Yer gonna wear out yer shoes and the sidewalk if you keep going at it like that. Come on Ez, I ain't gonna tie you on the back of the bike so you have to come.”

“What a relief but I must be brave.” Ezra came to a halt in front of Vin and shuffled from foot to foot in agitation as he looked worriedly into his friend's calm, blue eyes. “Come on, before I alter my decision.”

Vin collected his bike and pulled in beside Ezra. The undercover agent climbed on apprehensively and felt naked with no seatbelt to put on. He finally settled into the seat after a bit of wriggling and put his feet up on the rests.

“Put yer arms round my waist, Ez,” Vin instructed.

“Not likely. I'll cling onto the back instead if it's all the same to you.”

Vin started off gently and had gone only a few miles when he suddenly felt arms wrap tight round his middle. He smiled and shouted, “Okay, Ez?”

“Just hunky dory, Mr. Tanner. I've got my eyes firmly shut, I must admit,” Ezra replied shakily as he breathed deeply to calm his nerves.

“Do ya wanna go back?” Vin asked seriously.

“No, pray continue. I will observe the scenery in a minute, I expect,” Ezra replied. He was beginning to relax the further they went and he certainly didn't want to give in to his fears.

They did a circular route and ended up back at Vin's apartment after a couple of hours.

Ezra climbed off, removed his helmet and passed it back to Vin as he ran his fingers through his hair. “Thank you, Vin. I can't say I enjoyed it but it was satisfying to get back in the saddle again.”

Vin smiled and patted Ezra's back. “Yer welcome and we'll go out again if you like. It's nice to have someone to go with.”

Ezra stood and considered the offer with his eyes firmly fixed on the bike. “Yes, I think I'd enjoy that. We'll talk about it later, shall we? I'd like time to contemplate matters.” The dark- haired man held out his hand and Vin clasped it tightly and smiled encouragingly at his friend.

“Sure whatever, Ez.” Vin watched his friend walk to his usual mode of transport and he smiled. The sharpshooter felt he'd at least achieved something with getting Ezra back on a bike even if he never got on one again.

+ + + + + + +

On a Monday morning three weeks later all the men were working hard in the office. Silence reigned for once and they all heard Chris's phone ringing. They heard the blond talking for quite some time and then silence descended for a few minutes again after the end of the call.

“Vin? Can I have a word?” Chris's disembodied voice finally called from his office.

“Sure, cowboy,” Vin said as he appeared in the doorway. Chris beckoned him in and indicated for him to sit down. Vin sat opposite the blond and waited quietly to hear what he had to say.

Chris sighed and ran a hand over his face. “Look, I've got a people trafficking ring that needs breaking. The FBI stumbled on it while investigating something else and thought we might be interested. The gang is a group of bikers so I thought you'd fit right in.”

“Gee thanks, cowboy,” Vin said with a broad grin.

“I want someone else to go in with you, though. Who do you recommend? JD?”

“Ez,” Vin said emphatically without a moment's thought.

The blond frowned and asked, “Why? I know he's the undercover agent but he's allergic to bikes.”

“No, he ain't. He's been on my bike.”

Chris looked at Vin incredulously. “When?” he asked challengingly although he knew his quiet friend wouldn't lie to him.

“Over the past few weekends. Only on the back but he's regained some of his confidence and I'm sure he can do this, Chris. Give him the chance, will ya?”

“Ezra?” Chris yelled as he kept his twinkling eyes looking toward Vin.

The undercover agent joined the two men in the office and looked at the blond quizzically.

“You ready to join a biker gang?” Chris asked in amusement. He still couldn't imagine Ezra on a bike and thought the man was definitely more suited to his Jag.

“I beg your pardon?” Ezra asked as he looked at both men in turn before frowning worriedly.

Chris explained what was needed and waited for Ezra to answer.

“Oh dear. Seems my secret has been discovered,” Ezra said forlornly.

“Are you up to it? Don't feel you have to agree,” Chris said quietly when he saw that Ezra looked unsettled.

“I'll manage but I don't want a bike of my own. I'll only partake in this assignment if I can accompany Vin on his machine,” the dark-haired man replied anxiously.

“Sure whatever you want, Ez,” Chris said placatingly as he patted the man's back. “I need you to do some background work first ‘cause we need to be well- prepared for this one.”

“Now that I can handle,” Ezra stated decisively. “How long do I have?”

“A week.”

“Perfect. That allows time to psyche myself up too,” Ezra said as he smiled nervously. Hope I haven't bitten off more than I can chew.

+ + + + + + +

The two men went to work with the FBI to get all the background details they would need before they joined the gang. They didn't see much of their teammates during this time because they had so much to get through in the short time given to them. Chris made contact with the informant who had tipped the FBI off in the first place and met him later that week. The man was involved in the gang and had agreed to introduce the two agents as suitable recruits. The date was set and Vin and Ezra made their final arrangements.

The sharpshooter rode to Ezra's house and picked the man up and headed back to the office for a final briefing for their assignment. Vin pulled up on the sidewalk just as Buck arrived. The ladies' man pretended not to recognize the undercover agent because Ezra had now grown a small goatee beard. The undercover agent thought it suited his role more than being clean-shaven. He also wore tatty jeans and a denim jacket and couldn't have looked less Ezra- like if he'd tried.

“Where's Ez, Vin?” Buck asked.

Ezra tutted from where he sat on the back of the bike and snapped, “Here, Mr. Wilmington. Open your eyes.”

“Is that really you, Ez?” the tall man asked as he tugged Ezra's beard.

“Ow, Bucklin. It is attached to my face, you know,” Ezra complained as he slapped Buck's hand to make him let go.

“Thought you said you wouldn't be seen dead on a bike,” Buck said with a smile as he patted Ezra's back boisterously.

“Dead, no. Alive, no problem,” Ezra retorted with a broad grin. “Wish us good fortune.”

“Yeah, good luck and take care. You coming up to the office?”

“Yeah. Just gotta get the final meeting place from Chris and then we'll be off,” Vin said as he followed Buck inside the building with Ezra.

The two men had a short meeting with the blond before going back out to get on the bike. They rode to the appointed place and Vin pointed to the building they needed where they could see a group of men outside lounging near some bikes. The two agents observed from a distance for a while to watch the comings and goings before approaching the group of bikers.

One man turned round as he heard their bike draw up. “What do you want?” he asked brusquely as Vin dismounted after Ezra had climbed off.

“I'm Vince and this is Ethan. Mike sent us,” Vin said simply as he looked at each man in turn.

“Oh, you're the apartment guys. Come inside.”

“Said the spider to the fly, or words to that effect,” Ezra murmured quietly and received an elbow in the ribs from Vin to shut him up.

They followed their escort inside and Vin studied the layout as they walked. They were taken to an office that contained several other men lounging sullenly in chairs and one man sitting behind a desk who seemed to be the boss. The biker knocked on the door and the two agents were beckoned in.

“I'm Carl,” the man behind the desk said after being introduced and he stood and shook Vin's hand, but not Ezra's. “You come highly recommended so I hope you live up to your reputation,” the man said as he fixed them with a fierce stare. “Mike said you had several buildings we could use to house our merchandize in.”

Vin sighed inwardly at the term used to describe the smuggled humans but he replied civilly enough, “Yeah, we've got some free. How soon do ya need ‘em?”

“Straight away ‘cause I've got a consignment coming in the day after tomorrow. Is that gonna prove difficult?” Carl asked sarcastically.

“Bit short notice but it shouldn't be a problem,” Vin said as he studied the man closely.

“Make sure it ain't and if this job goes well there should be plenty of work to keep you busy. Take Tommy now and show him yer buildings ‘cause we ain't got much time to get things sorted before our merchandize is delivered. You came along just in time, but don't let me down ‘cause I've got an awful temper.” Carl turned to Ezra after giving his warning and said, “You ain't said nothing yet. You got a tongue in that mouth of yours?”

“Of course. Where else would you expect it to be? Or perhaps you're wondering if I was born with a silver spoon instead?” Ezra answered calmly, expecting trouble.

“Oh Lord. We've got an educated man here, boys. Don't swear in front of him or he'll likely faint with shock,” Carl laughed while managing to sneer at the same time.

“I can swear with the best of them, never fear,” Ezra disagreed as he looked at the other occupants of the room critically.

“Yeah right. You sound too well-bred for swearing and being a biker.”

“What makes you think a biker cannot be well-bred or well- educated? That's classist.”

Carl stared at him and then threw his head back and laughed loudly. “I like you. I like someone who don't change to fit a stereotype.” The man put an arm round Ezra's shoulders and said conspiratorially, “Look at this lot. They all look and sound the same, don't they? Typical biker, seen one seen ‘em all. Yeah, it'll be a nice change to have someone around to keep me on my toes and give me a bit of sass.”

Ezra smiled but he could see the angry looks on some of the other men's faces. They didn't look too pleased to have a newcomer getting friendly with the boss. The undercover agent knew it would be advisable to tread carefully in future.

“Well, shall we go and look over these buildings then?” Vin said, sensing the change in atmosphere and wanting to get away from the group of men.

“Sure, lead the way,” Tommy said as he opened the door and waited for Ezra and Vin to join him.

The two agents walked out and Tommy followed them back onto the street. Vin got on his bike with Ezra and led the way to some rundown apartments on the edge of town. They were due for demolition but the FBI had acquired them specifically for use on this case.

Tommy wandered around inside and out for half an hour and said happily, “Yeah. These'll do just fine. No one nearby to question what's goin' on either.”

“How do we get the merchandize here?” Vin asked as he tried to get a bit more information on the workings of the gang.

Tommy shook his head negatively. “You let us worry about that. You just provide the buildings, alright?”

“Well, I thought we'd have a bigger hand in things than that,” the sharpshooter queried, sounding petulant.

Tommy shrugged and said thoughtfully, “Carl will maybe need help to disperse them later on ‘cause it's a bigger delivery than we were expecting. He was arranging all that side of things himself so I'll have to check with him later. You got any contacts that could help if we do need them?”

“What do you need doin' exactly?” Vin asked.

“Documents. Passports, whole new identities, you know the sort of thing. We had to get rid of one of our usual guys who did the majority of that type of work for us ‘cause we didn't trust him. Thought he might squeal to the cops if things got too hot. Anyway he ain't around to squeal no more if you get my meaning,” Tommy leered.

“Yeah, I get the picture. Seem to be having quite a bit of bother, what with lack of buildings and untrustworthy contacts to contend with. Good job there are the likes of us around to step in and help ya out of the hole ya dug yerselves into.” Vin smiled but could see that Tommy didn't take kindly to being told the gang's shortcomings. “Tell me how many documents you want and I'll have a word with a friend who can probably help ya out,” Vin offered, knowing that JD could do it.

“Okay, let's get back and I'll have a word with Carl. Can't guarantee nothing though,” Tommy warned. He wasn't quite sure what to make of the newcomers. He thought they seemed rather too good to be true and after the trouble with their original forger he was taking no chances. He knew Carl was getting desperate and was liable to take on people without checking their background thoroughly enough. He, on the other hand, was being a lot more cautious and vowed to fully investigate the past lives of the two new arrivals.

Vin and Ezra exchanged glances as they sensed Tommy's mistrust but accompanied him back to the gang's base where they tried to allay his fears. Ezra soft- soaped him a bit and Vin hoped the man was satisfied that they proved no threat to him or the gang in general.

Tommy talked to Carl as promised and the gang leader was only too happy for the help that Vin had offered. Vin agreed to make the appropriate arrangements straightaway and walked outside so he was on his own and couldn't be overheard by any of the gang. He called Chris and asked him to set up in a suitable property that they could allow Carl to visit if he wanted.

Ezra suddenly appeared by his side just as he disconnected. “All arranged?”

“Yeah. We'll just have to put Carl off if he wants to visit today though. They've got a hell of a lot to do to get set up.”

The two men ambled back inside after half an hour and found Carl still in the office but on his own. Vin told the man that he'd set things in motion and Carl smiled, hoping that no more problems cropped up as time was running short. With that in mind, the gang leader inevitably did want to meet JD to see if he could deliver the goods on time, and to make sure he could be trusted. Much to Vin's relief Carl suggested visiting JD early the next day because he already had other plans for the rest of the day. The sharpshooter could tell that the man was getting increasingly stressed at the tight deadline he'd been set.

“Do me a favor Vince, will ya? Go and visit him and make him aware of what will happen to him if he lets me down. I ain't got time for messing about,” Carl snarled in warning.

“Okay. I'll be sure he understands,” Vin replied with an evil grin.

“I'll come too,” Tommy said.

Vin's heart skipped a beat but was saved when Carl disagreed. “Na. Vince can handle it and I need ya here, Tommy.” The leader turned back to Vin and said, “Take these details with ya so he can make a start. The sooner he starts, the sooner he'll get ‘em done, understand?”

Vin nodded in agreement and left the building carrying a file of paperwork.

Ezra followed him out and put a hand on his arm. “Where are you going to go?”

“I'll take this to Chris. He can do a bit of background work on it first and then JD can start on the documents like Carl said.”

“Okay. While you're gone I'll see if I can learn anything of importance from that rather dull- looking biker who looks half dead.” Ezra smiled as he patted Vin's back and said, “Watch your back, Mr. Tanner.”

+ + + + + + +

The next day arrived and Vin and Ezra took Carl to a shop in one of the seedier parts of town. Vin had to admit that Chris had done a fine job in setting it up and making it look authentic. Even he'd have believed it was the genuine article if he didn't know better. Carl seemed impressed too and that was the main thing. Vin took the gang leader through to an empty room at the back and the man studied everything carefully.

“Where's your man then? I thought we were meeting him as well,” Carl barked irritably when JD didn't materialize.

“He'll be here. He just had a last minute rush job to do. Rather like the one you've asked him to do today, so at least you know you can trust him to do what you need,” Vin assured the man calmly.

JD turned up at that moment and Carl didn't look at all happy to see him. “Jesus! What the hell are you playing at? He's just a damned kid.”

Ezra appeared in the doorway and said, “Tsk, tsk. There you go again with your preconceptions. What does age matter as long as he can do the job?”

Carl turned to look at the undercover agent and smiled as he shrugged his shoulders in defeat, knowing he didn't have time to make new arrangements. “Quite true. Okay kid, show me what you've done so far. I need ‘em finished quick, you hear? Can you do it on time?” the man asked as he looked at the passports and other items JD passed to him. He wasn't taking Vin's assurances of JD's talents for granted.

“Sure. Never missed a deadline yet,” the kid replied confidently.

“Glad to hear it. Looks like you done a fair bit already. You've got one day to get the rest done or you'll never meet another deadline again. Catch my drift?” Carl asked as he narrowed his eyes.

“Yeah, I understand. They'll be ready. Vince already warned me about the consequences,” JD sneered as he looked at Vin in distaste.

Carl patted JD's back and went back to base with Ezra seemingly satisfied, leaving Vin and JD alone. The sharpshooter patted the kid's back as well and smiled broadly. “Well done, kid. If you lose yer proper job at least you know you can set up as a master forger.”

JD smiled and said, “Na. I'll stay on the right side of the law if it's all the same to you. Knowing I'd have the likes of Chris on my tail makes me think it'd be safer in the long run.”

“Yeah, maybe you're right,” Vin said. “I'll be in to collect everything tomorrow. Can you get Chris to hold off on the bust ‘til the next delivery though? I want to get a bit more information about the set-up before acting. If we bust ‘em now we'll lose the rest of the chain.”

“Okay. Is another delivery due soon? Chris ain't gonna like it if it ain't for weeks,” JD pointed out.

“Don't know the exact date but soon, I think. We're just gonna have to stick with it, ain't we? Anyway, see ya later, JD. I'll call before I come to pick up the passports in case Carl wants to come too.”

“Okay. You and Ezra take care.”

Vin smiled and saluted as he walked back out to his bike.

+ + + + + + +

The day of the first delivery arrived and Vin and Ezra were taken out with the rest of the gang to an abandoned airfield outside town. It seemed they were being allowed to have some part in the delivery process after all. Several large trucks pulled up nearby and Vin surreptitiously noted the license plates for tracking later. The backs of the vehicles were opened and the people inside herded out onto the grass and split into groups. From the far end of the airfield a lot of other vehicles then arrived to transport them on to their next destination. Some of them would be taken to the apartments in town that Vin had provided but most were being dispersed to other areas. Ezra had somehow managed to wheedle out of Carl just where the other locations were. The sharpshooter had no idea how the man had achieved it but he knew Ezra's silver-tongue had opened many a seemingly locked door in its time.

Vin began helping to load the smuggled humans into the smaller vehicles and managed to note all the license plates as he did so. The two agents accompanied the vehicles that were heading to the apartments and on arrival they parked in the underground garage out of sight.

JD had gotten all the documents done and Vin handed those out as he saw to the transfer of people to their rooms. It took quite some time to get everything finished but the men finally headed back to their base after completing the task late evening. Vin and Ezra split up and spent time getting friendly with a few of the gang members in the hope of obtaining some more information about how things were run. The sharpshooter managed to get details of where the current group of smuggled humans was eventually going to be sent on to and although he didn't learn anything else he was still pleased.

The next day when it was safe he passed the information onto Chris so the people, when they were moved, could be intercepted and dealt with by the authorities. He also gave the blond the list of license plate numbers so they could be traced and watched. The blond was pleased with the way the assignment was going and he hoped they'd soon be able to shut the whole operation down.

Over the following days Vin and Ezra found themselves seemingly accepted by their fellow gang members. Ezra got on particularly well with the gang leader and was shown in more depth how the operation was set up. The gang leader didn't tell all his secrets but Ezra managed to sneak a quick look at Carl's records and make some copies when the gang leader went out unexpectedly one afternoon. The man had received an urgent phone call and rushed out looking absolutely furious. Ezra acted fast and the information he gleaned from the files was invaluable and included some of the names of the overseas contacts involved.

Carl arrived back early evening in no better mood and the gang finally learnt the cause of the man's anger. The date of the next delivery had been suddenly changed to the following day and Carl wasn't at all pleased. The delivery was even bigger than the previous one and they had nowhere to house them. Vin wondered how the man managed to stay in command seeing as he seemed less than able to coordinate things properly.

The sharpshooter decided to take the initiative and he had a plan in mind. He went to see Carl straightaway because of the tight timetable. “Carl? Do you need me to look for more suitable premises to use for the next delivery? If so, can I take Ethan and see what's available? Gonna need to do a bit of running round to find somethin' I reckon so it might take some time.”

“Sure. Ethan? Go with Vince, will ya? I could do with you back later on though to help with the arrangements but take as long as you need to get the apartments sorted. Without them we're screwed so don't let me down. Meet up with me here when yer done, Ethan. The rest of the boys will be moving the remaining lot of people out of those apartments of yours ready for tomorrow.”

“Okay. I'll drop Ethan back here then go onto the apartments to help them,” Vin agreed.

+ + + + + + +

Vin and Ezra went to a bar for lunch after arranging with the FBI for some other premises to be put aside for them to house the smuggled humans. Vin used the spare time they had to tell Chris by phone about the new buildings and to alert him of the closeness of the next delivery date. He also gave a brief outline of his plan but left Chris to fine-tune the details and he then arranged to meet the blond later to finalize things and give him some files. He was unaware that Tommy was also in the bar having slipped in unnoticed through the back entrance after following them. Despite Ezra's previous attempts at convincing the man that they were harmless the biker hadn't liked the way Carl had just accepted the newcomers. He'd checked their backgrounds thoroughly and although he hadn't found anything amiss he was still suspicious. Tommy had now decided to look for a way of discrediting them instead and started following them everywhere they went. He felt that Ezra was taking his place as second-in-command in the gang and wanted to take the man down a peg or two.

The biker knew that he had struck gold when he heard Vin start talking to Chris on the phone. He was in the next booth along from the agents and shielded by a thick, stained-glass panel. He heard some of the conversation Vin had on his cell and realized the men were policemen of some description. Tommy rose quickly and used the bar's phone to contact his boss to tell him his news. He knew he'd be well rewarded for his information.

Meanwhile, Vin was continuing his conversation. “I'll go to the apartments as arranged after seeing you but Ezra's gonna go back to Carl now,” Vin said to Chris, totally unaware that he'd been overheard.

“Okay. Take care and we'll see ya soon.” Chris disconnected.

The two agents rose and wandered out onto the sidewalk. Ezra put a hand on Vin's arm and said, “Mr. Tanner? On second thoughts, I think I'd better come with you. I just don't like the idea of being split up at such a vital moment. I know you're only meeting Chris and then coming straight back but I still don't like it. We shouldn't be too long, should we?” It was a decision that could well cost Ezra his life but if he'd gone back to see Carl he wouldn't have been any better off with what the gang leader now knew about him.

“Yeah. I think I agree with ya, Ez. Carl expected me to go straight onto the apartments after dropping you back to him, didn't he? We'd better do that so that no one questions what I've been doing in the intervening period. I can take you back later as you say. You coming then? Hop on the back,” Vin said as he patted the bike's seat and put on his helmet.

Ezra nodded and swung his leg over the back and settled in the seat before clinging to Vin's waist. “I'm ready, Mr. Tanner. Set your metallic steed in motion.”

Vin started it up and pulled out safely into the traffic and set off to the pre-arranged meeting place with Chris. They rode to the outskirts of town to an abandoned industrial area where there were no pedestrians in sight and not much traffic.

A car appeared behind them so Vin moved to the side of the street to let them pass but the car just got closer and closer to his back wheel. Ezra looked round worriedly and Vin speeded up when he saw what was happening. He turned off to the left and the car followed as well and no matter what Vin did, the man stuck to him like glue. The car eventually dropped back but Vin kept watching it to see what it was going to do next. Meanwhile, he increased his speed to get as much distance between him and the car as possible.

He was concentrating so hard on the car behind that he was taken by surprise when another vehicle appeared out of an alley just ahead. Vin swerved to avoid it and somehow managed to steer round it safely without losing control of his bike. The car pulled in behind him and Vin looked to see what the first car had been doing during this time. It was now nowhere in sight so Vin switched his attention to the vehicle he could see. The driver used the same tactics of driving very close and the layout of the industrial area didn't help Vin gain much speed to escape.

He ducked up a thin alley that was just wide enough for a bike and really hoped he'd lost his pursuer once and for all. He looked behind as he changed direction again when he got back out onto the road and was pleased to see that the car didn't appear. Without realizing it though, Vin was actually being herded exactly where the gang wanted him.

The sharpshooter caught a slight movement out the corner of his eye and he turned to see the first car pull out ahead of him again from a side road. He checked the rearview mirror quickly and saw that the second car had come into sight again. He swore when he saw that the road had narrowed considerably and he had nowhere to go. He was sandwiched between the two vehicles and there was definitely no room to sneak up the side of the front car safely. The first car began slowing down, forcing the bike to slow too but at the same time the car behind suddenly accelerated. It hit the bike hard as the car in front sped away after completing its duty by cornering Vin.

The front wheel of the bike skewed round to the right and the machine continued along the road sideways at speed. The bike finally fell on its side as Vin lost control and skidded across the road leaving a trail of sparks and narrowly missing the car from behind that suddenly sped past. Vin let go of his machine and rolled over and over like a piece of tumbleweed. Elbows, knees and head banged on the road's surface as he continued bouncing along until he ended up in the gutter. He lay still trying to regain his senses for a minute and then tried to get back to his feet. He groaned at the pain and slumped back to the ground as he totally lost consciousness.

When the bike had first been hit, Ezra had been catapulted off the back to land hard on the hood of the car behind them. The vehicle continued onwards and the undercover agent was carried along the street for quite a distance as he clung on for dear life. The car's driver couldn't see where he was going because Ezra's body was obscuring his view. The vehicle eventually collided with an abandoned truck and Ezra was thrown off onto the sidewalk, landing awkwardly against a wall. The driver couldn't keep control of the car and the vehicle came to a crunching halt against the wall with Ezra trapped beneath and hidden from view. The car's occupants got out and ran to the other vehicle and climbed in before being driven away at speed with a screeching of tires.

Chris and his men were just approaching the same area and had to swerve out of the way of the escaping car as it approached them at speed.

“Jerk!” Chris yelled as he watched the vehicle rush by.

The blond shook his head and turned into the street where he'd agreed to meet Vin. He saw two shapes in the road and slowed down when he realized he was looking at a bike and a body.

“Shit! It's Vin,” Chris cursed as he came to a screeching halt beside the fallen sharpshooter.

Nathan got out quickly while Chris called for an ambulance before joining the medic at his friend's side. He squatted down and looked at the bloodied features of his best friend, revealed when Nathan opened the man's visor.

“Vin? Can you hear me?” The medic began checking Vin carefully and he looked at Chris when he'd finished. “I'll leave his helmet on. He may have head injuries that could be made worse if I take it off. He's breathing alright so it's best to leave it alone.”

“How bad is he?” Chris asked as he scowled.

“So far I've found a problem with his knee but I can't tell how bad yet and one hand looks crushed. His arm is broken as well and he's got a few broken ribs and a lot of scrapes and bruises from falling on the road surface,” Nathan said as he turned the injured man over onto his side and supported him. “Can someone get a blanket?”

Buck ran to his truck and pulled one out from the cab. “There ya go, Nate.”

The medic lay it over Vin and rubbed his back gently. The injured man moaned softly at the touch but didn't wake fully.

“It's alright, Vin. We're here and you'll be as right as rain in no time,” Josiah said soothingly as he sat down beside Nathan. He kept up a constant one-sided dialogue in the hope of getting through to his friend.

The other men stood around like teetotalers at a beer festival because there wasn't anything for them to do but wait. The black-clad man wandered over to Vin's bike and looked in the saddlebags. He pulled out some papers and flicked through them quickly to check what they were. They contained some of the copied information that Ezra had seen in Carl's office and Chris smiled in relief that they hadn't been stolen. Hopefully that meant that the gang didn't know Vin had them. The blond looked up as he saw the ambulance approching and he waved his hands in the air to attract their attention. The vehicle pulled in and the paramedics took charge of the sharpshooter and after seeing to Vin's immediate injuries they carefully loaded him in the back and set off for the hospital.

Buck looked around and glanced fleetingly at the two wrecked cars further up the street. “What about the gang, Chris?” Buck asked as he then watched JD and Josiah push Vin's bike up into the back of his truck.

“I'm assuming that they may have had a hand in this. It's too much of a coincidence that Vin should be knocked off his bike right where we were gonna meet him. I mean it ain't exactly a busy street, is it? That's why we chose it. I'll hand the whole case back to the FBI to deal with. With all the information Ezra got hold of they can close the whole operation down immediately.” Chris waved the files as he spoke. “The FBI can start by going to Carl's base and the apartments instead of us to catch the gang there. Vin said the occupants were being moved today so they can get them in the act. Put out an APB on that car, will ya? It may have had something to do with this given the way it was being driven and seeing as there was no one else nearby.” Chris gasped as he lay a worried hand on Buck's forearm and said anxiously, “Jesus, try and contact Ezra and tell him what's happened and pull him out. He's gotta be in danger if the gang did this to Vin. I ain't gonna take any chances with his life and I don't want him caught in the crossfire when the FBI turn up.”

“We don't know it was the gang that did this. It may just have been an accident, Chris,” Buck disagreed.

“Maybe, but I ain't waiting for Vin to wake up 'cause it could be too late for Ezra by then if this is the gang's work. Just do as I ask, will ya?” Chris said as he cursed inwardly. I know I ain't got proof about what happened but I'll go with what my gut tells me any day and at the moment it's screaming GANG.

Buck pulled out his cell as he climbed in the back of the car. If he'd listened really hard he may just have heard the answering ring of Ezra's phone from where it lay under the wrecked car. Chris started the Ram's engine though and the sound was drowned out by the noise.

“No reply,” Buck informed the blond after letting the number ring for several minutes.

“Keep trying. I want him outta harm's way and he needs to be told about Vin's condition. Call the FBI for me too and get them to Carl's and those apartments pronto. Tell ‘em one of our agents is working undercover and to keep an eye out for him.”

The men left the area unaware that Ezra was actually lying badly injured nearby.

They arrived at the hospital and had to wait a couple of hours while Vin was treated. It turned out that Vin had actually broken his kneecap and was taken for surgery to re-attached the broken halves together. Chris was finally called to say he could see his friend and all the men, except Buck, went with him. The ladies' man was still desperately trying to contact the undercover agent. After another few fruitless tries he walked along to Vin's room to report his lack of success. He was now getting very worried about Ezra's welfare and he entered the room and caught Chris's eye. He shook his head in reply to the blond's questioning look and then sighed. He was beginning to agree with Chris's theory that this was the gang's work after all. Both men's attention was drawn to the bed as Vin finally stirred.

The long-haired man opened his eyes slowly and Chris smiled. “It's alright Vin. You're in the hospital. We found you and your bike lying in the road. Can you remember what happened? Was it just an accident or did the gang do this to you?” His heart pounded as he waited for an answer.

Vin sighed and rubbed his brow as he tried to recall events. The sharpshooter looked highly uncomfortable in the collar he had on his neck as he shifted slightly on the bed and groaned. He eventually confirmed Chris's worst fears when he said, “The gang. They were in a couple of cars.” The sharpshooter turned a worried look on his friend and asked frantically, “Where's Ezra? Where's Ez?”

Chris patted his arm comfortingly. “We're trying to contact him but we ain't had any luck yet, cowboy. I wanted to let him know what had happened to you and also to get him out of the gang's way.”

“But he was with me!” Vin said in distress as tears sprang to his eyes. He grabbed Chris's wrist strongly and held on tight.

“What? You said he was going back to Carl,” Buck said in disbelief as his blood ran cold.

“We decided to stick together. He was on the back of the bike and was hit first but I didn't see what happened to him,” Vin said anxiously as he started crying.

“Fucking hell! Buck get back out there and search for him. He's gotta be lying somewhere outta sight of the road. No wonder you couldn't get through to him on the phone. He obviously ain't in any condition to answer it. Everyone go with Buck to look for him.” Chris shivered as he thought how close they'd been to the undercover agent. With the man not answering his phone either, the blond couldn't help but fear the worst. “I'll stay with Vin but let me know when you find him.” Dammit, I hate it when my gut gets it right, the blond thought to himself.

“We'll find him, pard. Don't you fret,” Buck replied.

The four men left hurriedly and drove back fast to where they'd found Vin.


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