ATF AU Crossover The Sentinel
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Ezra had been going over the entries for the past year for the construction company and shook his head. Though not a professional he knew his way around the tax laws and something about accounting. The books were in sad shape. To top it off Towner was stealing from the company. Only a few thousand a month but it added up to over sixty thousand a year. Cline wasn't going to like it. He'd have to tell Chris to increase the security around Towner.
Thunk... thunk... Ezra looked up. "You are going to dull your knives." Vin smiled. He was throwing knives at a dartboard he had put up by the doors. Besides being something to do, it had discouraged Cline's people from dropping in unannounced.
"Got to keep up my image as the big bad bodyguard." Vin walked over to the dartboard and pulled his knives out of the wall. He hadn't missed the target, his knives had simply gone through the dartboard and embedded themselves into the wood panel behind it.
Toby Cline had set up Ezra in Towner's old office, even offered him assistants to help him. Ezra had thanked him but told Toby he wanted to go through the books first and see what he was up against. While Towner had a staff who handled the day to day paperwork of the company Towner did the main number crunching himself. No one got on to the fact he was lining his own pockets with the firm's money. Or, if they had, they weren't telling an explosive Toby Cline who seemed to have a habit of shooting the messenger.
Ezra hadn't seen Toby's other set of books yet but Cline had promised Ezra he would have the information by the end of the week. It was Monday, he and Vin could keep up the cover story for four more days. If need be they'd go through the audit with Cline. Ezra had made some notes on what was needed to start the reorganization of the accounting department. Amongst those where the records of every construction job for the last two years. That included the garage and convention center. If he was lucky he'd find a name or two that was working the same site as Buck.
Ezra pressed the switch to get his secretary. "Ms. Simpson, would you come in here please." There was silence on the other end then a hesitant voice asked.
"Is your assistant still... still... "
"My assistant is no longer using his dartboard, you can safely come in Ms. Simpson."
The small mousy woman came in. Ms. Wanda Simpson was competent at her job but seen scared of her own shadow. "What can I get for you Mr. Seffner?" her eyes never leaving Vin as she kept track of the attractive but dangerous young man.
Ezra smiled at the woman. "Ms. Simpson there is a list of records I would like to look at as well as any accounts Mr. Towner's been handling personally for the last two years."
Ms. Simpson's eyes widened when she saw the list. "That a lot of... "
Ezra didn't let her finish. "I know it's a lot of people but we're going to have to match names and payroll accounts to each other and make sure they match with what Mr. Towner filed with the IRS. As well as suppliers and such, it's going to be a big job cleaning up this mess." Seeing Ms. Simpson wasn't sure where to start Ezra helped her out. "I'm not going to need everything at once. Let's start with the oldest contracts and payroll records and work forward." Ezra walked around his desk, the woman took a step backward. "My assistant and I are going out to lunch and I suggest you do the same. I want you to leave the door unlocked for Mr. Cline's security people, lets not make it too difficult on them. They will want to get a good look at what I'm doing."
Ms. Simpson looked at him. "Are you sure?" she asked. "I could stay and get a start on the list."
"No, I don't want you to be here while they go through my papers and laptop." Ezra patted the woman on the shoulder. "Leave a copy of the list where they can find it as well, then go to lunch. Be sure to take a full hour. We want to give them plenty of time to go through things."
Ms. Simpson watched her new boss leave with his assistant walking just behind him. Wanda smiled to herself. Mr. Seffner was the strangest man she'd ever worked for and probably the smartest as well. She would do just as he asked. She didn't want to be here when the goons showed up either.
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Josiah enjoyed the feeling of tranquility in the garden as he sipped from his cup of tea. The sun felt warm on his skin, the cold breeze kept him from getting too hot. His host had to excuse himself to attend to a domestic problem. He'd be back in a few minutes. Until then Josiah could enjoy the well-kept garden. It hosted a mixture of traditional plants of Vietnam as well as native plants of North America.
"You look so peaceful sitting there my friend, I hate to disturb you." Said Ogee Ho as he sat down next to his friend. He had brought a new pot of tea to replace the old one.
"You have created an island of serenity within a busy city." Josiah told him. Both men sat and enjoyed the stillness of the garden and their friendship.
Ogee and Josiah knew each other from Josiah's time in the army. He had helped Ogee's family get out of Vietnam before the fall and resettle in the States. While not Chinese, Ogee employed may people inside the Asian community in his businesses. He kept informed on issues concerning his employees and the community. Ogee didn't care what country people came from as long as they wanted to work. The Ho line of fine textiles was well known in the garments industry as were his line of organic foods shipped nationally. Not only was Ogee Ho one of the biggest employers in the area, he volunteered his time to local community groups. He was well known and liked by the people of the various cultures that made up Little Asia.
Ogee Ho had come to this country with his young wife and not much else. They had been lucky to get out, being one of the last to get clearance to fly out with the Americans. Bombs were going off and gunfire was everywhere as they rushed to board. The chopper was starting to take off as they tried to get on. Only thanks to a young American GI who kept the pilot from taking off had they been able to get on and leave the country. Ho had learned the name of the GI who saved them in order to thank him.
Over the years the GI and the Hos had kept in touch. Ogee had been glad when his friend had decided to settle down in Denver. He was less glad when he had found out Josiah wasn't teaching as he first thought but joining the ATF as a profiler. Knowing his friend, he wouldn't stay in the background but would want to be part of the action.
"You have picked a dangerous line of work my friend for your... middle years." Ogee said as he picked up his cup of tea. "You should be teaching or writing about your travels. Not playing cops and robbers and getting shot at."
Josiah chuckled, "There are times I agree old friend but when we stop a criminal that no one else can, I know I'm where I need to be."
"Very well Josiah I've learned to not argue with your need to make this world a better place. Nor your belief it can be done one person at a time. Especially since I was one of those you saved." Ogee told him pouring him another cup of tea. "Now the information you requested... "
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Late that night in a back room at Inez's saloon the seven men sat and talked. While it wasn't unusual for the seven to be at their favorite watering hole, only Chris, JD, Nathan and Josiah had used the front door that night. Buck, Ezra and Vin had come in the back way through a private entrance from the back alley.
"You cowboys have any problems getting away tonight?" asked Chris looking over at two of his agents who were decked out in cowboy attire; attire that any real cowboy would get laughed off his horse for wearing.
"Heck no, us'ens just waltzed out through the lobby with the desperado none the wiser." drawled Ezra with a bad western inflection. Both agents had on cowboy boots, jeans and fancy western shirts. Their hair was tucked up under cowboy hats.
The hotel where the men were staying was hosting a convention for writers who wrote westerns and for fans of those books and movies. This included every western from silent movies to the latest Eastwood film. The hotel was filled with more men and women in western attire than in business suits. The men Cline had watching Ezra and Vin were looking for two New Yorkers in well-cut business suits not two fancy dressed cowboys. The convention organizers had parties and events planned till the early morning hours. So the two agents could come and go as needed as long as they dressed correctly. This being Colorado, western dress wasn't that unusual a sight on the streets either. It was as far from the sophisticated New York personality of Ernest P. Seffner and his bodyguard as they could get.
Chris turned to Buck, "Any problems?"
"No, but no one watches a down on his luck construction worker. And I am going to be on the site for the next week, got invited to stay around for a while."
Ezra handed Buck a slip of paper. "There are a few names you might kept an eye out for. They worked on the garage and convention center and are on the one you're at."
"I'll be my wonderful self and get them talking." Smiled Buck
"Don't take any chances, we've seen what they do to get rid of people." Chris told all three men. "Josiah tell them what you got."
"Over the last ten years there's been a increase in people coming into the area without papers. While my friend is aware of something going on, no one is talking. His people tell him these people are working hard, but they don't seen to be getting ahead. Rumor has it that they are paying to stay in the country. Whoever made it possible for them to get into the country in the first place is blackmailing them in order to stay. None of them are working locally, all leave the community to work elsewhere. A lot of the men work construction and guess who's company they work for?"
"Our good friend Mr. Cline."
Josiah nodded his head and repeated the rhetoric he had heard about this so-called good man. "Mr. Cline employs many, many people in the area, he can't be expected to know everyone who works for him. The paper work can be over looked or lost in his zeal to give jobs to deserving people. In fact money might be passed around in order to help these poor souls. But everyone knows Mr. Cline wouldn't hire anyone inappropriate to work for him, or so goes the popular thinking."
"You've got to be kidding." stated Nathan.
"Wish I was. Of course not everybody buys into it, but he does give a lot of money away to local charities. Enough so a lot of people are willing to look the other way if there's a rumor he's doing something wrong or illegal. Add to that that he's got a lot of people thinking he's an humanitarian and of course lets not forget he's a major player on the Mayor's campaign fund for reelection." Josiah said sadly.
"No wonder the DPD was told to lay off." Buck shook his head. "The man s got himself well connected."
"Well enough to made us tread carefully in this investigation." Chris told them. "We've got to make this case air tight, there's no way I'll let Cline walk with or without his connections. What about Eric Stroud, the vice- president of Barn's construction company. Is he part of Cline's illegal operations?"
"Got to wonder why he's the vice- president instead of the President?" asked Nathan.
"Mr. Cline doesn't like to share power. He is into intimidation and keeping his employees in their place." Ezra told them of his impressions of Cline. "What information have you unearthed about Mr. Stroud, JD?"
JD filled them in on Eric Stroud. "Mr. Stroud runs the construction company as it's architect and anything that deals with the actual work of building. He started working construction part time while still in high school. Kept working there to pay his way through college, majoring in architecture and a minor in business. Cline hired him right after graduation. Two years later made him vice-president turning over most of the day to day work of running the firm to him. Married with two kids and a house in the suburbs."
"Any one else we should keep an eye on? Vin how many men does Cline keep around him?" asked Chris.
"Four, his assistant/personal secretary named Clint, goes everywhere with him. Two body guards, Burt and Ted, they hang around the offices making the rest of the staff nervous and his driver Jack who's trained in more than driving."
"Any one else?"
"No, like Ez said Cline isn't into sharing, likes to keep control to himself and the cost of the help down. But I get the feeling Cline's got connections. If he needs them he could get more manpower. Got to wonder if the accident his partner Tony Barnes died in was really an accident?" Vin said.
"Wonder why he kept the name of the company Barnes and not changed it to Cline after his partner's death?" wondered Josiah.
"Nathan, check into Barnes'death. See if there is anything suspicious about it." Chris told the ex-medic and than asked Vin. "Did you hear anything useful while in the offices?" Chris was amused when Vin blushed.
Ezra came to his partner's defense. "At the moment the staff is discussing the two new men in the accounting office. Give us another day for them to get use to us and they'll go back to gossiping about office matters."
"Just what are they saying Vin?" asked Buck with an evil chuckle, just to see the blush back on Vin's cheeks. The boy simply didn't seen to realize the effect he had on the fairer sex.
Ezra came to the rescue changing the subject "Ah believe JD might find something useful on these." Ezra threw a DVD case to the young hacker.
"What ya got Ezra?" asked JD as he looked at the two discs in the case.
"It's what ever is on the Cline's company's computer. Ah copied the memory before leaving tonight."
"I'll get right on it."
"Did you get anything on Cline's other activites?" question Nathan.
"Not yet, but Cline has promised to show me his other books before the end of the week."
Vin chuckled, the others in the room turned and looked at him. "Ez is going through the company's books and is getting them in order. Already figured out ways to put them to rights and get the IRS off the company's back."
"That reminds me," Ezra addressed Chris. "You'll need to increase the security around Towner. Mr. Towner has been a bad boy and Mr. Cline is going to be unhappy when Ah tell him about it."
"So why tell him about it?" asked JD.
"To show how well Ah'm doing ma job." Ezra seemed a little put out at the question. The others just chuckled at the Southerner. Ezra always put his best effort into any undercover personality he became and did the job skillfully. It was one of the things that made him unsurpassed as an undercover agent in the ATF.
The meeting broke up at that point; Chris wanted Vin and Ezra back to the Hilton before there was any chance of them being missed. Buck would keep working at the construction site and tomorrow JD, Nathan and Josiah would start going through the information on the discs. Josiah and Nathan would try and establish where Cline had illegals working for him and when these activities had started. Chris was going to talk to Mary.
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Mary had called and said she had information for Chris. Mary hadn't backed down after finding the bodies of those poor souls in the foundation walls, not even after both Orin and Chris had asked her to. She felt she owed that family, if she and her crew hadn't of been there that day there was no telling how long it would have been before they would have been discovered. But she had found them and now she might have even found someone who was related to them. As much as she wanted to break the story on her news show she wanted justice for the family more.
Chris pulled up in front of Mary's modest townhouse and parked his black Ram. It was too late for Billy to still be up but not Mary. The two widowers had been seeing a lot of each other in the last year. Both had been encouraged by their family and friends to start dating again. It had been years since his wife's death but Chris had found the idea of dating strange. Neither Mary nor he had met anyone they could tolerate till Evie Travis (with Orin s blessing) set them up on a blind date with each other. If it hadn't been for Buck arguing him into it and the other five men backing him up Chris would have backed out of the whole thing as soon as he found out with whom he would be spending the evening. Mary wasn't happy either when he called and told her about what was going on. But both cared too much for Evie's feelings not to go through with it and it would only be for one date, or so they told themselves. And it would get everyone off their backs.
For two people who habitually blew up at each other each time they crossed paths they had a surprisingly good time. Mary wasn't prying for more information for her news program and Chris didn't have to tell her to stay back where it was safe. They had a good enough time to try it again... and again, to the delight of all involved. So it wasn't an unusual sight to see Chris's vehicle parked outside of Mary's home.
Chris smiled when Mary answered the door, but then he always smiled when he saw Mary these days.
"Come on in Chris." She told him leading him to the living room where drinks and food had been set out. "Bet you haven't eaten tonight have you?"
"No, I haven't and that looks mighty good."
"Help yourself." Mary told him as she poured them each a drink and sat beside him on the couch. "I've found someone you need to meet. She might be a relative to the family we found. Her sister and her sister's family were coming over but never showed, regardless of the money they had already paid. It would have been the same time that the family was murdered. She was told that they had changed their minds and stayed in Hong Kong. She was also told not to ask questions or try to contact them. It would put her and them in danger."
Chris put down his plate. He settled back into the couch and invited Mary to snuggle against him, waiting for her to get comfortable before encouraging her to continue. "It would have been her sister, her sister's husband and their two small children. They would have been the same age as the ones we found." Mary looked up at Chris, glad he was holding her. One of those children had been close to her son's age when he died. The death of any child bothered her and she found comfort in Chris'arms. Mary went on with what she had to tell him. "She's afraid to go to the police and contacted me instead. I told her I would help her and I mean to."
Chris kissed the top of her head. "We will help her. Josiah has contacts in the area and we'll find a way to meet that won't endanger her."
"Thank you Chris, I want to get the people responsible for this crime but I don't want anyone else to die. You and the others are the best bet of that happening. You know I trust you." Mary smiled up at him.
Chris smiled down at the woman in his arms, "Thank you for trusting me. Tomorrow I'll get Josiah to set something up with his friend." Looking into the blue eyes looking up at him he asked. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"You could stay a while. This case keeps going through my mind to the point I can't sleep. I could use a distraction."
"I can do that." He said kissing her. +++++
Toby Cline was not happy. The new bookkeeper was working out all too well. Ernest Seffner has showed him where Towner had been stealing money from him for years. That little rat was going to die as soon as Toby could get his hands on him. He would buy Towner's way out of jail if he had to just for the pleasure of killing the little louse himself. It bothered him that the accountant seemed to enjoy showing him where every inaccuracy occurred in the books, as if Toby should have seen them for himself and not let it get so far out of hand. It made him feel like a fool; a feeling Toby didn't like, didn't like at all.
Seffner had shown him a lot of other stuff as well. He talked a lot about computer printouts and about the need to match contracts, reports and payrolls with each other for the IRS. Within this mass of paperwork any extra money could be lost and reappear. Toby dismissed it all. What he wanted was Towner and until then Ernest could have free rein to bring the books into order. He would give Seffner the personal records he kept on a laptop locked away in his personal safe and allow the accountant to go over them in his office under the watchful eyes of his assistant. Seffner had proven his worth but Toby wasn't going to take chances. His other set of books would stay on his laptop and Seffner could look at them with one of Toby's men watching.
Toby Cline had come up from the streets and knew himself not to be the brightest bulb in the pack. But he did recognize talent. His partner at the time, Tony Barnes had the talent to set up and run the construction company. Toby had supplied the money, Tony the brains. On a trip to the Orient, Cline had met a group of individuals who had a plan to make a lot of money and the connections in the area to make it work but didn't have anyone in the US to front for them. Toby had been interested and soon Cline was heading a group to help worthy families to get out of the godless communist countries and into the freedom loving United States of America. He had people in the states tripping over themselves to help him, even Barnes had thought it was a great thing they were doing. That was till he found out Cline was taking money for smuggling people in the country who had no papers or hopes of getting any. Tony Barnes, old friend and business partner had an unfortunate accident before he had a chance to talk to anyone. Having gotten rid one partner, his partners in the Far East didn't last long after that. Toby put his people in their place and now he was getting the lion's share of everything. As he branched out into other areas of smuggling his share kept getting larger.
Toby had recognized the usefulness of public relations and the reputation of a humanitarian was born. He was seen in the right places with the right people, doing good deeds in front of the cameras, backing pet charities of the rich and famous. He cultivated friendships with the major players in the city on both sides of the law. Toby Cline considered himself to be untouchable, there for unstoppable.
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The next afternoon a worried woman sat in a garden trying to feel the tranquility that surrounded her. The Hos had been kind to Wenjing, taking her and her daughter in. It had been first time since she had heard of the bodies being found that she had felt safe. If her husband had still been with her, she wouldn't have sought out the woman reporter. Rui had been fearful that the authorities would send them back to Hong Kong no matter how many times she told him they wouldn't be sent back as their daughter was born in this country and that made her an American citizen. The laws of this country wouldn't allow that. Rui had run away, fearful that the men who had killed Wenjing s sister and her sister's family would come after him. He hadn't thought of his wife and child, as he took what little money they had. He had run out on her and their daughter. It had proven to her that even Rui had thought that the bodies had been her sister's family.
Would it be better knowing or not knowing her older sister Shi Rujin and her family were dead? Shi Rujin's husband had been a hot headed and self-important man. He had been a brilliant computer engineer with an important job with the government. He had often boasted that he was so important that he could demand anything and they would give it to him. The new Chinese government hadn't. In fact they demoted him to a lesser paying job for his arrogance. The same new government in Hong Kong wouldn't allow him and his family to leave the country. Liang Ping had often gotten himself into trouble by speaking out of hand. Had he spoken such to those who had gotten them out of Hong Kong, angered them somehow and been killed for it?
Wenjing shook her head she did not wish to think of such matters as she watched her daughter play in the garden with the youngest grandchild of the Ho's. Instead she would think of the kind men who had come to talk to her that morning, Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Jackson. They had spoken softly and carefully of the investigation and what they needed to prove that the bodies were indeed her sister's family. Mr. Jackson explained what he needed to do to get a DNA sample from her. Wenjing understood about DNA, she had been studying to become a nurse at one time and had allowed Mr. Jackson to take a swab from her mouth. Rui had made her quit school soon after they were married, as he did not want a wife who was better educated than he was.
Wenjing watched her child play amongst the flowers in the well- kept garden. Her daughter would never be forced into arranged marraige. Her daughter was an American. Wenjing would make sure her child would grow up as independent woman. She'd have any career she wanted and if she chose to marry, she would choose the man.
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Buck had been working for a few days at the construction site when, as he walk past a newly poured internal foundation wall, it hit him. It had been a wall like that one that the bodies had been found in. He stopped and stared at that wall. How could he or anyone else ever pass one again and not wonder?
"Buck, you alright?" asked Clyde coming up to stand next to him.
"Yes... no... aw hell Clyde. After you warned me about not asking questions my curiosity got the better of me. I went to the library and looked up the company for any news stories. Wish I hadn't. Those walls give me the willies now. Can we get away from them?"
Clyde took a long look at Buck and seemed to make up his mind about something. "Buck how about you and me get a beer after work and talk?"
Later that evening Buck called Chris on his cell. "Think we got a break on this case. Got some information from Clyde tonight. After a few beers he got to talking. Seems Clyde's been working construction with the firm since the beginning when Tony Barnes ran the outfit. Talked about how maybe once or twice a year someone would come on a site after the crew had gone home for the night and pour a foundation wall. Always done a good job of it, it always passed inspection. First time it happened the crew chief and the union rep sent word to Cline and complained. Two of Cline's bodyguards came down to the site and talked to them. Had to close down the site till they got out of the hospital. No work no paycheck, most of these guys got families and need that money. So no one asks questions about it or anything else strange that happens. Like crates that would be there one day and not the next. Or guys that that show up to work that don't know any English nor have papers. None of the crew knew what going on or what was going into those walls. They're scared but angry now that they do know. If we can bring Cline down most of them will come forward. But not till Cline and his goons are behind bars."
"Do they think Eric Stroud is in on it?" solicited Chris.
"No, all this started before Stroud's time. Just before Tony Barnes died in fact. Stroud didn't start working for the company till high school. His uncle got him a part time job there while he was still in school. But it was hinted that talking to Stroud might be worthwhile if we can do it on the QT, without Cline finding out about it."
"Who is this Clyde?"
"Stroud's uncle, and they're close. That's why what Clyde says goes."
"Think he made you as a cop?" asked Chris
Buck didn't answer right away.
"Yeah, must be getting rusty if I was made that easy."
"Don't let it get you down." Chris told his old friend, "This Clyde was probably on the lookout for someone to show up undercover. You fit the bill."
"Well don't tell the guys, they'll want to give me pointers the next time I go under."
"I won't. Good job, by the way, for getting Clyde to trust you. I'll let you know how that turns out."
"Thanks, night Chris."
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"Mr. Stroud if I may have a few minutes of your time." Asked Ernest in the hall outside of Eric Stroud's office.
Stroud looked at the man addressing him. It took a moment to place him. "Mr. Seffner isn't it, Ernest P. Seffner, the accountant who's going to save the company from the IRS." Replied Stroud good-naturedly putting out his hand to shake Ezra's. "Come on in."
Ezra returned the handshake and followed Stroud into his outer office. "Yes I am, I need to speak to you about the paperwork filed by Towner. Is there a time we can set up for that?" Ezra checked his watch. "Perhaps we can have lunch and discuss setting a time that's good for both of us. But it needs to be soon, I'm going to be needing a few hours of your time to check numbers and dates to be sure what I have is accurate."
"Of course, let me toss this," he held up his briefcase. "Into my office and tell my secretary where I'm going." Stroud disappeared into his private office.
Mr. Stroud was gone ten minutes before getting back to Ezra and Vin. "Sorry, last minute details Linda insisted I take care of. Sorry I didn't catch your assistant's name?"
"That's because he doesn't give it out." Ezra answered. "Do you have a suggestion where to go for lunch?"
At that Stroud smiled, "Yeah I do."
With that Ezra and Vin found themselves taking a walk to a nearby park that was within walking distance of the building. There was outside café there but it was busy so they decided not to wait for a table. Instead they bought takeout and found a picnic table nearby under some trees. Others had had the same idea but none were close enough to overhear what was being said.
"Thanks for letting me pick the place. My wife won't let me eat these things anymore." said Stroud as he took a bite out of a hot, foot-long spicy meatball and cheese submarine sandwich.
Vin was in seventh heaven as he ate chili fries and a BBQ sandwich, the first real food he had had in days and no veggie in sight. Ezra kept ordering foods he said stayed within their cover's personality. Ezra sighted as he watched Vin wolf down the fries. He had been trying to lift Vin's eating habits out of the fast food category and into something a bit more healthy. Well tomorrow was another day he wasn't going to give up the battle to keep his sentinel healthy.
"Really guys it's been a long time since I could enjoy a sandwich like this. My uncle Clyde introduced me to them when I started out working construction." Stroud told them and then waited to see if they would pick up on what he had said.
"I have a friend named Buck who's working construction in town, maybe your uncle knows him." replied Ezra.
"We going to keep dancing or talk?" asked Stroud. The light heartedness gone from his voice and speech.
"Talk by all means," Ezra matched his tone to Stroud's, "What do you know about Cline's dealings with illegals?"
"Before we discuss that, who the hell are you guys and why should I trust you? Cline owns several heavy hitters in town on both sides of the law."
"We are the good guys Mr. Stroud, we're with the ATF. We are agents who are not owned by anyone nor do we owe anyone any favors that would keep us from investigating Mr. Cline."
"Alcohol, tobacco and firearms. Isn't this outside your area of investigation?"
Vin and Ezra both smiled at that, it was Ezra who answered. "Yes it is. The newshound who discovered the bodies is not letting the case be forgotten. And since our bosses'boss is related to said reporter the whole mess ended up in our laps."
Stroud nodded his head. "Yes, having family that can't seem to mind their own business can suck at times." Deciding to take a chance with the agents he asked. "All right I'll buy that, what do you need to know?"
While Ezra and Stroud were discussing the situation Vin ran another check on the area. Yeah he was still there, one of the bodyguards, Ted had followed them from the office building, the rest of the area was clear. Vin raised his sight dial a little to see what the man was taking out of his pocket. A phone, that was all right but who was he calling? Vin tilted his head to listen in.
Bodyguard Ted: "Yeah he took them to that place he sneaks off to when he wants a sub."
Cline's Assistant Clint: "One of these days his wife's going to find out and... "
Ted broke in laughing: That woman's got one hell of a temper on her."
Clint: "Are they doing anything but talking?"
Clint: "Can you get close enough to hear what they're saying?"
Ted: "No, too much open space around them. Seffner's man is staring right at me, he knows I'm watching them. If I get any closer I'll end up as his new dartboard."
Clint: "Keep an eye on them and follow them wherever they go. Report in every hour or if you get anything."
The conversation ended and Vin quickly dialed his hearing and sight back down not wanting to get over whelmed by any sudden noise. Turning his attention back to the two men at the table he heard Stroud say. "When we get back to the office I will show you what I mean."
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Ezra was right, thought Chris, as he made his way through the lobby of the Hilton. Cline's man stood out like a sore thumb in his business suit amongst all the cowboy outfits. Chris hoped the case was tied up soon as the convention only had two more days to run. Getting in and out unseen would be harder to do. He made it to Ezra's and Vin's room without anyone the wiser. The door opened as he raised his fist to knock.
"Hey Chris, come on in." Vin told him and stepped back to let him enter. Vin then pushed out a cart with dirty dishes on it and left it in the hall.
Ezra handed him a beer from the mini bar. Chris was happy that the ATF wasn't picking up the bill for the hotel. It was obvious that his men were making full use of room service.
"What did you get from Stroud?"
"Mr. Stroud and his uncle have saved us a lot of time and work. They have given us a record of each building site and the date of each mysterious pouring of a foundation wall over the years. He also gave us a list of names of personnel who suddenly showed up to work without any history of being in the country before, along with the dates of these appearances. They are not all from the Orient either. Nor are all of them used to blue collar work." Ezra added a second list to the first one he handed Chris. "This is a list of cases that came in with other freight from overseas. The highlighted numbers are ones that would be sent on. Recognize any of the names and addresses there?"
"Damn, Cline seems to be branching out." Chris noticed that a few of the addresses were of individuals connected with local crime families.
"If you've got the money he'll find a way to get you and yours into the country and supply the paperwork." Vin spoke up. "So why not branch out and bring in stuff illegally here along with the people."
"Mr. Stroud was able to give us names of several people who are on the same committees as Cline who work for or who have a connection to immigration." Ezra held up a disc case. "With Stroud's help I was able to download a copy of Cline's books from his laptop's memory. There are some interesting names in there on his private payroll."
Vin laughed, "Ez and Stroud had computer readout papers all over the place and got the accounting staff running back and forth between their offices. Paper flying everywhere. Cline's men couldn't keep up between the two of them or keep an eye on who was looking at the files on which computer."
"Why is Stroud being so helpful?" questioned Chris. This guy sounded too good to be true.
"I asked our Mr. Stroud the same thing. He and his Uncle Clyde are trying to save the Barnes Construction Company. In doing so they will save the jobs of their friends on the construction crews. They realized Cline was up to no good and didn't want the company to go under with him when he was eventually arrested. To that end they have been buying shares of the company for the last three years, sinking as much money as they can into the project. They are close to being able to force Cline out completely. If they had been dishonest men they could have embezzled the company away from him. Cline is so busy being the entrepreneur that he hasn't been paying attention to the firm s construction business. As it is they've been trying to buy it out from under him. They know Cline is dangerous and is powerfully connected."
"If they knew Cline was dirty why didn't they go to the Fed's?" asked Chris.
"With what, their suspicions? They had no proof that Cline was doing anything criminal nor did they know who to trust. They don't know who is or isn t in Cline's pocket and for that matter neither do we."
Chris hated it but Ezra was right. Even with the records, they needed to make sure their case against Cline was airtight. They needed to make it so everyone in Denver knew what was going on, ideally from Cline's own mouth. Chris was getting a glimmer of an idea. He looked over at his two men and saw them watching him. "You two got this all figured out don't you?" he accused them.
"Look at it this way cowboy, Mary will love you for it."
+ + + + + + +
Toby Cline kept checking his watch, it was getting late. He had been sitting here for hours listening to Ernest chatter on about numbers and records and who did what when and how the IRS no longer had any basis to justify an audit. There was no longer any proof of wrongdoing and ALL the records were now within government guidelines. All Toby wanted to know was if, after Ernest Seffner was done, the IRS would get off his back and stay off. Finally he said so.
"Well yes, Mr. Cline," Seffner seen surprised at the question and blinked his eyes. "The IRS will not find anything amiss with your books. Every cent has now been accounted for, with documentation to prove it. All the accounting department needs to do is put the paperwork in order under the guidelines that I'm leaving for them. I will go over it one last time with you and your partner before going to the audit." Said Ernest.
"Where's your bodyguard?" asked Cline realizing that the other man wasn t in sight. It was the first time he had ever saw Seffner without his shadow.
"My assistant is taking care of a matter dealing with our flight back to New York tonight. Somehow the airlines displaced our reservations and my assistant is straightening out the matter." Answered Ernest seeming to dismiss the question as he packed up his briefcase.
Cline raised an eyebrow at that statement. "I wasn't aware that you were going anywhere."
"I have done my job here Mr. Cline. You and your partner will have no need of my talents till a few days before the audit. I will be back to go over the paperwork and refresh your memory of the proceedings. Of course I'll accompany you and Mr. Stroud to the audit and deal with them if that is your wish."
Cline had almost dismissed the accounted out of hand till something he said penetrated his mind. Partner? What partner? "What partner are you talking about, Tony Barnes died years ago?"
"Mr. Stroud of course, he owns nearly half of the company's stock." Ezra put down his briefcase and picked up one of the stacks of computer readouts, laying them out over the desk in front of Cline. "Here and here and here, I can show you records going back over the years where Mr. Stroud had been buying up stock. There is no way that much stock could have been bought without the your broker informing you of the fact." Ezra added stiffly.
Cline was beginning to get angry. First this damn accountant had shown him where Towner had been stealing from him. Making him look like a fool, that little rat could have gotten away with it for so long under his nose. Well as soon as Toby could get his hands on Towner he'd take care of that louse personally. Now this uptown bastard from New York was showing him that his vice-president was on the verge of stealing his company away from him. It didn't matter that Cline had stolen the company from Tony Barnes in the first place, this was different. The company was his front for his real money making schemes and no one was going to take it away from him.
Cline looked at Ernest Seffner; the stuffed shirt was laughing at him. Cline just knew Seffner was laughing at him for not paying attention to what Towner and Stroud had been doing. Well he would have the last laugh on everybody. He picked up the phone and called Stroud. "Eric, sorry for calling in the middle of your supper. But I need you to meet me over at the Westlake site. Something has come up and I need you to check it out with me to tell me if I'm right or just worrying over nothing. No there's no need to hurry, finish your supper and meet me there around nine. Say hi to Sherry for me... bye." Cline put down the phone. Turning to Clint he told him. "Call Peterson and tell him I got a job that needs to be done."
Cline's assistant went to the outer office to make his call. Cline turned his attention back to Seffner. "You've earned your paycheck on this job. You are as good as everyone said you were."
"Of course, You might think about suing your broker for not keeping you better informed. A CPO of any company should always know when he's about to become a victim of a hostile takeover." Seffner had the arrogance to look haughty.
It was the last straw with Cline. "When's your bodyguard due back?" he asked coldly.
Seffner stepped back a few feet from the desk. He didn't like the look in Cline's face.
"Any minute, I'm going to be meeting him in the office I've been using. Till we meet again before the audit, goodbye to you Mr. Cline." With that Seffner turned his back and started walking toward the door, only to stop when Cline's guards got into the way. He turned to complain to Cline only to find the man standing behind him.
"You know Ernest you can be one arrogant pain in the ass."
"So I have been told." Ernest agreed with Cline, he was now trapped between the bodyguards and Cline.
"It must be nice to be so smart that you can make people feel stupid by pointing out their mistakes, looking down on them, laughing at them behind their backs, laughing at them... at me... every chance you got.
"Mr. Cline I never... . I hadn't... "
Clint came back into the office, "Mr. Cline the preparations are under way. They will be ready by the time we get there."
"Very good Clint, you and Ted are with me. Burt take care of Ernest's assistant and than meet us at the site."
Burt smiled, "Yes sir and thank you sir, I wanted a chance to see if the kid could do anything other than throw knives."
+ + + + + + +
In Towner's old office Vin had been listening in on what had been going on in Cline's office. So far everything was happening as Ezra and Josiah had thought it would. Now if Cline didn't change his method of operation for getting rid of unwanted bodies Chris and the boys would have everything in hand. Vin got ready to take out Burt and get back to covering his guide. Then Vin heard Ezra grunt and make a hissing sound. What was going on in that office? Before he could get lost hunting for more sounds from his guide the door opened and Vin had a more immediate problem to take care of.
+ + + + + + +
An island of light in a sea of darkness came into view. The Westlake site was out on the edge of town; part of the old business district long abandoned. Barn's Construction was one of the first to be contracted to start rebuilding the area. The lights were on at the site, lighting the grounds up to near daylight quality. Eric Stroud was leaning on the hood of his car as he waited for Toby to show up. Eric straightened up as the long sedan pulled into the grounds, he waited for it a stop before walking over. The chauffeur got out and opened the door for his boss to climb out. He was followed by one of his bodyguards dragging the accountant Seffner out with him, then the assistant. Seffner looked scared and Eric couldn't blame him, Toby appeared calm... too calm, like the calm he showed just before taking somebody apart, as a number of service people could give evidence to.
"Hey Toby what gives? And what's with the accountant?" asked Eric sounding puzzled.
Cline smiled. "Thought I'd show Ernest here some of the nightlife in Denver before he goes back to New York. But first the problem here." Cline started walking toward the back of the site waving Eric to follow him. Eric followed Cline with the assistant and bodyguard following behind them; Seffner was tucked between the assistant and the bodyguard.
Cline walked over to one of the foundation forms that had been build to lay the first of many foundation walls of the buildings that Barnes Construction had been contracted to build. There would be several high rise apartment buildings on this site when the work was done. The foundation forms were already in the ground waiting to have the cement poured into them. Cline looked around and yelled, "Peterson where the hell are you?"
"Here Boss." An old man nervously walked out the darkness. "You ready?"
Cline motioned to his men. "Boys toss him in there."
Cline's men pushed Seffner into the ten-foot deep frame. Eric looked shocked.
"What the hell are you doing Toby?'he said as he looked down at Seffner regaining his feet at the bottom of the casing. "That... that... " Eric couldn't find the words to describe what he wanted to say. Suddenly he looked at Cline. "It was you that put that family in that wall and killed them wasn't it?"
"The man Ping threatened me. That little man threatened to go to the news media and tell them all about my operations. Well I wasn't going to allow that." Toby put his arm around Eric's shoulders and gave him a little squeeze "The same way I'm not going to allow anyone to steal from me."
"What do you mean?" asked Eric trying to get loose from Toby's embrace.
"Found out about you buying up stock, trying to take my company away from me. That wasn't a very good idea Eric my boy." Patting Eric on the back, he leaned the younger man over to the edge of the foundation frame looking down at Seffner. "Neither was it a good idea to annoy me was it Ernest?" so saying he pushed his vice- president into the hole with the accountant.
"Cline!" Yelled Ezra as he helped Eric regain his feet, he wanted to know more. Cline looked down at the two men in the hole.
"You want something Ernest?" Peterson was directing the cement mixture where it needed to move to be able to get its load into the frame. Cline had a few minutes to spare for the two.
"Can't we make a deal?" asked Ernest.
"No." replied Cline.
"Why this way Toby? Why do you have to bury us in cement?" Demanded Eric Stroud. If he was going to die he wanted answers.
"Because it's tried and true. The Pings weren't the first to grace one of my buildings nor will they be the last. Especially if people keep irritating me like Ernest here. And of course there are a few friends who have asked me over the years to dispose of a body or two so no one would ever find them."
"Are you admitting to murdering people and sealing them up in concrete?"
"Yes, at least thirteen if not more over the years, you two will make fourteen and fifteen. Though technically it will be the cement that kills you and not me."
An engine rumbled close by and the chute from the cement mixture was over the heads of the men in the ground. "Bye boys." Cline waved and stood aside as the truck started to unload its cargo. Cement fell into the frame splashing the two men. Cline turned around to go back to his car only to find the bright lights from a TV news camera in his eyes and a microphone in front of his face. The mike was being held by a beautiful blond Cline recognized from TV.
"Mr. Cline what do you have to say after admitting to murdering thirteen people?" Mr. Cline who are these friends for whom you disposed bodies for? Mr. Cline... ." The blond asking questions was interrupted by two of Denver's finest.
"We are Detectives Richardson and Sing, we're placing you under arrest for the murder of the Ping family and the attempted murder of Eric Stroud. Mr. Cline, you have the right to remain silent, your have the right to an attorney, you have the right... " Raymond Sing put the cuffs on Cline as Mick Richardson read Cline his rights. And the local television station had gotten it all. Not only Cline being read his Miranda rights but his confession as well as him pushing Stroud into the pit and the concrete starting to flow in. Richardson and Sing lead Cline away, his men already in custody. Mary was putting the finishing touches on her broadcast, explaining to her audience what they had just witnessed. She promised to return as soon as the men were rescued from the pit. The local DPD were covering the crime scene but decided to let Larabee get his man out of the pit himself.
The TV cameras had been shut off for now. They would wait till they could get some shots of Stroud being pulled from the pit. Mary was talking to her station manager about doing a story on Stroud and how he was going to cope with everything that had happened as well as his plans for Barnes Construction. While Mary's team waited, the rest of the seven and Clyde Stroud stood around the top of the foundation frame and looked at the two men down in the hole.
Vin took stock of his guide. Ezra was alright but a little shaken by the drop. The wet concrete didn't make matters any better either. Ez's heartbeat was too fast for Vin's liking. He needed to get Ezra out of that hole before he remembered what the Pings had gone through, though Ezra probably already had. "I'm going to find a ladder o
something to get them out of there. Ez hang on I'm going to get ya out of there."
Buck looked at the retreating back of the sentinel. "JD go with him and find a water hose." JD ran and caught up with his friend. Together they d find a ladder and hopefully a water hose.
The other men made jokes about the acting abilities of the two men, more to keep their minds off where they were than to be funny. The cement truck had been moved away but that still left a lot of wet cement down in the frame with them. The two men weren't happy about being left in the wet cold stuff. Vin still hadn't returned with a ladder.
"All right you've had your fun now get us out of here." demanded Eric of his uncle. He was getting impatient.
"I don't know boy. You still seemed awful willing to get down there in the first place." Clyde had tried to talk his nephew out of going along with the plan that left him open to the possibility of getting hurt. A lot of his safety had depended on Cline not changing his mode of operations. Clyde Stroud hadn't liked it one bit and he wanted his nephew to not forget it.
"Uncle Clyde please," Eric almost wined he wanted out of this muck for it was starting to dry. Why was it that even as a grown man his uncle and his uncle's friends still saw him as the awkward teenager he had once been and not as their boss. "Uncle Clyde it's starting to set up. Please get us out of here."
Another voice added his displeasure of still being at the bottom of the pit to Eric's. "Mr. Larabee Ah wholeheartedly concur, not only is the cement setting, what is on our clothes and skin is already dry and is itching."
Chris knew the sound of a pissed off Southerner when he heard it. Ezra hadn't used their last names in a while, only if he was really fuming did he do so now. Better get him out of there. "All right Ezra, I can see Vin coming with a ladder as we speak."
"Coming through," called out Vin. He had a ladder and was pushing through the men around the pit. It took only moments to get the two wet and stressed men out of the death trap they had been thrown into. Ezra wanted to go home immediately and clean up. Buck, Clyde and Eric vetoed that idea out of hand.
"Ezra we've got to get that stuff off you and Eric right now." Buck told him.
JD had found a hose and had pulled it out as far as he could get it, turning the knob on the hose to let the clear clean water flow out. Clyde and Buck shepherded Ezra over to the running water where Eric had already pulled off his clothes. Standing in only his boxers, Eric was washing off as much of the cement as possible with his hands. Turning to Ezra he tried to explain.
"Ernest... I mean Ezra your friend is right if you think the itch is bad now, it'll get a lot worse if you don't wash it off. If you're lucky you only get a rash from the limestone in the cement. The mineral mix that makes up cement and concrete can cause burns if you're sensitive or if you leave it on too long. Why do you think people who work with the stuff wear gloves?"
Ezra was loathed to admit it but the stuff was starting to feel uncomfortable. He quickly toed off his shoes and socks that were ruined anyway. He took off his coat and dropped, his pants kicking them aside. He stopped momentarily when water was sprayed over his legs. It was cold but it felt great getting rid of the mineral mix that had soaked his clothes. Lastly he took off his shirt, leaving on only his boxers for modesty's sake. Vin ran the water up and down his guide's body as Ezra rubbed his arms and legs with his hands to rid himself of as much of the grime as possible under the conditions. A wolf whistle from the woman police officer securing the crime scene showed her appreciation for what she was seeing. No one had realized how much people on the sidelines could see in the rush to get the cement off the two men. With a smile Ezra bowed in her direction. But a hiss escaped him when he straightened up. He tucked his arm to his side over his ribs and kept it there.
Josiah moved in with a blanket to cover and warm up the Southerner. The others closed ranks to form a wall to give their brother some privacy from the gallery of police officers and news people standing around. Stroud on the other hand, wrapped only in a blanket, with his uncle at his side had gone over to the news team and was giving Mary an interview.
Vin had heard the hiss and with the clothes removed he could see bruises forming on Ezra's side. "Damnit Ez why didn't you say you were hurt?"
Ezra batted Vin's hands away when he tried to lift the blanket that was covering his guide's side. It wasn't the time or place for the mother hen from hell to make an appearance. "Its nothing, Cline's men got a little rough that's all."
Ezra got his first good look at Vin at that point. There was a bruise on his jaw and one of his hands was wrapped. "What happened? He demanded as he took the damage hand in his as he tried to determine what was wrong with it. Vin pulled it away as he tried again to see Ezra's bruises.
"Nothing, Burt's head was a little harder than I thought. I had to hit him more than once." Vin grinned at his guide. "If you let me see your bruises I'll let you see mine."
Ezra judged how serious Vin's injuries were by how Nathan was reacting to them. If Nathan wasn't fussing over Vin's hand or the bruise on his face then they couldn't be too serious. He forced down his own mother hen instincts and pulled his blanket closer around him before he answered.
"No thank you, Ah'm sure there's no need." Ezra took a step backward only to bump up against a hard body. Ezra sighed. It wasn't going to be that easy was it? Without looking around he asked, "What kept you Nathan?"
"Went and got my bag, never know what I'm going to be needing to patch you boys up with. Turn around Ezra and don't fight me, I want to look at your side." Nathan told him.
For once Ezra didn't fight the ex- medic nor his sentinel's need to check his guide over. Chris was glad he wouldn't need to take a part in the argument and force the matter. With the other four men there to back Vin and Nathan, Ezra didn't stand a chance of talking his way out of it and he knew it. Ezra was declared badly bruised but with no broken ribs. A good ending to the bust thought Chris, as none of his men were badly hurt. The bad guys were going down, there was no way Cline could get off with half of Denver listening to him confess to murder and watching him trying to kill Stroud.
Chris would send the sentinel and guide home to finish cleaning up. They could write up their reports in the morning. For that matter so could the rest of them, tomorrow would be soon enough to do the paper work. Chris looked over to where Mary and her news crew were packing up. Chris smiled to himself. Maybe Mary would let him drive her home, no harm in the asking.
+ + + + + + +
It was weeks later and Vin and Ezra were at the garage where the whole thing had started. They were down in the sub-basement standing in front of the same wall Ezra had collapsed in front of months before. Vin and Ezra gave a small bow from the waist and Vin spoke of the circumstances surrounding the case and how things stood now. "Cline's in jail and it looks like he isn't getting out for a long time if ever. Having confessed on television isn't leaving his defense team much to work with. Especially with his men talking as they try to cut a deal with the DA. Eric Stroud is now the CPO of Barnes Construction Company, he's going over all the buildings the company ever build with his Uncle's help to find the bodies that Cline says he entombed in them and putting things to right. It's good public relations and should keep them in business. The DNA test Wenjing took proved that she's family. The Hos are helping her with giving you all a proper funeral. They are also helping her with getting a divorce from her husband on grounds of abandonment. So that pretty much wraps it up, your bodies are being given a proper funeral, the men responsible for your deaths are going to jail, so I guess you can move on now."
Again Vin and Ezra bowed, only Vin could see the four figures that bowed back at them before they disappeared into a bright light.
Any comments, please sent them to me at: Nsscbs1978@aol.com