Full Moon and Denver Seven
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
As the powerful jet ascended into the blue Denver sky Ezra took his time arranging payment with a very tight-lipped Mr. Wu. Their contact's reluctance to give too much information was fine with the agent at this point - the longer he was online the clearer their path was for JD to follow.
Wu was a skilled negotiator but Ezra knew he had the key element - Vin. As they bandied about options, Standish kept a careful eye on his partner. The drug showed its effects mostly in Vin's hands as they relaxed their white-knuckled grip on the seat arms. He was also able to finally release his locked gaze out the window and the momentary twitch at the corner of his mouth signaled an attempt at a smile. Ezra interrupted his dealings so Mr. Wu's silent sentinel could dig up a portable DVD player and a few action movies. With that, Vin appeared to settle at least until the Valium wore off.
"Mr. Wu," Ezra started again. "My partner and I have already earned two fifths of our guarantee plus the one million bonus. I must demand remittance immediately."
"And I have no guarantee that this job will be finished," Wu countered as he sat back, relaxed, in his seat. "I propose this: I will place your three million in a holding account, accessible to both of us. When the job in finished you may transfer the funds to your account. Agreed?"
"We are guaranteed five million. When the holding account collects that much I must insist that we can transfer that amount to our account immediately."
Wu pursed his lips for a moment before finally acquiescing with a nod.
"Then we have an amicable arrangement, Mr. Wu." It took a little longer to settle on the holding location, but it was eventually arranged. Ezra entered the information slowly, allowing JD a trace, and turned the laptop over for Wu to initiate the first deposit. By the time it was done, they had been in the air for nearly an hour.
'Mr. Dunne should have a very clear trail at this juncture,' Standish thought as he powered down the computer. At that point, Wu twisted his seat around to face forward and did not speak again for the rest of the flight.
"I got 'em," JD yelled triumphantly from the surveillance van.
"It's about time," Chris grumbled. The edgy feeling in his gut had refused to abate since Vin and Ezra had left them, and experience had carved in his mind to never ignore his gut feelings. It had been too long since the undercover pair had been whisked away in the jet. Chris had expected some sort of communication much sooner. "Where are they?"
"This was supposed to be a negotiations meeting," Chris growled. "There was no indication of travel. They weren't told to bring anything!"
"Except Vin's rifle," Buck said.
"Okay," Chris started, his brain running scenarios. "Get Nathan and Josiah drop the vehicle surveillance at the mall parking lot and get them to work on lining up a jet for us. Do we have anything back on the vehicle plate of the contact they left with?"
"It was a rental," Buck said as he started to work the radio. "Josiah should have that information."
Chris heard Buck contacting their teammates as started the surveillance van. "Okay, guys, let's park this hunk a junk and get ready to fly."
Buck gave Chris a pat on the shoulder that meant to be reassuring. "We'll get 'em, pard. Not to worry."
Chris could only nod. His gut was telling him a different story.
They assembled in their office an hour later. JD flattened a map on the table and traced a path with his finger. "Here's the path that they were on before the laptop was turned off," he explained. The five team members looked at the map. "Northeast."
"Lots of likely landing spots," Josiah said. "We'll have to be patient, I guess."
Chris didn't miss the pointed glance in his direction and made an effort to relax. "What did you find out about the rental, Nathan?"
"The renter gave a driver's license number that doesn't exist," he replied. "I just checked with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Name on the contract was Alex Wang. Bogus address, too. The man said that Mr. Wang has rented before and has a good record with them."
Josiah snorted. "Yeah, those companies don't look too close until one of their cars goes missing. Then they expect immediate service from the police."
The office phone rang and Buck snatched it up, speaking lowly as the others talked.
"They said they'd call us when the vehicle is turned in," Nathan finished. "As for the jet, I have the basics started. The flight plan filed isn't being followed. The jet is a rental. We'll need a warrant to get the information."
"I'll call Travis and get it started." Chris scrubbed his face. "I don't like any of this," he said. He heard Buck hang up the phone and looked his way. The dark expression on his friend's face made the hairs on the back of Chris' neck spring to attention.
"That was Sheriff's dispatch, Chris," he said grimly as he approached the table. Four heads turned his direction. "They called because of the flag we put on Lannen's vehicle plate. They just found Lannen dead inside his car."
"Where?" Chris asked flatly as his stomach flipped.
"About thirty miles from here. Looks like he ran off the road - went off a cliff, actually. Died on impact with a bunch a boulders."
Dreaded silence dropped over the gathering for long seconds.
"What did they find in the car?" Chris croaked.
"Nothing," Buck replied. "Not a damn thing."
JD looked up and frowned. "Didn't he get paid? Was the cash with him?"
"Yup," Buck confirmed. "And nope."
"Any signs of foul play?" Nathan asked.
"Don't know yet. The coroner hasn't arrived yet so they can't touch anything."
Chris didn't need the coroner or the traffic investigators. His gut instincts had never failed him before and right now they were screaming.
Lannen had been silenced and it would only be a matter of time until it was Vin and Ezra's turn. He stormed to the phone under the wide eyes of his remaining team. "I'm calling Travis," he snapped. "We leave in ten minutes."
"Uh - where to?" JD stammered.
"East!" Chris barked.
Vin was still visibly tense when they touched down hours later. He'd spent the last minutes looking out the window and trying to engage his brain by figuring out where they were. He wished he'd taken the whole Valium - what he'd taken had worn off much too soon.
"We're in the New York area," Ezra's low voice informed him.
"Great. Should be easy to narrow down a target here, huh?" Vin replied through gritted teeth. "What time is it?" he managed to croak as the jet finally touched down and taxied to an area at the end of a line of hangers.
Ezra flicked his wrist and consulted his Tag Heuer. "It is currently 3:15, East coast time," he said. "We will be disembarking in a matter of minutes, I am sure."
Vin nodded shortly and forced his fingers to uncurl from the armrest.
The small jet finally came to a stop and Vin was instantly on his feet, waiting at the hatch with his case as the stairway connected with the fuselage. Ezra came up behind him in a more relaxed manner. Vin ignored his irritation at his partner's cool and tapped his foot impatiently. "Come on, damn it," he whispered.
"Easy, Mr. Nicklin," Ezra murmured close to his ear. "Take a deep breath."
Biting back a sharp retort, Vin instead clenched his teeth and followed Ezra's suggestion. It helped him to hang on long just enough for the pilot to open the hatch all the way before he bolted down the steps, stopping at the bottom to wait for the other three passengers. By the time the last person reached the tarmac a white sedan with dark windows pulled up and a uniformed driver exited. He approached them and reached for Ezra's computer case. "I'll keep this one, my good man," he said, holding the case firmly against his side.
Vin also refused to hand over the gun case. "I got it," he snapped.
The driver bowed shortly then greeted Mr. Wu, taking his small case and stowing it the trunk of the car. Wu then moved to the car and Ezra followed. Vin paused a few seconds to examine the surrounding city before taking a deep breath and joining the pair.
Inside, the vehicle was configured as a small limo with facing bench seats. Vin settled in the rearmost seat, facing forward, his rifle case taking up the rest of the seat. Wu settled behind the driver with Ezra beside him. The car jumped away from the jet.
"You will accept my need to get things done quickly," Mr. Wu started.
"Yes, we understand, Mr. Wu," Ezra started. "But you must also understand that Mr. Nicklin must have a composed frame of mind to complete his contract. With that said, we must object to our ignorance of the finer details of this . . . job. We must insist on more information before we will proceed."
Wu's smile was hard. "You are being paid very well," he said to Vin, ignoring Ezra altogether. "I have every detail set. All you need do is what you are told, when you are told."
Vin immediately stiffened and glared at their contractor. "Don't mean I have to like it." Vin's tone was flat as he leaned forward with his index finger extended to poke the irritating man in the chest. Unexpectedly, Ezra's hand shot out and grabbed Vin's wrist, stopping the motion. Vin jerked his arm away and turned to growl at his partner but the sight of a large blade against Ezra's neck stopped him cold. The front passenger had moved with astonishing speed and silence.
Sitting stiffly upright and perfectly still, Ezra said, "I fear, Mr. Nicklin, that it may be prudent to acquiesce to the gentleman's request."
Vin didn't have to know the words to get the intent. With a dark look, he dropped his hands to the top of the rifle case and faced Wu with narrowed eyes. "Then what's next, old man?" he growled.
Wu checked his watch. "In a few minutes we will be arriving at the location of your first event."
"First event?" Vin repeated.
"Mr. Wu, I simply must object once again," Ezra calmly interrupted. Vin glanced aside to see that the knife had been withdrawn, leaving a fine, red line on Ezra's skin in its place. Ezra's fingers lightly touched the spot as he spoke; Vin admired the fact that his voice reflected no fear. "The contract was for one job. We must insist on further negotiations for multiple jobs."
"This is one job, that is, one target. The job does, however, have many steps. This is the first. If you insist on fighting me at every step, Mr. St. James, I will remove you from the entire deal."
Vin saw Ezra's brow rise with the threat. His partner quickly glanced over his shoulder where the knife disappeared and then turned his eyes to Vin. Pressing his lips into a hard line, Vin shrugged. Ezra nodded. "Very well, Mr. Wu, I see your point. Rather than a full renegotiation, may I respectfully request partial reimbursement at each step? Consider it incentive to continue to the next step."
Wu was motionless for a handful of seconds, his eyes unreadable behind shaded glasses. Then a small smiled revealed impossibly white teeth where Vin has expected to see fangs.
"I do like that idea, Mr. St. James. Incentive. It is always good to have incentive." Wu nodded in apparent agreement. "With that in mind, when Mr. Nicklin successfully completes this first step, your incentive will be that I will not kill you immediately afterward. How will that be?" The smile did not falter and when Vin didn't see fangs immediately, he looked closer to see if they would emerge from his gums like a snake.
"Ah, well," Ezra said brightly. "Yes. I can certainly see that as an incentive, but do you not agree that there must be a modicum of trust between us for this to work? You are a reasonable man and can fully understand that as businessmen, we have no reason to remain in this situation if so threatened. We are professionals, sir, and demand to be treated as such."
Vin was impressed by the way Standish kept standing up to this man. Vin had no problem with ripping the man's throat out at the moment but they were supposed to be professionals. And Ezra's accessing their account via his computer at each step would be an excellent way for JD to keep track of where they were.
After a heavy silence, Wu laughed outright. "You will not be cowed, gentlemen. I admire that trait. I think we may be able to work out an amicable solution. Would moving one million to the holding account after each step suffice?"
Ezra looked thoughtful, and then respectfully bowed his head. "Only if there are at least three more steps, Mr. Wu. Five million minimum?"
"Then I believe we have a contract, sir."
"I am pleased that we have finally come to an amicable agreement. We will be at the first point in approximately forty-five minutes. May I offer you refreshment?"
Martin leaned back in his chair and reached skyward to stretch out the kink in his shoulders. Unbidden, a long, mournful groan escaped his lips.
"Hey, think either Tom or Jerry there do backrubs?" Danny's lilting voice was almost too cheery to bear.
Martin looked backward over his shoulder and tried to glare at him, but Danny's quirky smile and barely under control hair were too much. Martin broke into a grin, which was followed by a short laugh. Tiredly, he spun his chair around and glanced at Jack's empty office. Interlocking his fingers behind his head, Fitzgerald straightened his legs into the bullpen.
"How many times do I have to tell you that it's Frick and Frack? Not Tom and Jerry or Martin and Lewis, or Lewis and Clark, Frank and Stein, or . . ." he held out a hand, prepared to count off on his fingers the collection of names his current marshal guards had garnered.
Danny waved off the correction and hitched a hip on the conference table. "Whatever their names, they're rather impersonal, don't you think? At least the other pair . . ."
"'Had a sense of humor', yeah, yeah. I've already heard it. God, I can't wait for this trial to get going." Martin rubbed his eyes. "Have we gotten anywhere on these financials? What's Viv got on the cell phone records?"
"Nada, my brother. Nada." Danny looked at his watch. "Good news? We can go home in just under an hour. Bad news? You got Butch and Sundance as houseguests for the weekend."
"Do not. They go home at night. I have Frasier and Beatty at night. And they get take out for me."
"Ah! Valet service from the U.S. Marshal's Office! I love where my taxpayer money goes."
Just then Samantha walked in with a handful of files. "I say party at Marty's tonight. He has built in bouncers!"
Danny nodded excitedly. "Yeah! We can watch Knicks, blast the stereo, Jello shooters . . ."
"Whoa, back up!" Martin laughed. "Knicks, fine, food fine, nix on the stereo blasting - Mrs. Arbuckle two doors down in a pain in the neck."
"Jello shooters?" Danny said hopefully.
"I can't cook."
They turned to Samantha. "Hey!" she protested, straightening as she planted her free hand on her hip. "Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean I cook!"
Danny leaned in closely to Martin's ear but spoke loud enough for her to hear. "Yeah, that's true. She can't cook."
Samantha smacked him on the shoulder. "I didn't say that either!"
"Okay, gang, let's dig in, here." Vivian appeared and dropped a box of files on the conference table to a chorus of groans. She glanced at the wall clock. "Look, it's 4:00. Let's just get these separated into logical piles and call it a day."
"Okay. You in for the party at Marty's?" Danny asked brightly as they divvied up the paperwork.
Viv snorted. "Nope, sorry. Family plans tonight. Let's focus, kids, so we can get out of here."
Wu's car swung into a garage entrance and immediately spiraled downward. The ceiling of the parking structure was low and Vin couldn't help but duck his head and they plunged into darkness. He caught Ezra looking at him with concern so he sent his partner a weak smile. The closeness of the city was stifling enough, but this garage was downright claustrophobic. Vin swallowed and forced himself sit up straighter.
The car pulled into a spot next to a bank of elevators. Vin stepped out of the car and immediately noticed the unclean mustiness of the air. He felt his shoulders roll forward and his grip on the rifle case became clammy.
"Mr. Nicklin," Ezra's voice said softly near his ear. "Are you all right?"
"M'fine," Vin mumbled, straightening at the sight of the bulky bodyguard taking a stance next to Wu. The agent wasn't about to show any weakness in front of the goon. Vin glowered at the guard with flinty eyes as he grumbled, "Let's get this over with."
The goon called the elevator. As they waited, Vin noticed that Wu and his guard slipped on gloves. When the car arrived the goon stepped in, using a hand motion to keep the others outside. Holding the door open with one hand, he reached up with the other.
"To shield us from prying eyes," Wu explained quietly. "And refrain from conversation until my associate indicates that it is clear."
Vin realized the goon was disabling the camera. After a moment, the mammoth man silently motioned them inside and inserted a key to send the car upward and directly to the desired floor.
'Great,' Vin thought sourly. 'One cage to another.' Ezra's firm hand on his back was a welcome reassurance.
The ride up seemed exceptionally long. Vin kept his mind busy wondering why he didn't think to bring his gloves and focusing on the flashing floor numbers - anything to keep from thinking about how deep underground the car was parked. Did Wu or his associates own the building? How could he and Ezra find out the address?
Vin's musings kept him busy until the doors were locked open. The goon exited, indicating the others to stay until he signaled. Vin exhaled, and the trapped feeling slowly ebbed as he waited. Finally, the guard waved then forward and Vin fell in behind Wu. Ezra and the driver brought up the rear. They followed the large man down a long hall and made a right turn before stopping in front of the very last door. The end of the hallway held a large window that would have had a long view if it wasn't blocked by several other building. As the guard unlocked the door, Vin wondered what the point of the window was, unless looking at another building was plus to New Yorkers.
They entered an office that was clearly unoccupied and completely empty. The guard paused for a moment with his head cocked to one side and then indicated with a nod that they could speak. The mute giant then moved to a large window that overlooked a busy street and waited. Vin frowned at the telescope set up at the window and then noticed the scratches in the window itself that formed a large rectangle.
Vin then looked to Ezra, who raised a brow as he examined the stark office space. "I have the name of an excellent interior decorator," he said dryly.
Amazingly, Wu chuckled. "The view is all that is needed," he said. "Mr. Nicklin, please prepare your weapon."
Surprised, Vin glanced at Ezra. His partner's face was, as usual, unreadable, so Vin moved forward and set the rifle case on the floor. The close- to- the- vest way Wu handled things was worrisome; Vin was thinking that the man had bottomless violence in his soul that had yet to show itself and hoped that neither of them would be on the receiving end of it. He was beginning to wonder at the wisdom of taking on this assignment - and also wondered if it was a little too late to think along those lines.
"Appreciating a view is not why we are here, is it?" Ezra asked warily. "If this is the crux of the job must insist on . . ."
"No, Mr. St. James, this is not the intended job. This is merely a prelude. I want Mr. Nicklin to convince me of his talent."
Vin didn't comment as he was already well into the routine of assembling his weapon. His fingers flew over the motions, knowing what to do by feel alone. The actions also allowed his mind to fall into the collected state he needed for the shot. The room was quiet except for the metallic clicks of the rifle parts slipping together, an elixir to Vin's scattered mind.
Vin finished with the rifle and rose, unobtrusively thumbing on the GPS. Ezra's use of the computer at the airfield put them near the city but the GPS reading would - hopefully - pinpoint their current location. He knew it would be quite awhile before the team reached them and their electronic breadcrumb trail should eventually bring them all together again. That was the way it worked on paper, anyway. The actual execution still needed to prove itself.
Wu walked Vin to the telescope and indicated that the sharpshooter should set up on the floor next to it. Vin snapped opened his tripod and set it on the floor, steadying it with two small sandbags. He carefully set the rifle atop the tripod and lay next to it.
"I need to know what I'm aimin' at," he said, his words tight with focused tension. This whole thing felt so wrong. "And you don't expect me to shoot through the glass, do you?"
A nod from Wu brought the goon close to the window. It was then that the etching on the window made sense; with a pair of hand suction cups retrieved from a corner the guard carefully worked to lift a large piece of the window free. The glass had been previously cut. The new opening infused the noise and smell of the city into the cool room.
Wu pulled out a cell phone and dialed a number. He spoke one short, quiet word and then stepped forward and looked through the telescope as the guard set the glass piece aside. Focusing the telescope, Wu said, "Your spotting scope, Mr. Nicklin. Set it up next to you." Vin retrieved the small spotting scope and tripod from the rifle case and set it up. Finally, Wu seemed to settle on what he wanted and snapped the phone shut after a short, sharp word. Then, he stepped aside and motioned for the guard to look though the telescope. "My associate will adjust your spotting scope on your target."
After studying something through the telescope the guard dropped down to his belly and focused the spotting scope, taking less than a minute to find what he wanted. Then he locked the scope in place and rolled aside. "Mr. Nicklin." It was the first time he'd heard the guard's voice.
With a glance at Ezra's unreadable eyes Vin rolled aside and set his eye on the scope. It was aimed through an office window one floor below and across the street, several windows to Vin's right. The window had vertical blinds that were conveniently open and framed a conference table where four people sat, two with their backs to them and two across the table and facing Vin. There were desks scattered around the periphery, mostly unoccupied; it was late on a Friday afternoon, after all. It wasn't a place Vin felt comfortable shooting into.
"You want me to shoot into an office? That's a little risky, don't ya think?"
"Not if you shoot as well as I think you do. I do not want you to kill anyone. I want a near miss."
"So Mr. Nicklin is here to scare someone," Ezra concluded..
"Today, yes. A warning only. The man I want you to scare has his back to the window and is sitting to the left of the blonde woman."
Angle and wind compensation calculations were already spinning in Vin's head. "Though the glass? How thick is it?"
"Double panes of one-half inch glazed glass with argon gas center," the goon said instantly.
Vin moved over to his weapon and brought the rifle stock to his shoulder, his mind becoming focused and centered. Knowing it wasn't a kill shot took away any adverse pressure - still, he had to keep in mind the track of a bullet which could easily penetrate an interior wall. He focused on the table and assumed it was solid wood - one good target. The noise and sourness of the city faded away with his concentration as he studied the back of the man and his position in the scope. It would be easy to put the bullet in the table, but there was a Hispanic man and a black woman on the other side and too close to the bullet's trajectory for Vin's comfort. If they would just shift one way or the other . . .
As if hearing Vin's thoughts, the two people rose and walked in opposite directions, out of his sight line. With that worry out of the picture, Vin's entire self was now centered though his scope. His finger rested tenderly on the cold trigger, ready to respond in a fraction of a second. He shut out all external noise until all he heard was his own breathing and all he saw was the small circle of the office his scope showed him. Suddenly, the target figure rose, walked around the end of the table and settled in a desk chair, his back still toward Vin. The blonde woman remained at the conference table stacking files and well aside from the bullet path.
The computer monitor on the man's desk caught Vin's eye and he adjusted his rifle. The desk was backed by a half wall and empty space behind. Glass walls separated the office space from the hall so Vin could see that the area behind the desk was clear. Perfect - and the monitor would create quite a show when he blew it to bits. Vin waited for the moment he had in mind and it came with his third breath as the targeted man in Vin's round-framed world turned his chair sideways and reached for something on the floor.
Vin smoothly squeezed the trigger.
"I hear a beer calling my name," Martin said as he triumphantly topped the stack of files before him.
"Will Seigfried and Roy let you off leash?" Danny teased. "Aren't they off duty in an hour or so?"
Martin chuffed and shook his head. "They'll switch out where ever I am. They do have phones, Danny and remarkably, do know how to use them."
"I see that," Danny nodded, impressed, just as Frick put his cell phone away after a brief and quiet conversation.
Viv rolled her eyes and flipped through the last file in her hand. Slapping the file shut she shoved it to the center of the table.
"Well, I'm glad we don't have to wait for their tag team because I'm ready to blow this pop stand." Danny followed Viv's lead and shoved his files aside, too. "They have no qualms about trading out at the bar, then?"
Samantha laughed lightly. "I hope not because an apple martini is sounding awfully good right now and I do not want to drink alone."
"What am I, chopped liver?" Danny complained from his desk.
"I'd say closely related," Viv deadpanned. "Well, you all have fun. I got plans at home. I'll see you all in the morning." She walked to her desk and rolled her stiff neck.
Danny mirrored Viv's movement in the opposite direction.
Martin rose from the conference table and circled around it to his desk where he began to log out for the night.
"Still don't see why people don't have the decency to be found by the weekend," Samantha mumbled as she started stacking the numerous files on the table before her.
Martin turned and reached for his briefcase on the floor. Suddenly, his computer monitor exploded with a shattering bang and dazzling flash. Someone screamed as glass rained down; electronic smoke assaulted his nose and something popped near his head. Martin realized he'd fallen to the floor, his hands automatically covering his head. A male voice barked orders and he heard the rhythmic sound of running feet as he started to rise. Almost immediately a black form shoved him back to the floor with a grunt.
"Stay down!" A deep voice demanded.
Martin fought to rise and felt for his gun. "Samantha!" he yelled, pushing off the restraining hands. He managed to get to his knees and pull his gun free when he was bodily hoisted to his feet and propelled out of the room into Jack's office by what felt like a tidal wave of human flesh. Frick and Frack tried to shove him under Jack's desk but Martin resisted, taking a crouched stance with his gun raised.
"Where's Danny? Sam!" he rasped, shrugging off the meaty hands trying to force him to the floor.
Vivian charged in the small room, gun drawn, followed quickly by Danny and Samantha. The office door slammed shut with a solid thud and all Martin heard for a few seconds was heavy breathing.
"Martin, are you okay? Some one shot at you!" Samantha spun around and put her hands on his shoulders, dropping down and forcing Martin to follow her to the floor and below window level. She knelt in front of him while Frick and Frack covered the door.
"Shot?" he questioned, eyes locked on the door.
"There's a hole in the window, Martin. High powered rifle from across the street," Danny panted from the far side of Frick. "The only casualty is your computer." Danny holstered his weapon and loosened his tie. "No great loss, really."
Shocked, "Oh," was all Martin could think to say as he sat back on his heels and put his gun away.
Vivian and Samantha crawled to Jack's couch and leaned back against it, staying below window level. Vivian holstered her gun and was immediately on the phone.
"Building's locked down. We're here for awhile." Danny scooted over beside Martin and leaned back against Jack's desk. Frick and Frack made an impenetrable obstacle between them and the office door. One of them was speaking rapidly into a cell phone. "Hope you had no plans for the weekend, buddy," Danny sighed. "'cause I think you're gonna get grounded."
"Shit!" Martin spat. "Jack's going to be pissed."
Viv shook her head and rolled her eyes as she spoke lowly on the phone. Samantha scowled, obviously thinking hard. Danny reached over and flicked a piece of glass from Martin's shoulder, grinning sickly.
Vin's finger had barely left the trigger when Wu's eye was back on the telescope. Silently, Vin sat up and began to disassemble this rifle, thumbing the GPS off as he did so.
"Excellent shot, Mr. Nicklin," Wu complimented, smiling broadly. "Exactly what was needed." He stepped back and the guard began to expertly pack the telescope. "You are all I expected you would be."
"We aim to please," Ezra said coldly. "I assume we are booking a hasty retreat?"
"You have a way with words, Mr. St. James. Shall we?"
The rifle and telescope were ready to go within moments of each other. Ezra moved to Vin's side, allowing the guard and Wu to take the lead. Vin knew Ezra well enough to read through the deceptively cool expression he wore. Ezra's mind was working furiously as he gave the room a final glance. Hurrying to the elevator Vin's partner leaned in and whispered, "Did you leave any prints behind?"
Vin shook his head, but had no doubt that Wu could easily set them up to take the fall for the hit if the man wanted. Obviously, Ezra had the same thought.
Right now, Denver seemed as far away as the moon. At least Vin's whirling thoughts kept him occupied during the trip to the car. By the time the sedan hit the street, emergency vehicle sirens bounced off the buildings in a deafening chorus.
Ezra immediately pulled the computer into his lap and fired it up. He tapped on a few keys and patiently waited, then turned the device toward their host. "Mr. Wu," Ezra said with an eerie calm. Wu, wearing an expression of satisfaction quickly entered an account number, sending another million to the holding account. Ezra waited for acknowledgement of the transfer and then logged into the holding account. He gave a short nod of approval. "I understand your personal need to keep our schedule under wraps but may I inquire, sir, on how long we are to be in your fair city?"
"Until I am finished with you."
"Of course. We will require accommodations. I know of an acceptable five-star hotel uptown where you may drop us . . ."
"Your housing is already arranged, Mr. St. James. You will not be disappointed."
"May I inquire . . ."
"No." Wu turned to look out the window, making his wishes clear.
Ezra gave Vin a glance. Vin shrugged and also turned his attention to the outside, listening as Ezra went through the motions of stowing the computer. Vin rested his hand on the rifle case and wondered how this was going to end, whatever 'this' was.
"This" was beginning to feel less like an assassination and more like a set up.
Ever since their abrupt departure, JD's eyes were glued to his laptop waiting for any signal from Vin or Ezra. In that time the team had dispersed and regrouped at the airport with enough travel supplies for at least a day.
The wait for a signal was long and nerve-wracking, and JD's stomach was beginning to feel sour from nerves when the GPS ping grabbed his attention. The device was only active for a few minutes, but it was enough to get a longitude and latitude and thus an exact location.
"New York City!" JD announced in the security offices of the airport. Josiah began making traveling arrangements immediately while the rest of the team got online to try and figure out what the target was . . . or would be. None of them could imagine Vin actually carrying out an assassination, but they kept an ear tuned to the news anyway.
Within a few minutes Ezra logged in and the cell tower trail confirmed that they were on the move again. The team absorbed a lot of news between the waiting area and boarding gate, none of it about a recent, news-worthy killing.
When they finally arrived in New York it was past midnight. They checked in to a hotel near the GPS coordinates and took turns monitoring JD's phone and computer for the night. Another ping by the GPS placed their wayward team members just outside the city, near enough to their hotel to keep Chris from heading to the location immediately. Instead, JD managed to get an address on the hit that they would check out after getting some rest and a car.
After and early breakfast, they headed to the nearest Federal building to secure a conference room for research and arrange for an unmarked car. During the taxi ride to the offices JD and Nathan gawked at the sights with Josiah jammed in between the two in the cab's rear seat. Chris rolled his eyes at Josiah's occasional commentary that just encouraged the two enthralled team members. Buck, sitting up front with Chris grinned at his friend's annoyance both with the tight taxi accommodations and the verbal observations.
"Ya gotta admit, Chris, there's a lot to see," he commented as his eyes watched sidewalks. Even on a Saturday morning there was enough feminine eye candy to keep even Buck occupied.
Chris snorted. "Too much, I'd say. Let's not lose focus, kids!" he said a little louder, glaring in the rear view mirror.
"Aw, Chris, we can't do much until we hear from Ezra again, anyway. Just some more research . . ."
"A lot more research," Nathan had to admit, finally getting a grip on the work ahead. "Do you realize how many conventions alone there are? We could be searching for days and still not find anything."
"I know, but we have to be ready and that means research."
"Spoilsport," JD said almost too quietly to hear.
Buck obviously heard as a smile brightened his face. He chuckled and turned to the annoyed team leader. "Kid's soundin' more 'n more like Junior every day, don't ya think?" he chortled.
Chris crossed his arms over his chest and tried to see the humor but there was an underlying feeling of dread that would not be quieted. "I wish it were Vin talkin', Buck. I just have a bad feeling about all this."
"We'll keep 'em both safe, stud. Don't you worry."
Chris could only nod.
Mr. Wu was correct. The accommodations were more than acceptable.
Immediately after Vin's impressive demonstration the two agents had been taken directly to a plush apartment building on the outskirts off Central Park. There were at least four bedrooms along with a lavish living room, den and media room. Ezra had settled in quickly and spent the first few hours pestering their bulky guard for additional luxuries like top shelf scotch and wine. Vin had to give him some points for his tactics - by the amount of refreshments they were allowed they could estimate how long they were to be in this location.
On their arrival, Vin had prowled around the extravagantly decorated room feeling terribly out of place. He'd picked this room on their arrival because it had the largest window. The floor to ceiling glass made the room feel less confining due to the startlingly beautiful view of Central Park. Still, he still felt closed in. In an effort to keep his mind occupied, Vin immediately fell to cleaning his rifle, taking the opportunity to thumb on the GPS for a few minutes. It had been well into the early hours of morning before he'd finally fallen asleep.
This morning, the smell of the cleaning oil still hung faintly in the air. It comforted Vin. The wrinkling of Ezra's nose when he'd entered the room told Vin that his partner immediately knew what he'd been doing instead of sleeping.
"It looks to me that we will more than likely be spending the weekend," Ezra mused as he settled comfortably into the club chair at the end of Vin's bed. "Our requested items will be arriving poste haste, I am told." Vin was surprised Ezra was up so early. Then again, by the subtle shadows hanging under normally sharp hazel eyes, Vin surmised that his partner had slept about as much as he had.
"I'm good with what's here," Vin said quietly. He tugged briefly at the long sleeved t-shirt he wore. They had found neatly folded stacks of clothing waiting for them on the dining room table when they'd arrived the prior evening. There were two changes of clothes and basic grooming necessities. Vin had to admit, Wu was well prepared.
Vin dropped down on a small couch across from his partner. "So, have you found out what we're waitin' for?"
"Mr. Wu is arranging some sort of meeting. We are to gather in the den in a half hour. He has provided a more than suitable cook. I recommend the crepes."
Ezra expelled a long suffering breath. "Very thin pancakes."
"Yeah? Syrup, too?"
Ezra's eyes sparkled with humor. "You are most entertaining, if not anything else, Mr. Nicklin," he sighed as he stood. "Come and enjoy the repast. I get the feeling that we will be ensconced here for the duration, so we may as well enjoy the benefits."
Vin moved to his side as they headed to the door. "If ya mean we ain't goin' anywhere for awhile, food ain't gonna help much."
"But it won't hurt, either. We can't have you pining away to nothing, now can we?"
The breakfast was good and Vin ate his fill. The coffee, however, was not as strong as he liked, but he decided he could live with it. Wu's guard had stayed in the apartment with them but Wu had not. Vin had just finished eating when their contractor arrived with another man.
The newest addition was a small Asian man introduced as Mr. Ping. Ping carried tattered valise and put it in the fourth bedroom at the guard's direction. 'Another roommate?' Vin wondered. It wasn't long before he learned the small man's job.
The four of them - Wu, Ping, Vin and Ezra - gathered in the den at the appointed time. Ping immediately sat at the desk and addressed the computer as Wu let them in on the next step of the job.
"Mr. Ping is a linguist. His job is to teach you how to speak, Mr. Nicklin."
The agents traded surprised looks.
"I speak jus' fine," Vin growled as he turned back to their host.
Ezra was immediately on his feet. "This is totally unexpected and not part of our agreement," he smoothly protested. "This kind of training takes time and I must insist on some type of compensation. Time is money, after all. Perhaps if you enlighten us as to the expected duration of this training we can calculate an appropriate imbursement into the holding account."
Wu hooked his gaze on Ezra. The agent stood fast, holding the pointed look for several long second. Vin noticed that Mr. Ping had hunched over and seemed to be trying to hide behind the computer screen. Wu's eyes were unreadable and Vin had the distinct feeling that Ezra had met his match in that department.
"Fifty thousand a day," Wu finally offered.
"One hundred thousand. Each. Every day that we are here we lose business at home."
Vin dropped his head to hide his smile. 'Go get 'em Ez!' he thought, wisely keeping his mouth shut.
"Think of it as expenses," Ezra added. "In advance."
"As earned," Wu countered, "and deposited at day's end. And if Mr. Nicklin fails this task it returns to me."
"Accepted," Ezra agreed.
With an agreement made, Mr. Ping seemed to relax and then stood to address Vin. He spoke in perfect, unaccented English and indicated his student should sit beside the desk. As Vin moved, Wu left the room. Ezra settled into a near by wing chair.
"This is the voice you will be learning," Mr. Ping said. He clicked a button on the keyboard and a man's voice filled the air.
The recording was a collection of one - sided conversations. Vin suspected the subject did not know he was being recorded as the content jumped from subject to subject, pieced together in random sections. The voices of whomever this unknown man was talking to at the time were cut from numerous sessions. There was nothing to indicate anything about who the voice belonged to.
"So I'm supposed to sound like this guy?" Vin clarified.
There was a raspy element to the voice that was remarkably similar to his and the agent figured that was one reason why he was selected for this job. He glanced at Ezra and was acknowledged with a shrug and slight frown. His partner was just as confused by this latest turn of events.
'Sounds like this guy's phone's tapped,' Vin thought. 'Maybe his house, too. Wonder who he is . . .'
"Now, pay attention to the inflection of his words and do exactly what I tell you to do with your tongue," Mr. Ping started without preamble.
Vin was forced to turn his attention to the small man.
"I am partnered with Eliza Doolittle," Ezra mumbled in the background.
Saturday morning found Martin awakening in a strange bed. As he opened his eyes, he immediately recalled where he was and registered the fact that he was still tired.
After Frick and Frack had been replaced by his regular after-hours guards, Frazier and Beatty, he'd been hustled to this federal safe house sometime around midnight without being able to retrieve anything from his apartment
"Can't go anywhere near there," Frazier told him. "It's probably being watched. Anyone going there might pick up a tail. You'll be supplied with what you need for the weekend."
After getting to the safe house, he was unable to fall asleep. Since he had none of his own things, Martin ended up sleeping in his boxers with his gun under the pillow. Between the poor mattress and the previous evening's confinement in Jack's office his muscles were stiff and sore resulting in a poor night's rest.
He sighed. 'Well, I'll have plenty of time to rest up since I'm stuck here until Monday,' he reasoned.
Martin tucked one hand under his head and absently rubbed his bare chest with the other as he stared at the ceiling. His thoughts wandered back to the time trapped in Jack's office. Viv had retrieved Chinese take out before leaving for home, Danny left some time after nine o'clock and Samantha had stayed until his transfer to the safe house was put into motion.
He and Samantha had talked and gone as far as holding hands, the imposing figures of the marshals making any intimate conversation impossible. Still, it had been comforting and went a long way to sooth his anxiousness. An obviously miffed and ruffled Jack was finally admitted to his own office around eight and kept track of the ongoing arrangements and investigation since Martin wasn't permitted to set one foot outside the small office.
"The shot came from across the street," Jack had told them, pointing in the general direction. "NYPD found some evidence in an empty office. The sniper cut a hole in the window glass. Forensics recovered the bullet - it was embedded in the floor behind your desk. No surprise it's from a high-powered rifle; that's about it, though. Who ever it was didn't leave much behind. We've taken over the investigation."
Martin turned the information over in his mind as he lay on the lumpy safe house bed and replayed his actions just before the shot. If he hadn't bent down to get his briefcase . . . he shuddered at the thought and wondered how his parents had taken the news.
Moving on to better thoughts, Martin smiled, again recalling his time with Samantha in Jack's office and felt a stirring below his hips. He groaned and threw an arm across his eyes, but it was too late. Memories of her smell and soft skin and light touch aroused his groin to full, unbidden attention. Unfortunately, the soft crackle of a police radio behind the closed bedroom door reminded him of his lack of privacy. Unable to stop the images of Samantha now running through his head, Martin finally gave up fighting his obvious urge and threw back the sheets. The shower was a sorry replacement for the object of his lust but it was all he had at the moment. And it was all he would have until this was over.
Martin Fitzgerald's mood turned sour as he stalked to the small bathroom. It was going to be a long weekend. Again.
After a stress-relieving but none too relaxing shower, Martin pulled on his suit pants from the day before and shrugged on the wrinkled shirt, leaving it unbuttoned, then left the small bedroom for the living room. The safe house was tucked away in a quiet neighborhood far away from the city itself. The yard area around the small building was free of any shrubs and securely fenced. It reminded him of a prison yard, but looked like any other house in the neighborhood with a small front porch and a fireplace. The agents, however, stood out like sore thumbs with their nearly identical polo shirts and tell-tale radio wires trailing from their ears; it was a good thing they were inside the house, at least. He counted three agents watching all sides of the house.
One agent acknowledged him with a nod as he entered the living room. "Do I get any clothes?" Martin asked the agent.
"Your regular day time guard dogs left a little while ago to do just that. They can't go to your apartment so they're buying a few things, including a suit for court on Monday."
Martin moaned and rubbed his eyes. He could only imagine the kind of suit those two would choose - black jacket, white shirt and boring tie. "Can I call them? They need my size, don't they?"
"Sorry, no calls. I can page them, though, and they'll return the call on a land line. How's that?"
"Fine," Martin mumbled.
"And they already know your sizes. They took it from the suit you had on yesterday." The agent paused what he was doing and gave Martin's suit pants an extended examination. "I can bet they probably won't match your normal . . . um . . . style . . ."
Martin looked down at the rumpled vestige of what had been one of his favorite shirts, trying to smooth it with his hands. "I can tell them a place where I have an account that knows my style." Fitzgerald noticed the skeptical raised brow of the agent as he paged Frick and/or Frack and felt a slight rage at his current position. Damn Liang. "There'd better be some coffee left," Martin snarled, grudgingly accepting his fate.
Fortunately, the house had lots of books. It only made sense since the reason for a safe house was to stay inside. Martin skimmed the titles of the worn paperbacks and chose a few he hadn't read yet and settled in to read. It wasn't long before he became restless; he'd had enough inactivity while on light duty. He assembled lunch, taking the time to make enough for his bodyguards, too. There wasn't anything else to do except flop in the couch in the dark living room and scan the television channels. He settled on a basketball game between two teams he really didn't care about.
It was late afternoon before Frick and Frack returned. Martin clicked off the television toyed with the thought of actually learning their names. Honestly, he was a little embarrassed to ask their names straight out since they'd been assigned to him for days now so Martin decided to just pay attention to see if he could pick out their names through conversation. At least it was something to do.
The two marshals hauled in a garment bag, a bag of clothing and two bags of groceries. Martin took the garment bag and unzipped it, nodding his head in approval. The marshals obviously went to the store he'd suggested. "You spoke to Anton, I see," he commented, fingering the tie.
"Yeah, we did as you said," Frack replied noncommittally. "The guy seemed real happy to do it, too."
Martin laughed shortly as he zipped up the bag. "Yeah, he definitely isn't shy about his suggestions."
Frick started to unpack the food and staples. "I didn't think those patterns went together," he said with a frown. Then, a little more quietly, "That tie can stop traffic."
"The price of style is being noticed, right?" Martin joked, his mood lightened with the new suit.
Frack snorted a laugh. Martin took the suit and other clothing and headed to the back room, anxious to change. Once dressed in clean jeans and a comfortable shirt, he felt much better. The prospect of two full nights and another day in 'lock up' immediately squashed any spark of enthusiasm so he found the book he'd started and dropped unceremoniously onto the worn living room couch to pass time.
The New York ATF had given them a small resource office packed with maps, phone books and other reference material along with two additional computer terminals. Nathan found the reverse directory and flipped thorough the pages until he found the address of the location on the last GPS ping.
"Condominiums, it looks like. Private residences. There's about . . ." he ran his finger down the page. "Sixty units in that building. Want me and Josiah to check it out?"
Chris studied the city map, Buck at his shoulder. He found the location of the previous day's reading and compared it to the latest one which only confirmed their suspicion that the target would probably be somewhere in New York City. He scrubbed his face in frustration - it was an impossible area to cover.
"Josiah can do that. Anyone have anything new to add? Anything interesting in today's paper, Buck?"
"Regular big city stuff. Couple of bodies found in the river, here," he pointed to the map on JD's computer. "Some industrial big-wigs getting together for an international conference starting Monday here," he moved his finger. "Lots of shootings, mostly in the clubs. And, oh, someone took a pot shot at one of the federal buildings . . . ummm . . ." he referred to the paper for the address. "Here. Hey, isn't that near Vin's position last night?"
Chris perked up and Josiah paused in his preparations to leave. The four of them formed a half circle behind JD.
"How many federal buildings are there in New York, anyway?" JD groused as his fingers typed. Soon there were yellow boxes labeling Vin's positions, along with times and dates, and the address of the victim building.
"Right across the street," Buck pointed out. "The paper doesn't say where, exactly, the building was hit or what kind of gun it was. Can't be a coincidence, though, can it?"
Chris thought a second. "JD, what federal building is that?"
A few key clicks brought up the answer. "FBI."
Buck snorted. "Now, gee, there's a few cases we can start with," he said sarcastically. "That's gonna take awhile."
"At least we can put the convention scenes aside," Nathan added. "We should also look into any FBI affiliated conferences this weekend. That would make sense if the hit is on a weekend."
"Or an upcoming trial," Josiah offered.
"Or any number of ongoing cases," Chris sighed, dragging his hand over his burning eyes. "And with Ezra's less than stellar background with the FBI we can't really reveal too much to them. Buck, head over to the building and see who's there. Find out who was on that floor - since no one was killed, it sounds like Vin was supposed to scare someone or the FBI in general. I'm sure Travis could narrow this down with a phone call but I don't want to tip our hand yet for Ezra's sake and I sure as hell don't want them to know an undercover ATF agent's shootin' at 'em.
"Josiah, I'd feel better if we staked out that building Vin and Ezra are in. I want us to be close if anything happens. Take the portable tracker with you so you can follow if he leaves the building with the GPS on. One of us will relieve you around six. Keep and eye on who comes and goes. I'll have JD bring up a list of tenants and send it to your cell. I'll also see if I can get any court numbers that have recorded trial information and you can call those from the car."
Buck nodded, gathered his jacket and headed out with Josiah right behind. Chris instructed JD to try and find any hot open cases in the FBI files, stopping short of asking him to hack into their system. Nathan was given the duty of finding a non-secure FBI schedule of events for the weekend. As the agents went to work, Chris read the all too short article in the paper about the incident.
Chris spared a glance at the conference table provided. They'd been working in the city for mere hours and there was already an impressive stack of information collected. He sighed; there was still so much to do and he was unwilling at this point to ask for additional help. He wanted their presence in this town kept quiet - it as something his gut felt was the way to go.
In essence, they were on their own for now and with each passing hour Chris's uneasiness about their reason for being here grew, making the morning pass much too slowly. Buck arrived back at their temporary office shortly before noon and he sat with Chris to review what he had found.
"I dug up the name of the agent investigating the shooting and he's been elusive." Buck sagged back in his chair and drew a hand over his eyes. "Something's not right about this."
"Were you able to talk to the lead investigator at all?" JD asked.
"I spoke to one of his team members. I got the feeling he was fishing for information about me so I had to keep it short. The only thing I was able to get was the floor number."
JD took note of the information and his fingers flew over the laptop keys. "That floor has offices for the Missing Persons Unit, General Investigations and their Homeland Security Liaison."
"JD, start pulling files from those divisions. I don't care how you get them. They want to play hide and seek with us, let's give 'em a real game. That narrows the cases down quite a bit for us, doesn't it?" Chris inquired of his remaining team members.
"Every little bit helps, I guess," Nathan sighed.
"Buck, start with the General Investigations items. Nathan, look at the Homeland Security concerns. The missing persons can wait since we only have two computers to work with right now." Chris rose wearily. "I'll get some food for us and Josiah. We'll break at five for dinner then Josiah and you," he pointed at Buck, "will get some sleep. I'll take over the surveillance. Nathan, you and JD will break for sleep after them at around eleven."
"What about you?" Buck replied. "When are you sleeping, pard?"
"After Nathan and JD are back and you've relieved me on surveillance around 1:00." Inside, Chris knew he wouldn't be able to sleep wondering what he'd allowed Vin and Ezra to get into. "There's a lot to go through. Let's get going."
Vin awoke with a start and feeling just as tired as when he'd gone to bed. Memory filled in his weary mind as he looked around, tense, and recalled where he was. He also recalled that he was in for another tedious day of learning to sound like the voice in Ping's computer files.
Ezra's subtle inquires about this entire exercise were met with stone walls, concluding that even if the cook, Ping and/or the guard assigned to them did know what this was all about, they wouldn't reveal anything. Vin knew his day had been frustrating and boring, but Ezra's must have been worse; the television and radio had been disconnected leaving his sole occupation being his well worn deck of cards and a few books in the den.
"I am positive that our strapping custodian would have been quite a challenge at poker," Standish had lamented before going to bed. "I've only seen the man show two expressions - blank and blanker."
Vin smiled at the memory. The only thing Ezra had to look forward to was checking to see if Wu had deposited their daily 'wage'. As soon as he'd logged on Vin felt reassured that Chris was out there, somewhere, monitoring their location. Their brawny guard stood by to ensure that Ezra did not do anything else online and Vin wondered about that. It was obvious that Wu did not want them to know of any repercussions from his shot at the office window.
Stretching first, Vin rolled from the comfortable bed and peeked out the large window. It was just after dawn and the skyline promised a cloudless day. He hoped he wasn't trapped in this apartment again - his natural restlessness craved the out-of-doors and if he didn't get out soon things might get unpleasant.
He pulled on the new clothes, ran his fingers through his hair and cracked open the door. Their evening guard had been replaced by the blank-faced guard who was currently holding a garment bag. Motion from Vin's doorway caused the man to glance Vin's way, then walk over and hold out the bag.
"A present?" Vin said with faked joy. "And I didn't get ya nothin'!"
The guard's expression didn't flinch. After a moment, Vin took the offering with a cocky wink. "It ain't even our anniversary." Again, no reaction as the guard retreated to the kitchen. Vin took the bag in his room and peeked inside. It was a suit paired with the most hideous tie he'd ever seen. He cringed and quickly zipped the bag closed again. "Damn thing c'n blind a man," he muttered. Then he wondered what this new addition meant to the big picture - the big, unknown picture - and he felt his mood sour once again.
A promise of coffee lured him to the kitchen, the scent making his stomach growl. The cook was already at work and Vin got through a cup of caffeine just as his meal was placed in front of him. Vin set the cup aside and was joined by Mr. Ping within moments.
"Good morning, Mr. Nicklin," the proper man greeted, shaking out his napkin. "We shall get back to work right after our meal. Mr. Wu will be pleased with your progress."
With the sound of Ping's voice Vin felt his mood immediately shift to irritation, any positive feelings evaporating. He'd managed to keep his temper in check the day before mainly due to Ezra's cool presence. Now, however, he was alone which increased his feeling of being cornered.
"This gonna be over soon?" the agent growled, pleased to see Ping sit back and blink his eyes in surprise. It took a moment for the man to speak.
"Ye . . . yes. I think. I mean, you will have to speak to Mr. Wu, but I know that I am here for at least another day." Then the little man seemed to recover and he leaned forward to establish his determination. Vin could see the fine sheen of nervous perspiration along the man's forehead in response to Vin's glare. "I intend to finish my job, Mr. Nicklin. I do not know, nor want to know, the reason why you are here. That is between you and Mr. Wu. I am simply doing my job."
Vin considered that response for a moment and revisited the notion he'd had about Wu's abilities toward violence. Ping was afraid, very afraid - the agent could see it in his eyes and he felt a tingle of coldness down his spine as result. Again, the feeling that he was already and unknowingly in over his head with something very dangerous gnawed at his gut and Vin knew at once he had to start thinking of a way out if - or most likely, when - things went south. And if things did head that direction, he knew it would be a rapid and painful ride.
Martin didn't bother to rise when he woke up on Sunday. Knowing he was trapped in this dreary house for another day, cut off from the rest of the world made it difficult to whip up any desire to greet the morning. Instead, he sprawled across the unyielding mattress with a dejected sigh and thought about what was happening in the outside world. Specifically, what Samantha was doing and how he'd planned to awaken with her this morning.
He immediately realized the hazards of thinking along those lines as his body awakened. A cold shower wasn't the most enjoyable way to start the day, so Martin shifted his thoughts to another track. He turned his head to the barred, curtained window and noticed how the edges glowed with the morning light. 'Great morning for a run,' he lamented mentally. 'I wonder how many laps around the living room add up to a mile?'
It was going to be another long, long day but at least and end was in sight -far, far away, but within a reasonable time frame. Now if he could only get his body to accept the confinement . . .
By mid-morning Sunday Team Seven's leader was missing Denver.
Even though Ezra's signal the previous night indicated that things had not changed much, Chris was uneasy. The phrase 'the calm before the storm' would not stop running through his mind. He also felt like he was sweeping a beach - the more they looked, the more they found. Their conference table was packed with files and the task seemed impossible with the limited information they had.
One call from Judge Travis to the FBI director could possibly narrow things down, but Chris' little inside voice kept telling him to keep this all under wraps. Something would break soon, he was sure. He felt it. In the meanwhile, it was best that the other agencies didn't know of their investigation.
They had rotated surveillance on Vin and Ezra's location, sleep and research duties successfully so far but Chris wondered how much longer they would have to keep this up. New York City was a far cry from the open feeling of Denver and he was beginning to feel crowded. There was no doubt the others felt the same, and Chris was sure that Vin was probably taking it the worst of all of them. He was glad Ezra was with his best friend, as the agent's collected cool was the only thing that could keep Vin on an even keel.
Chris regarded the stacks of files. The room's printer had been running practically non-stop since their arrival and the computers had been accessed continuously. Narrowing the search to the units on the assaulted floor of the federal building had been a great help and he hoped that tactic would yield results soon. What he really wished for was direct word from his missing agents.
The day crawled by and the night threatened to do the same.
Two o'clock Monday morning had come and gone. Nathan had just replaced Buck on the apartment building surveillance and was grabbing some sleep, so it was Chris, Buck, JD and Josiah circling the collection of files that covered the entire conference table. The room smelled stale from their constant presence. Fast food containers overflowed the trash cans. A coffee maker had been moved into the room and precariously balanced on a fax machine, the glass urn etched by burned coffee and currently being refilled with yet another batch of caffeinated browness.
"These are the most likely cases from Central Investigations and the Homeland Security Liaison's working cases," JD explained wearily. Of the five of them, the young computer genius had logged the most time in this room, only breaking for sleep. Sooty bags smudged his pale cheeks topped with bloodshot eyes told of his determination. "I pulled all there was from the Missing Person's Unit, too. It wasn't much." He flicked a wrist at the printer. "That should be the last of it now."
"Okay, each of you take a bunch and break it down. I want a list of the top three possible assassination targets from each division." Chris glanced at the wall clock. It was just before three in the morning. "My gut tells me we're running out of time."
The four team members shuffled the piles into four fairly even groups and began to read. The next couple of hours were silent except for the sound of rustling paper and gulped coffee.
Chris' eyes burned and he knew he wasn't alone. Everyone's features had taken on that familiar weary look. He wondered what Vin and Ezra were doing, forced to accept the fact that if he didn't feel anything in his gut then they had to be alright. Chris recognized it as a flimsy grip on sanity. For a moment he propped his elbows on the table and rested his chin in his hands to rub his burning eyes with a sigh. It should never have gotten this far.
A short gasp caught everyone's attention and three heads snapped up.
"Sweet Jesus," Josiah breathed. "I've figured out the target, Chris."
Frowning, Larabee pushed to his feet and moved around to Josiah's side. There, looking at him from a photograph gripped in Josiah's hand was the face of Vin Tanner - a very cleaned up Vin Tanner. The name label affixed below the chiseled features, however, listed the familiar face as Martin Fitzgerald.
"What the hell," Chris started, taking the picture from Josiah's hand. Martin Fitzgerald's hair was neatly trimmed and he wore a suit and tie with obvious comfort, but the face was clearly Tanner's. He turned the photo over and read the notes on the back. "He's an FBI agent? Here in New York?"
"Yup," Josiah replied. "And he's due to testify against a Mee Liang Monday - today - at 9:00. Liang is a suspected Triad chief being tried on murder, extortion and drug trafficking charges. Apparently, they have the accountant of Full Moon Shipping - the cover company for most of the drug smuggling - testifying, but they need Fitzgerald to put Liang physically in the middle of things. Without Fitzgerald, Liang could walk. The accountant sets up the Company but Fitzgerald links Liang with the Company and possibly the Triad."
The photo was passed around amid the stunned agents.
"They have to be related," JD surmised. "They don't just look similar, they look exactly alike."
Buck blew out a short breath. "That's . . . spooky. Two of 'em."
Chris's forehead was a roadmap of tension lines. Staring at the photo as he tapped it against his palm in thought, he spoke. "So, Vin is there to kill Fitzgerald? Or Liang? This isn't a coincidence, Josiah." He turned and paced a short length, his mind working furiously. "What if Vin was to take Fitzgerald's place and testify? Is that possible?"
"And say nothing to incriminate Liang," Josiah concluded, nodding. "An assassination would be messy and defiantly throw suspicion on Liang. If Fitzgerald - Vin - testified as directed by the Triad, either they hang Liang without tying him to the Triad or he exonerates Liang. Either way, the Triad is cleared. We need to know which way is more likely. It may dictate their next move."
"But then what happens to Vin and Fitzgerald after the trial?" Buck asked. "They couldn't afford the switch to be discovered. Ever."
Chris collected the file and held it to his chest. "JD, find out everything you can about that Missing Persons Unit. I want the team leader's contact information ASAP. I also want the background of the rest of the team." Chris returned to his seat. "We need dig deeper, find out if there's anyone we can trust. We have to know if any of Fitzgerald's team members are involved. We need to have an idea which way the testimony will go so we can try to predict the fallout before I contact their team leader. And we need to think up some possible scenarios."
Chris felt his stomach churn and popped a handful of antacids. There wasn't much time to get prepared. Every few minutes he found his eyes wandering to the photo of Fitzgerald. He noticed that he wasn't the only one doing it.
This case was getting more convoluted with each passing day.
Jack Malone rubbed his temple as he walked from the elevator to his office. It was too early in the day for a tension headache, he told himself. In reality, he knew that when Martin's day in court was over and he was released from protective custody, things would settle down. Right now they were really missing their fellow agent - they'd worked through the weekend without any luck on their current case. Jack was close to closing it as unsolved.
Entering his office he glanced through the glass walls into the bullpen. Danny's back was to Jack, the junior agent gesturing with his hands as he made a point to Samantha who sat directly across the conference table. The window behind her was still boarded up from Friday's action. She was focused on Danny's face and wore a serious expression. From his seat Jack could see the faint shadows under her eyes that told of their long working hours. As if feeling his stare, Samantha's eyes drifted aside and locked with Jack's. She frowned slightly at her boss' examination and then turned back to Danny as she unconsciously shoved a lock of hair behind her ear. Vivian drifted into Jack's range of vision, coffee cup in hand, and stopped next to Danny.
Just as Jack settled behind his desk and finally turned his attention to his desktop, his phone rang. He snatched up the receiver to stop the additional irritation to his headache. "Malone," he snapped. The words he was heard were completely unexpected. "What?" As the message was repeated, his eyes couldn't help but drift back to the bullpen beyond his office walls. Suddenly, he had a feeling that his day was going to get much more complicated. "Send them up," Jack finished. He set the phone down with a little more care, holding his gaze on his team as he did so.
Jack developed a sour feeling in his gut. Needing to move, he cleared away the open files and awaited the arrival of an ATF team from Denver. He couldn't imagine why they were here and what this had to do with Fitzgerald's case, but his gut was telling him he wasn't going to like what he was going to hear.
He just had time to pop a couple of Advil and take breath to when an FBI escort lead a group of four men from the elevator. Their arrival caught the attention of everyone in the bullpen and they turned to stare, the usually bustling office growing significantly quieter when the strangers passed. The jean-clad group clearly stood out against the suit and ties of the FBI office. A lean, weather-worn blond separated himself from the group and offered his hand to Malone as Jack stepped from his office.
"Chris Larabee, Denver ATF." The handshake was firm. "I need some information from you about one of your agents and we don't have a lot of time."
"Jack Malone. We can use my office." He stepped back and motioned Larabee to enter. The team leader told the others to stand by in the bullpen. With a final glance at his own team, Jack closed the door behind them.
Silence befell the bullpen as the teams visually appraised each other. Samantha stood with her arms crossed. Danny cocked his head and grinned as his eyes traveled from Buck's worn boots up to his bushy mustache.
"Well," Danny breathed. "Did you bring your horse?"
JD laughed and Buck grinned widely. "Nah. Didn't pass the security check at the airport, what with his horseshoe nails 'n all."
Samantha ducked her head and poorly stifled a laugh.
"Danny Taylor." Danny stuck out his hand, his smile lopsided and open.
"Buck Wilmington." Buck accepted the peace offering. "This here's JD and Josiah. We have another brother in the field right now - Nathan."
"Samantha and Vivian," Danny offered.
"Damn, Danny, how'd you get saddled with ladies like these while I get the boys, here?" Buck quipped with a big smile. "Think I may have to switch over to the Bureau."
Samantha rolled her eyes as Viv smirked.
"Ah. It looks like these agents have brains enough to see through your animal magnetism, Buck," Josiah said. He then turned to the FBI team. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
They didn't get the chance to talk very much before Jack strode from his office with Chris at his side. They stopped at the conference table. "You are not going to believe this one," Jack said lowly. "This is 'eyes only' for our team, got that?" Danny, Samantha and Vivian nodded and stepped up the table where Chris dropped a folder. He flipped it open as Jack spoke. "This ATF team needs out help identifying someone."
Chris drew out the picture of Martin and tossed it on the table. After looking at it the three agents looked up in confusion.
"That's Martin," Samantha said. "So?"
Chris threw down another photo next to it.
"Oh my God," Vivian uttered, drawing the photo closer with a finger.
"That's . . . not Martin . . ." Samantha stammered, frowning. "It looks . . . wow, look at that hair!"
"My thoughts exactly," Jack said. "His name's Vin Tanner. He's an ATF agent in the Denver office."
"How can that be?" Danny said, finally finding his voice. "They look exactly alike!"
"That's something we need to figure out later," Chris said. "Right now, I need to find Fitzgerald. We think he may be in danger along with Agent Tanner. Vin was undercover with another agent on our team. We thought he was being hired as an assassin but now we think it's possible he's going to take Fitzgerald's place in court in order to exonerate Mee Liang."
"Where's Agent Tanner now?" Vivian asked.
"We're pretty sure he's holed up in an apartment just outside Central Park," Chris growled. "Vin's got a GPS device in his rifle that he turns on when he has a chance. Our last reading was Friday night. We can also get general locations when his partner uses their laptop." He opened a well-worn map. "They've been in this building since Friday night." He pointed to the location of the condominiums. "A few hours before they got there the GPS put Vin's rifle here." He indicated another point on the map. "He was there a little before five PM on Friday."
The FBI agents looked at the map and then up to Jack with alarm.
"The shot," Danny said out loud.
Jack nodded and Chris' eyes turned hard as he spoke. "Agent Malone tells me someone took a shot at Fitzgerald about that time."
"The assassination your agent was hired for?" Samantha snapped, straightening quickly and obviously angry. "He tried to kill Martin?"
"Vin wouldn't follow through with that, and the fact that a payment was accepted by his partner shortly after tells us it was supposed to be a miss." Chris absently rubbed his temple.
"So your agent was paid to intentionally miss Martin?" Vivian looked skeptical. Her eyes showed that she was thinking hard. "That's rather dangerous, isn't it? Especially if they want Martin alive?"
"No one's better with a rifle than Vin Tanner," Josiah said. "If they wanted a miss, Vin could deliver. Easily."
"But why?" Vivian asked. "What's the point?"
"To get Martin isolated. To control his contacts," Danny mused.
"Exactly," Chris said shortly as he stood straight.
Samantha frowned and Josiah picked up the discussion. "Fitzgerald was moved to a safe house as a result, right?" Vivian nodded. "Now, the only way he'll get to court is by U.S. Marshal escort, correct?"
". . . and if the escort is hand picked by whoever hired Tanner . . ." Vivian added.
". . . then that person, or persons, could initiate a switch, Tanner for Fitzgerald, on the way to court." Josiah threw down the newspaper article that summarized the Full Moon case. "According to this, the prosecution falls apart without Fitzgerald. If he doesn't testify, then the bookkeeper clams up."
Jack nodded, his index finger rubbing his jaw line as he stood listening. "We've known all along that Zhan - the bookkeeper - will refuse to testify if Martin doesn't set him up first. He's scared for his life with good reason; his father was already murdered while Liang tried to find Zhan. Zhan can bring down Full Moon Shipping and Liang with his testimony, but only Martin can physically link Liang with the Chinese Triad and guarantee the man goes away permanently. Without Martin, the Triad is definitely off the hook. Without both Martin and Zhan, both the Triad and Liang walk."
Chris spoke again, bringing the picture together. "Right now Triad involvement with Full Moon Shipping's illegal gun and drug trade isn't proven. Zhan connects Liang with Full Moon. Fitzgerald can connect Liang to the Triad with his testimony about who he saw with Liang during his kidnapping. If Fitzgerald were to be assassinated - which I believe was the original plan - Liang would walk but it would be very messy for him and the Triad. There would always be suspicion and every agency around would be breakin' their balls to hang 'em." Chris paused. "But if Fitzgerald appeared to turn instead . . ."
". . . all suspicion would fall on Martin. All leads to the Triad would be tainted, gone. Liang and Full Moon could still get nailed but we already know that Zhan would fold without Martin's testimony." Danny nodded thoughtfully. "Genius. And it could only be done because of this Martin look-alike."
Samantha then spoke up. "But that also means that Martin and Vin would have to disappear afterward. The switch can never be discovered."
"And we have to assume that both the FBI and the U.S. Marshal's office here are compromised," Chris said lowly. "We can't trust anyone outside this room."
A dark and heavy silence settled around them.
"Frick and Frack," Samantha said. "It's them. They suddenly took over as the daytime protection on Thursday. They're scheduled to take Martin to court Monday morning."
"And somewhere enroute to court, Martin gets switched for their paid witness. Vin pleads the 5th amendment and takes all the heat, then Frick and Frack take him away to . . . where? What then?" Buck queried.
"Why can't we just stop the switch?" Vivian asked. "Follow them from the apartment building?"
"We could, but we won't know the location of the switch soon enough. It's too risky for Vin and Ezra." Chris said. "Overall, the best scenario is for Ezra, Martin and Vin to prevent the switch. Get Martin to the courthouse and pick up Vin and Ezra before anyone realizes it's Fitzgerald on the witness stand. They have to go somewhere after the switch. I think they'll all meet somewhere after the trial and the chance that a Triad connection being there is good. With that connection, we can link Liang to the Triad and get the big boys."
"But we have no idea where that meeting will be and it will just be us," Vivian pointed out. "What if the area is larger than we can handle? What if there are more suspects than we can handle?"
Jack spoke up. "Agent Larabee's boss is assembling an ATF mobile strike team that will stand by and shadow us at a discreet distance. It's not a normal assignment for them, but we can't trust our sources right now."
As the FBI team leader spoke, Chris sank into a chair and leaned forward. He began to lay out a plan as soon as Jack settled next to him. "Okay, here's what we're gonna do . . ."