Chris broke a few traffic laws getting to the hotel, but he made it
to the Hilton in twelve minutes. "Where's your manager?" he
barked at the front desk clerk as he stormed into the lobby.
"He's on vacation, sir," the scrawny teenager stammered.
"Is there anything I can-"
"ATF. I need to see your security video now!" He took out
his badge and flashed it at the confused clerk.
"Um, okay. Uh, our security chief is in a conference right now,
but I can call the security booth and let them know you're coming."
"Fine. Where is it?"
The clerk led Larabee to a door marked "employees only" and
took a key out of his pocket to unlock it. "Down that hallway and
take a left at the end of it. Third door on your right is the security
Larabee was down the hallway in a flash.
The rent-a-cop posted at the security booth had just gotten the phone
call from the front desk warning him of Larabee's impending arrival
when the ATF agent burst in. He looked up from the wall of monitors
with a surprised expression. "The police have already-" he
Chris had no time for this. "I need last night's footage of the
northwest corner on the second floor of the parking garage," he
The security man scratched his head in puzzlement. "We don't have
a camera in- oh, that's right! It was just installed a couple weeks
ago. It wasn't compatible with our current system. We had to run it
to Kevin Smith's office."
"Where's that?" Chris asked impatiently.
"Back the way you came, past the first hallway, fourth door on
the left. He's on vacation but I have a key somewhere . . ." He
started fumbling with a keychain as big as Larabee's head.
"Forget it." Chris ran back down the hall until he came to
a door with Kevin Smith's name on it. Using classic technique perfected
over many missions he forcefully kicked the door in. What a way to relieve
In the corner of the office was a small stand with just a VCR on it,
not even a monitor. That must be it, Chris thought. He hurriedly stalked
over and ejected the tape. It was of the miniature variety, with barely
any tape left on the reel. Apparently no one bothered to change the
thing when Mr. Smith was on vacation. Chris took a look at his watch.
Twenty-three minutes since Ezra had called. He'd better get out of there.
Larabee had just exited the office when he looked down the hall and
saw his undercover agent turn the corner, followed by two men. One was
tall and well built with the face of a movie star, slightly marred by
a black eye. The other was enormous.
Ezra spotted Chris first, but before he had time to react, the giant
Larabee recognized from descriptions as Ron Rye made a sound deep in
his throat like a demented bear and charged Larabee. The movie star
looked up in confusion.
"Rye! What-" Realization dawned on Dale Oscar's face when
he saw Chris.
Chris quickly sidestepped the oncoming maniac, twisting away from Rye's
massive hands, and darted through a door marked 'stairwell'. He was
only halfway up when he heard Meyerhurst's goons explode through the
door. Obviously if they were on their way to Kevin Smith's office they
knew that was where the video was. They must suspect, and rightly, that
he had the security tape.
The first door Larabee came to let him out on the second floor. Chris
paused momentarily as he surveyed the endless halls to his left and
to his right, with rows and rows of identical green doors, trying to
decide which way to go. Sounds in the stairwell behind him spurred his
decision and he sprinted down the left hallway. Larabee ducked into
the first door he came to, crashing into a maid as he burst into what
was apparently the laundry room. The collision slowed him down slightly,
but he wasted no time in getting to his feet and continuing his flight,
muttering a hurried apology to the stunned housekeeper. He skirted his
way through the lines of washing machines and laundry piles, frantically
searching for an exit. Shouts from behind told him that his pursuers
were still on his heels.
Finally he saw the red glow of the exit sign ahead of him. He barreled
through the doors and ran down another long hallway of numbered rooms.
Chris turned a corner and was gratified to see a pair of doors with
the image of a staircase on it at the end of the hall. Larabee hastened
toward them. As he pushed through the doors, Chris risked a glance behind
him. The two of Meyerhurst's men were still in pursuit, but the ATF
agent didn't see Ezra. He vaguely wondered where Standish was, but had
no time to ponder the matter as he fled down the stairs. Larabee threw
himself through ground floor doors, and paused to garner his surroundings.
His lungs were beginning to burn from exertion. Now where the hell was
he? Another damn hallway, with another monotonous line of hotel room
Noise from the stairwell spurred him onward, despite that his heart
felt like it was pumping right out of his chest. Doors blurred by as
he rounded yet another damn corner and came face to face with Standish.
"Where the hell have you been?!" Chris blurted at the same
time Ezra said, "I've been looking for you!"
Ezra shot the breathless team leader a dirty look before grabbing his
arm and leading him to an employee-only door. He pulled out a key that
looked suspiciously identical the one the desk clerk had used earlier.
"This should lead back to the first hallway. Did you get the tape?"
Standish asked as he turned the key in the lock.
"In my pocket." Larabee wheezed.
The door opened and Chris was just about to make his escape when he
heard Ezra hiss. "Shit, too late. Sorry, Chris." Then Ezra
punched him and the last thing that went through Larabee's head before
he lost consciousness was, I should have sent Vin.
Striking a superior officer was grounds for dismissal, Ezra was fairly
certain. And when that officer was Chris Larabee, it also came close
to an act of suicide. The undercover agent was not looking forward to
Chris waking up. It was somewhat ironic that the thugs Meyerhurst had
sent with Ezra to protect him might well be his only defense against
Of course, if Oscar and Rye hadn't rounded the corner just then Standish
would not have been forced to punch Chris in order to protect his cover.
He was just grateful that he had knocked the team leader out cold, and
that he and Oscar had been able to keep Ron Rye off the defenseless
Gadflies had returned from whatever his mission had been when the trio
returned to the office with their comatose fourth. He raised eyebrows
in surprise at their captive.
"Trouble?" he asked. Oscar shook his head.
"Nothing that Tony and I couldn't handle, right Tone?"
Ezra winced at the further mangling of his alias. Not waiting for a
response, Oscar summed up to Gadflies what had happened as "Anthony"
tied Chris to a chair.
Ezra had begun to worry about how hard he had hit Chris when they had
returned to Meyerhurst's building and Larabee still had not regained
consciousness. Chris' jaw was swollen and a large bruise was beginning
to show on the lower left part of his face. Perhaps he had unintentionally
put some of the anger and frustration he had been feeling at Larabee
into the blow. It had been rather satisfying. Nevertheless, Ezra was
relieved when Chris began to move his head around slightly and make
vague grumbling noises as Standish tied the agent's hands behind his
"Have you searched him yet?" Gadflies asked.
"Just got his piece," Oscar answered, gesturing with the
weapon in hand. "Too many cops hanging around the hotel. That,
and Rye was beginning to get a little . . . disturbed." Ron Rye
was pacing the length of the room, pausing now and then to stare forebodingly
at Chris' not-yet-conscious form.
"Ooh, let me, let me," Gadflies requested gleefully.
Larabee woke to the little man rifling through the pockets of his light
jacket. Confusion registered momentarily on Chris' face before memory
hardened his expression. He turned his baleful gaze on the former morgue
attendant and Gadflies took a step back as if menaced. Realizing that
Chris was still tied up, Rick gave a nervous chuckle.
"Forgot I was searching a live one this time," he said to
Ozzie and Standish by way of explanation, though he eyed Chris warily
A thorough search brought up a cell phone, a Swiss army knife, some
assorted change and a wallet. Gadflies also liberated Chris of his watch,
tsking of the poor quality and the low price it would pawn for. "Whoever
you work for obviously doesn't pay well," he taunted the prisoner.
Larabee, upon awaking, had not said a word, simply glared around the
room to rival Ron Rye, especially at Ezra. At the grave robber's remark
he looked the little man up and down and asked contemptuously, "I
suppose lab assistant to Dr. Frankenstein pays much better?"
Gadflies had no chance to respond as at that moment Meyerhurst walked
in with Kitty and Eric Further. The crime lord took in the situation
quickly and calmly, though Kitanovich and even Further appeared surprised
at their unexpected company. Before any of his people could say anything,
Meyerhurst turned to the captive agent and asked pleasantly, "And
who might you be?"
Chris answered the question with his customary curtness. "I'm
with the power company - Detroit Edison."
Ezra smirked a little, despite his concern about delivering his boss
into the hands of half a dozen cold-blooded killers. The situation had
apparently put Larabee in a caustic mood.
Meyerhurst looked unconvinced as he responded, "This is Denver."
"We do a lot of outsourcing." Chris deadpanned.
Nobody appeared amused.
"He was there when we went to get the tape," Ozzie explained.
"It was in his hand when we found him, but we didn't see it when
Tony caught him."
"Anthony," Ezra muttered.
Dale handed Meyerhurst Larabee's gun. "We found this on him, though."
Meyerhurst looked the piece over and raised an eyebrow. "Edison
employees carrying handguns these days?" he asked his captive.
"You ever been to Detroit?"
Gadflies hit Oscar triumphantly on the arm. "Told you," he
In the meantime, Ezra had walked over to the little pile of Chris'
belongings and picked up the wallet. "Chris Larabee," he announced
to the room. "Agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms."
Larabee stared at Standish in outraged betrayal. It suddenly occurred
to the undercover agent that he may be doing his job too well. Chris
couldn't possibly believe he was actually . . . well, maybe he could.
They had believed it in Atlanta, after all. Ezra's position in Team
Seven had come only after the FBI had practically drummed him out when
rumors of his being on the take had surfaced. But surely Chris knew
him well enough by now to know that this was all an act. The undercover
agent began to worry as he recalled how he himself had noted how well
he fit in with Meyerhurst's team, and that he and Larabee had not exactly
been on congenial terms lately.
Any attempt to reassure his boss, though, could blow Ezra's cover and
consign both agents to the grave. Just trust me, Chris, Standish thought,
knowing the chances of that to be unlikely. The vague notions of a plan
were beginning to form in his head.
"The tape's gotta be with his stuff there," Dale said, despite
the apparentness of its absence.
"Mr. Oscar, when I search someone, I don't miss a speck of lint."
Gadflies asserted. "If this guy had a tape, he doesn't now. He
must have ditched it."
Ezra had caught the look on Chris' face as he realized the security
video was not included in the meager collection of his belongings. The
mixture of relief and shock had been quite memorable. He wondered if
his team leader suspected that Standish had picked his pocket after
punching him in the face.
Meyerhurst turned his attention back to Larabee. "What happened
to that tape, Agent Larabee?" he asked as if he were inquiring
the time of day.
A small smirk fixed itself on Chris' face. "Well, mister, I reckon
that tape could be anywhere just about now. It could be in a pile of
dirty laundry or in a plant back at the hotel, it could be in Lurch's
there back pocket," he said with a nod toward Ron Rye, "or,"
he gazed at Meyerhurst with complete composure, "it could be in
the hands of federal agents, waiting to bring you down, as we speak.
You just never know." Larabee shrugged and regarded the crime lord
Ezra heard Meyerhurst's knuckles crack. He watched the scene with sick
fascination as his two bosses faced off. Larabee wouldn't be intimidated
if he came face to face with a two ton, raging-mad bull foaming at the
mouth. But Meyerhurst could be decidedly more dangerous than a rabid
bovine. At least the bull gave you warning. Meyerhurst would smile and
ask politely about the wife and kids before shooting you in the chest
in the time it took to inhale. Ezra fervently hoped Chris wouldn't do
anything that would get himself killed.
Meyerhurst's smile was decidedly unfriendly. "Kitty," he
said, keeping his eyes on the agent in front of him. "What have
As soon as Larabee had been identified as ATF, the Russian computer
genius had whipped out her laptop and begun typing purposefully. At
Meyerhurst's question, Kitty responded, "Chris Larabee is leader
of the ATF unit designated Team Seven." She turned the laptop towards
the rest of the group so they could see the information that had brought
up on the LCD monitor.
"The team is composed of him and six other members," Kitanovich
continued. As she named them their individual profiles and photos appeared
on the screen. "Vin Tanner, sharpshooter, former Ranger and bounty
hunter; Buck Wilmington, explosives expert; Josiah Sanchez, team profiler;
Nathan Jackson, forensics, former EMT; JD Dunne, computer and surveillance
expert," the hacker sniffed derisively at that, "and Ezra
Standish, undercover agent, formally of the Atlanta FBI." There
was no photo accompanying the last profile. Kitty sat back with disgust.
"I could not find a photograph of Agent Standish. Apparently they
do not wish to compromise his position as undercover operative."
Ezra heaved a mental sigh of relief. The last thing he needed was to
have his cover blown surrounded by six lunatics who just realized he
had betrayed them. That was a situation he dearly wished to avoid by
all possible means.
Meyerhurst had his eyelids closed and was rubbing the area between
his eyes with his thumb. The room fell into almost complete silence
except for Kitty's staccato taps on the keyboard and Ron Rye's heavy
breathing as he watched Larabee. Chris had kept his gaze on Ezra since
Kitty had started her report on Team Seven, and the undercover agent
began to worry that Meyerhurst and his band might take notice. Of course,
Standish had been the one to punch Chris in the face, thus causing his
incarceration, so maybe they would think nothing of it.
Meyerhurst finally spoke. "Rye, stay and watch Agent Larabee.
Just watch, Rye. Just. Watch. The rest of you, to my office."
Ezra nervously looked over his shoulder as he left the conference room.
Ron Rye was settling in a seat in front of Larabee, staring intently.
Larabee was glaring right back at him. It looked as if the stare-off
of the century was about to ensue. Ezra ardently hoped that Rye would
remember what Meyerhurst had said and not go psychotic on Larabee.
"I think we should just shoot him," Oscar said as everybody
took their place around Meyerhurst's desk in his office.
"Brilliant suggestion, Ozzie," Kitty congratulated from her
seat in one of the two chairs on the door side of the desk. "And
what do you suppose we do about the video - hope for the best?"
Kitanovich sneered in disgust. "What a wiener."
"You know, Kitty," Oscar began conversationally, "'Black
Cat' is actually not the right name for you. 'Cause you really are a
"That tape is a severe liability," Meyerhurst cut in on his
two associates, forestalling more name-calling. "Agent Larabee
must be made to talk and tell us its whereabouts." Ezra got a sick
feeling at the crime lord's words. What was said next only increased
"The Chicago Boys took the bait like starving mice. Their boss,
Paul Gianotello is heart-broken at his cousin's murder and is looking
for a very cold dish of revenge served to Eddie Dumluk. In respect for
the man and as a gesture of good faith for our deal, I have volunteered
our services as the chefs." Ezra winced at a good metaphor gone
"What's on the menu?" Someone asked. Surely that had to have
Meyerhurst looked immensely pleased with himself. "It just so
happens that Rick was out shopping this afternoon and picked up the
ingredients for a rather large explosive device."
"A bomb?" Standish knew he should have anticipated it, but
with everything that had happened lately - first the argument, then
the hangover, and, oh, let's not forget assaulting your boss and effecting
his capture by a bunch of ruthless criminals - this bit of information
came as a complete surprise.
"That's right, a bomb," Meyerhurst confirmed. "It will
be very big, very public. An appropriate memorial to South Side's memory.
Eddie Dumluk and his club will be no more than a distant memory while
we climb the ladder of success in Chicago."
"That sounds marvelous," Ezra couldn't keep some of the sarcasm
from his voice. "May I enquire as to when said incendiary will
be putting an end to Dumluk's miserable establishment and unlucky existence?"
"Tonight at eleven thirty, before the transaction is supposed
to take place. Kitty and Gadflies are going to go plant it at the club
right now." Kitty groaned at being partnered with the ex-mortician.
"As for the rest of you, you're going to get as much information
as you can from Agent Larabee. I want to know what he did with that
tape, how long he and his team have been aware of us, and what they
know about our operations. Let Rye at him if you have to. Just don't
let him kill Larabee unless he talks."
Leaning against a wall in the corner, Eric Further nodded coldly. Oscar,
however, had a bloodthirsty grin on his face. Ezra would never forgive
himself if he didn't at least try to get Chris out of this situation.
"I know I am the new guy here, but isn't inflicting bodily harm
on a government agent a good way to end up dead or incarcerated?"
He tried to sound as convincing as possible without raising their suspicions.
"Perhaps, but I guarantee that having the Chicago Boys see that
video would be much worse. Paul Gianotello would make sure the remainder
of our lives would be short, painful and gruesome. So unless Agent Larabee
out there is extremely forthcoming, I'm afraid we will not be able to
grant him the mercy of a quick death. Now if you please, I have some
phone calls to make."
Kitty and Gadflies left through another door while Further, Oscar and
"Anthony" made their way back to the conference room. Ron
Rye and Chris Larabee were still sitting like statues, determined not
to blink until the other one did or the earth came crumbling down around
them, whichever came first. Larabee noticed the others' return and broke
"Down boy," he said to Rye, who blinked and growled deep
in his throat.
As the new arrivals spread out to flank the restrained agent, Chris
regarded them like a feral cat that had been backed into a corner and
surrounded by a pack of vicious, angry dogs. He knew he didn't stand
a chance, but that didn't mean he would go down without fighting.
Dale was up first.
"Agent Larabee. Chris. Can I call you Chris? Michael asked you
a question earlier. Your answer was not very polite to my friend there."
The sudden blow rocked Chris' head violently and would surely give
him a matching bruise for the one Ezra had inflicted earlier. A dazed
Larabee shook himself momentarily before fixing Oscar with a withering
"Meyerhurst's taste in friends is apparently as lousy as his taste
in neckties," Chris jeered.
Another strike below his ribs left the agent gasping for breath.
"I gave Michael that tie!" Oscar yelled, referring to the
abstract monstrosity in gray and yellow that Meyerhurst was wearing
Chris was doubled over as much as he was able with his hands tied behind
the chair. He lifted his head and looked straight at Ezra.
"Mr. Oscar," Standish said. "Might I suggest you bring
Mr. Larabee to the point of this discussion?"
"Huh? Oh, right." Further rolled his eyes. "Where's
the tape, Chris?" Ozzie asked.
"The one of me and your mother?" Chris rasped. "Try
the video store."
Oscar smiled grimly and nodded to Further. Ezra winced as the bodyguard
delivered several well-placed hits to Larabee's mid-section. When he
paused, Dale posed the question again.
"What happened to the tape?"
"I used it . . . to record . . . a hockey game."
Further went to work again on Chris. Ozzie shook his head in mock sympathy
when the hit man stopped.
"Chris, Chris. This isn't worth it, you know. Just tell us what
we need to know and it will all be over."
Blood and sweat ran into Larabee's swollen eyes as he glared at Oscar.
"Go to hell."
The process continued several more times, until finally Oscar ordered
Further to stop. He turned to where Ron Rye had been sitting in a corner
watching the proceeding with a savage grin. The giant's eyes had become
dangerously focused. They lit up hungrily as Ozzie regarded him.
If Ron Rye got a hold of Chris, he would kill him. Ezra knew this with
gut-wrenching certainty. Meyerhurst had ordered them not to let him,
but Standish didn't think that once the lunatic got started even he,
Dale and Further together would be able to stop him.
Ezra stepped forward and put his hand on Oscar's shoulder.
"Let me," he said. Oscar paused a second, then nodded.
Uncertainty lit across Larabee's bruised and bloody face as Standish
stepped up to him.
"Mr. Larabee," the undercover agent said coldly. "I
suggest you tell us where that tape is."
Chris hesitated and opened his mouth as if to speak, but before he
could say anything Ezra landed a hard left to his jaw. Larabee's head
rocked back and stayed there for a moment while he recovered from the
sudden blow. He blinked and brought his head around in bloodstained
"Not feeling very cooperative, are we, Mr. Larabee?" Standish
hit him again, and then another time, continuing to rain blows upon
the leader of Team Seven. Ezra tried to pull his punches as best he
could without making it look like he was going easy on Larabee, but
even those were sure to be causing excruciating pain to the agent's
already battered form. Standish didn't dare stop, though, not if he
expected to save both their lives.
A hand on his shoulder made him look up. Meyerhurst stood behind Ezra,
staring at Larabee. Standish brought his hands down.
"I think if Agent Larabee was going to tell us anything, he'd
have done it by now," Meyerhurst said gravely.
Ezra looked at Chris. He was leaning against his bonds with his head
almost upon his knees, breathing shallowly. His jacket hung off his
shoulders and his shirt was in tatters, showing lacerations and massive
bruising on the skin beneath it. Sweat and blood covered Larabee's body
and dripped from his blond hair.
It could be worse, Standish tried to tell himself. He could be dead.
He wished that thought made him feel any better.
"Put a bullet in him and drop the body somewhere," Meyerhurst
The undercover agent's head shot up and he smoothly inserted himself
at Meyerhurst's side.
"Wouldn't that be somewhat unwise, seeing, as I previously stated,
that if the Feds discover the body of one of their agents they will
undoubtedly engage in an exhaustive investigation which would jeopardize
Meyerhurst shrugged and frowned. "Do you have another option in
Ezra smiled slyly. "As a matter of fact, Mr. Meyerhurst, your
dear friend Ozzie here came up with the perfect method to dispose of
"Why, certainly, Mr. Oscar. Don't you remember poor Mr. Whitney?"
Standish grinned at Oscar conspiratorially. "I think we needn't
bother with the oxygen tank for Agent Larabee."
Understanding registered on Ozzie's face and he laughed heartily.
"Tony, you're a man after my own. Michael, I believe what Tony's
thinking is . . ." Dale spoke softly into Meyerhurst's ear. Soon
the crime lord and his right hand man were both chuckling in satisfied
amusement. Chris seemed vaguely aware and confused.
"I'll leave you to it, then," Meyerhurst said. He motioned
to Further and Rye. "Meet us at the warehouse. We have an exceedingly
large shipment to prepare for the Chicago Boys."
Meyerhurst left with his bodyguard and a very disappointed Ron Rye.
Dale turned to Ezra.
"Good thing Gadflies isn't around," Oscar commented. "We'd
have to do a few side excursions. Come on, Tony. Let's go."
"It is Anthony, and if it's all the same, I will drive my own
vehicle. I would like to stop at my place afterwards and procure a change
Oscar glanced at the expensive suit spotted in red and grinned. "Should've
thought of that before going postal on Larabee here, huh? Sure, that's
no problem. I'll take the stiff."
Oscar untied Larabee, who had passed out, and hoisted him over his
shoulder. Whistling a merry tune, he carried the insensible agent to
Alone in the conference room, Ezra stared at Chris' blood on his knuckles.
What had he done?
"What can I do?" Buck asked in a slightly whiney tone. "JD's
all bent outta shape over a tiny little accident, Chris's been in a
bad mood all week over some business with Ezra, Nate keeps lookin' at
me like I'm supposed to do something about it, but none of it was my
fault so what can I do, Charlene?"
Four waitresses gathered around Buck's table at the diner. He'd been
coming there every night for the past week. The staff had seen him come
in before occasionally, usually with his friend, the good-looking, dark-haired
kid. None of the waitresses were immune to Wilmington's charms and they
all looked forward to his sporadic visits, but though he had been coming
every night he hadn't had an eye for any of them this week. He'd just
sat at his table and eaten his dinner, not really seeing it or any of
the young women who served him. Tonight one of the older ones - she
had to have been at least twenty-seven - had sat down and asked him
what was wrong. The rest of the waitresses on duty that night had wandered
over as Buck began his tale of woe.
He finished his story and posed his question to the pretty redhead,
who shrugged sympathetically as she leaned on the table with her chin
in her hand.
"Search me, honey," Charlene said.
Buck glanced at the waitress. Her short skirt as she sat at the booth
across from him was hiked up to reveal a deliciously long leg, and her
clear blue eyes shining with compassion stood out as they were framed
by soft red curls. He also suddenly noticed the three other beautiful
waitresses gathered around his table, all looking wistful and sympathetic.
Buck opened his mouth and inhaled to respond with the perfect pick-up
line, but it turned into a sigh instead. He dropped his chin to rest
on the table on top of his hands. He just wasn't in the mood.
Buck and the four women sat there in miserable silence except for the
theme song of an old western playing electronically in the background.
It took him a second to realize that his phone was ringing.
"Hello," Buck answered despondently.
"Good lord, Mr. Wilmington, were you ever going to answer your
phone?" Standish's Southern-accent came over the line, sounding
about as stressed as Buck had ever heard it.
"Ez? What's going on, pard?" Buck asked, unusually serious
in response to the tone in the other man's voice. He heard the undercover
operative take a deep breath before responding.
"I need you to go get Nathan. I tried calling him first, but his
line was busy. You're closest to his house, so you have to go get him.
You are at home aren't you?"
Well, he wasn't, but the diner was only five minutes farther from Nate's
place than it was from his.
"Yeah," he said. "What's wrong, Ez? You hurt?"
"I'm fine, Mr. Wilmington. I just need you to get Mr. Jackson
and bring him to McHine's Cemetery, post haste."
Buck was getting a bad feeling about this. "Why the cemetery,
Ezra?" he asked quietly.
"Because as we speak I am following Dale Oscar and Mr. Larabee
to McHine's, where it is Mr. Oscar's intention to place Mr. Larabee
in a coffin and bury him alive."
"What?! Why . . ."
"Mr. Wilmington, please! We will arrive at Mr. Larabee's intended
final resting place in approximately ten minutes. Once Mr. Oscar removes
whatever unfortunate corpse whose coffin we are misappropriating and
seals in our esteemed leader, Chris has approximately eighteen minutes
of breathable air. After eight minutes without oxygen, you might as
well stop and buy flowers."
Buck was already standing up and heading toward the door. That meant
he had a deadline of maybe thirty-six minutes.
"I can make it faster if I don't stop at Nate's." He realized
he hadn't paid and turned around, reaching for his wallet. Charlene
waved him away.
"It's on the house tonight. Go help your friend."
Buck smiled gratefully at her and the other waitresses before running
out to the parking lot. He suddenly heard what Ezra was saying.
"Mr. Wilmington? Buck! Get Nathan. Chris will need him . . ."
Buck pealed his truck out of the diner's driveway.
"Why?! What happened to him?"
"I don't have time to explain. Get Nathan, get to McHine's Cemetery.
Once you are there, dial Chris' cell phone. Oh, and you should know
that Meyerhurst has planted a bomb at Dumluk's club that is set to detonate
at eleven thirty tonight. I have to go now. Hurry, Buck."
Anything Ezra had said after "dial Chris' cell phone" didn't
register in Buck's mind as he tore through the streets to Nate's house.
Thank heaven evening traffic was fairly light on Saturdays, otherwise
he might have been stuck in traffic for at least twenty minutes. Buck
made it to Nathan's house in nine minutes flat, cursing the extra time
it had taken him from the diner. He jumped out of his truck, raced to
the front door and pounded on it. JD answered the thunderous knocking.
"Buck, what . . ." JD began. Then he saw the look on his
ex-roommate's face. "What happened?" he asked worriedly.
"Where's Nate?" Buck panted.
"In the kitchen washing dishes." JD said, turning to call
for the former medic. Nathan had heard the frantic abuse to his front
door, however, and was already behind his new roommate, holding up sudsy
"What's wrong, Buck?" he asked.
"Grab your kit and let's go. Chris is in trouble."
JD and Nathan immediately went into action.
"What kind of trouble?" Nathan asked as he hurriedly dried
off his hands and took his medical kit out of a cupboard. JD grabbed
"I'll tell you on the way. We can call Vin and Josiah then, too."
"On the way where?" JD asked.
Buck looked at his watch. They had twenty-three minutes left.
Chris Larabee floated in darkness. It seemed as though there had never
been anything but darkness. How long had he been in the coffin? He wasn't
sure if his eyes were still open or if he had finally succumbed to the
lack of oxygen and was now unconscious. But if he was unconscious he
wouldn't have been able to wonder, would he? Larabee had no way to keep
track of the time since they had sealed the lid. It seemed like hours
ago since Standish - Standish? - had suggested Meyerhurst and his goons
eliminate Larabee this way. No, what was the word he had used? Dispose.
Dispose of him. Chris could still see the look on Ezra's face as he
proposed the means of executing the leader of the ATF team. So calm,
so cold. Chris had told himself that the undercover agent was playing
a role, that he had a plan to save Chris. It had seemed so clear then.
Now he wasn't so sure. There had been a lot of bad feelings between
Larabee and his agent while Standish had been undercover, and there
had always been those rumors about Atlanta. But Larabee had never been
one to listen to gossip, and Ezra had proved himself to be a loyal member
of Team Seven many times. He wouldn't switch sides merely over an argument
with Chris. Would he?
How long? Larabee had felt claustrophobic when they had first put him
in here, but now he could no longer even feel the plush sides of the
coffin. (Why plush, he wondered inanely. Surely the dead didn't care.)
There was only never-ending blackness. Was he still breathing? Chris
didn't think so.
But then, come to think of it, this darkness wasn't so bad. It was
actually kind of nice. So peaceful. So quiet. Larabee had never experienced
much peace and quiet. There was always somebody yelling about this or
that. Granted, he did most of the yelling, but it was always their maddening
antics that caused him to blow up. Here in the dark there was nobody.
He thought he heard sounds, somewhere out there in the unending blackness,
but that was impossible because he was alone in the dark. The nice,
quiet dark. The calm, serene, peaceful dark where there was no one to
bother him and make him yell. The tranquil, motionless gloom which at
the moment was not so motionless. Who the hell was disturbing his gloom?
He definitely heard sounds now. Voices.
Go away, he thought at them. Leave me in my quiet, peaceful blackness.
Let the dead rest.
Something had changed. It was still dark, but it was colder now. He
had a vague sense of the ground being damp beneath him, but he wasn't
on the ground, he was floating, damn it! And the voices were louder
now, more distinct. Chris fought to block them out.
" . . . shit . . ."
" . . . c'mon, Chris . . ."
". . . Nate, he's not breathing . . ."
" . . . too late . . ."
That's right, Chris thought at them. You're too late. I'm gone. You
can't bother me anymore. Go find someone else to yell at you. I'm drifting
in this nice, quiet, peaceful darkness. Just floating . . .
" . . . give him CPR . . ."
Give who CPR? Him? Chris Larabee? Give Chris Larabee mouth-to-mouth?
Oh, hell no! Chris struggled to open his eyes.
" . . . wait, I think he's coming 'round. Turn off the flashlights.
Let his eyes adjust."
At first Larabee wasn't sure he had opened his eyes. He thought he
did, but it was still so dark. Slowly, shapes began to appear in the
darkness. What . . . oh, headstones. And that big shape over there was
Josiah; the little figure beside him was JD. Which meant that the indistinguishable
blobs on the other side of him must be Buck and Vin. In front of Chris,
Nathan's concerned eyes stood out brightly against his dark skin.
"Don't . . . you dare . . . give me . . . mouth-to-mouth,"
Chris rasped with as much sternness as he could muster. The glare he
shot at Jackson was weak, but no less fierce for that. The rest of the
team chuckled in relief.
"Apparently the idea of locking lips with you is a fate worse
than death, Nate," Buck joked mildly to the ex-EMT.
"Rain doesn't seem to think so," Nathan responded with a
relieved and amused smile at their leader.
Chris tried to return the smile, but it turned into a grimace when
he realized how much he hurt. It felt like he had been through a rock
"How did you find me?" Larabee asked, starting to sit up
before deciding such an action was too painful at the moment and settling
back down. Yes, that was better.
"The devil couldn't bear the thought of spending eternity with
you, so he called and told us to take you back," Josiah said earnestly.
Chris smirked briefly.
"Ezra left your cell phone in the flowerpot," JD explained,
gesturing to the discarded flowers and upended brass urn connected to
the headstone by a chain. "We dialed it when we got here and it
led us to you."
Larabee furrowed his brows. "Standish . . ."
"He called us from his car phone and told us what was going on
while you guys were on your way here. Somehow he must have convinced
Oscar not to completely bury you, 'cause the coffin was in the plot,
but it wasn't covered."
"He left your phone and your wallet in the pot. Along with this
tape." Vin held the items in front of him.
Chris looked at the tape. It was the security video from the hotel.
He smiled darkly and shook his head.
"That son of a bitch."
The others waited for an explanation. "The tape is from the Hilton
where South Side Jim was murdered. Supposedly it shows Meyerhurst perpetrating
the crime," Chris said. "Ezra called and told me about it."
"How'd you end up pulling a Count Dracula?" Buck wanted to
Larabee scowled and sat up quickly, ignoring Nathan's protests that
he should stay down.
"Standish . . ." he started, then paused, wondering what
he should tell his other agents. His first instinct had been to reveal
the undercover agent to be the cause of his capture by Meyerhurst's
lackeys, not to mention his inquisition and premature burial. Yet Ezra
had evidently had a plan all along, which was why Chris was still among
the living at this moment. For it to work though, he'd had no choice
but to stand by and let his boss be used as a human punching bag until
the criminals decided he was of no use to them. Still, Chris wondered,
why had Standish volunteered to participate in the brutalizing of his
Larabee decided not to divulge everything that had happened until he
had a chance to question Standish.
"I ran into a couple of Meyerhurst's boys at the hotel,"
he said simply.
Open-mouthed stares greeted his statement. Chris Larabee was not easily
taken down, and it would take more than the average thug to do it. Only
Vin regarded Larabee as if he suspected their leader wasn't telling
them the whole story.
"Ez with 'em?" he asked quietly. Chris glared at the perceptive
"Yeah," he admitted grudgingly. "He was the one that
knocked me out."
"Standish?!" Four said as one. Tanner just nodded thoughtfully.
Larabee glared soundly at each one of them, daring them to make something
of it. He put his hand on the dewy ground and started to push himself
to his feet. The rest of the team moved in to assist him but Chris waved
"He was helping me get out of there, but apparently Oscar and
Rye showed up and he had to protect his cover. Must have picked my pocket
and taken the tape before they searched me." Larabee stood, wavering
uncertainly for a moment. He gratefully accepted Vin's offer of a supporting
"Once they realized I wasn't going to tell them where the video
was, they were going to kill me. Standish recommended they bury me instead."
His agents stared at him in shocked incredulity. Chris shrugged.
"It's better than a bullet in the brain, anyway. Come on, let's
get to the office and see what's on this tape so we can nail that bastard
The group made their way to where their vehicles were parked on the
other side of the cemetery, Vin still supporting a limping Chris. JD
nearly drew his gun when he saw a large shape looming in the darkness,
but chuckled at himself along with everyone else when flashlights revealed
it was just a statue.
As they reached their vehicles, Nathan suggested Chris take a visit
to the hospital just to make sure nothing was seriously injured. Chris,
of course, objected.
"I'm fine; I don't need a damn hospital. I want to see with my
own eyes what I was nearly buried alive to get my hands on!"
The ex-EMT threw his hands in the air.
"What is it with you macho people? You've obviously had the crap
knocked outta ya, Vin has to drag your butt around 'cause you can't
walk three feet and you're suffering lightheadedness from oxygen deprivation.
But will you go to the hospital and get fixed up? Noooo, you have to
be tough!" Nathan was obviously tired of having this conversation
any time one of the team got hurt.
Chris could see Buck's shoulders shake by the illumination of the flashlights
as the man laughed silently.
"Well at least he ain't got rigor mortis." Wilmington joked.
"Considering that we just dug him out his grave, I think he's doing
Larabee and Jackson both glowered at the jovial agent, but Buck couldn't
see either one in the gloom.
"I'm fine," Chris repeated firmly. "Let's go."
JD went with Josiah in his Suburban, while Nathan muttered to himself
and got into Buck's vehicle. In Tanner's Jeep, Larabee leaned back into
the seat and closed his eyes while Vin went around to the driver's side.
He would not admit to the guys how much he was hurting. There was too
much to do before they took Meyerhurst down.
Standish, you'd better have a damn good explanation.
Vin glanced at his friend and boss briefly before turning his eyes
back to the road. He looked to be resting, but Tanner knew that Chris'
mind was working feverishly. The sharpshooter wondered absently what
had happened that evening that Larabee wasn't telling the team. Chris
was a hard man to read behind his gruff and ornery exterior, almost
as difficult as Standish when he wanted to be, but Vin had gotten to
know Team Seven's leader very well in the time they had worked together.
Although Larabee's eyes were closed and his head rested back on the
seat, his jaw was stiff and his lips were set in a grim line. Whatever
details Chris was omitting had him bubbling almost to a boil beneath
the surface. Vin was about to make a subtle inquiry when his cell phone
rang. It was Standish.
"Hey, Ez," Tanner greeted. Out of the corner of his eye Vin
saw Larabee stiffen when he heard the name.
"Yeah, we got him . . . Yup, the tape too . . . Uh huh. He's fine
. . . Of course I'm sure."
Chris was looking at the phone with an odd expression on his face.
Vin was trying to puzzle out what it meant when a thought occurred to
"He's right here," Tanner told the undercover agent with
one eye on Larabee, "you wanna talk to him?"
Both Chris and Standish reacted in the exact same way. Ezra declined
vigorously, while Larabee's eyes widened as he shook his head and waved
the phone away.
"Oh, okay. I just thought . . . Yeah . . . Will do . . . Okay.
Vin turned off the phone and stuck it back in his pocket. Chris looked
at him for a second before closing his eyes and leaning back again.
They continued their drive to the office.
Aw, subtlety be damned, Tanner thought finally.
"What happened between you and Ezra today?" he asked.
Vin heard Chris take a short breath. His answer was brusque but cautious.
"What makes you think anything happened? Standish and I have been
at odd ends for over a week."
"You two've been acting pricklier than a cactus on steroids,"
Tanner said bluntly, "but that's not what this is. You're hiding
something, and Ezra's involved somehow. I want to know. What happened
after the hotel?"
There was a pause.
"Nothing happened," Chris said roughly.
Vin resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Chris, something happened
that's got you riled up, and-"
Vin sighed. When Larabee used that tone of voice there would be no
getting anything out of him. Still, that wasn't going to stop Tanner
from being a nosy pain in the rear.
"Fine. But if this is something between you and Ezra . . ."
"Standish and I will work out whatever we need to work out when
the time comes."
Oh, that sounded good.
Chris really did look terrible, JD thought as he set up the equipment
for playing the miniature tape at the office. He could still hear Nathan
badgering their leader to go to the hospital and Chris' peevish insistence
that there was no way. Even after Nate had grudgingly admitted his wounds
seemed mostly superficial and cleaned him up, Larabee still resembled
a piece of road kill. As with just about every other member of the team,
however, Chris would refuse to admit he was hurt even if his arm was
severed at the elbow. JD hid a smile as Larabee limped into the video
room with Buck and Vin at his side. Nate still ranted at him from the
"Just get me some aspirin and I'll be fine," Chris yelled.
He turned to JD. "You set up in here?" JD nodded.
"Let's see it, then."
JD queued the tape, and the agents watched as Meyerhurst and South
Side Jim appeared on the small television screen. There was no sound
and South Side's back was to the camera, but Meyerhurst had a smile
on his face and seemed to be talking amiably. All of a sudden a huge
form came from behind South Side and tackled the unaware mobster. Ron
Rye picked up South Side and threw him against a concrete pillar. It
looked like Meyerhurst shouted something. Rye must have been in too
much of a frenzy to hear his boss as he lunged forward and hauled South
Side up by his shoulders, pinning him against the pillar. The terrified
gangster's feet hung over a foot above the ground and Ron Rye leaned
toward him, looking like he was going to bite South Side's nose off,
when Meyerhurst intervened. The man still had a smile on his face. It
was creepy, JD thought.
Whatever Meyerhurst said to the giant seemed to do the trick. Rye dropped
South Side, who lay huddled defensively against the pillar, and moved
to the corner of the garage. He put his hands over his ears and closed
his eyes, shaking his head violently and apparently muttering to himself.
Meyerhurst turned to South Side with a friendly grin and helped the
Chicago mobster to shaky feet. He said something to South Side and seemed
to send the uncertain man on his way. South Side hadn't taken three
steps, however, when Meyerhurst pulled out a pistol and shot the gangster
in the back. Behind him, Ron Rye laughed.
The screen went blank as someone switched off the tape. The room was
hushed for a moment.
"That's just sick, man!" JD finally exclaimed. His outburst
seemed to break the spell of silence.
"It'll be enough to convict Meyerhurst," Vin said with grim
Sitting on the edge of a table with one leg stretched out in front
of him, Chris nodded.
"I'm going to call Judge Travis and get a warrant. The rest of
you, get ready to move. Nathan! Where's my aspirin?"
Nathan appeared in the doorway with an annoyed frown.
JD and Chris gawked at him. It was like the butcher had run out of
"How can you be out of aspirin? You have everything!"
The former medic shrugged defensively. "Do you realize how many
headaches you people have caused lately? A few aspirin here, a few aspirin
there, pretty soon they're all gone. I was planning to pick some up
before work on Monday."
Apparently Buck noticed the long-suffering look on his oldest friend's
face. He stood up and said, "No problem. There's a drugstore on
the corner. I'll go pick some up."
Chris looked extremely grateful as Wilmington grabbed his coat and
headed for the door.
"Hey, wait up a sec, Buck, I'll go with you." JD thought
Buck seemed surprised to see the computer whiz running after him.
"Sure, kid," he said.
They walked to Wilmington's old truck and started down the road. JD
squirmed uncomfortably in the passenger seat. He wanted to apologize
but wasn't sure how to start.
"For pete's sake, JD! You shoulda used it before we left!"
JD stared at Buck for a second before figuring out what he meant.
"What? Oh! No, that's not it. It's just . . . I mean . . . I just
wanted to. . ." Finally JD took a deep breath and just spit it
out. "I'm sorry, Buck! I don't know why I've been so stupid lately,
but I've sure been a jackass."
It was Buck's turn to blink in confusion before he realized what JD
was talking about.
"Aw hell, kid. It ain't just you," Buck said sheepishly.
"I said some pretty nasty things to you I sure wish I could take
back. Especially when you moved out. Been too quiet at the loft lately."
"Friends again?" JD grinned to split his face when Buck smiled
and nodded. "Nathan'll be happy. I mean, you think nothing ever
fazes the man, but he just about exploded when I rewired his - Hey!
What is it, Buck?" The passenger yelped as the driver suddenly
slammed the brakes and the truck screeched to a halt. A look of stone
shock held Buck's face. He hit the gas and swerved the vehicle into
"Where are you going?" JD asked.
"A bomb. He said there was a bomb at Eddie Dumluk's club. Set
to go off at eleven thirty. That's thirty-eight minutes. Thirty-eight
"What?! Who said there was a bomb?"
"Ezra, on the phone when he told me about the cemetery. I didn't
pay any attention. I was too worried about Chris, and the damn fool
just threw it in like an afterthought." Buck stared at the road
straight ahead of him.
"What are we going to do?" JD's hands clenched the dashboard
as Buck swerved around a Ferrari who wasn't going fast enough to suit
Wilmington. Buck took a determined breath.
"We're going to Dumluk's club and disarming that thing, that's
what we're going to do."
Praise the Lord, Team Seven is finally on the mend.
Josiah was looking on from his desk as Chris and Vin discussed the
best way to serve Michael Meyerhurst his warrant. Vin was smiling as
much as Josiah had seen all week, and although Chris appeared pained,
he was visibly excited about pulling the bust. Nathan had worn a big
grin on his face ever since JD had voluntarily taken off with Buck.
Undoubtedly Jackson was foreseeing the end of his home invasion. All
that was missing was Ezra, Josiah observed. Though Standish would never
admit familial feelings towards his teammates, even Chris would agree
that Team Seven was a family, one which would not be complete without
its undercover agent. As soon as the warrant came in they could apprehend
Michael Meyerhurst, putting an end to the investigation and bringing
Larabee had wasted no time in calling Judge Travis to issue an arrest
warrant for Meyerhurst. Although the Judge had been rather irate at
being woken, he had agreed to fax a warrant over as soon as possible.
Thankfully, he was used to Team Seven's eccentricities.
Meanwhile, Buck and JD's ten minute trip to the drugstore had turned
into almost twenty. Josiah recalled the peanut butter and strawberry
jam sandwich in the surveillance van. Maybe JD had found out about the
goop incident and killed Buck, Sanchez considered. Perhaps he'd better
call and see if things were all right.
Josiah picked up his phone and dialed Buck's cell. He frowned deeply
as he was transferred to voice mail after a half dozen rings. He hung
up then tried JD's number. The computer whiz answered after three rings.
A roaring sea of voices and rock music in the background nearly drowned
out his greeting.
"JD? Where are you?" he asked simply.
"What?!" Dunne yelled.
"Where are you?" Josiah's raised voice caught the attention
of his other teammates in the office.
"Josiah? I'm sorry, I shoulda called!" JD shouted over the
line. "Me an' Buck are at Eddie Dumluk's club. There's a bomb set
to go off in twenty-two minutes."
"Say what?" Chris and Vin had drifted over to hover over
Sanchez desk as the profiler spoke incredulously into his phone. Nathan
stood at his desk, listening intently.
"Yeah, a bomb. Can you believe it?" Dunne actually sounded
excited. "Anyway, don't worry, Buck and I are handling it. He's
already found the device, and I'm evacuating the club. Hey, you, you're
supposed to walk, not run, to the nearest exit!" Shouts in the
background over the blaring music told Sanchez that JD's advice was
not appreciated. "Yeah, so tell everyone not to worry, 'cause we
got it covered," the young computer expert concluded.
"Where did the bomb come from? The Chicago Boys?" The room
lit up in alarm at the word "bomb." All blood drained from
the bruised and battered face of Chris Larabee. He put his fists on
Josiah's desk and leaned forward so he could hear JD's flip response.
"Who knows? Ezra told Buck about it a couple hours ago, when he
sent us to dig up Chris. Buck just didn't realize it until we left.
Hey, tell Chris we haven't forgotten about the aspirin. We'll swing
by the twenty-four hour mart and pick some up on our way back."
Larabee stared at the phone in Josiah's hand incredulously. The profiler
put his hand over his eyes and shook his head. "You must be kidding
"Nope, no shit. To be honest, I think Buck'll do fine, but these
crowds are just out of control. I wanted to find Dumluk so I could take
him into custody, but I haven't been able to do much more than herd
people outside and across the street."
Sanchez looked up at Chris, who mouthed two letters. "Have you
called the local PD?" Josiah asked.
"Yeah, they've got a couple cars here now, with more on the way,"
JD answered. "They're putting up barricades and stuff, but we still
got way too many people here. I think we can arrest Dumluk for violating
fire code. This many people under one roof has to against some regulation."
The fax machine began beeping. The warrant was coming through. Vin
ran over and snatched it up. Chris, despite moving more stiffly than
normal, ran after him and motioned to Nathan and Josiah.
"Okay, you and Buck hold tight," Josiah told Dunne. "The
rest of us will meet you there. Then we're going to arrest Michael Meyerhurst."
"We are? Cool!" Sanchez shook his head at the young man's
"Just make sure the two of you don't blow up the club before we
get there, alright, son?" Josiah told JD as he stood up and grabbed
his ATF windbreaker. He thought about that last statement.
"Or after," Josiah added.