TransPacific Oil Refinery
Sunday, 2100 Hours
The facility was dark, only a few security flood lights raining down weak yellow light here and there among the tangle of oil storage tanks, processing equipment, and pipes. A ten foot high chain-link fence surrounded it all, topped with coils of razor-wire. Several big rigs were parked in a line along one side of the fence, the cylindrical containers they would pull currently empty for the moment.
Not far away from the facility, on a small hill, a large navy-blue Chevy Suburban was parked. In the front seat sat Special Agent JD Dunne, the youngest member of the ATF's Team Seven, and their computer wizard. He had a laptop sitting open on his thighs, watching as three red dots moved within the schematic of the refinery and the surrounding area that he currently had up on his screen.
"Got you covered, Chris," he said into his lip mike. "Infrared data from the keyhole satellite shows only one more guard on the property. He's close to the fence, about a hundred yards to your right."
Just outside the refinery fence, Chris Larabee, leader of the Denver ATF's Team Seven - a special operations group created within the agency - moved cautiously, the dart gun in his hands ready to be used.
Inside the refinery fence were agents Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner. Standish, a former FBI agent, was the team's primary undercover operative. Tanner, on the other hand, was a former Army sniper, bounty hunter and US Marshal. He was there to protect Standish.
"We're good to go, Chris," Vin said softly into his lip mike, his gaze moving constantly, looking for any signs of trouble. The two of them had already taken down three security guards.
Beside the sniper, Standish huffed out a soft breath. He much preferred undercover work to clandestine raids, but it was intelligence he had gathered on the refinery that was critical to this mission, so he had to come along.
On the same side of the fence as Larabee were the remaining members of Team Seven - Buck Wilmington, Josiah Sanchez and Nathan Jackson. Each of these men kept watch on an exit to the facility, making sure no one slipped in to disturb their work.
"On my signal, Vin," JD told him over the communications unit, and then asked, "Are we clear for an escape, Chris?"
"Negative," Larabee replied softly. He moved up silently on the last security guard. The man was leaning up against one of the big rig hitches, smoking a cigarette.
Chris moved up to the fence, carefully took aim and fired. The dart sank deep into the back of the man's right shoulder and he jerked to his feet, straightening and reaching back with his free hand to feel for whatever it was that had struck him. A moment later his knees buckled and he slumped to the ground, unconscious. "The last target is neutralized. We are clear for escape. I'm heading back to base," he stated and immediately started back to the Suburban.
"Bravo Two, we are now good to go," JD told Vin and Ezra. He watched as the two red dots inside the perimeter of the fence began to move.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"Move out," Tanner said softly to Ezra, who reached out and grabbed hold of the sniper's shirtsleeve.
Vin had point and he moved quickly but carefully toward the center of the refinery.
Standish followed behind him, walking mostly backwards, sweeping the darkness behind them for any signs of guards or other potential trouble. With his hand on Tanner's shirtsleeve, he could feel when the man changed direction and adjusted accordingly without having to look away from their vulnerable backs.
"Okay..." JD announced in their ear units as they drew closer to the target.
"Y' got a position for us?" Vin asked him, coming to a stop.
Ezra released his hold and scanned the area behind them carefully. Something seemed wrong. This was all happening so... easily. That just didn't seem right. Not that he didn't appreciate easy, he just wasn't used to it.
"Target's down the stairs about two hundred feet to the west of you."
"Roger that," Tanner replied and Standish could hear the unease in the sniper's voice as well. Vin edged up to the side of some pumping equipment, checked to be sure the way was clear, then whispered, "C'mon, Ezra."
Standish followed as they slipped past a line of storage tanks, getting closer to their target.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Back at the Suburban, Larabee arrived and slipped into the passenger seat.
"This is too easy," JD remarked, flashing the man a quick glance.
"There's no such thing," Larabee remarked, his eyes already moving, checking out the windows for signs of trouble or detection.
"Target acquired," JD announced into his lip mike when the two dots reached the right building.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Vin and Ezra entered the building the undercover man had discovered was where the explosive chemical weapons were supposed to be stored. The door to the building was easy to breach. Inside, Tanner led the way down the stairs, both agents sweeping the interior of the concrete building with their weapons, ready for trouble.
At the bottom of the steps, Ezra holstered his dart gun and moved to the electronic lock.
Vin frowned. "No guards," he whispered into his mike. "This don't feel right," he added.
"It's got to be easy a few times," was Larabee's reply in his ear. "Make it quick."
Vin's lips disappeared into a thin line. He had his orders, but he still didn't like it.
Ezra attached a code breaker to the electronic lock, the mini computer inside the small black box scanning through the multitude of possible numerical codes, searching for the one that would unlock the door. Within seconds it had found it, and the bolt holding the door closed popped open.
"We're in," Vin stated, continuing to sweep the small space and the stairs for trouble. This was too easy, way too easy... "Chris?" he said, the question obvious.
"Continue with the mission," Larabee told him.
Tanner's head jerked a fraction left then right, but there was nothing he could do about it. They were there. They had to see if what they thought was stored in the facility was actually there.
"Now for the centerfold of Chemical Weapons Weekly..." Standish said drolly as he lifted a digital camera to his eye, ready to take a picture of whatever was hidden behind the closed door.
Vin pulled the door open and Ezra stepped up next to him.
"What?" Standish yelped in surprise.
"It's empty, Chris," Tanner stated, his heart beginning to race. This was bad, very bad.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Back in the Suburban, JD hissed, "Shit," and shook his head. He shot a glance at Larabee. "That can't be."
"Say again?" Chris demanded.
"I repeat," came Tanner's voice. "It's empty. No containers, no nothin'."
"They must've gotten wind we were coming," Buck offered over the comm unit.
"Go in and check it out," Larabee ordered. "There has to be something."
"Negative," Tanner replied. "It's clean."
"Check it out," Chris growled at the agent. "We can't let this stuff slip through our hands."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Vin and Ezra exchanged looks. Neither of them wanted to enter the long, empty room, but there was no other option. They couldn't allow the explosive chemical weapons to escape their net. But it was obvious there was nothing in the room. Still, maybe be could get a few swabs of the floor to prove that they had been there.
"Stay here," Tanner told his teammate, and then slipped past the door. As soon as he did, an alarm was triggered and began to bark loudly in the building, echoing outside as well. The sniper was immediately moving, spinning and lunging out of the room. "C'mon!" he bellowed at Standish. "Go! Go! Go!"
Vin reached out, grabbed the door on his way past and slammed it shut behind them.
They raced up the stairs and burst outside, each of them sprinting for the cover of the refinery equipment. Vin vaulted over a pipe and kept going, his HK swinging in the direction of his gaze, which swept left and right, up and down. Behind him Ezra followed, but then ducked back when Vin passed into the shadows ahead of him and a guard appeared coming out of a building to his right.
"More guards," Standish announced into his mike. That was not supposed to be the case.
"That's not possible," Larabee replied.
"I've got one!" the man yelled, spotting Standish, who jerked back into the shadows and started to run.
Having heard the undercover man's announcement, and the guard's yell, Vin stopped, hidden in darkness. But he could already see at least three other men headed in his direction. "I've got a problem here," he snapped into his mike. "Permission to shoot."
"Ezra, can you help Vin?" Chris asked over the comm unit. The last thing he wanted to do was have his people waste some minimum wage security guards.
Standish, who thought he had slipped his pursuer, stopped, his mind racing. Then he saw the metal ladder running up the side of one of the storage tanks. He started up without hesitation. "On my way," he said.
Tanner was moving, using his ears to pick out where the guards were and trying to avoid them. But one was quieter than the rest and he managed to work his way in behind the sniper.
"Stop!" he barked. "Hold it right there!"
Vin froze, except for his head, which snapped around to see the man, who was holding his Baretta 9mm trained on him. He himself was holding an HK, but unless Larabee gave him permission, he couldn't use it to defend himself. Vin knew why. The guards were just doing their jobs. They had no idea what was going on at the refinery. He didn't want to kill the man, but he didn't think the guard would show the same courtesy.
"Hands up!" the man yelled at Vin.
Ezra had reached the top of the tank and immediately swung toward the sound of the man's voice, raising his dart gun and firing before he really had a chance to think about what he was doing.
The dart hit its target and the guard's eyes rounded. He lifted the 9mm, preparing to fire at Vin, but then his knees gave way and he dropped heavily to the ground.
Tanner was immediately moving toward the tank where Ezra was, knowing that the man was a target.
Another guard arrived, aiming his Smith and Wesson at Standish and yelling, "Hey, you! Get down!"
Ezra bolted forward, bent over as far as he could get so as to present the smallest target.
The guard opened fire.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Larabee was out of the Suburban and headed back to the fence as quickly as he could go. He'd blown it when he'd ordered Vin and Ezra into that empty room. And now his people were fighting for their lives.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Vin reached the side of another storage tank and stopped, trying to get a clear shot at the guard who was firing on Ezra. Then he saw it happen.
Ezra reached the end of the storage tank. Not far away was the top of another. He jumped, but the guard fired at the same time and Standish's body reacted instinctively to a bullet whizzing past his head - he jerked, and missed the edge of the tank, hitting it instead and falling the long distance to the ground.
Several more guards appeared out of the darkness, converging on the spot where Standish had fallen.
Vin started forward as well.
"Freeze!" a voice yelled from behind him.
Tanner spun, his HK coming up in his hands so he could fire, but he already knew he couldn't pull the trigger. He would have to surrender. One hand came off the weapon, starting to reach for the sky so the man would know he was no threat.
The guard, however, only saw the rifle coming up and reacted, firing at Vin.
The bullet caught the sniper in the only vulnerable spot on his torso, the area just below his armpit, and above the top of his bulletproof vest. He was knocked off his feet by the searing impact.
A car skidded to a stop near him, yet another guard climbing out, drawing his gun and aiming it at the fallen man. "Don't move," he barked at Tanner.
But Vin couldn't move. He could hardly breathe it seemed. "Bravo Two is down," he rasped into the lip mike.
Another of the guards pulled a walkie-talkie from the holder on his belt and pressed the mike down, saying, "We need an ambulance out here ASAP!"
Vin's eyes started to close as the world suddenly began to collapse into what he thought must be some kind of a black hole. At least it looked like the images of a black hole he'd seem on various science-fiction shows. He wondered briefly if Ezra was all right, and if Chris and the others were coming for them. He thought for a moment he could hear them, Chris and Buck, anyway. Had the others been caught? Easy... too damn easy... and now here he was, unable to move, unable to breath... Damn, he thought as the last of the world disappeared into the blackness.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
On the far side of the fence, Larabee arrived just in time to see Vin knocked off his feet by the shot from the guard's gun.
"Bravo Two is down," he heard the man rasp in his ear.
"Hang in there, Vin," he said softly, hoping the man could hear him.
Then he heard the other guard make the call for the ambulance.
"We can't get to them now," came Buck's voice in his ear.
No, they couldn't, but he wasn't going to leave them behind, either. "Everyone back to the vehicles," he hissed. "Follow the ambulance. I want to know where they're taken."
He turned and started back for the Suburban. This was his fault. Vin had felt something was wrong, but he'd told the man to keep going. Damn it, he might as well have pulled the trigger himself.
Mercy Hospital and Regional Trauma Center
Sunday, 2200 Hours
The medics wheeled Ezra into the ER first. A doctor met them, asking, "What do you have?"
"Broken bones, possible internal bleeding, multiple contusions," the medic responded as a nurse hurried up to the side of the gurney.
"Five milligrams morphine, exam room one," the doctor told the nurse. She was on the short side, and in her mid-thirties with dark blonde hair that was pulled back and held up with a pair of utilitarian clips. Some might call her pretty, but it was in a healthy, farmer's daughter kind of way. She also knew how to take over in a crisis, which was the usual state of the ER.
"What happened," she snapped as the second gurney reached her.
"Gunshot wound to the thorax," the medic replied, continuing to squeeze the ambubag. "He was wearing a vest, but the bullet went in on the side. Pulse is almost non-existent."
She turned to another nurse, saying, "Start him on Ringers, wide open. Five mill morphine, IV push, get him typed and prepped for surgery." She started to make a note in her log, but stopped when someone called her name. She turned to find a back woman walking up to her.
"Are you Dr. Eva Emory?" the woman asked her.
"Yes," she replied, already suspicious. "And you are?"
"Jaclyn Welch, FBI," the woman replied, flashing the doctor her credentials. "Are you in charge of the gunshot wound?"
"Why, you shoot him?" she asked the woman.
"Of course not," Welch replied. "The FBI wants him alive."
Close by, in a waiting area, Larabee and JD watched the exchange. "Didn't take long for the feebs to get here," Chris commented quietly.
JD nodded, his expression confused. "Yeah. But how'd they know?"
Larabee raised his hand to silence the younger man.
"So, what are his chances?" the FBI agent asked the physician.
"This isn't Vegas," she replied a little sharply. "I don't give odds."
"What about the other one?" Welch asked.
"You can talk to him in about an hour," Dr. Emory replied, turning and walking away.
The other three men came up to join Chris and JD. "We heard," Buck said softly. "Even if we could get to 'em, we couldn't move 'em."
"We can't move Vin anyway, it would kill him," Nathan added softly. "He's gonna need surgery - right now."
"Then we wait," Chris replied. "In the meantime, keep an eye on the feeb, see who she's reporting to."
The men of Team Seven watched as two more feds walked up to join Welch, a man and a woman. The man removed his ID and showed it to the FBI agent, saying, "Dawson, NSC." He gestured to the woman. "Flores. We'll be taking over the investigation. Would you come with us, please?"
"What?" Welch questioned, looking as confused as the men who were watching the little drama unfold.
"My boss wants to speak to you."
"Who's your boss?" she asked, but the two agents were already escorting her away.
"I'll see if I can listen in," Buck said, moving off to follow the agents.
Sunday, 2300 Hours
At the desk of his home office, Assistant Director Orin Travis, of the DEA, listened to the harsh voice of his best and his favorite agent, Chris Larabee.
"I don't want any excuses. Your intel was wrong."
"Take it easy, Chris," the older man said calmly as he reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. He felt anything but calm himself. How the hell had this all gone so sour so quickly?
"How the hell can I take it easy when I've got two of my people captured and shot up for nothing?" was the immediate reply.
"Someone at TransPacific must've suspected that we knew they were making the chemical weapons and they moved them."
"Yeah, and maybe there are no weapons at all. Maybe all TransPacific makes is racing fuel after all."
"Chris, you and I both reviewed the intel. And Ezra got them to admit that they were involved in something illegal. They're dirty. All we needed were the pictures or a sample to prove it."
"Yeah, well, you've got squat." He heard Chris take a deep breath before he added, "And I've got two friends who've been hurt, and are about to be arrested for spying on a classified government contractor."
Travis sagged back in his chair. "Is there any way we can get them out of that hospital?"
Larabee released another long sigh. "No," he finally said, adding, "I don't even know if Vin's gonna make it. He's still in surgery."
"The FBI, or the NSC is going to want names," Travis said, his voice suddenly tired.
"Now, you listen to me," Chris snapped at him, "my people won't talk. Do you hear me? They won't talk."
"If they do, the task force is more than likely out of business," Travis warned him. Team Seven was a prototype task force, with more authority than regular ATF agents. The FBI and DEA hadn't been keen on the idea, but the ATF had a Congressional benefactor and the plan had been given the go ahead without any interdepartmental discussion, or approval. If they blew this case, that lack of support would probably mean an end to the Regional Mobile Enforcement Teams before they had really had a chance to prove what they could do.
"It ain't gonna happen," Larabee assured him. "Vin and Ezra know deniability is the name of the game here in our own backyard, okay?"
"Chris?" Travis overheard JD interrupt. "There's something you need to see."
"I'll have to call you back," Larabee told him, and the line went dead.
Travis settled back at his desk and sighed heavily. Damn it. Damn it to hell.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chris reached the door and Josiah met him there. "Come with me," he said, leading the way to a busy hallway in the hospital. The big man stopped at a bank of phones and picked one up, saying, "Over by the doors."
Larabee glanced over and looked, seeing a man meeting with Dobson and Welch. He seemed to be giving the FBI agent a stern talking to. "It's Tim Neal," he said, recognizing the man from a closed hearing he had attended in Washington DC about the proposed mobile enforcement teams.
"Neal?" Sanchez questioned. "The man's popular at the National Security Council. Heard he'll probably get the nod as assistant director when Harrison retires. What's he doing here?"
Larabee watched as Neal shook Welch's hand and the FBI agent turned and left. "Looks like the FBI's been replaced," he commented, the knot sitting heavily in his belly tightening.
"Sending Neal here is the same as sending J Edgar Hoover to investigate a bank robbery," Josiah said softly.
"Tell me about it. This is a lot bigger than we thought... Head's up," Larabee cautioned, leaning up against the wall and glancing away from Neal. He looked for all the world like a man waiting to use the phone.
Josiah turned to face the wall the phone was hanging on, saying, "Yeah, Tommy broke his foot... Oh, yeah, he's going to be fine... Yeah, I promise, he's fine, really. He's just a little upset. The doctor wants to..." He trailed off as Neal and Dobson passed by them, turning the corner and heading away from them down the hall.
"C'mon," Larabee said, intending to follow the NSC agents to see where they were going.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
At the end of the long hallway Neal and his two agents neared a large security guard standing at one of the elevators. "Identification, please?" he asked them.
Neal pulled his ID from his suit coat pocket and held it out for the man to inspect, which he did.
"Thank you very much," the man said, allowing the three agents to move past him to the elevators set into the wall behind him.
A moment later Chris and Josiah tried to follow the agents.
"I'm sorry," the guard said, holding up his hand to stop them, "no visitors on these elevators."
"But my sister's here," Josiah lied smoothly. "I thought she was up on the-"
"The only thing on the sixth floor of this wing is urology and the prison ward," the guard said. "The public elevators are in the other wing. Just go back down the hall, take a left at the double glass doors and the public elevators are to the left. Those will take you to the sixth floor rooms," the big man told them.
"Oh, okay, thanks," Josiah said, giving the man a grateful smile.
Chris just nodded and they turned and started away.
"So much for just waltzing through the front door," Sanchez muttered under his breath. "Sounds like if we want a look at the prison ward, one of us will have to get into urology," he added.
Flashing Larabee a toothy grin, Josiah said, "Leave that to me, brother."
The blond nodded, wondering what the big man had in mind. He didn't really care, as long as it worked. Right now all he wanted to know was how Vin and Ezra were doing, but he wasn't sure that was going to be possible.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Neal and his agents exited on the sixth floor and headed straight to the prison ward. The guard there checked their IDs and allowed them in, then closed the heavy glass doors behind them.
In his room, Ezra lay in his bed, staring up at the ceiling. His right arm was in a cast, and his face throbbed where he had scraped his cheek. A pair of butterfly stitches held a cut on his forehead closed, and whatever parts of him that were similarly scraped ached.
He heard the police officer standing just outside his room ask someone for ID, and then told them, "Go ahead" a few moments later.
A moment later two men and a woman entered the room. He didn't recognize any of them, but he could tell immediately that they were federal agents of some stripe.
The older of the two men stepped forward. "Well, I hope you're resting comfortably," he said, making sure Ezra saw his NSC credentials before he folded up the case and slipped it into the interior pocket of his suit coat. Tim Neal. He'd heard the name, but he had never met the man before. That, he decided was the first lucky break he'd had in a while.
"I don't understand much English," Standish replied in fluent Hungarian.
"Please, please, don't do that," Neal responded. "You're as American as apple pie. The police and medics said that you were speaking fluent English at the crime scene, with a Southern accent, I might add."
"I don't understand," Ezra replied in Hungarian.
"Look, I don't have a beef with you," Neal said. "I know you were just following somebody else's orders."
"I don't understand," Ezra repeated.
"All right, let's see if you understand this. You were spying on a classified government contractor. That's called treason here in the good ol' US of A, which will get you life in prison, or maybe even the death penalty. Lucky for you, I'm feeling generous. You give me the name of the son-of-a-bitch who told you to play hide and seek at TransPacific, and I'll cut you a deal. You'll serve one year in minimum security, two tops."
"You are an arrogant bastard, do you know that?" Ezra asked him in Hungarian.
"I'd give it some thought if I were you," Neal warned him and then left.
Ezra closed his eyes and sighed softly, wondering what was taking the others so long to get them out of there. Unless of course Vin had been seriously hurt... He hoped not, but so far no one had said anything about Tanner and he hadn't wanted to let them know he spoke English, so he hadn't asked. But now he was getting worried.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Neal stepped back out into the hallway, nodded to his agents and the three started away. "He's playing games. Did the other one pull through?"
"Looks that way," Dobson replied. "Hard to tell at this point."
"Anything show up in their personal effects?" Neal questioned.
"Nothing. No wallets, no ID on either of them," Dobson replied. "Even the labels had been removed from their clothing. And it was all generic. Something anyone could buy over the Internet. They're pros."
"What about the communications equipment, the digital camera?"
"Made in Japan."
"Run their fingerprints through the DMV, FBI and Interpol," Neal ordered. "I want to know who the hell these people are, and fast."
Monday, 0700 Hours
"Are you gonna tell me what we're doing out here?" JD asked Josiah as the big man pulled into an anonymous strip mall and parked in front of a large drugstore that anchored one end of the line of shops.
"Follow me and learn," Josiah said, and then headed inside. He grabbed one of the small plastic shopping baskets and headed into the isles, beginning to grab items and drop them into the basket.
"Josiah," the younger man wheedled.
"It's an old trick that draft dodgers used to use back during the Vietnam War," the big man explained softly. "You just mix a few things together into a cocktail, chug it down, and the next thing you know, you're on your way straight to urology."
"And just who, exactly, is gonna be doing the chugging around here?" JD asked suspiciously, afraid he already knew the answer.
Josiah slipped his arm around the younger man's shoulder and flashed him a toothy grin. "You always said you wanted to see what it was like to do undercover work. Well, son, this is your chance."
"I, uh... I have a problem takin' pills," JD said nervously as the big man headed off, looking for more ingredients. "I don't swallow pills so good."
Josiah picked up a long bees wax candle. "Well, I suppose I could put it into a suppository," he said, holding up the candle for JD to see. The implication was clear.
"Uh, just stick to the pills, or whatever," JD gulped, his eyes rounding with honest fear.
Sanchez chuckled softly, finding a few more of the items he needed.
"So, what are the symptoms, exactly?" JD asked him, hurrying around to catch up with him.
"Well, there really isn't that much pain," the older man said. "You don't see any chromium oxide, do you?"
"Chromium oxide?" JD echoed. "Isn't that the stuff the janitors use to clean toilets with?" he squeaked.
"It has other uses, too," Josiah assured him.
"Uh, Josiah, I'm, uh... I really don't want to drink any toilet bowl cleansers."
"Well, if you have any better ideas for how we can get someone up onto that ward, you just let me know, I'm all ears."
JD glanced around in a panic. Spotting a bottle with a prominent label, he grabbed it, saying, "Well, look, nature's equivalent of Viagra... Don't they say you should see a doctor if you have an-" He stopped, glancing around to be sure there were no other shoppers close enough to overhear him. "You know, if you have an, uh, an erection that lasts longer than four hours?"
"JD," Josiah scolded. "Who would believe you'd be using Viagra?"
The younger man sighed. "All right, all right, I guess we'll have to do it your way." Then he thought for a moment and said hopefully, "You could always take the herbal Viagra..."
Josiah shook his head. "Nope. Now, come on, I have everything we'll need."
"That's what I'm afraid of," JD said and sighed, following the man to the checkout.
Monday, 0900 Hours
Neal stepped into Vin's room. The sniper was lying with his eyes closed, his body sprouting a wide array of tubes and wires. Nearby, various machines kept track of the man's heartbeat, oxygen levels, and other concerns, as well as delivering IV fluids and pain medication.
A nurse was standing at Tanner's bedside, checking his vitals and recording the results on his chart.
"Excuse me, but can you leave us alone for a few minutes?" he asked the woman, his tone friendly.
She jumped slightly, not having heard the man enter the room. Turning, she checked his ID and then nodded, saying, "Sure," as she slid the chart onto the rolling bedside table before hurrying out.
"Thank you," Neal said as she passed by.
"No problem," she replied quietly.
He looked back at Tanner, finding the sniper's eyes open a crack. "Tim Neal," he said. "And you would be...?"
Vin remained silent. His face was bathed with sweat and he was pale.
Neal reached for Vin's chart and picked it up, checking the name. "John Doe... Well, nice to meet you, Mr. Doe." He tossed the chart back onto the table and shoved his hands into his pant pockets. "God, I hate hospitals," he said. "Hate the food, hate the smell..." He could see he was making no impression on the man at all, so he changed tactics. "The good doctors at this hospital saved your life, you know that, don't you?"
Vin glared weakly at the man, but refused to speak.
"You know, they might have saved you from that bullet," Neal said, moving closer to the side of the narrow bed, "but they can't save you from me. Now, I suggest that you tell me what you were doing at that refinery last night."
Vin stared up at the man, pain-dimmed blue eyes defiant. He swallowed thickly and managed to whisper, "Gettin' shot."
Neal snorted softly. The man had balls, he had to give him that. "Gettin' shot, huh?" He leaned forward and reached out, patting Vin on the cheek. "Get this, John. I don't play by anyone's rules but my own. And I want names..." He reached down, placing his hand over Tanner's heart and began to press down. "...and I want them now."
An alarm immediately began to sound from one of the machines. Vin gasped for air, pain exploding through his chest, threatening to tumble him into unconsciousness once again. He reached up and grabbed Neal's wrist, but he was too weak to move the man's hand.
"Are you all right?" someone asked and Neal quickly turned around, a false smile curling his lips.
"Doctor," he greeted. "The two of us were just getting acquainted," he explained as Vin fought to breathe, each pain-filled gasp making Dr. Emory more and more angry.
She knew Neal had been abusing her patient, she could tell from the look "John Doe" was giving the man. "May I speak to you in private for a moment, please?" she asked him, but it was clear that she wouldn't take no for an answer.
"It would be my pleasure," he responded, his gaze traveling up her body to meet her eyes.
Dr. Emory suddenly felt like she'd been groped by something foul and dirty.
Neal turned and looked down at Tanner. "I'm so glad we had this chance to get acquainted," he said, then turned and left the room.
Eva paused just long enough to meet her patient's eyes. Her eyebrows rose in a silent question: Will you be all right?
Vin nodded once, his eyes closing again as the pain finally fell off to something more manageable.
She turned and followed Neal from the room, catching him in the hallway. "I didn't give you permission to question my patient," she snapped angrily.
"Oh, c'mon," he replied, "we were just having a little friendly conversation."
"He's in no condition to have a conversation with anyone but me," she stated.
"Doctor, are you forgetting that he's a suspect in a federal criminal investigation?"
"Are you forgetting that his vitals were so low my EMTs nearly pronounced him dead at the scene?"
"He looks like he's recovering just fine to me," Neal told her with a dismissive gesture.
"His blood pressure's elevated and his fever's a hundred-five degrees. You keep torturing him like that and you're not going to have someone left to question."
"Look, Doctor..." He made a show of checking her chest for her name tag. "...Emory, I don't try to tell you how to do your job, so don't you tell me how to do mine." And with that he stepped around her and headed off down the hall.
She watched him go, angry and, at the same time, frightened by the coldness she had seen in his eyes. Whoever he was, he was cruel and he was dangerous, and she'd be damned if she'd let him kill her patient.
Monday, 1300 Hours
"It came on all of a sudden," Josiah told the nurse standing behind the admissions window. She was an older woman, African-American, with short grey hair and glasses that dangled from around her neck on a string of sparkly, multi-colored plastic beads. Beside him, JD was shifting from one foot to the other, looking decidedly uncomfortable and skittish.
"What are the symptoms?" the nurse asked JD.
"Uh, nausea... cramps... dizziness," he told her, shooting an accusing glance up at his "father."
"Anything else?" she asked him, seeing the look.
JD looked back at her, and then away, muttering, "It's really embarrassing..."
"Go on, son, tell her," Josiah encouraged him.
"Believe me, I've seen it all before," she assured JD.
Hopefully not, Josiah thought as he reached up and rested his hand on JD's shoulder. "Go on, JD... tell her."
"I... I can't... It's horrible."
"Then step aside, I have sick patients to see," she snapped at him.
Josiah's grip on his shoulder tightened. "Tell her, son, or I will."
JD looked back at the woman, his cheeks coloring as he mumbled, "It's purple."
"What?" she questioned.
"I'm peeing purple," JD repeated softly.
"Excuse me," she said, frowning.
"I said, I'm peeing purple," JD snapped clearly and loudly this time.
She gave him an incredulous look, then turned and stepped away from the window for a moment. When she returned, she handed him a small plastic cup. "I'll need to see a sample."
JD took the cup.
"The men's room is right there," she said, pointing across the hallway. "Hurry up, now."
JD shot Josiah a withering look, but he headed to the rest room, returning a few moments later.
"Well?" she said, head inclining forward and her eyebrows lifting.
JD held up the cup, which was half full of purple pee.
She stared at the color for a moment, then reached out and accepted the sample cup from him. Her eyes narrowed. "You sure this isn't grape juice?" she demanded suspiciously.
"Ma'am, I wouldn't do a taste test if I were you," Josiah said sincerely. "The boy's telling you the truth."
"You poor, poor child," she said, concern immediately replacing her suspicion. "We have to get you admitted right away for tests."
"Tests?" JD yelped in concern. "What kinds of tests?" He shot another look at Josiah, this one half-worried and half-afraid.
"Never you mind," she replied. "You're in good hands now." She looked up at him, saying, "I'm going to expedite the paperwork and take you up to urology personally."
"Wow," JD said when she had disappeared. "That was easy." He grinned slightly, still worried, but also excited by pulling off the con. No wonder Ezra enjoyed undercover work so much.
"See, I told you it would work," Josiah said softly.
The nurse joined them in the hallway, glancing around. "Why is there never a wheelchair around here when you need one?" she muttered to herself, then looked at the two men, saying, "Stay right here, I'll be right back."
"Listen," Josiah said when she was a few yards away, "I don't want you to be afraid of the size of the scope..."
"Scope?" JD questioned. "What scope? Josiah...?"
"It's just part of the preliminary exam," he told the younger man, giving the back of his neck a gentle squeeze. "They stick it- Look, you're sticking your, uh, neck out for the cause. The important thing is to get onto the sixth floor. Find out what you can about the prison ward. Here she comes."
The nurse pushed a wheelchair up to JD, saying, "Okay, let's ride..."
"Uh, look, I'm starting to feel better," JD told her, but Josiah was already pushing him into the chair.
"That's what they all say," she told him, already wheeling him off. "Don't you worry, now, we'll take real good care of you."
"Dad?" JD called plaintively.
Josiah grinned and followed after the pair.
Monday, 1330 Hours
In one of the many crowded waiting rooms, Chris sat, watching as Buck and Nathan left, following Dobson and Flores. Neal was still up on the sixth floor, and he would know when the man came back down since he would see him exit the elevator from here.
And by now Josiah should have gotten JD admitted into urology.
His cell phone rang and he fished it out of his pocket. "Yeah?"
"Yes, any progress?" Travis asked him.
"A little," he said. "JD was able to hack into the hospital's computer. Vin came through the surgery, but he's still listed as critical. Worst thing listed for Ezra was a broken arm."
"Good, good... Well, I've been making a little myself," Travis told him. "I've been checking on Tim Neal. He's career intelligence. Before making the move to the NSC he spent twelve years at the FBI, ten in the CIA. He's got a spotless record. Man even pays his parking tickets. You're up against one of the best."
"Yeah? Tell me something I don't know," Larabee grumbled.
"Well, there is one thing that made me a little curious. Neal made thirteen trips to Norman, Oklahoma in the last ten months."
"I'm guessing it wasn't to see his mistress," Larabee replied dryly.
"No, she's in California," Travis said with a chuckle.
"Then what the hell's in Norman, Oklahoma?"
"Nothing much, except for the headquarters of TransPacific Oil."
"We already know TransPacific has a boatload of government contracts. Maybe Neal is overseeing the negotiations."
"That was my first thought as well," Travis said. "But none of the trips were for business. He paid for each and every one of them himself."
"So... what? You think Neal is brokering the chemical weapons deal for TransPacific?"
"Well, it would explain his up close and personal attention to the break-in, as well as his trips to Oklahoma, but we simply don't have any proof."
"Not yet," Larabee said. "My people have been shadowing two of Neal's agents - Dobson and Flores, male and female. See what you can find on them. They've been meeting with a couple of Africans at various places around the city. Neal's been spending his time up on the prison ward."
"No doubt trying to determine who's on to his game."
"Yeah," Larabee admitted. "Which probably means Ezra, since I doubt Vin's in any condition to be questioned. They won't say anything. They'll know we're trying to find a way to get them out, but Nathan says we have to wait until they upgrade Vin to stable before we can do anything."
"I understand," Travis said. "I'll see what we can find on Dobson and Flores. Good luck, Chris."
"Thanks," he replied and ended the call. He sank back in his chair, wishing he could find out more about what was going on with Vin. He wanted to see the man for himself, because right now all he could see were the images of the man when they had rushed him into the ER - pale, still... Christ, he didn't even know for sure if Tanner was still alive. Critical could turn to dead all too easily. And he didn't have JD there to hack the computer again.
He sighed heavily and scrubbed his hand over his face. He'd let this happen. He was responsible for Tanner's injuries, maybe even for his death.
He sighed again and shook his head. Just hang in there, Vin, he said silently. Hang in there...
Monday, 1500 Hours
Neal was indeed in Ezra's room. "Just give me one name, that's all. Just give me the name of one of the others involved..." he said, trailing off as he walked around Standish's bed. "...and we'll call it a day."
Ezra stared straight ahead, ignoring the man. These little chats were getting tedious, coming at irregular intervals across the day. It was a standard interrogation technique, he knew that. But this time his wrists had been secured with Velcro restraints, one wrapped around the outside of his cast.
"Well, that's too bad... for you," Neal said. "You know, your buddy down the hall has been talking up a storm."
Ezra felt his heart lurch. So Vin was alive! That was something new, and he could tell that Neal was sorry he'd said it. Because Ezra knew, with absolute certainty, that Vin Tanner wouldn't talk. But Neal must have tried, and that, given what Vin's condition must be, infuriated the undercover man.
"There's no reason for you to take the fall all by yourself, you know," Neal continued, but Standish only stared straight ahead. Neal turned to look at Flores. "Give him the maximum dose," he instructed the agent.
The woman turned from whatever she was doing, a syringe in her hand. An moment later she was at his bedside.
"No!" Ezra yelped as she poked the needle into his arm.
"Don't worry, it won't hurt you," Neal told him. "It'll just help you to tell the truth." He watched as the fast-acting drug began to take effect. "Take it easy," he said soothingly. "Everything's going to be all right." When Ezra sagged back against the bed, Neal grinned. "That's right..."
To Ezra it seemed as if all the pain had suddenly stopped, and he was floating on some invisible cloud. His vision blurred and it reminded him of what it looked like when a jet flew into a cloud, the windows filling with fuzzy white, obscuring his view of the ground far below.
He closed his eyes, sinking into the relief. Neal had refused to allow the hospital staff to give him any pain medications, so he had been in constant agony since the morphine had worn off last night... or had that been early this morning? He wasn't sure. Time didn't seem to have as much meaning to him right now.
"Now," he heard a voice say, "let's take it from the top..."
Top? he wondered. Top of what? Oh, yes... he had fallen... fallen from the top of... something. At least he thought he had. He had fallen, hadn't he?
And there was something else, too... Gunshots. Yes, that was it. Someone had been shooting at him... And at Vin.
He frowned slightly.
"What's your name?"
Name? No, he didn't want to tell anyone his name. That was dangerous. Too dangerous. He was undercover. He couldn't tell them his name...
Wasn't he undercover? He shook his head, trying to ignore the voice.
"You've been through one hell of an ordeal..."
Yes... Yes, he had been... And Vin as well. But he wasn't concerned with his own ordeal at the moment, he was worried about Vin. The long-haired Texan had somehow gotten under his skin... past his defenses. How had he let that happen? he wondered.
Vin... there was something about Vin... Was Vin in danger? In trouble?
"...and I especially don't want you to take the fall alone for this one," the voice was saying.
Fall? Yes, he had fallen. Hadn't they already determined that? He had fallen from a... a tank of some kind. Yes, he had fallen from a tank, but before he'd fallen he'd seen... something... something that had happened to Vin...
He'd been shot! Yes, he was sure if it. He was sure he had seen Vin get shot!
My God, was Vin all right? Where was he? Where were the others? Why weren't they all here so they could tell him what had happened to Vin?
Had they been shot as well?
Oh Lord, were they all dead? Was he alone again?
Not that he should care about the sniper, or the others for that matter. He knew that, he really did, but he did care. Damn it all, he cared about the sniper, and the other men. How had he let that happen again?
Vin was his friend. Yes, a friend, nearly a brother. They were all his friends. And he had spent far too many years without any friends. Too many...
He had friends now... six of them. Six brothers...
No. No, that was dangerous. Too dangerous. What was he thinking? He had to deny those feelings, lock them away.
"Deny..." he muttered to himself.
"Forget about deniability," the voice urged him. "The rules don't apply here."
Rules? What rules? He had always played by his own rules... Until recently. Until he had joined Team Seven.
Now he played by the rules they made together... he and his friends, his brothers...
"I know you didn't do that alone," the distant voice snarled.
Alone? Oh God, they couldn't all be dead, could they? He couldn't be alone again. Not again. He had hated being alone. They couldn't have left him out here alone... surely not...
But he had seen Vin go down. He had to help him... help Vin...
"Help," he gasped softly. They had to help Vin. He had to help him. Vin had been the first to accept him, to trust him... They were so different, and yet they shared something, something deep inside their souls... scars...
"Help yourself," the voice was telling him, but he didn't want to, he wanted to help Vin. "You don't want to spend the rest of your life in prison, do you?"
"No," he breathed out with a shudder. This was taking too long. He wanted it to be over, so he could see about finding Vin... helping him...
Could he do it alone? He would have to. He was alone. They weren't here because they were all dead. Vin... Chris... Josiah... Nathan... Buck... JD... they were all gone, all dead. If they weren't, they would be here. Wouldn't they?
"Being truthful here won't hurt you," the voice promised.
But Ezra knew that was a lie. The truth was often painful... so painful... like knowing his friends were dead... It made his heart hurt, so badly... so very badly...
God, he couldn't believe it. Not Vin... the man seemed invincible... he'd survived so much... and if Vin were dead, then Chris surely was as well. Poor Chris... poor Vin... poor Chris...
"Chris..." he breathed.
"Chris? Who's Chris?" the voice asked.
That frightened him and Ezra jerked his eyes open. The reality of what was happening struck the undercover man like a cold slap to the face. He blinked, vision returning. He saw Neal at the foot of his bed, his expression angry.
"Give him another shot," the man snarled.
"Another dose this soon could kill him," Flores said.
"I need him to talk," Neal growled at the woman.
"And if he dies?"
"As long as he talks first, I don't care! This is a hospital, for crying out loud, people die here all the time!"
"From a broken arm?" she questioned him.
The door was pushed open and Dobson leaned in, asking, "Can I speak to you?" from the doorway.
"Not now," Neal snapped.
"It's important," the man added.
Neal glanced at Ezra, but then he sighed and headed for the door. "We'll try again when I get back," he told Flores. Once out in the hallway he snapped, "What's so important it couldn't wait?"
Dobson dropped his voice, saying, "I thought you would want to know that everything has arrived safely at the destination."
"Well, that's the best news I've heard all day." Neal smiled. At least the sale was going smoothly. Hell, something should!
"The meeting, it is on?" Dobson asked him. "Awanda wants to take delivery ASAP. He's feeling a little nervous."
"Yes. Three o'clock. I'll meet with Awanda, hold his hand for a few minutes. He'll settle down."
"Well, at least it sounds as if everything is back on schedule," Dobson said with a relieved sigh.
"Maybe. But we still don't know who's trying to peek up our skirts," Neal told him. "Anything from their fingerprints?"
"Nothing so far."
"Hmm... It looks like we've snagged us a pair of genuine black ops. Now, the question is, whose?" He paused and thought for a moment, then added, "I want you to arrange for a transfer. I want these people transferred to the hospital at Fort Carson. That'll give us the freedom we need to make these people talk."
Dobson nodded. "I'll take care of it." He left.
Neal watched him go. Yes, it would be much easier once they got them out of the hospital. He smiled, a predatory expression. It was almost over. He would find out who was sniffing around his business and then he'd remove them.
Monday, 1510 Hours
The nurse wheeled JD, now dressed in a short blue hospital gown and nothing else, up to the bank of elevators. The guard smiled at her as they approached.
"Hey, Mazie," he greeted her.
"I'm taking this boy up to urology," she said as JD fiddled with the plastic ID bracelet that had been placed around his wrist.
"Sure," the guard said, nodding. She leaned past him and pressed the call button.
A few seconds later a bell dinged and the doors slid open. She wheeled JD inside the car and turned him around so he was facing the doors as they slid shut. The car started up again, coming to a stop on the sixth floor. When the doors opened, she wheeled him past a pair of glass double doors marked "prison ward," with a large security guard standing watch, and straight to a second pair of glass doors marked "Urology."
"Now, I'll be back in a minute. You just sit there and relax, I'll be right back," she told him.
"How relaxed would you be if you'd just got scoped? I'm still numb down there!" he sassed.
"Don't you fret, the anesthesia will wear off in an hour or so."
"That's what you said an hour ago," he grouched.
She shook her head, grinning, as she left him sitting there.
He waited until she was out of sight, then got up out of the wheelchair and walked over to the glass doors. When he saw that there were several other nurses and technicians in the hallway, along with other patients, he pushed the door open and walked out. He punched the elevator button and waited until it opened, then stepped in along with several other people.
He saw a nurse who had been in the urology lab use her card key, running it through a reader, before punching a button marked "prison ward." The rear doors of the elevator opened and she stepped out, using the card again at a door to enter the ward. And there was no guard.
"Hey, how about some blush for those cheeks?" another nurse asked him.
It took him a second, but then he realized what she'd meant. His hand flew back and he grabbed the open sides of his hospital gown, pulling them shut over his bare butt. His face burned with embarrassment and he turned to her to apologize when someone grabbed his arms and jerked him out of the elevator car.
"What in blue blazes are you doing out here?" the older black nurse demanded.
"I was... was... stretching my legs," he said indignantly.
"I knew you'd chicken out," she said, shaking her head. "Come on, now. Your father's waiting to see you."
When they reached the room he'd been given, Josiah was waiting for him. The older man waited until the nurse had JD settled in the bed, then thanked her for all her help. When she was gone, he asked the younger agent, "So, what were you able to find out?"
"When you come up in the elevators to the sixth floor, there's a security guard on the door to the prison ward. But, if you have a card key, you can enter the ward through the rear elevator doors, and no guard," he said. "We just need to get our hands on one of the card keys."
Josiah nodded. "Nice job, son."
"I'm not your son," JD snapped, suddenly glaring at the older man. "Do you know how big those scopes are?" he demanded. "That was not in my job description!"
"But you got a look at the prison ward, and that's the important thing. We're all called to make sacrifices."
"Yeah, right," JD said acerbically. "But I have something else. When I was waiting to be brought up here, I heard a couple of the nurses talking, including the one I saw use her card key to get onto the prison ward. They're planning to go out tonight, to a sports bar that's just around the corner from the hospital. The Dugout, they called it."
"What did the nurse look like?" Josiah asked him.
"Tallish, reddish-brown hair, cut kinda short. She was wearing a blue scrub shirt that has little white kittens all over it."
Josiah nodded. "I'll pass that along to Buck. I'm sure he can find a way to borrow her card key."
Monday, 1640 Hours
Neal left the hospital, climbing into the back of a waiting sedan, which drove off as soon as his door was closed.
Chris jogged across the street and climbed in behind the wheel of the Suburban. He watched the car for a moment, then started the engine and pulled out to follow them.
Larabee tailed the sedan, being careful not to get too close. The trip was relatively short, however, the car pulling over to the curb near a large public library. Neal climbed out and headed straight over to a large open area that was landscaped with various varieties of cacti. Several people sat on benches under large umbrellas, reading. A few children played as well.
Larabee stayed where he was, watching the NSC agent until a handsome black man arrived and joined Neal. Then, using one of the cameras from the back of their mobile command and control center, he snapped several pictures of Neal and the black man as they spoke and then shook hands. He stuck the camera out of sight and climbed out, making his way over to one of the many benches and sat down. He checked his watch and glanced around as if he was supposed to be meeting someone.
"So, the delivery is on schedule?" Chris heard the black man ask. His voice was heavily accented and Larabee guessed he was an African.
"Yes. Make sure that everything is ready on your end."
"It will be," the man assured Neal. Then they shook hands again and each man walked off in opposite directions.
Chris stood and was about to follow Neal when his cell phone rang. He fished it out and answered it. "Yeah?"
"Hey, stud, listen, Josiah and JD came up with some info we can use. We think we know how to get onto the prison ward, but Nathan and I are gonna have to go out for a drink to pull it off."
"Don't take too long," he said.
"We'll be back just as fast as we can," Buck assured the man.
Chris returned the cell phone to his pocket and headed back to the SUV. Maybe Travis could ID the man Neal had met for them. He hoped so. It was a good bet that the man was the same one who would have bought the explosive chemical weapon.
As he drove back toward the hospital, he hoped again that Vin and Ezra were doing all right.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Vin lay in his bed, trying to sleep. He was still running a fever, although it wasn't as high as it had been just after his surgery. But it was high enough that there wasn't a single position he felt comfortable in. He heard the doctor enter the room and cracked his eyes open.
"Hey," she greeted him, "how are you feeling?"
"I've had better days," he told her honestly.
"Well, I brought you a pill to ease the pain," she told him.
She partially filled a plastic cup with water and then stepped up to his bedside. Holding a small plastic cup with a single white pill in it to his lips, she tilted it so the pill fell into his mouth as soon as he opened it. Then she pressed the cup of water to his lips and raised his head so he could take a couple of swallows.
"Good," she told him.
"Haven't had a pretty doctor like you in a hospital since I's a little boy," he told her, his words slightly slurred from the constant dose of pain medication being delivered to his blood system through his IV. "I's ten years old... got thrown from m' granddaddy's mare. He kept tellin' me, 'Boy, yer too little t' ride that thing.' But I's just too stubborn 'n' bullheaded t' listen t' 'im..."
She laughed softly.
"Broke both m' legs," he admitted, rolling his head back and forth.
She winced in sympathy and shook her head. "Yeah, I've been riding since I was ten. As a matter of fact, when I got divorced, he kept the house and I kept the horse."
"Divorce," he said softly. "Now that's a tough one, isn't it?"
"Yeah, well, I think we were probably a little too young when we got married. He wasn't quite through shopping around yet."
"Just didn't know what the hell he had," Vin told her.
"What about you, you married?" she asked him.
"Divorced?" she asked sadly.
He hesitated, and then replied, "I really can't say."
"I see," she replied, making a notation on his chart and then hanging it back on the end of his bed. "You know, the rumor on the ward is you're some kind of a spy." She paused, looking down at him. "But I don't know... I kind of have a gut feeling that you're probably one of the good guys."
"M' gut tells me you are, too."
She smiled at him and then turned to go so he could get some more rest. But she paused in the doorway, looking back at him. "Would it hurt if I knew your name?"
"Less y' know 'bout me, the better," he told her sadly.
"That's a real shame," she said.
"Yes, ma'am, it is."
She turned and left, but she knew now that she was right about that gut feeling.
Buck and Nathan sat at the bar in the Dugout, watching the gathering crowd that was made up of mostly people from the hospital. Some of the patrons sat at tables, drinking, other were playing pool, or dancing on the small dance floor. And in three of the corners, large screen televisions were playing different sporting events - baseball, basketball and a NASCAR race - while fans watched in padded chairs, cheering and enjoying food and drink.
Nathan spotted the short, red-haired nurse with white kittens on her blue scrubs and elbowed Buck, who was talking to the bartender.
The ladies' man smiled when he saw the woman. He watched her as she walked over and took a seat at a table with three other women. After they had shared a couple of margaritas, he slid off his stool and headed over to them, calling, "LeAnn! Long time no see! How's it goin', darlin'?"
Nathan got up as soon as Buck had the women's attention and moved a little farther down the bar, sliding onto a chair behind the woman and the friend sitting next to her.
The redhead looked up at Buck, confused. "I'm sorry, do I know you?"
He dipped his head and looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry," he said, giving her a slightly chagrined grimace, "I thought you were someone I knew. That we'd gone to medical school together. I thought we used to dissect cadavers."
She laughed, her gaze sweeping over him. "You're a doctor?" she asked him, her expression one of total disbelief, but welcome nonetheless.
"Yeah, sure," he said, grinning.
"Really? Which department?"
"Neurology," he responded seriously, but he was still grinning.
"Oh," she replied, exchanging glances with her girlfriends. "I thought I knew everyone in that department..."
"Well, darlin', I'm new," Buck told her as Nathan carefully used his foot to slide the woman's purse over to him along the floor.
"I just transferred in fact," he said, "from Denver. Doctor Frank Burns, at your service. And you are?"
"Sally," she replied, still not sure if she believed him or not.
Buck looked at the pretty blonde sitting next to Sally and asked, "And you are?"
"Jill," the woman replied, offering Buck her hand, which he didn't shake, but instead took in his, brushing a light kiss to her knuckle.
"Jill, it's nice to meet you." He looked to the other two women.
"Darlene," one of them, a striking African-American, said.
"Cathy," replied the other. She was Korean.
"Look, Frank," Sally said, "it's my birthday, so-"
"Your birthday?" he asked her, slipping his arm around her shoulders and yelling, "Hey, everybody! It's Sally's birthday today!"
A cheer went up from the crowd and she blushed, but still smiled at him, enjoying the attention. Nathan took the opportunity to reach over and pick up the purse, checking it quickly for the card key, which he found and slipped into his pocket as Buck burst into song.
"Mustang Sally!" he belted out, his voice a rich low tenor. "You better slow that mustang down..."
The young woman laughed, blushing more but still enjoying his attention. A few of the other patrons picked up on the song and, a few moments later, it was playing loudly on the jukebox.
Buck pulled Sally and Jill off their seats, dancing with both women. Nathan dropped the purse back onto the floor and slid it back over to Sally's chair as he stood and asked Darlene if she'd like to dance as well.
She agreed and they moved off to the dance floor. Buck saw Cathy sitting alone and hollered for her to join them, which she did, the big man doing his best to dance with all three ladies at the same time and succeeding better than Nathan expected. It was a gift.
After the dance, Nathan excused himself and headed outside where Chris was waiting for them. He handed the man the card key.
"Think you and Buck can keep the ladies occupied until I get back?"
"We'll give it our best shot. Be careful."
Larabee nodded and started to the Suburban. He planned to be careful, but he also planned to find a way to get his people out of that hospital.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Several minutes later, and dressed in a white labcoat that he'd found lying draped over the back of a chair in the doctor's lounge, Chris headed for the elevators that would take him to the sixth floor. He draped the stethoscope he found in the coat pocket around his neck.
The guard didn't even give him a second glance as he walked up to the elevators and pressed the up button.
A few moments later the bell rang and the doors slid open. He stepped inside, pressed six and rode it up. When it stopped, he ran the card key though the reader built into the elevator panel and pressed the button marked "prison ward." The rear doors slid open and he stepped out. He saw the police officer standing by a pair of glass doors and headed that way. He used the card key to open the doors and stepped into the ward without hesitation.
He walked slowly, spotting Neal speaking to a woman not far away. He stopped at a bulletin board on a wall not far from a central nurses' station, his gaze roaming over the various items hanging there as he listened to the conversation taking place between Neal and the woman.
"In my professional opinion it is way too soon to be moving him," she told Neal, her hands on her hips, her stance defiant.
"Look, these are professional intelligence operatives. They need to be in a secure facility," Neal replied, clearly already frustrated by the woman's interference.
"There is plenty of security right here," she replied.
"That's your opinion, Dr. Emery," he returned, "not mine. I want complete copies of their medical records transferred to Fort Carson."
"You know the only reason you want to move them to a government facility is so you can play tough and get away with it," she argued with him.
"I don't like what you're insinuating, Doctor," he told her, glancing over at Chris, who was standing by the nurses' station.
Larabee picked up a chart and started making notes on it.
"I'm responsible for the welfare of my patients," she told Neal, glancing from the NSC man to Chris and back again.
"According to this court order, as of tomorrow morning they are no longer your patients," Neal told her, holding up the paperwork for her to see. Chris looked over as well. "We'll move out at nine a.m. There a problem, Doctor?" he called to Larabee.
"No," he said, "no problem." He shifted his gaze from Neal to Dr. Emory. He could tell that she didn't recognize him, but Neal was looking at him, not her, so he didn't see her reaction. "I have everything I need," he concluded and turned away.
He headed straight back to the elevators, letting a nurse step in first when the doors opened.
"Thank you," she said.
He nodded at her. Tomorrow morning... 9 a.m. That's how long they had to come up with a way to get Vin and Ezra out of the hospital, and by God they'd do it if they had to stay up all night.
Monday, 2115 Hours
Chris left the hospital, heading straight to the parking lot and his waiting SUV. He drove back to the Dugout, parked and walked in. Buck and Nathan looked like they were having a good time with the four nurses. He walked over to the bar, and sat down, reaching into his pocket and palming the card key. After ordering a beer, he turned around on the barstool, watching the revelers for a few minutes as he drank the beer. Then, he stood and headed back for the door, pretending to trip over Sally's bag on his way out.
"Hey, I'm sorry," he apologized, reaching down to right the bag and dropping the card key into it at the same time.
"No problem," she told him.
"Man, look at the time," Nathan said, after checking his watch. "I've got to get back for a surgery."
"Oh, do you have to?" Darlene asked him, her gaze imploring.
"Sorry. Maybe I'll catch you here again," he told her with a grin, then slid off his seat and followed Larabee out the door.
Buck remained with the ladies.
"Do you want to come over to my place and play doctor?" Sally whispered into his ear. "I know a very naughty nurse..."
He grinned at her, wishing he could take her up on the offer, but he knew Nathan and Chris would be waiting for him outside. "Naughty, huh?"
"Mmm-hmm," she replied. "Very, very naughty. I think you might have to give her a spanking."
Buck swallowed hard, then leaned over and kissed her cheek. "You don't know how hard this is, darlin', but I'll have to take a rain check." And with that he slid off the stool and headed for the door.
Outside, he found Chris and Nathan waiting for him, just like he knew they would be. "This better be good; I just gave up a night with a very, very naughty nurse."
"They're moving Vin and Ezra to a military hospital at 0900 tomorrow," Chris told him.
"Damn... That might just be the game," the ladies' man said with a frustrated sigh.
"No, we've got all night to find a way to get them out. Come on, we're going to go pay JD a visit, see what we can all come up with."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
It took the five men the better part of the night, but they were able to formulate a plan based on the bits and pieces of information they had each managed to pick up while hanging around the hospital or with the nurses at the bar.
And a brief visit by Josiah to the records room, holding the box of tools from the Suburban, and with a story about a leak in the urology department was enough to get them a copy of the blueprints to help them fine tune the details.
By seven the following morning they were good to go.
Tuesday, 0600 Hours
Dr. Emory walked into Ezra's room as Agent Flores was lifting the lid of his breakfast tray. "Just checking," the female agent said.
"Oh, good, I'm glad to see you're finally eating something," Emory said as Ezra reached out and picked up the plastic cup filled with what was supposed to be coffee. He lifted it to his lips and took a sip, grimacing.
The doctor took the file from the foot of the bed, saying, "I have to fax your records to Fort Carson."
"Fort Carson?" Ezra questioned, ignoring the smug expression on the agent's face when he spoke for the first time, southern accent and all.
"You're being transferred in three hours," the doctor added on her way out the door.
Cold fear squeezed Standish's heart and he felt nauseous. If the people holding him and Vin managed to get them to a government facility, there would be no hope of escape or rescue. He could not allow that to happen.
Ezra waited for a moment, then, when Flores' attention wandered slightly, he tossed the hot coffee straight into the agent's face.
Flores cried out, her hands coming up to her eyes.
Ezra was out of the bed in an instant, ignoring the pain throbbing through his body. He grabbed the woman's gun from her holster and struck her, sending her crashing to the floor, unconscious. He didn't feel the least bit of remorse, either.
He stepped into the hallway, yelling, "Get back! Everybody back!"
Doctors, nurses and orderlies quickly scrambled to get out of the way while security guards and police moved in.
Dr. Emory turned, only to find Ezra standing there with a gun pointed at her. "Where's my partner?" he demanded, flashing green eyes pinning her.
"Whoa, easy, take it easy," she said. "I want you to put the gun down," she continued, holding up her hands in a gesture of surrender.
"Give me the room number!" he snapped at the physician.
"Okay, the room is 312. Now, just put the gun down."
Neal and Dobson rounded the corner and walked up behind the doctor, Dobson drawing his gun and pointing it at Standish. "Put the gun down!" he bellowed.
Ezra held his ground, but he knew if he fired on the agent, the security guard standing across the hall from him would probably kill him. But he couldn't put the gun down, either. He had to find Vin. They had to get out of here. They couldn't allow themselves to be taken to an Army base.
Then he saw a flash of panic cross the doctor's face and she yelled, "No!"
Ezra knew what was going to happen before he felt the blow, the butt of a pistol cracking against his skull a moment later. His last thought as he fell to the floor was that he'd failed Vin. He had failed his friend... his brother....
"I think I told you that he was a security risk," Neal said flatly, watching as Dr. Emory rushed to Ezra's side. He hoped the man wasn't dead. He still needed those names.
Tuesday, 0830 Hours
The dark blue Chevy Suburban backed into the receiving dock of the hospital. On both the driver- and passenger-side doors were signs that read "C.B.F. Elevator Maintenance." Nathan was behind the wheel, and he stayed there, Chris, Buck and Josiah getting out and heading into the building, each man carrying a tool box.
Tuesday, 0900 Hours
Neal stepped into Vin's room, saying, "Okay, Mr. John Doe, we're checking out."
Two orderlies followed him in, pushing a gurney. They were followed by two Army MPs from Fort Carson. Dr. Emory was right behind the soldiers.
"What do you want?" Neal asked her, clearly annoyed at seeing her there.
"Until he leaves this hospital, he's still my patient," she told him. "I want to be able to document that he was still breathing when he left here."
Neal shook his head. "Hurry up, guys," he told the orderlies. Then, to the MPs he said, "The medical transport is downstairs waiting. Ground floor."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
In the basement of the hospital, the three men split up, Buck and Chris heading for the elevators, Josiah to the master controls for the elevator system.
"Looks like standard equipment, just like we thought," Sanchez announced over the lip mike he was wearing when he found the controls. "Are you guys in position yet?"
"In position and ready to ride," Chris announced. He was standing on the top of the elevator car he had called to the sub-basement.
"I'm on my way," Back said, "be there before you know it."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Ezra climbed out of bed when Dobson motioned for him to come. He was still wearing a pair of hospital gowns, one opening each way so his backside was covered. Stepping out into the hallway, he saw a gurney being wheeled out of another room not that far away. The man lying on it looked pale and weak, but at least he was alive.
So close, Standish thought. He was so close and I never knew it. Ezra met Tanner's eyes and offered the man a thin smile that was returned.
They proceeded down the hallway to a pair of glass doors, which the orderlies opened. The security guard standing on the other side moved out of the way.
The MP wheeled Vin through the doors first, Neal following. Dobson and Ezra were last. Standish glanced around, trying to find a way out of this, but there was nothing he could do, nothing to use as a weapon. They were... alone.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"Showtime, brothers," Josiah announced when someone on the sixth floor pushed the down button for the elevators.
A moment later, the elevator car Chris was riding on began to climb. Larabee took a couple of deep breaths getting ready. They would only have one shot at this, and they couldn't fail.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
When the elevator arrived, the orderlies pushed Vin's gurney inside, then stepped back. Ezra went in next, the two MPs escorting him in. Dr. Emory was the last to slip inside the car, turning, her brown eyes flashing at Neal, who was about to step into the elevator as well.
The agent sighed. "Fine, I'll take the next one," he growled, stabbing the down button.
One of the MPs pressed the button for the ground floor and the door slid shut. Ezra looked down at Vin, who seemed to understand that they were in serious trouble as well, but given the fact that he was still attached to a couple of IV's there was very little he could do about it.
Neal waited for the next car and stepped into it, pressing the button for the ground floor and silently cursing all hard-headed doctors, and Emory in particular.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chris felt it when the elevator was filled. Then, a few seconds later, they began to descend.
"On my mark," Josiah said into his ear piece. "One... two... three..." He flipped the appropriate switches and the car Chris was riding on came to an abrupt halt.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
In the elevator, Vin's eyes opened when they came to jerking halt. He grunted softly, but ignored the pain. This was it. Chris and the others had come for them at last.
He glanced at Ezra, who didn't seem as sure of that fact as he was.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Bending down, Larabee silently pulled up the panel on the top of the elevator car. The first thing he saw was Vin, staring up at him. His heart lurched. Tanner looked terrible, but at least he was alive. He gave the man a single nod, then, without hesitation, he fired the gun he was holding, dropping both of the MPs.
"Oh my God!" Dr. Emory yelped, unsure what was happening. All she knew was the two men in uniform were now lying on the floor of the elevator, apparently unconscious, or maybe dead.
Chris dropped down into the car.
"It's all right, Doctor, he's with us," Ezra told her, some of the color returning to his face.
"Bravo Five, I'm in," Larabee said into his lip mike, turning around to get a look at Vin. "How are you doing?" he asked the man.
"The doc here put me back t'gether," the sniper rasped. "Be good as new b'fore y' know it."
"You are going down," Josiah said and, a moment later, they were moving again.
"You," the doctor said as Chris handed Vin the dart gun. "Last night... on the ward."
"Yeah, that was me," Chris acknowledged. "Is he going to be all right?"
She nodded. "If he gets to another hospital quickly. We haven't quite gotten the infection under control. He's not up to a long... rescue."
"Don't worry 'bout me, Doc," Vin told her.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Waiting at the bank of elevators on the ground floor, Dobson and several other MPs saw the car they were waiting for bypass their floor and continue on to the sub-basement.
"What the hell?" the agent muttered. Then he realized what must be happening. "Get down to the basement!" he barked at the men.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
When they reached the sub-basement the elevator door opened and Chris rolled the gurney out.
"Where are you taking them?" the doctor asked him.
"Somewhere they'll be safe. You don't need to know anything more than that," Larabee told her, hurrying for the waiting Suburban.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
The second elevator arrived on the ground floor and Neal stepped out, looking around and not seeing his prisoners, or his MPs and agent.
"What the hell's going on?" he demanded.
"We're waiting on them," Dobson snapped, hurrying up and gesturing to the elevator lights, which showed that the car was finally arriving.
The door slid open, revealing the two unconscious soldiers.
"What the hell?" Neal snapped.
"Get the stairs!" Dobson yelled.
But Buck had gotten to them first and they were chained shut on the wrong side for the agitated agents.
After several attempts to break down the door, the MPs and Dobson rushed back down the hallway to the second set of stairs. But Buck had been there, too, and they were also chained shut.
"Damn it!" Dobson yelled, kicking the wall.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chris and the doctor wheeled the gurney up to the waiting Suburban.
Buck was already there, and he opened the rear doors as Josiah walked up to join them. The ladies' man looked down at Vin, then up at Ezra and said, "Good to see you boys again," then he hurried around and climbed into the front passenger seat.
Chris and Ezra climbed into the back of the SUV, one on either side, so they could help to pull the gurney in, Josiah and the doctor doing most of the work to push it in.
"Easy, easy, easy," Larabee said as Vin was jostled slightly on the way in, prompting a pain-filled grunt.
It was tight, but Vin just fit into the open space at the center of the large vehicle.
The doctor looked down at Vin. "I'm really worried about you," she told him.
"Don't worry about me, Doc, I'll be just fine," he reassured her. "Besides, I ain't ready t' die just yet."
"Well, maybe one day you can, uh, explain all this to me?" she asked him.
"I'm sorry, Doctor, but they need to go," Josiah said, slipping his arm around her shoulders and started to pull her away.
She looked down at Vin once more, then handed Chris the folder she was holding. "You'll need these. It's their medical records."
"Thank you," he told her.
Josiah closed the rear doors of the SUV, telling Nathan, "Get them out of here, brother."
Emory and Josiah watched the Suburban pull out and drive away.
"Will they be all right?" she asked him.
"God willing," he replied. Then he offered her a smile and asked, "Think you could help me spring one more patient?"
Her eyebrows rose.
"It seems my wayward 'son' is up in the urology ward..."
She smiled. "I see. Well, I'd be happy to help," she said, "on one condition."
"And what would that be?" he asked her.
"Tell me his name?"
Josiah smiled at her. "Bond. James Bond."
She laughed. "I guess I deserved that. All right, come on."
Phoenix Amtrak Station
Wednesday, 0800 Hours
Agents Dobson and Flores were waiting for the train when they were surrounded by federal agents and taken into custody.
Thursday, 0900 Hours
Neal stepped out of his apartment only to be met by several FBI agents who placed him under arrest. He tried to bluster his way out of it, but the agents were having none of it.
"Don't you know who I am?" Neal demanded.
"Yes, sir," one of the female agents replied, "that's why we're placing you under arrest."
Monday, 1600 Hours
Chris pushed the wheelchair that Vin was riding in. The rest of Team Seven followed along behind, including Ezra, who had been checked over and released from the hospital Wednesday afternoon.
Ezra had been surprised to find that Travis had had a charter plane waiting for them at the Phoenix airport, complete with a medical team who took charge of himself and Vin as soon as they were on-board.
The flight was a blur to Standish and, the undercover agent suspected, to Vin as well. They were both given pain medication and woke up next in the hospital in Denver. And while Ezra had been released the following day, they had kept Vin for five days, refusing to let him go home until this afternoon. And even then it was only because Chris had promised the doctor that he'd take Vin home with him, and keep him there for the next several days.
He suspected that was because Larabee wanted to make his apologies to Vin in private. Chris had already made his peace with Standish, although the undercover man didn't believe he had anything to apologize for. But Larabee took responsibility for his people and Ezra could only accept that, and respect it.
"How's the arm, Ez?" Tanner asked, looking up at the man.
Standish smiled. God, it was good to hear the man's voice sounding stronger. "Two more weeks and this infernal cast comes off."
"How long before you're up and round?" JD asked Vin.
"Oh, I don't know," he grumbled. "Damn doctors get worried over ever' little thing."
"Let's just say that he's going to be out of commission for a while," Chris summed up. "Besides, Travis wants us to lay low for a couple of weeks, let this whole thing just go away. A few too many people are asking too many questions."
"What kind of people?" Buck asked suspiciously.
"The good looking doctor, for one," Chris said, reaching down to tousle Tanner's hair. The sniper ducked his head, but didn't try to get away.
"Now that's a lady I wouldn't mind getting to know better," Buck said, sighing dramatically, his hand pressed over his heart.
"I thought you were sweet on naughty Sally," Nathan said.
"Don't worry, brother," Josiah told Vin, "Dr. Emery doesn't have any plans to move to Colorado, but she did tell me that she wouldn't mind if you paid her a visit."
"Yeah, there you go! You can go down to Arizona, get to know her a little better, take her out a few times, go riding, and then disappear into the sunset," the ladies' man told him, making a sweeping gesture with his hand. "Women love a good mystery."
"That's not a mystery," Nathan scolded him, "that's being a slime-ball."
Buck rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"Could be worse," Josiah said to Vin. "You could be... peeing purple," he finished in a whisper.
Vin looked up at JD. "You're still-?"
The younger man held up his hand to stop Tanner before he could say it. "Yes, I am." He shot a hot look at Josiah.
"Now, brother, the doctor said it would go away in a few days... a week, two... a month, tops."
"A month?" Vin said. "Damn, kid... that's above and beyond the call."
"You won't get any argument from me," Dunne replied. "You should see the reactions when someone catches me at the urinals..." He shook his head and the others burst out laughing.
Laughter, Ezra thought, my God but the sound of it was like music to his ears. He took a deep breath, finally relaxing for the first time in days. They were home, and whole once more. A band of brothers... a treasure beyond all measure.
Author's Note: This story first appeared in the multi-media zine, Compadres #27, published by Neon RainBow Press, Cinda Gillilan and Jody Norman, editors. This story was originally slated for A Small Circle of Friends, our recycling zine, since it's a recycle of the "Critical List" episode of Special Ops Force. However, since it also fit the parameters for this themed issue of Compadres, and Erica had done another Mag 7 story for A Small Circle of Friends, the editors decided to use it here instead. Enjoy! An old west version is also in the works!
When we all decided to post the stories that have appeared in the issues of our zines that are more than two years old, we opted to use a generic pen name because, while Erica Michaels is the primary author of this story, she had so much help from the other folks writing for the press that it just made sense to consider the story to be written by the Neon RainBow Press Collective! Resistance was futile. So, thanks to the whole Neon Gang - Dori Adams, Sierra Chaves, Dana Ely, Michelle Fortado, Patricia Grace, Deyna Greywolf, Erica Michaels, Nina Talbot, Kasey Tucker, Rebecca Wright, and Lorin and Mary Fallon Zane. Story lasted edited 12-4-2006. Art by Shiloh (email@example.com)