Texas Hold 'Em

by Mitzi

Synopsis: Team 7 is assigned to a case in Texas where everything goes to hell in a hand basket. With two members of the team under cover with homegrown terrorists and no reliable tech or backup, the guys must work together to get out alive and stop the threat.

Disclaimer: I do not own in part or full any aspect of the Magnificent Seven franchise. The characters are the property of MGM, Trilogy Entertainment, The Mirisch Group, its relevant partners and subsidiaries. I do own all original aspects of this fanfiction including but not limited to original characters and plot. This fanfiction has been published at no profit, purely for the enjoyment of the fans and the collective good of the franchise.

Note: I don't want to put any spoilers for the story here, but the ending should be considered a tiny step outside the original ATF AU and isn't meant to change or influence fanon in any way. It's just for fun.


Special note:

Mitzi wrote this story for me. I bid for her Hurricane Katrina relief story and won the chance to have her write a story for me. I'm a big fan of her other stories, and especially love the way she uses all seven guys. Her writing makes me feel like I'm standing in the middle of the action as it happens, and that's due to her extraordinary attention to detail. I'm not just entertained by her stories, I learn things from reading them.

When I first started corresponding with Mitzi about the auction story, I told her about this idea I had rolling around in my head. She gently reminded me that she had actually offered an OW tale for the auction, and that she had never written a full-length ATF story. I challenged her to try out the ATF universe, and she bravely forged ahead. I think the result is awesome. She took a fragmented idea which never would have seen the light of day if left to my own devices, and turned it into a truly wonderful story.

I could not be more pleased with her efforts, and I know that you will enjoy reading it as much as I did.

I would also like to issue a challenge regarding the story. There are lots of angsty moments and H/C situations which we decided not to expand on too much. However, we both thought that the H/C and angst specialists in this fandom would have a field day writing missing scenes for the 'off camera' moments in this story. So, if the spirit so moves you, feel free to apply your own creativity and see where it takes you! Everyone goes through the wringer in this one -- some physically, some emotionally. Whoever your favorite character is, you'll find something to grab on to, and if you want more, go ahead and add it.

Happy reading (and hopefully, writing!),

Carolyn


Chris Larabee glared viciously at the angry red "check engine" light on the dash of his black Dodge Ram. It glared back. He had to admit it; the truck was on its last legs.

The government usually had to surplus their vehicles after 75,000 miles. Chris had finagled enough to keep the Ram by cataloguing it as a special use vehicle. Almost all of Team 7's fleet came from a co-op case with the DEA. How long ago? Had it been four years? All of the vehicles were aging. But they were all good surveillance vehicles that blended in well with traffic. The low bid cars the government purchased en masse were obviously G-cars. The only way to get a classy ride was to seize it from a targeted violator and put it into government service. It was getting harder and harder to seize good vehicles. The truth was that the bad guys had caught on quickly to the seizure laws that allowed agents to put vehicles into service once they'd been used to facilitate a federal crime. If they had good rides, they still picked up lemons to do their deals in. Then, the only way to seize the others was to prove they were purchased with drug or other illegal proceeds, a much tougher element to prove.

If Chris didn't come up with something soon, he and his men would all be driving Chevrolet Caprices or Malibus. And yet, here they were, wasting the last few miles the cars had in them outside of Waco, Texas in the heat. He wasn't about to turn off the a/c.

But would the suits let them fly into Austin instead of drive and rent cars for the 90 minute drive north? Of course not. And why? For the same damn reason. Because the vehicles blended in traffic. Rental cars would stand out in this area and the local ATF didn't have any spare cars. So now Chris's check engine light was on in the 87 degree Texas heat -- 87 degrees in October for God's sake. And Tanner had stretched out on a picnic table sunnin' like a reptile. "Hell, Cowboy, this is a cold front," he'd drawled as he took up the eye for their surveillance.

"Looks like they're gettin' ready to move again." That same drawl came across the radio and drew Larabee away from the mundane supervisory thoughts and back into the action. "Yep," the Texan continued. "I got tail lights." The new Jeep Commander was backing out of the park. Tanner was already sauntering back to his car to be ready to follow.

@@@@@@@

Josiah Sanchez watched as Nathan Jackson eased into traffic with perfect timing that put him two vehicles behind the target Commander. Josiah was doing their air surveillance. The still, hot air and constant circling of the small Piper Cub aircraft left most of the guys ready to puke. It never affected the Viet Nam vet that way, so he usually got tagged with the observer assignment. He didn't mind. He didn't use the new fangled gyro binoculars either except to show off and get a license plate from altitude. The binocs limited visibility. And now, even though he was assigned to the secondary target car, both vehicles were converging and he could keep an eye on JD Dunne, undercover in the secondary target, a Beemer, and Ezra Standish, in the Commander.

Josiah thought back to the beginning of this case. It started out with one of those walk-in snitches who come in with a story so paranoid and so bizarre and, well, just so out there, that for all the world your first impression is that she is bi-polar, to be generous, and unmedicated at the best.

Her name was Billie Jo Trainer and she was a small time girl from Harker Heights, Texas. Well, Harker Heights is small, but it's only a stone's throw from Killeen, Texas, home of Fort Hood, one of the biggest military bases in the country. How she got to Denver and the ATF offices there was anyone's guess.

At first, the story sounded like it had come from the lonely little voices in Billie Jo's head. Terrorists were going to attack a Baylor Bears football game.

Right there Josiah heard the theme song to Twilight Zone going off in his head like the warning claxons of the starship Enterprise. Was mixing old TV references as bad as mixing metaphors? Well, Josiah Sanchez was only talking to the other voices in his head, at the moment and he decided he liked the analogy.

But no, it got better. This wasn't an Al Qaeda attack. It was neo-Nazis and skinheads trying to instigate a race war by killing small town Texans and blaming it on Islam. No particular group, just Islam. Billie Jo's story was lacking in detail.

@@@@@@@

Vin Tanner, about eight cars back in traffic, had let his mind wander to how the case started as well. Vin hated to admit that the lack of educated reasoning as to who to blame for the attack was where he had heard a sliver of reality slip into the story for him. "Who" wasn't as important as "where."

Set off a bomb in Waco, Texas, the buckle of the Bible belt? Leave credible evidence Osama was behind it?

"One Riot, One Ranger" and "Remember the Alamo" rang in his inner ears. Texas would take care of business itself. If the government or FEMA wanted to reimburse them for the bullets later? Good deal.

No, it wasn't really like that, but even the Texans who knew better pretty much enjoyed the image. And that minority on the lunatic fringe who truly believed the myth or wanted to believe? They could come up with a plan like this.

"Damn," Nathan said over the radio. It drew Vin's attention back to the otherwise routine moving surveillance. They were on the car-to-car, non-repeater channel 3. The good thing was that it was virtually impossible for the bad guys to use a scanner and pick up their transmissions.

The down side of car-to-car was the limited range where they could hear each other.

Another upside was that the dispatcher couldn't hear what was being said and neither could the FAA. That left ATF Team 7 free to express themselves during the exasperating surveillance.

"Damn," the usually unflappable Jackson repeated. "He just cut three lanes of traffic to get to the left turn lane."

"Heat run," Buck observed needlessly. "I'm two cars behind you. I can slide over and make the turn with him."

"I'll come around," Nathan agreed. "He's got a red ball." Red light. "We got some time to set up."

"Vin and I are one intersection back in case he makes a U-ie instead of the left," Chris stated.

"Got it," Buck replied. "Okay, he's got a green. He's making the left."

"You're on your own 'til we catch up," Chris supplied as traffic suddenly seemed to back up.

"I got the eyeball," Buck confirmed with experienced calm as he made the left turn one car between him and the target. "Okay, looks like he's slowing for another left turn on the next side street. I'll get a name in a minute . . ."

"It's a dead end. Don't follow." Josiah's voice surprised them. "Let your eye in the sky take over."

"You've got it," Chris directed.

"What are you doing here?" Buck barked. "Where's JD?"

@@@@@@@

They expected the question from Buck and Chris was glad he came through. It kept him from snapping the question.

"I was just coming on this channel to tell you. JD's car is two blocks over on the Baylor campus near the football stadium. My guess is they are waiting to meet up with Ezra's car. The local team has the perimeter. But if - when -- they meet up, we take the eye."

"Good job, Preacher." Chris was thankful once again that all of his men were so good at the job. "I've got the eastbound exit covered," he added as he pulled into a convenience store parking lot.

"I got the west," Vin drawled.

"I'll take north." South was unnecessary since Josiah had already reported that was a dead end. It went without saying that Buck would stay back as his was the last vehicle that might have been observed by the target car.

@@@@@@@

Buck pulled smoothly into a Pep Boys parking lot -- easy to get into and out of when they started moving again. He couldn't help a smile. He could hear it in Chris's voice even if no one else could. Ol' Ezra was in a world of shit. You never, never tripped with the bad guys. Yet early this afternoon the southerner had willingly hopped in the car with them and taken off. That left the rest of the team to follow them all day, and juggle not to get burned or lose them. Hopefully Ezra could get these negotiations over soon. That might help justify his actions to their Group Supervisor. Buck wanted it to be over soon. He had a bad feeling about this group.

Buck had started believing the story when that sweet little filly Billie Jo said she was snitching off her boyfriend, Trey Winters, because he was neglecting her.

Buck recognized the type and she scared him. Small, southern town Daddy's girl. Cheerleader? Well, Duh. Student council? No way. She would have perfected the dumb blonde act to an art form even if she had a genius IQ. And despite the west Texas drawl, she probably wasn't far off. No, the simple fact was that she wasn't getting her way and it pissed her off. Her Trey Winters wasn't giving her enough attention. Someone was going to pay.

Anyway, supposedly, good ol' boy Trey and the leader of his pack, Anson Jones (no relation to the original Anson Jones, she insisted) wanted to buy -- get this -- 'some of that stuff from over at what used to be Russia. You know? That stuff the Russian mafia sneaks out 'cause everyone's so poor? You know? That dirty bomb stuff?'

Buck remembered sharing a look with Standish at this point in the interview. He could read the southerner's mind, 'and I thought CNN headline news sound bytes were obscure.'

Billie Jo went on to say that Trey's daddy had oil money (of course, why else would Miss Billie Jo waste her time on him?) and Anson's daddy had meth money. They could get about $500,000.00 together. "Is that enough money to buy the ingredients for a dirty bomb?" Billie Jo had asked coyly.

"Well, I don't know little missy. But if you've already got the eggs, flour and baking powder, that's getting close to being able to buy the cocoa," Buck had answered.

Buck didn't know if Billie Jo Trainer knew enough about cooking to get the correlation, but she smiled real big so something must have clicked. Either that or her spoiled brat instincts kicked in and told her it was time to throw out an "ever-so-charmin'" smile.

The bottom line was that there had been too much coincidence in the time line she laid out to completely write her off as someone who lined the inside of her Easter bonnet with aluminum foil to keep the alien's voices out of her brain.

Team 7 had tried to turn the case over to the FBI. Not that they wanted to, but: a) they were in Colorado and the case was in Texas; b) the FBI would eat their young to get all the good press of busting up a domestic terrorist threat; and, c) ever since the Davidian compound, you pretty much didn't say ATF and FBI in the same sentence in the Waco area. So the truth was, as much as they wheedled and connived and argued, Team 7 was ordered to turn the case over to the Bureau's local office.

So the FBI was called in and two agents came down to escort Ms. Trainer up to their floor.

@@@@@@@

Billie Jo had listened carefully as she was told she should work with the FBI and why. But she was looking at the two men in the Sears suits and Payless shoes -- maybe Foley's if she were being generous. One was a little pudgy and probably close to retirement. Even the younger one had gray at the temples of his marine hair cut. Billie Jo wasn't going to give away any of her smarts, but she knew that the young FBI agents had to spend the first years of their career on surveillance teams or some such menial detail. Then she looked around the room. Agents Wilmington and Tanner had on those tight faded jeans. Agent Tanner was even wearing a shirt with pearl button snaps. If any of her friends had been around, they would have drooled together, thoroughly enjoying the view. And Agent Standish? Hell, the suit he was wearing was so fine she didn't even know where it came from. Double Hell, even their boss was wearing those boot cut Wranglers that were so tight that you couldn't pinch his butt.

She had looked back at the suits by the door, tuned up and threw a wall-eyed fit the likes of which no one North of the Red River had ever seen.

She trusted the men she had been talking with for the last two days, she claimed. She didn't trust the FBI -- she was from Waco, after all -- whatever that meant, but she tossed it in because it sounded good. Agent Standish was perfect to sell that "Russian stuff." JD (she couldn't call him Agent Dunne. She didn't feel like she had to since they were close to the same age) was as cute as a bug and would fit right in with Trey and Anson. She stomped a dainty little foot and it by golly didn't move until Colorado ATF team 7 was on its way to a temporary assignment in Harker Heights, Texas. There was, of course, the bureaucracy, the sibling-like rivalry between agencies and the inter-agency feuds. But Larabee suspected the deciding factor as to who would finally handle the case had a lot to do with the fact that Evie Travis, the judge's wife, was a Baylor alum and would be there for the festivities leading up to the homecoming game that was allegedly targeted for the bomb. Travis himself was to meet her to attend the game on Saturday. Judge Travis would want Larabee and his men working the case with so much at stake.

And so it was that Billie had returned to Harker Heights and introduced Ezra easily enough as an entrepreneur who might have access to some of the plutonium smuggled out of the former USSR. It reconfirmed Buck's opinion of the young lady when her friends never questioned that she might be intelligent enough or run in the right circles to meet someone like that.

Now Billie Jo was holed up in a hotel room in Austin waiting to find out if she needed witness protection or would be charged with making a false report. Ezra was in a Jeep Commander with Anson Jones negotiating to sell plutonium for one million dollars. And JD Dunne had weaseled himself into the little clique of Anson Jones, Trey Winters and about twelve others, to the point that they were beginning to trust him with their terrorist plans.

All JD had done was wander into the local titty bar and "accidentally" bump into Trey, Anson and their gang. He had fit right in, drinking hard, driving fast and resenting any sort of authority figure.

Vin had watched JD closely, but didn't say anything. Josiah, too, was seeing something in JD's personality, but kept his own counsel. Nathan and Buck were angry at Anson Jones that he was so willing to corrupt the new kid in town. Ezra had muttered something about the young agent being good in this role because he was playing so close to type. Chris had wordlessly acknowledged Ezra's insightfulness. Chris was worried because the role JD was playing now highlighted a side of Dunne's personality that the others refused to see. It was the angry young man, too smart for his own good, who hid, even from himself, the fact that he felt he'd been cheated -- cheated by a mother's early death, cheated of normal school years by events beyond his control and judgmental, holier-than-thou people who didn't even really know him. He was on the right track with his life now, but the things he was seeing in this job kept a flicker of that anger alive. Chris saw it because it was exactly like the Buck Wilmington he had met nearly 15 years earlier. It was exactly how Chris had been after his family was murdered. Yes, that anger could go either way.

@@@@@@@

Ezra Standish was sitting in the back seat of the powerful SUV. He wished again he could have come up with a way to get the front passenger seat, but the subtle protocol and body language of an illegal conspiracy just didn't allow for the middle man in the negotiations to take that position. He was the new gun in town. So Anson Jones was driving and a new man in the mix, Pierce West, was riding shotgun.

But Pierce West wasn't really new. He was very well known in the federal counter terrorist community. And he was why Ezra had broken the cardinal rule of not tripping with the bad guys and was willing to risk Larabee's wrath by doing so.

Pierce West was a player. He had an agenda. He believed that the U.S. borders were too open and Americans loved their freedoms and civil liberties too much for them to ever stop terrorism. He had made it his lot in life to use small, high profile acts of terrorism to prove his point. He thought the attacks would be a reminder to everyone to always be vigilant. The bullet proof idealism of the 50's should be gone forever.

The problem was that for all his theatrics, they could never prove West had taken an innocent life. It made him something of a modern day Robin Hood to Libertarians and anarchists and some fine people that were just so scared shitless that they were looking for answers anywhere they could.

Oh, law enforcement believed -- knew to a certainty -- that West had killed: informants, people he considered dangerous to his agenda and people who he thought had or would betray him. He was suspected of killing police officers and security guards while stealing fertilizer and other precursors for his bombs. But none of it could be proved and so he boasted he never killed "non-combatants" and let them imagine that he had only killed terrorists. And nothing anyone could prove changed that. And so it was that Standish thought to wrangle his way into the man's organization and get that evidence.

But there was more. Pierce West had never openly killed anyone he considered innocent. Bombing a crowded college football homecoming game was a troubling change in strategy. Standish not only wanted to stop the threat, he wanted to know what brought about the change.

This was one of those times when being undercover was a lonely role. It had taken him a long time to trust the men he worked with and know with certainty they were behind him. That was a lot of the reason that, if not being able to get in the front seat, Ezra wished at least his new colleague didn't feel it necessary to be the good host. He was practically turned around in the front seat to meet Ezra's -- or rather, Ethan Strayhorn's -- eyes as they spoke. Ezra wasn't surprised. West periodically glanced out the back window. He was watching for surveillance that he could identify as law enforcement. Ezra was again thankful that they had taken the time to scrounge Texas license plates and stick them on their cars. West was too cautious, too paranoid. He would have snapped to something going on if he'd seen four or five Colorado plates on cars following him around all in the same day.

West had boasted that he set up his operation in a small town because everyone knew everyone. He knew all of the sheriff's deputies and local cops by sight. Anyone new in the area would stand out. The idea was well thought through, Ezra mused, but the boys were the best at leap frogging the cars often enough that no one car was spotted staying with them too long as a tail. So far, so good.

". . . Our young men today? They're being corrupted in the class room." West was orating again. The pompous bigot loved to hear himself talk. Ezra was getting tired of it. It interfered with the negotiations.

"Politically correct? I call it revisionist history," the man continued. "A man should have the right to say anything he damn well pleases or is big enough to say."

"Possibly, to an extent I agree with you." Ezra tried to be accommodating. "But the opinions should be offered in the light of day for all the world to hear and evaluate. And if someone bigger than you disagrees, and if a melee should ensue, that should be one on one as well. I do not believe that hidin' behind pointed, sheeted masks and under cover of darkness, shows many redeemin' virtues."

"Ain't you got no pride in your heritage, man?" Anson demanded.

"I am very proud to be a son of the South, sir, and I claim her history, good and bad; her successes and her mistakes. But, sir, those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them."

"What makes me think what you consider those mistakes to be are not what I would classify as mistakes?"

"A keen insight?"

"And yet you are poised to sell me the instrument to kill thousands, start another Civil War, and promote my platform. Why, if not patriotism?"

'Easy, Ezra,' Josiah thought to himself.

Ezra wasn't exactly channeling Josiah's thoughts, for, as good as he was, he couldn't avoid barking a laugh at this dysfunctional definition of patriotism.

"Do I amuse you?" West's voice was threatening.

"Most certainly," Ezra responded. If he had read this man right, agreeing with his agenda too fast, or too completely, too readily, would only make him suspicious.

"I suggest you answer the question with a little more detail. And it better be a good answer. Why are you willing to sell me the product?"

'To throw you in jail, you Zealot,' Ezra thought to himself. 'To find out why you're suddenly willing to kill innocent people. To put you somewhere that you can't accidentally stumble onto the makings of a dirty bomb.' Aloud, his answer was different. "For the money."

"That's what you believe in? Money?"

"Believe in? Mr. West, after hurricane Katrina, I heard a group of radical Islamic clerics take credit for that disaster. They said they prayed to Allah to attack America. I also heard a Southern Baptist preacher take credit, because he had prayed to God to destroy my beloved New Orleans because it was a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah."

"Do you have a point?"

"If clerics and preachers are praying for the same thing, and that thing is not peace, but destruction and death, I no longer care whose agenda is right or wrong. Your bomb -- someone else's bomb? It's inevitable. It will be you or someone else. All I want is enough money to not be where it happens."

"You got no right to talk to Mr. West like that," Anson blurted. "He's gonna unite America."

"And then what? Against what?"

"Damn it, Ezra, back down," Chris Larabee growled to himself as broken parts of the conversation came over the scanner in his truck.

"No, Anson, a man motivated by greed is the easiest to predict. The easiest to trust. In his own way, Mr. Strayhorn knows that. And he is an honorable man. He doesn't like us, but knows business partners don't have to like each other."

"He's still got no right to disrespect what we believe."

"You, sir," Ezra turned to West, "are a true Pied Piper for the angry, militant youth of today. But if we can conclude our business, I'd like to bid you adieu as quickly as possible."

"Of course. Your timing is impeccable. I hate ending our little debate, but here we are."

Ezra had not missed the fact that they had arrived on the Baylor campus. "I do not need to see the scene of the crime, as it were," Ezra drawled, but let himself be led toward the football stadium.

"Indulge me. I appreciate irony -- negotiating in the exact site where the detonation will take place."

"And you appreciate that no one can get close to us and eavesdrop in the middle of a football field."

"That, too," West admitted. "But also, there is another young man who will have to help us gather the money."

Ezra saw JD sauntering toward them with Trey and yet another new player. Their young ATF agent was dwarfed by the two men he accompanied. But they were young. Trey was the only member of this alliance Ezra had met whose clothing didn't hint that they lived below the poverty level. Yet all of their eyes had shown a sharp intelligence along with a streetwise savvy. They were the sort likely to fall victim to the cult mentality of a Pierce West. They knew there was more, they knew their lives could be better but were tired of fighting their way out of poverty. West said he would lead them, think for them, make decisions for them and give them a better life. He kept their bodies busy with military drills and their allegiance for his cause in their hearts. Hopefully most of them could be deprogrammed once Team 7 had put West somewhere where he could no longer influence them.

Ezra was so busy studying the young men approaching him and observing how well JD fit in, that he didn't realize Anson had been brooding since West had told him to mind his own business.

@@@@@@@

Chris Larabee was picking up only a few words at a time. Scanners were notoriously full of static that made it impossible to understand all that was going on. "What about the Kel? What's going on down there?" he called up to Josiah. At his higher altitude, the Viet Nam vet would be able to pick up more of the conversation. Chris cursed himself for not bringing their own equipment. It had never occurred to him that the small resident office wouldn't have the state of the art technology that the division offices kept for themselves. The antiquated Kel-kit they were using to listen to the conversation in the Commander was next to useless.

Ezra had resented having to use the thing. While some transceivers nowadays were the size of a quarter, the Kel was bigger than a cigarette pack. It got hot on the bare skin and could be picked up with even semi-sophisticated counter-surveillance equipment.

In the end they had forced Ezra to buy a western shirt, jeans and boots -- but hey, they were in Texas, so at least it wasn't hard to find them. They had slid the transceiver inside one boot. Then they strung the none too dainty antenna wire up his leg, hip, waist and taped it to his back. And the damn thing still didn't work for shit most of the time.

Josiah's answer pulled the Group Supervisor back from his ponderings.

"I can hear him, boss, and it's probably for the best that you're not getting much of it."

"Tell me."

"Well, the reason that this new player, West, and the others don't suspect he's U/C is because no one that didn't think he was holding all the cards would be intimidating the other side like our southerner is."

"Damn," Chris muttered.

"Oh, hell," Josiah shouted. The tone was so out of character that all the others knew immediately that something was horribly wrong.

@@@@@@@

"Oh, Mr. Standish!"

Ezra heard the voice, recognized the voice, and then wondered what he had done to deserve this karmic coincidence.

Even before he could deny the name or plead mistaken identity, Evie Travis and two friends were bustling his way.

Perhaps this was synchronistic payback for the fact that he had gone out of his way to charm the wife to stay in the Judge's good graces when, on some level, he knew the guileless woman needed no con to take him under her wing. The thought scudded through his mind even as Evie continued, "it's good to see you looking so well. The judge will be so pleased . . ."

"Judge?" West demanded defiantly. It was the only word he heard and he was already leaping to conclusions -- all dangerous for the man in front of him. "You got a judge watchin' you?"

"I assure you . . ." Ezra began.

"It'll take more than words." With that, West grabbed the U/C's forearm, jammed an elbow into his belly and jerked him back toward their ride. Anson immediately grabbed Ezra's other arm and they were hustling him to the car.

JD, Trey and that third man, Boo, had been strolling across the quad to meet their co-conspirators. Even at a distance JD could see something was wrong as the older agent was roughly escorted into the back seat of the Commander. Instead of going around to a passenger side door, Anson forced his way in after the smaller man.

@@@@@@@

Evie Travis was the wife of a retired federal judge, a judge who, in his early career, had been a police officer and then a federal agent himself. She had heard enough about undercover operations, about an agent getting "burned" -- outed to the bad guys. On an intelligent level she knew the inherent dangers of the job. She had even heard them say, in passing, never approach an undercover operative until you are sure they aren't working. But they had been passing statements or what the agents called "war stories." It wasn't an everyday part of her life and as her face crumpled into despair, she slowly realized her casual greeting had endangered this young man she had gotten to know and was fond of.

Any glimmer of hope that she hadn't just compromised an agent evaporated when she recognized one of the three young men headed toward the Jeep.

It wasn't just the tight jeans and cigarette pack rolled in his T-shirt sleeve like a throw-back to James Dean. It wasn't that his hair was so short and yet you could tell it was dirty. There was an aura of anger and defiance that went beyond the clothes of a juvenile delinquent that didn't belong on this campus -- only an undercover operation would transform JD Dunne into the young man before her.

@@@@@@@

"Crimson Tide!" West shouted over the hood of his vehicle to Trey and Boo before he ducked inside and sped off.

Trey immediately slapped JD on the shoulder protectively and started trotting back to the BMW.

JD hesitated. Somehow they had made Ezra. That was obvious. But the Jeep was already moving so JD couldn't get him out. His best bet was to stay with Trey and find out what had happened and what he could do to save his friend.

"John! Haul ass!" Trey hollered with a protective tone that convinced JD that, for now at least, his cover was cool. Risking that it might only be temporary, he still ran and jumped in the car. Boo melted into the student population to watch what would happen next.

@@@@@@@

Buck Wilmington wasn't getting any feedback from his scanner that could give him a clue as to what was going on. But when, from his vantage point on the south end of the university campus, he saw JD and Target #2 race back to their car and make a panicked getaway, he knew something had gone wrong.

"Chris?" Buck called, hoping for some feedback to tell him what action to take.

"Josiah?" Chris's response was to sing out to the man most likely to be getting any news.

@@@@@@@

"Crimson Tide?" JD let his worry and concern into his voice.

"Means that Strayhorn guy's a snitch. We've been set up."

"He's a cop?" The panic was real in JD's voice, now.

"Naw," Trey replied as he wheeled into traffic, prepared to act as a decoy if a cop tried to stop West. "The code for 'cop' is Blue Tide. If he's just a snitch we can find out who he's working for, what he knows, what he's told them, get rid of him and salvage something."

Under the pretense of fidgeting and looking back out the rear window, JD fingered the Sig Sauer .40 tucked in the small of his back. He was ready to do whatever needed to be done, but he couldn't help wondering where the rest of the team was.

@@@@@@@

"Snitch . . . damn puke . . . kill . . ." Whatever Anson Jones was saying was coming over broken and garbled.

"Is anyone getting any of this shit?" Larabee demanded as he jumped the curb and drove across the campus grounds toward the vehicle that had just kidnapped one of his men. "Josiah!" It was an order to talk to him.

"They think he's a snitch . . ." Josiah responded. He fought to keep his voice calm, willing it to carry over to the others. It was suddenly a helpless feeling, being in the plane and not on the ground to help. But he kept his eye on the retreating Commander.

"Break," Buck called to give himself priority on the radio. "Where the hell are they?"

"South on IH 35. Cancel. They just turned east on the loop . . . looks like they're taking the turnaround to get north on 35."

"Hell, they're going in circles," Nathan protested as he played catch up. He was driving Josiah's old Suburban and it just didn't have the turning radius he needed right now.

"Chris," Josiah's voice was low with emotion. "Sounds like they're thumpin' on him pretty good. They're not giving him a chance to smooth talk 'em." Josiah could hear more of the conversation, less of it garbled from the plane's altitude. "They found the wire. Kel's gone dead," Josiah delivered with cool professionalism. They all knew that wasn't good.

"Gentlemen, this will not be a fugitive traffic stop. This is a hostage rescue." Chris's voice was hard.

"10-4."

"Understood."

"Got it."

The replies came in quick succession.

"Josiah? JD?" Chris demanded for which Buck was thankful.

"His Kel's still loud and clear. He's cool. The BMW is planning to run rabbit if a marked unit picks up the Jeep."

"JD'll take care of himself for now." Chris made the decision.

"They're on the northbound I35 access road just passing the Texas Ranger Museum." Josiah paced the Jeep.

"Nathan, you take the front and handle communication with the PD. Josiah, you've got DPS. I do not want to see a marked unit until this is over."

"Got it." Nathan had known that was coming. Since he was driving Josiah's Suburban, he was the logical one to get the lead position.

"Buck, you get Ezra out of there. Vin -- back seat target. I've got the driver." It was a cold, somber statement. They knew what it meant and knew Chris wouldn't give that assignment to anyone else. Again the acknowledgements were curt and no-nonsense.

"10-4."

"I've got Ezra," Buck verified.

"Back seat," Vin drawled.

"It'll be your call, now Nathan." Chris turned it over.

@@@@@@@

It wasn't obvious that anything out of the ordinary was going on as the big white Suburban passed the Commander and then pulled back into the right lane immediately in front of the vehicle. Nathan forced himself not to look over and see how Ezra was doing. He didn't want the bad guys any more hinked up than they already were.

The jacked up black Ram sure didn't call any attention to itself as it slid into the traffic directly behind the Commander. It was a vehicle as common as any other in this part of the country. Chris could only see two heads in the car.

"Josiah?"

"Kel's still dead. JD's cool. Nathan is on the phone to Waco PD. I've got DPS covered -- we're getting close to their Waco office."

"Keep 'em back," Larabee reinforced the priority of no marked units in the area to spook the bad guys.

"We're catchin' the red light," Nathan stated. "Action."

The radio was eerily silent. They had practiced this time and again. Hostage rescues. Nathan came to a stop as the number one car at the stop light. The Commander was behind him, the black Ram directly behind that.

Chris saw that Buck was behind him and Vin was matching his speed as he came up on the inside lane. Vin didn't pass the Ram.

A part of Larabee's mind gave thanks that the road was pretty empty.

The light turned green. Nathan, in the Suburban, rolled -- in reverse. It took practice to back into another car with enough of a jolt to get their attention, but not hard enough to deploy either vehicle's airbags. Setting off the bad guy's bag had definite advantages, but if the impact activated your own, you were screwed.

West was cursing the stupid driver in front of him. And then he saw that driver's head disappear under the seat backs.

Before West could react, he felt an equally sharp jolt from behind. He looked into the rearview mirror to see that the Ram had rear ended him. His first thought was that the fool driving it was watching the light rather than the traffic. "Damn, stupid," Anson began. He pistol whipped the man beside him to vent his anger.

One second.

But then another vehicle jumped the curb to flank the Ram at an angle facing the Commander. Another vehicle mirrored that move, blocking traffic from coming up on the inside lane of traffic. The three vehicles looked like a flying "V" formation pointed right at him.

Two seconds.

"What have you gotten us into?" Jones screamed as he landed another blow to Ezra's kidneys. "You damn snitch, what have you done?"

"Shut up," West demanded coldly of his stupid toady in the back. And then his instincts went into overdrive. He threw the car into reverse. It pushed the Ram back enough to get space between them to get out from between the cars. But as he moved back, so did the Suburban. The unseen driver still had the vehicle in reverse and had his foot firmly on the accelerator, copying the moves of the Commander and keeping all three vehicles' bumpers locked and giving the middle car no room to lever itself away from the others.

5 seconds.

A big man with a mustache was running from the car that had jumped the curb. A skinny guy with longish hair was approaching from the car that blocked the access road.

8 seconds.

Buck Wilmington, out of habit, slammed his hand across the back door of the Commander. If it had been a car, he would have slammed down the trunk to make sure it was locked. That would make it harder for anyone in the back to attack.

"Kill him!" West screamed, referring to Standish. "Kill 'em all!" he amended, as he continued to try, unsuccessfully, to jockey his vehicle out from between the two that had it trapped.

With his accelerator floored, and the powerful Commander in reverse, he was able to push the Ram. But the Suburban matched his moves and still the bumpers were locked.

Glancing in the rear view mirror, West wondered where the driver of the Ram had gotten to. And then a black avenger appeared at his car, just in front of the door. West reached for his Glock, lying beside him in the passenger seat. It wouldn't have mattered. West saw that the blond had already placed the muzzle of his Sig Sauer flush to the windshield -- a little higher than where he would usually aim at a man's body, since the glass was going to deflect the bullet down a fraction. There was no "Freeze," or "Don't move, federal agent," no warning at all. The ATF agent pulled the trigger.

@@@@@@@

The windshield spider webbed. Larabee turned his head, anticipating the blowback which was minimal. Blood erupted from West's chest as the bullet hit its mark. The body spasmed.

Anson heard the explosion, saw the shattered glass speckled with red. Before he could register his boss's inert body or the blood splatter that covered his own clothes and face, or the sharp burn in his thigh, both back door windows shattered into tiny pebbles of greenish glass.

Buck and Vin simultaneously rammed the small pen-like devices into the lower corner of a window and triggered them. The sharp points destroyed the glass.

Ezra was kicking at Anson even as Buck reached inside, unlocked the door, pulled the smaller agent out and practically carried him behind the Ram.

Vin would have shot his target without preamble as Larabee had, but his angle would have endangered Ezra and Buck. He reached in and stuck his thumb between the hammer and firing pin of Jones's .45 revolver even as Jones pulled the trigger. Keeping the gun disabled in this manner, he was still doing a fairly good, adrenalin-induced job of dragging the youth out through the broken window one handed.

Adrenalin was an amazing thing.

Then, suddenly, Chris and Nathan were helping and Anson Jones sailed out of the car as if he had wings. No one seemed to care that the bullet that had hit West had penetrated the seat and put a hole in his leg, or that it was bleeding, or what damage the glass shards might do to his body.

And then he was face down on the hot pavement, a knee in the small of his back and his wrists handcuffed behind his back.

13 seconds.

Then there were sirens. The local and state police, having been ordered away from the action, wouldn't be denied now that a shot had been fired. Some of the cars had been blocked from continuing through the intersection, and now their drivers started to edge toward the action. All they would remember were some cars parked funny and some men in gold on black ATF ballistic vests.

"JD?" Chris asked as soon as he could. He'd have time later to think that he had shot a man.

"Cool," Josiah's voice was surprisingly calm. "His Kel is still operational. They bolted as soon as the traffic stop got . . . intense. I'm on them."

The first marked unit slid to a halt as Buck walked up to his old friend. Without a word, Buck held his gun, butt first, out toward Larabee. Chris copied the action and they traded weapons. Buck now held the weapon that fired the shot. Larabee's gun would have to be turned in to forensics for testing since it had been involved in a shooting. And Buck would see that the weapon got turned over to the proper authority. But no one. No. One. Disarmed one of Team 7 except another member of the team. And no member of the team would be left unarmed just for doing his job. Chris would carry Buck's gun until his was returned or he got a loaner.

"I'll take care of JD," Wilmington said quietly. Larabee nodded his gratitude. That was one load off his mind.

Ezra limped up. "You okay? You're okay?" Buck asked him, taking in the bruises and cuts.

Ezra nodded, not even verbalizing the lie.

"Ambulances are on their way," Nathan stated as he moved in to make his own check -- mental and physical -- of the undercover agent.

"Tanner?" Buck called softly.

Vin knew the responsibility the senior agent was giving him. He stood from where he was kneeling over Anson, nodded reassurance and walked over to Larabee.

Buck didn't have time to wait. The cops were getting out of their squad. He trotted over to them. "You decompress, Larabee," he said as he moved past, and it was an order.

"Get in the car, Pard," Tanner said as he came up to Larabee's side. He saw his friend and boss start to balk and continued. "They'll want you to make a statement. You know that. You need to think about what happened once the adrenalin's gone." Vin was frustrated that Chris still had his hackles up about being ordered to leave. "Damn it, Chris, you did the right thing Cowboy, by the book. It went like clockwork. But it still affects you. You ain't required to make a statement for 48 hours. And ya ain't goin' to. We'll call an AUSA in from Denver or Austin if the ones here don't know that. If it was one of us, you'd insist on it. And then you make your statement. The truth's the truth today or two days from now. Besides, if the locals aren't righteous, it'll piss 'em off and you know you like that." There was no argument for that. Larabee slipped into the passenger side of Vin's Jeep and it drove off even as the other emergency vehicles continued to arrive.

Buck smiled at the logic as Vin edged Larabee toward the Jeep. He could see the bare trembles in the boss's arms, a result of the adrenalin surge.

"Boys," Wilmington turned his attention to the two approaching officers and greeted them. They had their hands on the hilts of their weapons. But the man approaching them with a relaxed demeanor and the ATF vest as well as the badge and credentials he held out for them to inspect, kept them from pulling the guns.

"We've got another undercover. He's cool, but we want to pull him out." Buck distracted them with the offer of action. Any cop would rather be in the middle of it instead of securing the messy crime scene before them.

EMS arrived and dispersed among the injured. Nathan got up to let the first team go to West. He was still alive, barely, and needed more than Nathan could provide.

But he intercepted the second team for Ezra. Anson Jones could wait.

Other officers were showing up, but their arrival would only serve as a distraction while Vin ghosted his boss away from the area.

@@@@@@@

"Josiah?" Buck was in the back seat of the marked unit now. With no DEA radio handy, he was using the radio feature on his Nextel to contact the other agent.

"They're Southbound on the access road. Going slow. JD's cool and he's playing along with the Target trying to figure out what went wrong." Josiah had known what question was coming and answered it before it had been asked.

"Okay, we got 'em," Buck acknowledged as their marked unit came up on the suspect vehicle.

"Target number 2's hinky, Buck."

"Got it," Buck said into the cell phone and then leaned over to talk to the two officers in the front seat. "You guys got that?"

"Yep," the driver replied. He was a senior patrol officer and, although he was good to go, he wasn't overly excited.

"The passenger's the friendly. The driver . . . use your best judgment."

Without another word, the marked unit pulled in behind the BMW and switched on the red lights.

"Trey's stressin'. But JD's tellin' him they haven't done anything so just pull over and act dumb and innocent. Kid's doin' a good job, Buck," Josiah reassured.

"If Winters is half as good at the 'dumb and innocent' act as JD is, he'll have us believin' he hasn't done anything." Buck smiled at the officers to ease the tension. Pride for their young agent evident in his tone.

Finally the BMW pulled over. The two uniformed officers approached the vehicle with their hands near their weapons, necessarily more cautious than usual.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen, I'm Officer Blakely," the old timer said as he leaned toward the driver's window, staying clear of the door.

"I'm sorry, officer," Trey responded spewing innocence. "Did I do something wrong?" It was a ploy the rich kid had learned well and used often.

"Could you step out of the car, please? Both of you?"

Both JD and Trey complied.

"Please put your hands on the hood of the car."

By this time the junior officer was behind JD. The young ATF agent complied immediately which encouraged Trey to do the same.

"What's goin' on?" JD's voice was hostile, still in character.

"You were observed leaving an altercation near campus. We're going to remove your wallets and get your ID's," Blakely responded professionally as he showed Trey that he was only taking the driver's license. The junior officer copied the actions with JD.

That's when Buck strode up to play his part. He took a close look at the two young men. "Naw, officer, these aren't the two we're looking for."

"Gentlemen, if you'll wait here?" The senior patrolman took both IDs and, with Buck in tow, returned to the squad car. The junior officer stood on alert as he watched the two.

They never checked for wants and warrants, but after a reasonable amount of time to get that sort of information, the two older men returned to the traffic stop.

"Well, Johnny, when was the last time you were in Denver?" Buck called to JD as he approached. JD, surprised by the reference to their home base, reared off the hood. The young officer shoved him back down.

"Back off!" JD demanded. Buck moved in quickly. Both of the youngsters were about to forget that this part was all for show.

"John Tiberius Davis," Buck pretended to read from the driver's license. "What about this arrest warrant out of Colorado? Possession with intent to distribute meth?"

"Ain't me," JD demanded. And he really was angry. His cover hadn't been blown and he wanted to stay on the inside.

"Bag him and tag him." Buck smiled at the young officer who willingly handcuffed JD and herded him back to the cruiser.

"Trey," the older officer turned to the driver. Waco wasn't big enough that most officers didn't know the troublemaker children of the wealthy residents. "You need to take care who you run with. You've been told that before."

"Yes, sir, I'm sorry, I just can't seem to judge people." He was complacent, he thought he was a good con artist, saying what he thought the older man wanted to hear.

"Get on out of here."

"Yes, sir." And the juvenile delinquent was gone.

"Damn it, damn it. Damn it." JD was railing at Buck. They were both in the back seat of the cruiser. "I needed to stay under."

"No one needs to 'stay under'."

"Oh, right, another commandment from on high. What do you know about it?"

Senior Officer Blakely levered himself into the driver's seat and was met with the argument. There was a bit of a look on the younger officer's face that could have said, 'the old guy's getting read the riot act,' or 'see, sometimes us young 'uns know more than you guys' or 'this is gonna give me the right to stand up to you next time'."

"Let it drop, JD." There was a tinge of threat in Buck's tone.

"I'm so tired of being treated like a piece of equipment . . ."

"JD, you're lettin' the adrenalin talk."

". . . no one ever asks what I think . . . go U/C, drag me out, I bet you wouldn't be draggin' . . ."

"JD!" Buck finally bellowed and it actually shut the young man up.

"Chris just shot a man. Ezra got kidnapped and almost killed. We let you go now the suits wouldn't let us even look for you until the paperwork is done."

"They said they had two of those shoulder mounted missiles that disappeared from the Ukraine. I don't need you coverin' my ass . . ."

"That does it." And Buck's low voice brought a hush to the car faster than shouting. "You are a federal agent, not a character in some TV show. You do not go 'deep undercover'. Hell, boy, you don't even meet a bad guy for coffee without surveillance all over the street. Is that clear? What has gotten into you?"

The older cop looked over at his junior partner and smirked. Buck had put him in his place without even knowing it.

"I bet Chris would understand why I needed to. . ." The chirp of Buck's Nextel radio interrupted the accusation.

"Buck?"

"Go, Josiah,"

"Your experienced agent forgot to turn off his wire. You want me to play it back for our group supervisor and see if he 'understands' why JD needs to . . ."

The rest was lost in Buck and the senior agent's guffaws. The junior police officer changed sides quickly enough as he laughed, too.

JD pouted, but with no way to save face, he finally calmed down enough to withdraw from the role he had been playing and remember his training. He met Buck's eyes and saw no reproach there. One part of him wished he wasn't getting off the hook so easily, since it made him feel guilty. The other part of him was glad it was Buck he had spouted off to, and thankful for his friend's understanding. An apologetic light came into his eye as he finally spoke. "Tiberius?! Tiberius?"

Buck and the senior traffic cop laughed again.

@@@@@@@

The seven had migrated to Chris's motel room. Chris was sitting at the round, unimpressive table. He had one of the plastic water glasses from the bathroom in front of him with a generous pouring of Jack Daniels in it but he wasn't drinking. The bottle was sitting beside him. Josiah and Nathan were propped up on one of the queen beds reading the closed captioning as it scrolled across CNN. The shooting hadn't even made the national news. But despite the fact that very little information was being released, it pretty much filled up the local five o'clock news. It was a slow news week. No one in the room wanted to listen to the circumspect news anchors and it was too early for prime time.

The radio was on. Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakum and Willie and his generation of outlaws set the tone. Buck and Vin were sprawled on the other bed and JD had taken a seat on the floor at the end of that bed. The room was crowded. They'd ordered in BBQ and were grazing on the extra order of hush puppies and the chips and hot sauce Vin had come up with from a little Tex Mex café that had always been his favorite. Ezra was leaning against a wall and would occasionally scoop up some salsa. He seemed to be the only one who could handle the heat as well as Vin. Even Josiah, who was famous for his chili, was skimping on the pico.

The beer couldn't cut the burn from the habaneros used in the sauce. Only Vin could take a full dip. Everyone else gingerly dipped the chips in the sauce, barely coating them with the juice, not daring to take the chance of getting a chunk of pepper when they bit down.

"FLEOA's sending a lawyer for you tomorrow." Josiah remembered he had talked to the Federal Law Enforcement Officers' Association and tried to use what he'd been told to start up the conversation. "They said to remind you that the AUSA's not on your side in this. I told 'em you didn't need remindin'."

"But what about the gang?" JD asked. He hadn't seen the explosion of blood and flesh or how fast the blood stained everything around it.

"JD," Buck began, because he was the only one who still had much patience with the boy. But he was interrupted by a banging at the door.

Everyone reached for their guns. It wasn't a usual reaction after an action, but a lot of West's followers were still out there.

Vin popped up from the bed, sauntered to the door and looked out the peep hole. He was staring at a Waco PD badge flush with the eyehole. Then it pulled back so he could see who was holding it.

"Briscoe," he informed the room. Everyone pretended to go back to what they were doing. Vin opened the door, but not enough to allow the local cop entry. "Detective Briscoe," he acknowledged. They had met the man at the crime scene and had not made a good first impression on him.

"I'm still lookin' for Larabee."

"He'll be at the arraignment tomorrow," Vin stated.

"I know the lawyer Trey got. He's gonna wheedle a discovery hearing at the same time."

"That's why G/S Larabee'll be there."

"I need a statement."

"No. You don't. Not yet." Josiah came up behind Tanner, partially to block the detective's view of the rest of the room, partially as backup since Briscoe was a lot bigger than Vin and didn't carry any fat on him.

"Yeah, yeah, all that horseshit about not having to make a statement . . ."

"It's a fact."

"I think it's a bunch of feds runnin' in and tryin' to run over the locals."

"Ain't what's happenin' here. And I know you know, because I was with the AUSA when he told you we had the authority to wait."

"Okay, cowboys. But you better hope you never need my help."

"Ain't trying to run under you."

"Ain't tryin' no more. Ya done done it." Briscoe turned and left.

"We should try to get on his good side tomorrow," Buck observed, ever the peacemaker.

"Wouldn't happen," Josiah stated from experience. "He's probably good at his job. But he's old school. You won't convince him that it's not us against them -- feds against locals."

"You guys should call it a night," Chris said from the table. He hadn't touched the whiskey.

"You want to be alone or you want us to stick around?" Buck asked. He didn't want any noble sacrifices or guilty conscience or martyrdom.

"I got no regrets. Ain't second guessin' myself," Chris replied and Buck could hear the truth in the words.

"You heard the man. He's chasin' us out."

Nathan, who had been an EMS before he joined the ATF, had taken as many trauma classes as the ATF and the federal government offered, trying to stay up on his training. He was their unofficial medic. As he stood, he looked over at Ezra. "I picked up some Epsom salts at Walgreens. If you soak in a warm bath tonight you won't be quite so stove up tomorrow."

"Thank you." Ezra would have protested if he didn't move like an old man when he pushed away from the wall. The emergency room doctor had let him leave, but he was going to be sore tomorrow. Jones had gotten some pretty good punches in before he was rescued.

"Chris," JD said as he started to leave. His room was adjacent to Chris's and connected by a suite door. The others stopped. "I know we got other things to worry about now. I'm just askin' so I'll understand." He wanted everyone to know he wasn't being blustery or cocky.

Chris nodded for him to continue.

"Well, there's lots of those guys still out there. What if they're still tryin' to buy radio active waste? And they said they had two shoulder propelled missiles. Is that possible? What do we do about it?"

The questions were asked with sincerity and Chris answered in kind, letting the junior agent absorb the knowledge and training. "I don't know, JD. But it would be too easy for someone to connect Ezra with ATF Denver and then get a picture of you or a name. It's not worth the risk. We don't know the hierarchy, or how many people West has converted or why West suddenly is willing to kill innocent people or if they're even for real for that matter." He moved forward with that idea. "Anyone see any money? Or missiles?"

"No."

"Just bad luck, JD. We can't win 'em all."

"Feels like we should do more."

"Yeah, kid, but if it takes yours or Ezra's testimony to make it clear it was a righteous shoot and keep Chris from facing any flack, or keep Jones detained, that's gonna take precedent over continuing the case," Buck added.

"Yeah, I know."

"We'll see what we can salvage tomorrow."

Good nights were spread around and everyone went to their rooms. Despite feeling secure in what they had done, there was very little sleep that night.

@@@@@@@

The courthouse was a beautiful, old, art deco building. The metal detector looked out of place. Neither Buck nor Vin were in a mood to appreciate it. They were on their way to meet the US attorney. The detention hearing was to keep Anson Jones in jail instead of releasing him on bond. Chris was offering his statement under the watchful eye of his Federal Law Enforcement Officer's Association attorney. Nathan and Josiah had drawn security duty, standing outside ICU where Pierce West fought for life on a respirator.

The detention hearing wasn't until 2pm, so Ezra and JD had been the lucky ones. They got to sleep in. They had originally been given the assignment of transporting Anson from the holding cell across town to the courthouse. But JD had talked them into letting him continue to play his role and pretend that he, too, was being transported from the jail to court for a detention hearing. The overly enthusiastic agent was hoping that Anson would make some kind of incriminating statement to someone he still perceived as an ally. Even though he had asked for an attorney and been read his Miranda rights, any unsolicited statement could still be admitted. It really wasn't necessary and Ezra had doubts as to whether any information would, in fact, be admissible, but Dunne wasn't ready to give up using his U/C role to get something. So the older agents didn't see any harm in accommodating him. As a result, there were two marshals with them transporting JD and Anson Jones. JD and the marshals were moving at a snail's pace because of Jones being on crutches from his wounded left thigh. Ezra, for his part, didn't really have anything to say to the punk who had been ready to kill him in cold blood, so he walked quietly slightly ahead of them, tacitly playing his role of an informant who might be called on to testify.

@@@@@@@

Down the street there was an old van. It didn't draw attention. This was a college town, after all. It was rusty and dull. The former two tone turquoise and lime green paint job had faded to several various unidentifiable shades.

The co-ed with mousy brown hair was as undistinguishable as the van. But Trey and Boo were leaning forward slightly from the back section. They were watching the sidewalk down from the courthouse with predatory intensity.

"There's the snitch," a voice called from the back of the van.

"They've got Anson with them. And Johnny."

"Looks like they shot him, too. Son of a bitch feds."

But Trey's eyes were scanning the area for something else. Someone else. And then he saw what he was looking for. Evie Travis gave her husband a peck on the cheek as she climbed out of their Tahoe. He was obviously going to park in the secure parking. But Evie wanted to run over and speak to Ezra, to apologize.

"Ezra," she said as she walked up to them. Even with his hands cuffed to the belly chain, JD tugged on Anson to slow him down. They would lag behind and give the two some privacy.

"Mrs. Travis," Ezra greeted.

"I am so sorry, I simply never thought . . ."

"Mrs. Travis, there's no reason to . . ."

And then all hell broke loose.

The girl was a pro. She pulled from her parking spot and drove casually toward the small knot of people on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. There was no squealing of tires to announce what was coming. Trey pulled down his cammo colored ski mask. Boo and the two others followed suit.

The van came parallel to its targets, the side door slid open. Four men dressed in camouflage from masks to boots leapt from the still moving vehicle. They had AR15's and fired them randomly.

In the distraction, Trey targeted the two US marshals transporting Anson even as he was grabbing Evie Travis and throwing her into the van. The gunmen's shots became even more erratic as they grabbed Standish and shoved him in the van. With an excited rebel yell Trey shoved JD in as they squealed away.

@@@@@@@

Chris Larabee was standing in the small jury room off of the magistrate's court on the third floor. He refused to sit and pretend this was a relaxed situation. There were five carefully typed pages lying on the table that separated him, his FLEOA-sponsored attorney, the only advocate he was allowed in the room, the US attorney and Detective Briscoe. He wasn't glaring, simply taking the other men in with that indifferent, yet somehow intense stare of a man that knew his job, knew the bureaucracy, could never be intimidated and, therefore, never backed down when he was right, a rare trait in a federal supervisor. The others in the room had never seen it before so completely, so definitely, but they recognized it. And it not only made them nervous, it made them question themselves and, if only to themselves, they admitted that GS Larabee was right. They didn't like it, they were still trying to bluff to get their way -- but it only gave them the feeling that Larabee was laughing at them.

"Larabee, a man you shot's a vegetable surviving on a respirator right now. I'm the investigating detective. I've got questions." Briscoe may have been the only one in the room that didn't think Larabee was justified.

"You've got my statement. I have nothing to add," Larabee said with a slight, unnecessary nod to the papers on the table.

"An oral statement would go a long way to making all of this easier, ingratiating . . ." the US Attorney began.

"I ain't in the job of 'ingratiating'," Chris interrupted the AUSA. "I know you Paul, I got no problem with the way you do your job. But this time, we're not on the same side."

"I would think that if this was a righteous shoot, we were all on the same side."

"Word games piss me off."

AUSA Paul Massey broke the eye contact ruefully. He had known exactly what Larabee was saying and had tried to twist it into something else. In the case of an agent-involved shooting, if there was a prosecution, the AUSA would be trying to prove the case against the agent. In this meeting, anything the ATF Group Supervisor said could be used against him. Just like the Miranda warning he signed at the beginning of the session pointed out.

"Your statement says that Pierce West was reaching for a gun, but that you had already made the decision to pull the trigger before you saw that," Briscoe growled. It sounded like an accusation.

"Tell me you wouldn't have done the same thing," Chris responded, unflustered.

Before the standoff could continue, they heard it. Automatic weapons fire was so unexpected that at first it sounded like firecrackers. But the difference registered between one heartbeat and the next for Larabee and he was racing out the door before the others had wrapped their thoughts around what they were hearing.

As Larabee raced down the historic corridor, he was met by Buck Wilmington who had been chatting up the secretary in the marshal's office while he waited for his boss and Vin Tanner who had the assignment of reviewing the radio transmissions during the incident. They formed a flying wedge as they came down the marble stairs, a much more formidable force than three men should be able to present. Halfway down the last flight, they one-armed themselves over the banister to keep from backtracking toward the side doors that were always used by law enforcement.

Even though the entire kidnapping took less than two minutes, the members of team seven were running down the steps as the van sped away. But they were helpless. Only the US marshals were allowed weapons in the courtroom, so their sidearms were tucked uselessly in the gun lockers just before the metal detector.

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