Full Moon and Denver Seven
Author's Note: This story is a stand-alone sequel to a Full Moon & China White, a Without A Trace story on my site. I don't really think there's a need to read it first, but this is a crossover with the Magnificent 7 ATF genre. It is for general audiences.
Many thanks to Debra Noellert for allowing me to blatantly steal her "Twins Premise" from her story Blood Ties!
Characters: Mostly Martin and Vin but the rest are in there, too!
Size: Approx 475K
Chapter One - Chapter Four | Chapter Five - Chapter
Seven | Chapter Eight - Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven - Chapter Thirteen | Chapter Fourteen - Chapter Seventeen | Chapter Eighteen - Chapter Twenty-Three
That tell-tale smirk was a dead give away. Vivian probably knew, too, but she was more mature in her way of handling it. Still, Martin saw how Viv's eyes softened when Samantha was near him. He didn't know about Jack; that man was hard to read at any time.
It was Martin's first Monday back at the office. The elevator ride to the Missing Person's Unit floor seemed longer than normal but when he stepped into the hallway he felt a zing of excitement. He strode down the hall, shoulders back, eyes cast aside to watch the busy agents and staff already at work.
He first saw Samantha behind the glass walls of their office space, sitting at her desk, her head tipped aside as she studied the papers in her hand. The other hand held a large cup of coffee, index finger unconsciously tapping the vessel. Thick blonde hair flowed over her shoulder and under her chin, softly framing her face in gold.
It took his breath away and his step faltered. Finally, he forced his gaze to the office door, cleared his throat and pushed it open. When he raised his head, the first thing he saw what that signature smirk.
Yep, Danny knew.
Circumstance forced Martin and Samantha to take things very slowly since the Full Moon case. Between interviews, Martin's required doctor and psychiatrist appointments and his mother, father, sister, nieces and nephews; he hadn't been alone for over two months. Now that he was cleared for full duty things would finally fall back into the old routine and Martin could finally continue his interrupted life. He hoped that life would include Samantha.
But first he had to deal with smirking Danny. Martin paused inside the door as Danny walked to him, hand extended.
"Hey, glad to see you back, compadre!" he greeted.
Martin grinned. "Thanks. Good to be back."
Vivian then swept by, giving him a quick one-armed hug. "You look great, Martin."
"Thanks. I feel great." Then he'd turned to find Samantha right there in front of him. Danny faded back toward his desk with that know-it-all smile. Martin easily dismissed it as his gaze met hers.
"Hey," she breathed, blushing slightly. Samantha reached out and touched his arm, the connection electric.
"Hey yourself," he replied easily.
"All cleared, huh? We've missed you."
"Yeah. I finally have my place back to myself, too. Guess I have to get used to being on my own again."
She brightened. "Really? No more company?"
"Finally," he chuckled, "no!"
They didn't have time for anymore as Jack entered the room with their newest case in hand. Samantha indicated the conference table with a nod of her head and they moved in that direction. Danny and Viv arrived at the same time and they all settled into chairs.
Jack started the meeting with a crooked grin. "Good to have you back, Martin. You doing okay?"
Martin leaned back and returned the smile. "Yep, I'm great. It's good to be back."
"Nothing like hitting the ground running," Jack stated. "Let's do it."
Their latest missing person seemingly disappeared in the middle of the New York Stock Exchange's trading floor just after the closing bell. Martin and Danny were tasked with interviewing the Exchange members present at the time.
One day later the amount of information they had gathered was staggering, most of it proving to be worthless. The pair had been chasing down people all morning. This guy may have well disappeared from the middle of Yankee Stadium in playoff season by the number of names yet to be interviewed.
"Damn," Danny mumbled, flexing his hand. "I'm running out of notebooks and my fingers are cramping." He glanced back at the Stock Exchange entrance. "I do not want to go there again."
"I feel your pain," Martin said.
Their lunch break consisted of sidewalk vendor hot dogs on a crowded sidewalk.
"So," Danny started as he chewed, "hasn't Full Moon filed their last motion? Is the trial finally set?"
Martin angled his hot dog to keep the crowning sauerkraut from sliding down his arm. "The DA thinks their last motion will be denied today. The trial date should be set then." He managed a clean bite.
"When? Any idea?"
"They're guessing about two weeks. Zhan's been tucked away too long and they're afraid he'll bolt if this is put off too much longer. The guy's pretty nervous."
"Yeah, I would imagine that thinking about the Triad coming after you would cause a few sleepless nights. When the trial date's set are they going to assign agents to guard you?"
"Don't know. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, I suppose. No one's made any threats yet."
Zhan had been Full Moon Shipping's bookkeeper and held the financial information that would put suspected Triad chief Mee Liang away. Martin was the only witness that could physically put Liang in the company of murders and kidnappers, and thus undeniably connecting Liang with the Triad. Whereas Zhan's testimony linked Liang to the financial crimes, Martin's testimony linked the man to capital crimes and guaranteed the man would never see freedom again.
Martin just wanted it to be over. He's already sacrificed nearly three months to the accidental case that he'd become involved with while off-duty.
"Maybe the Triad's just has happy to see Liang out of the picture," Danny thought out loud.
"We can only hope," Martin replied tiredly. His cell phone rang just as they finished their hurried lunch. The conversation was brief and he disconnected with a sigh. "Well, that's that. The trial's set for one week from Monday."
Danny's eyes widened. "That's quick. It'll be good to have it over, huh?"
"Yeah," Martin answered, rubbing his eyes. "It will be nice to move on."
With that, Danny's insufferable smirk appeared and his eyebrow waggled. "Or move in?"
Martin laughed, shaking his head. "At this point I'd be happy with a normal date."
"Which is when?" There was nothing subtle about Danny's encouragement.
Martin shrugged, his eyes twinkling. "Friday. I hope. It depends on this case."
Giving his partner a sidelong look, Martin grinned lopsidedly. "Forget it, Danny. That, I'll keep to myself."
Danny shook his head and nudged Martin's side. "What, you don't trust me?"
"No," Martin replied without hesitation. "Now let's get back to work so we can hopefully wrap this up before Friday and I can embark upon a rewarding personal life again."
"Is that shrink-speak?"
"Shut up, Danny."
The Federal holding facility hummed with activity now that visiting hours were in full swing. The cramped rooms set aside for attorney visits were a far cry from the plush offices Mee Liang was used to and it served to focus his energies in planning his departure from all of this. He'd fought his entire life to get ahead in the Triad family and this was no different.
"The motion was denied," his attorney said lowly to his client in rapid Chinese. "The trial begins on the 25th."
Liang's expression was unreadable. Even dressed in the denim uniform of the holding facility the Triad chief carried himself with an aristocratic air. The way he sat at the visiting room table was no different than how he carried himself in one of his many plush executive suites. "Then we shall move on to the next phase immediately, Mr. Wu. Any questions?"
"No, sir. The contract has already been announced and we expect bids immediately. It will not take long to find a suitable candidate."
The Triad leader forced the younger attorney to meet and hold his gaze to make his message clear. "You will handle negotiations personally. You must find someone outside the family. There cannot be a link between this contract, my family, or you. Do what you must. "
"I will be careful."
"I expect an initial report in seven days."
Wu hesitated, thinking quickly, then stood and bowed shortly. "I will be in touch."
The case of the missing securities trader blessedly came to an end at noon on Friday when he was found in Aruba without any explanation other than he had 'freaked out' and fled to save his sanity.
Danny yanked the man's photo from the white board and began to erase the timeline that had taken nearly five days to compile. Also during the week the team found a lost teenager who had run away to have an abortion. Since the team had been split between the two cases, Martin had only seen Samantha in passing.
Finally together again, the team sat back and enjoyed an unharried few minutes before the end of their work week.
"Quite a first week back, huh?" Danny quipped as he finished with the board. Martin and Samantha gratefully leaned back in their desk chairs, simultaneously spinning around to face Danny.
Martin stretched. "Talk about being thrown back into real life," he yawned. "I was getting used to a full night's sleep."
"Welcome to reality," Samantha said with little sympathy.
"Gladly," Martin replied, twisting his chair further around to face her. When he smiled at her, he was pleased to see her cheeks flush a delightful rose color.
"We should celebrate your crashing back to Earth," Danny suggested. "Quick drink before . . . ?" his eyebrows rose as he tilted his head toward Samantha.
Samantha exhaled loudly and rolled her eyes as Martin laughed. "Sure, I think we have time. Sam?"
"One drink," Samantha shortly agreed. "I'm starving for real food." She gathered her purse.
"Sheesh, she's a pushy broad. Sure you want to take her out?" Danny quipped to Martin.
"Absolutely," Martin replied with a sure smile. Samantha threw Danny a smug look. The couple rose at the same time and he collected his coat. By the time Martin had slipped it on, Samantha was beside him. His hand rested on her lower back as he guided her toward the exit. "Meet you down there," he threw over his shoulder to Danny.
Danny watched the two of them as they walked away, their heads bent together intimately as they spoke. Vivian broke his gaze as she stepped up to Danny's chair with coat on and purse tucked under her elbow.
"Well?" she asked. "Are we joining them for a drink or do they want to be alone?"
Jack walked from his office and joined them, shrugging on his jacket.
Danny immediately grabbed his jacket and grinned mischievously. "Oh, yeah, we're joining them. I want to see how long we can make 'em stick around."
Jack snorted. "I say they'll be gone before we even get there."
"I say ten minutes," Viv said dryly.
"Five bucks says I can keep 'em there for over twenty," Danny offered.
"You're on," Jack replied.
The three moved quickly in pursuit.
Martin and Samantha managed to ditch the others after twenty-two minutes and one drink. As they left, Martin was sure he heard Danny say "pay up!" He didn't look back to see what happened but mentally figured that Danny owed him something and made a note to press him later his share.
The restaurant was pleasantly alive but the atmosphere was intimate enough to carry a conversation. While waiting for their order to arrive, Martin's hand sat warmly on top of hers and they talked about whatever came to mind. The food came and left, as did the patrons seated around them, and still they talked. They each had an espresso and shared a dessert, hands touching at every opportunity. Every now and then exploring fingers caressed a chin, a cheek, a knee, the touch light and trembling. The spark of the touches undeniably grew with each encounter.
Their chairs moved inexplicably closer with time until their foreheads nearly touched. Time slipped by, and eventually, Martin raised his head and noticed that the restaurant was practically empty. The maitre de regarded them with polite curiosity and a faint smile.
"I guess they want to close now, if I'm reading my polite dirty looks correctly," Martin said softly and finding her warm eyes. He stroked the back on her hand with his thumb, each line stoking a fire within. "Shall we?"
Martin rose, reluctant to release her hand, and she smoothly followed. Finally, he released his grip in order to help her with her coat. He guided her out the door with his arm resting lightly around her waist. Outside, they exchanged a smoldering look as their fingers entwined. They shared a cab in silent agreement and huddled close during the ride. When they arrived at Samantha's apartment, they were still unable separate. She pulled him from the cab leaned in close, her hand over his heart.
"Pay the man," she said huskily.
Martin threw in more than enough cash and was quickly pulled inside the building by his elbow. Samantha unsuccessfully tried to control a satisfied grin as she pulled him in snugly to her side. They made it to the elevator under the amused and watchful eye of the doorman and by then, Martin was so entranced there was no way in heaven that he could leave. Samantha Spade had him entirely and completely ensnared.
She pulled him through her doorway of her apartment and found his lips with hers as soon as the door closed. He gathered her soft hair at the nape of her neck and pulled her in, allowing her tongue to explore first. Entwined, they stood together as possessive hands pushed away any clothing blocking their way.
Samantha fumbled with his belt as Martin's hands found their way under her blouse to caress her smooth skin. He groaned in anticipation as his thumbs found the front of her lacy bra, the material tight against her erect nipples. His belt finally undone and waistband released, Martin's hands felt their way around her body to unfasten the delicate cloth that separated them.
Samantha's hands slid down his back and under the hem of his boxers, kneading his flesh, forcing his hips to hers. The feel of his hardness against her made him groan again and before he lost complete control right there Martin scooped her up and claimed her mouth with his as he carried her to bed.
Her arms circled his neck and they tumbled down on rich linen, locked in a hungry kiss and scrambling to discard any remaining clothing. With that freedom finally attained, they slowed, each stroke of hand impossibly releasing more desire. Martin traced her neck with his mouth as he firmly cupped her breast with one hand and teased the hard nipple with his thumb. Samantha's moan caused his other hand to search down under her undulating body until he gripped the roundness of her ass, forcing her tight to him. His mouth dropped to her other breast and he nibbled and tongued the nub until she writhed in want.
Martin's mouth released her and traced a burning trail up her neck. He felt her heart's pulse quicken against his lips. He moaned at his need and pulled her impossibly closer.
When he entered her, her entire body shivered and arced to meet his. Martin struggled for some bit of control but when her smooth legs wrapped around his thighs, he was lost in desire.
It was early Saturday morning just outside Denver and Ezra Standish was not pleased.
He had received the call for this meeting late the previous evening so his plans for sleeping in had, yet again, been dashed. The only solace he could glean from this was that it would be another step in nailing the Hanna cartel's gun runners. So far, the family had been frustratingly elusive.
The undercover ATF agent brushed a bit of imaginary lint from the lapel of his silk blend jacket. For a fleeting second he was able to enjoy the feel of the expensive weave under his fingertips before he tugged the sleeve to finish his smooth look. It was definitely worth the hour of verbal fencing with the bean counters in finance, and, in reality, he had to admit that his oratory skills were not entirely the reason that he won the purchase; Team Seven's impressive track record did a lot of speaking on its own.
Teams Four and Six constantly griped about the inequality of budgets in this regard and that thought made Standish smirk. Ezra remembered his boss' comment to the respective team leaders on that subject: "It's all about bein' the big dogs, boys," Chris Larabee had said. "And my big dogs can hunt."
It wasn't the most eloquent way of putting things, he mused, but it did get the job done. And that was what Ezra admired about his team - they got the job done time and again.
A stifled curse muttered under hot breath caught the undercover agent's attention and he rolled his eyes heavenward for a moment in search of patience. They'd pulled together the plan for this meeting in the wee hours of the morning and they were all tired.
"Mr. Tanner, must you fidget so?" he sighed. "My good humor is tenuous as it is." Turning his head slightly he narrowed his eyes in the direction of his partner, not surprised in the least to see him tugging on the collar of his custom shirt. His expression could only be described as 'disgusted'.
"Still don' see why I gotta dress up in a monkey suit to set up a buy. Money's money."
"In this case money is a show as well, Mr. Tanner. You know that. Appearance betroths success in this particular circle so cease accosting your collar - silk cannot take the abuse."
"Would you two can it?" Chris's voice was tinny as heard through the ear pieces, his snarl clearly signaling that his patience was gone. They all needed sleep and waiting in the early morning hot sun did not help attitudes. At least Ezra and Vin had the luxury of the car's air conditioning up until they had to exit for the microphone check. The others were divided between the boxy, hot surveillance van and the brush that surrounded this open area.
"I am not the one prancing in place like a virgin on her wedding night," Ezra stated firmly, twisting away from his partner to cast his gaze in the direction he expected their contact to arrive. The microphone tested clear and now it was down to the waiting.
"Prance? I don't prance!" Vin snapped, releasing his collar to give Ezra's shoulder a push. "And virgin? Do you want me ta belt ya?"
"Tanner, knock it off!" Chris' limit had definitely been reached. Ezra heard snickering in the background from the other team members through his earpiece. "Stand still or I'll belt ya myself! You're causin' static."
Unfazed, Ezra's mouth twitched to successfully control his urge to laugh - Vin, although usually quiet and at peace, was easily riled when tired. And they were all tired. Ezra lifted his hand and studied his nails as he acknowledged their boss and smoothed his facial features. "I would appreciate that, Mr. Larabee. I surely do not need to ruin my manicure on one of my own teammates."
Vin snorted. "Dream on, Ez. You'd never touch me."
"Stop it, children. Lannen's inbound." Buck's voice was all business as he reported the arrival of their current suspect.
"And so the dance begins," Ezra said lowly, falling into the role of Edward St. James, illegal weapons broker.
"Dance? Shit, Ezra . . ." Vin grumbled as he gave his jacket an irritated tug.
"Shut up, Tanner!" Chris ordered.
Standish allowed the exchange to pass with a grin then plucked the earpiece from his ear. Vin followed suite and held out his hand. Ezra dropped his listening device into Vin's palm and the items were stowed inside the car. The only piece of equipment now active was the microphone on Ezra. He tugged at the shirt sleeve, insuring the device was clear of the jacket sleeve.
Ezra stood square in front of their dark Mercedes with his hands clasped loosely together in front of him. Vin quietly joined him, adjusting his dark glasses and now all business. They both found and followed the approach of the sedan, their mutual curiosity about the meeting bringing them focus.
Ezra had closed a minor arms deal with Billy Lannen only a week ago. For the team, it was a precursor to a bigger buy they wanted from the Hanna cartel; Ezra and Vin had to gain Lannen's trust. No one had expected another contact so soon.
As they waited for the arrival of Lannen, Ezra quickly replayed the first deal in his mind - it had been for a crate of assault rifles, a small buy that promised bigger fish later. After Vin had checked the weapons by shooting them in this very field, the deal was quickly closed. The rifles had been top quality and Ezra had stated that he could take as many as Lannen could supply.
Lannen's vehicle pulled to a stop and before the thin wash of trailing dust curled over the car, the passenger side door flung open. A beefy man stepped out - Lannen's bodyguard. The man stepped forward and both agents prepared to be patted down just like the first time they had met.
Ezra noticed the annoyed clench of Vin's jaw at the unwelcome touch, taking it without comment. When he was done, the large man stepped back and nodded toward the sedan. The driver exited the vehicle and opened the back door. Lannen stepped out, slipping on sunglasses in the glare of daylight.
Billy Lannen was a small man with rat-like features. His fingers sparkled with expensive and gaudy jewelry and his clothes, although cut in a radical style, were top quality. The man was too flashy for Standish's taste, but had been impressed by his negotiation skills; he'd underestimated the man at first and their initial deal was a lesson learned to not judge a book by its cover.
"Mr. St. James, Mr. Nicklin," Lannen greeted, his hand extended. Ezra firmly shook it, as did Vin. "I'll get right to the point, gentlemen."
"Always an outstanding idea," Ezra quipped. "Our previous encounter was mutually lucrative and I can only believe we can arrange more of the same. What brings us together on this glorious morn?"
"Yeah, we did good on that last deal, but this is something different." He removed his sunglasses a gave Vin a lingering look with beady, rodent eyes. "I have a proposition for Mr. Nicklin, actually. A little freelance work."
Caught off guard, Ezra glanced at Vin and quickly disguised surprised at the comment. Ezra regrouped in a few seconds quickly and recalled one of the first rules of undercover work: Never get separated from your partner. Then Agent Ezra Standish did what he did best - negotiated on the fly.
"I speak for Mr. Nicklin as his agent and partner, Mr. Lannen. We find that arrangement to be mutually beneficial in the long run."
Lannen's smile seemed predatory in nature. "And safer, I would think." He replaced his dark glasses and paused in consideration, his gaze traveling up and down Vin in a way that gave Ezra a chill.
"What is it that you wish to discuss?" Ezra inquired, his voice thickly Southern.
"I must confess, Mr. St. James, that I have investigated your partner's background since our last meeting." His eyes drilled into Vin as he spoke, and the agent returned the stare is spades. "An opportunity has come to my attention and I believe Mr. Nicklin's . . . skills . . . can be used in a, um, mutually satisfying and lucrative way."
Ezra kept his eyes on Lannen but he saw in his peripheral vision that Vin shifted slightly, uncomfortable with this subject. He, too, was uneasy with the direction this conversation was taking but the fact that Vin did not protest in any way told Ezra volumes about the trust his partner had in him; Vin's silence signaled Ezra to continue speaking for him.
"Well," Ezra stalled, thinking furiously, his face bland. "This is certainly an unexpected turn of events."
The man shifted his attention to Ezra, continuing to speak as if Vin was deaf. "I couldn't help but notice Mr. Nicklin's skill with a rifle at our last meeting. Recently I was contacted by someone looking for such talent which is why I checked further into your partner's background. Army weapons expert, Ranger, hand to hand experience, black ops - I have no doubt that what I found was only a fraction of your actual experience and skill, Mr. Nicklin." The small man's attention reverted back to Vin.
Ezra recognized Vin's planted history, the past of one James Nicklin. A lot of the experiences listed in the fictional background were based on Vin's true history. Tanner's real Army Ranger profile was much deeper and heavily shrouded in secrecy. Ezra knew no one in their team - including their boss Chris - would ever know the full extent of Vin's past missions.
Vin openly glared at Lannen. As Nicklin, he was as protective of his past as Vin was of his reality. "You gotta point somewhere?" Vin growled.
Lannen shook his head and laughed shortly. "My customer is looking for a gun. A specific kind of gun. Your kind, Mr. Nicklin." He turned back to Ezra. "My buyer has cash and solid backing. I daresay you could name your price but I would require an appropriate broker's fee, of course."
"Of course." Ezra's mind worked quickly with this unexpected offer. "I do not have to point out the risks in such a venture, I am sure," he started. "This will cost your client, Mr. Lannen. Such a deal puts our entire business and both of our futures in jeopardy."
"I understand. I am authorized at this point to guarantee two million if Mr. Nicklin is chosen. He also must follow directions exactly, no questions asked."
"What? No one picks my shots!" Vin snapped. Ezra placed a restraining hand on his partner's forearm.
"You do not seem to understand our situation," Ezra said evenly, his practiced poker face unreadable even though his thoughts raced. "That is not enough to risk our current business. Our livelihood is at stake, Mr. Lannen." He paused and shifted slightly, never dropping his eyes from Lannen's. Finally, he took a gamble. "Five million minimum guarantee or we are not interested."
Lannen cocked his head. 'He is actually considering it!' Ezra realized. He'd hoped that amount would break the deal, a deal which made him extremely nervous due to the lack of information. Right now, all he was trying to accomplish was to get both of them out of this situation and save face with Lannen at the same time.
Lannen's small grin did nothing to appease Ezra's bad feeling. "I will extend the counter offer. Please wait." He retreated to the car, pulling out a cell phone as he walked.
Ezra turned his back to the sedan and pressed his lips tightly together. Vin also turned and moved in closer. "What the fuck is going on, Ez?" he whispered hotly.
"I do not know, Mr. Tanner, but it seems our Mr. Lannen is shopping for a shootist for someone else. This is totally unexpected, I assure you."
Vin's jaw muscles worked furiously under his skin. "I don't like this," he ground out.
"Neither do I, Mr. Nicklin. I do think, however, that we need to keep our options open at this point." He flicked his eyes to Vin's and they locked gazes. Even without details, they both knew that this was something big. After a moment Vin gave a short nod, in essence giving Ezra the rein he needed to keep them both in play. Ezra knew that their team leader must be having apoplexy at this point; Chris Larabee loathed surprises.
When Lannen stepped from the sedan again his face was unreadable. He slipped the phone into his pocket and walked quickly toward them.
"That price is within reason," Lannen said shortly. He held his hand out and quickly shook both agents' hands. "Bring your rifle to the McMillian Gun Club tomorrow, 9:00 sharp." He handed Ezra a business card with the address.
Ezra smiled charmingly. "Until tomorrow, then."
Lannen grinned that infuriating grin and turned on his heel, disappearing into the limo which then left in a dusty cloud. Ezra slipped the card into his inner coat pocket as Vin exhaled sharply. After a moment they retreated to the coolness of idling sedan's interior. Vin retrieved the earpieces from the back seat and held them up in the palm of his hand.
"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?" Chris's tinny voice could be heard as the earpieces sat in Vin's hand.
The two agents looked at each other.
"You first?" Vin offered up his palm cradling the tiny electronic pieces.
Ezra raised an eyebrow. "I propose a coin toss."
Instead, Vin held up his other hand as a fist. "Rock, paper, scissors."
With an unhappy frown, Ezra complied. He lost. Vin smiled crookedly as Standish plucked up his earpiece and inserted it with a wince. "Can we wait until Lannen's vehicle is out of sight, Mr. Larabee?" he calmly suggested. "I am afraid he can hear you at this juncture."
"Ezra, you and Vin get your asses over here! NOW!"
"Yes, sir. Our collective asses are enroute as we speak."
Vin laughed as he dropped his earpiece in the ashtray and the Mercedes into gear. "D'ya think he'd notice if we took the long way 'round?" he said lowly.
"I heard that, Vin!"
"I am afraid so, Mr. Tanner."
Sunday morning found Martin still basking in the glow of the previous night. He and Samantha had spent a wonderfully relaxing day together - mostly in bed. He was just now returning to his own place to grab some more clothes. As he entered the apartment, his cell phone trilled. He flipped it open as he reached into a dresser drawer.
"Martin, it's Jack."
"Hey, boss. What's up?" He pulled out a pair of jeans and another pair of sox.
"Are you at home?"
"You need to stay put. There will be two U.S. Marshals arriving there soon."
This caused Martin to stop what he was doing and stand straight and still. Instinctively, he glanced out his bedroom window and stepped away from it. "What? Why?"
"Since the Full Moon trial date has been checked the chatter in Triad circles has increased substantially. Another unrelated source has hinted that some kind of contract has been put out."
"Contract? What kind of contract?"
"We don't know any details but it doesn't have anything to do with regular merchandise. They're looking for an outside source and there's a high possibility that the contract is on you or Zhan. Until we know for certain, you'll have a couple of marshals with you 24/7."
"Bodyguards? Jack, that's ridiculous! I don't need any bodyguards!"
"The DA does not want to take any chances, Martin. This case is important and you are in integral part of it. The DA's office insists and I agree with them. Get used to it. It will only be for a week. Once you testify on next Monday there will be no more reason for protection."
Martin ran his hand through his hair as he paced a small track. "Two guards? This is overkill, don't you think?"
"Better that than an actual kill. Stay put until the marshals get there, understand? And I'll see you tomorrow."
Jack disconnected before Martin could protest any further. So much for a nice, relaxing finish to a near-perfect weekend, he groused. He threw the phone on the bed and glared at it as if the small device was responsible for all this grief.
Eventually he shook his head and exhaled a frustrated breath. He'd waited months to ask Samantha out - first, he had physical wounds that needed healing and a barrage of psychological appointments and evaluations to assure the FBI that he had no residual effects from being kidnapped, drugged and tortured. Then he had to shed himself of his over protective family. Finally, he had to prove to Jack that he was fit for full duty - his life had been back to normal for only a week, and now this. There was no doubt that he would be stuck indoors until he testified.
"When this is over I'm taking a long vacation," he grumbled. Then a thought struck him and he grinned. "Yeah - a beach somewhere with Samantha." Now with something pleasant to think about, he continued what he was doing.
In Denver, Vin Tanner's Sunday started with a bang.
After bumping heads all day Saturday about this deal, Larabee had finally agreed that this was not an opportunity to pass up. Although they were looking for gun runners, stopping an assassination was just too tempting to pass up. Going along with Lannen's offer could only benefit them - even if Tanner didn't win the gig it would put Lannen further at ease with the undercover agents, and therefore greatly increasing their odds of success at busting the Hanna cartel.
If Tanner did win the contract . . . well, any plans along that line were sketchy at this point. It was difficult to get any answers from any other agencies in the limited time they had before deciding to go forward, so Vin and Ezra were sent out the gun club while the rest of the team sought information on what to do if Tanner were hired.
At the gun club, Lannen recorded Vin going through his paces on the range in what was clearly a skills test. Lannen made one short phone call but JD - their electronics wiz kid - was unable to trace exactly where it went. All he could tell was that the trace went east. And from Denver, 'east' was a lot of area to cover.
Chris hoped someone would come forward with more information on this contract. Better yet, he hoped the whole thing would be handed off when Vin wasn't selected. For now, all they could do was wait, which gave the team the remains of their Sunday to rest and regroup. Chris took advantage of the time off at his ranch with Vin by embarking on a relaxing trail ride and generally fussing with the horses. By late afternoon he was grooming his horse Pony and could hear Vin outside in the barnyard hosing off his moody mount Peso. The background noise of his friend cussing out the surly black made the team leader chuckle.
Chris' mind, though, couldn't help but wander back to what he knew about this mysterious contract - or lack of what he knew. There were holes as big as Buck's ego in the packet so far - no city, no names, no details of any kind and the possible targets were too numerous to count. All they could do was just wait and see what progressed and Chris Larabee hated waiting. He spent the time trying to convince himself that this deal probably wouldn't go any further, anyway.
But the small voice inside never silenced. Chris had yet to see anyone best Vin's ability with a rifle and that small voice insisted that Team Seven had better be prepared when the time came.
Martin jerked awake Monday morning to the smell of coffee. He glanced at his alarm clock - it wouldn't go off for another fifteen minutes.
'Damn,' he thought, his mind taking a few seconds to get in gear. 'Coffee? Samantha?' He turned to find the space beside him disappointingly empty. Then he remembered the awkwardness of dating while under U.S. Marshal guard.
Samantha had gone home early.
His mood shifted to the dark side when he realized who had made the coffee. Frazier and Beatty seemed nice enough but the prospect of having a constant shadow - 'shadows,' he corrected himself - for the next eight days was unnerving. He'd only been free for a week!
Grumbling, Martin turned off the alarm and crawled from bed. He cringed at the heyday Danny would have with this. And as far as getting together with Samantha . . . he shook his head and stalked to the shower. It was going to be a very long week.
Frazier and Beatty were relieved by Astin and Griffith, who picked Martin up in the parking garage of his apartment building. He slouched in the back seat of their vehicle feeling like a he was in a very bad spy movie. The conveyance was the stereotypical black SUV that screamed 'Government Agent!' He expected Jack Bauer to fall through the roof at any instant. Martin could only pray that this didn't add fodder to Danny's verbal arsenal.
By the time they reached his building, Martin had resolved to play the hand dealt to him with some Fitzgerald pride. As he waited for his sizeable escorts to signal that is was clear and open his door, Martin managed to change his attitude and instill the agents in his routine. After all, he knew that if Danny, Samantha or even Vivian smelled even a hint of his annoyance with this whole set up, they'd jump on it like a starving pack of hyenas and he'd never get any peace.
Martin sighed. 'At least there's no paparazzi,' he concluded with an amused snort as he entered the building.
Striding through the lobby toward the elevators Martin nodded greetings to several people and ignored the numerous puzzled expressions regarding his rather bulky entourage. The marshals made sure it was only the three of them on the ride up, which started a mantra in Martin's mind: 'This is all temporary. It's only for a week.'
All in all, the day went fairly well. Their latest case involved a lot of financials so Martin was stuck with paperwork for most of the day. Danny tried to get Martin to enlist Astin or Griffith, or even both, to lend a hand but Samantha had to whisper her doubts that they had eyes behind the ever present dark glasses they wore. And shoulder to shoulder, the two marshals made their own mountain. She wondered if they would even fit in the chairs.
"They kinda give me the creeps," she said quietly, refusing to sit with her back to them. "At least the other two guys had a sense of humor."
Danny thought it was hilarious that Samantha had tolerated Martin's escorts at all, let alone know that they had a sense of humor. The rest of the day was filled with Danny's numerous versions of a Martin and Samantha household that included bodyguards, cooks, maids and butlers. By the time day's end rolled around, Martin was already dreading returning to work the next day for another salvo of Dannyisms.
Vivian had eyed the beefy escorts with a frown when she first encountered them and gave them a wide berth for the rest of the day. Only Jack had completely ignored the marshals, which was a feat considering the size of the pair.
'This is all temporary.' The mantra started in Martin's brain as soon as he stepped from the office for the day. 'It's less than a week now . . .'
The video conferences regarding Liang's contract had kept Jong Wu busier than expected. He had eight applicants by Sunday night, five from the U.S. and three from south of the border. He'd narrowed it down to three by nightfall.
By Monday afternoon, after a little more research, he'd hit upon something completely unexpected.
Tuesday required more information to be gathered.
Wednesday flew by with assembling facts and creating a timetable.
Thursday morning involved an additional and risky meeting with Liang for his approval of a new plan. By Thursday night, the original assassination plan had turned into something completely different. Wu was awed by the fortune of the coincidence that had fallen at his feet. Liang and the Triad would be indebted to him for life when this plan was set in motion.
When Wu noticed the undeniable resemblance between Martin Fitzgerald and Mark Nicklin, he knew it could be exploited in the Triad's favor in some way. All it took was a little time and a little meditation for the plan to come to him. When it did, he knew that he would rise in Triad ranks like a shooting star.
Wu would be rich beyond his dreams and finally attain the respect he deserved. All he had to do was make sure his plan was followed to the letter. Done properly, not only would Mee Liang be free, but the Triad would be completely invisible because this new arrangement had a built-in fall guy - or guys.
He knew it would take his full and undivided attention for a little while because it was the only way to make sure his plans were followed to the letter. Wu had a reputation for being 'hands-on', anyway, starting back when he was a boy in China. His first kill had been by strangulation with his bare hands. Now he was in a position to direct underlings to get dirty, but his assignment was very special. He'd make an exception.
Wu leaned back in his leather chair and twisted around to overlook Central Park at night. A confident smile grew with the knowledge that after this assignment, he would be able to afford an even better view.
Friday started loudly in Denver with the arrival of the normally silent-as-the-wind Vin Tanner. He marched into the office and flung his jacket onto his desk, spectacularly clearing it of his stapler and paperclip holder.
"Whoa there, Junior," Buck yelped, throwing his hands up in surrender. "Run outta that tar you call coffee this mornin'?"
Vin glared at him momentarily, then looked around the office. "Where's JD?" he snapped.
"Getting' the tracking device for your rifle," Buck answered. "Don't worry, Vin, he'll be careful with it."
Vin reached back with both hands and man-handled his long hair into a ponytail. When he was done, he sighed in resignation and hung his head for a moment. "Sorry, Buck. Didn't mean ta bark. Lannen's an idiot and I don't like fact that he's tellin' me what to do. I don't like not knowing where we're goin'. I've got a bad feelin, s'all."
Lannen had called Ezra late Thursday afternoon to tell him that Vin had won the contract. They were to meet with Lannen at noon today, rifle in hand, but wouldn't tell them where they were going after that. Lannen insisted that it was a on a need-to-know basis and he, personally, had no need to know; his job was to simply introduce St. James and Nicklin to the contractor. Lannen would get paid his broker fee and be sent happily on his way.
Chris, drawn to his doorway by the less than subtle arrival of his team sharpshooter and friend, leaned against the frame rolling a steaming coffee cup between his hands. He understood Vin's uneasiness - this whole thing did not set well with him, either. He, Ezra and Vin had discussed it into the late hours of the night trying to decide how to play it. Since they had no idea where the pair would be going, they decided a tracking device or two was essential.
But where to put them? Logically, the only things guaranteed to be at the assassination site were Vin and his rifle. Tagging Vin would be risky so they decided to tag the rifle with a GPS chip and that is what was upsetting the Texan. The rifle in question was his pride and joy and the idea of anyone fiddling with it stuck in his craw. Vin Tanner did not like anyone messing with his things for whatever reason.
A second tracking technique would be through Ezra's laptop. Since the internet connection used cell phone towers, every time Standish powered up the computer and went online he would leave a trail. The two devices were the best they come up with in the time allotted.
Chris silently watched his friend. Vin let out a sigh and proceeded to pick up his desk items in a ploy to keep his hands busy. Just as he figured Vin was about to give in to his anxiousness and track down the electronics wiz kid, JD walked in with the rifle case. Vin's shoulders visibly relaxed.
"Hey, Vin! It's all done." JD handed the sharpshooter his case and Vin immediately set it down and opened it up. The two agents put their heads together as JD pointed out how unobtrusive the device was. "It's like Lojack. You turn it on and off by sliding this." He tapped a tiny metal slide incorporated in the seam where the rifle's body met the stock. "It's practically invisible. And only turn it on when necessary because the battery doesn't have much life to it - maybe a couple of hours. We'll be able to track you using cell towers when Ezra logs in on the laptop, too, but when you turn this on we can pinpoint your location almost immediately. Between the two, we'll know where you are."
Vin nodded in understanding, obviously pleased that his rifle looked unscathed.
"I hear we have a new job." Josiah's resonant voice announced his arrival. Chris looked up to see Nathan trailing the big man in the room. "Are we putting the Corklemann case aside, Chris?"
"For now," Chris said from his doorway. "We should be out of this one pretty quick and refocus on Corklemann and the Hanna cartel. Once we've identified Vin's target we're supposed to call in the FBI and local authorities to take over. This really isn't our bailiwick. It was just dumb luck we to stumbled across it."
Nathan dropped into his chair and tucked his hands behind his head as he leaned back. "Are we risking losing the Hanna cartel if we hand it over? Won't this jeopardize Ezra and Vin's standing with Lannen when the Feds stop the assassination?"
"According to Lannen, he's out of it after today," Vin drawled lazily, his attention on packaging the rifle. "The contractor wants to work directly with us. Lannen hasn't even seen the guy and doesn't know when or where the hit's takin' place. We can blame our contractor when things go south."
"Where's Standish?" Chris said, looking at his watch. "We need to get movin' if you're meetin' Lannen at 8:30."
Just then the dapper agent strolled in the door with a grande Starbucks cup in his hand. "I apologize for my tardiness," he said. "I had to speak slowly for the new barista."
Josiah and Nathan laughed at Ezra's look of distain and Buck visibly perked up at the mention of a new female in the area to investigate. Before he could ask Ezra for more details, Chris interrupted.
"Conference room. Now." The team leader strode through the office toward the meeting room and the others immediately followed.
Lannen waited for the undercover agents at a mall parking lot on the outskirts of Denver. He was edgy and Vin figured it was because this location was too public. The other times they had met with the man it had been in an open field or off road in some desolate place. Lannen acknowledged them with a sharp nod of his head. They exchanged tense greetings as an ordinary blue car pulled into the parking spot next to Lannen's vehicle. A lean Asian man slipped from the driver's side, eyes hidden by dark glasses.
"Mr. Lannen?" the man queried.
Lannen gave the man a nervous rake with his eyes. "You have my money?" he said shortly.
The sunglasses man spared Ezra a glance just before the reflective dark lenses stopped on Vin. "Mr. Nicklin, I presume."
"Yup," Vin replied sharply, not offering his hand.
"My money, please." Lannen asked in an edgy tone.
The stranger returned his attention to Lannen. "Certainly," he replied blandly. The Asian walked to the back of the car and opened the trunk where he pulled out a small duffle bag. "Here you go."
Lannen snatched the duffle from the man's hand and retreated to his car. Once there, he quickly unzipped the bag and rifled through it. From where he was standing Vin could see the numerous packets of cash through which Lannen pawed. Then, apparently satisfied, the rat-faced man zipped the bag back up and tossed it on the passenger seat as he dropped in behind the steering wheel of his car.
"I'm done here, gentlemen." Lannen's car started and he pulled away with out a backward glance.
"Edward St. James, Mr. Nicklin's partner," Ezra introduced himself to the Asian as Lannen departed.
"Please, get in the car and I will take you to your contact." Sunglasses man backed up and opened the rear door of his vehicle. Vin reached down and picked up his rifle case.
"I will place that in the trunk for you, Mr. Nicklin," the Asian said.
"Nope," Vin said sharply as he folded into the back seat. "It stays with me."
"As you wish." The man indicated Ezra sit in the front, leaving the back seat to Vin and his rifle. As soon as Ezra did so they were on their way.
"May I inquire as to the location of this task?" Ezra asked, adjusting the soft laptop case next to him. "And more importantly, are you authorized to issue payment?"
"All your questions will be answered soon," was all the man said.
They rode in the car for about forty minutes before pulling onto a very remote and private airfield. Vin immediately noticed the small Gulfstream jet standing by on the tarmac and his stomach clenched. As if he felt the reaction, Ezra turned and met Vin's eyes, giving him an infinitesimal shake of his head. It didn't help stay Vin's growing unease. A jet ride was completely unexpected at this point. Both agents only expected a meet and plan.
'Chris must be spittin' nails,' Vin thought distractedly. As a claustrophobic, Vin wasn't fond of flying. He could feel his palms becoming clammy with anticipation.
The driver stopped alongside the jet and hopped from the car, opening Vin's door for him and then circling around to open Ezra's. Vin exited, but once his feet were on terra firma he found he couldn't move them.
"Please," the driver said, indicating with a sweep of his arm that the two of them should enter the jet.
Ezra drew up alongside Vin, who swallowed hard and gripped his rifle case with a slick hand. Ezra touched his elbow, sending him forward toward the jet's stairwell.
"Perhaps the aircraft is merely acting as an office, Mr. Nicklin," Ezra offered quietly.
"I don't think so, Ed," Vin replied, his mouth dry. "I have a bad feelin' 'bout this." And Vin could tell that Ezra felt the same way. Even though the man's eyes were unreadable, Vin noticed the tight grip Ezra had on his elbow.
They entered the craft to find one man inside. The fuselage was small, containing four captain's chairs that swiveled, a small couch and a tiny bar area at one end. One of the chairs held a bald, middle aged Asian man - Vin guessed Chinese.
"Please, sit," the man indicated two of the chairs facing him with a sweep of his arm.
Ezra slid over to the window seat, leaving the roomy aisle chair for Vin. Ezra settled the computer on his lap while Vin tucked the rifle case between the chairs. Vin kept the open hatch in his peripheral vision as he worked to keep his breathing even - the walls of the small jet felt like they were closing in.
"Edward St. James," Ezra started, offering his hand. The Asian leaned forward and shook it with a small smile. "And this is Mark Nicklin."
Vin offered a tense nod only, not wanting the man to feel the dampness in his hand or hear the tightness his throat.
"I am Jong Wu. I have seen your talent with your rifle, Mr, Nicklin, and am sure you will have no trouble with our contract."
"Yes, I am sure you won't," Ezra broke in. "I do not know if Mr. Lannen was clear about our partnership, Mr. Wu, but Mr. Nicklin and I are a team. I will handle all of the negotiations. You are already aware of what Mr. Nicklin brings to the contract."
"Yes," Wu said, almost distractedly as he studied Vin. "Yes, I am very aware of his talents and capabilities. The agreement was for five million?"
Ezra chuckled. "I believe the agreement was a minimum guarantee of five million. The balance would depend on the nature of the job. We are risking a profitable business for this contract, Mr. Wu. Any compensation would depend on the risk involved. You understand - supply and demand and such."
"Yes, I do understand, Mr. St. James, and I also understand that you are a hard but fair negotiator. With that said, let us get down to business, shall we?"
Vin half listened to the negations as he kept his eyes on the tiny windows and open hatch of the jet. He felt better seeing the mountains in the distance and he definitely wanted to keep an eye on any outside activity. He saw the blue car depart the air strip at a high speed. Then another car pulled into the sole hanger and shortly thereafter two uniformed men emerged from the building and headed toward the jet on foot. Vin immediately recognized the pilots' uniforms and his heart rate quickened.
The vague dread in his gut intensified when the two uniforms entered the jet. With a slight nod from Mr. Wu, they went directly to the cockpit and began what Vin recognized as a pre-flight checklist.
"Wait a minute," Vin interrupted. "We goin' somewhere?"
Wu raised his brows. Ezra turned to his partner and gave him a stern look. "It appears you were not paying attention, Mr. Nicklin." Ezra's voice carried a cautionary tone. "We are going to the location of the job. What Mr. Wu is reluctant to relate is exactly where that location is."
"Now? We're going now?" Vin had to work hard to keep the rising panic from his voice. Flying in this tiny craft with total - and more than likely dangerous - strangers did not sit well.
Ezra put his hand lightly on Vin's forearm to calm him and turned to Wu. "As you see, I am not alone in my reservations, Mr. Wu. Since you seem insistent on secrecy, I must insist on an open contract. Five million minimum with a two million retainer payable immediately. I would also insist on a caveat that allows additional compensation as the need rises. Our need, that is - Mr. Nicklin's and mine."
Wu sat with his fingertips steepled under his chin, nodding slightly. "Your needs, Mr. St. James?"
"Well, we have an example before us now. Mr. Nicklin detests flying. If you insist on flying us anywhere, we would have to insist on an additional fee to cover my partner's anxiety." Ezra paused to smile. "After all, it is much easier to face one's phobia for, say, and additional half - million?"
Vin had to work to keep his jaw from dropping. Ezra was really playing dirty - and he realized that the interplay helped distract him from his growing distress.
"Each and up front," Ezra added, the smile evaporating as he refused to drop his gaze from Wu's.
. . . more than dirty! 'Damn, Ez, you got some brass cojones,' Vin thought, smiling sickly.
Vin was more than astonished when Wu agreed with a nod. The shock, however, was short lived when he realized that yet another man had boarded and was closing the hatch. Vin's heart was jarred into racing when the jet engines fired up. He gripped the armrest until his knuckles ached and stared out one of the tiny windows. Two additional men trotted on tarmac, pulled the chocks from the jet wheels and signaled an all clear.
"Mr. Nicklin." Ezra's voice was warm in his ear. Vin just swallowed in reply. "Here. Take this." Vin finally tore his gaze from the window when his partner shook his shoulder. Ezra held out a pill that Vin recognized as a Valium.
"No," Vin choked. He didn't want to be drugged among strangers. He'd taken the pill before when the team had to fly somewhere but then, he had been surrounded by people he trusted. Here . . . this was different.
"Take half. It will help and you will still be alert." Ezra broke the pill in half. "You can take the other half if the need arises. I will be here to watch your back, I promise." The words were very quiet and only heard by the two of them. Wu had moved away to speak with the newest arrival so Vin took the opportunity to pop the half pill. Ezra retrieved a water bottle from the bar and Vin gulped down nearly half of it.
When Wu returned, the jet started to move and Ezra pulled out his laptop. "Now, Mr. Wu, I must insist on our three million dollar initiation fee." Vin felt a modicum of reassurance knowing that as Ezra fired up the computer, JD would be tracing the wireless signal and know where they were headed. He was able to distract his thoughts momentarily as he imagined Chris watching the jet take off - the rest of the team had been keeping visual surveillance from a distance. Right now, Chris was probably cussin' up a storm and issuing orders as fast as his lips could move. Imagining the scenario made Vin smile tightly for a moment.
Now somewhat distracted with visions of a spleen-venting Larabee, Vin sat back, closed his eyes and tried to ignore the bumps and shimmies of the jet taxiing and then taking off. This job had taken an early, unexpected turn and his only consolation was in knowing that they were being watched by five very competent and determined teammates.
"At least this pair blends into the background more." Samantha spoke lowly to Martin as they left the federal building for lunch.
Martin snorted in reply, fighting the urge to hold Samantha's hand. For some reason, the display seemed a little too personal for the eyes of the two marshals closely following. "I guess. At least the other two had a sense of humor. These guys haven't said more than a dozen words so far between them."
The latest guards had started the previous day, suddenly replacing Astin and Griffith.
"Do you know their names?"
Martin shrugged. "Rolls and Royce, Frick and Frack, I don't know. They'll be gone on Monday."
Samantha chuckled and pressed her knuckle to her lips to keep it low. "I get the impression you're tired of this."
Martin shook his head with a sigh. "You have no idea. I am so ready for this to be over and done with."
Frick - or was it Frack? - opened the black SUV door and after quickly checking the inside, allowed Martin and Samantha to slip inside.
"It'll be nice to walk again instead of being driven everywhere," Martin groused. Samantha patted his thigh sympathetically and the warmth he felt from her touch could not be ignored. He leaned over and whispered in her ear before the marshals entered the vehicle. "Walk, and a few other things."
"Poor baby," Samantha sighed. She mover her hand up a bit more and squeezed his leg sympathetically, leaving her hand to rest high on his thigh. He placed his hand on top of hers and gave her fingers a squeeze, trying to ignore repercussions her touch ignited. And by her predatory smile, she knew exactly what she was doing.
"Yes," he groaned softly, squirming slightly with his growing physical discomfort. "It's going to be a loooooong weekend."
Samantha laughed shortly and ducked her head, taking his hand completely in hers. When Frick and Frack slid into the front seat, she leaned closely to his ear, her warm breath tickling his neck. "Not just for you, you know."
"Baseball," he said quietly, turning to look out the side window. "Must think about baseball . . ."
She straightened up, laughed a low, husky laugh and gripped his hand more tightly.