Ezra struggled with the tape around his wrists until his skin was raw and
bleeding. Samuels had been gone for the better half of the day Ezra
had kept track of the passing time, since Samuels hadnt thought to
take his watch but try as he might, he couldnt budge the tape
wrapped around tightly his wrists. Even his teeth hadnt been able to
rip the tape, though he suspected his orthodontist would be rather angry
with him at his next appointment.
When he stopped fighting the tape, he noticed JD watching him with tired
eyes. Whatre you doing, Ezra?
I am attempting to facilitate our escape, Ezra replied, letting
his hands fall back down. His arms were sore, and his efforts had caused
the rope around his neck to chafe his skin. He could feel a slow, warm trickle
of blood down the side of his neck, and the abraded skin beneath the rope
Howd we get caught? JD asked. The note of confusion in
his voice alarmed Ezra. He glanced sharply at JD and was concerned to see
the slight glaze of his eyes, the dilated pupils.
Judging from the ache in my shoulder and the blood on my shirt, I seem
to have been neutralised though the utilization of a tranquiliser dart. Do
you recall how you were captured? Ezra asked, keeping the concern from
his voice. It wouldnt do JD any good to know that Ezra was worried
I heard a noise behind me, JD replied slowly. I guess they
must have hit me with something . . . my head kinda hurts.
What happened to your arm?
JD turned his head far enough to see his arm, wincing at the scrape of the
rough rope over his skin. He seemed surprised at the bandage.
Not sure. I guess I got shot . . . cant feel it, though. I think
they mightve given me something.
A local anaesthetic, actually, Mr. Dunne.
Ezra and JD started at the unexpected voice, coming from behind them. Samuels
strode into view, followed by the dealer Ashley Caine and one
large man who was probably Samuelss remaining bodyguard. Caine was
a taller, stronger-looking person than Samuels, though she seemed somehow
less dangerous. That is, until Ezra saw her eyes.
A shudder ran through the Southerner. Caines eyes were the eyes of
Samuels hooked the stool with his leg and smoothly sat down, gesturing for
Caine to do the same. The dealer shook her head, pacing the width of the
room, moving in and out of Ezras sight. It made Ezra nervous, not being
able to keep his eyes on the mad-eyed woman.
Samuels smiled. Its nearly midnight, gentlemen. Soon Ill
be contacting your friends to make sure theyve procured the information
theyve been spending the past six hours running around like chickens
with their heads cut off to get for me. Id hate for that to have been
a show, as it means Ill be forced to show them what happens when they
disobey my orders. Ill be giving them their new instructions, and if
theyve done as I asked, theyll be allowed to speak to you. Before
you get any ideas, Ashley is going to be here the entire time, and she does
so love to use that gun of hers.
Ezra felt the noose around his neck tighten and he tensed apprehensively.
Miraculously, the rope loosened and went slack. Samuels added, You
and Mr. Dunne have been lying here on a cold concrete floor for the better
part of ten hours. Thought wed let you stretch your legs and
take care of some business. Im sure you know what I mean. Mikhail here
will take you to the bathroom one at a time.
Hands on his shoulders hauled Ezra to his feet, and the noose tightened once
again. He turned his head slightly and saw the end of the rope in the
guards hands, reminding him uncomfortably of a dogs leash. The
muzzle of a gun pressed into the base of his neck, urging him forward. He
glanced at JD, still lying flat on his back, and the younger man forced a
smile. The guard nudged Ezra with the gun again, and the Southerner took
a step towards the door that Samuels had indicated. The concrete was freezing
against the soles of his feet it explained why he couldnt feel
his feet earlier. The chill had sunk bone-deep, making his steps awkward.
The guard removed his gun from Ezras neck when they reached the door.
He pushed Ezra forward and said, Youve got five minutes.
Ezra seized what he hoped was an opportunity to get free, holding up his
hands. This is going to be awkward with my hands bound like this.
The guard looked bored. Youll manage. Go. Now.
Sighing, Ezra entered the small room and kicked the door closed behind him.
They afforded him that much privacy, at least. The room was utilitarian;
a shower in one corner, the toilet in another, a sink between them. He was
grateful for the opportunity to make use of the bathroom, however; ten hours
was a long time for any man to resist the call of nature.
Unzipping his pants was difficult with his hands bound, even though they
were at least in front of him. Washing his hands was even more difficult,
especially since the soap was extremely slippery and threatened to escape
several times. He eventually managed to turn the taps back off and dry his
hands on his thighs before knocking on the door. The guard pulled it open
and took hold of the rope again, jerking Ezra back to the larger room.
The new perspective of the room didnt give Ezra any inspiration as
to how they could escape. Windowless, it could have been below the ground
or ten floors up for all he knew. He didnt have long to scrutinise
his surroundings before the guard took him to one wall, where more metal
rings were embedded in the plaster. He jerked the gun at Ezra and said,
Ezra obeyed, seeing no other option. The man tied the end of Ezras
leash to one of the rings, checking the knot carefully before
moving to where JD was and untying the younger man. JD received the same
treatment as Ezra escorted to the bathroom at gunpoint and given five
minutes privacy before he, too, was brought to the wall and
tied in a sitting position. It was infinitely better than being forced to
lie prone, but neither man could move far without the noose around his neck
jerking him up short.
Samuels hadnt moved in the short time Ezra was out of the room, but
Caine was still prowling the room. Now that he could see more of the room,
Ezra could see a table with a new-looking phone sitting on it. Samuels looked
at his watch and said, Well, Id say its time.
He dialed a number and sat back to wait. The phone was answered on the first
ring, and a familiar voice snapped, Larabee.
Mr. Larabee. Good to see that you can follow instructions. I trust
Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Jackson are still with us?
Cut the crap, Samuels. Where are my men?
Samuels laughed. All in good time, Mr. Larabee. Did you get my
Yes. Ezra could hear Chriss frustration and anger
in that single word. Now let me talk to my agents.
Very well. Samuels looked at JD. Say hello to your friends,
JD? You okay?
JD licked his lips and answered, Im okay, Chris. Got a headache,
and my feet are kinda cold, but nothing bad.
They havent hurt you or Ez? Chris pressed.
Were okay, JD repeated. Youre gonna give yourself
a heart attack, Chris.
Samuels turned his gaze to Ezra. And now Mr. Standish.
Ezra. You all right? Ezra could hear a thousand questions
in that one query, not the least of which was where are you and how
can I get you out? Unfortunately, he had no idea how to answer the
unspoken queries and instead answered the spoken one.
I am as well as can be expected, Mr. Larabee, as is Mr. Dunne.
Circumstances have conspired to make our situation somewhat less than
comfortable, but I am confident that you and our other friends will presently
be rectifying that situation.
Vin muttered in the background, Geez, Ezra, you couldnt just
say Im okay, get us out of here?
Ezras mind was only half on what he could hear through the telephone;
he was also watching Caine, who was steadily coming closer during her pacing.
She was tapping a knife against her thigh as she walked, and her eyes were
fixed on the two captives.
Samuels had turned back to the phone, turning his back on the captives.
Now, Mr. Larabee, you have obtained the information I require. Your
next exercise is as follows. There is a park downtown, with a fountain in
the middle. Young men and women enjoy congregating there, he said,
sounding far older than his twenty-odd years. Tomorrow at nine a.m.,
Mr. Tanner will take the information to this park, alone. If either you or
Mr. Sanchez leaves the apartment, I will take it as a violation of my
instructions and act in kind.
Ezra eyed Caine nervously. The woman was barely ten steps away from them.
Samuels continued, Mr. Tanner will see a young man sitting by the fountain.
Undoubtedly he will be the only person his age awake at the time, so Mr.
Tanner should have no problems locating him. He will have blonde hair, and
will be wearing jeans and a leather jacket. Mr. Tanner will give the information
to him, receive an envelope in return and go back to the apartment. Within
the envelope will be your next set of instructions.
Caine knelt beside JD and raised the knife. She ran the blade down JDs
jaw. JD shuddered and pulled away from Caine, but the woman grabbed JDs
chin in her free hand and pressed the knife deeper. Droplets of blood formed
around the sharp blade, eliciting a whimper from JD. Ezra hissed, Leave
him alone, Caine!
The weapons dealer turned to Ezra, her eyes dangerously hard.
Dogs shouldnt bark at their owner, she snapped, moving
with lightning speed and striking the Southerner hard. Ezra couldnt
help the exclamation of pain that escaped his lips as he was sent sprawling
and jerked up short by the rope around his neck. Through the ringing in his
ears, he vaguely heard JD cry out in alarm, and Chriss furious voice
across the line.
What the hell are you doing to them, Samuels?
The rope, pulled tight by Ezras momentum, made it hard to breathe.
He gasped for breath, shocked by the harshness of the choking sounds that
escaped his throat, and clawed at the rope with his bound hands. Caine loomed
over him, knife in hand, and aimed a kick at his chest, snapping, Some
beasts just have to be taught how to behave.
Unable to do much to defend himself, Ezra raised his hands to protect his
head and tried to avoid the worst blows, still struggling to breathe as the
rope dug into his flesh, feeling as though it was ripping right through his
+ + + + + + +
What the hell are you doing to them, Samuels? Chris demanded,
hearing Ezras pained outcry and JDs alarmed protest. Choking
sounds came across the line, and the sound of something hard connecting with
flesh. The three listening ATF agents could hear Ezra strangling, could hear
JD yelling at Caine.
Ashley! We need them alive, in case you hadnt
remembered, Samuels said acidly, apparently talking to someone
else in the room with him, Ezra and JD. The sounds of blows stopped, though
they could still hear Ezras painful struggle to breathe. JDs
panicked voice came over the line.
Samuels, you gotta let me help him!
Apparently Samuels acceded, because the next thing they heard was JD saying,
Cmon, Ezra. You can breathe now. Samuels, let me take this
fucking noose off him!
Vin had frozen at the word noose. Chris snarled, Samuels!
Damn you, if one of my agents is hurt there will be retribution!
Calm down, Mr. Larabee. My associate got a little over-enthusiastic
in remonstrating with Mr. Standish. Ashley feels that your friends
words were . . . impolite. Mr. Standish will be all right.
Hed damn well better be.
Any damage will be superficial. Now, Mr. Larabee, I recall were
discussing your next instructions.
Vin spoke up, swallowing his horror at the thought of JD and Ezra with nooses
around their necks. I take the information to a guy waitin by
the fountain in the park. Nine a.m. Chris an Josiah stay here. He gives
me new instructions. I come back here. Is that about right?
Samuels chuckled, and Chris felt a hot surge of anger. You listen
well, Mr. Tanner. Yes, that is right. Dont be late. My young man
wont wait forever, and Id hate to have to harm your friends because
of your tardiness.
Dont worry. Ill be on time, Vin said, speaking more
to JD and Ezra than to Samuels, hoping that his friends could hear him.
Im sure you will, Mr. Tanner. That is the extent of your
instructions for tonight, gentlemen. I hope that when I contact you again
I wont have to let you hear the pain of your friends.
Wait! Let me talk to JD or Ezra . . . make sure theyre really
okay, Chris pleaded, hating the note of desperation in his voice. But
he couldnt get Ezras choked cry out of his head, or JDs
panicked voice. Samuels sighed.
I suppose that is a reasonable request. Mr. Dunne, kindly assure
your employer that you and Mr. Standish are both still with us.
We are, no thanks to you and your damned associate,
JD said. If Ezras hurt bad, there wont be anything left
for Chris to deal with by the time Im done.
Vin moved forward. JD? What happened there?
Caine . . . she came over and started running a knife down my face.
Cut me a little. Ezra yelled at her to stop, and Caine went mental. Attacked
Ezra. Samuels got her to stop, but Ezras hurt pretty bad. Hes
Does he have any head injuries? Vin asked. JD paused, obviously
checking Ezra, then answered.
Dont think so. Thats something, at least. I sure wish
Nathan was here, though.
There was an uncomfortable silence. Then JD spoke again, his voice small.
Vin? I heard Chris, and now you. Where are Josiah and Nathan? And
Josiahs right here, Vin told the younger man, glancing
uneasily at Chris. Buck an Nathan . . . Buck an Nathan
were hurt durin the bust.
Jesus! Samuels, scratch what I said before, Chris aint getting
any joy from beating up on you. Im gonna claim that right for
JDs voice, while steady and even, was full of hate and fear. Vin said
hastily, The doctors think theyre gonna be okay, though. Dont
They better be okay, JD said threateningly, speaking
more to Samuels than Vin. If one of those men dies, theres
no place thatll hide you.
Thats quite enough, Mr. Dunne, Samuels snapped. I
gave orders for your associates to be hurt but not fatally, and anyone who
disobeyed those orders will be punished. I do not take kindly to threats.
Mr. Larabee, that will have to satisfy your concern. This call is
The dial tone was loud in the silence. Chris broke the silence by throwing
the receiver and bursting into a string of curses, storming to the other
side of the room and hitting the wall. His hand went through the plaster,
sending a small explosion of plaster flakes out from the wall.
Vin sighed and went to his friend, taking Chriss hand and examining
it for damage. The knuckles were bleeding sluggishly and the back of
Chriss hand was scraped, but the damage didnt seem too bad. He
glanced at Josiah. The other man was putting the information for Samuels
in a large envelope, seemingly calm, but the tension of his large shoulders
made it clear that he was just as angry as Chris was. Come to think of it,
smashing a wall seemed like a good idea to Vin as well. But it wouldnt
help matters any.
Chris turned. Whats that?
Hoops. Were just jumpin through his goddamned hoops.
+ + + + + + +
The sky was brightening in the east when Vin left the apartment. He carried
the large envelope with him, containing the information they intended to
It was a tricky plan that they were hoping to pull off. Even after almost
six hours of looking, utilising the most advanced technology they had available,
theyd been unable to find anyone in the city going by the name of Jason
Cummerford. So, in lieu of actual information, Chris had decided that they
would fabricate the information. Hed contacted a friend, asking him
to pose as Jason Cummerford in case Samuels did try to get in contact.
Theyd left out an actual address, but had created a false email account
and lent the man Josiahs cell phone, since Josiah rarely used it anyway.
Vin had no idea if it was going to work, but he sure as hell hoped so. For
JD and Ezras sake if not their own.
It was still a few hours until he had to meet the messenger at the fountain.
Hed left a note for Chris and Josiah, not wanting them to worry, but
hed been going stir crazy in the apartment. He wasnt used to
staying indoors so much. So instead of hanging around his apartment and quietly
going mad, he was outside, wandering around like some sort of wayward spirit.
But at least he was moving, not stuck somewhere. Not like JD and Ezra.
Fuck. Everything was making him think about JD and Ezra. He felt guilty that
they were the ones to be taken even though Samuels had probably targeted
them specifically because he should have been in the warehouse providing
backup. He felt guilty that Nathan had been hurt so badly; he should have
been watching the older mans back. He knew that these feelings of guilt
were useless and that there hadnt been a thing he could have done to
change what happened. He knew that Chris and Josiah probably felt as guilty
as he did. He also knew that knowing that didnt make him feel any better.
And knowing that his indecision might have cost him the chance to confess
his true feelings . . . that just about made him feel worse than hed
ever felt before.
He, Chris and Josiah had talked about a plan of action the night before,
after Samuels had hung up on them. Hearing Ezra strangling, JDs panic,
had made them determined to find their missing friends before the next night
fell. Vin had gone to the ATF office explaining his presence there
to the security guard had been awkward and picked up some of the
surveillance equipment Ezra had had shipped in several weeks ago, from one
of those many contacts of his. None of the other agents knew where the equipment
had come from, but JD had been in raptures about how high-tech and
cool the stuff was. Ezra had given them a demonstration of one
of the bugs, and theyd all been impressed with its range and ability
to pick up even the smallest noises.
Vin had taken a few of the bugs and some other equipment before heading back
to his apartment. Hed been tempted to use his stealth to avoid the
security guard, but figured the man might get suspicious if he didnt
see Vin leaving. Hed gone out the same way he entered, grinning a goodnight
to the guard on his way, and promptly returned to the apartment where he
found Chris and Josiah practically biting their fingers off with nervousness.
Apparently theyd thought Samuels might try to take Vin as well.
His cell phone rang ten minutes before he was due at the fountain. He answered
and had to hold the phone away from his ear to avoid being deafened by
Chriss furious diatribe.
Chris, calm down. Im okay, I just had to get out. I was going
crazy there, Vin explained, knowing that it was useless. Chris in this
sort of mood wasnt the most reasonable man around.
You put yourself in danger, and probably JD and Ezra as
well! Chris shouted. We agreed that we wouldnt take
any unnecessary risks.
An I didnt. Samuels isnt interested in capturin
me, Chris. Hes got the bait he needs, now he wants the rest of us to
keep jumpin through his hoops. If he wanted to capture me, he could
have done it at any time yesterday. I was alone or as near to it as
to make no difference when Nathan was injured yesterday, an
when Josiah an me were out lookin for Ezra an JD. He
doesnt want any more bait, Chris.
You cant know that for sure. Do you have any idea how
uninformative that note you left was? Josiah and I had no idea whether
youd just gone out for coffee or had been forced to write it at
Vin sighed. Chris, Im gonna be late if you keep yellin
at me. Why dont we just say that Im ashamed of myself an
leave it at that? Ill take a dressin-down later, but right now
we have other things to worry bout.
He hung up, knowing that Chris would have his head later. Glancing at his
watch, he realised that hed been telling Chris the truth; it was now
five minutes before nine. Luckily his wanderings had taken him fairly close
to the park, and the remaining distance was easily traveled in less than
He arrived at the fountain and looked around. A youth with longish blonde
hair sat on the edge of the fountain. He wore jeans and a battered leather
jacket, and had both hands stuffed in his pockets. Vin watched him for a
moment before approaching; something about the boy struck him as odd. Finally,
he walked forward.
The young man looked up. Are you Vin Tanner? he asked. His accent
was odd; he spoke slower than normal, and with different emphasis on vowel
and consonant sounds. He was small, too, looking far younger than what Vin
figured had to be eighteen or nineteen.
Yeah, Im Tanner. You the kid Im supposed to give this
information to? he asked, his voice harsher than hed intended.
The young man snickered slightly, as though amused by Vins anger.
Yeah. You got it here?
Vin held up the envelope. Tell me one thing. Why the hell did someone
as young as you get involved with Samuels?
The youth chuckled again. Had a slight misunderstanding with the police
back home. Jake was there, stopped them from beating the shit outta me because
I was too mouthy for my own good. I figured I owed him.
So why do you stay with him?
Thats two things, Mr. Tanner. You only said to tell you one thing.
Now give me the envelope and Ill take it back to Jake. Then youll
get your new instructions.
Vin handed him the envelope, frustrated that he wasnt going to be able
to appeal to the kids better nature. The youth nodded and put the envelope
in his bag. He got up and headed over to a motorcycle, calling over his shoulder,
Be seeing you, Mr. Tanner.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra slept late, realising even in his unconscious state that waking held
little joy that day. It reached the point, however, when his body refused
to stay unconscious, and he reluctantly returned to consciousness.
His torso and shoulders ached from the assault by Caine the day before, and
his throat felt as though hed been stepped on by a football player.
His hands were still taped, but oddly he couldnt feel the harsh rope
against his neck. His body was still lying on concrete, but his head rested
on something softer and rather warm.
He opened his eyes to see JD looking down at him, absentmindedly kneading
his sore shoulders gently, soothing the aching muscles. Ezra realised that
his head was resting on JDs legs, and that the noose which had been
strangling him yesterday lay discarded, several metres away. The inside of
the rope was coated with dried blood, and Ezra unconsciously moved his hands
up to his throat, touching the raw skin. JD still wore the noose around his
neck, though it was slightly looser than it had been yesterday. The younger
man smiled tiredly.
I was wondering when you were gonna wake up. Howre you
As though I attempted to best Josiah in a fight, Ezra replied,
his voice hoarse and painful. He began to sit up, but the abused muscles
in his abdomen and back protested the movement so fiercely that he gasped
in pain and fell back onto JDs legs. JD moved his careful massaging
to Ezras stomach, using just enough pressure to ease the pain a little.
Easy there. I dont think youre in any shape to be moving
around right now. You think you can handle some food, or is your throat too
How did you contrive to find food, Mr. Dunne? Ezra asked. After
ending the call with Chris the night earlier, Samuels had proceeded to get
very drunk with Caine, leaving the hulking guard to watch over the captives.
That their captor would supply them with food or water was a surprise; usually
people who were off their faces didnt have that much foresight.
I asked one of the guards to get something for us, JD replied,
looking uncomfortable. He shifted slightly, tugging his shirt down, and snagged
a plastic bag that sat not far away, the movement clumsy with his hands still
bound. Opening it, he took out paper bags from which exuded the familiar
smell of fast food.
Huh. He went to a McDonalds to pick us up breakfast, JD muttered,
opening one of the bags and taking out a paper-wrapped object. I know
its not what you normally eat, Ez, but you think you can manage
Ezra took a small bite of the muffin-type thing that JD handed to
him and swallowed, choking down a scream as the food scraped his tortured
throat. He carefully rewrapped and replaced the item in the paper bag, shaking
Im afraid my throat seems to be opposed to the idea of anything
solid, he said regretfully. It had been over twelve hours since
he last ate, and the smell of the fast food, though certainly not something
he would normally partake of, was torture.
JD frowned and looked in the plastic bag again. The guard musta figured
that youd be too sore to eat much. He brought some orange juice.
That was easier to swallow, though the very act of contracting the muscles
in his throat made Ezra want to scream. JD wolfed down his portion of the
food and leaned back against the wall to watch Ezra drink, concern still
clear on his young face.
Ez? The pain gets too bad, you tell me, yeah? Ill ask the guard
to bring something for it.
Ezra frowned. You seem to have a lot of faith in this guards
kind-heartedness, Mr. Dunne.
JD looked down. Hell get us what I ask for.
Ezra puzzled over those words and came to an alarming conclusion. You
promised him something in return for assistance?
JD sighed. Yeah.
What did you promise him?
Nothing I wasnt prepared to give, JD insisted, shifting
again, tugging his shirt down. Ezra caught the motion and swiftly pulled
the garment up, baring JDs stomach.
Three cuts scored the skin, obviously no more than two or three hours old.
They werent large enough to be dangerous, but were clearly painful.
JD pushed Ezras hands away and pulled his shirt down over the cuts,
Damn it, Ez, you werent supposed to see that.
You shouldnt have done that, JD. It wasnt worth it,
Ezra snapped, forgetting to use what Buck termed five-dollar words
in his concern for JD. Promise you wont let that guard touch
JD bit his lip. I cant, Ez. The guy says that if I ask for anything
even if it isnt from him hell take it as a request.
Thats why he cut me three times this morning. Once for asking Samuels
to let me help you, once for asking for your noose to be removed and once
for asking him to bring some food for us.
Ezra was going to reply, but his head really hurt. His throat hurt,
too. He vaguely remembered JD insisting that Ezra tell him if the pain got
this bad, but he also remembered that JD had made a deal with the guard,
and that if JD asked for something the guard would cut him again. Besides,
JD was talking to the boy. And Ezra didnt really want to talk, because
his throat hurt so much.
Ezra blinked. Why were there black areas in his vision? That wasnt
normal, was it? And why was his mind so fuzzy? He couldnt focus on
anything. He tried to bring his hands up to his face to rub the soreness
from his temples, but for some reason his limbs wouldnt obey his commands.
He managed to choke out, JD.
The younger man turned to him immediately. Ez? Whats wrong?
Not . . . feeling too . . . good.
JDs worried face filled his vision, but the younger mans visage
was marred with the growing black spots. JD waved his hand in front of
Ezras eyes and frowned when he saw the little response that his action
Ez? Your head hurting you?
Ezra managed a small nod, though the movement sent a shockwave of pain through
his head. His entire body was aching. Perhaps if he slept, he would feel
better in the morning. He let his eyes close.
Shit! Ez, dont go to sleep. Nate always says to make sure a patient
with a head injury stays awake, in case of a concussion or brain injury,
JD rattled off, his voice rising with panic. Samuels, youve got
this place bugged, get a damn doctor in here! You have to know that if Ez
. . . Chris and Vinll kill you if Ez is hurt bad. Please, get some
help for him!
The door opened an agonisingly long five minutes later and Samuels entered,
followed by one of the guards and a tall, well-dressed man carrying a briefcase.
Samuels looked down at Ezra with concern in his eyes and said to the man,
See to him, doctor. I need them alive.
The doctor knelt beside Ezra and began examining him, running his hands over
the bruises on his chest and stomach to check for internal bleeding. His
touch was firmer than was comfortable on the tender areas and JD had to stop
himself from lashing out at the man when Ezra let out soft moans of pain
and pushed the doctor away with his bound hands. JD didnt like this
man who was working for Samuels, but he realised that the doctor was Ezras
only chance for medical treatment and that he had to calm his friend so that
the doctor could find out what was wrong with him.
He gently pulled Ezra onto his lap, cradling the wounded mans shoulders
and stroking gently, smoothing the pain from his muscles. He glanced at the
doctor, who nodded his thanks and continued his examination, before turning
his attention back to Ezra. He began to speak softly, remembering the way
Buck always soothed him when he was panicked in the ER or injured on an
Its okay, Ez. The doctor needs to check whether youre bleeding
inside, and thats gonna hurt a little bit, but hell fix you up
once hes done. Just relax.
He let his words be accompanied by calm strokes of his hands, though the
movement was difficult with his wrists still bound. He looked at Samuels;
the man had said he needed his captives alive. There might be a chance that
JD would get what he was about to ask for.
Can you please take this off? he asked, holding up his bound
wrists. The door to the room is locked, and Im not gonna run
and leave Ezra here when hes injured. Im still wearing the noose,
and you can fix it so I cant get it off, but I need my hands if Im
gonna be able to help Ez and keep him calm.
Samuels tugged at his lower lip thoughtfully, his eye son JD and Ezra. The
doctor continued working, and every now and then Ezra moaned again, too out
of it to do more than weakly push at the man.
Samuels, please. Hes gonna be disoriented, and if he wakes up
and his wrists are still tied, hes gonna panic and hurt himself. The
same if he sees my wrists taped.
Samuels nodded. Very well. Ill be taking steps, however.
Fine, just get this tape off of us.
The weapon supplier knelt and pulled out a pocketknife. JD held Ezras
arms steady as Samuels cut through the duct tape on the injured mans
wrists, then held still as Samuels gave him the same treatment. The tip of
the knife nicked his wrist, but the injury was barely worth looking at.
JD shifted slightly, maneuvering Ezra into a more comfortable position. He
used one hand to gently stroke Ezras hair while the other massaged
feeling back into his hands, carefully skirting the torn skin from where
Ezra had fought the tape the day before.
The doctor moved on to examining Ezras head, fingers moving deftly
through the agents hair to search for hidden head wounds. He jerked
suddenly and his hands came away smeared with blood.
JD inhaled sharply. Head wounds were often deceptively mild, or so Nathan
had told him, hiding damage inside. He didnt know how hed missed
the injury in his earlier examination of his fellow agent, but if it had
been bleeding since the night before . . . he looked at the place where Ezra
had been lying and bit his lip. There was blood; not a lot of it, but the
wound had obviously reopened during the night.
The doctor took some instruments from his briefcase and looked at JD. Keep
him still. Im going to clean the head injury; hopefully it wont
get infected. His brain is probably swollen, which would account for his
dizziness and lack of lucidity. Ill need to keep pressure on the injury
to stop the bleeding, but its not large enough to require much care.
The possibility of him bleeding into his brain is what worries me.
How can you prevent that? Samuels demanded. The doctor spread
his hands helplessly.
I cant. If its happened, theres nothing I can do
about it. I wouldnt keep him in this room, though; a head injury requires
rest and warmth, neither of which are to be found here.
Samuels tugged at his lip again. All right. Ill have him moved.
Mr. Dunne, I expect youll want to be with your injured comrade so I
will allow that as well, after Ive taken some precautions against your
causing trouble. Stefan, please go fetch Mikhail and Gregor. You and Gregor
can help the doctor take Mr. Standish to his new room. Mr. Dunne, youll
be coming with Mikhail and I for a few moments. Then Ill allow you
to return to your friend.
JD leaned down and spoke to Ezra. The docs gonna take you to
a more comfortable room now, Ez. I gotta go somewhere else, but Ill
be back soon, I promise.
The other agent opened his eyes and sought out JDs face. Mr.
Dunne . . . dont do anything . . . foolish.
JD chuckled, despite their situation. Sure thing, Ez. I wont
do anything you wouldnt do.
Then you are . . . not restricted . . . much.
JD patted Ezras shoulder. You still got a sense of humour, so
you cant be injured that bad. Im gonna go now, but Ill
be back before you know it.
He stood up and looked at Samuels. The supplier nodded to one of the guards
whod returned with Stefan and the man moved behind JD, a strip of cloth
in his hands. JD knew what was coming, but it was still a shock to have the
cloth wrapped around his head, over his eyes, and tied firmly. Samuels spoke.
Come with me, Mr. Dunne. Mikhail will make sure you dont bump
into anything or trip on anything.
He felt hands grip his shoulders, and a tug at his neck as Samuels evidently
began to walk. Ezra cried out in alarm, and JD automatically turned.
Its okay, Ez. Ill be back soon.
He was guided out of the room and along a corridor. Echoes gave him the
impression that it was a very long, very empty corridor and the chill in
the air hinted at plain walls and a tile floor. His bare feet hit what felt
like tile floor; it was cold and smooth enough to be tile, anyway. He was
uncomfortably reminded of movies where you see the doomed man being walked
down a long, empty corridor, towards his execution.
Another door opened, and he was guided inside. The guard Mikhail,
Samuels had called him had his shoulders in a grip that seemed
unnecessarily hard. Mikhail was the guard hed made his deal with, JD
recalled. JDs request for help for Ezra meant another cut on his stomach
two, if the man counted JDs request to have their hands freed,
which he undoubtedly did. That made five.
He was pushed into a chair, and after a few minutes the blindfold was removed.
Samuels stood in front of a large stainless steel cabinet, searching for
something in a deep drawer. Mikhails hands were still on JDs
shoulders, and the ATF agent could feel the guards breath on the back
of his neck, making his hair move and tickle his ear. Mikhail whispered,
Five, Agent. You owe me two more now.
JD nodded slightly, figuring that disagreeing with the man was probably a
bad idea. Mikhail, unlike Samuels, only ever addressed the captives as
Agent, and even those words were rare; he usually just glowered.
JD got the impression that Mikhail had been doing this for a lot longer than
Samuelss age implied.
Samuels turned back around, a strange contraption in his hand. A leather
collar with metal ribbing, and a lock set flush with the leather at the back.
The man demonstrated how the lock worked; the collar tightened before coming
apart. Two patches were set into the collar on the inside, so that theyd
be touching skin when the collar was on, and a small metal box was attached
to the front. In his other hands, Samuels held a small device that looked
too much like a remote detonator for JDs comfort.
This is what youre going to wear, to ensure your cooperation
and that of Mr. Standish. His throat is obviously too sore to take a noose
or collar, so Im afraid you will have to be my insurance against his
misbehaviour, Samuels explained. He touched the patched. These
are attached to small tubes within the collar, touching the metal ribbing
which JD now saw was hollow, which are in turn fed into this,
touching the box. Inside the box is a chemical I had made up several
years ago. Its symptoms are much like those of appendicitis, as it effects
the abdominal organs more than the heart or brain, until the last days. The
death that results from a full dose is often quite lingering, and always
The box contains enough of the chemical to dose a small army. This
device is the remote, through which I can release as much of the chemical
as I see fit. A smaller dose will cause quite intense abdominal pain that
will last for several hours. If you or Mr. Standish does something that I
feel needs to stop, you will know. And I will expect you to rectify your
The collar also has a failsafe. Should someone attempt to pick the
lock, the box will release a full dose of the chemical. In that eventuality,
your death would take something in excess of five days. The final day will
be the worst.
JD swallowed, looking at the deceptively thin-looking collar in Samuelss
hands. It was the only way hed be able to keep them untied, though,
and quite possibly it would mean Samuels would accede to other requests.
Besides, when Chris, Vin and Josiah came to rescue him and Ezra, they could
take the key from Samuels and get the contraption off.
He held still as Samuels approached, hardening his resolve. He had to do
this, for Ezras sake as well as his own. But as that collar came closer,
all he could see was the small metal box that held enough deadly chemical
to kill him a hundred times over. His will crumbled and he tried to pull
away, the rope at his neck pulling tight as he moved his head.
Mikhails left hand tightened on JDs shoulder as his right one
lifted and came into view, armed with a knife. The knife dipped towards
JDs neck and he cried out involuntarily at the touch of cold steel
to his skin, then relaxed as he realised Mikhail was only severing the rope,
then returning the knife to wherever he kept it.
And all the while that collar kept getting closer. JD would swear Samuels
was approaching as slowly as possible to draw out the torture.
Mikhail dug his fingers into JDs wounded arm. As a wave of agony washed
over him, he was helpless to do anything but gasp at the intensity of the
pain. Blackness swamped his vision for a few moments, and he barely felt
the touch of the leather and metal on his throat, so deep was the pain. He
vaguely heard Samuels speak.
That is enough, Mikhail. I need him to be able to tell me if it gets
too tight for him to breathe properly.
The cruel fingers were removed from his injured arm, and JD let himself slump
back against the chair, gasping as the pain receded. His vision cleared,
and Samuels was standing in front of him, his hands at JDs throat
on the leather collar.
Mr. Dunne, I am going to tighten the collar. I want you to tell me
when it gets too tight for you to breathe easily.
JD nodded, afraid that if he spoke his voice would give away his fear. Samuels
moved behind him Thats right, the lock is at the back,
JD remembered and the leather began tightening. Mikhail kept his hands
firm on JDs shoulders, as if expecting the agent to try and escape.
The metal was cold on his skin, the leather rough and slightly irritating.
Samuels kept tightening the collar until JD gasped, Stop, please.
Samuels loosened it a tiny bit and JD could breathe normally again. He heard
the click as Samuels locked it around his neck, and then the man moved around
to stand in front of JD again. He took out his pocket knife and took JDs
chin in his hand, lifting the agents head so that he could see his
throat better, and ran the knife along the edge of the leather. He held the
flat of the blade against JDs skin and pressed slightly, until beads
of blood popped up around the blade and JD gasped in surprise. Then he put
the knife away and smiled. Good. A knife wont fit below the leather
without cutting into you, so theres no chance that those dermal patches
can be removed. Now, Mr. Dunne, I will return you to your friend. But remember,
if you or he does anything out of line, you will know first-hand what that
chemical can do.