A Strange Kind of Justice

by Armaita

Main characters: Seven, OC, Jarod, Miss Parker, Mr. Broots, and Sydney (from the TV series "the Pretender")

ATF xover "The Pretender"

Author's note: For anyone who hasn't seen The Pretender, it's a four-season long TV show about a genius named Jarod who learns so quickly that he can be anyone he wants to be (doctor, fireman, pilot). For most of his life, he was raised and forced to work for a place called The Center, which made him solve scenarios. Some were good, some bad (for example, allegedly it was Jarod that solved the re-entry issues for Apollo 13), but he eventually decided to escape. He's been on the run ever since, always staying just one step ahead of the Center, which wants him back. Miss Parker, Broots and Sydney are supposed to bring him back, and I thought it would be fun for Jarod to meet the Seven, because they have similar ideas about justice.

“I hate him, Mr. Tanner. It is shocking, but for the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I really and truly detest someone.”

Ezra Standish slumped at the table in the diner. He’d been under for three months, spending far too much time away from the rest of ATF Team Seven, and this Jarod Blitz had won over the entire organization in two days.

“The man is a monster. Mendoza ordered him to shoot a shop owner because the owner couldn’t pay up, and Jarod just did, no questions, no hesitation,” Ezra chuckled morosely, “no regret that I could see.”

“Maybe he’s been accepted so quickly because he’s a criminal, and you aren’t,” Vin suggested, and then laughed. “Okay, he’s a violent criminal; you’re only pretending.”

“Pretending?” Ezra asked, offended. “Mr. Tanner, the service I provide to this bureau goes far beyond mere pretending. Have you ever heard of Method Acting?”

“Nope,” Vin said, changing the subject, “but Nate looked this up for you, from the finger print you gave us. This Blitz guy really is as nasty as you think.” He pushed a reasonably thick stack of papers across the table.

Ezra flipped through the first few pages. “How did Mr. Jackson retrieve Mr. Blitz’s childhood trespasses? I thought those were supposed to be protected.”

Vin grinned lopsidedly. “You know JD... always snooping where he shouldn’t.”

“Ah, yes. The irrepressible Mr. Dunne,” Ezra replied. “As for this particular case, there will be an exchange, a bulk drug sale, at the warehouse we visited last month.”

Vin simply stared. “You mean, Mendoza is going to use the same warehouse where Miller died?” Vin shook his head. “That guy sure has a set. When?”

“Three nights from now, eleven thirty-eight pm,” Ezra answered. “And no, you cannot possibly imagine a time as strange as that, but then, Mendoza is a bit eccentric.”

“Ez,” Vin said, “be careful.”

“Mr. Tanner,” Ezra protested. “Do I not always look after my well being?”

“No,” Vin retorted, “you don’t. See ya at the exchange.”


“I hate the man, Sydney. Not in the way I hate Lyle for killing my brother or how I hate the Center for controlling me all those years, but I’m sure this is hate I’m feeling.”

“Would you care to elaborate, Jarod?” Sydney smiled back in his office at the Center. His Pretender so rarely called now that Jarod had found every member of his family except his mother. Sydney would never voice his fear, but it was a very real, clinging one...the longer Jarod went between calls the more Sydney came to believe his previous had truly been his last, and that the elusive man had slipped finally and irrevocably under the radar.

“No names, Sydney,” Jarod said. “I have to be careful, for my family’s sake. Let’s face it, these conversations, more often than not, are intercepted and recorded. For the sake of this simulation, though, I’ll call him Kyle.”

“Why would you use your brother’s name, Jarod?” Sydney asked, well aware that such close association of two people could have serious psychological consequences.

“That’s how he behaves,” Jarod said, “confused and hurt, and lost. He’s willing to lash out at those who care because he’s been betrayed too often by people he should have been able to trust.”

“You might as well be describing yourself,” Sydney commented.

Jarod chuckled. “I know. That’s why I can’t figure this man out. Despite everything he’s been through the last place I would expect to find him, the last people I would expect him to associate with, are these...animals. I met someone the other day that is more sadistic than Lyle.”

“Hm.” Sydney said, mindful of the distinct possibility that his every word was being recorded for posterity.

“I know, you can’t say it, but you know what I’m talking about. How are Miss Parker and Mr. Broots doing?”

“We’re under Mr. Parker’s management again, how do you think they are doing?” Sydney asked. He received no answer, chuckled as he realized Jarod had yet again cut off the conversation by ending the call on his end, and hung up.


Jarod flipped through the newest addition to his blue spiral notebook collection. He’d changed colors both to throw the Center off his scent and to commemorate his brother. “Night Watchman Suffocates at Work” read the headline, and below that, a picture of the family the deceased had left behind. Like so many of his Pretends these days, he no longer depended on his experiences at the Center to determine his motive. He simply read the paper, decided what the greatest wrong was that the local authorities seemed too incompetent or too well-paid to look into, and investigated.

That was why Eddie Sauber confused Jarod. When Jarod had shot the shopkeeper two days ago, cementing his acceptance, Jarod had seen the pain and disbelief Eddie had hidden so successfully from every single member of the Mendoza cartel. Had Jarod not been a Pretender, he would have missed it. Eddie could not have known that Jarod had talked to the shopkeeper before Mendoza and his thugs arrived, or that the shopkeeper had been wearing a bulletproof vest. The man was staying at a hotel downtown, with strict instructions to stay hidden until Jarod ended this.

Only yesterday had Jarod uncovered why Eddie Sauber cared about the cold murder of innocents. Donning the uniform of a janitor, Jarod had broken into the ATF floor of the Denver Federal Building at night, looking for answers. Why didn’t the law enforcement of so large a city care that their residents were being endangered by the likes of Mendoza? He discovered that the law did care, and his name was Ezra Standish.

The phone in his dingy rent-by-the-week room rang. Jarod closed the notebook, threw it under the King James Bible in the nightstand drawer, and picked up the receiver, saying “What?” in much the same tone as Miss Parker did, short and impatient.

“Blitz, come to HQ now.”

“Yes, General.” Jarod hung up the phone, keeping the disgust off his face, just barely. Juan Mendoza fancied himself the leader of a repressed militia, when what he actually was fell closer to an egotistical drug dealer. He sold weapons for drugs, and then poisoned the streets with them.

Jarod left the building, headed for ‘headquarters,’ also known as Juan’s apartment, but never got there. A block away from his destination, someone knocked Jared out and dragged him the rest of the way.


Jarod woke to the sound of something striking flesh. He peeled an eyelid back cautiously, but stared, both eyes wide open, when he saw what was making the sound. Eddie Sauber’s nose and lip were bleeding, and the way he held one arm made it look broken. Still, he somehow remained standing. Jarod tried to move to Sauber/Standish’s aid, but found he was secured to a support beam in Juan’s apartment.

Adopting a bored expression, Jarod called out to the thugs who were pounding on Standish. “Hey! Does somebody want to tell me what’s going on?”

“Why don’t you tell us?” a voice said in Jarod’s ear.

Jarod jumped, his bonds pulling painfully at his wrists. He had not seen Juan standing right at his side. He scowled. “I was following your orders, sir. I have no idea what Sauber is doing here, though.”

“You snuck into the Federal Building last night,” Juan Mendoza whispered just loud enough for Eddie Sauber to hear. “I want to know why.”

Jarod sighed, apparently frustrated. “I broke in because I wanted to see how close the ATF was to discovering your connection to the army base.” He glared. “I’m glad to work for you, General, kill anyone you want me to, but I’m not going to be arrested just because you were ill-informed about the local law’s intelligence, sir.”

Juan chuckled and then punched Jarod in the stomach. Though Jarod tried to roll with the punch, the support beam was too wide; there was no way to lessen the impact. Somehow, Jarod managed not to throw up as Juan continued the interrogation, “What did you find, Jarod Blitz?”

Jarod straightened and glared haughtily at the man, regaining lost pride. “There is an informant in your militia, sir. His name is Enrique. I was going to tell you when I could, but,” he shrugged as much as the restrains allowed, “then this happened.” Standish was not looking good. “May I ask why Sauber is here? I thought he was just an accountant, you know, steered clear of the more...physical aspects of your command, sir.”

Juan grinned, and Jarod had to suppress the urge to escape the poorly tied knots and rearrange Juan’s features. “When I was told you had gone to the Federal Building, Jarod, I feared you were an informant. However, just to be sure, I decided to...question everyone in the militia. Are you certain of your information, Mr. Blitz?”

Jarod managed to look confused by the change in subject. “Oh, you mean Enrique. Yes, sir. I’m very sorry. I know he’s practically family, but he has a brother in prison downstate. That’s how they got to him. He’s been passing information to the ATF for weeks now. I suspect they know about you killing Miller and are waiting to arrest you at the swap three nights from now.”

Juan nodded. It made sense. Enrique could not have possibly been turned any longer than that, because the local law enforcement would not have waited so long to arrest him. He pulled out a long, wicked-looking knife, walked behind the pillar and cut Jarod Blitz loose. “I’d like you to explain to Mr. Sauber that he should harbor no ill will toward me.” There was an edge to his voice. “It isn’t healthy to do so.”

Jarod let his eyes go both flat and scared at the same time, clearly conveying that he was a soldier; he would follow orders and that he held an appropriate amount of fear for his commanding officer. “Yessir. What should I do after he understands those dangers, sir?”

“Take him home and then get some rest yourself. You look like hell, Jarod. Oh, and Jarod?” Juan took his personal sidearm from its holster, handed it to Jarod and pointed at one of the men who had recently ceased pounding on Eddie Sauber. “Take care of that intelligence leak for me, would you?”

Jarod accepted the gun without hesitation, pivoted and shot Enrique. Or at least he would have, if the gun had been loaded. It clicked empty, but then another shot roared. Jarod ducked, covering the ear the gun had gone off by and turned to see Juan Mendoza holding said weapon. “Sir?” Jarod asked, his gaze going from Juan’s eyes to the corpse of Enrique and back.

“I wanted to be sure that shop owner was not a fluke, Mr. Blitz,” Juan replied. “I’ll take my gun back now, Jarod. Good night.”


“I suppose it would have been out of the question for them to pro-vahd us with a means of motorized transportation,” Ezra said glibly, leaning heavily on Mr. Blitz for support as they stepped out onto the street outside Juan Mendoza’s apartment.

“Undoubtedly,” Jarod replied. “Where are you staying, Mr. Sauber?”

Ezra laughed and then winced as his ribs complained. “As if you don’t know, after breaking into ATF headquarters. Why did you protect me back there, Mr. Blitz?”

Jarod stared into the darkness, looking for listeners. “They must have hit your head a few times, Mr. Sauber,” he commented. “You’re talking nonsense. Let me get you back to your place. You said it’s on Ash?”

Ezra took the hint and played along; at least until they reached the apartment Ezra had rented for Eddie Sauber’s cover. Standing outside the door, he told Mr. Jarod Blitz that the keys were in his right pocket, and would Mr. Blitz possibly mind putting his arm back in its socket. Mr. Blitz chastised him for not mentioning it sooner, applied the correct pressures and motions, and then helped Ezra through the doorway.

Once they were inside, Ezra locked the door behind them and began searching the apartment, looking for surprises both human and man-made. When he was certain the place was clean, Ezra came into the living room, a paltry excuse for one, in his well-bred opinion, to see Jarod Blitz lounging on the threadbare couch, a beer half-empty in his left hand.

Ezra smirked. “My, Mr. Blitz, you certainly make yourself at home with little effort.” He produced a gun from the potted plant next to his bedroom door, which opened out onto the living room, and leveled it at Jarod. “I want to know who you are, and why you helped me in Mr. Mendoza’s basement tonight.”

To his credit, Ezra thought, Jarod did not seem frightened at the prospect of possibly being shot. Unfortunately, that meant that Jarod still might lie to him, because, Ezra had found, fear tended to prove a better lie detector than any machine with wires and a heartbeat monitor.

“My name is Jarod Markovich,” Jarod answered, “DEA. I’d show you some identification, but...” he laughed, “that isn’t the sort of thing I like being caught with. I think you would probably agree, right, Mr. Standish?”

Ezra unloaded the gun, placing the weapon in a kitchen cabinet and the ammunition across the apartment in a little-used coffee table drawer. “Why were we not informed of the DEA’s interest in Mr. Mendoza?”

“I—that is, my superiors didn’t know whether the whole city was dirty or just incompetent,” Jarod lied. “They thought it best to put one man in, with nominal backup, than to risk a leak due to interagency cooperation.”

Ezra smiled bitterly. “Fine, Mr. Markovich. What is the DEA’s plan, now that you have so efficiently warned Mr. Mendoza that the ATF knows about the warehouse meet?”

Jarod’s eyes were serious. “I have a plan, but it’s best for everyone if I carry it out alone. Look,” he continued, “I don’t want the acclaim for cracking this case. As long as Mendoza is put behind bars for the murders he has committed, I don’t care who gets the credit, but it’s going to be dangerous, and you’re better off not knowing about it until the evidence lands on your immaculate desk next Monday morning, along with the location of a suitably detained Mr. Mendoza and his cronies.”

“I would appreciate the truth, Mr. Blitz,” Ezra said. “I have yet to meet an agent of any of my brother agencies who was not bucking for a promotion, and you forget that I too am a master liar. I may not know who you are, but you certainly do not work for any agency I have ever heard of.”

Jarod felt the haunted, hunted look come into his eyes. Ezra Standish was simply too smart for his own good. He decided to try some honesty. “Mr. Standish, I would rather not tell you my history. It will only put you and the rest of Team Seven in danger.”

Ezra laughed. “Mr. ... Jarod, we know about danger, believe me. Mr. Larabee has contract killers after him because of a spurned lover of the feminine persuasion. Mr. Tanner’s enemies from his military days are only surpassed in number if not in quality by his enemies from his time serving as a U.S. Marshal. Mr. Wilmington is likely to be removed from his current employment by a sexual harassment suit or from his very life by an angry husband. Mr. Sanchez has made enemies of most of the area gangs through his work at youth centers around the city. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Dunne are the only two who are not likely to have demons rise up from their past, but they have both dealt with other’s nemeses. And I will not even begin to expound upon the nine different kinds of chaos my dear mother causes when she deigns to visit. What could possibly be worse than that?”

Jarod looked out a window, knowing both that he could trust Ezra and that Ezra would not stop until he knew Jarod’s motivation. “I was taken, when I was a boy,” Jarod began, “by a corporation known as the Center...” he recounted his abuse, escape, search for his family, and the constant worry that Miss Parker or worse, her brother Mr. Lyle, would catch up to him and make him go back to making plans to hurt people. “I eventually discovered that they were tracking me by looking for situations caused by my simulations, so I stopped correcting those, and struck out on my own. If the Center suspected you knew where I was, they would stop at nothing to find out what you knew. That’s why I never stay anywhere for long; it’s too dangerous for those around me.”

Ezra’s eyebrows had climbed so high that they were nearly disappearing into his hairline. “Mr. Tanner?” he asked uncertainly.

“I’ve heard stranger tales, Ez,” said a voice from the kitchen. Jarod’s head whipped around in surprise. He had not detected the man who now rose and leaned on the kitchen counter, looking through the cutout wall that looked onto the living room. “But not by much. I think he’s telling the truth.”

“That is good enough for me, Mr. Tanner,” Ezra replied, and then noted Mr. Blitz/Markovich’s paling features. “What is the matter, Jarod?”

Jarod blinked, staring at Vin Tanner. “You...you were the only simulation that did not meet its objective,” he confessed. Tanner just stared at him levelly, not judging. “The Center failed to give me all of your background information, so I wasn’t able to take into account your ability to read lips. The Sweeper team they sent out after you as the plan I devised became sloppy. You outwitted them and escaped with the evidence the Center’s client wanted buried. I’m sorry, Mr. Tanner. At the time, they told me you were a traitor; otherwise I wouldn’t have made the plans so thorough.”

Vin gave a lopsided smile. “Sounds ta me like yer employers were a bit confused,” he said. “The information I had put several traitors in jail. I was just the poor schmuck their air strike didn’t manage to get.” His brow furrowed. “I’d like ta see those plans of yers; them Sweepers probably didn’t do them justice. Ez, shut up, I kin hear ya worryin’ all the way over here.”

“I simply believe that such an incident would be of interest to your friends,” Ezra complained.

“Don’t,” Vin requested. It was quiet and reserved, but no less potent, and spoke of the tortures he would not dare threaten a friend with, that is, if you were still his friend. “The last thing I need is Mother Hen Larabee on my case about somethin’ that happened almost eight years ago.”

Jarod nodded. “It was one of my last simulations,” he admitted. “The Sweeper team’s failure caused the Center to call my usefulness into question. What is a ‘mother hen’?”

Vin checked his amusement before it showed. He, too, had had a somewhat deprived childhood, and if this Jarod’s story was even half true, then the man was entitled to some innocent ignorance. “It means Chris Larabee tends ta get a mite over-protective every time he thinks I’m in the least bit o’ trouble.”

“Mistah Tannah, I must protest,” Ezra interjected. “How can you not think that that time in Arizona merited Mistah Larabee’s concern?”

“Ah hell, Ez,” Vin returned, “I’s better at wilderness survival of any of ya’ll, an’ I was only two weeks overdue.”

“Hm,” Ezra relented. For Vin, two more weeks in the inhospitable Arizona desert was the equivalent of a four-month Caribbean vacation for Ezra. “What about Carlyle, then?” Ezra inquired, referring to a truly monstrous criminal who had tried to kill Vin after his prison sentence was fulfilled.

“I handled it,” Vin said shortly, anger simmering in his eyes. Jarod decided that he definitely did not want this rugged man as an enemy. Despite his easygoing mannerisms and quaint speech patterns, Jarod had no doubt the man could give even him a difficult time if it ever came down to survival of the fittest.

Ezra turned to Jarod for support. “Do you see what I mean? The man is insufferable!”

Jarod remained silent as Vin chuckled. “Come on, Ez, it ain’t like you’re any better.” Vin made eye contact with Jarod, and Jarod was relieved to see that there was no anger or resentment directed at him with that gaze. “One time, when he was under, ol’ Ez here didn’t check in for five days, and the he calls us the night of a sale. We all hurry over, arrest the criminals, but Ez got stabbed. We rushed him to the hospital, and our boss met us there. Chris talked to the doctors and then gave the team a royal dressing-down about not noticin’ that Ez had pneumonia.”

Jarod felt his eyebrows climbing. “The symptoms are easy enough to detect,” Jarod explained. “I don’t know how anyone could miss them. Dismiss them as merely bronchitis, maybe, but not miss them altogether.”

“Ye’d think that, wouldn’t ya,” Vin said. “But Ez is jist so good an actor...he’d been avoiding us that week so’s we wouldn’t notice and pull him out. He’s stubborn as an—”

“Mistah Tanner!” Ezra exclaimed, offended.

“Mule,” Vin amended begrudgingly.

“Besahds which,” Ezra scoffed, “you are hardly one to call another man stubborn.”

“There ain’t nothin’ wrong with callin’ it as I see it,” Vin insisted, and then caught Jarod’s look of bewilderment. “What is it, Jarod?”

Jarod shook his head, not as a denial, but in disbelief. “Is the group dynamic the same when the rest of your team is present?”

“You mean,” Ezra clarified, “how do we get any work done whatsoever?” He smiled. “By now JD would have complained that he needed silence to fix a computer virus, Josiah would have lifted us bodily and removed one from the other’s presence, or Mistah Larabee would have stuck his head out of his office and glared.”

Jarod was still confused. “He would only give you a harsh look?”

Vin laughed. “Ya might’ve read our files, but ya haven’t seen the Cowboy’s glare yet, so don’t judge until ya have. Now, what’s yer plan for dealin’ with Mendoza?”

Taking a breath, Jarod cautioned. “Are you sure you want to know? It isn’t illegal, but it isn’t strictly within the law either.”

Vin and Ezra shared twin grins that Jarod had learned to recognize in his line of work. They said, ‘barely legal? Count us in!’

“You probably did not notice the suffocating death of night watchman David Miller which occurred a few weeks ago,” Jarod hypothesized, only to be contradicted.

“Sure, we did,” Vin corrected the Pretender. “We all thought it was strange that a night watchman would be patrolling so close to a construction site, and when we realized that the site was inside o’ Mendoza’s territory, we checked into it.”

“The primary investigator was a cop approximately two days from retirement,” Ezra picked up the story, “and he could only see a tragic but apparent accident.”

“And you did not have jurisdiction,” Jarod said, relieved. “I thought maybe no one cared...”

Vin grunted. “It felt like the same thing, seein’ as we couldn’t do anythin’ about it.”

“I was able to obtain the officer’s report,” Jarod claimed, “don’t ask me how; I will have to lie about that one, and the report stated that the airtight room, meant to store perishable foods, was unlocked. There was some theorizing, because of his high blood-alcohol level, that he must have stumbled in and fallen asleep. The door swung shut behind him and he ran out of air before he could wake up and let himself out.”

“You don’t believe the report,” Ezra guessed.

“JD didn’t either,” Vin added helpfully. “He talked to the widow, and she said he never drank on the job.”

“Exactly,” Jarod confirmed. “So, what I want to do is this...” He outlined the plan, but asked the men of ATF Team 7 to keep their distance. Vin nodded his understanding while Ezra tentatively agreed, but said he would have to run the plan by Chris before committing to any action or inaction. With that, Jarod returned to his hotel room and began preparing.


“He could be anywhere,” the computer specialist, whose last name was Broots, complained. “We’ve already check the databases of photos and newspapers for the east coast against Jarod’s characteristics. How do we even know he’s still in the country?” Broots had been talking to himself, so when a perfectly manicured hand was suddenly slammed down on the table, he jumped in surprise. “Miss Parker, I didn’t hear you come in,” he stated apologetically.

Miss Parker gave a tight smile, not so much forgiving his mistake as dismissing it because it was not important. “He’s still here,” she stated, “Jarod enjoys toying with us too much to let us lose him for long.”

Broots looked up from his computer screen. “You don’t sound too sure of that,” he commented, but was immediately chastised by a cold glare from Miss Parker. “Never mind,” Mr. Broots retreated from his too-accurate observation, “Working on it.” He tapped a few more keys, read another hard-luck story in a major city’s newspaper. A guard dying suspiciously on the job, possible gang involvement, authorities doing nothing to rectify the situation… “I may have something.”

Quickly, Miss Parker stalked over to stand behind Broots’ chair and look over his shoulder. “Show me,” she demanded.

“It isn’t from one of his simulations,” Broots explained apologetically, “but—”

Miss Parker smiled. “But it’s exactly the sort of situation he would want to fix. I’ll go arrange for a plane. You, have two teams of Sweepers meet us at the airstrip.”

She left Broots sitting at his computer terminal, mouth hanging open, distraught, because the Sweeper teams—Secret Service-looking types that were trained killers—made him exceedingly nervous. Then again, he shrugged, talking to Mr. Parker—Miss Parker’s father—gave him the willies too, so he would simply have to make the best of it. He rose and headed for the nearest security checkpoint to explain why Miss Parker needed two teams of Sweepers on such short notice. Given how valuable Jarod was to the Center, and what an embarrassment it would be to some very powerful people if Jarod ever decided to go public about the Center’s borderline legal activities, Jarod’s capture or neutralization were top priorities. From his knowledge of how quickly these ‘go retrieve Jarod’ missions were organized, he, Miss Parker and the Sweepers should arrive in Denver first thing the following morning.


Jarod picked up the phone and called Juan Mendoza, “Sir? There’s something over at the warehouse that you need to see. No, I can’t speak about it on an unsecured line, sir. Please hurry.” Jarod hung up and walked from his apartment to the warehouse where the night watchman had died, arriving well before the drug and arms dealer did. It continued to amaze him how gullible people could be. Of course, very few people had grown up as he had, used and betrayed by everyone he ever knew, but he had expected a paranoid criminal like Juan Mendoza to be more wary of a call like the one Jarod had just delivered. Mentally shrugging—part of the reason Mendoza so easily believed Jarod was that Jarod had not yet given him any reason to think the Pretender was a liar—Jarod hefted a keg of beer from where he had stashed it a few days prior and placed it in the airtight storage room where the night watchman named Miller had died. He had been careful to buy the same brand as what Miller had allegedly consumed. Sometimes it was the details that pushed a criminal over the edge, convincing him to confess.


The seven ATF agents watched from where they had taken up positions around the warehouse. Ezra had taken Jarod Whatever-his-name-was to Chris, and Chris had been skeptical, to say the least. Considering that the very independent members of ATF Team seven had come to trust each other, some members were having trouble understanding why the Pretender preferred to work solo. Vin, Ezra, and Josiah understood; with the people who were after him, Jarod would not want to endanger anyone but himself, and besides, hardly anyone would appreciate a life constantly on the run. Chris, Nathan, and Buck all thought that the Pretender should have come to them for help, rather than pushing them—however politely—off the case that they had been powerless to do anything about. JD heard Jarod’s story second-hand from Vin, and was entranced by it. In JD’s eyes, whatever decision Jarod made, the man was amazing.

“He’s like the modern-day ‘Man With no Name’” JD said excitedly over the microphone system that the seven used. Walkie-talkies might work for cops, but the ATF team saw too much action; the hands-free option was far superior in a firefight. “You know, from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and ‘For a Few Dollars More’?”

“JD, keep the line clear,” Chris scolded, but without any real anger behind it. Jarod, the Pretender, certainly was an intriguing man, and it was only natural that JD had succumbed to a slight case of hero worship. “We need to be paying attention, in case this Jarod gets himself into trouble. Vin?” Chris asked, knowing that from where Vin perched in the rafters, the sniper would be able to see the approaching gunrunner and drug dealer long before the rest of Team Seven.

“Mendoza’s car just came ‘round the corner, Chris,” Vin’s reply came through each man’s earpiece.

Vin was in the rafters, Chris on the landing leading up to what was once the manager’s office, Nathan covered the back entrance, and Buck the front, while Ezra, Josiah and JD were positioned behind various pillars and debris on the warehouse floor. All seven men watched as Jarod led Juan Mendoza deeper into the warehouse, finally saying something that convinced the criminal to walk right into the room where the night watchman named Miller had died.

Curious to hear what lie Jarod had tricked the criminal with; Ezra shifted his position, careful to stay behind cover, but still edging closer. Josiah noted Ezra’s movement and gave a small smile. The southerner had clearly found something to envy in this new stranger.

On the far side of the warehouse, Jarod had slammed and bolted the door to the airtight storage room. After a few inaudible sentences, Josiah heard Jarod saying, “You locked that man in here. You watched him suffocate. Did he wake up before he died? Did he have time to realize what you stole from him? You killed him…Didn’t you?” The last two words echoed around the empty warehouse, rebounding off walls and returning to Jared just as he smiled and began to walk away. Juan Mendoza, now panicking, banged his fists on the small window in the locked door, frantic to escape the same fate with which he had cursed the night watchman.

From the rafters, Vin looked through the spyglass that had been passed down through his family for generations. He could see Juan Mendoza mouthing something…confessing to everything, not only the night watchman’s murder. The criminal was offering Jarod anything, weapons or drugs, if only Jarod would let him out. Vin gave a lopsided smirk. He’d always thought that only Chris’ Glare could make criminals that nervous.

Jarod walked out of the warehouse without looking back. Buck met him at the front door.

“Hey, mister,” Buck called out. The Pretender stopped and turned to face the ladies man. “You can’t just let him suffocate. That’s murder.” Buck’s tone was unnaturally cold, and filled with disdain. As a member of Team Seven, he recognized that sometimes—okay…usually—they let the job get personal. But rarely, if ever, did they let their badges act as a license for revenge. Buck had no problem whatsoever with taking this newcomer into custody if murder was the man’s intent.

Jarod smiled slightly. “I drilled a hole in the wall of that room earlier today, and put a recording device on the keg of beer. Mendoza will survive to pay for his crimes, though it’s more than he deserves.”

Buck nodded slowly. Though Ezra had explained to Team Seven that Jarod was a masterful liar, Buck doubted Jarod was lying now. Suddenly, Buck smiled. “In that case, I’d better go collect Mr. Mendoza before he wets himself.” Scowling, Buck concluded, “There’s no way I’m putting up with the stench all the way back to the Federal Building.”

Buck headed into the warehouse. The rest of Team Seven melted out of the woodwork, and they took Juan Mendoza into custody. JD secured the recorder after Buck informed him of it, Chris called the arrest in, Ezra arranged for a police escort in case Mendoza’s gang was thinking of busting him out, and Josiah, Ezra, Buck and Nathan secured the scene. None of them noticed Jarod slipping away.


Chris walked into his office the following morning, thinking that he should have asked for the day off. Team Seven had been up the rest of the night, rounding up Mendoza’s gang on various charges, confiscating a drug and weapons-cache that Mendoza had been either arrogant or stupid enough to keep in his own apartment, arresting the criminal’s army base connection, and filling out the much-dreaded paperwork. In fact, this morning, the members of ATF Team Seven still had paperwork to do, and Chris was getting a headache from trying to explain how Jarod had been involved in the bust…without either lying or committing something to paper that would get Jarod arrested. For the most part, his men had left that particular lie to Standish, and Chris was nervously awaiting the exact wording that the capable undercover agent would use. Chris did not notice that he had a visitor until the man moved.

“You really shouldn’t be here,” Chris said to Jarod. The leader of ATF Team Seven stayed where he was, blocking the only exit. Well, the windows might be considered an exit, but only for a man with a death wish. “We appreciate your help, but the trial will go much more smoothly if you aren’t in town.”

Jarod gave a small nod, his expression serious. “I know. Thank you for letting me help.” Chris snorted. He had the feeling that Jarod would have gone ahead with his plan whether Chris had approved of it or not, but at least Jarod was gracious enough to avoid drawing attention to that fact. Jarod continued, “I’ll be leaving in a few minutes. The Center knows how to recognize my style by now…if they haven’t already guessed my location from the nature of this crime. I only dropped in to warn you; some people may come here, looking for me. It would be safest for your team if they denied ever meeting me.”

A brief twitch of his lips was all the amusement Chris Larabee showed. “If you wanted to stay, my team and I could protect you. My men aren’t cowards,” he commented sternly.

Jarod shrugged, and for the first time, Chris noticed that Jarod was wearing a backpack of some kind. “I never thought they were,” he assured the proud leader, “but the people from the Center are brutal and relentless. It would be best for all of you if I—”

“Where is he?”

The voice was feminine in pitch, but sharp as a harpy’s cries. Chris saw something like fear or excitement flash in Jarod’s eyes, and then the man was climbing up on Chris’ desk, reaching out and pulling down the grate that covered an air duct above the piece of furniture he now stood upon.

Chris shook his head in amazement. “Don’t worry,” he promised, “I’ll stall her.”

Pivoting and striding from his office, Chris saw that the only member of Team Seven currently in the bullpen was JD, and the boy was surrounded by eight men in suits and shades, a severe-looking woman, and a man who looked more at home behind a desk than in the field. The eight suits’ stances conveyed quite clearly that this was a field operation.

Given the situation, though, Chris couldn’t help but smile. A woman with dark brown hair wearing heels and a pant suit was attempting to stare JD into submission, but JD had learned from the best. Chris suspected that if necessary, youngest agent could probably imitate Buck’s charm, Ezra’s wiles, Josiah’s wisdom, Nate’s pragmatism, Vin’s stubbornness, or Chris’ glare all with equal ease. However, the other six men’s quirks were not what were currently putting the huge group of intruders off-balance. It was JD’s own brand of self-defense…the innocence that fooled anyone outside Team Seven, and even Buck on most days.

“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” JD replied, lying commendably well mainly because he knew that was the best course of action when facing odds like these. Where the heck had everybody gone? JD was feeling a bit overwhelmed and abandoned, but then he heard the door to Chris’ office open and close. At least one team member was here to back him up, and while he would have preferred Buck’s company, JD had to admit that the expressionless faces of eight of the nine men surrounding him made him grateful that it was Chris backing him up. Chris didn’t like to brag, but the man’s speed with a gun was legendary. Deciding to go with what he knew best, JD said, “I think you’ve got the wrong floor, Ma’am. I fix computers. If you can tell me what kind of program this Jarod thing is, I’ll do my best to find it and install it for you—”

Suddenly, JD found himself being pushed into a cubicle wall by the extremely angry woman. She was stronger than she looked. “Listen, you miserable little worm,” she stated with venom, “You know Jarod has been here; I know he’s been here. You’re going to tell me where he went, or I swear, I’ll—”

“You don’t want to finish that sentence, ma’am,” Chris stated softly from where he stood. He moved his sport jacket to the side, showing his holstered weapon. “That young man is an ATF agent. Any threat against him, and I’ll have to take you into custody.”

At his words, the eight men wearing business suits and sunglasses drew their weapons. The ninth man—the nervous one—dashed for the door of the Team Seven bullpen, cowering behind a coat rack. Chris did not respond, except to give a cold, calculating smile. He had seen movement from several corners of the office, hall, and break room. He knew what was coming, and could not wait for it to start.

The woman released JD and pushed him to the side. She approached Chris slowly, sizing up an obviously more formidable enemy. When she was only five feet away, the woman stopped. “My name is Miss Parker. I am here to retrieve a dangerous fugitive, and this is not your fight.”

Chris tilted his head, as though considering her statement, though, in truth, he had made his decision long before ever setting eyes on this woman. “Not yet, it isn’t,” he stated calmly, part threat, part promise. Past Miss Parker, Chris saw JD grin. Either the young man liked Chris’ sense of humor, or he had also noticed that their backup had arrived. Slowly, the other five members of Team Seven crept into the bullpen area, spreading out and surrounding the numerous trespassers.

In his peripheral vision, Chris observed his team silently sneak up on the eight armed men and disarm them. Miss Parker, all her ire and focus on Chris Larabee, saw nothing of what occurred.

Miss Parker glared, but after seeing the look so many times in the mirror in the three years after his family’s tragic death, Chris was immune. Besides, her look was weak compared to his. “I’m giving you one more chance to hand him over,” she demanded. “There’s a warrant out for his arrest, and by interfering, you are obstructing an investigation.”

Now Chris really did smile. “Miss Parker, that line doesn’t work on people who actually know the law. I’m not going to stop you from searching, but I will call building security. I don’t know how you got up here, but you do not have clearance to be on this floor. Unless you want to explain to a judge why you’re trespassing on government property, I suggest you leave now.”

Miss Parker smiled, but it was an ugly thing, tainted by years of failure and pressure. Pretending to turn and head back to the main group, Miss Parker instead feinted and ran past Chris, bursting into his office and drawing a gun from somewhere in her fitted clothing.

Through the open door of his office, Chris heard the woman say a few choice, rather unseemly words, and then storm back out. When she finally took in the sight of the two Sweeper teams, disarmed, and Mr. Broots hiding behind outerwear, she sighed, equally angry and tired. “He’s long gone. Let’s go.” Turning on Chris, she added authoritatively, “You will return their weapons.”

It was neither a question nor a request, but Chris treated it as both. “We’ll send them down when we have the time. For now, you should be glad that we aren’t pressing charges.”

Miss Parker scowled, but left, a relieved Mr. Broots and eight thoroughly embarrassed men in tow.

After she had departed, Buck whistled. “She sure was something, wasn’t she?”

Chris spared a good-natured glare for Buck. “Back to work, boys. These reports aren’t going to write themselves.” He returned to his office, but was interrupted by an exclamation from JD.

“Guys, you’ve got to see this!”

The six other members joined JD in staring out the window. Just visible in the distance was a modified hang glider. If Chris had to guess, he would say that the frame might just collapse down enough to fit in a backpack.

Chris admired Jarod. It was hard not to; the man was full of surprises and exceedingly capable…but at the same time, Chris pitied the Pretender. The men of Team Seven understood how depressing and lonely their job could become, but Jarod had undertaken that job without any close friends. Though he would never voice the thoughts, Chris was grateful for his wonderful team of agents. They were more than mere coworkers; they were like brothers to him. Chris hoped that somewhere, Jarod would find the same peace and sense of belonging that Chris experienced every day.

In the background, Chris was dimly aware of Buck likening Jarod’s escape to the first time JD had introduced himself to the rest of the team. Larabee had been skeptical of the kid’s abilities. Out at the ATF training area, JD had wrestled Buck to prove that he could fight, scored nearly perfect on the range to prove he could shoot, and then summarily been sent careening into the lap pool by another agent’s spooked Doberman. That had led to a round of teasing that the young man could also fly and swim…and now Buck was reminding JD of that mortifying incident. But the kid was tough; even now, Chris could hear him rallying and claiming that at least he wasn’t afflicted with Buck’s ‘animal maggotism’, which caused Buck to grab JD’s ratty old baseball cap off the young agent’s desk and run through the office, threatening to dump it down the toilet. JD chased Buck, Ezra followed for the entertainment, Nate headed for his desk to get some antiseptic and bandages,—in case either man slipped and hurt himself—Josiah settled at his desk, ignoring the situation, and Vin remained at the window, watching the multicolored hang glider disappear over the horizon.

Giving a lopsided smile, Vin rolled his eyes in exasperation but made no move to stop the festivities.

Chris smiled broadly. “This is the price we pay for friends,” he commented.

Vin nodded and replied with the silent communication only he and Chris shared, ‘It’s worth it.’

The End