Taken to the Grave

by Michelle & Amanda


Disclaimer: Don't own 'em, didn't make any money off 'em. Wish we did - you should get paid for having this much fun. Also, Team Eight is a creation of HeatherF. We hope she doesn't mind us borrowing them.

Summary: An argument among the members of Team Seven makes Ezra's latest undercover assignment difficult.

Notes: We'd love to hear what you think. WOTtwin@netscape.net


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 booth-"

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 began.

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 demanded.

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 tension.

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 doors.

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 Larabee's wrath.

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 agent. Barely.

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 back.

"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 before continuing.

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 said.

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 coolly.

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 you got?"

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 bitch."

"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 sensation.

"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 bad.

"What's on the menu?" Someone asked. Surely that had to have been Oscar.

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 the spell.

"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 glare.

"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 that day.

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 confusion.

"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 was saying.

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 your operations?"

Meyerhurst shrugged and frowned. "Do you have another option in mind?"

Ezra smiled slyly. "As a matter of fact, Mr. Meyerhurst, your dear friend Ozzie here came up with the perfect method to dispose of Mr. Larabee."

"I did?"

"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 of clothes."

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 his car.

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 hands.

"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 their jackets.

"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.

"The cemetery."

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 tumbler.

"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 know.

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 superior?

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 sharpshooter.

"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 them away.

"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 shoulder.

"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 Meyerhurst."

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 pretty good."

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 him.

"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. Bye."

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-"

"Nothing. Happened."

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 other room.

"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 satisfaction.

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.

"I'm out."

JD and Chris gawked at him. It was like the butcher had run out of beef.

"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 a U-turn.

"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 minutes."

"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 Ezra home.

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 me."

"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 indomitable enthusiasm.

"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.



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