Truth and Justice
MAR2000 - Previously posted on another website. Moved to Blackraptor January 2007
[Thanks to my beta Lisa for all her insight and help. She really helped to make the story as real as possible. I have taken certain literary liberties for dramatic effect, but I tried to stay as realistic as possible.]
Chris Larabee stepped through the open door of Judge Travis' office. His deep blue eyes narrowed to slits at the sight of the three FBI agents already present. He recognized two of them as agents out of Atlanta: Ezra's old office. Chris stood silently in the doorway, thinking this couldn't be good. He didn't like these men when he had first met them in Atlanta, where he had hired his undercover agent. His views still hadn't changed, even after nearly three years.
"Won't you join us, Mr. Larabee?" Travis' authoritative voice broached no denial. Chris knew this wasn't an optional invitation. He stepped in and closed the door.
DA Travis sat quietly behind his massive oak desk waiting for his Team Seven leader to take a seat. Travis was a man whose mere presence demanded respect; hell, expected it. He was as bound by law as the myriad of ancient law books that surrounded him. He knew there was no love lost between these FBI agents and his best ATF leader, but they were all professionals and he hoped they wouldn't let it interfere with their jobs.
"Chris, I believe you know Agent Martin Mathes, head of the FBI office in Atlanta and Agent John Murphy his undercover agent. Agent Alvin Baker is their communications specialist." Chris nodded curtly to the three FBI men.
Mathes was somewhere in his fifties but it was difficult to discern his exact age. He kept his over six-foot frame in tip-top shape. He was only one of three black men holding such a venerable position. He was a well-respected, if not always liked leader, with twenty years experience. The black chief had hired Ezra Standish right out of the Academy seeing his expertise in the field of undercover work. He knew Ezra was a bit arrogant and stubborn, but thought he could tame him. Ezra was an outstanding undercover agent, but not a team player.
When rumors of him being on the take started to fly, Mathes made it known that he believed he had made a mistake hiring the rogue agent. This belief by an esteemed chief only fueled the fires of everyone else's belief that Ezra Standish was guilty.
Larabee respected Mathes for his achievements, but didn't like him. He felt he had done Ezra an injustice by not standing by him. Mathes pushed Ezra's transfer through, again furthering everyone's belief that he was a traitor. To Larabee's way of thinking, this was nothing short of a knife in the back, and the lowest thing a chief could do to one of his men. Chris knew the forced transfer had hurt Ezra more than he ever let on. For a long time Ezra believed everyone saw him as a traitor and someone not to be trusted. It took the six men he now worked with time and patience to convince the ostracized agent that he was trusted.
John Murphy was a ten-year veteran, who looked older than his forty-something years. Chris noticed he had put on substantial weight since he last saw him. Murphy had been the top FBI undercover agent before Ezra's arrival.
Chris knew that Standish and Murphy were mortal rivals, with Ezra enjoying the competition and Murphy wallowing in self-pity at his loss of status. He suspected that Agent Murphy had played a large role getting Ezra quickly transferred. Chris was unfamiliar with the young blond-haired agent and thought he might have been recently hired. He didn't appear much older than JD, and Chris had realized he must be getting old when new recruits looked like they shouldn't be out of high school.
"All right! Let's get down to business." Judge Travis could feel the tension in the air and wanted to get this over with as soon as possible; having too many explosive agents in one room was not healthy.
"Yes, Judge, as you are aware we wish to use Larabee's team," Mathes stated, his deep baritone voice resounding throughout the room. He flipped though several papers before proceeding. "We need the use of Vin Tanner and Josiah Sanchez, your sharpshooters and Buck Wilmington, your surveillance man. We would also like for your communications specialist, JD Dunne, to work with agent Alvin Baker. He's new and could use the experience and I understand that Mr. Dunne is one of the best." Martin Mathes closed the folder he held and crossed his legs, looking straight at Judge Travis, who was holding his breath waiting for the inevitable explosion.
Larabee's deadly blue eyes fixed onto Judge Travis then slowly traveled around to agent Mathes. "What about Ezra Standish?" Chris asked, keeping his voice calm. He saw Agent Murphy's smug smile as he sat on the other side of Mathes.
Mathes bowed his head a moment then raised his dark eyes. He was not going to let this man intimidate him. He had heard all about Larabee and his devotion to his men. Well, that was just fine, but he wasn't going to risk his men. "We don't need or want agent Standish. Agent Murphy is our undercover for this operation," Mathes replied, keeping his eyes on the Judge.
Before Chris could say anything the Judge broke in, noticing that his agent's infamous temper was already starting to simmer beneath the surface. Larabee was the best agent he had, but he had a flammable temper which he only just managed to control. All it took was the right material to set it off and Mathes was unknowingly providing that material.
"Agent Mathes, why don't you fill Larabee in on the operation," the Judge suggested.
Alvin Baker stood and nervously handed Chris a file folder, which he opened and quickly scanned as he listened to the dark leader's description. "Sebastien Tremblay is a big time drug lord out of Atlanta, who is now here in Denver to organize some type of drug network between four other big-time drug lords who reside throughout the country," Mathes explained, sitting back in the comfortable highback chair and crossing his arms.
Chris' eyes widen at the scope of the operation. This was big, really big. Nothing of this magnitude had ever been undertaken before. A faint smile formed at the corners of the blond agent's mouth as he continued to read the dossier. He loved a challenge.
"Agent Murphy has put in hundreds of man hours getting this information.
The meeting is to take place somewhere in Denver. The four others are to pay some sort of tribute to Tremblay to enter the network, probably in the form of drugs or weapons. If we can find out where the meet is and raid it." Mathes left the rest unsaid; everyone understood the enormous undertaking ahead.
Larabee ran his hand through his short blond hair. To have the opportunity to put someone as notorious as Tremblay away was a dream come true. His smile remained as he raised his eyes to meet with Judge Travis' equally intense stare.
The Judge recognized the look on the stoic leader's face and inwardly groaned. Larabee was up to something.
"Judge," Chris coughed into his fist to clear his throat. "I realize Agent Murphy has put in substantial time and effort in getting this information and we are all very appreciative."
Travis ran his hand down his face pulling down his gray eyes. He stopped his hand over his mouth in preparation for what Chris was slowly leading up to.
Murphy glared at Larabee, sensing some devious intent. A knowing smile showed on the ATF leader's face as he continued, "But doesn't it make more sense to have someone who is familiar with the area?"
The Judge sat back in his leather chair pretending to contemplate this, but actually wondering what his agent was up to.
"I know Denver well enough, Larabee!" Murphy angrily replied. He was not going to let Larabee take away his chance for a big comeback. When the FBI hired Standish, he quickly proved himself a top-notch undercover agent. Murphy had found himself unceremoniously delegated to second string. With the loss of his position came the loss of his confidence in himself. His life outside of work was soon affected as his wife of fifteen years left him. Even after the southern agent was transferred, Agent Murphy was unable to recoup all he had lost. He had been unsuccessful on several major operations.
Mathes tried to give him every chance, but Murphy knew he was running out of time. Soon they would have no choice but to replace him. This was his last chance. "I've been working this case from the beginning," he added.
"And, as I said, we are all very appreciative of your efforts. Have you made contact?" Chris asked in a patronizing tone that caused Travis to grimace.
Murphy remained tight-lipped for a moment then voiced a curt. "No!"
Mathes placed a supportive hand on his agent's shoulder. "That has not been necessary until now, Mr. Larabee. Murphy is now prepared to make contact with Mr. Tremblay."
Chris licked his lips and decided to jump in with both feet. "Ezra is the best undercover, and considering the scope and importance of this operation I believe he is the better agent for the job." He saw Murphy grimace at this statement. The Judge turned his attention to the FBI agents, expecting a rebuttal. He was allowing the two leaders to come to an agreement on their own.
"I'm more experienced and better qualified than Standish!" Murphy continued, his voice rising with his growing anger. "And I can be trusted. For all we know Standish would join up with Tremblay." This garnered a deadly glare from the ATF leader.
"This is all a waste of time and energy. This is an FBI operation so I will decide who the best man for the job is," Mathes angrily intoned. "And with Standish's questionable allegiance, as well as character, I believe Agent Murphy will do." A smug smile graced Murphy's pudgy face.
Chris peered down at the dossier, which sat in his lap and a sly smile again appeared on his face. Standish was a pain in the ass at times, but he was his pain in the ass and no one bad-mouthed one of his men. "Do you know French, Agent Murphy?" Larabee abruptly asked. This was what Ezra would refer to as his hold card.
Larabee's blue eyes actually twinkled in amusement at the suddenly befuddled FBI agents. "According to this dossier Sebastien Tremblay is French and speaks it fluently. He loves French cuisine and culture and graduated from Le Sorbonne, a prestigious French school," Chris read from the file.
"What's that have to do with anything?" Murphy angrily asked the ATF leader, then looked over to Judge Travis who leaned forward in interest.
Larabee couldn't believe they didn't know. He shook his head, then looked at the Judge, who was waiting for an explanation.
"Judge, Ezra speaks fluent French and has attended boarding schools in France," Chris proudly explained.
This got everyone's attention. Mathes' eyes narrowed, causing his eyebrows to furrow. He searched his memory for any record or indication that Standish spoke French, but found none.
"He does not!" Murphy rebuked, looking towards his boss and seeing the concentration on his face.
Chris just rolled his eyes and looked at the Judge. The Judge turned to Agent Mathes, who was trying to think of his options. There weren't many. The operation came first.
The quiet seemed to last unrealistically long, but actually it was just moments before DA Travis spoke. "Well Agent Mathes, in light of this information, and as the success of this operation is paramount I believe it would be in everyone's best interest to allow Agent Standish to be the leading undercover agent."
"No!" Murphy shouted, jumping from his seat. He was seeing his last chance slipping away. "You can't do that. He can't be trusted; he'll get someone killed or fuck-up the whole operation," Murphy blustered, his face red with rage. He couldn't believe this was happening. He had worked months on this case and now it was being taken from him.
"That is enough, Agent Murphy," Travis berated, glaring at the incensed agent. He had wanted Standish on this case from the beginning, but hadn't had a good enough reason until now. Agent John Murphy had lost his edge for the job a long time ago. He was just unable to admit it to himself. Instead, he blamed everyone else, including Standish, for his own failure.
"Murphy, sit down," Mathes calmly said to his overwrought man. He was not happy with this turn of events. But he had to concede the fact that Standish was the better man for the job, and that this operation was more important than one man's pride. Taking down these drug lords would stop thousands of pounds of illegal drugs from making their way to the streets. Everyone's eyes were on the dark chief knowing it was his decision since it was an FBI case. Mathes bowed his head in resignation, then looked up into Murphy's anxious, almost pleading face.
"I'm sorry, John." Mathes placed a hand on the defeated man's shoulder, feeling him slump.
Murphy didn't say a word. His heart pounded heavy in his chest, each beat seeming to follow the thought 'loser' which ran through his brain.
"Okay, Judge, Standish is our undercover, but the FBI is still in charge." Mathes gave a sidelong glance at Larabee, who nodded in acknowledgment. Chris knew he and his team would be keeping an eye on their undercover agent, because he didn't believe the FBI would.
Larabee strode into the ATF office area going straight to Ezra's cubicle. He couldn't shake the feeling of dread that had enveloped him since leaving Judge Travis' chambers. He knew the southern agent loved a challenge, but this might be more than he bargained for. Chris threw the folder on Ezra's desk. "Read this and be prepared for the meeting in one hour. You're going undercover."
Ezra nodded. He pushed aside the paper work he had been doing and opened the manila folder. He wondered why Chris appeared agitated. He hoped it wasn't because of any lack of faith in his ability as an undercover agent. When he came across Agent John Murphy's name, he understood.
Chris entered the coffee room and headed for the pot, hoping there was at least a cupful left. He managed to squeeze out the last half cup and by the taste of it, Buck had made it. He downed it in one gulp hoping to swallow past the bitter flavor.
"Must've been one hell of a meeting to have you wound so tight," the soft Texas drawl came from across the room. Chris hadn't even noticed his young friend sitting against the far wall. He grabbed a chair and sat down.
"We're involved in an operation with the FBI," Chris explained taking a deep breath to try and release some of his anxiety. He looked across the table at Vin. "Ezra's old playmates."
Vin let out a low whistle. "You think there'll be trouble for Ez?"
"I'm going to make sure there isn't."
It had taken a long time to draw Ezra into their family and for him to finally lock away some of his past demons. Chris was not about to let anyone tamper with that lock.
An hour later, Larabee, with his five agents and the three FBI agents, convened in the conference room waiting for Ezra to make an appearance. Chris wished for once Ezra would curtail his egotistical attitude.
"Some things never change," Mathes whispered to Murphy, shaking his head in disgust.
Buck, JD, Josiah, and Nathan had been surprised to see the FBI agents in the conference room. Buck recognized Mathes, and by the look on his dark face the FBI chief hadn't changed his opinion of Ezra in three years. A small ball of dread started to form in the pit of Buck's stomach.
"Hey, Buck, who are the suits?" JD quietly whispered over to his friend.
Buck leaned over, keeping one eye on Mathes. "The black chief is Ezra's old boss."
That same ball of worry bounced into JD's stomach. He stared at the three FBI agents, at the end of the table, wondering what kind of trouble they might bring for Ezra and the rest of the team.
When Ezra smoothly walked in the FBI agents didn't notice anything, but the others caught the hesitation and slight shock at seeing his old boss sitting at the table. Ezra took his seat as Larabee introduced the FBI agents to the rest of the team.
Ezra kept his face down, still going through the folder that Chris had given him and making notations in the margins.
"Whoa, this is going to be a feather in our caps if we pull this off,"
Buck quietly commented as the FBI leader finished explaining the operation.
"Okay, Ezra, is it doable?" Chris asked. He noticed the shocked expression on Mathes' visage.
Mathes couldn't believe that these men actually trusted the dubious southerner and valued his opinion. He briefly wondered if he could've been wrong about the smug agent.
Ezra knew Chris was enjoying toying with the FBI agents. What he didn't realize was that Chris was worried for him.
Ezra gave his boss a grateful smirk and leaned back in the chair. "Very. I've already made the necessary contacts in France to assist me in getting on the register at the same French school that Mr. Tremblay attended. They are even sending me a valid diploma."
JD and Buck shook their heads in amazement at their friend.
Sanchez noticed the astonished look on the young FBI agent's face and smiled. Ezra still even amazed him at what he could pull off. The southern agent was a man of a thousand faces and identities. Josiah realized this talent came at a price; which identity was the real Ezra Standish? Sometimes Josiah believed that even Ezra didn't know.
Ezra then continued in a flourish of French, which stunned everyone, except Chris, who had to smile at Ezra's obvious flaunting of his language skills. The only reason Chris knew was that he caught Ezra impressing a rather beautiful receptionist with the romantic language.
"I didn't know you spoke French, Ezra," Nathan expressed, realizing how little he knew of the man.
"Just one of my many hidden talents," the suave undercover proudly boasted.
Standish noticed the deadly glare that Murphy had decided to lock on him. Murphy had tried his hardest to make him look bad while he was with the FBI; it felt good to return the favor. He knew he was lowering himself to childish and petty antics but what the hell!
When the room quieted, Chris continued, "Okay, we give Ezra the time and support he needs to endear himself to Tremblay. When he finds out where and when the meet will take place, we need to be ready. Does anyone have any questions?" The ATF agents all turned their eyes to the three FBI agents.
"Yeah, what kind of car do you think Standish will get after this is over?" Murphy slurred, the angry sarcasm not missed by the others. Buck, JD, Nathan, Vin and Josiah all stood, glaring at the FBI undercover agent.
"Sit down!" Chris angrily said to his agents, but directing his angry eyes at Murphy. "Agent Mathes, you need to control your men better." He kept his voice low and his piercing blue eyes on Murphy, who began to squirm in his seat.
"It won't happen again," Mathes said, glaring at his insubordinate undercover agent. Murphy's conduct during this meeting had used up most of his boss' leniency towards him.
Everyone filed out of the room. Josiah and Buck threw withering glares over their shoulders at the FBI agents as they left the conference room.
"I'm telling you, boss, Standish can't be trusted!" Murphy complained to the huge black man, settling back in his chair and rubbing his eyes.
"Murphy, I don't like this any more than you do, but at this point Standish seems to be the best man for the job. We'll just have to make the best of it. We're all on the same team." He clapped Murphy on the shoulder and walked off.
Murphy silently fumed, he couldn't believe it was happening again. Standish was going to get all the credit. He used to be the best. He looked up to see Agent Baker still sitting at the table. "What the hell are you looking at?" he growled.
Baker just shook his head. "Nothing, nothing at all." He rose and walked out the door.
Ezra stopped at JD's cubicle to find the young agent surfing the net. "Better make sure Mr. Larabee doesn't catch you." JD jumped from his seat and hit a key which threw up an official looking report, until one looked closely at the signature block that read 'Daffy Duck.'
"God, Ezra, don't do that!"
Ezra grinned at the ingenious young man. "I'm expecting a fax from a Francine Letourneau at the French consulate. Please make sure I get it," Ezra asked the young agent.
"Oui, oui, Ezra, no problem," JD joked. Ezra rolled his eyes and grinned. Buck had already asked him to teach him some phrases to win over the fairer sex.
Ezra entered Chris' office and closed the door, causing the somber agent to raise his eyes from the paper he was reading. It was rare that the undercover agent came to his office without being summoned.
"I was not the first choice for this assignment, was I?" Ezra had been wondering why agent John Murphy was here. He looked over at the far wall. His gaze stopping on the photograph of the seven of them on a fishing trip last month; he smiled at the remembrance. It was the first time in his life he had ever been fishing.
"No, but you're the best." There was no pretense in Chris' tone. This was not a boast, just a statement of fact from a man who probably knew him better than his own mother.
"These FBI agents do not trust me and they think I'm a traitor," Ezra explained.
Chris twirled a pencil between his fingers. He didn't want his agent having any doubts, either about himself or his teammates. "We trust you. Just do your job and I'll take care of the FBI," Chris firmly stated.
Standish stared for a moment at the highly regarded ATF leader. He respected this man greatly, not that he would ever tell him. Ezra did not have a trusting nature and he didn't trust the FBI any more than they trusted him. He gave Chris a two finger salute and left the office.
Chris went to his door and called out to Josiah and JD.
"I think it's time we try and clean up Ezra's tarnished reputation and since he doesn't seem concerned about it, we'll do it for him."
Josiah and JD regarded each other with bewildered stares. "Expecting trouble, brother Larabee?" Josiah asked. He had come to think of Ezra as a wayward son. He cared deeply for the man, but kept his feelings to himself, knowing that Ezra wouldn't accept them.
"Let's just say I don't want any surprises. This operation is too big and I'm tired of seeing Ezra being made the scapegoat."
Ezra was in and out of the office and on the phone constantly for the next two days making arrangements. His mother had given him the names of several high officials in France who owed her a favor. Why they owed her, he didn't want to know, but the officials were very helpful in falsifying the necessary documents to fool Tremblay. Ezra knew a man like Sabestien Tremblay would research any new acquaintance; it was how he survived.
This was a major case and one the guileful undercover man looked forward to, especially since his old boss would also be watching. This was an added bonus. Martin Mathes had given him his first real chance. Ezra had learned a lot from the duty-bound agent. Unfortunately, when things got bad, Martin Mathes had left him stranded alone within a sea of animosity. There had never been any solid proof against him being a traitor, just rumors which were given teeth when his mother gave him the black Jag. He didn't know why he just didn't tell people it was a gift; maybe he felt he deserved to be trusted without question. Later, even if he had told them the car was from his mother, it wouldn't have mattered. He had built a reputation of being a maverick, always skirting the law to get the job done. He had almost a hundred percent success rate and this pissed off the wrong people. When people pushed Ezra Standish, he only dug in and pushed back.
Now, he had six men who trusted him and would back him with their lives. It was a good feeling; one he was not used to, but intended to prove he deserved it.
"I'm telling ya, Baker, you don't want to turn your back on Standish," Murphy confided to the young FBI agent who appeared uncomfortable with this subject. The two men sat in the break area waiting for the return of their boss.
Agent Baker had thought Agent Murphy an all-right guy. He had taken the fledgling agent under his wing over the past few months and Baker had learned a lot from the experienced agent. Ever since this latest case had been turned over to Standish, a different side of Murphy was emerging. He knew the man had some problems and was bitter, but he had kept the bitterness hidden until now. Baker was coming to admire the camaraderie the seven ATF agents shared and Murphy's accusations and innuendoes were starting to bother him.
"I don't know, Murph, Larabee seems to trust him. That has to mean something," Alvin cautiously stated, hoping not to start another tirade against Standish and the whole ATF agency.
"What do you expect Larabee to do? He doesn't want to admit he made a mistake by hiring him. You're too young and trusting. You don't know; once a bad agent, always a bad agent," Agent Murphy stressed.
Josiah and Nathan entered the coffee room catching the last part of the conversation between Murphy and Baker.
Nathan cast a sidelong glance at Josiah, who clenched his jaw, biting back the retort that threatened to come out. They all had promised Chris to rein in their tempers no matter how much Murphy tried to unleash them. Nat noticed that the coffee pot had just finished brewing and walked over.
"Hey, Murphy, want a cup?" Jackson politely asked, causing Josiah's mouth to drop open.
Murphy stared at the dark agent for a moment then a lazy smile appeared on his round face. "Sure, thanks," he replied. The thoughts running through his head brought a glint to his chestnut-colored eyes. Maybe this ATF agent saw through Standish's suave exterior to the traitor that Murphy knew he was.
Nate poured the black liquid into a styrofoam cup. "You take sugar?"
"Yeah, lots," Murphy replied with a chuckle.
Josiah coughed into his hand to stifle the chortle as he watched Nathan grab the salt shaker and pour half the contents into the coffee.
The ex-medic set the hot coffee down in front of the loud-mouthed agent. "Enjoy!"
Josiah quickly followed the black agent out. He released the laugh he had swallowed at the sound of Agent Murphy choking and spitting. The two agents were practically holding each other up and biting their fists to keep from roaring. By the time they reached Larabee's office, Josiah was holding his sides.
"Chris, you have to do something about agent Murphy," Nathan demanded, still out of breath. "He's bad-mouthing Ezra all over the place."
Chris stared at his two most steadfast agents and knew they had been up to something. He shook his head and didn't ask what. "I'll have a talk with his boss, but I don't think it'll do much good. Mathes thinks Ezra's guilty. He just keeps his feelings to himself because there's no evidence to back him up," Chris explained.
Josiah finally managed to calm himself enough to speak. "JD is trying to get hold of the old reports so we can find out what happened."
"Good, maybe we'll be able to do something then," Chris replied, continuing to eye his two agents suspiciously.
It was the day that Ezra was to begin his undercover assignment. Excitement, as well as an underlying tension, built as each agent entered the seventh floor of the government building. It came to a crescendo when the FBI agents entered. They all met in the conference room for one last briefing.
"Everything is in place, Mr. Larabee. I'm Ezra Devereaux, I attended Le
Sorbonne in Paris, and only recently returned to the States, having had to leave under dubious circumstances." Ezra ruffled through several papers, then raised his green eyes. "My father was Philip Devereaux, who had to flee France due to tax evasion charges and rather equivocal business dealings. He married my mother, who was from the south where I spent much of my childhood before being sent to Paris for proper schooling at my father's alma mater. This will explain my accent."
"Lord, Ez, how do you think up these people?" Vin interrupted.
Ezra looked over at the taciturn sharpshooter. "Philip Devereaux was my mother's fourth or fifth husband and did indeed have to flee France. It's always good to put a certain measure of truth in one's story."
Ezra returned his attention to Chris who sat patiently. "I have made sure that all of this information is readily available for Mr. Tremblay to discover."
Chris glanced over to Agent Mathes. He didn't want the FBI agents to feel they were being excluded since it would only heighten hostilities. They all needed to work together. "Is there anything you wish to add?" Chris respectfully directed the question to the dark leader.
Mathes only shook his head. He couldn't help but be impressed with Ezra's connections and confidence.
A faint smile came to Ezra's handsome visage as he continued, "Mr. Tremblay has a standing reservation at Brooks' restaurant every Thursday night. I will be seated by his table tonight. A Mademoiselle Annette Therault will accompany me, and at the proper time will inform me what a low-life bastard I am and storm out. We will make sure Mr. Tremblay overhears our public display in French."
Chris nodded his head in approval.
"I managed to acquire the school pin, which I'll discreetly wear. Hopefully, Mr. Tremblay's homesickness will allow him to invite me over to his table." Ezra paused for a moment. "We do have another ace in the hole, so to speak."
"What's that, brother?" Josiah asked; he was worried for the undercover agent. Ezra was smart, but too much was riding on unknowns like Murphy.
"Mr. Tremblay lost a son a couple years ago in a traffic accident. He would have been about my age This might help endear me to the man. I read he was very close to his son," Ezra explained.
"Hey, Ez, can I take Annette out after she dumps you?" Buck teased.
Standish rolled his eyes at the ladies man. "I'm afraid, Mr. Wilmington, that she would chew you up and spit you out." This garnered a much needed release of tension as everyone chuckled except Buck.
The three FBI agents remained quiet throughout the meeting. Mathes let Larabee conduct the meeting, since this was mostly about the undercover operation.
Agent Baker was thoroughly impressed with the suave undercover agent and gaped like he was staring at Eliot Ness, which didn't help Murphy's disposition any.
"And what shall my men do, Mr. Larabee? This is still an FBI operation, after all," Mathes pointed out.
"Well, until Ezra gets in, we all lay low. Your men will maintain surveillance in their van in conjunction with ours." Chris glanced over at Agent Baker. "Agent Baker is welcome to train in our van with Agent Dunne."
Murphy snorted in disgust, but Agent Baker granted a shy smile to JD.
The two men had become fast friends. They were both about the same age and always believed they were under-appreciated.
"Okay, Ezra, go home and get some sleep. After you make contact with Tremblay there will be no more person-to-person contact with us, you'll be on your own. We'll wire you up for tomorrow's rendezvous, but after that we'll wait until the final meet," Chris explained.
Ezra nodded in agreement. He hated wearing a wire any more than was necessary; it was too risky.
"You'll all be sorry," Murphy mumbled under his breath. Chris caught the whispered threat, but held back from saying anything. The man was beginning to get on his nerves.
"Agent Larabee, as soon as we know the location, I'm calling in several local FBI agents to assist," Mathes informed the ATF leader.
"Okay, everyone get to work!" Chris declared.
"All right, my dear, just remember what I told you and make it good," Ezra explained to the dark haired woman sitting across from him at the elegant restaurant.
"Don't worry, all I have to do is remember the time you stood me up," Annette playfully reminded. Ezra scowled at the slight. She would forever hold that over his head. Their relationship had stalled lately, but they had remained friends. When Ezra asked the French-speaking woman for assistance on a case she was more than happy to help. She hadn't made up her mind about the enigmatic undercover agent, but she liked to keep her options open.
Sebastien Tremblay had just been seated and was preparing to order. Annette grinned, then began shouting in French at the top of her lungs. Ezra at first turned to the other patrons apologetically, and tried to calm his angry date. More insults were passed and Ezra's temper flared as he too began yelling in French. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that they had gotten Tremblay's attention. Annette grabbed a glass of water and threw it in Ezra's face. The fiery dark-haired woman grabbed her purse and stormed out, sending a diatribe of obscene French after her.
He would have to thank her for a wonderful performance, though the water wasn't part of the rehearsal and he suspected she took great enjoyment in it. Ezra smiled shyly at everyone and apologized once again, wiping his face with a napkin. He was about to sit back down when the waiter approached.
"Sir, Monsieur Tremblay would like to speak with you."
Ezra looked over the waiter's shoulder at the older man and nodded. He grabbed his glass of wine and walked over to the table. Sebastien Tremblay was a distinguished looking man, probably in his mid- or late-fifties with dark hair. He was a little taller and heavier than Ezra and carried himself well. Looking at him, one would not suspect him to be one of the biggest drug lords on the east coast.
Sebastien raised his gray eyes and a light smile tugged at his lips.
"Monsieur, I overheard your conversation and couldn't help but notice you speak French."
"I'm sure the whole restaurant noticed, sir, and I do apologize." Ezra began.
Tremblay waved his apology off. "S'il vous plait, won't you join me, monsieur..."
Ezra pulled out the opposite chair and offered his hand, a charming smile appearing on his handsome face. "Devereaux, Ezra Devereaux."
Buck and JD high-fived each other in the surveillance van a block away.
Buck gloated as he spun his chair around towards Agent Murphy, who sat in the corner of the van. Mathes had demanded that one of his men be in the ATF surveillance van at all times. It was just his way of trying to keep a FBI presence.
Ezra and Sabestien talked long into the night, laughing and sharing school antics and memories. Buck and JD wondered how much of what Ezra was telling the older man about himself was true.
"So, Ezra, what do you do now?" Sabestien asked, downing the last of his wine.
"Ah, Monsieur, I'm today a man of leisure," Ezra answered, leaning back in his chair.
"You're unemployed," Tremblay interpreted with a small chuckle.
"Oui." Standish laughed.
"Are you familiar with the French painting 'La Sorgente'?"
"By Jean Dominique Ingres," Ezra added.
"Oui, it will be on display at a private showing along with several other works by other French artists. I would love for you to join me," Tremblay asked.
"I would be honored," Ezra replied raising his glass of wine.
Chris entered the ATF van. He and Vin had been maintaining surveillance outside the restaurant. They had already caught sight of some of Tremblay's goons. Chris didn't like any of his agents to be alone. Agent Murphy was still sitting in the corner of the van reading a book. JD had headphones on, listening to the conversation between Ezra and Tremblay.
"How's he doing?" Larabee asked.
"By the time this is over, Tremblay will be adopting him," JD excitedly exclaimed to Chris.
"Yeah, you're probably not to far off there. They'll probably be real close soon," Murphy sneered over his book, the bitterness dripping off his words.
Buck came to his feet and took a step towards the FBI agent, until Chris stopped him. "What the hell is that suppose to mean?" Buck asked over Chris' shoulder. He'd had just about enough of the older agent's rancor.
Murphy shrugged. "Just that Standish likes money and the finer things of life."
"Listen up. This is too important for us to be at each other's throats. When it's over, we'll settle things, understood?" Chris exclaimed, glaring down at Murphy.
A couple days later, Chris entered his office to find agent Martin Mathes sitting in front of his desk. Chris ignored him at first, going to his desk and opening a file, which he quickly glanced through.
"I hear your man has managed to get close to Tremblay," Mathes' deep voice rose up.
The darkly dressed leader could not keep the smug smile from his face. "Yes, it appears that Ezra has taken the first steps."
"You still feel it's unwise to continue the wire taps?"
Chris' smile left his face at the underlying insinuation. He leaned back in his chair lacing his fingers behind his back. "Having an agent wired is risky, we try to do it as little as possible." He knew that Mathes knew this too. It was the FBI leader's lack of trust in Ezra that caused him to want to continue with the wire taps.
"I see." Mathes bowed his head and looked down at his huge dark hands. "You know how my men and I feel about Standish. If anything happens and any of my men are hurt or killed, I'll have your head on a platter next to Standish's." The threat was made calmly and without anger, but Chris saw the determination in the agent's face.
The dark leader stood and left, turning to the side as Josiah stepped past. Josiah watched the FBI leader leave, then closed the door. He sat down in the leather chair that Mathes had just vacated. The large agent tossed a folder onto the desk.
"That's everything JD and I found out about Ezra and the FBI." He leaned back in the chair. "Apparently, pictures emerged showing him accepting money from goons of someone called McMurren. The McMurren case had been closed for no reason." Josiah watched as Chris picked up a sheet of paper and looked it over. "Ezra told IA he was set up and never accepted the money. Of course, getting that expensive car of his didn't help the believability factor."
"Why didn't they charge him?" Chris asked. Ezra had told him his side of the story when he first came on board. Chris never told any of the others, feeling it was a private matter between he and Ezra. He had hoped the FBI files would reveal more about the sordid incident.
"Well, the pictures disappeared, so all they had were derogatory comments and innuendoes by disgruntled agents, most of whom never liked Ezra in the first place. With his exceptional undercover record, maybe someone just thought it would be better to push it all under the rug," Josiah finished.
"And I would guess Ezra didn't feel the need to prove his innocence."
Josiah nodded in agreement. They all were aware of Ezra's stubbornness and pride. They all had their share of idiosyncrasies, but Ezra wore his like a badge of honor.
Chris looked up into the huge agent's gray-blue eyes. He hoped what he was about to ask didn't offend. "What do you think happened?"
"I think he was set up," Josiah replied without the slightest hesitation. Chris nodded his agreement.
The phone rang, waking its owner from his deep slumber. Chris fumbled for the receiver glancing at the illuminated numbers on his clock, but unable to focus to read them. "Yeah, what?" he hoarsely croaked into the phone.
"Mr. Larabee." The southern drawl that whispered through the phone woke Chris faster then someone shooting a gun in his bedroom would have.
"I don't have much time. The meet is to take place tomorrow at 2pm in the old warehouse district at the large old freightline building. There will be five major players, including Mr. Tremblay, and each man is allowed to bring one bodyguard."
Chris' eyes finally threw off the sleep, which hampered them. He saw that it was 4:10 a.m. He wondered where his agent was calling from and resisted the urge to call him in. If Ezra disappeared now, Tremblay might get suspicious and call off the meet.
"You be careful," was all he could think to say and it didn't sound like enough. The phone clicked dead. Chris held the receiver for a moment, then recalled the dial tone and pushed the speed dial. Vin sleepily answered on the fourth ring.
"It's going down at two this afternoon. Call everyone in now," Chris ordered and hung up. He then dialed up the hotel room where Agent Mathes was staying.
The government teams had to wait until all the players were inside the warehouse before they could close in. No one noticed any guards and believed that Tremblay didn't want to draw any attention to the building by having men outside. Team 7 had moved their communications van into position. Agents Murphy and Baker were in the FBI communications van positioned a couple of blocks away.
Ezra had wired himself and it passed the cursory search that was done. Being Sabastien Tremblay's guest, he wasn't looked at too closely anyway.
It was nearing two when the ATF teams and fifteen local FBI agents stealthily moved in, getting as close as possible before the signal was given. Chris and Mathes were at the ATF communications van, which was the command post for the whole operation. They were waiting for Ezra to give the signal that everyone was present and get himself out of harm's way. Chris was not known for his patience, especially when one of his men was involved in a dangerous situation. Ezra was in the lion's den and Chris wanted to make sure he wasn't eaten alive.
Josiah and Vin were on the roof across from the warehouse. Their number one priority was to cover Ezra if all hell broke lose. Ezra was supposed to make an excuse to leave the building..
Baker's excitement manifested itself in the jittery tapping of his feet. He held half of the headphone to one ear so he wouldn't miss anything. "Damn, Murph, I'll be glad when this is over with. You think we'll get commendations for this?" Baker dreamily asked. It would really impress his girlfriend if he got a medal on his first mission. Baker couldn't help feeling like he was in a low-budget James Bond movie. Unlike the older agents, he still held onto a certain amount of excitement with the job. He smiled as he realized that Agent Dunne felt the same way.
"Kid, why don't you go and get us some coffee?" Murphy suddenly asked, wanting to get the kid out of his hair before he punched him.
"Ah, I don't think I should leave. What if something happens?" the young agent stammered.
"Nothing's going to happen until they have more evidence on tape. We have plenty of time," Murphy assured the young man. "I think I saw one of those drive-thru coffee places just up a couple blocks up on the main drag."
Baker was reluctant, but slowly stood and walked out the door. The older agent was probably right, it would be awhile before anything happened and he could sure go for a latte.
John Murphy sat silently in the close quarters of the van, hearing the chatter from the radio and Standish's listening device. His face seem to darken and his chest grew tight. He closed his eyes and reached for the black cell phone that sat on the counter. He couldn't stand it anymore. He had been the best before Standish. He would be the best again. He quickly punched numbers on the phone and waited for an answer.
It was a little after two and all the dealers had arrived. Ezra courted around the dangerous men, listening to their conversations, hoping someone revealed some important information. He watched as each of the drug tsars met with Tremblay to discuss the terms of their collaboration. He nodded at Frank, a bull of a man, who was Tremblay's bodyguard and seemed to stand over all the proceedings. Ezra faded back towards the wall and away from overhearing ears. He was getting ready to give the signal when Sebastien's cell phone rang. The drug lord answered it on the second ring. Ezra watched as the smile left Tremblay's face and his eyes grew dark, sending a spike of dread down the undercover agent's spine. Tremblay ended the call and stood up. He took a couple of steps forward, leaving the others with bewildered looks. With regret in his eyes, Tremblay drew his gun and shot Ezra in the shoulder, sending him to the floor.
"Okay, I'm sure you can hear me out there," Tremblay yelled out. "I just shot your man. If I see or smell another agent I'm going to put another bullet in him."
The other drug lords and their bodyguards drew their guns and started searching the large bay area, expecting to see agents streaming out of the cracks and crevices.
Everyone in the ATF van jumped at the sound of the bullet and Chris' heart stopped when he heard Tremblay's voice over the wire in Ezra's jacket. He grabbed the radio, which was open to all units. "Stand down! Everyone pull back now!" he shouted.
The ATF teams complied immediately, familiar with the dangerous tone of the blond leader and knowing better than to disobey. The FBI agents didn't comply with the same sense of urgency as their counterparts.
Tremblay saw the head of an agent through the dirty lower windows of the building. Ezra tensed as Tremblay gave him a malicious grin, aimed, and shot him in the side, causing him to scream and writher in pain.
Chris went ballistic and screamed into the radio. "Vin, Josiah, shoot anyone still around that building!" This got the desired results. Vin and Josiah regarded each other with the same devilish grin and took great pleasure in shooting at the feet of the now running agents.
Ezra's face was taut as he clenched his jaw against the pain. His left shoulder and side burned in agony. The bullet had gone cleanly through his shoulder; the blood already soaking the left side of his shirt. The one in his side was still buried and had probably broken a rib or two. The blood from his shoulder mixed with the blood pumping from his side. He could feel himself getting light-headed; his limbs growing cold. He lay on his side trying to focus on anything other than the pain or the seeping of his life onto the cold concrete floor.
Frank came over and ripped off Ezra's jacket, bringing a renewed flare of pain to his shoulder. The bodyguard only grinned as he went through the lining until he found the wire.
Sebastien came over and knelt down next to the smooth-talking agent. For a moment, Ezra saw sadness and betrayal in the older man's eye, but it quickly and efficiently disappeared, replaced with a glaring anger. Ezra almost had to laugh at the irony. He had betrayed a man who, under different circumstances, he would have been honored to call friend. He wasn't always proud of what he did. It was only his job and he was good at it. Maybe too good.
"You must think yourself pretty smart?" Tremblay sneered down at the injured agent.
This was spoken in French and Ezra replied in kind. "No, just doing my job." Tremblay grabbed Ezra by the shirt and forced him up, leaning him against the wall. He couldn't believe he had been taken in. He had trusted this man and had even been growing quite fond of him. Ezra reminded him of his son and that was where he was vulnerable.
JD pulled off his headphones to save his ears as the wire was discovered, then destroyed. He glanced over at Buck whose face was the mirror image of his own; fear looking back at each of the agents.
"What the hell happened?!" Chris ranted, his violent pacing shaking the whole comm truck. Everything had seemed to be going smoothly.
"Isn't it obvious? Your man fucked up. He was discovered," Mathes replied.
"Ezra doesn't fuck up!" Buck angrily snarled, rising up to meet the big man toe to toe.
"Well, something happened to blow his cover," Mathes mocked. He hadn't wanted anything to happen to the undercover agent. He was starting to believe that he had been wrong about Ezra. This just proved that the man wasn't as infallible as everyone liked to make him out to be. This made Mathes feel more comfortable with his first impression of the southern agent.
JD spun around on his chair and broke in between his boss and the FBI chief. "Someone called him on his cell phone."
Chris stopped his pacing and turned to glare at his young agent. "What?"
"Right before the shot," JD said. "Tremblay got a phone call."
"Someone tipped him off?" Buck asked incredulous. JD nodded.
"Agent Dunne, get me through to Sebastien Tremblay," Mathes commanded.
JD ignored him, turning to Chris, who nodded the go-ahead.
The young agent turned back to his communications console and punched in the numbers.
Tremblay let the cell phone ring several times, his eyes locked on Ezra who glared straight back at him. He knew who it would be and was going to enjoy making them sweat, almost as much as he was enjoying watching the agent on the floor slowly bleed to death.
Tremblay finally answered the phone.
"Okay, Tremblay, what do you want?" Mathes asked, knowing that the ball was in the drug lord's court now.
"Oh, I think you know. I want safe passage for myself and all my associates," Tremblay pleasantly explained.
"That isn't going to happen," Mathes replied, not willing to give in to Tremblay.
"Well, then, you better plan on attending a funeral." Tremblay snapped his phone off.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?!" Chris fumed.
"Look, Standish knew the risks. He screwed up," Mathes stated, his eyes daring the blond ATF agent to step over the line.
"What, so now he pays the price?" Wilmington interjected.
Mathes ignored the mustached agent. "This is still an FBI operation, Larabee, and in ten minutes I'm having my men fire in tear gas and storm the place."
"You can't do that!" Buck raged. Chris intercepted the enraged agent.
"We can't afford to let this one go, Larabee," Mathes said softly. "I'm sorry." He really was, though he knew everyone would think that he was going through with this because it was only Ezra's life on the line. In truth, he would have proceeded no matter who it was.
"Screw you," Chris menacingly sneered and stormed out of the ATF van before he did something that got him fired. The stoic leader got into his truck and drove off, heading for the FBI comm van. Something about the whole string of events was troubling him.
Chris entered the small confines of the van, noticing the Cheshire-cat grin on Agent John Murphy's pudgy face, which vanished like the cat itself when he saw the scowl on the ATF leader's face. Agent Baker returned to his radio, trying to make himself invisible. He hated to admit that this man scared him.
Chris didn't say a word as his eyes darted around the equipment-filled van. His brow furrowed as he noticed the styrofoam coffee cups sitting on the console, steam still rising from them.
"Who got the coffee?" he asked, keeping his voice calm. Baker spun around in his chair to face the famous agent.
"I...I.. did, sir," he stammered. "I was only gone for a minute." Baker was afraid he was going to get in trouble for leaving his post. From commendation to reprimand in one day, the thought raced through his mind.
Chris raised a halting hand, his eyes turning to Agent Murphy as he asked Baker, "when?"
"Ah, just before the shooting; around two or so," the young FBI agent answered, not understanding why the Team 7 leader was asking. Murphy started to fidget, until Larabee's cold, blue eyes locked him still in his seat.
Chris turned to Agent Baker. "Can you access your van's phone records?"
Murphy straighten in his chair. "Larabee, you have no authorization in here." He had begun to stand, but Chris' hand in the middle of his chest stopped his progress.
Chris turned his head over his shoulder. "Do it!"
Agent Alvin Baker's fingers flew across the keyboard and Chris watched as a list began to scroll down the screen. He bent over the young man's shoulder, his fists clenched when he found what he was hoping he wouldn't. He squeezed Baker's shoulder and gently shoved the agent out of the way, leaning so he could better read the screen.
"There was a phone call made from this phone at exactly 2:05, which lasted twenty seconds," Chris read.
He straighten and slowly turned towards Murphy. "That was the exact time that Tremblay received a phone call on his cell, after which he shot Ezra."
The implication caused Baker's eyes to grow wide. What was Larabee saying?
"That record doesn't prove a thing. I stepped outside for a moment while Agent Baker was gone." Murphy answered with a malicious sneer. "Hell, Standish deserves whatever he gets."
Murphy looked towards Agent Baker, whose young face seemed to have aged. "Baker, I need to talk to Larabee in private."
He'd never know what caused him to do it, maybe just a feeling, but before he stood to leave, Agent Alvin Baker flicked the 'open mike' switch on the console.
When the door closed, Larabee grabbed the fat agent by the shirt and pulled him up. Murphy laughed in Chris' face. He was proud of himself, he thought he had finally bested Standish. This pride was about to be his downfall.
"Why?" Chris hissed. He knew Murphy had called Tremblay.
"Why? Because I was the top agent until that smart-ass, southern son-of-a-bitch ripped it right out from under me." Murphy pulled out of Larabee's grasp, curving his lips into a feral grin. "My life is in shambles because of him. Yeah, I called Tremblay. Have to admit I didn't think the man would shoot him. I just thought he'd use Standish as a hostage to escape," Murphy explained, then shrugged. "But this is better."
"You're crazy," Chris said.
Murphy's smile left his face. "Like a fox, as they say."
"You've allowed your misguided hate to eat you up, until there's nothing left of the man you used to be," Chris explained. He didn't think he had been this angry since the death of his family. He wanted to kill this man, rip his heart out with his bare hands. Ezra was once again betrayed by a fellow agent.
"You know what's really funny?" Murphy giggled slightly and seemed to search the confines of the van. He lowered his voice. "I'm also the one that started those rumors and planted the pictures of him taking money from McMurren's boys. I thought that would have been enough to make him quit, but he was too stubborn."
"I'm going to bring you down," Chris snarled, his fists clenched in helpless rage.
"Go ahead and try, it's your word against mine and everyone knows you're sympathetic to Standish. All I have to say is I left the van for a few minutes. The worst I'll get is a reprimand for leaving my post. Anyone could have gotten in here and made that call, especially since there are others who'd want to."
Lord, he knew this man was right. Well, he'd at least get some satisfaction even if it meant his job. Chris brought his still clenched fist up, connecting with the smug agent's jaw. The momentum sent the surprised agent through the door to land on his backside on the pavement. Chris grabbed the door frame, and looked down to see Murphy sprawled out in front of his boss and several other FBI agents. Murphy looked up into each of his fellow agent's faces, seeing the hostility that burned in all their eyes.
Chris' brow creased in confusion as he saw Josiah holding Vin back for some reason. Vin looked ready to tear Murphy in half and Chris noticed that Josiah had taken away his rifle.
Suddenly all was made clear when Martin Mathes brought his walkie-talkie to his mouth and said, "Stand down, everyone, stand down."
Chris had never seen anyone go white, so fast, in his life as Murphy did when he heard his boss' voice come through the open mike inside the van. Chris smiled as triumph and relief filled every fiber of his body.
"Take this piece of shit away," Mathes ordered. Two FBI agents grabbed hold of Murphy hauling him to his feet.
"I still win, Larabee. Standish is a dead man and I'm top dog again." At this point, everyone realized that Murphy had lost the last strand of sanity he'd hung on to.
Marvin Mathes stepped up to the blue-eyed agent, his head hanging down. He couldn't remember when he had felt so disillusioned, so used. He now realized his hatred had been directed toward the wrong agent.
"I'm sorry, Larabee, what do you want to do? My men and I are at your disposal."
Chris returned to the ATF van to the shocked faces of Buck and JD. They couldn't believe a fellow government agent would bring harm to another, but then they hadn't realized how deep Murphy's hate of the smooth undercover agent had gone. Buck was glad he wasn't there when Murphy had confessed or he'd be going to jail for murder.
"JD, get Tremblay on his cell phone," Chris ordered. Mathes stepped into the van only to be stopped by the accusing glare of Agent Wilmington.
JD handed the phone to Chris as soon as Sabestien Tremblay answered. "Tremblay, we have to talk," Chris smoothly answered.
"No, I talk, you listen." Tremblay knew something had changed. He had expected tear gas to be sent in at any second, but when that didn't happen he began to think of alternative plans of his own. Maybe the agents realized that if they rushed them, Tremblay's first shot would be at Agent Standish. He had gotten the impression from the first agent he talked to that Standish was expendable. Now he wondered what had changed.
"Your man isn't doing too good. I don't think he has much time. Now, we're walking out of here and taking him with us. You don't follow and we'll dump him a mile up the road."
Larabee squeezed the handset tight. He had no options and he hated that. He wasn't going to let Ezra die. "Okay, I'll get back to you," Chris abruptly replied, then hung up, not giving the Frenchman time to object.
Vin, Josiah, and Nathan appeared in the doorway of the van watching as their leader started pacing. "JD, do you have some of those experimental bugs?"
The young agent's eyes widened in his eagerness to be of help. He opened a nearby drawer revealing five miniature mikes, all smaller than a dime.
"Yeah." He pulled one out. "I've even tested this one." Everyone in the van could almost see Chris' astute mind at work.
Chris grabbed the phone and hit redial. Before Tremblay could say a word, Chris interjected, "Okay Trembull," he purposefully mispronounced the last name, "We'll let you leave, but only if you let one of my agents in there to check on Standish." The answering silence seemed to last for an eternity.
"One agent; he'll have fifteen minutes." Tremblay hung up the phone.
The blond leader turned to Jackson, their best medical person. "Grab what you think you'll need." He handed Nathan the small listening device. "You have to plant this somewhere so we can hear what they plan."
Nathan took the bug and nodded. "No problem."
Ezra was losing blood fast. His hand tried in vain to stop the staunch flow of blood from his shoulder. He watched as Tremblay and the others shifted nervously about. All had their guns ready, expecting at any moment to be raided. Hell, Ezra expected it, and knew he would be the first casualty.
When nothing happened, he didn't know what to think. He found himself feeling depressed about Tremblay. He had actually enjoyed the time he had spent with the sophisticated drug lord. Ezra knew if not for fate, he could have turned out just like him. Strange, how life took people down different paths, a single turn changing everything. He had envied the man's opulent lifestyle, something he knew he would never attain, especially if he remained a government agent. But when Ezra remembered the drugs that Tremblay pumped onto the streets, drugs that found there way to kids, that envy turned to disgust.
Jackson hid the bug under his tongue after being assured it was safe by JD. He knocked on the outer metal door and was let in. Larabee and the others watched as their dark friend entered the warehouse, all hoping it wouldn't be the last time they saw him alive. Nathan was roughly patted down and his medical kit searched. Sabestien stepped up to him and scowled, nodding toward Standish. "You have fifteen minutes to patch him up."
The medical kit was thrown back at him. Nathan's breath caught in his throat when he saw Ezra on the floor, leaning up against the wall. There was so much blood; his face was pale and his eyes unfocused. Nathan wasn't even sure Ezra knew he was there. He squatted down next to the blood-soaked agent, and placing his hand on his forehead, felt his fever. He quickly opened his kit and pulled out several huge pads. Ezra still hadn't acknowledged his presence.
"Ezra? Can you hear me?" Nathan quietly asked. He took hold of the bewildered agent's jaw and forced his gaze up.
Ezra's brow furrowed in confusion. "Nathan? What are you doing here?"
"Trying to stop you from bleeding to death." Nathan began applying pressure to the shoulder wound. He felt around Ezra's back and found the shoulder exit wound, but none for the wound on his side.
"Larabee's probably angry that I fucked up," Ezra hissed as Nathan placed a bandage on his side and pressed.
The ex-medic stared at the suave southerner, worried at the coarse language the agent was using. Ezra never resorted to cursing. "You didn't mess up, Ezra," Nathan explained. "Murphy called Tremblay and blew your cover."
Ezra's eyes opened wide and he stared at Nathan in disbelief. He knew that Murphy hated him, but that he'd gone so far as to get him killed was unbelievable.
"Listen, Ezra, you hang on, you hear me? We'll get you out of this, I promise."
Ezra smiled up at his friend. It had been a long time before he could call the other agent a friend. The two men were like oil and water and everyone had thought they'd never come together.
Nathan casually looked over his shoulder, then spat out the small listening device.
"I have to put this somewhere so we can hear," Nate whispered. Tremblay's goon suddenly appeared at Nathan's shoulder.
"Your time is up."
Nathan smiled and patted Ezra's shoulder, wishing he could do more for the injured agent. He knew if they didn't get Ezra out soon, he wouldn't make it. Nathan slowly stood, turning to face the bodyguard, swallowing and preparing himself for what he was about to do.
"If he dies, I'll personally carve your heart out," Nathan sneered. Frank laughed at the threat and Jackson took advantage of the opening. He swung his fist into the man's square jaw, whipping his head around and causing him to step back. Frank's eyes burned in anger and he grabbed Nathan by the front of his shirt, pulling him close. He sneered and swung his fist into the handsome dark man's cheek, sending him to the floor. The bodyguard pulled his gun and held it up against Nathan's head.
"That's enough, Frank!" Tremblay yelled.
Ezra couldn't believe what he had just witnessed. His heart had almost stopped when Frank pulled his gun, but now he couldn't stop the smirk that appeared on his face.
Tremblay stepped forward. "Your services are no longer required, sir. Tell your boss we will be walking out of here in ten minutes."
Nathan kept his eyes on the two men as he retrieved his bag. He took one last glance at Ezra, who seemed to be more relaxed. He noticed the pleased expression on the undercover agent's face, but attributed it to the blood loss. He knew they had to get Ezra to a hospital soon; he wouldn't last much longer.
The five ATF agents and Martin Mathes crowded around Nathan in the van. JD worked furiously to activate his bug.
"So what's going on?" Larabee asked Nathan as he rubbed his cheek.
"I got the bug on one of Tremblay's goons."
Josiah was impressed and didn't have to ask his friend how he had managed that, seeing the first signs of a bruise on his cheek.
"How's Ez?" Vin asked.
"Not good, he was shot twice," Nathan explained, dropping his hand from his face. "He was shot in the shoulder and side." Nathan showed on his own body where Ezra was struck. "I don't think anything vital was hit, but he's losing a lot of blood."
"Shit," Buck quietly voiced.
"Call the hospital and make sure they're ready with his blood type and get an ambulance here," Chris told Nathan, then turned his attention to his communications expert. "Talk to me, JD?"
"Got it!" The young agent finally exclaimed.
Everyone closed in to hear the sound of voices coming from the warehouse.
"All right, boys, this is the plan: five of you will go out the back and circle around the sides. I don't trust these agents to let us go, even if we do have a hostage. The rest of us will go out the front with Mr. Agent leading the way." He looked over at the semi-conscious man. "When you see your chance, take out as many of them as you can. Then it's everyone for themselves." All the drug lords seemed to like this idea. Their motto was: all for one and one for one.
Chris and his team managed to creep around to the back and were ready when the five men came out, quickly and quietly disarming them. They then made their way through the warehouse. They all saw the large pool of blood on the floor where Ezra had been. JD turned away quickly but still paled at the sight. He didn't think he'd ever get use to the sight of blood.
Sabestien Tremblay and the other drug lords had come out the front door. Sabestien held Ezra up in front of him, a gun pointed to his head. Mathes swore as he looked upon the injured agent, feeling the guilt once more rip through him. Ezra was barely able to keep his feet under him. Each jarring movement sent tidal waves of agony through his shoulder and stomach. He could feel the blood going down his pants leg from his side wound. He had a faintly amused smile on his lips, but considering the situation this was either caused by the loss of blood or he was going insane.
"No one move or Mr. Agent here is a dead man," Tremblay shouted, slowly making his way toward the cars. The others followed close behind with their guns drawn. The FBI agents also had their guns drawn and had formed a semicircle but kept their distance. Many of the agents had thought Standish a traitor, but now all they wanted was to get one of their own out of trouble and to hell with the drug bust. Secretly, some wished it was John Murphy in the undercover agent's place, then they could just shoot and go home. Mathes had given explicit orders to wait for Larabee's signal.
Vin and Chris peeked out the door that Tremblay and the others had just exited. They could see the backs of the drug lords and just make out Ezra's form in front of Tremblay. They knew as soon at Tremblay reached the cars, Ezra's life would be expendable. Chris took a deep breath and broke away from the door followed by the rest of his team.
"ATF, FREEZE!" Chris yelled. Tremblay swung around, Ezra appearing like a rag doll in his grasp. The agent was fast losing his hold on consciousness and Sabestien was having a hard time keeping a hold on the collapsing man. When his gun left Ezra's head to better his hold, Chris leapt at him taking all three to the ground. Ezra rolled and ended up on his uninjured side. He had heard Chris yell and then felt himself falling. He tried to fight the growing shut down of his body. He heard several gunshots and hoped none of his teammates had been shot.
Standish felt hands on him slowly turning him onto his back. His green eyes tried to make sense of what he was seeing. He felt a hand on his forehead and another applying pressure to his side, bringing a enormous bolt of pain, which he tried to move away from as bright dots flashed across his vision. His friends' voices seemed to be drifting away. He could hear the fear in Nathan's voice. Blackness was swallowing his present reality. He fought it for a minute, wishing to say good-bye to his friends and tell them how much they meant to him.
"Oh God," Nathan whispered as he quickly examined Ezra's wounds. He immediately applied pressure to the side wound, which was bleeding freely. "Buck! Apply pressure to his shoulder," Nathan ordered. Josiah knelt down and placed Ezra's head on his leg. A few minutes later, the rest of the team surrounded them as Tremblay and the others were being taken away.
"How is he?" Chris asked, looking down into the slack face of his undercover agent.
Nathan only shook his head as he urgently worked on the fading agent. He wasn't sure Ezra would make it.
At that moment, the paramedics appeared. Josiah and Buck helped place Ezra's weakened body on the gurney. They all watched as he was rushed to the waiting ambulance. Nathan following closely behind, explaining Ezra's injuries to the paramedics.
Martin Mathes came up alongside the somber leader. "How is he?" he managed to choke out.
"Not good," Chris replied, without looking at the dark agent. He turned and headed for his own vehicle, praying he wouldn't reach the hospital only to be told that Ezra had died.
The six ATF and two FBI agents sat in the hospital waiting room. It had been two hours since Ezra had been wheeled into surgery. The nurse told them he'd been very weak from blood loss.
Mathes and Baker sat alone at the far end of the room. Agent Baker handed his boss a stale vending machine sandwich, which Mathes just stared at. He looked across the room at the six ATF agents who sat in various positions about the room. They had done this before, they all had and it never got any easier. Mathes took a deep breath, stood and walked over to the six waiting ATF agents.
"What the hell do you want?" Vin growled, standing up and placing himself right in front of the taller agent. Vin didn't recognize this man's authority; he only knew he was partially responsible for Ezra's serious injuries.
"I just want you all to know how sorry I am."
"If you had protected and stood by your men, Ezra wouldn't be in there now fighting for his life," Vin sneered. He felt Chris' presence behind him. He turned away and went to the nearby window, leaving Chris and Mathes standing together in the middle of the room.
The dark leader's shoulders slumped in resignation. What the sharpshooter said was true. He had been judge, jury and possibly executioner. He never gave Ezra a chance or the benefit of the doubt. Ezra's confidence and smug attitude condemned him from the start.
Mathes reluctantly looked at the blond leader standing before him. "I'm sorry, I had no idea the magnitude of Murphy's hate toward him."
"I'm not the one you have to apologize to." Chris felt sorry for the dark leader. He was a good man, he had just let personal feelings blind him to the truth.
Dr. Richards cleared his throat, gaining everyone's immediate attention.
"Gentlemen." He looked down at his clipboard, then crossed his arms pressing the board against his chest.
"How is he?" Buck was the first to ask.
"Well, Mr. Standish was very lucky, nothing vital was hit, but he lost a lot of blood. It's amazing he survived."
Chris closed his eyes at this admission. "Can we see him?" Chris quietly asked, his eyes still closed.
"Well, he'll be in ICU for awhile then we'll move him to another room, but it'll be some time before he comes around. Of course, I know telling you all to go home would only be a waste of my breath," Dr. Richards good-naturedly answered.
It was six hours before the ATF agents could move their worried assemblage to Ezra's room. They all were shocked at his appearance. He was so pale he almost blended into the bleached pillow case he rested on. He looked so peaceful the other men found it unnerving. They all saw the blood slowly being dripped into the southerner's arm.
Josiah pulled a chair up beside the bed and laid a large hand on Ezra's arm, hoping to pass on some measure of comfort. The rest of the agents all found space somewhere and settled in. When the door opened allowing hallway light to enter, they all looked up to see a dark form enter.
Mathes stood silent for a moment, not sure if he was welcome. Vin was ready to stand and throw him out until Chris placed a hand on his shoulder. Mathes nodded to the ATF leader and sat down in the corner of the room.
Late morning of the next day, the silence of the hospital room was broken by a low moan. It was barely audible, but suddenly the room came alive as everyone surrounded Ezra's bed. His head rolled to the side and Josiah placed a hand on his cheek.
"Ezra, c'mon son, it's time to wake up," Josiah coaxed.
Voices bombarded his senses. It was abrupt, one minute there was silence, the next a cacophony filled his ears. He tried to force his eyes open but found them to be to heavy. A cool cloth was mopped across his brow and he again tried to open his eyes. Everything was a blur. He squeezed his eyes shut, then tried again. This time things were sharper and he could make out the grinning visages of his friends.
"How you feel?" Nathan asked. He saw the mask of confusion on the normally sharp features.
"Tired," was all he could muster. His eyes opened a little wider as Agent Mathes suddenly appeared in his field of vision. The black agent bowed his head and smoothed out a corner of the bedding.
"Agent Standish, I know there is nothing I can do or say to make up for the in justice that had fallen on you. All I can offer is my apology and utmost respect."
Nothing showed on the undercover agent's face, but his heart took flight. This was a man he had once respected. It had hurt him greatly when he'd lost the trust of his then-boss. Now the FBI leader was apologizing to him, and Ezra could see the sincerity in his dark eyes.
A slow smile came to the southerner's face, and he tried to raise his hand, which was quickly taken by Mathes, who shook it in gratitude.
At that moment the doctor entered and came to the bedside checking the monitors. He watched as once again sleep took hold of the injured man. "Okay, you've seen him, he's seen you. He's going to be fine. Now I want everyone to go home," Dr. Richards ordered with exasperation.
The seven men all stretched and began to file out the door. Chris hung back placing a hand on his perplexing agent's shoulder. His family would remain whole and Ezra was finally vindicated. Hopefully, this would begin to heal some of the long open wounds on the undercover agent's soul.