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


After he and Oscar had buried Chris, Ezra had stopped by his place to change clothes. Dale had given him directions to the warehouse in which Meyerhurst stored his guns and Ezra was supposed to meet the anti-Seven at Meyerhurst's restaurant before they all headed there. On his way to the restaurant, Ezra had called Vin.

As he called Buck to dig up Chris, the only thing on Ezra's mind had been keeping his boss alive. He'd been relieved beyond description when Vin had told him over the phone that Larabee had survived. Then the sharpshooter had offered to give the phone to Chris. The impact of Standish's actions had hit the undercover agent with the force of a bullet to the mid-plex, then. He'd quickly told Vin Meyerhurst's plans to inspect his weapon cache and excused himself of the conversation. In the intervening hours, as the events of the evening replayed graphically in his head, Ezra had pretty much given up hope of ever working in law enforcement ever again. His mood had been disintegrating rapidly ever since reaching that conclusion.

He had no reason to feel guilty. He had done what he had to do to protect his cover, himself, and his boss. The thoughts, though logical, brought no comfort to his troubled conscience, and Ezra had a feeling that that line of reasoning would not hold with Larabee, either. Not where Standish was concerned.

At least Chris was alive and not permanently injured, Standish told himself. The plan had really worked perfectly. Except for the part where Ezra had had to beat up his boss to protect him from a homicidal maniac. That was the part that was going to get him fired. Chris put up with a lot from his undercover agent, but this he was not likely to forgive.

Now the only thing that was keeping Standish going was the thought that by the end of the night, he would know where the guns were kept and Meyerhurst and his whole company would land in prison. And if the Hilton's security tape was gold, all the better.

Meyerhurst's hoard of weapons resided in a warehouse not two miles away from his dilapidated office building. It was in not quite the state of disrepair that the office building was, Ezra noted. Although the brick was old and crumbling, there were several noticeable areas that had been replaced with new brick. Weeds had been pulled away from the walls, presumably to prevent them from causing further damage to the stonework. A shiny new padlock hung on the enormous sliding door. Oscar removed the lock and shoved the steel door back. It rolled in its track with nary a squeak, the hinges carefully preserved from rust.

Such security measures were quite sensible, Standish reflected. Ezra appreciated the value of blending into an environment more than most, but this was not the greatest area of town. A worn down building was an invitation for the neighborhood drunks and hobos to crash, and the last thing that Meyerhurst would want to deal with was a homeless person stumbling upon his secret stash of weapons. Ezra was severely shocked, however, when Oscar hurried inside to punch a code into a keypad. What sort of crazy criminals put a security system on their illegal arms? Who did they expect to show up if the alarm was tripped?

He questioned Kitty about it. "It's a modified system," she explained. "It is connected with my computer, so that if anyone breaks in, or if the cops ever discovered it, I would be the one alerted."

Meyerhurst smiled. "She even has it rigged to call my cell phone in that contingency. It's some of her best work." He flipped a switch on the wall near the entrance and the room was filled with dingy fluorescent illumination.

Ezra felt thoroughly let down as he surveyed the interior. For all intents and purposes, the room seemed deserted. Oh, there were a few crates scattered on the cold cement floor, but there was hardly enough of them to encompass the size of the shipment that the Chicago Boys were demanding. Besides which, they were covered with dust and cobwebs, appearing as if they had been lying in the same position since Nixon had been president. This wasn't worth the hellish week he'd just had. It certainly was not worth the loss of his job.

Standish was relieved to note that as they all moved deeper into the warehouse he could see that there was a generous opening cut out in the floor for a descending stairwell leading to a basement. Oscar flipped a switch on the wall adjacent to it and bright light flooded upward from the pit. There had better be something good down here, Ezra thought darkly. If this was to be the last bust of his career, it would be nice to make it worth something.

"After you," Dale gestured grandly to his boss. Ezra trailed Meyerhurst down to the basement, followed by the rest of the team. Eric Further, as usual keeping a wary eye on everything, stayed upstairs as lookout.

Now this was more like it. Dozens of crates were stacked in neat rows around the expanse of the enormous room. Each was clearly marked with the type and quantity of gun it contained. Thank heaven for organized crime, Standish punned to himself. He stepped past the arms dealer to examine the containers closer. They were even numbered! Now Standish was really excited. If they were numbered, they were recorded. And if they were recorded, they could be proven to lead to Meyerhurst.

"I collect nothing but the best," Meyerhurst bragged to Ezra. "Some of these boxes come all the way from Europe. But I'm sure I don't have to tell you that. You are the expert, after all."

Small arms and munitions expert "Anthony Stabler" nodded in appreciation as he continued to inspect the crates. "You do indeed have a fine array." Undercover agent Ezra Standish whooped inwardly in triumph. The bastard was going down. With this cache the ATF would have Meyerhurst put away for years. Combined with the tape from the hotel, it would be for life.

"Kitty, pull up the inventory for me," Meyerhurst requested. The Russian computer genius pulled out her laptop and set it on an empty table whose usual purpose was inspecting weaponry. Meyerhurst pulled a CD out of the pocket of his suit coat and handed the disc to Kitty. Ezra watched the exchange eagerly. Sure enough, Kitty loaded the disc and the screen was immediately filled with data. Pages and pages of weapons inventory - including the type, amount, location, and value of each gun - flashed by as the computer compiled the large file.

The undercover agent's thoughts immediately went to formulating a scheme that would enable him to obtain that disc. His plots and Meyerhurst's review of the inventory, however, were interrupted as shouts from above caught everyone's attention. A few seconds later Eric Further descended the stairs, prodding a man ahead of him by gunpoint.

"It's Eddie Dumluk!" Gadflies declared needlessly. They all recognized the flashy night club owner.

"Mr. Dumluk, why aren't you dead?" Meyerhurst frowned at his rival. Ron Rye growled an agreement.

Better question, Ezra thought, what the hell are you doing here, you cretin?

Dumluk's complexion was drained of color, and his eyes were as wide as the Mississippi as he regarded the storeroom's formidable occupants. He opened and closed his mouth a few times before his gaze slipped back to the rows of illegal weaponry. His eyes narrowed and he pursed his lips in a thin line. Dumluk then unbelievably stalked across the room towards Meyerhurst. Further raised his eyebrows and followed.

"What the hell is this?" Dale Oscar exclaimed incredulously. Ezra could have echoed the sentiment. He knew Dumluk was stupid, but this was incredible! Just when the ATF agent thought Dumluk couldn't drop any lower in his esteem, the man actually raised his finger and waggled it at Meyerhurst.

"How dare you?!" he screamed. "You tried to blow up my club, you bastard! There are cops all over there right now! They'll find everything! You ruined me because you just couldn't stand my success, is that it? You couldn't compete with my business savvy, could you?"

"Was it business savvy that led you here?" Meyerhurst questioned lightly.

"I came to steal your guns, the way you stole that deal from me!" Eddie snarled. "I bet you didn't know I knew where you kept 'em. I got my sources. I got lots of dirty secrets about you!"

On another day Ezra might have found this amusing. Meyerhurst and his team certainly seemed to. That was the only reason Dumluk was still pulling in oxygen to speak. But today was the day Ezra had assaulted his boss in order to protect his cover and arrest Michael Meyerhurst. Now, not only was Dumluk getting in the way of that goal, he had also placed himself in very immediate danger. Any second now the crime lord would stop being amused and inevitably pull out his pistol. Then bang, Dumluk dead on the floor, just like Tony; the only difference was his jacket would be silver. That, and this time Ezra knew it was coming. For all the good that does me, he thought sardonically.

Eddie seemed to be running out of breath. He looked like he forgot where he was going with his tirade. Meyerhurst spoke up.

"You forgot a few things, my friend. I framed you for the murder of South Side Jim," the crime lord supplied helpfully.

"Oh yeah. That was nasty, even for you."

"I agreed to kill you to cement an arms deal."

"That was pretty dirty too."

"And I have every intention of going through with it."

Eddie suddenly seemed to realize where he was and who he was surrounded by. His mouth closed with a snap as common sense kicked in all too late.

The air had become charged with latent menace. As long as Dumluk had been ranting, he had been safe. Sheer perverse amusement had kept Meyerhurst and his people at bay. Now that Eddie had realized the danger, the show was over. Ezra knew what the finale would be.

Now would be a good time for Team Seven to show up. How long had it been since he had called Vin? Ezra was going to have to pull a rabbit out of his hat to keep Dumluk alive if the team did not arrive swiftly. He doubted the coffin trick would be successful a second time.

"Your death will be quieter now, but it should satisfy the Chicago Boys." Meyerhurst told the trembling idiot. Pleasantly.

Shit. He was an ATF agent, he wasn't supposed to stand by and let people kill each other! His mind was working furiously to come up with a solution, but he could think of nothing to say that would convince them to spare Dumluk.

Further pushed the quivering rival arms dealer to his knees in front of Meyerhurst.

There was no time. Meyerhurst was going to kill Dumluk, no mercy, no hesitation. It may be that the man deserved to die, if just to rid the world of a fatally stupid moron, but that was not for Ezra to judge. He was one of the good guys, and the good guys did not stand by and let people get shot. Where the hell were the rest of Team Seven?

Meyerhurst had barely cleared his gun from the holster when he felt cool steel against the back of his own neck.

"Drop it," Ezra demanded, his voice as cold as the barrel of his weapon. "ATF. You're under arrest."

The room lapsed instantly into dead silence. Meyerhurst did not relinquish his hold on the revolver. "If this is a joke, Anthony, it isn't very funny."

"No, I don't find it amusing either. Let go of the gun."

The expression on Dumluk's face was one of pure relief as he realized he was going to live, followed immediately by a look of renewed panic. It did not take much brains to realize that Ezra had just put himself into a no-win situation. Standish's duped teammates stared at him with a range of reactions before hastily pulling out their weapons. Very quickly the undercover agent was facing a veritable arsenal. Far from saving his life, most likely all Ezra had done was to consign his own body to a grave next to Dumluk's.

Standish had at least been able to maneuver himself into a somewhat favorable position, with the arms dealer between himself and the criminal armada. To shoot him, they would have to shoot their boss. Of course their boss still had that damnable revolver. He could have Dumluk grab it, but he did not trust the panicked rival not to do something stupid, like turn the gun on his would-be rescuer.

Without taking his eyes off Meyerhurst, Ezra reached into his breast pocket and pulled out his cell phone. "Mr. Dumluk," Standish tossed the phone to the intended victim, who flinched in surprise and barely caught the projectile as it sailed toward him. "Speed-dial one, if you would be so kind."

"How could you?" Gadflies voice was so hurt that Ezra almost broke cover to look at the man. Dumluk had punched in the number and was waiting for the recipient to answer. Come on Chris, answer the phone.

"You're never getting out of here alive, you two-faced bastard." Dale Oscar scowled at the ATF agent. Guess he wasn't taking the deception very well either. "You'll only be able to get off a couple of shots before we nail you."

Boy, was he right about that. Damn it, Chris, answer the phone. "Then I guess you'd best discuss amongst yourselves which of you is going to die," Ezra told Oscar, his demeanor a lot calmer than he felt.

"Get over here, right now!" Dumluk suddenly shrieked into the phone. Chris must have answered. Finally.

"Mr. Dumluk! Please stop yelling and inform Mr. Larabee where we are." He heard someone gasp when he mentioned Chris' name. Meyerhurst's knuckles were cracking. Ezra wished he could take the phone and talk to Chris himself, but with Meyerhurst still armed he just could not take the risk. Standish contemplated directing him again to drop it, but the crime lord was no fool. He knew the agent had no real leverage over him, as he was not likely to shoot his only cover. Not unless I have to, Ezra thought grimly.

Dumluk was being awfully quiet. A queasy feeling rose up in Ezra's stomach. "Mr. Dumluk, why aren't you calling in the cavalry?" he asked.

"The signal was lost," Standish's only ally said in a small, shaky voice.

"Try again." The feeling got worse. Out of the corner of his eye Ezra could see Further shifting his weight, considering.

"I have. Twice. I can't get a connection."

There was nothing to say to that.


"Who was that?"

"I think it was Eddie Dumluk."

"Ezra Standish."

Ezra glanced at Meyerhurst's back. It was as tense as a cat lying in the sun, which was to say not very tense at all. What reason does he have to be nervous? He's got me outgunned six to one. Five to one actually. Nobody was dumb enough to give Ron Rye a weapon. He was a weapon. And now Meyerhurst had apparently figured out the nature of Ezra's deception.

"The ATF undercover agent." The crime lord shook his head ruefully, a small smile in his voice. "You played me, Mr. Standish. I thought we had talked about that."

Ezra recalled his conversation with the crime lord that first day. He had never told Team Seven about the unfortunate demise of Meyerhurst's original Tony. He didn't really know why. Perhaps he thought talking about it would validate the danger to his own life. And now here he was. The undercover agent's only chance was to kill enough time for Team Seven to arrive. And they were going to arrive. Soon. He hoped.

"It was no game, Mr. Meyerhurst. It was my job, and my pleasure."

"Well played," the arms dealer conceded, "except for this last move.. What did you possible expect to gain from this?"

An additional witness to bring to Meyerhurst's trial? No, because now Dumluk and he would both be dead. At least if Standish had kept his mouth shut he would still be alive to testify against Meyerhurst. So what was it? A sense of morality? Forgiveness, perhaps? But all that was too complicated to explain, and why bother anyway? So Ezra responded, "I've taken a liking to Mr. Dumluk's scintillating conversation. I'd miss it horribly if he were dead."

What were his adversaries doing? Most of them were blocked from his line of sight, but he could hear Oscar muttering angrily under his breath, and Ron Rye rumbling uncertainly. Ezra wondered how Kitty felt. She'd been conspicuously quiet since he had drawn his gun on her boss. He wasn't about to ask.

Meyerhurst was still feeling chatty. "Nothing but the best, I said. You are indeed a supremely talented conman. In fact, your talents are wasted in law enforcement. What has it ever got you besides lousy wages? When did it ever earn you any respect? I doubt your boss is happy with you right now."

Meyerhurst couldn't see Ezra cringe in response to that statement, but the undercover agent's silence must have told him he had hit his mark.

"You could still work for me, you know," the crime lord said. "I am not a forgiving man, but for you I would be willing to let bygones be bygones. If you kill Dumluk right now."

Yeah, right. Had Ezra ever thought he fit in with these people? Even though his future in the ATF looked bleak, there was no way Standish would ever throw in his lot with Meyerhurst.

"Thank you for that generous offer, Mr. Meyerhurst, but I fear I must decline. Mr. Dumluk, you may take this opportunity to abscond from the warehouse."

"What?" Eddie Dumluk blinked stupidly.

"Get out of here, Mr. Dumluk."

"They'll shoot me!"

"They will not. Because I put my life on the line to save your sorry ass, and if they shoot you, I will have done that for nothing. And I will be so aggravated about throwing my life away for no reason, that I will just have to shoot everyone, starting with Meyerhurst." Ezra said it loudly for all to hear. Whether it was true or not didn't matter. Only that they believed him.

"Yeah, but-"

"Leave, Mr. Dumluk. And remember that the Chicago Boys are out for your blood. The safest place for you to be is in federal custody."

Dumluk slowly got to his feet, his eyes darting around at the array of weapons drawn. He then turned and ran up the stairs, practically tripping over his own feet in his haste to leave. He didn't even spare a glance backward for his guardian angel.

No gratitude, Ezra thought irately.

JD had already evacuated Dumluk's club when Chris and the rest of Team Seven had arrived. The young computer expert had even had a big grin on his face as he greeted them.

"Hey, guys! You're missing all the fun! Buck's inside. He's already disarmed the bomb; he's just making another sweep of the building to make sure there isn't a second device."

Vin and Josiah left to help Buck while Larabee had questioned JD. "Where's Eddie Dumluk?"

JD's face fell and he had scowled sullenly. "I don't know. Buck and I saw him when we first got here. He didn't want to let us search his club, but Buck, ah, persuaded him. He was hanging around while we were looking, acting real nervous, but after we found the bomb Buck was disarming it and I was trying to get everybody out and there were so many people to keep track of that I guess Dumluk kinda got away from me."

Dunne made an apologetic face, but Larabee had just shook his head. "Never mind. We'll take care of Dumluk later. Get the guys. We're leaving."

"Are we going to nail Meyerhurst?" Chris nodded. "Sweet!"

JD had started towards the entrance to the club, but Josiah, Vin and Buck were already walking out the doors. Wilmington had the bomb in his hands and was showing it to Josiah and Vin. As he looked up and saw Chris, Buck had smiled and reached into his pocket. Taking out a small white bottle, he had thrown it to Chris.

"What's this?" Larabee had asked as he caught it.

"Aspirin. Told you we'd get ya some."

"When did you get the time to buy aspirin?"

Wilmington had shook his head. "Didn't buy it. Found it behind the bar."

Chris' eyes had narrowed suspiciously. "What were you doing behind the bar?"

"Searching for bombs, of course. Why, Chris? What'd you think I was doing?" Buck had grinned widely at his long time friend.

Chris had returned the knowing smile and gratefully downed two of the pills. He considered taking two more, but decided against it. He wanted to be sharp when he faced Meyerhurst and his team.

"Buck, give that thing to the locals." Larabee pointed at the bomb tucked under Wilmington's arm. "According to Ezra, Meyerhurst is inspecting his weapons cache right now. That's where we're going to take him down." He gave them directions to the warehouse, and they had split: Josiah with Buck and JD in his truck, Vin and Nathan with Chris in his Explorer. Team Seven had been three quarters of the way there when the phone call from Eddie Dumluk had come.

"Shit!" Chris threw the phone on the floor of the vehicle at Tanner's feet. Vin looked at him with concern.

"Who was that?" the sharpshooter asked.

Chris' grip on the steering wheel tightened. "I think it was Eddie Dumluk."

The sharpshooter raised his eyebrows and Nathan, in the backseat, leaned forward in surprise. "Why do you say that?" he asked.

"I heard Ezra in the background. Sounded like he was telling Dumluk to tell me where they are."

Vin frowned deeply. "Wasn't Ez supposed to be with Meyerhurst getting arms ready for the Chicago Boys?"

Larabee didn't answer, just pushed harder on the gas pedal. As they neared Meyerhurst's warehouse, the Explorer's headlights flashed on something metallic. A furtive figure dashed between two ramshackle buildings.

"Hey! That's Eddie Dumluk!" Vin exclaimed. Chris brought the vehicle screeched to a halt, as did Buck behind them in his truck.

"Where?" Chris demanded at the same time Nathan asked, "How do you know?"

"Down that alley. JD told me Dumluk was wearing a shiny silver jacket." The sharpshooter was already halfway out of the vehicle. Larabee and Jackson exited and Chris motioned to the half of the team in Buck's truck as Vin proceeded into the alleyway with his service revolver drawn.

Dumluk had no luck whatsoever. The alley was a dead end. He had nowhere to go, and it was plain by the look on his face that the arms dealer knew it. The man was terrified. Vin had Dumluk backed against a wall with his weapon aimed at Eddie, who had his hands raised above his head and was babbling anxiously as Chris arrived on the scene, followed by Nathan, Buck, JD and Josiah.

". . . Looks like I did it, but I didn't. Do it. I didn't do it. Meyerhurst did. He did it and made it look like I did. Chicago Pete knows me. He knows I wouldn't do anything to hurt Gianotello or his family. It was Meyerhurst. I was dead asleep when it happened. At my club. Meyerhurst tried to blow up my club, did you know that? Oh yeah, you guys told him to. But you told him that under the assumption that I had killed South Side and now that you know I didn't do it, Meyerhurst did, you don't have to worry about me 'cause you know I didn't do it, right?"

Eddie had run out of breath. Chris looked at Vin. "What the hell did you say to him?"

Tanner shrugged and shook his head. "Didn't say anything. He turned around, saw me and just started yapping. Haven't been able to get him to shut up to tell him I'm ATF."

Dumluk's mouth dropped open and his hands drooped. They shot back up as Larabee and Tanner glared at him and gestured with their weapons.

"You're ATF?" the arms dealer exclaimed.

"That's right," Nathan said. Chris pulled out his badge and showed it to Dumluk. Eddie was visibly relieved.

"I thought you were with the Chicago Boys. They think I killed their man! But I didn't, it was-"

"Meyerhurst. Yeah, we know."

Dumluk grinned nervously. "Of course, of course. You guys know everything. I gotta tell you, you people are doing a great job. I mean, you're everywhere! You guys here, that guy with Meyerhurst-"

"What guy with Meyerhurst?" Chris cut in. Eddie cringed as he was suddenly the focus of six pairs of eyes waiting intently for him to answer their leader's question.

"Um, I don't know his name. He's, uh, got sorta reddish brown hair, green eyes. Uh, he, um, talks real fancy. With an accent."

The six present members of Team Seven exchanged glances as Dumluk described Ezra. "How do you know he's ATF?" Josiah asked.

The arms dealer stared up at the big man. He gulped audibly. "I, uh, was there when he told Meyerhurst," Dumluk said.

"He did what?!"

Eddie looked like he was beginning to wish he had met up with the Chicago Boys as Chris stepped forward and grabbed the nightclub owner by his flashy lapels.

"Talk," he growled. The dark bruises on his face, instead of making him seem less threatening, only served to lend him a demonic appearance. "Why did Ezra tell Meyerhurst he's ATF?"

Eddie squeezed his eyes shut and rapidly poured out everything he knew. "Meyerhurst was going to shoot me and that Ezra guy drew his gun and told Meyerhurst he was ATF and he was under arrest and then he told me to call you but the line went dead and Meyerhurst asked why he'd saved me and that Ezra guy said he'd miss my sparkling conversation, or something like that, which I thought was rather nice but I don't think Meyerhurst thought he meant it 'cause he offered him a job if he'd kill me and then that Ezra guy told me to get out of there and I did and then you guys found me, and I thought you were the Chicago Boys and-"

"Yeah, yeah. We were there for that. Why didn't Ezra leave with you?"

"Um, probably because he had a shit load of guns pointed at him at the time."

Chris heard the intakes of breath behind him from his team. The sniveling arms dealer in his grip smiled weakly and tried to look helpful. Standish, what the hell were you thinking?

"Where are they now?" he asked.

"Still in the basement of the warehouse, as far as I know."

"How long ago did you leave?"

"Uh, five minutes?"

Larabee threw Dumluk to Wilmington. "Cuff him and put him in the Explorer."

Eddie willingly submitted to the restraints. "We're going downtown, right? I'm going into Witness Protection? That Ezra guy told me the safest place to be was in federal custody."

"That's right," Chris responded as Dumluk and his agents got into the vehicles.

"So we're going to the police station, right?"

"That's right," Chris said as went over to the driver's side of his Explorer. He got in and slammed the door shut.

"Right after we get Ezra."

"Could we please just shoot him?"

Ezra loved it when Ron Rye spoke. It almost made him sound sane.

"Not yet, Rye," Oscar sounded a touch regretful, and a lot vindictive.

Ezra suddenly felt like he was up a shitstream without a paddle, trying not to get his hands dirty. He'd been in bad predicaments before, but never such a dilemma of his own making. One thing his mother had always taught him was never get into a situation you didn't have a way out of. What ever possessed him to go against her advice in this case he would probably never know.

At least he saved Dumluk's life for all of five minutes, although it would be a miracle if the moron could avoid being fatally stupid for any longer than that. Of course, Ezra's own bout of fatal stupidity was probably going to come to its terminal conclusion soon. How long could this standoff last? Meyerhurst was calm as a corpse, but obviously the rest of them were getting antsy. Standish was suddenly aware that the room had dropped into complete silence. Keeping the barrel of his weapon against Meyerhurst's neck, he glanced around the room.

Ezra's back was secure to the eastern wall, but Further was off to his right, moving almost imperceptibly towards the north wall. Standish could just see Gadflies around Meyerhurst, not going anywhere but nervously twisting his head back and forth to take in every action. On the other side of the crime lord, Dale Oscar was looking at Meyerhurst as if the two were sharing some sort of silent communication. Shit. They were going to try something. Ezra risked a glance to his left at Ron Rye. The man was actually licking his lips in anticipation, bouncing up and down on his toes with an occasional glance towards his boss. Apparently he was not so insane as to make a move without Meyerhurst's approval. Kitty was behind Rye, but the agent couldn't see her face.

Okay. He would ask.

"Ms. Kitanovich, you have been extremely quiet. Have you no threats of bodily harm to offer my person?"

Her voice he heard clearly.

"Why waste my breath talking to a dead man."

"Touché." This had stopped being fun about five minutes ago. How the hell was he going to get out of this mess?

"What we need is a diversion."

To all outside appearances, Meyerhurst's warehouse was abandoned. There were no lights on the exterior of the building, but moonlight revealed a black Lincoln Navigator parked out front. The night was silent, except for the hushed voices of the ATF agents watching the warehouse across the street.

"Just so happens I have a bunch of C4 in the back of my truck."

"Buck, I thought I told you to get rid of that bomb!"

"Well . . ."

"Never mind, it'll work. Here's what we're gonna do . . ."

"I say we just go to the police station. I mean, the guy's probably already dead and-"

"Zip it, Dumluk."

"Anyone mind if I just shoot 'im?"

That shut the arms dealer up.

Ezra had come to the conclusion that he was not getting out of that warehouse without another big gamble. With any luck, being bold would not result in being extremely dead. He did so hate betting his own life in these high-risk gambits.

"All right, gentlemen. And ladies. This is how we're going to proceed," Ezra pronounced to the assemblage of assorted criminal types. "I am going to walk out of this warehouse, and Meyerhurst is coming with me. Any rash assaults upon us will consequently result in a great many fatalities. I would advise you all to find new avenues of employment, as your boss will soon be out of business." Of course, he still had to acquire that disc with the weapons inventory on it. Maybe he could grab it on the way out.

"I'm afraid, Agent Standish, that I find that situation completely unacceptable."

Ezra was beginning to hate that word.

As Meyerhurst made his statement, he nodded, and Gadflies suddenly rushed the undercover agent and his boss. Ezra had anticipated the attack to come from Oscar. He hadn't ruled out Further or Ron Rye, either. The undercover agent wouldn't even have been surprised if Kitty had lost her cool and come after him. It had never crossed Ezra's mind to expect any sort of hostilities from Rick Gadflies.

Ezra turned at the abrupt movement, momentarily distracted from the still-armed crime lord in front of him. He realized his mistake almost immediately, but it was too late. Meyerhurst twisted his body and brought his arm down on Ezra's, grabbing his wrist in a painfully strong grip. The arms dealer tried to bring his own gun to bear on Ezra. The undercover agent stepped in and brought his forehead down hard on the bridge of Meyerhurst's nose. The maneuver hurt like hell, but it left Meyerhurst momentarily stunned. He didn't loosen his manacle grip on Ezra's wrist, but Standish was able to knock the gun out of Meyerhurst's hand.

The crime lord recovered quickly. With his free hand he tried to punch Ezra in the stomach. The undercover agent saw it coming and managed to deflect the strike so that it glanced below his ribs instead of catching him full in the gut. Ezra reeled as the blow hit one of his ribs, but quickly retaliated with a strike of his own. Ezra's betrayed teammates circled, still unable to fire their weapons for fear of hitting their boss.

This couldn't last, Ezra knew with deadly certainty as he endured an elbow to his jaw. Any second now Meyerhurst's underlings were going to realize that Standish didn't stand a chance if they rushed him. The undercover agent brought his foot down on Meyerhurst's instep and endeavored to get the crime lord's unencumbered limb into an arm lock. Or Ron Rye would decide to screw it all and risk a bullet to rend Ezra limb from limb. Meyerhurst slipped out of his grip and attempted to reverse the move. Heck, the giant probably ate bullets for breakfast.

Arms dealer and undercover agent were locked in a deadly embrace. Standish strained against Meyerhurst's grip to bring his gun around. Meyerhurst's arm was beginning to weaken, he could feel it as his own arm inched up until it was at shoulder height. Meyerhurst gritted his teeth and suddenly let go of Ezra's wrist to connect a blow to Ezra's stomach. The agent grunted as the blow expended the air from his lungs, but before he could gulp a breath, Meyerhurst re-established his hold on Standish's gun arm and had his other hand up and wrapped around Ezra's throat. Ezra's free arm snapped up as he grabbed Meyerhurst's wrist in an attempt to pull his fingers away. Meyerhurst's hold remained firm.

Struggling to breathe, Ezra kicked at Meyerhurst's shins, but the sudden lack of oxygen had left him weak. Spots danced in front of Ezra's eyes, and the world started to blur. The sound of Meyerhurst's knuckles cracking echoed in his ears. Out of the corner of his eye Ezra saw Ron Rye begin to charge. Where was Team Seven?!

The explosion as it shook the foundations of the building and caused everyone to stop in their tracks was the most welcome sound Standish had ever heard.

"Now!" Chris shouted over the roar of the blast. He did not wait to see if the team followed him down into the basement. He knew they were right behind him.

Chris did a quick inventory of the situation. It was as bad as Dumluk had described. Worse, actually, as Ezra was now struggling to release himself from Meyerhurst's chokehold. The diversion had worked as expected. Everyone was looking up, not at the men rushing down the stairwell. Ron Rye was the first to notice Team Seven. With a maniacal grin on his face he hurled himself towards Chris. That broke the spell around the room, and everyone turned their weapons to aim at Team Seven.

Chris' men were already spreading out to find cover as the bullets began to cut through the air. The ATF leader fired at the approaching giant, but Ron Rye unpredictably altered course at the last second and the shot went wide. He was bearing down on Larabee too fast for him to fire again and Chris braced himself for the impact of two hundred plus pounds of psychopath.

The impact never came. Josiah intercepted Ron Rye with a football tackle worthy of the NFL. The two of them became locked in a epic wrestling match on the warehouse floor. Chris was about to lend Josiah a hand when a bullet whistled past his cheek. Dale Oscar had sent a table to its side and was firing at Larabee from behind it. He fired again. Chris quickly dove behind a pile of crates where Nathan was returning fire.

The medical man gave Chris a quick glace. "Haven't been able to get to Ezra," Nathan commented dryly as he sent off another round.

Chris took a risk and poked his head up over the crates. His undercover agent had managed to free himself from Meyerhurst's chokehold but was still being overpowered by the crime boss. And he had lost his firearm. It was being kicked around on the floor.

Fortunately, the bullets were mostly avoiding the struggling duo as neither team was willing to risk hitting one of their own.. Larabee considered the possibilities of providing Ezra with assistance. He checked the position of the rest of his team.

Josiah was still trading blows with Ron Rye near the stairwell, both men heedless of the bullets flying around them. JD was across the room crouching behind a large wooden crate, occasionally popping up to fire his twin pistols. He saw his boss looking at him and gave a grin and a small wave, before a bullet from Rick Gadflies' gun caused him to duck back under cover. The mad scientist wannabe was lying flat on the floor under a table, looking for all the world like a child afraid of the dark hiding under his bed.

The only one of Meyerhurst's gang that Chris could not see was Eric Further. Definitely not good. Further was the deadliest shot of the bunch. No, there he is. Running up the stairs. What a disloyal bastard. He was going to be very surprised when he found out Vin was waiting upstairs, standing in reserve in case anyone escaped up the stairwell.

Chris became a little concerned when he couldn't find Buck. Then he saw him. Ezra and Meyerhurst were struggling in front of a line of crates stacked triple high, and Larabee could see Buck's tall form through the gaps between the cartons, moving swiftly and stealthily to take the two of them from behind.

Uh-oh. Buck wasn't the only one stalking the two combatants. Andrea Kitanovich was coming up along a perpendicular line of crates. In about two seconds she and Buck were going to reach the corner and come face to face.

What the hell? Buck thought as he ran straight into Andrea Kitanovich's gun. Or maybe it was Damn! Either way, before the thought even had time to register, he grabbed the weapon and twisted it out of her grip. He didn't know his hands could move that fast. Kitanovich was surprised as well. The young Russian looked down at her empty hand and up at Wilmington with outrage. It then struck Buck that the lady hacker's case photos didn't do her justice. She was very attractive.

"Howdy, ma'am. You're under arrest." Buck winked at the beautiful criminal.

He should have known there would be trouble when she greeted his statement with a smile. He should have realized that it was a dangerous smile. But as it was, Buck was caught completely unaware when she drew back her fist and struck him in the nose hard enough to knock him off his feet.

Damn! he thought for sure this time as he blinked stars out of his eyes. He didn't even see Kitty's booted foot as it slammed forcefully into his side. His vision cleared for him to see the offending footwear striding around the corner. She had even managed to grab her gun as she slipped by him. Bitch, Buck contemplated sourly. He hoped his nose wasn't broken.

Wilmington crawled painfully to his feet. He was about to pursue the Russian when he saw movement from behind him out of the corner of his eye. Oscar had abandoned his position to chase after Buck and now had his gun pointed and ready to fire. This could be bad. Was it divine providence, or just dumb luck that Josiah and Ron Rye came hurtling into the rows of cartons at that moment?

The titan struggle between agent and psychopath sent crates crashing to the floor, causing Buck and Oscar to leap back to avoid the flying debris. Unaware of anything except each other, Josiah and Rye continued their fight through the warehouse, leaving destruction in their wake. Buck turned back to Oscar.

Dale had dropped his gun in the disturbance. It now lay on the floor among dozens of other firearms that had been stored in the broken crate. Oscar's eyes met Buck's, and he immediately dropped to his hands and knees, searching for his weapon. Wilmington grinned and reached for his own revolver. His smile faltered as he pat the empty ground next to him. His own gun had somehow gotten mixed into the array of empty firearms. Buck dove into the mess.

Oscar came up first. He snatched a weapon and whipped around to aim it at Buck. Buck's hands shot in the air as Meyerhurst's right-hand man cocked his gun. Or was it his? Wilmington's eyebrows furrowed as he tried to remember if that was the same pistol the criminal had been brandishing earlier. Well, I've got nothing to lose if it is, right? Buck launched himself at a surprised Dale Oscar. The agent heard a hollow click as he impacted the bewildered man.

There was really no contest after that. Both men were physically evenly matched, but the element of surprise gave Buck a marked advantage. Wilmington huffed with exertion as he monitored Oscar to make sure he was really unconscious. Once he was satisfied that the man wouldn't be getting up anytime soon, he scanned the warehouse for his teammates.

Chris was behind some crates, drawing Rick Gadflies' fire while Nathan was sneaking around to get behind him. Buck couldn't see Ron Rye and Josiah, but from the sounds of it they were somewhere in the south end of the warehouse. About a hundred yards away, Ezra had for the moment gained the upper hand with Meyerhurst, but was unaware of Kitanovich approaching from behind with her gun drawn. The look on her face was one of determined hatred.

Buck would never find his weapon in time. He tried shouting Ezra's name to make him aware of the danger, but the undercover agent was too involved in maintaining his momentary advantage over Meyerhurst to hear the warning. JD heard, Buck noted with relief. The young agent was about halfway in between Wilmington and Standish. He took off running at the Russian computer whiz.

JD had just narrowly avoided being run over by Ron Rye and Josiah. Both looked like they had been through a war - full-fledged, nuclear weapon, take no prisoner kind of warfare - but neither showed signs of giving up anytime soon. JD had been considering if there was any way he could lend Josiah a hand when he heard Buck's frantic yelling.

At first he had been worried that his friend was in trouble, but then he saw Dale Oscar laying flat out on the ground and followed Buck's worried gaze to the end of the warehouse and JD realized what had Wilmington worked up. Andrea Kitanovich was ten feet away from Ezra, stalking him like a black panther stalking its prey. She couldn't fire without risk of hitting Meyerhurst, but if she got close enough she could. Ezra had no idea she was behind him.

Well, no one was shooting at JD right now. Danged if he was going to let some half-rate hacker put a hole in his teammate. He pumped his legs into a vigorous sprint, closing the distance between himself and Kitanovich. She was so focused on murdering Standish that she never even saw JD until he caught her in a full-out tackle.

Both their weapons clattered into the mess of assault rifles already littering the ground. A moment later JD and Kitanovich were skidding across the concrete floor as well. JD would have sworn she hissed at him as they abruptly halted a yard away from Meyerhurst and Ezra's feet.

Meyerhurst must have realized he was fighting a losing battle. He shoved Ezra backwards, causing him to trip over the tussling computer experts. JD grunted as Ezra's heel caught him in the stomach. The crime boss quickly evaluated the situation around the warehouse before vaulting up the stairs. Standish snarled and launched himself to his feet. "Get the laptop," he rasped as he snatched up one of JD's guns and bounded after Meyerhurst.

Laptop? Laptop!? How was he supposed to get the laptop without this wildcat clawing his eyes out? Ezra had taken his one pistol and the other was nowhere to be seen. To be perfectly honest, Kitanovich actually didn't seem too interested in JD at the moment as she shook her head to clear it and saw Ezra following her boss up the stairs. The Russian pushed herself to her feet, so intent on the Standish's back that she didn't even notice JD. Until he grabbed her foot and pulled her to the ground again, that is. No matter what the undercover agent had instructed, Dunne wasn't about to let Kitty go.

Cold dark eyes widened in surprise, and then Andrea Kitanovich finally saw JD. The two young computer experts stared at each other momentarily. JD scrambled to his feet..

"The ATF's kid genius," Kitty sneered up at him. JD blinked affrontedly. The Russian was probably a year or two younger than him! "First I'll kill you," she said as she brought herself to a crouching position. "Then I'll kill Standish."

"You know," JD said, "you may have issues." Apparently she wasn't interested in his ideas of what was wrong with her psyche, as she suddenly shot out with a vicious leg sweep. JD saw it coming and jumped back. Pain shot up his leg when her foot connected with his left ankle, but he managed to stay on his feet by catching himself on a table. A table with an open laptop sitting upon it.

JD had lost any thought of Ezra's instructions as Andrea Kitanovich lunged at him, black-painted nails bared like claws. JD reflexively grabbed the laptop and swung it at the Russian's head. She collapsed in a heap of broken circuitry at his feet.

Then JD recalled what Ezra had said. He set the remnant of the laptop back on the table and examined the ruined computer guiltily. Well . . . it wasn't so bad. The monitor had snapped off completely and it lay on the floor in various pieces, but the hard drive was still intact, as were most of the main components. He pried open the CD drive. There was a disc inside that miraculously hadn't suffered a scratch.

Kitanovich stirred and groaned on the floor. JD hastily ceased his examinations of the computer and pulled his handcuffs out of his pocket. Hopefully whatever information the laptop had contained was recoverable, he thought as he snapped the handcuffs on his defeated foe. And hopefully Ezra doesn't shoot me when he finds out I broke it.

The sounds of bullets whizzing through the warehouse had been reduced to just the ones being exchanged by Chris and Rick Gadflies. And even those were sporadic, mostly coming from Larabee and aimed well wide so as not to hit Nathan coming up behind Gadflies. Nathan sure did appreciate it. The only thing he hated worse than patching up his teammates was applying those same administrations to himself. It just never worked out.

Gadflies was completely unaware of the former medic sneaking up on him. He fired off a couple more shots at Chris but then the gun clicked as Rick ran out of bullets. Nathan saw the ex-mortician search his pockets for more ammo and come up empty. The former morgue attendant started inching his way backwards out from under the table. Gadflies stopped instantly at the sound of Nathan's gun cocking.

"This is the ATF. You're under arrest," Jackson announced as he approached cautiously.

Gadflies put his hands in the air and slowly came to his knees. He twisted his body to look at the medic with a highly bewildered expression on his face.

"Oh," was all Rick Gadflies said before falling senseless to the ground.

"Huh," Nathan responded, surprised. Keeping his weapon trained on the little man in case he was faking, Jackson approached and used one hand to flip Gadflies' body over. Glassy eyes stared at Nathan unseeingly.

The ceiling shook as upstairs, damage from the explosion continued to cause parts of the building to collapse. Chris came out from behind the crates and advanced as his agent checked Gadflies for a pulse.

"Did he faint?" Larabee asked incredulously.

"I think it's more serious than that," Nathan answered. "He's dead, Chris."

Chris looked down at Gadflies unmoving form. "What, seriously? How'd that happen?"

Jackson nodded incredulously. There was no bullet hole, not a scratch, not a mark on the body to indicate how the former morgue attendant had died. Nathan scratched his head.

"I don't know, but the man is definitely dead. Maybe he had a heart attack. Certainly doesn't look to be the most hardy fellow."

"Whatever. Let the coroner figure it out." Chris assessed the situation in the warehouse while Nathan tried to figure out what had caused Rick Gadflies to drop dead on the spot. "I'm going upstairs to check on Vin and Ezra. See if you can help those guys with Lurch. They seem to have lost their weapons."

Nathan glanced over his shoulder to where Josiah had been joined by Buck and JD in his attempt to subdue Ron Rye. Buck was laid out on his stomach, grabbing at the giant's ankle in a futile attempt to trip the ogre and Josiah was still in front of him, his teeth clenched into a frightening, bloody grimace. JD had his arms wrapped around Rye's throat as he hung on the man's back. Rye was swinging him like a cape.

Jackson got up as Chris sprinted to the stairs. The ex-EMT checked his gun to make sure he still had plenty of bullets. There were seven. He hoped that would be enough.



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