Mind Games

by freeformchick



WARNING: violence, profanity, mild slash content

SUMMARY: Ezra and JD are kidnapped and used as pawns in a dangerous game.

DISCLAIMER: The Magnificent Seven don’t belong to me, otherwise I’d be doing some unspeakable things with the boys :). They belong to . . . uh . . . whoever they belong to; to tell the truth I don’t always pay attention to that part of a TV show. See the other disclaimers; I’m sure they’ll tell you who M7 belong to. Also, the ATF universe was created by Mog. I don’t know her and have never spoken to her, but she has my undying gratitude for making such a fun universe for the boys.

COMMENTS: any character you don’t recognise is probably mine. If you want to archive this, please ask or at least notify me, so I know where my work is going. Also, I am Australian, so my grammar and spelling will reflect that. For example, Chris will be blonde instead of blond, and there will be fewer ‘z’s.

SIZE: Approx 210K

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Chris Larabee stood at the observation window, gazing blindly through the glass. Unconsciously flexing his fists, feeling the deep need to go and pound something until his knuckles bled. He was angry, angry enough to do serious damage to the first person who crossed him. But beneath the anger was another emotion, far less destructive but far more unpleasant.


Buck Wilmington and Nathan Jackson lay motionless in the hospital beds, separated from him by the glass. Monitors beeped, nurses entered the room every two minutes to draw blood, check vital signs, all the motions that he could recite by rote. One of the nurses glanced at him sympathetically on her way out, but didn’t approach him. He didn’t blame her; he was sure he looked angry enough to lash out at anyone who so much as spoke to him.

Bandages swathed Nathan’s shoulder and chest, and ugly stitches crossed his left calf, hidden by the blanket but still there. Buck’s right arm was in a cast, and bruises discoloured every centimetre of exposed skin. Neither man had woken, and Chris knew that the longer they were unconscious, the worse their chances of recovery were.

Chris was far from uninjured himself, though he’d be damned if he’d admit it. The doctors had pestered him to get his knee checked out, but he refused to allow them to do more than bandage it before he came to the ICU to watch over his partners. The fact that he could barely take a step without his vision swimming was the only thing that kept him here in the hospital instead of out on the streets, where he should be.

He was unable to take action, and infuriated by that fact. He was helpless to aid his two friends who both lay unconscious in the ICU. And he was unable to help Josiah and Vin in their search for the two remaining ATF agents.

The sons-of-bitches who’d put Nathan and Buck in hospital had taken JD and Ezra.

+ + + + + + +

It had seemed like a routine job. A snitch had given them the time and location of a transaction between a big-time weapons dealer they’d been after for a long time and her supplier. They’d checked out the place, marked in their minds all the areas that ambushes could come from, and had lain in wait themselves. Strategically placed; Chris, Josiah and Buck concealed inside, in perfect sight of the target area but virtually invisible. Vin outside on surveillance; they needed his keen eyes watching in case something went wrong. Nathan with Vin, in case the younger man needed backup in the event of a fight. JD and Ezra in different parts of the warehouse complex, also in sight of the target area but well-hidden, JD with the video camera that would tape the transaction, in case some jumped-up lawyer decided that seven ATF agents weren’t telling the truth. All the exits watched.

In the middle of the transaction, one of the hulking men who had accompanied the dealer began to whistle. Incongruously, the tune of Ode to Joy floated through the dead warehouse air. The dealer and supplier ignored him; the other bodyguard shifted and slipped his hand inside his jacket.

“Shit!” Chris hissed. “They’re onto us. JD, Ezra, get out of here,” he snapped into his radio. “Vin, Nathan, we got a problem. They know we’re here.”

“The whistlin’?” Vin’s voice came back through the radio, obscenely loud.

“It’s a signal. Get out of here!”

Gunfire, everywhere. The dealer and her men didn’t know where they were, but they seemed to be trying their damnedest to hit something – anything – in the dim warehouse. There was no salvaging this operation; the best they could hope for would be for them all to get out alive and relatively unhurt.

Ricochets were the most danger right now, especially to Vin and Nathan. Vin had chosen his vantage point well for the purpose of surveillance; the roof of the warehouse was cluttered with protrusions, giving him the perfect hiding place. Chris wasn’t sure whether the rotting wood and rusted corrugated iron would stop a bullet.

There were only five opponents that they had to face; the dealer and her two bodyguards, and the supplier and his single guard. The trouble was, each bodyguard was at least the size of Josiah, and Chris couldn’t be sure of backup. He’d ordered Ezra and JD out, and while their help would be welcome he hoped that for once they’d had the sense to obey his whispered order. Nathan and Vin would have a difficult time getting from the roof with any haste. He, Josiah and Buck were alone, at least for now.

“Nothing for it,” Chris muttered, unholstering his pistols. “We’ve got one thing going for us; they don’t know exactly where we are. Let’s use that advantage while we can.”

They leaped out of hiding, guns blazing. Took the dealer’s men by surprise, coming from behind, and dropped one on the spot. Chris could hear a commotion outside and hoped it was just Vin having a disagreement with the harbour-master over whether he could, in fact, enter the old warehouse, but knew that it was more than that. And then his attention was wrenched back to the fight at hand.

The supplier’s goon, it seemed, preferred fisticuffs to guns, and was determined to have at least one opponent fight him in his preferred way. Moving with more agility than his size gave him credit for, he’d kicked Buck’s weapon from his hands and engaged the agent in a fierce battle, more akin to a barroom brawl than a fight to the death in a dim warehouse.

The dealer’s bodyguards were keeping Josiah pinned down with incessant bullets fired into the wall he was sheltered behind. He managed to squeeze off a few shots, but couldn’t come to Chris and Buck’s aid without being shot. The supplier had vanished, which left the dealer for Chris.

The woman had more talent with a gun than Chris had assumed. Chris was continually force to duck behind bits of rubble, barely keeping ahead of the dealer. Already he sported two grazes from near misses, nearer than he liked. The dealer stalked behind him, firing shots at Chris whenever she so much as glimpsed him.

The commotion outside was still going on, Chris realised vaguely. It had gone on far too long for it to be a simple disagreement between Vin and the harbour-master. He hoped Vin and Nathan were all right, and that was all the thought he could afford to give his friends. It worried him that he still hadn’t heard from JD or Ezra, but he had to trust that they could take care of themselves and concentrate on getting himself out of this mess.

“Here, pup,” the dealer crooned. “Why’re you running? Surely you’re not scared of a two-bit dealer like me?”

Chris ignored her and fired a shot, narrowly missing the woman’s shoulder. The dealer chuckled and continued forward.

“Silly move, pup. When you’re trying to hide, you don’t go and make a noise. Just told me where you are, you did.”

Her words sent a shiver down Chris’s spine. Was the woman trying to sound insane, or was that really how her mind worked? Did she see humans as animals?

“Chris – taken out – Nathan – hit – ”

Vin’s voice echoed through Chris’s radio, distorted and broken by static. Chris could hear gunfire and Josiah swearing, could hear the meaty sound of flesh on flesh. Buck screamed in agony. He could hear the dealer’s lazy drawl, getting closer.

He fired off another shot, missing the woman in the darkness, sunlight barely making it through the grime-encrusted windows. And then he heard the click that told him he was out of bullets.

“Damn it.”

The dealer appeared, much closer than her voice had seemed. She smiled.

“Hey there, pup. Teeth been pulled, I see.”

Holding her own gun trained on Chris, the dealer approached. She was a medium-sized woman, no match for Josiah or Buck unless her physical strength was as surprising as her prowess with her gun. Well-dressed – Ezra would approve, Chris thought wryly. Ezra might see some sense of twisted justice, being cut down by an opponent with fashion sense, at least. Chris felt nothing but anger at an empty death, and regret that he wouldn’t be able to help his team.

The dealer was within arms reach now. Chris prepared for the bullet that would end his life.

It didn’t come. Fast as lightning, the dealer lashed out with a sharp kick to Chris’s right knee. The snap and sickening crunch preceded a wave of shocking pain that forced the blonde agent to the floor, gasping in pain. He looked up at the woman with vision swimming from pain.

The dealer smiled again and lifted her gun in a kind of salute. “You lead a good hunt,” she said. She raised her voice. “Boys, I reckon Samuels is waiting for us. You want to finish up there?”

She knelt next to Chris and caressed his face with the still-hot muzzle of her gun, drawing a hiss as the overheated metal burned his skin. “Let me tell you something, pup. If it was up to me, I’d kill you here and now.” She dug her fingers into Chris’s damaged knee, eliciting a strangled cry of pain. “Knee like that, it’s not worth keeping a hound alive. The dog just suffers needlessly. But Samuels, he wants to play a game. And he pays well enough that I’ll play by his rules, for now at least.”

“What game?” Chris forced the words through gritted teeth, trying to ignore the fire in his knee. The dealer grinned.

“You ever seen foxhounds at work? They follow a scent admirably. Always wanted a foxhound, myself. A dog like that can find whatever it’s set on, as long as it knows what its prey smells like.”

She stroked Chris’s face with the gun again, her free hand keeping enough pressure on Chris’s knee that the ATF agent was in no position to fight her.

“Samuels fancies a game. We’ll give you the scent, once you get your men taken care of. And you, like the good little foxhound, follow the scent – if you can.”

She stood and began to walk away. Chris mastered the pain long enough to ask, “What are you talking about?”

The woman turned slightly, enough for Chris to see the sadistic smile on her face.

“Think about it. You’ll know what I mean soon enough. It’s strange you haven’t already, though; a hound always knows, when he doesn’t hear the howling of his packmates, that they’re missing.”

She moved off into the dimness, calling for the bodyguards. Chris dragged himself to his feet and tried to put weight on his damaged knee. His leg buckled and he collapsed with a crash, sending dust flying like a miniature mushroom cloud.

“Josiah? Buck?”

“Comin’, Chris. You injured?”

Chris almost wept with relief at hearing Josiah’s voice. “Yeah, I am, kinda. You? And Buck?”

Josiah’s answer was terse and concerned. “I’m okay; a couple grazes, that’s it. I’m worried about Buck; he’s unconscious. Beat as all hell, and I think his arm’s broken. That goon knew what he was doing. Can’t say for sure, though; Nathan knows more about this than I do.”

Josiah’s voice had gradually come closer as he spoke, and at his last words he appeared to Chris’s right. He took one look at Chris’s damaged knee and swore.

“Damn, Chris! That’s gotta hurt like hell.”

“It’s slightly uncomfortable, yes. Get outside and see if Nathan and Vin are okay, then call an ambulance for Buck. Check on Ezra and JD, too . . .” Chris trailed off as the dealer’s words registered.

“A hound always knows, when he doesn’t hear the howling of his packmates, that they’re missing.”

“Shit! Josiah, they’ve got JD and Ezra!”

“How do you figure that?” Josiah’s voice was alarmed, and he stopped in his tracks, looking back at Chris.

“The dealer – she said something about a game. Said she was gonna give us the scent, and we’d have to follow it . . . damn it, Josiah, they’re gonna make us play some twisted game using JD and Ezra as bait! I should have known it was all a set-up!”

“How were you supposed to know that?” Josiah asked, keeping his voice level and calm. “We were all suckered by this, Chris, and it’s no use blaming yourself. You can’t walk on that knee, so I’m going to do what you said, check on Vin and Nathan, and call an ambulance for you and Buck.”

He held up a hand, stilling Chris’s protests. “And yes, you are going to the hospital. I may not have Nathan’s expertise, but even I can tell that knee is dislocated, possibly broken. I’ll personally track down the bastards who took JD and Ezra – if they did take JD and Ezra – and tear them new breathing holes.”

His voice was still perfectly calm, and the threat seemed out of place. Chris blinked, and by the time he’d gathered his senses Josiah was gone.


He hoped he was wrong, that the dealer had just been screwing with his mind. But if they didn’t have something else planned, why let him and Josiah live? Why just mangle Chris’s knee when the dealer could have shot him dead where he stood?

No, as optimistic as Josiah had tried to be, Chris knew that his fears were true. The dealer – and probably the supplier as well, he realised with a sinking heart – had two of his agents at their mercy.

+ + + + + + +

Vin and Josiah returned to the hospital late in the afternoon, having lost the trail deep in the city. Chris was still standing outside the ICU, gazing at Buck and Nathan. Buck’s obvious damage was less extensive than Nathan’s; other than bruises, all he really had to show for his fight was a broken arm, whereas doctors had had to dig bullets out of Nathan’s shoulder, chest and calf. Buck had internal injuries, however, that could still result in complications. The doctors were still worried about both men and had them under constant surveillance, instructing each changing shift to inform them as soon as Nathan and Buck awoke.

Nathan and Vin had been set upon by six armed men outside the warehouse, yet Vin was sure the men hadn’t been trying to kill them. If their attempts had been serious, both he and Nathan would be dead. And he had escaped with nothing more than a wrenched shoulder that was already feeling better thanks to some heavy-duty painkillers that the doctor who had examined him had prescribed. That didn’t help the pain he felt elsewhere, pain that had nothing to do with injuries. He was scared for JD and Ezra, sure, but there was a deeper fear involved: the fear that he was going to lose the man he loved without confessing that love.

’Damn it! Why did I have to wait so damned long? Why did I have to be such a coward with my own feelings?’

Chris turned and looked at Josiah and Vin. “Nothing?”

Vin shook his head. “There’s no trace of them. It looks as though we’re gonna have to wait until they’re ready to contact us.”

“Damn it. How the hell were JD and Ezra taken so damn fast?”

Vin held up a small dart. “Tranqs. I found this where Ezra was supposed to be, an’ there were signs of a struggle in JD’s area.” He hesitated, unsure as to whether he wanted to tell Chris the worst news.

Chris noticed his hesitation. “Spit it out, Vin. What else did you find?”

“Blood,” Vin said reluctantly. “Not a lot of it. But it was there.”

Chris closed his eyes for a moment, then asked, “JD or Ezra?”

“We don’t know for sure it was either of them. It could be their abductors’ blood.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Vin. You know its theirs. Now, tell me: JD or Ezra?”

Vin sighed. Neither option was good, and he hated having to be the one to tell Chris.

“JD. If it was one of them, it was JD’s blood.”

+ + + + + + +

Ezra felt . . . dreadful. His mouth tasted as though something had crawled inside and died, and his head throbbed like that terrible music JD liked to listen to. Not to mention there was a spot on his chest that ached terribly. He wasn’t sure how he’d come to be in this deplorable state, but somebody was going to pay. He suspected that somebody might be Buck and his liquor cabinet.

Now, what were his options this morning? He could get up, but that didn’t sound particularly appealing right now. He could stay in bed – ah, the perfect choice. Sleep would cure the headache and that foul taste in his mouth.

Although now that he thought about it, his bed wasn’t usually this hard. Or cold. And there most definitely shouldn’t be the sweet, coppery scent of blood in his bedroom.

This meant something bad had happened.

Ezra lay still and thought back. He remembered the stakeout – Chris telling him and JD to leave – why? Oh, yes – their cover had been blown. Somehow the dealer and supplier had known they were there.

How odd. He was perfectly calm as he thought about what had probably caused his friends’ deaths. Perhaps that was the cause for all the incongruities – perhaps one or more of the Seven had been killed, and he had gotten completely plastered and passed out in his living room, hitting his head as he fell. That would explain the hardness and chill, his headache and the scent of blood.

No, the taste in his mouth wasn’t the taste that accompanied a hangover. It was decidedly medicinal. And the ache in his shoulder was still unaccounted for.

Was that it? Had he been injured during the bungled stakeout?

No, that was also wrong. Hospital beds might not be entirely comfortable, but they were infinitely more comfortable than this.

He turned his thoughts to what he could hear, feel and smell, not really wanting to open his eyes at the moment. Very well – what could he smell?

Dust. The musty smell that came from water on concrete. Sweat. Blood.

So, he was not at his home. There was no way he would let his place get so dusty. Next, what could he feel?

Not a lot, it turned out. His feet were as far removed from his body as the moon for all he could tell, and his hands were very nearly the same, save for a slight ache in his left hand. He could feel the cool concrete against his cheek as he lay there on his back, his head tilted to one side. A line of roughness on his neck, though he couldn’t for the life of him decide what it was. If he weren’t the type to wear silk ties instead of cheaper ones, he’d think that perhaps his tie was too tight, but silk didn’t feel that rough.

That left what he could hear.

His own breathing, and heartbeat. That was a relief, he thought sardonically. Next – a far-off drip of water. That would explain the musty smell of water on concrete. There was something else – breathing. Not his own. He strained his ears, and made out two separate breathing patterns. Two people, then.

An amused chuckle met his ears.

“Have you quite finished, Mr. Standish?”

Ezra opened his eyes and sat up at the sound of his name. Attempted to sit up, at any rate. A sharp tug at his neck stopped him. He was suddenly aware that his hands were bound in front of him.

“I wouldn’t advise moving too quickly, Mr. Standish, unless you have contrived a way to breathe without the benefit of a windpipe.”

Ezra’s sight was slightly blurred, but he could make out a dark shape seated not too far away. He blinked rapidly, and his vision began to clear. Enough for him to recognise the man as Jake Samuels, the supplier. A man who manufactured more weapons than any man should ever see in his life.

Samuels, a small-boned, almost delicate man with pale hair and cool grey eyes, was seated on a roughly-hewn wooden stool, dressed in casual dark grey slacks and a black shirt. He was leaning forward slightly, looking at Ezra with attentive eyes. There was something else reflected in those eyes – a shape not far from Ezra . . . the shape of another supine man.

Ezra turned his head slightly to peer beside him. A dark-haired form lay not a metre from him, hands bound together in front of him with duct tape, a rope snug around his neck and tied to a large metal ring set in the concrete floor.

Ezra’s heart sank. JD.

He turned back to Samuels, taking care not to move his head enough to jerk the noose around his own neck. The grey-eyed man was watching him impassively.

“I assume there is a purpose to this?” Ezra asked, forcing his voice to stay calm. Samuels smiled.

“Of course, Mr. Standish. My colleague and I are playing a game with your associates. You and Mr. Dunne are the bait.”

“You can’t possibly think that my associates will be taken in by such a flimsy ruse, or allow you to dictate their actions, even under duress.”

“On the contrary, Mr. Standish, I know that they will play this game, because if they don’t they are going to be receiving pieces of yourself and Mr. Dunne in the post for several weeks. Accompanying these packages will be videotapes, so that your associates will know that the two of you are being kept alive and can feel every bit of agony as I remove another body part to send to them. After a few such packages, I am sure they will reconsider their stand.”

Ezra swallowed, forcing the gory images from his mind. Samuels seemed amused by his reaction.

“However, I’m sure it won’t have to come to that. Ashley is providing the first clue as we speak, and I will soon find out whether your friends are willing to play. Until I’m sure, you and Mr. Dunne will have to remain here. I apologise for the lack of comfort, but . . .” he spread his hands in a gesture of mock sympathy and helplessness. Then he stood, brushing off his hands. “If you’ll excuse me, Mr. Standish, I have plans to execute. I’ll return when it’s time for me to contact your friends.”

Ezra watched him stride out, unnerved by the man’s use of the word execute. The heavy click as the door closed told the Southerner that it was locked – not that he was in the position to escape anyhow. He turned his head again to look at JD, and noticed for the first time a white bandage around the young man’s upper arm. He called JD’s name, but received no response save JD’s regular, even breathing. That was something, at least; he seemed to have merely been knocked out, not unconscious from blood loss or drugs.

With a sigh, Ezra turned his attention to the tape binding his hands.

+ + + + + + +

It had been four hours since Ezra and JD had been taken. Vin had bullied Chris into letting the doctors give his knee a proper examination, and their leader was now sitting on the edge of a bed with a bulky bandage around his knee, glowering at Vin. The sharpshooter met his gaze calmly.

“You know I was right to make you see a doctor, Chris. You can’t help Ezra an’ JD with a dislocated knee. Now stop glarin’ at me an’ –”

A nurse, entering the room, interrupted him. “Mr. Larabee, someone called the front desk asking for you. Do you want me to transfer the call here?”

Chris looked startled but nodded. The nurse smiled and returned to the front desk, pressing a button on the telephone. Chris picked up the phone in the room and snapped, “Larabee.”

“Hello, Mr. Larabee. I hope your knee is feeling better,” a male voice said. “I’m afraid Ashley was rather . . . impulsive, this morning. I understand Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Jackson have yet to wake up. My condolences. I know what it is to be at risk of losing a colleague.”

“Enough small talk,” Chris snapped. “Where are JD and Ezra?”

“My, you are focused. A videotape will be arriving in approximately ten minutes. Watch it. It will give you your instructions.”

“Wait! Damn it . . .”

A dial tone filled Chris’s ears. He slammed the phone down and looked at Vin and Josiah.

“That was the bastard who has JD and Ezra. He’s sent us a videotape with our ‘instructions’ on it. Says it’ll be here in ten minutes.”

Josiah immediately left in search of a TV and VCR. Vin asked urgently, “Did he say anythin’ about JD an’ Ezra?”

“No. Nothing.”

Josiah returned a few minutes later with a TV on wheels, having cajoled the nurse into letting him borrow it. He spent the next several minutes hooking up the various cords and fiddling at the back, refusing to make eye contact with either Chris or Vin. They could hear him praying quietly.

Chris got off the bed and began to pace, limping due to the stiffness and pain in his knee. His progress was halted by Vin’s hand on his chest. He looked up and raised his eyebrows.

“You want something, Vin?”

“Yeah,” Vin said firmly, “Sit. Now.”

Chris did so, complaining, “I’m supposed to be the one doing that, Vin. God knows I’ve done it to you and . . . JD . . . often enough.”

“You don’t like being on the receivin’ end, maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to try an’ keep us in bed,” Vin shot back, ignoring Chris’s hesitation at speaking JD’s name. He was as worried about JD and Ezra as Chris was, but he recognised that until the man who held them captive sent instructions, there was little they could do to help their friends. Keeping Chris from flying off the handle and injuring himself further was important, since he’d be no help at all if he was stuck in a hospital room.

A few minutes passed before a youth dressed in a courier’s uniform knocked on the open door. “’Scuse me. Nurse says there’s a Mr. Larabee in here?”

Chris nodded and the boy moved forward with his clipboard, a brown paper package tucked under his arm. “Sign here, please.”

Vin studied the boy, wondering if he was a part of the whole mess. He looked young – seventeen or eighteen, perhaps; a few years younger than JD – and innocent; but then wasn’t that what JD was always complaining about? That he looked so young that nobody would take him seriously as an ATF agent? This boy was different, though, Vin decided; he moved naturally, showing no sign that he knew what he was delivering. He no doubt had no connections to the man holding Ezra and JD, and was just doing what he was paid for.

Chris scribbled his signature on the clipboard and took the package from the courier. The boy smiled and chirped, “Have a nice day!” before leaving the hospital room, nodding politely to the nurses on duty.

God, he reminded Vin of JD. Which just made the sharpshooter want to track down his missing friends all the sooner.

Chris tore open the paper, shoved the unlabeled video into the VCR and pressed ‘play’. Josiah had the foresight to close the door to their room, so that they could view the tape uninterrupted. They had no idea what they would see, and had no desire to upset the nurses or doctors. Chris sat on the edge of the bed, looking as though he was about to explode into action. Josiah took one of the uncomfortable hospital chairs, while Vin paced behind them both, his eyes fixed on the screen.

The screen was blank for an unbearably long moment before flickering to life. Jake Samuels, the supplier, sat on a wooden stool, a strange smile on his face. They could see the man operating the camera reflected in his eyes, but no details were clear. When he spoke, Chris said tightly, “He’s the one who called.”

“Good . . .” he checked his watch, “morning, gentlemen. Although it’s evening while you’re watching this, isn’t it? By now I’m sure Mr. Larabee has informed you as to the situation involving Mr. Dunne and Mr. Standish. Naturally you’re concerned about their wellbeing, so allow me to put your fears to rest.”

The camera panned across a featureless room – concrete floor, whitewashed walls, a faint dripping noise. Vin stopped pacing and canted his upper body slightly forward, as though imprinting every detail in his mind. As the camera stopped, Josiah let out a low moan and Chris thanked God that Buck wasn’t here to see this.

Ezra and JD were both lying on their backs on the concrete floor, their hands duct-taped in front of them. JD’s upper arm was bandaged and a bruise discoloured his right temple. A lopsided circle of blood stained Ezra’s shirt near the shoulder. Both men had rope nooses around their necks, attached to a large metal ring embedded in the floor, and both were clearly unconscious. Ezra’s jacket had been removed, and neither agent wore shoes or socks.

Samuels continued, “As you can see, Mr. Dunne and Mr. Standish are relatively unharmed, aside from injuries received while we were accosting them. That can – and will – change if you decide to ignore what I tell you and attempt to locate your associates on your own. If you disobey my instructions, you will be receiving parts of Mr. Standish and Mr. Dunne for the next several weeks. And I will keep them alive until the time I send you their heads.”

Chris swallowed and closed his eyes for a moment, trying not to imagine the sounds of Ezra and JD screaming as Samuels hacked off parts of them. The man on the video chuckled, as though he could see Chris’s reaction.

“I’m sure that has convinced you to cooperate with me. Now, these are your first instructions. There is a certain man living in this city that I wish to get in contact with. His name is Jason Cummerford. You have until midnight tonight – which, I believe, is six hours away – to locate him. A telephone number, an address, an email, I don’t care what. You will find a way for me to contact Jason Cummerford. At precisely midnight, you will be at Mr. Tanner’s apartment. I will contact you there, to take the information and to give you further instructions.”

The camera panned back to the still-unconscious forms of Ezra and JD as Samuels added, “And gentlemen, don’t even think of trying to find us. You may notify the proper authorities, if it makes you happy, but they will be unable to find me either. The only way you will know that your friends will continue to be in one piece is if you obey my orders perfectly. And do take care of Mr. Jackson and Mr. Wilmington. If you violate my instructions, you will need them to prevent your team being named the Three Musketeers.”