I dont know if anyone else has done this yet but I took the script for the OW story and dragged it into the ATF AU. The italics are dialog from the original. Many thanks to Cheryl for her speedy-quick beta read.
It started like any other undercover operation. Team 7 sat in the conference room going over the aerial photos of the compound and the blueprints of the house. They were going after Rupert Browner, notorious gunrunner. The man had successfully evaded arrest on numerous occasions, being too smart to leave anything that might resemble evidence behind. He had been blamed for the deaths of several local law enforcement officers although nothing could ever be proven against him.
Its really isolated, Ezra, Vin was reminding him. Except for the rail line, the only way in is through the front door.
Are you really sure you want to do this? Youll have almost nothing in the way of backup, even if we can get Nathan into the compound with you, Chris said, vocalizing his concern for his team members. He had seen the police photos of the dead officers. Even in the black and white photos, it was gruesome.
AD Travis wants us to take this man down and thats just what I intend to do, the southerner stated firmly. Browner offended the agent on so many fronts. The man reportedly ran a stable of young oriental women and prostituted them to his friends. He also had an obvious dislike for persons of color. Chris wanted to get Nathan in as a butler to see if the other servants would give up anything on their boss. I do wish you would reconsider your position with regard to sending Mr. Jackson undercover. Browner is dangerous and could pose a serious threat to our esteemed medic.
And I was beginning to think you didnt care, Nathan teased from across the table.
All right, lets get serious here. JD has the bugs for you to place in the house. He also has chipped several articles of your clothing and shoes so we dont lose track of you. If things get out of hand, youll have to make it to one of the pickup points. Is that clear? Chris stared hard at the southerner.
Crystal, Ezra replied.
The rest of the meeting was concerned with getting the listening and recording devices into place outside of the house. Vin was going to try to put up a deer stand in one of the large trees along the west side of the perimeter of the yard. He and Buck would do twelve-hour shifts in it to provide another set of eyes and ears.
Twenty-four hours later, Ezra Simpson was introduced to Rupert Browner. His cover was as a party interested in expanding Browners empire. He claimed to have an extensive network of distributors to facilitate the disbursement of goods in the neighboring towns.
Mr. Simpson, it is truly a pleasure to finally meet you. Allow me to show you around and then we will get you settled into your quarters, Rupert said in a tone that oozed charm.
The arrangements had been made ahead of time and Ezra knew he would be housed in one of the little bungalows that dotted the landscape around the big house. It was truly a magnificent mansion. Antiques sat in tasteful arrangements in several rooms and expensive paintings adorned the walls. The library held hand-tooled leather volumes of all the classics and the southerners mouth watered at the thought of being able to indulge himself in a long week of literary perusal.
Outside of the grand mansion, were the bungalows and a large, modern barn. An incredible russet-colored stallion pranced in the corral. On the hill in the distance, Ezra could just make out several other horses. The tour ended at the small building that would be his domicile for the duration of his time in the compound. Browner showed him around the efficiency-style unit and then left him to unpack. His belongings had been brought down, along with the non-descript Chevy Malibu he was driving.
Nathan arrived the next day. Affecting a slight Jamaican accent, he was immediately accepted and sent to the kitchen. He spent his days helping to prepare the meals and serving in the dining room. It was easier for him to place the bugs in the huge house because he had access to almost every room in the course of his work. He nodded at Ezra but made no attempt to communicate with him.
For the next few days, Ezra was treated to all the luxuries that the compound had to offer. Late morning breakfasts were followed by leisure browsing in the library. After a light lunch, he was often invited to join Browner on a horseback ride or a couple hours of putting or driving practice on the indoor golf area in the basement. Their evenings were filled with sumptuous meals in the dining room followed by drinks on the patio. It was indeed the good life.
Or at least it would have been the good life if it were not for the bevy of beautiful young women waiting on them hand and foot. It was obvious to the southerner that some of them were barely women. From the way they cowered when Browner called them to his side, it was obvious that they knew his sadistic side. One girl in particular caught Ezras eye. The warm brown eyes and sensual lips were situated on a face and body that he almost ached to touch. She was dressed in a pale silk dress with small jade accents. Her voice and accent showed that English was not her first language.
More wine, Mr. Ezra?" she asked timidly. When he nodded, she poured from the bottle clutched tightly in her hands. She was trembling and the wine sloshed onto his hand and up his arm. As soon as she saw it, the girl put the bottle down and grabbed a towel. She apologized profusely as she worked to clean up the mess.
Browner stormed over from his seat and drew back to strike the girl. No good, lazy
Rupert, please, it wasnt her fault. I moved the glass. No harm done. Really, Ezra assured as he moved to protect the girl from the coming blow. Browner huffed at her and pointed imperiously toward the door.
Wo Chin, see to it that she learns her place!" the angry man shouted at one of the Chinese servants standing inconspicuously near the door. The older man bowed and hurried after the fleeing girl.
After his host had calmed, Ezra inquired about the next shipment of weapons. Rupert became animated, explaining how and when the shipment would arrive.
A few of the engineers owe me money. Theyre more than happy to make a stop where the rail line touches my property. The crates are unloaded and the train moves on with no one the wiser. I acquire anything I want that way and it is delivered and I never have to leave the compound. Its one of the reasons that the feds have not been able to get to me, he bragged.
Several hours later, Ezra looked up from the novel he was reading at a light knock on his door. He set the book aside and reached under the cushion for the gun he had stashed there. When he opened the door, Nathan stood there with an armload of fresh linens.
Mr. Simpson, Mr. Browner said that you requested fresh linen for your bed? Nathan asked.
Yes, come in and see if you cant get the hospital corners right this time. Honestly, for what Browner pays you, the least you could do is make the bed up right! Ezra growled loudly before slamming the door.
Once inside, Nathan put down the sheets and glanced at the southerner. Ezra turned on the stereo, I hope you dont mind if I listen to some music while you work.
The noise covered anything the two men might say. Ezra had spent several hours finding and neutralizing the bugs in the apartment. All except for the one in the living room area. The two men moved to the bedroom to talk.
The servants are scared silly of Browner. One of them told me that he has his own Chinese graveyard up in the woods where he buries the ones hes killed. Were not going to get anything from any of them, Nathan explained.
Are you able to get a message to Chris? Ezra asked.
Yeah, I go into town to do the shopping every few days. Browner likes everything fresh.
Good! Tell him that the next shipment will be here in a few days. As soon as I nail down the rest of the information, Ill let you know.
The two men were interrupted by a knock on the door. Ezra hurried out to the living room and sat down before calling over his shoulder.
Would you mind getting that, Mr. Jackson?
Nathan opened the door and found a man and a young woman standing on the porch. May I help you?" he asked suspiciously. The man pushed the girl before him and entered the room, bypassing the much larger man.
Hey, you like to buy girl? She can do many things. Not only cook and clean, but love, too! The words spilled from the mans mouth as the girl trembled visibly in his grasp.
You cant sell that girl, Nathan protested.
She my niece. I can do what I like with her. Hey, she very pretty, huh?" the man asked of Ezra, ignoring the angry glare the other man was giving him.
How much? Ezra asked after a long, appraising stare.
For $100 you can have her all night. Mr. Browner say she can do no work in big house. If she not earn her keep, he get rid of her, the man answered quickly.
Ezra pulled his wallet from his suit coat pocket and began to peel off bills. How much to keep her for the week? Five?
The mans mouth fairly watered at the sight of the money and he nodded before pushing the girl toward him and snatching the money from the southerners hand. You like. She make you very happy. The man scurried out of the room like a mouse. Nathan glared hard at Ezra before storming out, too.
Silencing the stereo, Ezra studied the young girl. She shyly stared at the floor as she wrung her hands. Finally, she worked up the courage to raise her eyes to the man standing less than an arms breadth away. With little twitches around her cheeks, she tried to smile.
What is your name, child? Ezra asked quietly.
Li Pong, she answered obediently.
Come with me, he said as he turned for the bedroom. Once inside, he closed the door. Ordering his thoughts, he began to remove his coat and found the woman immediately taking it and moving to the closet to hang it for him. She returned and steered him to the bed. When he sat down, she removed his shoes and set them together under the edge of the bed. Before the southerner could come to grips with the situation, she reached up and began to fumble with his tie.
No, you dont have to do this, he told her as he clasped her hands and pushed them away.
Then you you dont want to? Li Pong asked in her softly accented voice. Her eyes were wide with fear as she studied the green eyes of the man who had bought her.
I am a man, of course, I always want to, but I certainly dont intend to, Ezra answered quickly. I just wanted to make sure that you were safe. Browner didnt hurt you, did he?
No, he tell my uncle to keep me out of his sight.
Very well. I want you to stay here, in the apartment. Dont go back up to the house for anything, understand? Now, get yourself ready and go to bed, Ill sleep on the sofa in the other room, Ezra told her as he released her hands.
Oh no, I can sleep on the floor. In San Francisco, my family very poor. We always sleep on the floor. And not so nice carpet as this, Li Pong replied quickly as she sat back on her heels and rubbed the deep, plush carpet.
I insist, Ezra urged as he drew her to her feet. Because she had knelt so close to the bed, when they stood, they were almost nose-to-nose. Her brown eyes flitted up to his for a moment and then she looked down again. He ran his hands up from her wrists to her shoulders and inhaled deeply. She glanced up again.
You want to kiss me now?" she asked in a whisper.
Before he could lose control, Ezra sidestepped and moved to the dresser. He pulled out his pajamas and grabbed his wrapper from the back of the door. Almost as an afterthought, he pulled another nightshirt from the drawer and draped it over the end of the bed. Glancing at Li Pong again, he quickly left the room.
After a long, cool shower, Ezra dressed and headed out of the bathroom. He knew he was going to have to explain to Nathan and probably to Chris what happened. He could just see that line item on his expense report, Chinese slave girl, $500. AD Travis would have his head.
Some hours later, he was wakened by a soft whimper and got up to investigate. Opening the door soundlessly, Ezra watched as Li Pong stretched under the blankets. A soft sigh escaped her lips with several words in Chinese before she settled again. He resolved to find out more about the girl in the morning.
Ezra wakened to the smell of food cooking. His nose twitched and his sleep fogged brain made the distinction, good food cooking. He opened his eyes and stretched before sitting up on the couch. He was mildly surprised to have slept as well as he did.
Whats cooking?" he asked as he looked into the kitchenette where the young woman was busy whipping up something. She rattled off a list of things and his mouth watered. He left the couch and gathered clean clothes from the bedroom before heading for the bathroom. He noticed that she had already made up the bed. After a quick shower and shave, he stepped out just as she was putting everything on the small table on the outdoor patio in back of the bungalow. She smiled warmly as he closed the sliding door behind him. It smells wonderful!" he complimented as he pulled out a chair. When it became apparent to him that she did not intend to eat with him, there being only one place setting on the table, he protested. Certainly, you were planning on partaking of this fantastic feast with me, werent you? She shook her head vigorously as shock spread across her face.
Oh, no! I am servant, I cannot do that!" she protested.
I insist, Ezra said as he took her by the arm and guided her to the chair he had pulled out. Ill be right back. He went into the kitchenette and grabbed another plate and silverware. Glancing out the window, he also grabbed another coffee cup before heading back to the table.
When he realized that the girl was uncomfortable, he dished up food for her and set the plate down. He poured coffee from the carafe and raised his eyebrows in question as he held it over the cup by her plate. She nodded and he filled the cup before setting the carafe aside. He offered her cream before adding some to his own cup. After she started eating, he noticed that she seemed to relax a little.
Last night you mentioned San Francisco. Is that where your family is now?" he asked.
We were going to start a new life there, but my father, he became very ill. And mother, she could not take care of all of us so I was sent to my uncle, Li Pong explained quietly.
Oh, you must miss them terribly, he said as his heart ached for her.
But I am glad to be here. You are a good man, she assured him in between bites.
Oh dont be fooled by a few good manners, he cautioned her.
I know many bad men, but you are different, she answered before gathering her dishes as she had finished her meal.
Different? Well, that is hard to deny, he said to the air as Li Pong had hurried away with the dishes.
Upon arriving at the big house, Ezra was greeted by a smiling Rupert.
I trust you had a pleasant evening? The innuendo in his words was as blunt as a butter knife.
I had a most enjoyable evening and morning. The girl may not be able to pour wine, but she has charms, he agreed with a dimpled smile. He pulled out a chair and sat down. Nathan hurried over with plates and silverware. Oh, no thank you, my good man. I have already enjoyed a most pleasant repast with my new paramour. Just coffee is fine, Ezra said. Nathan barely managed to conceal the angry, contemptuous look before Rupert looked up.
Since you are so happy with Li Pong, you probably wont be interested in the rest of the shipment I have coming in, Browner teased.
The rest of the shipment? Ezra asked innocently.
Hell yes! I got me a boxcar of China dolls coming this way along with the weapons. You could have had your pick, he replied. I got a guy that buys them from their families and picks them up on the streets. Theyre thicker than flies on a dead dog out there and most of them are glad for the chance to come and work for me. I keep the ones I like and forward the rest to some friends of mine who run a massage parlor near Las Vegas. Kind of like pick of the litter. I keep the young ones and the pretty ones and the rest get a new home elsewhere.
Ezras blood boiled and his stomach turned at the prospect of another group of girls being subjected to Browners sadistic cruelty. He was struggling to master the emotions that were churning in his mind. It was a full minute before he could swallow the bitter bile that was burning his throat.
Sounds like a really nice set up, the southerner managed before tipping the scalding coffee to his lips. He caught another scathing glare from Nathan before the medic disappeared into the kitchen.
Later that afternoon, Chris and Josiah met with the team medic outside of the dry cleaners where Nathan had gone to pick up the items hed dropped off the day before. He relayed all the information he and Ezra had garnered so far.
Is something bothering you, Nate?" the team leader asked as he noticed the tight set in the other mans shoulders.
I probably shouldnt say anything but it makes me so mad, Nathan began. He drew a deep breath and blew it out slowly. Ezras bought himself a geisha, he said.
He what? Chris asked.
A geisha, a Chinese girl. Her uncle brought her to the bungalow and sold her to him for $500.
Ezra bought a girl? Josiah asked incredulously.
That Browner brings em in on the train with the weapons. He keeps the ones he likes and sells the rest to some whorehouse in Las Vegas. Hell, that girl Ezras got cant be much more than 18, the medic ranted.
Well straighten this out when the case is done. Youd better get back. Give Ezra this. Tell him to push the clip down hard to activate the emergency beacon. We got a pick up and relay dish in one of the trees just south of the mansion. The other one is for you. Be careful, Nate, Chris cautioned before walking away.
That evening, over brandy, Rupert informed Ezra that the train was right on time and would arrive in two days. The southerner excused himself and headed for the bungalow to check on Li Pong. He found her curled up on the sofa with the book he had been reading in her lap. She sprang to her feet, looking afraid.
My dear, you have nothing to fear from me. Please sit down and resume your reading. I shall grab a nightcap and join you momentarily, he told her.
After loosening his tie and pouring himself a drink from the surprisingly well stocked bar, he sank into the sofa and glanced over at Li Pong. She was watching him over the top of the book.
Would you like for me to read to you?" he offered. She smiled shyly and nodded. Ezra motioned her to move closer. She slid down to sit beside him and he turned her so that her back rested against his chest. Wrapping his arms around her, he took hold of the book and opened it to the beginning.
Li Pong slowly allowed her body to relax against the man behind her. She had been afraid at first that he would hurt her. As she sat listening to the lilting sound of his voice, the warmth of his body surrounded her and made her feel safe. Not since her father had anyone held her and read to her. She let her head come to rest against his shoulder and felt him nuzzle softly against her hair.
The fine, black silken strands felt so good against his cheek that Ezra almost forgot where he was. He gave himself a hard mental shake and sighed softly against the top of the young womans head. His voice continued to say the words printed on the page, but his mind and his heart were doing battle at a fevered pitch. His heart wanted to lay the book aside and kiss the tender lips that were so invitingly close while his mind kept prompting him that he was a gentleman and that was not acceptable behavior.
She felt the tension building in Ezra and turned her face so she could look into his eyes. There in the emerald depths, she saw a hunger. She recognized the hunger, but it was tempered with something else. A tenderness she had not seen except in the eyes of her parents was mingled with and overshadowing the hunger.
Ezra?" she asked softly.
Hmm?" he managed. His heart was galloping like a stampede, as her lips were closer.
Do you want to kiss me now?" she whispered.
Her words were like a barrel of ice water being thrown on the fire of his passion. Everything snapped back into place and he remembered that this wasnt some beautiful fantasy he was living, this was work. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and willed his heart into a more normal beat. When he was certain that he could look at her without the desire she had noticed a moment ago in his eyes, he spoke.
I am still a man and I still want to. But I am also a gentleman and I cant. It wouldnt be right. Come now, lets go to bed, its been a long day, he told her as he closed the book.
After another long, cold shower, Ezra donned his pajamas and wrapper and checked on Li Pong. He smiled as she was curled up on her side in the bed, looking like an angel sleeping. Closing the door soundlessly, he decided to go for a walk. The night sky was glittering with stars as he walked toward the corral where the horses were dozing peacefully. After a few minutes, he headed for the building where the servants were housed. The glow of a cigarette guided him to the patio where the older man, Wo Chin, was sitting in a rocking chair.
Its a beautiful evening, isnt it?" he asked of the older man.
For those who have the freedom to enjoy it, Wo Chin answered.
And you are not free?" the southerner inquired.
Not like you. I am like that red-gold stallion. I have only the freedom of this place and only until the master beckons me to his service. When I have outlived my usefulness, I will be put down like that horse, the old man replied.
You are referring to the Chinese cemetery in the woods? Ezra asked.
There are too many spirits in those woods. I fear that mine will not rest easily there, he said.
The two men lapsed into silence. After the older man finished his cigarette, he excused himself and went inside. Ezra sat alone for a few more minutes before wandering toward his bungalow. As he walked, he noticed a figure detach itself from the mansion and head for the servants quarters. About halfway down the gently sloping lawn, the figure collapsed. Ezra ran and dropped to his knees. He reached out tentatively and turned the girl over. A startled gasp broke from his lips as he studied the battered face of the young woman. What he had thought to be her clothing turned out to be a tablecloth taken from the laundry bin. The cloth had slipped free of her limp hand as he rolled her over and he could see that her neck and breasts were covered in bruises and love bites.
Swallowing hard against the bile rising in his throat, he gathered the girl into his arms and carried her to the servants quarters. He kicked the door lightly as he cradled the unconscious form in his arms. The door opened to reveal a young man he had seen at the house.
Chung Sun, hurry, she needs help! Ezra told the startled young man. The door was flung open and he struggled through the narrow opening with his burden.
Put her there. I get Chow Chi, the young man directed.
Ezra learned that Chow Chi was the resident healer to the Chinese servants. He brought a bag and set out herbs and salves. One of the women came forward and began to wash the blood from the battered body. After a few minutes, Chung Sun took the southerner by the arm and drew him away.
You must go! Not safe for you to be here. Go!
The southerner was too dazed to do any more than stumble into the darkness of the patio. When the door was closed, he turned and headed for his bungalow. As soon as he opened the door, Li Pong rushed out to meet him. She took in the bloodstains on his wrapper and the grass stains on the knees of his pajamas with wide eyes.
What happened?" she asked as she took him by the arm and drew him to the bedroom. Before he knew what was happening, she had seated him on the side of the bed. Pushing his wrapper back from his chest, she coaxed his arms out of it and ran her hands over his shoulders.
I found a girl stumbling from the mansion hurt, beaten. They pushed me out. Made me go, he stammered.
Li Pong guided Ezra to lay down and then curled up with him. When the shock wore off, he rolled over and settled the young woman against his shoulder. He stroked the bare skin of her arm for several moments before he spoke.
I wish I could have done more for her, he whispered.
If you had a chance to help my people, would you do it?" she timidly asked.
Well, Im, uh Im not a good Samaritan by nature, but what do you have in mind?" he asked as he rolled to his side and stared into her brown eyes.
I used to clean in Mr. Browners office. And often he go about with his business as if I were blind to see what he was doing. I saw more than he knows, she offered.
The next morning, Ezra arrived at the mansion as usual but his mind was on what Li Pong had told him the night before. Browner kept a ledger in his office with all the information he needed to put the man away forever. He had to get that ledger.
Coffee, Sir? Nathan inquired softly.
Ezra looked up, surprised, and nodded for more. He had been so engrossed in figuring out how to get into Browners office that he had heard very little of the talk around the table. The plate of food Nathan had placed in front of him sat cold and untouched.
So Ill be out for a few hours this afternoon. Feel free to go for a ride if you wish. Ill find you when I get back. The shipment comes in tonight, so you might want to get some rest. Well be up late tonight, Rupert said.
Huh? Ezra asked. Forgive me, I was lost in thought.
I have to go out for a while this afternoon. Feel free to go for a ride if you like, Rupert repeated.
Oh, thank you. I may do that. Thanks, Ezra replied as his mind began to spin with ideas.
Later in the afternoon, the southerner stood in the driveway and watched the limo as it rolled down the long driveway. As soon as it was out of sight, he turned to Nathan.
We have to get into that office and find that book. Im going to run down to the bungalow and bring Li Pong up here. Maybe shell know where its kept, Ezra said.
In less than an hour, they had the ledger. Ezra sent it down to the bungalow with Li Pong. He instructed her to hide it and herself. He also went down to the servants quarters to find out about the girl from the night before. Knocking on the door, he found it unlocked. Stepping in, he heard the sound of soft sobbing. He followed the sound to the living room. There he saw a body shrouded in a silken sheet. He moved to the table and drew back the cover to reveal the face. His heart broke at the sight that greeted him. It was the girl from the other night.
Im sorry. Im so sorry. I wish I could have done more, Ezra said to Chow Chi as the medicine man came to his side.
You must go. It is not safe for you to be here, the old man said. Wo Chin took the southerner by the other arm and the two men walked him out of the building. He made his way down to the bungalow again and sat with Li Pong.
Rupert returned a few hours later. He dropped something at the servants quarters before going to the big house. As he was pouring a drink, Chung Sun slipped into the room. He cast several furtive glances at the wealthy man.
Did you need something, boy? Browner asked.
No, nothing, he said. His nerve faded. Chung Sun sighed and slipped from the room.
That evening, over supper, Rupert was animated and excited. He didnt seem to notice that Ezra was quiet. Nathan served the meal and cleared the dishes. The men moved onto the patio to smoke cigars. Three young, scantily clad girls lounged around the men, trying to insinuate themselves into the mens arms. The younger of the girls shyly approached Ezra and offered him her body. He started to turn her down until he saw Browner looking the girl up and down.
Whats your name, child? Ezra asked softly.
Kimiko, she whispered as she tried to nuzzle into his arms.
Along the rail line, Chris, Buck, Vin, Josiah and JD were hunkered down in a ditch. They wanted to be there when the weapons and other cargo were unloaded. They had a tracking devise on the train that would let them know when it was close.
Back at the mansion, Ezra and Kimiko went for a walk. He wanted to keep the girl as far away from Browner as possible. Her English was not good at all but he managed to find out that she was only 15, scared and alone. He slipped her into the bungalow with Li Pong and made his way back to the house.
Where is she? Rupert demanded when he entered the library.
I left her in my bungalow. Im planning a little party after the shipment arrives, Ezra lied.
You like em young, Mr. Simpson. Im sure I can provide enough to keep you satisfied for a very long time. Maybe we can come to an agreement to satisfy both our mutual needs, the gunrunner suggested.
A couple of hours later, Chris nudged the others and pointed up the hill. A small group was coming down the hill toward the tracks. With his night vision binoculars, the sharpshooter confirmed that Ezra was in the group. In the distance, the train approached. They could hear the grind of the brakes slowing the train as it approached the clearing.
The group reached the clearing and the Chinese men gathered in a cluster off to one side, talking amongst themselves. Ezra and Browner stood on the other side of the clearing and chatted amiably. They could hear the train. When it came around a bend in the tracks, the light cleared the trees and illuminated the area where the rest of Team 7 was hiding. The men hugged the ground and waited for the light to pass.
With a grinding of steel and the hiss of the brakes, the metal behemoth came to a stop. The deep, bass rumble of the engine drowned out the sounds coming from the other side and Chris was unable to see or hear what was going on. He motioned Vin forward to check out the action. The sharpshooter holstered his gun and stealthily crept forward. Keeping behind the wheels, he approached the train and peered around between the cars. He saw the cases of weapons being carried out of the boxcar and started to give the signal. A feminine cry of pain caused his head to swivel back to the other side of the train. A girl, not much more than fourteen, was pushing up from the ground as Browner stood over her. The feral lust in the mans eyes made Vins stomach ache. He watched as several more girls were herded from the car. Ezra moved to intercept the younger girl and slipped an arm around her thin shoulders. Crawling back down the hill, the Texan dropped into the ditch next to Chris.
Its not good. They brought in a new group of girls. Theres too many of them, someone would get killed, Vin explained softly.
Chris cursed inwardly and motioned Buck closer. Take the camera and get pictures of Browner and the boxes. We cant make the bust because of the women he brought in. A hard look settled on Bucks handsome face. He had seen some of what happened on the patio outside of the big house in the evenings. Rein it in, Buck! Now is not the time!" the team leader warned.
Using the digital camera with the night vision lens, Buck got several good close-ups of Browner and the cases of weapons. He also made sure he had pictures of the girls. It angered him to see Ezra with his arm around the young, oriental girl but he pushed it down, deep inside. He trusted the southerner not to hurt an innocent girl.
The group ascended the rolling hill and ended up on the patio again. Under the floodlights, Rupert inspected the girls. Revulsion and bitter gall roiled in Ezras gut as he watched the man fondle the girls. When he finally motioned for the girl Ezra was sheltering, the southerner hesitated.
Come now, Ezra. You already have two in your bungalow. You arent the only one who enjoys them slightly under ripe, Rupert protested.
Scrambling for an excuse, Ezra said the first thing that rolled from his mouth. Let me try them and Ill keep the two I like best. Call it my signing bonus. It shouldnt take more than one night for me to make a decision, he argued.
When Browner agreed, Ezra heaved a sigh of relief. He knew that he had to get out so that he could help with the bust that would be going down very soon. He trusted that the team had gotten the evidence they needed during the drop.
Indeed, the team had gotten the proof they needed and when the train stopped at the rail yard a couple of hours later, the staff was placed under arrest. The engineer asked for a lawyer and refused to answer any questions. The others were held until after the bust in case any one of them was in Browners pocket and might warn him.
Once the weapons were stashed securely in the underground cellar, there was a party on the patio. Nathan and Wo Chin brought out drinks and plates of food. Ruperts choice of the new arrivals was draped across his lap, nuzzling his bare chest. Ezra was growing increasingly uncomfortable as the girl he had sheltered began to unbutton the silk shirt and run her small, trembling hands across his bare torso.
Rupert, if you will excuse me, I think that I am done in for the night. I shall take my new toy and see how well she plays with the others. You will understand if I miss breakfast in the morning? I think I shall partake of breakfast in bed, he purred as he nuzzled the girl on the nape of her neck.
A lusty chuckle drifted up from the other man and his hand waived dismissively. Enjoy!
Back in his bungalow, Li Pong anxiously hurried out of the bedroom when she heard the front door. A scowl of disbelief and anger crossed her delicate features as she took in the mans appearance. Ezra blushed to the roots as he buttoned the shirt and nudged the girl toward the bedroom. He took Li Pong by the arm and drew her into the bathroom and turned on the shower.
Its not what you think. If I hadnt grabbed her, Rupert would have. I didnt do anything to her, I swear, Ezra told Li Pong. She nodded.
I believe you. What you going to do? Your friends come soon?" she asked.
Pulling the pager from his belt, he pressed it into her hand. Staring into her eyes, he wanted to be certain she understood. If anything happens, press on this clip, hard, my friends will come right away. Stay in the bungalow and keep the girls with you. If you have to leave, go toward the rail line, Ill look for you there.
Some time while he was speaking, Ezra had cupped the young womans face. When he finished speaking, she rubbed her cheek into his palm as she covered his hand with hers and held it in place. On impulse, he slid the hand around and cradled the back of her head as he drew her closer. Her lips were like warm silk as he brushed them gently with his own. Li Pong raised her hands and rested them lightly on his chest. When her tongue touched his, Ezra sprang back.
I thought you want to kiss me?" she asked in a small, hurt sounding voice.
Unable to face his emotions, Ezra turned and left the bathroom. I still want to, his mind cried.
An hour later, as the southerner lay on the sofa, struggling to sleep, someone entered the bungalow. Ezra reached for the gun stashed beneath the cushion and rolled to his knees on the floor. He never saw the blow that rendered him insensate on the carpet. Chung Sun nudged the gun away before tying the unconscious mans hands together behind his back. Tucking the gun into his belt, he motioned to his friends to pick Ezra up and take him away.
In the federal building, Chris paced nervously as he waited for the call saying that they had the warrants to move on the compound. The digital photos had been uploaded to a disc and delivered to the judge who had been summoned in the middle of the night to review the case. The rest of the team was suiting up with Team 2 for an all-out assault on the property. About the same time as the undercover agent was being spirited away from the bungalow, the call came in.
Consciousness slowly returned to Ezra. He tried to shake his head to clear it and felt as if a cannon had gone off inside of his skull. His hands were tied behind his back around a tree. The ache in his shoulders caused him to groan softly, alerting his captors to his waking state. The southerners internal alarms jangled wildly as the three, agile young men approached. Rage contorted their faces as they circled him like a pack of wolves.
Gentlemen, certainly there has been a misunderstanding. If I could just explain, Ezra began.
The first blow caught him just above the navel and took his breath away. The second snapped his head violently to the side as the bare foot connected solidly with his skull. The third struck his thigh, causing his knee to be wrenched painfully. Dazed, Ezra could only struggle to recapture his breath.
A tense silence filled the cab of the big, black Dodge as it raced up the lonely mountain road. Each man knew that they were walking into a powder keg. JD kept touching the trigger of his gun, activating the laser sight and casting a small, red dot on the floor between his feet.
Li Pong wakened at the soft whimper from the bed. Rising from her pallet on the floor, she reached out and stroked the face of the new girl Ezra had brought to the bungalow. Jeng Mai whimpered again and tossed fretfully on the bed before settling on her side, cuddling closer to Kimiko. Deciding that she needed a drink, Li Pong left the bedroom and slipped across to the kitchenette. The sliding door onto the patio stood open and she looked outside before turning to the sofa where she expected to see Ezra. Her heart leapt into her throat as she realized that he was gone.
The second round of blows was harder than the first. Ezra cried out as another well-placed kick struck his already wrenched knee. Another blow to his head bloodied his nose as the third took his breath again by striking his abdomen. He let his head hang forward as the blood flowed from his nose and mouth.
Please, tell me what it is that I have done to offend you, the southerner begged.
You take our women for your own pleasure! The smallest and the youngest are your favorites! Now you will pay for what you have done to our sisters! One of the men hissed before he kicked Ezras battered knee again.
I didnt! I took them to keep them safe! Oh, gawd, check the bungalow! Ask Li Pong! I never touched them, Ezra pleaded.
Chris doused the headlights as he approached the house. The tension level in the cab was so thick you could have sliced it with a knife. Each man had a direction to go when the vehicle came to a stop. Josiah was to hook up with Nathan near the servants quarters. The big Dodge rolled to a silent stop and the men jumped out and hugged the ground as they approached the house. Team 2 was similarly dispatched and both groups converged on the doors of the mansion.
Li Pong hurried into the bedroom and wakened the girls. She rushed them into dressing and made them follow her out into the darkness. She had an idea of where they would have taken Ezra. She just hoped she arrived in time. Stumbling through the dark, she heard a strangled cry of pain. Breaking into a run, she reached the clearing just as Phon landed a blow to the southerners groin. All three men turned at her arrival.
Chung Sun! What are you doing?" she demanded in her native Mandarin.
Defending your honor!" he shouted back as he prepared for another kick at the nearly unconscious man.
He was protecting us! Li Pong shouted as she strode across the small clearing. Ezra never put a hand on any of us! He kept us inside to protect us from Browner!
Is this true?" the angry young man demanded of the other two girls. Both nodded. Just then, the sound of gunfire drew their attention back to the mansion.
That is his friends, coming to arrest Browner, she told them as she crossed to Ezra. He flinched when she raised his head and looked into his pain-hazed eyes. Chung Sun moved to cut the ropes that bound him to the tree while the other two eased the injured man to the ground.
Nathan and Josiah led the assault on the cellar where the weapons were kept. One man was killed when he foolishly decided that working for Browner was worth more than his life. The other two men surrendered. Browner, unfortunately, was wakened by the gunfire and holed up in his bathroom with the young Chinese girl as a hostage. After a particularly nasty gun battle, Rupert Browner was wounded when he shifted slightly and came into view of the sharpshooter from Team 7.
JD stopped and Buck plowed into him in the darkened hallway on the third floor.
Damn it, JD! What are you doing?" the older man yelled at his young roommate.
Ezras emergency signal was just activated, JD explained as he pulled the small receiver from his pants pocket. Before Buck had time to process the information, his headset clicked and Chris announced an all clear.
Chris, JD just got a signal from Ezras emergency beacon. Who do you want to go after him? Buck asked as he leaned against the wall.
Take JD and meet Nathan on the back patio. Keep in radio contact and be careful. We dont know if any of Browners men got out of the house, Chris commanded.
Ezras head rested in a soft, warm lap. Two pairs of small hands held his as he groaned and gasped in pain. One of the young men straightened his injured knee and he screamed, writhing in agony.
Nathan, Buck and JD followed the beacon signal across the lawn and past the small cluster of bungalows. As they reached the tree line, they heard a scream of pain. JD instinctively wanted to charge in but Buck caught him by the back of his ATF jacket and kept him close.
You dont know who else is up there, son. Stay calm and keep low, Buck ordered.
The trio slipped through the woods until they reached the edge of the clearing. In the pale moonlight, they saw three men standing over the prone form of their teammate. Pointing their weapons, Buck called out in a deep, loud voice.
ATF! PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEADS AND GET ON YOUR KNEES!
The three young men spun on their heels and stared at the three darkly clothed men pointing guns at them. Chung Sun noticed the red laser dot resting on his heart and slowly put his hands on his head. He spoke to the others in Mandarin and they, too, surrendered. Nathan looked over to see that Buck and JD had them covered before he holstered his weapon and rushed to the downed man.
Ezra? Can you hear me? Nathan called urgently as he landed on his knees beside the young girl holding fast to the southerners hand.
Mr. Jackson, it is good to hear your dulcet tones, Ezra whispered before his eyes closed.
The Medivac chopper landed in the clearing near the rail line and Ezra was loaded on a stretcher for the flight. He regained consciousness as they lifted him from the ground and cried out in pain. As soon as he was settled on the stretcher, the paramedic called the hospital for permission to give him something for the pain. Before the drugs took hold, Ezra called to Buck. The explosives specialist leaned over the stretcher and listened to the impassioned plea. He nodded, squeezing Ezras wrist firmly before allowing the paramedics to take him away.
Arriving at the hospital, Ezra was rushed into X-ray. Fortunately, there were no broken bones. The damage to his knee was mostly torn cartilage and would heal naturally. His leg was strapped into a Velcro brace to immobilize it. The most seriously painful injury was from the kick to his groin. The tender flesh was bruised and swollen. Cool compresses eased the pain but the doctor would have to wait until the bruising went away to check for permanent impairment of function. By mid morning, he was discharged into Nathans capable care.
Before leaving the compound, Team 2 rounded up all of the servants. Several of the women were taken to the hospital to be checked out while the rest were relocated to a private shelter. The minors would be reunited with their families as soon as possible. The older girls and women would be given the option to return to their homes or stay in Denver. The men, with the exception of the three who had battered Ezra, were given the same choice. The men who had beaten the agent would be held in police custody until the southerner decided whether to press charges.
Buck asked Chris to drop him at the office before they went on to the hospital to see about Ezra. He would only say that he had an errand to run and would catch up with them later. He took off in his truck before the team leader could get any kind of an explanation. When he arrived at the shelter, he had to show his badge to gain access to the women from the compound. He found the young woman he sought as she stood staring out the window at the mountains.
Li Pong, may I have a word with you?" he asked.
With his sore shoulders, it was difficult to manage the crutches they had given him at the hospital but Ezra was determined to get into his condo under his own power. Nathan hovered nearby, in case the southerner should fall. Fumbling with his key ring, Ezra finally got the key into the door and unlocked it. Before he could turn the knob, the door opened. Li Pong gasped at the dark bruising on his face before she jumped back to allow him to enter.
Standing in the hall, Nathan was completely stunned to see the young woman in Ezras condo. He numbly followed the man into the living room and helped him to ease his battered body into the big, leather recliner. Li Pong dropped to her knees beside the chair and clasped his hand.
I am so sorry they do this to you, she said as she stared into his battered visage.
You are in no way to blame for what they believed. I shall be eternally grateful for your timely intervention and my subsequent rescue, he whispered as he brushed the back of his hand against her hand. Li Pong was confused by his words and looked up at Nathan, clearly puzzled.
He means thank you for helping him, the medic supplied.
Li Pong, would you mind terribly going upstairs and getting me one of the pillows from the master bedroom at the end of the hall? I think my leg would benefit from being elevated, Ezra said. The young woman jumped to her feet and bolted up the stairs.
Oh, you keeping yourself a slave girl now, huh? Nathan inquired acidly.
I take umbrage at that heinous accusation. I will not sit here and be viciously maligned, Ezra replied.
I dont care what you do. Im taking this girl with me. Come on, honey, come on, Nathan urged as Li Pong returned with the fluffy, down-filled pillow in her arms.
Please let me stay. I have nowhere else to go, she pleaded as she backed away from the medic.
Now, now, darlin, you dont have to go anywhere. You are quite welcome here, Ezra reassured her as he held out his hand for the pillow. Li Pong rushed forward and eased the pillow under the brace on his leg before casting another worried glance at the hostile, dark skinned man standing at the foot of the sofa. You can sleep in the guest bedroom. There are fresh linens in the closet. Go along now and see to the room. I have to discuss something with Mr. Jackson.
Thank you, Li Pong breathed as she made a half bow and hurried from the room.
I trust that arrangement will satisfy you? Ezra asked of Nathan.
Well see, he grudgingly admitted.
Nathan stayed at the condo for the first couple of nights, sleeping on the fold out sofa bed. Other than waiting on Ezra hand and foot, Li Pong was untouched by the southerner. The rest of the team stopped in to visit on the evening of the second day and brought pizza and pasta. Ezra remained ensconced in his recliner the entire evening. He had only to ask and the young woman bolted to get whatever he needed.
While Li Pong was rinsing the dishes and loading the dishwasher, Ezra motioned Buck closer. I wanted to thank you for bringing her here, he said.
No problem, I was glad to help, Buck replied with an easy smile. Whats it like having your own, personal geisha?
It would be better if Mr. Jackson stopped looking at me as if I were the Big Bad Wolf and she was Little Red Riding Hood. He never leaves the room when were together, Ezra complained softly.
Let me see what I can do, Buck offered with a wag of his eyebrows and a wicked wink.
The next afternoon, Chris called and told Nathan that they needed him in the office right away. The medic protested that Ezra couldnt be left alone. The team leader reminded him that there was another person there and that she could bring Ezra the cordless phone if he needed help. Scowling at the southerner, Nathan said he would be back in a few hours and left the condo. He hadnt been gone five minutes when Li Pong slid into the recliner beside Ezra and rested her head on his shoulder. He inhaled deeply the scent of her hair and sighed contentedly.
A couple of days later, Buck arrived at the condo with two young girls in tow. They were to be returned to their parents in San Francisco that afternoon and wanted to thank the man who had kept them safe. Li Pong translated for the younger girl, who spoke almost no English. After bestowing gentle kisses on the cheek of their protector, the girls returned with Buck to the shelter to await a ride to the airport.
In the days that followed, Ezra became more and more attracted to Li Pong. He knew that he needed to send her home to her family, but he just didnt know how he would bear it. When he had healed to the point that he could walk on the brace without the crutches, he purchased a plane ticket for her. That night, over dinner, he broke the news to her.
Li Pong, tomorrow, Buck will take you to the airport so you can be reunited with your family, he said softly as he stared into her warm, brown eyes.
You want me to go?" she queried in a worried tone.
No! No, of course, I dont, but its where you belong, he said as he pushed an envelope across the table to her. This should be enough to take care of you until you can find work there.
After supper, they cuddled up in the recliner together. Li Pong lifted her head from his shoulder to nuzzle against his neck. Ezra shivered deliciously under her light touch. Emboldened, she began to run her fingertip around the buttons of his silk shirt. Hearing a contented sigh, she began to unbutton the shirt and ran her fingers lightly over the warm, satin skin of his chest.
Now, look, darlin, uh, where I come from, a gentleman does not take advantage of a lady who feels obliged, Ezra protested in between panting breaths.
Li Pong shifted around until she was straddling his hips in the chair as she smiled serenely at him. I dont feel how you say? Obliged? She pressed her lips to his and let her hands caress his bare chest.
In the morning, in spite of the brace on his leg, Ezra lay spooned around Li Pong in the center of his bed. He was wakened by her gentle touch as she kissed the palm of his hand. He returned the favor by kissing the nape of her neck.
So gentle, your hands not like any other I have ever felt, she said as she lightly stroked his fingers. You are so different from any other man I know.
A warm feeling of contentment washed over Ezra, mixing with the tendrils of sadness at her impending departure. He had not believed it possible for sex to be so gentle and so absolutely mind blowing at the same time. He nuzzled against the back of her neck and across her shoulder until she giggled and squirmed carefully onto her back. Bracing his weight on one arm, he brushed a tendril of hair away from her face before placing a feather-light kiss on her lips.
The ride to the airport was a somber affair. Li Pong was struggling to hold back the tears that threatened to overwhelm her. Ezra fought the urge to ask her to stay. His mind knew she belonged with her family, however his heart wanted her to be with him forever. He laced his fingers through hers and felt her trembling. Buck flashed his badge and threw his considerable charm around to get them permission to accompany Li Pong onto the concourse and stay with her until she boarded. When the boarding call was made for her flight, the young woman burst into tears. Ezra staunchly insisted that she go and struggled to his feet to escort her to the man collecting the boarding passes. Li Pong clung to him, pleading for him to allow her to stay, not to send her away.
You belong with your family. As time passes, you will forget all of this, as you should. However, if you write, I should be most pleased to exchange correspondence with you, Ezra said as he smudged the tears from her cheeks. After one last, passionate embrace, Li Pong turned and entered the corridor that led to the plane.
Placing one hand on Ezras shoulder, Buck sighed, You did a good thing, you know?
Blinking back tears, the southerner turned to his friend, Then why do I feel so miserable?