It may help to have read "Between a Rock and a Heart" & "Jack's Revenge", but not necessary.
Summary: Someone is out for revenge, but who will pay?
Feedback: Positive and constructive
Previously: Team 7 had recently completed the successful bust of Arthur Walters, putting an end to his highly lucrative arms selling business. During the bust Walters' second in command, Jake was killed and Vin suffered a mild concussion. Orin Travis rewarded the Team by sending them on a much needed break, and as usual trouble followed in the form of an escaped drunk who attacked the men and bragged of 'taking care of' another family. As 'Who Is, Who Isn't' begins, Vin and the team have prevail over their attacker with the help of an unlikely ally.
"Ezra, call the Ranger station and tell them we have their drunk again. Oh, and this time he's to be arrested for assault on a federal agent." Chris stood and watched as Vin released the jackrabbit that had amazingly saved his life just moments before.
"Vin, I need to check where you were hit," Nathan admonished, while trying to keep Vin seated on the ground as he tried to stand.
"I'm all right Nathan, he just clipped me. It wasn't a full hit and we don't have time for this right now. We need to question him about the folks he said he 'took care of'. There could be someone lying out there in needing our help." Vin pushed himself up, then grabbed onto Chris as the world tilted on its axis.
"Vin, you're just getting over a mild concussion from that hit you took during the Walters bust. I need to see if this drunk. . ."
I ain't no drunk, I'm Carl North." The angry voice had less of a slur than before. It appeared that Chris's right-cross had a bit of a sobering affect on the drunken man now that he had come around.
"Well Carl North, where is the woman and her father that you said you 'took care of'?" Buck growled, yanking the man to his feet and getting into his face.
"I ain't gonna tell you nothing," Carl laughed. He thought he was going to hold something over the men. He was wrong.
"JD, you bring your laptop?" Chris asked.
"Yah, I don't go anywhere without it. You know that." JD looked at Chris with confusion.
"I know you do JD, but there is always a first time," Chris smirked. "Now, I need you to see what you can find out about our Mr. North here. His address, work place, arrest record. Anything and everything and we need it now if we hope to help the man and his daughter," Chris explained to the kid.
"Ha! You won't find them in time. If he wasn't dead when I left. . . well, they're burnt up by now," North smiled sickly.
Vin grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and slammed him against a tree bringing his face to within inches of North's. Rage glowed from the depths of Vin's sapphire blue eyes. "You better pray you're wrong. If not, I'll see to it personally that you spend the rest of your life wishing you had been." The sharpshooter left little doubt that his words were a promise and not an idle threat.
"Vin, let him go brother. Let me take care of him for you. You're looking a bit work out." Josiah commented softly as he slid his arm around Vin and placed his other hand on North to keep the man pinned against the tree.
"Come on Vin, let me look you over so we'll be ready when JD finds something." Nathan convinced him to sit down on a nearby log. While Vin might be injured, Nathan knew that the situations being what it was, there would be no stopping Vin from participating in the search for the 2 people North had mentioned. For that matter there was no stopping any of Team 7 from doing everything possible.
"Mr. Larabee, the rangers offered their sincere gratitude and are in route as we speak," Ezra informed, as he walked back to the middle of the group of men.
"Ez, call them back and tell 'em to get their rescue chopper ready. They can get us back to Chris's faster," Vin said, looking around Nathan who was trying to check his injury.
"But what about the horses and all our gear?" JD asked, his eyes never leaving the screen of his laptop.
Chris looked around, taking in the horses, tents, and other equipment, then made a decision. "Ez, call'em back. Tell them that we're taking over the custody of Carl North and that there are lives at stake. Inform them that we'll need a couple of rangers to take the horses back to the ranch for us and we'll need the chopper for imminent transfer to our vehicles. If they give you any hassle, hand the phone to me. Then check with the main fire station in Denver and see if there have been any structure fires with victims. Buck, go collect the fishing gear that we left at the stream. Nathan, you finished with Vin yet?"
"Yea, the blow seems to have just stunned him and aggravated the concussion. Don't know if it was just dumb luck that this blow was to the opposite side or if Vin just has a hard head. He'll be fine as long as he sits here on this log until I tell him he can move," Nathan answered, ignoring the look Vin was giving him.
"Alright, help me break-down camp and repack the horses and mule. Josiah, you're in charge of North. Find something and secure him to that tree. When you're finished you can help us." Chris began to dismantle the tent as he spoke.
"No structural fires with victims have been reported in the area." Ezra closed his cell and replaced it in the clip on his belt, then moved to where Vin sat packing cooking utensils and began to help.
Working as a team the group soon had the equipment packed and the area looking as pristine as when they arrived. Within twenty minutes the horses had been turned over to 3 rangers along with directions to the Larabee ranch and with Chris's assurance that there would be someone there to receive them. Soon the team and their prisoner were loaded in the large chopper and on their way to the ranch.
Once they had landed the men headed for their vechials. "JD, have you got anything yet?" Chris asked.
"Yes sir, I think I have the right Carl North. The age and description seem to match. His home address is 1127 South Sioux Trail. I'll have his place of employment up in a moment." JD's fingers continued to fly over the keyboard which now rested on the hood of Buck's truck.
"Nathan, call the Denver PD and tell them what's going on and have them check out North's home address. We'll turn North over to them when we reach town. Make sure they know he has other charges pending and the Park Rangers will be contacting them," Chris advised, as the men all retrieved their guns and slipped on the ATF jackets that they kept behind their seats.
While Nathan made the call, it was quickly decided that Josiah and Nathan would take North with them in Josiah's Suburban, JD would ride with Buck and Vin and Ezra would be in Chris's truck. Chris wasn't ready to let his injured friend out of his site and he was sure Ezra felt the same way.
Chris's Ram was heading down the driveway; Buck and Josiah following close behind as Chris called a neighbor. Arrangements were swiftly made for the man to meet the park rangers and take care of the animals. It wasn't the first time the gentleman had received such a call and he was always more than willing to help out.
Once the convoy reached the interstate they hit their sirens and lights, and floored it all the way to Denver.
Just as they reached the off ramp, Chris's phone rang. Larabee hit the speaker function of the phone, "Tell me what you got, JD"
"North works at Denver's John Deere Regional office and warehouse on 411 Madison St. Chris the dealership's run by William Burns and his daughter," JD informed.
"Damn, that's got to be who North was talking about. Call and let Nathan and Josiah know where we're heading. Pull up the Burns' home address and have the Denver PD check out their home," Chris exclaimed, shutting off the phone.
"Chris, if I might. . . Wouldn't the employee's have called to report something amiss? This is a Thursday and the business in question should be open," Ezra pointed out.
Chris hit speed dial on the phone, "Nathan, North has been lying. He works at the John Deere dealership and if something had happened there, one of the employees would have reported it. See what you can get out of him."
After only a few minutes Nathan was back on the phone. "Chris, seems that yesterday everyone was given the rest of the week off, something about shutting down all of the computers and a new program being loaded by the boss's daughter."
"She thought she was so smart, she don't no more." A voice that could only be North's was heard over the phone.
"Shut-up! Sorry about that Chris, but if that's the case, no one would be there," Nathan continued, before ending the call.
Chris glanced at Vin and Ezra, "North confirmed that the father and daughter are at the business location, or were."
The men were silent on the remaining drive, all hoping what they would find but fearing what they might.
The three vehicles all came to a screeching halt in front of the John Deere office and the men grouped around Chris awaiting instructions. "Josiah, make sure North is secure and can't escape. Buck, JD, check out the warehouse in back. Josiah, Nathan, front door. Ezra, Vin and I are going in the back. Everybody be careful and watch your back, we don't know what he's done to them for sure. If you find anyone, call."
JD and Buck slowly made their way thought the open bays looking in and around all the equipment. Finding nothing, they headed to the far end of the building. Finding several doors, Buck had JD open them as he stood ready with gun drawn and aimed. They finally reached the last door, just as JD grabbed the doorknob and yanked it open they heard a cry and reacted to it by instinct.
Nathan and Josiah, found the front door unlocked and eased the door open, carefully peering inside unsure of what they might find. Slowly stepping into the room the two agents found a long counter directly in front of them that reached from one wall to the other. The only way around it appeared to be a door on one side directly in front of the counter. Quietly easing up to the counter, their guns drawn, they carefully looked first behind the counter and then off to the sides. Giving each other the all clear sign they slid over the counter rather than going to the access door. Moving toward the end of the counter Josiah looked carefully around the corner and saw shelves of stock in evenly spaced columns and a hallway running down the side.
Looking down the hall they saw a doorway about half-way down and one at the very end. Starting down the hall they froze as they saw the door at the end of the hall start to move. Aiming their weapons at the opening door they were prepared for anything.
Vin, Chris and Ezra made their way around the side of the office building. They noticed a large window with the blinds and curtains drawn shut. The three quickly agreed that going in blind was too great a risk, so they continued to the next side of the building. Making their way around, they found a door on the backside, which had been left slightly ajar. Looking closely, Vin pointed out a beer bottle, which had most likely been dropped unnoticed and was holding the door open. Vin slipped into the building first, his gun drawn, with Ezra and Chris right behind.
The men found themselves in a stock room filled with parts. The three quietly made their way to the opposite side of the room. Upon finding another door Ezra reached out and turned the knob. Just as he started to open the door Vin grabbed his wrist stopping him.
Chris and Ezra watched as Vin tilted his head slightly toward the door, listening for any sign of life on the other side. Suddenly Vin looked at his friends and using hand signals informed them that someone was on the other side of the door. Vin motioned for Ezra to move to the side that the door would swing open, thus shielded by the door and out of site in order to surprise whoever was on the other side. Ezra moved quickly and silently to his assigned location.
Chris moved into his designated spot. With merely a glance Vin and he knew what the other had planned. Chris would go high and Vin low. Tanner held out three fingers, then two, then one. . .
The door was thrown open causing players on both sides of the opening to tighten their fingers on the triggers of their guns. Just as quickly recognition caused the guns to lower.
"Damn, that was close." Nathan let out the breath he had been holding as the two groups of friends reunited.
Vin held up a hand for quiet and pointed toward the door in the middle of the hallway. From it's location in the building, this had to be the room with the large window they had seen from outside. He pointed to Ezra and Josiah and then the doorway they had come through, and then drew a large square in the air.
Ezra nodded his head and grabbed Josiah's sleeve to pull the man along. He realized that Vin wanted them to go to the window and cause a distraction. It wasn't that they assumed North had an accomplice but they weren't taking any chances. Yes, the man was a drunk and quite possibly an idiot, but they had also learned never to take anything for granted.
The others watched as Josiah and Ezra exited the building and waited. Moments later a loud crash could be heard. Chris, Vin and Nathan threw the door open and rushed into the room guns at the ready.
"Nathan, need you over here quick." Chris yelled, seeing an older man tied up on the floor, his face beaten and blood spatter covering his clothing.
Vin joined Ezra who had climbed through the now broken window and was currently helping a young woman tied to a chair by the desk.
"Don't be afraid," Ezra's soft drawl soothed, "We're with the ATF and we have Carl North in custody."
"My Dad, is he going to be alright? Carl just kept hitting him . . ." The soft southern voice asked, worry clear in the tone.
"Our friend Nathan has EMT training. He's helping your father as we speak," Ezra answered the woman as he met her green-eyed gaze with his own.
Vin cut through the ropes holding her to the chair and tossed them to the side. "Was North acting alone, or was someone else involved?"
"It was just Carl. Dad had to fire him because he wouldn't leave me alone and he just went crazy. I kept saying no to his advances, but he wouldn't listen. Then he started to get . . . He started to scare me and I had no choice but to ask Dad for help. This is all my fault . . . all my fault. Please, tell me how he is . . . Please, is he going to be alright?" She rose in an attempt to reach her father, but due to the lack of circulation her legs wouldn't hold her and she collapsed.
Ezra reacted quickly and caught her before she could hit the floor. He held her up and with his arm wrapped tightly around her waist, they made their way to where Nathan bent over the injured man. "Nathan, Miss Burns needs to know how her father is."
Ezra's tone of voice, which clearly indicated that this was not an idle request, caught Nathan's attention. He glanced up into the tear streaked, worry filled face of the pretty woman. "He's going to be fine, Miss Burns. He'll be in pain for a while and probably have to spend a day or so in the hospital, but he's going to be all right." Nathan realized now was the time for reassurance and that later would be soon enough to discuss the actual damage.
"Chris." Vin stood beside a slightly burnt pile of papers on the carpet by the desk.
"Looks like he tried to start a fire here when he left, but see all this broken glass? And feel here, carpet's still wet. There must have been a vase or water pitcher on the desk that got knocked off and busted during the fight. Lucky for the Burns, Carl North is a fool who tried to start a fire on top of a wet carpet. The paper caught and burned, but it just burnt itself out and smoldered a bit."
Hearing a noise behind them Chris and Vin swung their guns toward the door. JD and Buck raised their hands in mock surrender. "Whoa, Stud. You caught us. Josiah, called and said you found'em," the jovial man commented.
"The only thing we found was a momma cat and a couple of kittens. She jumped Buck when we opened the closet door. Guess it was Buck's maggotizem, it sure worked on that momma cat," JD grinned, clearly relieved that Josiah had reported that the Burns were found alive and would be all right.
Vin and Chris holstered their guns and moved to stand from their kneeling position by the burnt documents. Chris reached out quickly to steady Vin as he started to sway. "Whoa, there Cowboy, I've got ya." Chris helped him to sit in the chair that Josiah quickly provided.
Vin took deep, slow breaths until the world stopped spinning. "Guess I just got a whiff of Buck's animal maggotizem and it about knocked me over with its smell," Vin teased, looking up at Chris to let him know he was okay.
'It's MAGNETISM, not maggotizem. You two younguns need to respect your elders," Buck's growl was anything but fierce.
"So, you saying you're old, Buck?" JD laughed, quickly stepping out of Buck's reach.
"Old! Why you . . . just you wait, JD. I'll get you for accusing me of being old," Buck griped, though his eyes sparkled with mirth. He was always amazed at how a little humor could release the tension.
"Fear not, Miss Burns, they are good agents just a tad eccentric." Ezra smiled at the woman whose eyes had grown wide at the interplay.
"JD, I called the paramedics so go out and make sure they know where to find us. Vin, you just stay right were you are, I saw you wobble earlier. You'll be going with the Burns. Chris, he tries to get up, knock him out." Nathan was on a roll and they all knew better than to argue with him when he had that exasperated tone. "Ezra, help Miss Burns sit back down and get her some water. She's gone all day without anything to drink, we need to get her re-hydrated. Buck, since you got the animal magnetism go make sure that the momma cat has food and water. I'm sure she's use to being fed daily, especially with kittens to care for."
Within a few minutes they could hear the sirens from the ambulance and police pulling up out front.
Mr. Burns was loaded into the ambulance as Nathan talked to the paramedics and informed them of his suspicions. He then helped a shaky Miss Burns in behind her father with instructions to keep drinking water if she didn't want to end up with an IV drip for dehydration.
"Nate, they ain't got room in there for me. Sides, I's fine." Vin commented.
Nathan looked into the already crowded ambulance and had to agree. However, Vin's grin was soon wiped off his face as Nathan explained that they would just follow the ambulance in. Vin knew it was a lost cause when Chris quickly agreed.
Josiah gave a quick statement and Carl North was turned over to the Denver PD. The officers were filled in on the incidents that lead to the discovery of the Burns family and agreed to wait until the next morning to question the father and daughter.
Buck came around the corner of the building carrying a box as Josiah rejoined the team. "JD, get the truck door, would ya?"
JD ran over to the truck and opened the door, peering into the box, "Hey, what you doing with the cat and kittens?"
"Can't just leave the momma and her babies here with no food or water. Figure we can either watch them for a little while until we can find them a good home, or see if Miss Burns wants them." Buck stared down his friends, daring them to say anything.
No one did though they were all smiling. It had been a long day and it wasn't over yet. Climbing into the vehicles they headed to the hospital to assure that Vin was checked out and to see how the Burns' were doing.
He had watched them. How they moved, the way they reacted to each other. He had been waiting down the road from Larabee's ranch for a few hours when they had come tearing out, lights flashing. He had stayed back at first as he followed them onto the interstate. He soon realized that something was going on when no one noticed they were being followed. He kept them in sight all the way to the John Deere business but when they stopped he drove on for a few blocks before turning around and coming back. He had parked where he had a clear shot of the front and side of the building. Watching and waiting as they split up. He tried to figure our just who each of the men were. He knew there were seven on the team. He had been warned that the leader could scare the devil himself, Larabee was the name. He knew all their names and general descriptions. He had made a deal with the man who had shared the information. The man wanted one of the agents dead. He didn't care . . . it didn't b other him to take out two fed's rather than one. The only thing that mattered was he wanted the one to suffer before he died. He would see that he suffered.
He watched with interest as the ambulance and police pulled up to the building and the scene unfolded. He started his car and fell in behind the men's vehicles as they once more moved out, trailing them to the hospital. He parked and watched as the seven walked into the building a smile sliding across his face as he murmured, "Let the game begin."
Nathan walked out of the ER and joined the others in the waiting room.
"What they say about Junior?' Buck asked, jumping to his feet.
"They're taking him to get x-rays to be on the safe side, but the doc thinks the blow just aggravated the concussion he already had. Chris is with him to make sure he stays put until the doctor says he can go." The smile covering the medics face helped put the others at ease.
"Probably a good idea, the way Vin seems to disappear from hospitals," Josiah grinned, remembering all the times they had to go in search of a missing Tanner.
"Did you by chance hear any word of the Burns?" Ezra requested. Relieved to hear his friend was going to be fine his concern turned to that of the father and daughter.
"Mr. Burns is in surgery as we speak. They will need to insert pins to repair the damage to his arm. It was fractured in two spots. Additionally he suffered two broken and a cracked rib, multiple contusions, some of the cuts needed stitches, and he was dehydrated and suffered some blood loss. Shock was just starting to set in when we found him, so he was lucky. Miss Burns was also dehydrated and the doctors wanted to put in an IV but she refused. They have her drinking water right now and have given her a protein shot. They're keeping an eye on her. At the moment she's upstairs in the surgical waiting room."
"Man, if you can call that lucky," JD shook his head. "It's a shame that she's up there all by herself. Does anyone know if there are other family members or anyone she can call?"
"Not that I heard," Nathan shrugged.
"Since our colleague will be detained for some time, I think I will take the lady a cup of coffee. I am certain that Miss Burns must be tired and have need of more than water by this juncture," Ezra rationalized.
"Think I'll join you, brother. Even with strangers comfort is found when knowing someone is there, if only to offer support," Josiah offered.
The two men disappeared down the hallway.
No one noticed the person standing toward the edge of the waiting room listening to their conversation. They never noticed as he vanished through the doors leading toward the x-ray department.
"Vin, I'm going to be standing right outside the door in the hall so don't even think about trying to duck out. Let the lab tech do his job and after the doctor looks at the pictures we'll get out of here if he says you're free to go, "Larabee told his friend.
"Come on Chris, I told ya I'm fine. This is a waste a' time." Vin gave Chris his best sorrowful look.
"Don't even try it, Vin. You're having the x-ray and listening to what the doc has to say."
"Fine," he spat out crossing his arms.
"Mr. Tanner, my name is Richard and I'm ready for you now." The lab tech stood beside an open door and waited for Vin to enter before allowing it to close behind them.
Chris leaned against the wall to wait for Vin. He couldn't help the grin that appeared as he thought of all the ways that Vin had managed to slip out on doctors in the past.
"Mr. Tanner, I need you to lie down on the table and we'll get started on those scans and pictures of your head," the technician stated.
"Hey, that's a coffin lookin' thing. I've always had that donut type machine to x-ray my head," Vin exclaimed, seeing the long tube shaped machine made his stomach lurch.
"Mr. Tanner, it's alright. You won't be going all the way in the MRI machine. I'll just slide you in far enough to get a picture of your head. You won't go in any further than your chin. The CAT scan machine is backed up for the next several hours. Your doctor felt it was best to get you in and out quickly, that's why we're using the MRI. I'll have your pictures finished before you know it." Richard tried to assure Vin, hearing the slight panic in his voice. He was good at his job and knew claustrophobia when he saw it.
Vin eyed the table, treating it like a rattler about to strike. He cautiously stepped up to it and slowly lowered himself onto the table, every nerve strung to the breaking point.
Mr. Tanner . . . Vin, please just close your eyes and try to relax. I need you to put your arms down straight beside your body.
Vin took a deep breath as he closed his eyes. He let the air out slowly and attempted to clear his mind. Feeling the movement of the table as it slide forward he couldn't help but tensing up.
"Vin, you're going to hear some loud noises now. Just relax, it will be the scan setting in on the images and the pictures being taken. Don't worry, the table won't be moving any further." The technician's voice has a distant sound as it came over the intercom.
Vin cracked an eye open and realizing he wasn't really "in" the machine finally relaxed. He closed his eyes and pictured the mountains he loved. He visualized himself riding Peso up through the trees and slowly making his way to the top. After the long stress- filled day and with the past few weeks dealing with Pedro's shooting, the bust of Walters, and Antonio's funeral it was all catching up with him. His last thoughts as he actually started to drift off to sleep was of his friends having made the funeral arrangements and them standing beside him during the service, along with Ms. Nettie and Theresa.
Vin jerked awake as the table moved, taking his body the rest of the way into the tube that made up the MRI machine.
"Hey, what the Hell?! Get me out of here," he yelled over the banging noise of the scan inside the tube. He began to panic when he received no answer.
Trying to wiggle and use his fingertips to push himself out of the machine, Vin realized he couldn't move an inch. He felt someone touch his boot and attempt to pull it off. He kicked out and tried to pull his foot away as best as he could in the confined space.
Tilting his head, he tried to see who was outside, but all he saw was latex covered hands. One hand was grabbing the heel of his boot in an attempt to tug it off, the other was resting on the toe of the boot with a syringe held firmly in the fingers.
Vin yelled at the top of his lungs, "NO! CHRIS!" He kicked as hard as he could when he felt his boot start to give and begin to slide off his foot.
"I'm sorry; I don't even know your names." Miss Burns commented, accepting a cup of coffee.
"Please forgive our rudeness, Miss Burns. My name is Ezra Standish and this is my colleague, Josiah Sanchez and we are members of ATF Team Seven. You saw the rest our team earlier. Chris Larabee is our SAC, Vin Tanner was the gentleman with the longish hair, Nathan Jackson is the team medic, and the other two were Buck Wilmington and JD Dunne.
The young lady looked closely at the two agents, "How did you know what Carl did? How did you know to arrest him?"
"Fate smiled upon us and put him in our path, or more accurately Vin's path." Josiah said with a smile.
Seeing the confusion on her face Ezra expanded on Josiah's explanation. "Our happy little band was on the way to a camping/fishing weekend. Mr. Tanner has an unusual ability to hear and sense things that are out of the reach of the rest of us. He took off suddenly and we followed. By the time we had caught up with him, Vin had already disarmed a rather inebriated cretin who had been trying to shoot a family of rabbits which he apparently thought were a deer." Ezra shrugged his shoulders and continued. "We turned him over to the park rangers and went back to our original plan of recreational activities. During our dinner preparations, Mr. North, who apparently escaped custody, reappeared at our campsite. He attacked Vin with the butt of his rifle. In his rambling he mentioned a woman and her father he had accosted earlier in the day. He was soon apprehended for a second time and our Mr. Dunne ran a trace on one Carl North. He was able to retrieve his home address, work plac e and various other details. When it was discovered that a father/daughter team ran his place of employment we sent the police to his home address and yours, and we went to check his place of employment. The rest you know."
The young woman stared at the two for a moment as she digested the information she had just received, her emotions showing clearly in her eyes. "I can't thank you enough . . . all of you . . . for what you did. I don't know if my father would have survived until Monday when the workers would have found us. Not with his injuries. . . I'm just so grateful . . . " her voice trailed off.
"Miss Burns, we're just happy we were able to help." Josiah declared.
"Please, call me Teri."
"Teri. Such a charming name for such a lovely lady," Ezra stated his dimpled grin appearing.
Blushing at the comment she noticed Josiah's amused look. "Is something funny, Mr. Sanchez?"
"It's Josiah ma'am, and I was just thinking, for Teri being an unusual name for a woman, I've heard it twice now in less than a week."
Teri nodded her understanding then stood as she watched the doctor walk into the waiting area.
"Doctor, my father, Mr. Burns . . . how is he?" She asked as Josiah and Ezra stood on either side of her, Ezra's arm sliding around her to lend both physical and emotional support.
"Miss Burns, your father is going to be fine. He's going to need some physical therapy, but I see no reason he shouldn't make a complete recovery."
"Thank you, Doctor. When can Miss Burns see her father?" Ezra asked holding the now crying Teri to his chest as the young woman wept with relief from the stress of worrying.
"We're moving him to his room now. He should be settled in within ten to fifteen minutes. I'll have the nurse call you once we have him situated," the doctor explained, before excusing himself and walking out of the room.
Ezra gently settled Teri into a chair as Josiah handed her a cup of water.
"Here sip this, it'll help. The coffee might be a bit much for your stomach right now." Josiah instructed.
Teri took a few sips of the water and then took a deep breath and slowly released it. She could feel herself calming down. "I feel so silly; I'm not usually so weepy. Thank you for being here . . . for waiting with me. I don't want to keep you from your friends any longer. I know you must be worried about Mr. Tanner and wanting to check on him."
"Rest assured Miss, our associates will keep us informed on the whereabouts of our colleague. Odds are in our favor that Mr. Larabee is at this moment by his side to assure that Mr. Tanner does not pull a "Houdini" yet again," Ezra assured with a chuckle.
"He doesn't like hospitals?"
"Brother Vin has a very deep dislike of hospitals along with a dislike of attention being directed at him. Our brother might have a knife sticking out of himself and still proclaim he is 'fine'," Josiah explained. "Vin has slipped out on the doctors and nurses enough times that we agreed Chris should stay with him at all times to guarantee that he is where he needs to be. . . and remains there.
"Miss Burns?" Looking up they noticed a nurse standing in the doorway.
"Yes, I'm Miss Burns."
"We have your father settled into his room now, it's 326. If you'll follow me I'll take you to him."
"Thank you." Teri answered before turning back to the two men. "I just want to thank you again for everything you've done for us."
"It was truly our pleasure, dear lady. And please, if you need anything do not hesitate to call me." Ezra smiled as he handed her one of his business cards.
Teri took the card and returned his smile before turning to follow the nurse out of the room.
Josiah and Ezra watched her walk away before tuning to catch the elevator and rejoin the rest of their team.
Chris pushed off the wall he was leaning against and rubbed his chest as a strange feeling overtook him. It was the same feeling he always got when something was wrong. Knowing that Vin was in with the x-ray tech, Richard, to keep an eye on him he decided to check on the others in the waiting room. He was almost to the door when Richard stepped out of a room ahead of him.
"What are you doing? Why aren't you in with Vin? Where is Vin?" The questions were rifled at the man.
"Mr. Tanner's fine, I left him on the table. I got a call that I was needed at the ER nurse's desk, but it was a mistake. I should be done with Mr. Tanner soon. I already took a few pictures and only need a couple more." The startled man walked past Larabee.
Suddenly a loud crash sounded from the MRI room followed by, "NO! Chris!"
Chris pushed the technician out of the way and rushed down the hall. The door to the room flew open crashing against the wall. Chris immediately realized that Vin was all the way into the tube of the large machine, which was loudly banging away. "Shut that damn machine off and get him out of there. NOW!"
Chris stepped over the tray and stand that he assumed Vin had kicked over. "Calm down Vin, I'll have you out of there in a second." His words were emphasized by the glare thrown at the technician.
Richard turned off the scan and started to slide the table out of the machine. Through the window he could see the blond agent grab the patient by the ankles and was pulling the man out quicker than the table could move on its own.
Once Vin's arms were free he reach out and grabbed the edge of the machine to help pull himself the rest of the way out and off the table in one smooth movement. He stood, breathing hard as the tension coursed through his body. "Where'd they go? What was in the needle?"
"Who go? What needle?" Chris asked, confusion clear in his tone.
Richard walked into the room and was swiftly slammed against the wall by an irate Vin. "Why the hell did you put me all the way in there? What the hell were you trying to inject me with?"
"I . . . I . . . I don't know what you're talking about. I was called to the nurse's desk. I shut off the scan before I left. Honest! I don't know how it got turned back on or how you got inside the machine," the frighten man swore.
"Vin, what do you mean trying to inject?" Chris asked in confusion. He knew his friend was upset and had been in a panic. But he also knew that Vin never exaggerated.
Vin glared at Chris over his shoulder and then looked back at the man he held firmly against the wall. Vin could see the truth in Richard's eyes that he honestly didn't know what happened.
Letting go he stepped back and took a deep breath. As he released the breath slowly Vin could feel a great deal of the tension draining out of his body. Finally he turned to meet Chris's gaze and explained. "I was in that coff . . . machine and yelled for him to get me out of there. Damn thing so loud in there with all the bonging goin' on. I tried to wiggle out but couldn't budge. That's when I felt somebody grab my foot. Tilted my head enough to see a gloved hand and a needle. I kicked at them the best I could, must have finally made contact. I felt them move and heard a crash over the noise in that 'thing'."
Chris looked at the knocked over tray and realized that there was no way that Vin's foot could have reached it. Taking a pen out of his pocket, he knelt over the mess on the floor. Chris used the pen to push the tray out of the way. He found not only the instruments that had been on the tray earlier but a syringe which was still partially filled with some kind of liquid. "I need some rubber gloves," Chris demanded of Richard, "and I need someone to tell me what's in this needle."
Picking up the phone on the wall, Richard called the ER doctor who had sent Vin down for the x-ray. He hung up the phone after quickly explaining to the doctor all that had happened. "The Doctor is on his way."
Vin headed for the door and was halfway out of the room when Chris asked, "Vin, where are you going?"
"Out of here."
"Vin . . . " Larabee never finished what he planned to say as Vin left the room with determined, rushed steps.
Catching the door before it swung closed; Chris stepped out of the room in an attempt to call Vin back. However, Vin was already moving through the doors at the end of the hall.
Stepping back into the room and grabbing the phone on the wall he snapped at the tech, "What's the number for the nurse's desk in the ER waiting area?"
"34," Richard supplied.
Chris dialed the number and recognized the voice of the woman who answered. "Shelia, it's Chris Larabee. I need the guys to watch for Vin. He's probably headed for the exit. Tell them to stop him and not let him leave. Warn them he was attacked while getting his test, but still needs to get the doctor's report. They should bring him back to the x-ray room."
Shelia hung up and looked around quickly spotting Buck, JD and Nathan. She moved over to the three men while keeping an eye open for one Mr. Vin Tanner. She had experienced his disappearance act more than once.
"Buck, Chris just called from x-ray. Vin's headed this way and Chris figures he's planning on leaving. Something happened down in x- ray, Vin was attacked or something. But Chris wants him back down there as soon as you find him. The doctor hasn't released him yet." Sheila was just finishing giving Buck the message when Ezra and Josiah walked up.
"Vin has been attacked? Did Mr. Larabee say who attacked him?" Ezra asked, the concern for his friend clearly evident.
"No, I'm sorry. That's all I know," Sheila replied, before walking back to her station.
Dividing up the five men went in different directions in search of their wayward friend. Cell phone had been turned on so that they could send a text message should someone find him.
Josiah headed outside to the hospital gardens and said a quick prayer of thanks when he saw Vin standing on the small bridge that spanned the Koi pond in the middle of the garden.
Sanchez sent out the text message to inform the others that Vin was found and to meet in the x-ray room before approaching Vin. The large man walked up to stand beside his friend. He leaned against the railing and watched as the Chinese fish swam under the bridge. He knew that Vin would talk when he was ready.
Only moments had passed when Vin spoke, "Didn't mean to worry ya, just needed some fresh air."
"Do you want to tell me what happened?"
Vin sighed deeply and then quietly related all that had happened during the attack.
Josiah quietly let the man talk it out before relying, "No wonder you needed air. I would have needed some fresh air as well after being trapped in one of those things... So, did you see anything other than the hand of the person with the needle? Were they male or female?"
Vin closed his eyes and shuddered at the memory of being in the enclosed space. Pushing the feeling of panic away he focused his mind on exactly what he was able to see. In his minds eye he saw the gloved hand on his boot. He concentrated on every detail. Opening his eyes and looking at Josiah he shook his head. "They had on surgical gloves over black gloves. The dark gloves showed through the latex, but the thickness made it impossible to even tell the size of the hand or the any other distinguishing characteristic."
"Professional?" Josiah asked, wanting to know Vin's opinion.
"Don't know . . . maybe. Maybe someone didn't want to leave finger prints or maybe thought it would make them blend in. Ain't no way to know for sure 'till we catch them."
Josiah rested a hand on Vin's shoulder, "We'd better head back to x-ray. I'm sure the others are worried."
"Guess you're right. Chris's probably got steam comin' out of his ears by now."
The two men walked out of the garden and back into the hospital. Cutting through the ER and moving through the double doors, they walked down the corridor toward where the others waited.
The closer they came to the actual room Josiah could feel the tension building in Vin. "Ezra and I went up and sat with Miss Burns earlier. I do believe Ezra might just be smitten with the young lady. He even gave her one of his personal cards." Josiah commented in an effort to take Vin's mind off of his recent experience.
"She must be something for Ez to give up his number," Vin agreed with a slight grin.
"She seemed to be a real nice lady. Struck me funny when I found out her name was Teri. Interesting to meet two Teri's in one week's time."
"Another Teri, maybe we should have the two of them meet. It'll drive Ezra crazy trying to figure out which Teri said what." Vin smiled, the mischievous glint showing in his eyes telling Josiah more than anything that Vin was much calmer and more his usual self.
Reaching the doorway, which now stood wide open, Josiah and Vin entered. Everyone was there and Chris was currently on the phone.
"Mr. Tanner, are you alright?" Ezra asked, as he noticed the two arrived.
"Yeah, I'm fine Ez."
Chris hung up the phone before turning to Vin to explain, "The doc still wants you to have the x-ray, but I'll be in the room with you the whole time. The syringe has been sent to the lab to have some tests run and we'll be informed as soon as they know what's in it."
Nodding his understanding, Vin's shoulders dropped. It was the only outward sign of his being resigned to the situation.
"Buck, JD, go to the hospital's security room and check their surveillance cameras on both sides of this room. I want to know who entered the control room when the lab-tech left. Also, call down to the precinct and make sure they still have Walters and North in custody. Nathan, I want you to stay in the control booth with Richard and watch the doorway leading out into the other hallway. Ezra, Josiah, I want you outside the door to this room in the hallway on this side. Watch for anyone coming or going that look out of place, nervous or you just plain don't like," Chris ordered.
"Good thing you ain't out there, you'd have everybody up against the wall, Cowboy." Vin quipped before adding, "whoever it was is long gone now."
"Someone attacked one of my men and I'm going to make damn sure they don't get a second chance." Larabee growled, his emotions from the earlier attack still churning within him.
Vin could see the guilt his friend was feeling in his eyes. He knew Chris was blaming himself since he had been right outside the door when the attack happened.
Vin's stare met that of Chris's. 'Weren't your fault, I didn't see it coming either."
'But I should have known, should have heard.'
'Sorry to bust your bubble, but ya ain't superman. Ya can't see through walls.'
Their arms snapped up in the unique handshake that was all their own and had been since the first time they had met. Grasping forearms they held for a moment, eyes meeting and giving each other a nod before releasing the grip.
"Would you two stop with the personal conversations in our presence? It is quite rude and unnerving." Ezra stated.
"Yeah, and it's just downright spooky," Buck agreed.
"All right, let's get this done." Vin declared, sitting down on the table.
The others left to carry out their assigned tasks. Chris remained standing beside the table, even with Vin's shoulder.
Richard had the x-ray's done in record time and had called the doctor who informed him he would be right down.
The doctor walked into the room a short time later followed by Buck, JD, Ezra and Josiah. Nathan joined the doctor in the control room to look over the images that had been taken while the others discussed what they had discovered.
"Chris, there's only partial glimpse of them on the security tape. They timed it perfectly with a tall cart going by then they slipped into the side door of the control room. When they left, they got lucky and slipped into a crowd of resident students that were heading out. They were smart and kept their faces down. Richard, the lab tech must have seen them. He left right after they went in; unless they slipped in without being seen, but I don't see how. We got that tape and the tape of the exit doors of the ER. JD's going to see if he can zoom in on the face, as well as any other part of them and maybe we can find a way to identify them," Buck explained.
"What about North and Walters?" Larabee asked.
"As far as they know, North was still in booking. Walters was released this morning on a 1 million dollar bond. But they have someone watching him. He's staying at the Denver Plaza Hotel and so far he hasn't left his room," JD reported.
Chris moved to the phone and dialed 9 to get an outside line. He called the precinct and asked to speak to Captain Haynes. "Haynes, Larabee here. I need you to check and make sure that Carl North is still in custody and is in fact still in booking. One of my men was attacked and I want to make sure North has been there the whole time. Okay, if I don't hear from you I'll figure you have him."
Until we have verification that the moronic Mr. North is indeed still in custody, I feel it is our duty to insure the safety of Miss Burns and her Father," Ezra volunteered.
"No, I want all of us to stay together until we know why Vin was attacked and by who. Buck, go into the control booth and call Hospital security, the extension should be posted on the phone or get Richard to tell you. Tell security to put two men on the Burns' door until we can get some officers over here. And tell them to make sure they check all ID's including the ones of the officers when they arrive." Chris could see Ezra was truly concerned for the safety of the Burns' but his gut was telling him that Vin's attack had nothing to do with the father and daughter.
While Buck went to call Security from the other phone, Chris called Haynes back and requested officers be placed on the Burns' hospital room as a precaution.
After making his call, Buck followed the doctor into the main room. "I've looked over all the pictures that we took, Mr. Tanner and although the blow you received didn't do you any good, it doesn't look like it did any further damage either. You still are suffering from a mild concussion and I don't want you alone for a few days just in case any unexpected symptoms arise."
"He won't be alone, Doc. Vin will be staying out at the ranch with me." Chris received a glare from the man in question.
"'He' is standing right here and can answer for himself," Vin grumbled.
The doctor turned to Chris as if Vin had never spoken. "Then I'll go and sign his release papers so you can get him out of here."
"What about the substance that was in the needle?" Chris asked.
"The lab said it might take a few hours to break it down. They think it's a mixture of different drugs. I'll call you as soon as I get the report," the doctor assured.
"Thanks, Doc." Vin shook the man's hand.
"You're welcome, Vin. Do me a favor and try not to get that hard head of yours hit again." The doctor handed Vin the signed paperwork.
"Boys, let's head back to the house. JD, stop and pick up whatever you might need to enhance that tape. Nathan, you still have Vin's pills for headaches, or did they get lost in the fiasco at the campsite? If so, you need to check with the doctor about getting him more," Chris looked at the men around him. "I want everybody to stay alert and watch for any tails when we leave. Whoever attacked Vin might try to follow for another chance."
Vin was obviously not paying attention.
"Mr. Tanner . . . Vin, are you alright?" Ezra asked noticing the look on Vin's face.
"Just thinking, what if I was a mistake?" Vin noticed the confused faces around him and continued. "What if I wasn't who they thought? We might wanna check who else was having MRI's or x-rays done today. Richard said they were backed up with the x-ray and that's why they were using the coffin here on me. We need to see who was supposed to have been using the machine."
Chris nodded his understanding and agreed. "Nathan, go ask the doctor about Vin's pills. Buck, ask Shelia if she can print you're a copy of the MRI's scheduled for the last two or three hours. We can go over those at the house. I agree, it might have been a case of mistaken identity and Vin wasn't really the target. But until we look over all the facts, I want everyone together in case Vin or any of us might be a target."
Team 7 was soon walking out of the emergency room doors on the alert for anything out of the ordinary. Unknown to them, they were being watched. They never saw the shadow of the man scrunched down low behind the steering wheel of his car, at the far end of the parking lot.
"Damn it! Why'd that lab assistant have to come in when I had Tanner trapped inside that machine? They spoiled my plans for him." The man watched as the group of men walked across the parking lot to their vehicles. He waited until they started to pull into traffic before starting his own car and pulling out to follow at a safe distance.
Vin and Chris checked the horses that the park rangers had returned earlier in the day and found them fed as well as rubbed down. They headed back to the house to help put away the food, supplies and camping gear that had been neatly stacked on the back deck with a tarp draped over the pile. Upon reaching the deck they found that Josiah had started the grill and had the steaks they had planned to eat on their camping trip ready to cook. Buck, Nathan and JD had stacked everything into piles for each of the men.
"I called Miss Burns and informed her of the officers guarding her father's room. I didn't want them to worry about their appearance," Ezra explained, closing his cell phone.
"That was nice of ya, Ez." A slight teasing grin pulled at the corner of Vin's lips.
"Chris, that's all the gear that stays here." Buck pointed to a pile at his feet. "This is JD's and mine. I'm going to go throw it in the truck now. JD, grab Josiah's stuff and we can put it in the back of the suburban."
"Thanks JD" Josiah smiled, putting the steaks on the grill and sprinkling on some seasonings.
"Vin, give me a hand taking this extra food in. That power cooler did a great job. It kept the coleslaw and potato salad ice cold along with everything else. Doesn't look like anything spoiled. We can put it in the refrigerator and we might as well put the dry goods away too."
Soon everything had been put away and the steaks were ready to eat. Grabbing plates and silverware along with some beer and the salads the men found a seat outside on the deck and enjoyed their steak dinner. Nathan did grab Vin's beer before he had a chance to take a drink and replaced it with a soda.
"No beer, Vin. You could still end up with a headache and have to take one of your pills"
Vin's answer was a soft grumble under his breath that was too low for anyone to actually hear, but they could all guess at its content.
A few hours later found the men inside the house. JD was loading a program onto his laptop that would allow him to zoom in and enhance the shots from the security tape. While it loaded he started to connect his laptop to Chris's big screen TV. Nathan, Chris, Ezra and Vin were looking over the print outs of patients that were scheduled for the MRI or x-ray that afternoon. They were looking for any names that were known either to law enforcement, involved a known criminal family or those with wealth or power.
Buck hung up the phone just as Josiah closed his cell phone and the two men headed for the table.
"Chris, Carl North was booked and is in lock up. He's getting his arraignment tomorrow morning, but Walters has disappeared. The D. A. got suspicious and went to the hotel manager and arranged to send up a police woman as a maid taking up clean towels and linens. When there was no answer at the door she used the pass key and entered the room. It was empty and she reported that it looked like he had been gone for a while," Buck reported.
"Damn, they got any idea how he left without the surveillance team seeing him?" Chris wanted to know.
"Around lunch time there were several check ins for an insurance convention. They think he slipped out with the crowd that went to the opening session at 2pm. The captain said they have his picture quietly circulating and the airport security is on the look-out for him. If he tries to get on his private plane or any other, they'll grab him for attempting to jump bond. The Captain also called in a favor with a friend at the airport, Walters private plane won't be starting at all even if he does manage to make it past security."
Chris looked over at Josiah and didn't like the concerned look that he was directing at Vin.
Vin followed Chris' gaze and found his eyes meeting Josiah's concerned look. He knew what needed to be asked, "So what was in the needle, Josiah?"
Josiah was surprised by the question, then realized that Vin was actually very good at reading people and in fact knew him too well. "It was a mixture of a very powerful hallucinogen, a heavy dose of Belladonna and traces of a muscular inhibitor. The doctor said it would have killed you, but not quickly. The result would have been to drive you insane first as your mind basically fried, then there would have been crippling pain from your muscles going into severe spasms before the belladonna finally worked its way throughout your body. It would have stopped all or your organs before finally stopping your heart."
The stunned silence that followed was one of shock and a deep soul felt anger for the person who had attempted to do this to one of their own. Six pairs of eyes met and without a word a sworn vow was made to hunt down the monster that would try to do this to their "brother".
"We don't know yet if I was the target," Vin reminded the others in an effort to get their minds back on the fact.
"True, Vin. But either way we need to find whoever was behind this," Nathan reasoned. "This bastard is trying to torture someone to death."
"Know that, and you're right. I just wanted you guys to remember that. We got work to do and I'm fine, I'm here."
"Vin, it almost was you, mistake or not. It hit a bit too close to home," Buck explained.
Nodding his understanding, Vin made eye contact with each of the others, meeting Chris's gaze last. Seeing too much of the darkness that Chris still felt reflected in his eyes, Vin smacked him in the arm with the papers he still held. "You're slacking off Cowboy, get back to work," The tactic worked, snapping Chris out of the dark mentality he was trapped in.
"Oh and you might want to call and see where Teri Holt and Shaun are staying. If they're at the Travis's then there ain't no worry, but if they ain't . . . well Walters would target them 'cause she knows all 'bout him."
"You're right," Chris agreed opening his cell phone. "I'll call Travis and find out where they're staying."
The men went back to work with Josiah joining them at the table going over the patient printout and writing down times and names of those they recognized either through media or through law enforcement.
JD went back to work on his computer and Buck followed to help, but in reality proved more an aggravation. JD recognized it as Buck's way of releasing tension and smiled to himself as he grumbled at the man.
"Travis said that Evie helped Teri Holt rent a house yesterday in Northside. They moved in this morning. He'll call SAC Martinez and have Team 3 set up a watch for tonight just to be on the safe side. He'll arrange for protection for her until Walters is caught," Chris informed his team.
Ezra excused himself and went into the kitchen. Using his cell phone he called the hospital and asked to be connected to William Burns room.
"Miss Burns, its Ezra Standish. I was just calling to see how you and your father are doing."
"I think I asked you to call me Teri." Ezra could hear the smile in her voice. "My father is resting comfortably as am I. The nurse told me I should use the other bed in the room to rest when I needed. I want to thank you again for the officers at the door and everything you have done."
"You're most welcome. You'll be glad to know that North was indeed booked and is in a cell as we speak. Either the District Attorney or the Assistant D.A. will be stopping by in the morning to take your statement for North's arraignment tomorrow. Hopefully it will be enough to keep the judge from allowing bail. But should it not, do not worry, you will have protection," Ezra assured.
"You've been so kind, Ezra. I don't know how to ever thank you."
"No thank you is needed, my dear. You just have a good night's sleep and I'll call sometime tomorrow to see how you are doing. And please, if you need anything at any time, please call me."
"I will. Good night, Ezra."
"Good night, Teri." Ezra answered softly and then closed his cell phone. Grabbing a bottle of water out of the refrigerator he went back out and joined the others.
By the time JD had everything set up and ready the others were getting up from the table to stretch and work the stiffness out of their muscles. The combination of sitting so long studying the printouts along with the tension left from the day's events starting to make itself known.
When Vin started to rub his temples Chris made a decision. "We're all tired. Let's call it a night. We'll start in the morning with fresh eyes. Nathan, I think Vin might need one of those pills, looks like he's working on a headache. JD, just leave the set-up and we'll view it tomorrow."
Nathan stepped in front of Vin, "Don't tell me you're fine Vin. I can see the pain around your eyes. Be honest; tell me how bad it is and how long it's been hurting."
Sighing with the pain in his head he knew there was no point in trying to hide it. "Been pounding for a while and seems to be getting' worse. Feels like a sledge hammer going crazy in there."
Pulling the prescription bottle out of his pocket, Nathan shook out one of the tablets into Vin's outstretched palm.
Ezra held out a bottle of water, which Vin accepted, with a nod of thanks.
Soon the extra beds, couches and even the floor were occupied with the tired men and all were sound asleep mere minutes after the lights were turned out.
Chris woke slowly as the smell of fresh brewed coffee wafted on the air. Climbing out of bed he donned a pair of sweat pants and headed for the kitchen. Pouring himself a cup of the fragrant brew from the full pot. He looked out the window over the sink and noticed for the first time how early it actually was. The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon. Hearing a noise behind him, Chris turned to see Buck shuffling his way to the coffeemaker as well.
Buck fixed himself a cup and took several sips. "Ahh, you made the coffee. I was worried Junior had when I smelled it brewing this early."
"I didn't make it. Vin must have before he went out to the barn. I'm guessing made a small pot for himself and filled the thermos, then started a pot for the rest of us," Chris mused.
"Should he be out there alone, or have you already checked on him and his headache?"
"No, just came down myself. Figured I'd let him have some time alone before going out and checking. You know how he gets if we start hovering."
By the time Chris came back down stair dressed and ready for the day, he found Nathan and JD at the table with coffee cups in hand. Buck was at the stove mixing batter, frying bacon and soaking hash browns in a bowl ready to be fried.
Chris refilled his coffee mug and glanced out the window. Vin and Josiah stood on the deck, leaning against the railing as they sipped there coffee. As Chris stepped on the deck to join the men the wind shifted directions and a small gust blew over the friends.
Vin lifted his head at the scent he smelled on the breeze and then studied the sky. "We best get that hay moved into the barn. There's a storm comin' and it's comin' fast."
Looking up at the sky neither Chris nor Josiah saw anything that would indicate a coming storm, but neither doubted Vin's knowledge of nature.
"Buck's fixing breakfast as we speak, can it wait until after we eat?" Chris asked.
"Rain'll be here within the hour. I'll take us all workin' 30 to 40 minutes to get it into the loft," Vin replied.
"Okay. Josiah, go in and tell Buck to turn everything off and put breakfast on hold. Let the boys know what's up," Chris requested as he and Vin handed Josiah their cups and headed for the barn.
Within minutes the others joined Chris by the stack of hay bales, as Vin appeared at the loft's opening.
"Vin Tanner are you crazy? Get your scrawny butt down here on the ground before you bust that head of yours again," Nathan demanded.
"Hay's got to get put up, Nate. Rain'll be here soon," Vin yelled down.
"There's enough of us to get it done. Josiah and I can come up and stack bails," Buck replied, as he climbed the loft ladder with Josiah right behind him. Once he reached Vin's side he added, "You're not Humpty Dumpy, Vin. None of us want to see you in pieces."
Vin looked at his friend and then down at the others below. He was about to comment when Nathan's deep voice came rumbling from below.
"I'm not telling you again. You get your scrawny butt down here where I can keep an eye on you." The medic's voice brooked no argument.
Vin shook his head at what seemed like nonsense to him. He headed down the ladder mumbling under his breath.
Buck and Josiah looked at each other and grinned as bits and pieces of Vin's rant could be heard, "over-protecting mother hens", "worse than she wolves nipping at your heals."
Finally Josiah leaned out the loft door and yelled down, "He's on his way, Nathan."
Vin walked out the barn door and headed straight for the stack of hay, ignoring Nathan completely. He grabbed the first bale he reached and carried over to the rope pallet that Chris had already spread out.
Working together as a team, JD, Buck and Josiah in the loft and Chris, Nathan, Vin and Ezra on the ground, the last bale was moved into the loft just as the first drops of rain started to fall. The men had barely reached the house when it seemed that the bottom had fallen out of the sky and the rain came down in heavy sheets.
It was times like this that Chris was thankful for a house that contained four full baths, and a shower in the basement, which had been recently converted into a work-out room. The industrial size hot water heater didn't hurt either.
Thirty minutes later the men were all seated around the table enjoying a breakfast of pancakes, hash browns and bacon.
"Buck, you're going to make some lady a fine wife someday," JD teased.
"Yeah, you cook, you do dishes," JD added.
"It's the 21st century Mr. Wilmington. Ladies are the ones, I believe the saying is, who 'Bring home the bacon.' Which will work well since you appear to cook it excellently," Ezra agreed with a smile.
"What! Now wait a minute, I . . . hmmmmm, lady presidents and CEO's would probably love a man to fix them a dinner and breakfast in bed the next morning. I may need to check this out," Buck grinned, wiggling his eyebrows.
"Good Lord, Buck, I swear you can find an angle to meet women in anything," Nathan shook his head as he stood and grabbed Chris and his empty plates and took them to the sink.
One by one the men took their plates over to the sink and rinsed them before loading them in the dishwasher. Then working together with the last odds and ends the kitchen was soon cleaned and everything put away.
Chris headed to his home office to place a call and check on Ms. Holt and her son. He knew Vin would want to know how they were doing. He was surprised when Martinez answered the phone, " Hey, hasn't Travis sent a permanent replacement yet?"
"Talked to him earlier this morning and told him that my team would be happy to keep an eye on the Holt's. We don't have any cases pending and you know as well as I do that the DPD have a habit of assigning rookies to details like this. Beside, Teri's a witness for the ATF, I figured we should be watching over them," Martinez replied.
"Teri, huh? Sounds like you're taking a personal interest in their protection," Chris joked.
"Yeah, well she's a nice lady and Shaun's a great kid."
"Just keep in mind, Vin's fond of them. You upset them and he won't take kindly to it. Then there is the fact that Ezra is rather fond of them too."
"Oh great, Chris, why don't you just add a little more pressure," Martinez sighed.
Chris decided he'd teased his friend enough and went on to inform him of the events of the previous evening and their fear that Walters may have been behind it. He assured the man that once they knew anything they would give him a call. With that, Chris said goodbye and hung up then went to join the others in the living room.
"JD, the hospital security tape still set up?"
"Sure is Chris, it's ready to view on your TV, but my downloads didn't finish last night before I shut down my laptop," JD replied.
That's alright; we'll just view it as is. You can point out where the technician left and the suspect slipped into the control room."
The men patiently waited while JD keyed up the video on his laptop and hit enter. They watched as a view of the hospital hallway appeared on the television, showing people walking up and down the corridor. A large cart of trays and a portable x-ray rolled down the hall.
"There's Vin's Lab-tech coming out of the 3rd door down on the left," JD stated.
"There's, that crowd of interns that went by. One of 'em ducked into the room. They used the crowd passin' by to cover their tracks. Door hardly opened so's no one would notice." Vin pointed out, having spotted the quick movement.
"That isn't the one that Buck and I spotted last night on the tape," JD commented.
"Damn, there were two of them? Unless what we saw was Richard coming back . . . but how could he come back twice?" Buck muttered.
JD hit the pause and then rewind. He backed up to where the small group first appeared. Hitting play he slowed down the footage and then froze the frame when the door could be seen to open as the person slipped inside the room. "You're right. Someone is slipping in, but how could there be two people at two different times?"
"JD, anyway you can zoom in on him?" Vin asked, trying to get a closer look so they could possibly identify the man.
"Yeah, but it'll take a while. I'll have to download one more program before I'll have everything I need to digitally and dimensionally work with the video to enhance it."
"Just how long is a while,'" Buck asked.
"A while could be an hour or three, depending on how long it takes to download. I need a specific type of software so I don't lose the features as I enlarge the area or face," JD explained, totally in his element.
"Brother, leave JD alone and let him do what he needs to do," Josiah smiled, as he clamped his hand on Buck's shoulder.
Chris stood and looked from the image frozen on the TV screen to the pile of print-outs on the table that listed those scheduled for an MRI. He noticed that Vin was once again rubbing his temples and made a decision. "JD, once you get everything you need to zoom and enhance the picture I want you to go through the whole tape from the time we arrive until we left the hospital. Make identifiable prints of anyone going in and out. The rest of us will finish going through the print-outs of scheduled MRI's from the hospital. Vin, it's time for one of your pills, then you need to go lie down for a while. The work-out you got putting up hay this morning probably falls under the doctor's definition of 'too much exertion.'" Chris's eyebrow rose, daring Vin to argue.
If Vin was honest with himself he did feel a headache coming on, but he didn't want to leave his friends as they tried to find the answer to who attacked him and why. "Headache ain't bad. How about an Advil instead and I lay down on the couch."
Chris looked to Nathan for his opinion.
"Advil would work if the headache isn't too bad and I don't see a problem with you lying on the couch . . . as long as you rest," Nathan emphasized the last word.
Ezra grabbed the bottle of Advil and a glass of water and handed them to Vin before moving over to the dining room table and reaching for a list of names.
Josiah spread out a large afghan and draped it across the couch for Vin to pull over himself before joining Ezra at the table.
Vin tossed a few pills into his mouth and chased them down with water before setting the glass on the coffee table. Looking up, he realized that Buck was standing at the end of the couch, smiling at him.
"Why nothing, Vin. I'm just waiting for you to lie down so I can fluff your pillow for you. I'll leave the 'tucking in' to Chris," Buck teased.
"Buck, go help Ezra and Josiah, before I 'tuck you in' somewhere," Chris growled.
Vin laying back on the couch, settled in, letting his body relax as he listened to the movement of his friends around him. The clicking of the keys as JD typed, the flipping of papers or the drag of the highlighter across the paper. The low murmur of voices lulled him into a light sleep.
Several hours later Vin sat with JD watching the tape frame by frame and enlarging anything that might be of importance. The others were calling names from the list they had compiled from the hospital schedules. The list included those in the legal profession or law enforcement as well as those in government or the media. Each person was asked the same question . . . Had they received any threats recently?
The team gathered in the living room to compare notes. Standish was the first to report, stating that although there had been a few people who worked in the government or in legal positions, none of them had received death threats. A few were currently going through divorces or company take-over's yet they too had stated that there were no real threats that had been issued. "So, even though it is possible, it does not seem probable that any of these people were the actual target. However one of the people I spoke with, a Miss Brigitta Brookman did state that her friend recently had a problem at the hospital. It seems that a Miss Carole was in the hospital for a simple surgery, an appendectomy. She was left for a moment in the hallway in front of the surgical room door. When the nurse returned she had been moved to another surgical area and a chart for another patient was left on her gurney. It stated that she was scheduled for a delicate heart operation. Miss Brookman expl ained that the nurse had luckily arrived before a terrible mistake could be made. They never did find out who moved the gurney or switched the charts, so it is possible that someone working in the hospital itself could be deranged and enjoys causing pain and death to unsuspecting victims. I plan to notified the hospital administrations of such a possibility."
"So there is a chance that Vin was just a random victim of circumstance?" Nathan wanted to know.
"Maybe with one but there were definitely two people who went into that control room. The first one went in right after the Technician left. He was in the room for several minutes before the second one slipped in. Then the first one left almost immediately," JD explained, as he pulled up the still shots onto the television screen.
"Can't you get a clearer picture of them?" Chris demanded, as he looked at the shadowed faces.
"No, sir." JD regretted the answer he had to give.
"Give him a break, cowboy. Ain't his fault. Both of them knew what they was doin'. Kept their faces angled toward the wall so nobody would be able to identify them. Used what was going down the hall to help hide them or give them cover," Vin stated calmly.
"Then we've got nothing."
"I didn't say that," Vin stated.
"But you said they kept their faces covered," Nathan frowned.
"I do believe that Mr. Tanner found other things about our two mystery men that might help with our quest in tracking the culprits we wish to question," Ezra commented, seeing the grin touch Vin's lips. He was sure that the sharpshooter's eagle eyes had caught some subtle aspects that others might miss.
"Vin?" Chris querried.
"JD, back up to the first suspects still shot, " Vin requested.
JD's fingers flew over the keyboard and a still of the suspect opening the door as the crowd of interns passed by was soon on the screen.
"Dark brown hair, tan, about 6 foot, and left-handed with a tattoo," Vin informed the group.
"How the hell do you know all of that?" Buck asked in awe.
"Hair you can see. Look just above the collar, there's skin you can see and the color is even. That's somebody who's outside a lot or uses a tannin' bed, either way they'd have a tan all over. Look at those interns goin' by, the two women are the same height so probably average height, 5'6 or 5'7. The guys are all around 6' compared to the woman and the guy on the far side, look where his head is compared to the wall. Draw a line from them to the one at the door and he's about the same height. He's opening the door with his left hand and you can see part of the design of a tattoo under his cuff as he reaches for the door. Looks like it might be a tail to some kind of animal."
The others looked closely at the screen and studied all the items that Vin pointed out. They didn't doubt him but hoped that seeing for themselves they might recognize who it might have been.
"Vin, why do you think that's a tail of an animal, it might be a snake or a trailer to a name," Josiah suggested.
"No doubt Mr. Tanner noticed the little part of the claw or foot beside the tail; you can barely see it as the ink disappears under the cuff." Ezra pointed out the area on the screen.
JD moved the tape to the next still. They found this picture to be much the same as the other with the face unintelligible as well as the body. While studying the screen in search of something that might help give a clue to the man's identity Vin saw something about the hand that grabbed his attention. Chris and Ezra both noticed as Vin tensed and focused on what their friend was staring at. After a few moments they too saw what had caught Vin's attention.
"That's the one that tried to inject you." Chris could make out the latex glove over what appeared to be a black leather glove.
"Damn, with that tall cart in the way you can't make out anything except part of an arm and hand as he opens the door," Buck complained.
"The question as I see it is, are the two working together or separately. And were they after Vin or was it a random act," Josiah said what they all were thinking.
Come Monday we check all prison releases. Ezra can talk with the hospital administrator and find out if they've had incidents like this in the past, if so when it started," Chris reasoned. "Until we know for sure . . . until we know who or what is going on . . . I don't want anyone on their own. We'll all stay out here at the ranch for the rest of the weekend. When we go back to work we stay in pairs or groups and watch each others back.
The others nodded their agreement.
It was soon decided that they needed some time to step back and relax. They had all been wound tight for too long and were in need of some down time. At some point during the afternoon the storm had moved out and the sun had come out to warm the air. Josiah went out to fire up the grill and soon the sound of laughter and camaraderie filled the air.
Monday morning found Team Seven in the office hard at work. Some were in the middle of writing reports and statements dealing with the North/Burns incident, while others were still working on the attack at the hospital.
Buck slammed down his phone and walked to Chris's open door. "Chris, I just got off the phone with Captain Haynes. There's been no sign of Walters at all, he's just disappeared. North made bail and got out about an hour ago.
"What idiot judge would allow him bail with a charge of three counts of attempted murder, one being against a federal agent?" Chris demanded.
"Don't shoot the messenger, Chris. I don't know who the judge was, but Haynes said a high priced lawyer showed up to defend him at the arraignment."
"Call the officers watching the Burns at the hospital. Tell them that North is free and to make sure they check the medical id's before letting anyone into that room. I want everyone in the conference room in 10 minutes."
Buck nodded and returned to his desk. He prepared to update the team on North's release and the upcoming meeting. "I just . . ."
"Miss Teri, what ya doin' here?" Vin interrupted, as he stood up a smile brightening his face.
Ezra turned quickly only to discover it was Teri Holt and not Teri Burns entering the office. The disappointment never showed as he smiled at the new arrival.
"Dang Ez, you'll get whiplash with two Teri's around." Vin comment was for Ezra's ears only as he walked past.
Good Lord, Vin is going to have too much fun with this, I shall never live it down.´ Ezra mused as he followed Tanner to welcome their visitor.
"Agent Martinez thought it best to give my deposition here at the federal building since Mr. Walters has not been captured. Since I was in the building I asked if we could stop and say hello. I still can't thank you enough for all you have done for Shaun and me." Teri gave Ezra and a blushing Vin a quick hug.
Soon the pair was on their way to the DA's office, but not before Agent Martinez was subjected to the steely gaze of both Tanner and Standish. It was clear that should he upset Teri Holt or her son he would be answering to the two agents personally.
"Sweet lady," Buck commented, "but back to business. North made bail and was released a little over an hour ago. I'm gonna call the hospital and inform the officers watching the Burns' room. Chris wants us in the conference room in 10 . . . make that 5 minutes." Buck sat down at his desk and reached for his phone.
Ezra headed to the conference room, cell phone already at his ear.
"Hello, Ezra, and it's Teri."
"Teri, I was just informed that Carl North was released on bail and has been free for approximately an hour. I would caution you to use care should you leave your fathers room. If you would allow me, I will arrange for a bodyguard until your safety can be guaranteed."
"Ezra, how could they allow him bail? What if he comes after my father again?"
"You need not worry about your father, there are two officers assigned to his room, no one will be allowed near his room without authorization. My concern is with you. I will arrange for a man to be there within the hour. Since I can not guarantee your safety personally, please allow me to send someone in my stead. So if not for your sake, my dear, please do it for my peace of mind."
"Alright Ezra, for you I'll accept a bodyguard." Teri answered softly.
"I must go and make arrangements. I will call later to see how you are faring." Ezra's voice carried his smile and relief.
"Goodbye, Ezra, and thank you."
Standish made two quick calls, one to arrange for Teri's protection the second to the officers standing guard at the hospital to inform them of the arrival of a personal body guard for Teri. He had just slipped his phone back into his jacket pocket as the others started to enter the conference room.
Everyone was settled into their seats when Chris walked into the room. "As you know North is back on the street. He was able to afford a top-dollar lawyer so either he isn't as stupid as he acted or somebody else is footing the bill. Either way we have to consider that he may have been involved in the attack on Vin. So he's now on our suspect list until we find out one way or the other. Josiah, Ezra, what were you able to find out this morning?"
"I spoke with the hospital administrator this morning and according to him there have been a few unexplainable incidents in the past four months. It started as small insignificant occurrences but had escalated recently. He mentioned the episode in which the patient's chart and location were switched in the surgical area. The last event happened several weeks back when charts were again switched and the wrong medications were nearly administered. While it would follow that this would be the same person who attacked Mr. Tanner I would have to disagree. All of the previous incidents occurred on the 3rd or 4th floors. This leads me to believe that is was someone who blends in on these floors. That same person would most likely stand out around the Emergency Room or X-ray which are located on the first floor." Ezra reported.
"The person who attacked Vin didn't exactly walk in." Nathan pointed out. "Couldn't it be the same person?"
"As I stated, Mr. Jackson, it could be, however I feel it is highly unlikely."
"Alright, we list it as a possibility for now. Josiah, what did you find out?" Chris turned his attention to the profiler.
"I checked the prison releases for the last six months. No one was released with any ties to the team or Vin in particular. I just don't know Chris; there haven't been any threats, no attempts to overturn verdicts. It still makes no sense why two people entered the control room at two different times let alone that one left shortly after the other entered. There's no pattern, no set plan. In my opinion it was either random or Vin was not the intended victim. There is one other possibility. Perhaps it is someone who just enjoys playing head games. Having his victims chase their tails so to speak while they watch." Josiah hypothesized.
"Since nothing has happened since, maybe it was just random." JD offered with hope.
"We should update the DPD with the information that Ezra learned from the hospital administrator, anyway you look at it we need to catch this guy. My gut tells me it wasn't random, Vin was targeted and if not him the team. We'll stay with the plan for now. JD and Buck will watch each others back. Nathan, you're staying with Josiah?"
"Yes, we swung by my place last night and I packed a bag," Nathan confirmed.
"Good. Vin and Ezra are staying with me at the ranch."
"Vin? You're being awfully quiet, even for you. I'd expect a little disagreeing by now." Buck frowned, looking at the overly silent man.
"Nothing to say, Bucklin. Waste of energy to argue with a mule when he's dug in. To be truthful, until we know something it might be best to stay in pairs and watch each other´s back. I'm just a might more worried about the two Teri's at the moment, what with Walters and North both out there on the loose. Won't be safe for them," Vin commented.
"Who are you calling a mule!"
"Well, since you're askin', I figure ya must of recognized the description," Vin grinned.
"Pain in the ass, Texan," Chris muttered under his breath.
JD interrupted the two, "Hey Chris, I meant to tell you that the park Rangers faxed over their statements on North. They listed in detail everything he did on the State Park property."
"Good, Josiah, see if we can find a way to get his bail revoked. Talk to another Judge and show him the Rangers and our reports. Explain to the man that North will most likely attempt to go after the Burns or our agent again. Ezra, get in touch with your people on the street and find out if any of them have heard anything about Walters. Even if it's just a rumor I want to know. We need to find where he's hiding. Nathan, check with the free clinic and see if any of the regulars might have heard something. Vin, check with the street folk. However, none of you go alone. Buck you go with Vin, JD you're with Ezra. That leaves Josiah with Nathan. I have to go to Travis office for a meeting with the other SAC's. We'll be meeting the building's new FBI liaison agent." Chris finished assigning tasks and the men move to their respective desks.
As Vin approached his desk he noticed a cellophane wrapped basket of cookies. He picked up the attached card and read, For all that you've done, please accept these almond cookies.
"Hey Vin, what you got there?" Buck asked as he walked over to the desk.
"Basket of almond cookies."
"Who're they from?" JD asked.
"Don't rightly know, card don't say," Vin replied, as he picked up the wrapped basket.
"Wait a minute, where you taking those, Junior?" Buck frowned.
"It's Ms. Pauline, the receptionist's 60th birthday today. Thought I'd give 'em to her," Vin commented, as he headed for the door.
"You're not going to let us have any?" Buck whined.
"Ain't giving her no opened gift, Bucklin."
"Ah, come on, Vin. Just one? It's almond cookies."
"Mr. Wilmington, you forget. Not long ago it was discovered that Mr. Tanner is allergic to almonds, as is Mr. Larabee," Ezra commented as he went to refill his cup of coffee.
Buck just shook his head, "Only you and Chris would be allergic to almond cookies, I swear you two are kin."
Chris walked out of his office and was preparing to head to his meeting with Travis when a scream rang through the building's floor.
Team Seven hit the outer hallway guns drawn. Another scream rent the air and the men headed to the secretary's lounge along with others who had been drawn by the screams.
Pushing through the crowd gathered at the door, Nathan went and kneeled by a lady lying on the floor. Carefully he turned her over to reveal Ms. Pauline and placed his fingers against her neck to check her for a pulse. "I need help here."
Ezra dropped down beside Nathan, "What can I do?"
Nathan was about to instruct Ezra when something caught his attention. Staring for just a second, Nathan grabbed the woman's chin and opened her mouth. "Damn!" After a quick exam of her throat and neck he pulled his hands away, sat back on his heels and dropped his head.
"Nathan, what's wrong? Why aren't you doing anything?" Vin asked, the worry evident in his tone.
Nathan's eyes met those of the people gathered around, "There's nothing I can do, she's gone."
"Was it a heart attack, Mr. Jackson?" Ezra queried.
"No, she was poisoned."
"Poisoned?" Chris questioned, as a murmur ran through the gathering crowd.
"Yeah, I thought it was a heart attack at first. Then I saw the blackish color on her lips. When I examined her I found the same discoloration on her gums and tongue. Her throat is drawn-in and rigid. Classic signs of an arsenic type poisoning," Nathan explained.
Larabee moved to kneel by his medic, "Can you tell how she was poisoned? We need to know if it was accidental or deliberate."
Before Nathan could even hazard a guess, Ezra spoke up. "It was deliberate and I fear she was not the intended victim." Ezra looked up at Vin as he held up a piece of cookie that had fallen from Ms. Pauline's hand.
Realizing what Ezra meant, Vin felt his stomach drop and thoughts swirled through his mind. The cookies were poisoned . . . the cookies left on my desk were poisoned . . . the cookies I gave her for her birthday were poisoned . . . I gave her poisoned cookies . . . I gave her poison . . .
Seeing the pain in Vin's eyes, Chris stood up and placed a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder. He knew what Vin was thinking and watched the color drain from his face as the sharpshooter bolted down the hallway and into the restroom.
Opening the door, Chris could hear retching from the far stall. He picked up a towel and wet it with cold water and then stepped into the small area and leaned down, pulling the hair back from Vin's face and held it out of the way. He placed the cool, damp cloth across the back of Vin's neck.
"Vin, it wasn't your fault. You didn't know. You were only trying to be nice to her."
Vin, his stomach past empty, pushed away from the toilet and leaned back against the stall's wall. "I gave 'em to her, she was a nice lady and 'cause of me she's dead." Vin's head dropped into his hands in defeat.
"Because of us, Vin, because someone sent us the cookies. We're a team, Vin. Someone is threatening the team. You didn't do this to Pauline. The one who is attacking us did, and we're not going to let him get away with this."
"Rest assured Mr. . . . Vin, whoever this mongrel is we will not rest until we track the loathsome cretin down and throw his revolting carcass exactly where it belongs," Ezra commented, as he and the rest of the team entered the restroom.
Josiah entered last, locking the door behind him for privacy.
"Vin, you know how Ms. Pauline was; she wouldn't want you blaming yourself," Nathan comforted.
"Especially for something you didn't do, Vin," Buck added.
"Vin, you didn't know and Ms. Pauline wouldn't want you hurting," JD volunteered.
"Ms. Pauline was a fine woman, Vin. She adored you, JD, well all of us really. She'd want you to remember her smile, not feel guilty for something you didn't do or cause. She knows, Vin. She knows you didn't do this to her." The conviction in Josiah's voice rang true.
"You ready to get off this floor and find who did this?" Chris asked holding out his hand to Vin.
Vin looked at his friends and nodded once before allowing Chris to pull him to his feet. He wobbled a bit as he stepped out of the stall and over to the sink and splashing some fresh water on his face.
"You alright there, Junior?"
"Yeah, Bucklin, I'm fine."
"Good, we have work to do," Chris said, his tone all business. "Buck, go down and check with the security guards and see if they saw anyone enter with that basket. Josiah, take the basket of cookies down to the lab. Have them dust it for prints and tell them we need to know exactly what poison was used. Nathan, go with the medical examiner, I want a copy of his report. JD, run a check between the names on the sign-in log downstairs and the names on the hospital lists we have. Vin, I want you and Ezra to check your connections and see if they've heard anything about Walters or anyone who could be targeting us. I've got to get upstairs to talk to Travis. If you leave the building take take some one with you."
As the men moved to do as requested Chris added, "And boys, watch your back."
"Chris ain't back yet?" Vin asked, as he and Ezra entered the team's office.
"No, not yet. I called up to Travis' office about thirty minutes ago and his secretary said the meeting was still going on," Buck reported.
"Did you have any luck?" Nathan asked.
"I fear that none of my customary associates have heard anything except a few murmurings of which they are checking as we speak. They will call should they learn anything," Ezra replied.
"Mine was about the same, except for one. He said there had been two different men asking questions about the team and me in particular. Seems they showed up about two days apart. Said they didn't get a good look at either of 'em since they seemed to know enough to hide their faces in the shadows," Vin reported, taking a seat at his desk.
"You think it could be the same two from the hospital?" JD wanted to know.
"Maybe, maybe not, don't believe much in coincidences, but I ain't assuming nothin' on this one," Vin replied with a hardness in his voice. It was clear that this had now become very personal for the man.
Chris walked into the office, "We have another suspect, FBI supervisor Glenn Crain. The director had all his files and hard drive confiscated and searched. They found enough evidence to put him away for a long time. He deliberately set up Ezra as a escape goat when he was with the FBI. According to his personal journal he hated that Ezra was a better agent than he was. They found evidence that for the last couple of weeks he has been watching us all. Seems he hand- picked the two agents sent here during the Walters case and made sure they had been fed enough crap so they would have an attitude toward Ezra and Vin. When they went to arrest him on Thursday at his home he had disappeared."
"You think he was connected with Vin's attack and the poisoned cookies?" Buck asked.
"I think there a good possibility that he's involved. He's an FBI agent trained to go undetected. Anyway, he's on our suspect list now. Buck, what did you find out about who delivered the basket of cookies?" Chris asked.
"It didn't come through the security check. Cameras don't even show it coming onto this floor. And before you ask, I gave JD the code and he's pulled up the camera's footage using as his timeframe the moment we went into the conference room until we came out," Buck reported.
JD picked up where Buck left off, "There're only two cameras on this floor. One in front of the elevators and one angled down the hallway. I ran a comparison of everyone who got off the elevator against the hospital footage. There were no matches. Nothing even close."
"Anyone stand out or look out of place?"
"No, I saw some of the other teams getting off the elevator and the different secretaries that we all know, few of the cleaning crew and about fifteen to twenty visitors. I've sent images of any unaccompanied visitors downstairs to be matched to the names on the sign-in sheets. As soon as I have the names, Ezra and I will run a background check on them."
"Vin, what did you two find out from your contacts?"
"Not much yet, somebody was asking questions about us but nobody got a name or a description. Ezra and I have a few asking around to see what they can find out," Vin volunteered.
"Josiah, have you heard back from the lab yet?"
"Not yet, I'll give them a call and see what they have so far."
"The only thing the medical examiner knows at this point is that it was poison and a fast acting one. Within seconds of eating the cookie her throat constricted, cutting off her airway. From the look of the stomach it was absorbed instantly into the tissue and bloodstream. It was meant to kill quickly; with no air coming in, the lungs collapse and the heart stops, all within seconds. She never knew what happened. She didn't suffer, it was instant. Pretty much the moment she felt her throat tighten, she was dead.
"The exact opposite effect of the drugs found in the syringe used in the attempt on Vin which was meant to cause maximum pain before death," Chris commented with a frown.
"Two different people, two different reasons. It explains why after the second person went into the control room at the hospital the first one came back out and left. They weren't working together. The second person spooked the first one," Vin reasoned.
The room became quiet as the realization that there could possibly be two assailants attacking the team sank in.
"All right, let's step back from this. We'll go have lunch and come back with fresh eyes and start rechecking everything." Larabee ordered.
The men decided to go next door to the Longhorn Steak House located in the plaza. As the men left the building they were aware of their surroundings, keeping their eyes open for anything or anyone that struck them as suspicious or could prove to be a threat. As cautious as they were, they still had the eerie sense that they were being watched as they walked across the open courtyard.
Meanwhile different sets of eyes, hidden out of sight, watched as the men passed by. One knowing the man would pay, one seething that the men were still alive, and another coldly watching those that stood between them and thier target.
Vin contemplated yesterday´s events as he prepared a cup of coffee in the office cantina. In his mind he knew Ms. Pauline's death wasn't his fault, but in his heart . . . in his heart he felt the great weight of the kind woman's death.
Upon returning from lunch the seven had gone right to work. Ezra and JD attempted to run down the names on the security log, against those of the hospital records but found no matches. Chris had become frustrated when every avenue they checked came up with no information or even a clue. It was clear that he thought they were being played or out maneuvered. He had divided everything up into boxes. Box one had gone to Buck. How did the poison cookies get into the federal building without being detected? Box two went to Josiah; find out everything he could on FBI agent Glen Crane, his mentality, any habits that could be used against him or to track the man. Nathan was given box three, comparing the components of both drugs and the poison. Where they or could they be acquired and the difficulty involved. Box four was for Ezra. He was to look into Walters' background, who he had conducted business with locally who might be helping him hide or they might be able to use to find h im. JD accepted box five, which included all the tapes from the hospital and the ones here at the Federal Building and run them through the equipment down in the Audio Tech Lab. He was hunting for matches in dimensions of faces, heights or physical characteristics such as a limp or some other unusual movement.
Box six, would be handled by Vin and Chris. They would look at the attacks from a "Ranger" and "Seals" point of view. They were to decide what their best course of defense against the invisible enemies.
Vin took a sip of his coffee and shook his head thinking of all they had found out and the decisions that had been made before the afternoon was through.
Box one, Buck discovered that the basket of cookies had come in an overnight express delivery through the mailroom. The box it arrived in had disappeared. The mail room's records showed it was to be delivered to the 11th floor, Travis's floor which was most likely a misdirection to insure its arrival into the building without problem. That meant there was someone with inside knowledge of the building or at least the mailroom.
Box two, Josiah had trouble tracking anything down on Glenn Crain and the FBI wasn't giving up much. However, he did find two patterns. One, the man had been a diabetic since childhood and knew how to use a syringe and two, the man had developed a taste for Nintuck brand cheroots that were only carried at specialty tobacco shops. He had actually turned down two transfers to areas that had no shops carrying the special cigars. The cheroots were cured in 100 year old cognac which made them very expensive. They were only sold in humidors that held 10 cheroots each. Crain smoked an average of 3 a day. Josiah had smiled as he explained the catch. It seemed that this particular brand could only be sold two boxes at a time. If you purchased more than two it was necessary to sign an ATF release stating that they would not be shipped or resold. This was because of the alcohol content due to the way they were cured; it seemed they were on the edge of the legal limit allowed. There w as only one shop in Denver that carried the expensive stogies and Jacob's of Team Six had run a picture of Crain over to the shop. The owner, who happened to be a retired detective remembered Crain coming in the day before. He had requested that a box always be kept on hand. The owner hadn't thought anything about it since Crain stated he was FBI and showed his badge. The owner did promise to contact them the next time Crain came in. Josiah figured that it should be in approximately 3 days and Chris had asked for and received Travis agreement to put the undercover agent from Team Six on surveillance at the store.
Nathan and Ezra had come up empty on boxes three and four. The drugs used and the poison could be had anywhere on the street. As for Walters, he had no real associates since he always kept his face out of the dealings. As for the man's holdings, none of them had seen any activity as of late but Ezra felt sure that Walters was still in the area, he would bet on it.
Box five, JD had asked Buck to get him the codes for the cameras in the mailroom. He had found the package in question but as before the man who picked it up seemed to know the location of the cameras and kept his face averted. He only caught part of a hand, yet swore it was the same hand that had tried to inject Vin at the hospital. The video analysis computer had matched the two hands, even thought they were gloved due to a common anomaly. It seemed they both shared an abnormally long pinky finger. The gloves even appeared to be of the same imported Italian leather. When JD had commented about the finger Chris had stated that something seemed familiar but he couldn't place it and no one else said it rang a bell.
Box six, was covered by Chris. He told the others what he and Vin had decided would be the best plan for their continued safety. They were sure that there was more than one person attacking them but if they were working together or not was undetermined. The perpetrators had a working knowledge of their work place and most likely of their homes. Travis had arranged for two safe houses and until the man or men were caught the team would be using them as their home base. Chris had told them to make calls and arrange for anything that needed to be cared for at their homes in their absence. Vin smiled as he recalled JD asking why they couldn't stay together in one house. Josiah had explained that they didn't want to attract attention and 7 men living in one house would do just that, plus if they were split up it would be harder to target them all at once.
Vin's revelry was interrupted as he heard what he knew to be the Assistant District Attorney's voice coming from the other room. The man had called yesterday just as they had been leaving for the day. He had made an appointment to pick up Team Seven's reports and to take personal testimonies from each man in respect to the North arrest. Miss Burns would also be giving testimony on what she knew.
Vin walked into the office area as JD followed the Assistant DA into the conference room.
"Mr. Larabee, I do not see the necessity of Mr. Wilmington escorting me to the security check point in order to accompany Miss Burns up to our suite of offices," Ezra huffed.
"Why?" Larabee looked at Standish his tone firm. "Because Ezra, there is an FBI agent out there who would probably like to see you and well the rest of us dead, for sending Travis to his Director and getting him busted. Because someone was able to get poison cookies into the building without being seen. Because one of us has already been attacked. AND if that isn't enough, because I say so!"
"I see your point, Mr. Larabee. Very well, may I request Mr. Sanchez accompany me in Mr. Wilmington's stead. He is far more civilized and his behavior among polite society is far preferable to Mr. Wilmington's boorish, heathen ways."
"Ah Ezra, it ain't my fault women find me irresistible, it's the animal magnetism, I was born with it. It is truly a curse I must bear, but I bear it well," Buck said, grinning at his friend.
"Mr. Wilmington, civilized women do not find you anything of the kind, and Miss Burns is a very civilized young lady." Ezra's aggravation with the man was obvious.
"Josiah, go with Ezra. Buck, behave while the lady is here," Chris replied, in an attempt to ease some of Ezra's tension.
Ezra's atypical reaction to Teri Burns brought back memories for Chris. He knew how Standish felt. He understood meeting someone special under stressful circumstances. When he met Sarah it was love at first sight as he rescued her from an attempted mugging. Shaking off the bittersweet memory Chris got back to the business at hand. "You two go on down and escort Miss Burns up. Ezra, I understand the bodyguard you sent for protection is downstairs too. Tell him to go back to the hospital for now. We'll take her back when she's finished here.
Ezra nodded his approval and left with Josiah for the elevators.
"Bucklin, lay off Ez," Vin spoke quietly, as he walked past Buck on the way to his desk.
Buck smiled as he walked back to his desk. He loved to tease his friends, really enjoyed it, but he also wouldn't do anything to hurt them. Feelings where the heart was involved, well he of all people understood that. The jovial man settled into his chair and hummed to himself as he read over his report for the Assistant DA.
Nathan, you're up next. Print out a second copy of your report for the ADA to keep," Chris commented, as he headed back to his office.
JD exited the conference room at the same time that Ezra and Josiah returned with Teri Burns. The ADA decided to take her statement next and asked that the agents join them, thinking of getting their statements of the events at the same time in an effort to make it easier on the lady.
Vin was following the others into the room when his phone ran. He reached over and picked up the receiver, "ATF Agent Tanner, how can I help you?"
"Hello Vin, this is Evie Travis. I was wondering if you and some of the boys could do me a favor?"
"Sure Ms. Travis, what can I do for you?"
" I have been taking Teri Holt to several vacant buildings, along with Agent Martinez, naturally. I have been helping her look for a place to start her restaurant now that she has a home of her own. We found a place this morning that she really likes, but Teri is unsure if it's a sound building or the work that it might entail to make it into a working restaurant. She didn't know who to ask and I don't think she wants to take advantage of Officer Martinez. To be honest Vin, I don't think she would trust anyone but you and the boys. I know Mr. Standish would probably be able to give her an idea if cost- wise, if would be a good deal. Orin has told me that you and the others have had some experience in building and remodeling with the work you do for Josiah's shelters. If you boys have the time, maybe you could go over with us this afternoon and take a look around."
"Give me the address, ma'am. A couple of us, if not all, will come by at lunch time."
Evie gave Vin the address saying she would let Teri and Agent Martinez know of the plans before thanking him and hanging up.
Tanner set the phone in its cradle and then finished writing down the address.
Vin walked into the conference room but stopped just inside the door. Teri Burns was in the middle of telling the ADA and the stenographer of North's attack on her father. Vin noticed that the guys had scattered about the room with the exception of Ezra who sat beside Teri offering what support he could.
He motioned for Chris to join him by the door and watched while the others moved closer as well.
"What's up?" Larabee asked.
After hearing about Mrs. Travis request, Chris agreed that it shouldn't be a problem since the location was not that far away. He thought it might be a nice break from all that had been happening lately and perhaps a little on the normal side for a change.
The ADA had soon asked each of the agents questions to establish their movements after they had arrived at the John Deere dealership and he was soon sure he had the entire story from beginning to end with no doubt as to what had transpired. "Gentlemen, Miss Burns, I think we have an air tight case against Mr. North and I don't see any problem in getting the maximum sentence. This has been a morning well spend, and now since it is close to lunch time I'll be off," the man said, as he gathered copies of the reports sent by the park rangers along with other documents.
"We've been trying to find a judge to overturn his bail release because of the ongoing threats to the Burns. Do you think you can help get something done?" Chris wanted to know.
"Yes Agent Larabee, I'm sure I can. I'll contact Judge Morrison and with the evidence we have I think we can get the bail revoked until he can hold a hearing." The man slid the papers into his briefcase and snapped it shut before standing and following the stenographer to the door. "I'll call and let you know as soon as I speak to the judge this afternoon. It would be best if someone other than your team pick him up. I understand from Orrin Travis that someone has been attacking your team and North is a suspect. For that reason it would be best to let the DPD handle that matter."
"As long as he's off the streets and behind bars, I don't care who picks him up. However, if he should come after one of my men or Miss Burns we will protect ourselves." Larabee's voice carried a firm commitment.
The ADA nodded his understanding before turning and leaving the office.
"Mr. Larabee, Nathan and I are planning to escort Miss Burns back to the hospital. If you desire, we could procure some midday nourishment for the team." Ezra asked.
"Evie Travis called and asked if we'd go look at a possible building for Mrs. Holt's restaurant. She had hoped you would give your opinion on what it might take to get the place up and running while the rest of us check for structural damage or obvious areas in need of repair." Chris explained.
"Miss Teri, would ya mind stoppin' by there first, it's just a little out of the way from the hospital. We'll try not to keep ya too long." Vin requested.
"No Vin, I don't mind. Dad is having his physical therapy today and it would be nice to just be out for a little while." Teri answered happily.
"So where is the place?" Buck wondered.
"2236 West Molly Brown Blvd." Vin replied.
"Okay, Vin and Josiah are with me, Buck and JD in Buck's truck, and that leaves Nathan, and Teri with Ezra in his Jag. Let's head out, Mrs. Holt and Martinez are probably there already." Chris stated as he headed for the door.
Twenty minutes later 3 vehicles pulled up to an old two story building. They pulled into spaces at the side of the building where two other cars already sat. One they knew belonged to Martinez and the other belonged to his teams second in command, Tommy Kendall.
Approaching the building Teri looked at the two large round windows on both sides of the front door. The windows had solid, clear glass in the middle surrounded by a stained glass design, "Oh what a charming front."
Opening the unlocked door the group went inside.
"Hey Larabee, I see the gang's all here." Martinez laughed, holding out his hand to the team leader.
"Vin!" Shaun Holt yelled as he ran across the open space to greet his friend.
Vin reaching down, scooped up the little boy, spinning him around before setting him back down, "Hey, pard. How you doing?"
Mrs. Holt stood beside Martinez and smiled as she watched the joy on her young son's face. "It was nice of all of you to come. I can't thank you enough for looking over the place for me."
"It's our pleasure, ma'am. So what was this place?" Josiah asked as he took in the interior.
"Josiah, it has a wonderful history. It was built back in the 1920's as a boarding house. I thought I'd turn the upstairs into 4 private dining areas if it's possible to knock out a few walls. They could be used for anniversary parties or wedding rehearsal dinners and such. There is a dumb waiter in the kitchen that appears to still work, which will make it easy on the waitresses serving food on the second level. I thought a bar on that wall and a glass partition between the bar area and the dining area here," Mrs. Holt explained excitedly, as she described her vision.
Vin walked around the large, open room and noticed double doors at the back of the room, "Teri is . . ." was as far as he got before both women answered, "Yes."
The two Teri's looked at each other and smiled, "Well this could become confusing. Why don't you just call me TB," Teri Burns offered.
Buck couldn't help but bust out laughing and the other men started to smile, with the exception of Ezra who sent a glare in Buck's direction that rivaled even Larabee's.
Nathan finally explained with a smile, "Sorry Teri, it's just that you don't look like a lung disease."
"Oh," she blushed.
"Why don't you call me TJ It's short for Teri Jane," Teri Holt suggested warmly.
"Sounds real nice, ma'am," Vin nodded, as he went to the double doors and began to push one open but stopped as something caught his attention. Vin stayed perfectly still and let his senses reach out, 'A small sound, a light scraping and clicking, a whiff of gas.' He felt when Chris stepped up behind him, realizing that his friend had seen the tension in him and had alerted the others.
Vin glanced back to see that Buck and Ezra had also followed Chris while the others had the women and Shaun under the staircase using an old table as cover. Vin held up one finger and nodded, then held up a second and shrugged to let them know that there was one and perhaps two intruders. Vin pointed to himself then left to where he had heard the noise, he then pointed to Chris directing him to take the right. He motioned for Ezra and Buck to stay at the doorway and cover everything in their view.
Vin stepped over to the left door and Chris to the right. They looked at each other and a silent count of three went between them before they hit the doors, swinging them open and both men rolled in and toward their chosen direction. They came to their feet, gun in hand aimed at the man holding a wrench to the gas line.
"Fire those guns and we all go boom," the man said.
"Why? Why are you messing with the gas?" Chris demanded his gun never wavering from his target.
"Now why would I tell you?" The man sneered.
"Because it's the only chance you have. Don't tell me and I can guarantee that you won't like the outcome," Larabee growled.
The man looked at the seven guns pointing in his direction and thought over his options. He took a step back toward the door. "Fine, no skin off my nose since I probably won't get paid anyway. You guys are being followed. They told me to come in and scope things out, to see if there was a way to take you out. They pay well so I slipped in and saw the gas line shutoff valve and figured to give it a shot. What do you know; the gas was still hooked up. Now we have ourselves a stand off. Room's filled with gas and a spark from a stray bullet will ignite it. You might be able to reach me before I'm out the door, but then again I could throw this wrench and hit the pipe and cause a spark. Let's call it a stand off. I'm going to ease on out this door and you can take care of that gas leak."
"Better idea, you lay that wrench down, get down on your knees and I don't shoot you." Vin stated calmly, keeping a steady aim on the man.
The man licked his lips as he started to take another step toward the door when a shot rang out. The man fell forward, dropping the wrench. Vin, Chris and Ezra pulled the man further into the room as they pushed the back door partially closed as Buck grabbed the wrench and turned of the gas.
"Got to give this room time to air out; we'll have to go out the front." Vin commented.
Chris nodded in agreement and they each grabbed and arm and pulled the man through the swinging doors as Ezra and Buck covered their backs.
"What happened?" Nathan demanded as he rushed over to check on the man.
"It would appear someone wanted to assure that he would not confide in us," Ezra said in explanation.
"We . . . we aren't the . . . the only ones here. Out front . . . someone . . . someone else. They said . . . said . . . "Not again . . . going to mess . . . mess up plans . . . again."
"Can you tell us the name of who you're working for?" Chris needed to know.
"Not now Chris, I need him to lie still, I've got to get this bleeding under control. Josiah, I need your help. JD, call an ambulance." Nathan directed the others as he tried to stop the bleeding.
"His . . . His name . . . is . . . is . . . Robert . . . He . . . he wants him . . . dead . . . don't care if he . . . he takes all of you with him. As . . . long as . . . as he's dead. Kill . . . killed his . . . brother . . . Jakeee." The man wheezed out with his final breath.
Nathan checked his pulse, "He's dead."
Although Vin and Chris heard Nathan's words they still stared at each other, their shocked contact broken when Ezra spoke up. "Jake, as in the Jake that worked with Walters? It would seem his brother is under the misguided impression that you killed him, Mr. Tanner."
"Well now we know one, but what about the other?" Vin commented as if it was everyday that someone wanted to kill him.
"Can't we wait in here and when the ambulance and police show up whoever is out there will leave," Teri Burns wondered.
"No, don't know what they might be planning and beside, I'm tired of being the hunted," Vin stated with conviction.
Chris nodded his agreement as well as the others, "What do you have in mind?"
"Ezra, you're with me. Chris, wait about 5 minutes then crack the door open and lay down a quick fire to draw there attention to the door. That'll give us enough time," Vin's smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes.
'Don't do anything stupid.'
'Don't worry, cowboy.' Vin threw back, as he ushered Ezra up the stairs to the second floor.
Going down the hallway, Vin looked through the open doors as he went until he found the one he needed and moved through it and up the set of stairs that lead to the roof.
Hurrying to the side and looking down, they realized there was approximately 10 feet between the two buildings. Vin and Ezra moved a few feet back from the edge and waited. It was only moments before the sound of gunfire was heard below and the two took off at a dead run and leapt across the expanse to land on the roof of the other building. They quickly made their way down through the building, which by the look of all the tools, paints and scaffolds was currently being remodeled. Vin eased himself up to a window and looked out into the street.
"Looks like we have two across the street, both in the alley. We can slip out the door and use the cars parked out there to hide behind. When they make there move we'll be at a good angle to either contain, or take them down." Vin looked to Ezra for agreement.
"Ezra nodded and headed for the door. The two men slipped out the front door, which as luck would have it was located on the far corner away from the building containing the other members of Team Seven. Keeping their eyes trained on the alley, Vin and Ezra kept low and moved behind a parked truck. Moving toward the back they looked down into the alley. Watching for an opportunity, they heard a whine of an engine as it came tearing down the street and the sound of sirens in the distance.
The car squealed to a halt in front of the alley. As the assailants broke cover and ran for the car, Vin and Ezra moved from behind the truck and started firing. Their aim was true and two men fell. Vin ran out into the street as the car sped away, firing first through the back windshield and then attempting to take out the vehicles tires. There was a puff of smoke as first one tire and then the other was blown, causing the car to lose control and slam into a light pole.
The rest of the team poured out of the building. Josiah, JD and Buck went to check out the driver of the car as Chris and Nathan moved to join Vin and Ezra as they approached the downed men.
Vin's shot had hit the man in the shoulder while Ezra had brought his man down with a leg wound. Reaching the two they kicked the guns out of the men's reach and Vin got right to the point. He grabbed the man's injured shoulder and applied pressure causing the man to groan, "I'm only going to ask you this once. Who sent you? Who were you aiming to shoot?"
"Walters . . . Walters hired us . . . Come on man I need a doctor," The man moaned loudly.
Vin let go and allowed Nathan and the paramedics who were now on the scene to approach the man as he stepped back to join Chris and Ezra.
"Walters and Jake's sibling. Now that we know the players of this game I'm confident we can stack the deck in our favor." The smile that lit Ezra's face was anything but warm.
"Vin, you don't look convinced," Chris asked upon seeing the frown on his friends face.
"Don't know, it's just a feeling I got. Like there's still something that we're missing, and unknown player maybe. Just like I know we're being watched right now. I can feel their eyes. There's still something we ain't seein'."
Josiah moved over to join them, "The driver died on impact. DPD is going to accompany the two you guys shot and keep an officer on them. They'll be heading down to jail just as soon as the doctor releases them. I think it might be best to take Mrs. Holt and her son back to the federal building with us. They'll be safer there until we find them a place to stay. If Walters knew about this place, there's a good chance that he knows where they're living."
"Shit! That's it," Vin swore.
"What?" Chris demanded.
"There's still one more. One who can get in and out of the Federal building. That ain't in Walter's power and this brother of Jake's ain't from around here, so unless he works for some agency, which I doubt, then there ain't no way he could have been the one with the cookies."
"You're right, there has to be someone else, someone who knows the ins and outs of the Federal building. Someone like FBI agent Glen Crain. Come on, I want everyone back in the building so we're not sitting ducks out here while I call Travis." Chris ordered.
The seven men were met by Martinez as they entered the building, "The second ambulance crew took the body from in here. The officers said they would call when they got an ID."
Vin sat down on the stairs and let Shaun sit in his lap while Martinez and Standish comforted the two Teri's.
Chris moved to the far side of the room and called Travis.
Vin looked down at the young boy, "Hey pard, how about we have a look around like your momma wanted? See if maybe we can help her build her dream."
Shaun smiled at the sharpshooter. He and Vin stood up and began to walk around the room. They were soon joined by Josiah, Buck, JD and Nathan as they looked at the floor, wall support, base boards and ceiling, looking for anything loose or showing cracks from weakness in joints. Buck and Nathan headed up the stairs to check the structure up on that level while Vin headed for the kitchen to look over the Pipes, electrical wiring and the stability of the back walls.
Ezra noticed the activity and soon occupied the women with discussion on the possible restaurant. Teri Jane shared her vision and the two women were soon immersed in a discussion on a color scheme that would work with the 1900's theme that Teri Jane was hoping to accomplish.
Ezra listened to the two women and began picturing what Mrs. Holt had in mind as well as the types of dishes that she hoped to serve.
Soon the group met back on the main level. Much to Teri Jane's relief it was reported that the building itself was actually very sound considering how old it was. The electrical wiring would have to be replaced but Buck reported that some walls upstairs could be knocked down to make larger rooms. Vin thought the plumbing would also have to be redone and brought up to code. Then to her delight, Vin told her about a huge walk in pantry that he had found hidden behind the tall shelves that were leaning against the wall in the kitchen.
Chris walked over to join them, thus bringing the discussion on remodeling to an abrupt halt.
"Ezra, you and Nathan take Teri Burns back to her house and let her pack a bag. We're all going to safe houses. Teri, your father is fine, but North and someone helping him just tried to shoot him while he was in physical therapy. Security has been place on him and the DA has revoked North's bail, but they still have to find him. Travis agrees that you should go with us. He has arranged two different safe houses than the ones originally arranged. No one save Travis and us have the addresses. Martinez, you and Tommy go grab your bags as well and TJ's and Shaun's. Everybody meets at the ATF parking garage in one hour. Since it's a secure facility, no one will be able to see what vehicles we switch to. Travis is arranging to have unmarked cars assigned to Team 5, so hopefully no one will be able to link them back to us." Chris looked at the group around him to make sure they all understood their assignments before continuing, "Alright, let's go and get this young man and thes e ladies someplace safe.
Vin stood on the front porch of the three bedroom, country-style house, looking out across the landscape. The house was set back far enough that it couldn't be seen from the road. While the view was nice, Tanner was not pleased with all of the close trees and bushes surrounding it, thus making it far too easy to sneak up to the house in the darkness of night.
"What do you think?" Chris asked, as he moved to stand beside his friend.
"I think Travis should sell this place and use the money to buy one that would work better as a safe house."
"What do you see as the weakest points?" Chris needed to know in order to prepare for any scenario.
"Be easier to ask what ain't a weak point," Vin huffed. "With all the bushes and trees so close, anyone could sneak up from any side. Front door, back door and those double doors all going out on the side deck gives ya three easy access to cover, not counting' all the large windows in this place. With all the glass, anyone out there could track everyone inside with ease. If nothing else, we need to put something up over all these big windows and those double glass doors. On top of that the power meter is on the garage instead of the house so it can be cut easily without us able to get a shot off. "
"They're called French doors," Chris mumbled, giving Vin's comments some thought.
"Glass doors, French doors, don't matter what they're called . . . they's trouble," Vin grumbled.
"Travis said there was some stuff out in the garage that hadn't been put up yet. We still got a couple hours of daylight, so let's go see what we can find to use."
Going into the house, the two grabbed Josiah on the way through. They told Ezra their plans and requested that he keep Teri inside the house.
It worried the four men that the whole team wasn't together, but they knew Martinez needed more than just himself and Tommy to guard TJ and Shaun. Buck, JD and Nathan had gone with them to help protect the mother and son.
Going out the back door the three headed to the garage. Inside they found the back wall filled with boxes. They hit pay dirt on the fourth box, brand new vertical and mini blinds. While Josiah and Chris carried the blinds into the house Vin dug through the tool boxes until he found a drill and other items they would need to put the blinds up.
Several hours later, as the sun started to set, the men sat down to a supper fixed by Teri and Ezra while the others had installed blinds on all of the windows and the French doors. The conversation at the dinner table was keep light-hearted in an effort to ease the tension that had been with the group all day.
"Vin, why don't you go lie down for a while? You are still recovering from a concussion you know?" Chris suggested as the meal came to a close.
"I will in a minute. How do you want to set up the watches?"
"Josiah and Ezra can take the first shift, you and I will take over between 11 and midnight." Chris answered.
Vin nodded in agreement and then went to lie down on the couch.
Josiah just shook his head, "Vin lying down and you not even threatening him. Will wonders never cease."
"Call Nathan, or Buck and find out how things are over there. I'm going to call Travis and see if they've picked up North yet or if he's heard anything on Jake's brother, Robert. Ask about Glenn Crain too, maybe we'll get lucky." Chris requested. "Where's Ezra?"
"Do you need to ask?" Josiah grinned.
"He's got it bad, doesn't he," Chris laughed.
"Oh yeah, but she seems to be a nice lady. I'll tell him you're looking for him," Josiah offered, as he went back into the kitchen.
"You wished to talk to me, Mr. Larabee?"
"Yes, call your contacts and see if they've heard anything. Then call that bodyguard you hired and ask him if anything else has happened at the hospital or if Mr. Burns has had any phone calls beside Teri's."
Ezra gave his customary two-finger salute as he walked away with his phone already to his ear.
Chris gave a nod and he grabbed his own phone and keyed in Travis's number.
"Who was that?" Buck asked.
"Josiah, Chris wanted to know how everything was here. I told him so far so good. The house was in a good location and there was only one side that could cause a problem, but that we're keeping a close eye on it. He said Vin isn't impressed at all with their place and had them hanging blinds all afternoon." Nathan replied.
"Damn, I'm glad I'm here with you. Being trapped in a house with and unhappy and edgy Junior can get ugly, and you know how I hate ugly."
"What time is it and where's JD and the others?"
"It's a little after ten and JD and Tommy are stretched out in the living room asleep. Martinez and TJ are with Shaun," Buck commented, as he looked out the window for any movement.
"Martinez seems to have fallen for TJ and her little boy, and from what Josiah said, Ezra hasn't left Teri's side." Nathan grinned.
"I still can't get over two Teri's in one week and now Ezra of all people being smitten." Buck shook his head and made a tsking sound.
"Ah, come on Buck, she's a nice lady and who knows, maybe she'll be good for him."
"Buck, think of it this way, it'll leave more women for you," Nathan teased.
This time Nathan realized that something was wrong. Buck was looking out the side of the window, searching the dark area outside as he listened for whatever had caught his attention. Seeing a shadow move by a tree toward the back deck he pulled his gun and whispered, "Go get JD and Tommy. Tell'em we got company. Have Tommy inform Martinez there's one coming in the back, probably one or more at the front."
Nathan slipped silently through the dark house and quietly woke JD and Tommy. As Tommy headed up the stairs to warn the others, Nathan and JD turned the couch over, giving them a barrier behind which to make their stand.
Only a few minutes later, Tommy slid behind the couch to join them. "Martinez is calling for back up and getting TJ and Shaun hidden away in a closet.
Nathan left the two men and went to inform Buck that they were as ready as they could be.
The silence raked across all of their nerves as they waited and listened.
The crash of the front and back doors being broken open echoed throughout the house as did the gunfire that exploded moments later.
Another crash of a breaking window sounded from upstairs followed by gunfire.
Buck and Nathan, having killed the man who had attempted entry through the back door, made their way back to the living room. There they found JD and Tommy in the process of cuffing the one surviving assailant who had attempted entry, the other lying dead by the door.
Buck went slowly to the stairs. Looking up he saw Martinez standing at the top, gun drawn.
"Everyone all right?"
"Yeah, they're still hidden. How about downstairs?" Martinez asked.
"We're all fine but keep the lights off. We got two dead and one that will be walking with a limp. I'm gonna find out if there's anymore outside," Buck told him quietly.
"Heading over to the downed man, Buck's jovial disposition was nowhere in sight. "Buddy, you had best tell me the truth if you hope to get any medical help soon. There any more of you out there?"
"Man, I need help now," the intruder whined
"Tell me. Is anyone else outside or so help me, I'll let you lie there and bleed."
"Just Walters and his driver, they're parked a half block back toward the intersection. Jacob was supposed to stop by his car after the job was done to pick up our payment."
Buck and JD grabbed the black ski masks off the two dead men and headed out the back door. Cutting through the side yard they came out of the trees even with the car that was parked but idling.
Walking up quickly as if in a hurry, Buck tapped on the rolled up, tinted window and waited as it was rolled down.
"Is it done?" Walters asked.
"Yeah, you're done," Buck answered, pointing his gun right at Walters as JD covered the driver.
They soon had both men out of the vehicle. JD cuffed the driver while Buck covered him. He then moved to Walters and snapped the cuffs on the man while reading him his rights.
Walters ignored him, yelling at Buck as the cuffs snapped shut, "You're wrong, it isn't done. At least not for your friends. I wasn't sure which house that bitch Holt was in, and I knew Robert was in town. Told him I'd pay him if he took her out as well as your two friends. He wants Tanner anyway for killing his brother, Jake. Robert and some boorish man by the name of North should be taking care of them as we speak . . ."
"Chris, you better go wake'em, we've got company," Vin exclaimed, pulling his gun. He watched his friend go to warn the others before taking another look outside through the window in the back door. Stepping back away from the door he had an idea. He took one of the chairs from the kitchen table and quietly laid it down on the floor just out of reach of the door. Stepping back he took another chair and lay it down a foot in front of the dining room picture window. As Chris reentered the room, Vin whispered, "Need to go take a look at the other sides and see how many we're facing."
"Be careful. Ezra has Teri hidden in the hall closet. Josiah and Ezra are stationed in the hallway and around the living room covering all angles. I'm going to turn the kitchen table on its side. We can use it for cover," Chris informed Vin before he left the room.
Vin made his way through the house checking with each of his friends while carefully looking through the different windows and doors. He helped Josiah turn over the sofa and move a living room chair in front of the front door. They carefully rolled the big screen TV in front of the French doors. Figuring that was the best they could do. Vin was about to head back to the kitchen just as all hell broke loose.
The French doors exploded inward as two gunmen barreled in and straight into the huge 56 inch TV which bounced them backwards as the TV fell over from the force of the impact. They jumped back up on the deck with their guns drawn and firing. Josiah and Vin both shot, their bullets hitting their mark and knocking the men back over the railing.
Suddenly the back and front doors few open as the gunmen rushed in firing and just as suddenly tripping over the chairs lying in their path. Chris took his man out as Vin turned and shot one of the men rushing through the front door. The one who had stumbled made the mistake of rolling partway into the hall, gun still firing. Ezra made sort work of the intruder.
The dining room window shattered inward as two men came rushing through, only to hit the chairs lying there and tumbled across the floor. Josiah appeared from the living room and Chris from the kitchen, tackling the men as they began to rise and easily knocking them out with well place punches.
Vin moved toward the French doors, crouching low, and pushed them closed. Upon hearing a noise he turned in time to see Carl North move through the front door and dived to the side in an effort to avoid Ezra's fire.
"Josiah, Ezra needs back up," Vin yelled, as one more man came through the front door.
Josiah moved through the kitchen from the dining room and into the hall. Like Ezra he used an open bedroom doorway as cover as he fired.
North was slowly making his way to the edge of the hallway as the man that had followed him kept up a constant cover fire.
Using plastic ties, Chris soon had the two men in the dining room bound and secured. He then maneuvered to the back door and using the chair lying there he was able to push it closed. Once closed, he stood the chair up and shoved it under the doorknob. While it wouldn't stop anyone, he knew the noise would let them know if someone attempted to enter the house via this route.
Chris made his way back through the house to the living room where he joined Vin in trying to pin down North and the man helping him.
Vin was crouched beside the TV and had managed to close one half of the French doors and was in the process of using a broom to maneuver the other half until he could kick it closed. He attempted to keep Chris covered as he worked his way around for a better angle on North.
Chris had just made it to the far side of the room and within striking distance of North and his man when one French door broke apart and a man that looked remarkably like Jake entered. Vin grabbed him as the man, Robert, tripped over him. They rolled to one side, fighting for the upper hand.
Ezra and Josiah traded fire with North and his man as Chris tried to get a clear shot at Robert but was afraid of hitting Vin. Chris was looking for an opening when he felt a sting on his upper arm. One of North's bullets had just grazed him, but it was enough make him duck for cover.
Having lost their guns in the struggle, Vin and Robert used every trick they knew to get the upper hand. The whole time Robert was yelling, "You know who I am. You killed my brother and I'm going to enjoy killing you."
Vin slammed Robert's head into the floor and felt the man's grip on him loosen. Then suddenly he was hit from behind as the man grabbed a lamp lying on the floor and brought it down in a glancing blow to Vin's head and back, causing him to momentarily lose his grip. In that instant Robert tried to go for one of the guns, but Vin was able to bring him down by using a leg to sweep the man's feet out from under him.
Chris heard the sound of more men coming across the front porch and raised his gun to fire, but stopped when he recognized Buck and JD. The two men stationed themselves just outside the front door on either side, getting North in there crossfire with Josiah and Ezra. Moments later North was wounded and his man lay dead on the floor.
Meanwhile Vin had made it to his feet and as Robert started to rise was able to put him back down with a well placed spinning kick. Robert landed beside one of the guns, grabbed it and brought it up to fire. Tanner however was quicker. Seeing his gun on the floor Vin made a dive and rolled coming up shooting, his bullet hitting Robert in the center of his chest.
Vin stood and watched as Chris and Ezra reached Robert, kicking the gun out and away from the man's hand. They looked down at the dying man as he coughed, blood trickling from the side of his mouth as he looked at Vin, "I'll never give up, not until I kill you for killing my brother."
Ezra knelt down beside the man, "Vin didn't kill your brother, I did to stop him from killing Vin."
Robert looked up at Ezra in surprise. Letting out his last breathe he cried, "Noooooo .."
"Ezra, go check on Miss Burns, take her into the bedroom so she doesn't have to see any of the bodies or blood," Chris requested.
"You two alright?" Nathan asked as he approached.
"Yeah, we're fine, Nate," Vin answered.
"How's your head?" Nathan wanted to know.
"It's still attached, hurts like crazy, but still attached."
"It's nothing that a bit of antiseptic and a bandage won't fix. Let's get the wounded to the hospital and officers posted on them, the dead to the morgue and the other to jail. Then you can look at my arm, Nathan," Chris said, ready to put all of this behind them.
"When we got hit, Martinez called Travis for help. He sent Teams 1 & 3 along with the DPD. We left part of them with Martinez and brought the rest with us. Travis said they can do the clean-up and we can head to the office." Buck reported.
"Hell with that, we're going to my place. It's safer with the security system and we all need to rest," Chris stated firmly, before calling Travis and informing him of his decision and that the team would be in sometime late tomorrow.
Travis agreed and then filled Larabee in on what he had discovered. The FBI director had called and stated that they had evidence that Glenn Crain had left the country for England. Interpol had been contacted and they hoped to have him in custody soon. Chris thanked him for the information and was about to hang up when Travis added that once the reports and statements were finished he was giving Team 7 the rest of the week off.
"Thank you, Sir. I'm sure the boys will appreciate it since our camping trip never quite came off. We'll have the reports to you before the end of day tomorrow." Chris flipped the phone shut and attached it to his belt.
"Alright, we've got a couple of days off after tomorrow," Buck cheered, having heard the one-sided conversation. "Cookout at Chris's on Saturday."
Vin sat back in the deck chair content with the cold beer in his hand and the voices of his friends echoing inside the house behind him. It had been a wonderful day here at Chris's. Nettie had attended and brought Pedro and Theresa with her. It had been good to see the boy up and about. Vin knew he wouldn't be 100% for a while, but he was definitely on the road to recovery with Nettie watching over him. Teri Jane and Shaun had come with Martinez, and Teri Burns had arrived with Ezra. Vin couldn't help the smile that crossed his face. It had been a toss-up which had been funnier; JD yelling, "Ezra's here with his girlfriend" and seeing the look on Ezra's beet red face or when Josiah had said, "Teri, would you help me, please" as he turned around and both Teri's stood up. Josiah, only expecting one had stepped back unexpectedly right into JD and both had started to fall. Both Teri's reached out and grabbed two of the bowls of food Josiah had been carrying but the third bowl of coleslaw came down all over the two down men. Luckily both kept a change of clothes at Chris's.
Hearing a nicker, Vin looked toward the barn to the new and future addition for the Larabee/Tanner horse breeding ranch. Teri Holt, TJ he corrected himself, had told them that she sold the ranch, with Evie Travis's help, to the Colorado Rehabilitation and Research Institute. She had liked the idea of the place going to people who would use both medicine and animals to help heal people. A truck pulling a horse trainer had pulled up in front of the barn as Teri had explained that although she had let most of the horses go with the ranch, she had kept two. Vin, Ezra and the rest of the team had walked out to the trailer as the driver unloaded the horses. The men could only stare at the thoroughbred stallion and Arabian mare. Vin had argued that they couldn't accept such a gift, that she should sell them, but the lady would hear nothing of it. Teri Holt had held Shaun in her arms as she met Vin's eyes and stated, "This gift is little compared to what you have given us. You gav e me my son's safety and us our freedom. Please accept them. I don't need the money with the sale of the ranch, and this way I know they'll have a good home." Vin had looked at Ezra, Chris and the others before turning back to TJ and saying thank you.
"Don't make any sudden movements."
The voice jerked Vin out of his musings. He looked up to see a man training a gun on him.
Looking Vin over and not noticing any budges that might indicate that he had a gun, the man relaxed slightly, "I want you to take your cell phone and call Standish. Tell him to come down to the barn."
"No, Agent Crain," Vin answered, calmly.
"You know who I am? I should have known they'd send Travis copies of my picture," the man spat. Staring at Vin he continued, "Don't matter if you know who I am, you're going to call Standish or I'll shoot you."
"Told you, no, go ahead and shoot. They'll hear it in the house and come out shooting," Vin answered calmly.
Glenn Crain began to get nervous at Vin's unwavering stare and calm manner, realizing that Tanner would die before letting his friend be led into a trap. At that point Crain's plan changed. "Get up and head for the barn, now, my car is on the road beyond there."
Vin stood and walked slowly past the man preparing for the shove he knew was coming. As Crain pushed Tanner appeared to stumble and in righting himself his hand 'brushed' the cell phone on his belt, hitting the number one on his speed dial.
"Come on, get moving," Crain ordered.
The two walked through the barn and toward the trees beyond. They had only walked for a few minutes when Vin commented, "Thought you said we were goin' to your car on the road. This direction leads away from the road."
"What? Damn it, I hate the outdoors," Crain complained as he looked around.
Not keeping his focus on Tanner was the man's undoing. Vin kicked out, knocking the gun out of Crain's hand, following-up with a right cross before sweeping the man's legs out from under him, sending Crain to the ground.
"About time you boys got here," Vin grinned as the other six stepped out from the tree line.
"Well dang Vin, you weren't supposed to go on a nature walk with him. You were suppose to keep him in the barn until we got down there," Buck growled, good naturedly.
"What do you mean, keep me? How could you have been expecting me?" Crain sneered, as Josiah and JD pulled him roughly to his feet.
"Sir, the ATF is not as easily fooled as your associates in the FBI. For your trail out of the country to be so easily discovered and followed, it had to be deliberately laid. It was obvious that you would make an attempt and we just needed to wait patiently and our diligence would pay off," Ezra explained, with a smile to the man who had caused such darkness and doubt in his life.
"You think you're so smart, Standish, but there will always be doubt and mistrust where you're concerned for the rest of your life," Crain snarled, sarcastically.
"Wrong again, Crain. Not only do we trust Ezra completely and knew he was innocent of all those rumors you caused so long ago, but Travis has given proof to the FBI. They know it was you who did everything you accused Ezra of," Chris informed the man, getting right up in his face. Chris fought the urge to hit the arrogant SOB who had caused one of his men, his family, so much pain. Forcing himself to step back he ordered, "Get this piece of trash out of my sight. Travis and the FBI should be at the house waiting for him by now."
Everyone moved back toward the house, but Vin and Ezra held back for a moment.
"You alright, Ezra?"
"I think so," Standish answered, sounding slightly dazed.
"Ez, we always believed in ya. That's all you got to know right now. The rest will settle and you'll make peace with it for yourself."
"You're right, Mr . . . You're right, Vin, all of you did, and truthfully at this moment nothing else matters. I think we should return to the house and have generous portions of Mr. Larabee's 25 year old scotch to celebrate," Ezra grinned.
As the two headed back to the house a thought struck Vin, "There's something that I just can't get my mind around. Robert was the first one in the control room at the hospital that night, but who was the second? It weren't Crain, he's too tall and his hand just ain't right. And . . ."
"You're right, Tanner. It wasn't him, although I have used him in the past to my benefit. I wanted to take care of you myself."
Vin and Ezra turned to face the one person that all of Team Seven hated most in the world, the woman who was responsible for taking Chris's family from him.
"Ella, should of known it was you when I sensed something dark and cold," Vin's voice was filled with a hatred that Ezra had never heard before so clearly in his friendsvoice, eve though he understood it.
"You took Chris from me when we had finally found each other again. It was all your fault. I would have had my revenge at the hospital if you hadn't knocked me into that tray alerting everyone. I couldn't let Chris see me yet, so I came up with a better plan. It took me all night to bake those cookies and have them delivered by morning. I made sure that Chris wouldn't touch them, even made sure it said "almond" on the card so he wouldn't be tempted, but you gave them to the old hag. I even had Crain find and tell Walters the addresses of the new safe houses after I overheard Travis give them over the phone. No one ever pays attention to an old cleaning woman," Ella smirked.
Vin and Ezra both remembered seeing a cleaning lady on the office tape.
"But you weren't at the house that the fool, Walters went to. When Crain told me that he had sent that man, Robert, to the house that Chris was at . . . I almost killed him myself, but I realized I needed him to get you out here alone and again you spoiled everything by knowing he was coming." Ella shook her head in frustration, the gun in her hand never wavering. Looking at Vin with hatred in her eyes she screamed, "What does it take to make you die?"
The two watched as an eerie calm seemed to overtake the woman and an evil grin contorted her expression. "You're going to die now Vin Tanner and it will be with the knowledge that you caused Standish's death too."
"No one is dying." The cold, soft voice of Chris Larabee drifted from the trees as the man-in-black and Buck Wilmington stepped out into the open, their guns drawn.
"No, Chris, darling, he has to die. He has to die so we can be together, just like that woman and her boy had to die. They were in our way, darling," Ella explained, still pointing the gun at Vin.
"Sarah was never in our way, and neither is Vin. There never was an us, except in your sick, twisted, evil mind. I'll never forgive you for taking my little boy and the love of my life from me," Chris growled, as he moved slowly closer.
"NO! You're lying!" she screamed, looking at Chris but seeing, for the first time, the hatred in his eyes.
In that moment, Ella lost everything including what little sanity she had left. Her eyes moved toward the stand of trees as if seeing something and she screamed, "NO! No, you didn't win."
Everything seemed to move in slow motion as Ella's gaze moved back to Vin and she pulled the trigger.
Vin and Ezra dove in opposite directions as Ella's attention swung back to them and the sound of gunfire rang out.
Chris and Buck's aim was true as their bullets entered Ella's heart and the woman fell dead at their feet.
Vin's dive and roll had come to an abrupt halt as his head impacted with the trunk of a small tree. The force stunning him for a moment as he stared at something only he could see.
"She's dead, Chris. It's over," Buck said, reaching out a supportive hand and placing it on Chris's shoulder.
The men looked down at the woman who had so drastically altered their lives, then turned their backs on her for the last time and moved to check on Vin and Ezra.
Buck reached down and helped Ezra to his feet as Chris squatted down in front of Vin.
"You okay, Pard?"
When he didn't receive an answer, Chris reached out and squeezed Vin's shoulder, "Vin, you with us?"
Vin turned but couldn't look Chris in the eyes, his emotions swirling with what he had just seen. He finally answered, "Yeah just got the wind knocked out of me."
Chris helped Vin to his feet and the four men began walking back to the ranch house, never once looking back.
Chris carried two steaming cups of coffee out to the corral, where he knew he would find Vin. The man had been quite for the remainder of the evening and had refused to meet Chris's eyes. When he had gone to bed early last night, Chris knew something was going on, so he had risen early this morning, just before dawn. He knew he'd fine his friend at the corral. Handing Vin a cup of coffee, Chris took a sip of his own before saying, "Tell me whatever it is that's bothering you, Vin."
"You'll think I'm crazy."
"Trust me, Cowboy, I won't," Chris assured.
"I saw something last night . . . Ella saw it too. She was right when she screamed about 'her winning' . . . Sarah was there . . . heard her say to Ella, 'We win,'" Vin said softly.
Chris didn't say anything, just stood there for a moment. Then he realized that he didn't feel the anger he used to when anyone mentioned Sarah's name. More importantly, he found he had no doubt that Vin was telling the truth and that Sarah's spirit had been there for him.
"I believe you."
The two stood and watch the stallion as he pranced in the early morning mist, just as the sun started to rise over the mountains.
Vin started to speak, letting Chris hear the truth of what Sarah wanted in a way only he could . . .The darkness that fell in the grief of loss,
finally lifts the price paid its cost.
A love so great not even death could take,
It stayed and fought for the soul's sake.
The storm past, the night lifted, morning's light shines,
Guides a new path to hearts hope's find.
No more fear. No more guilt in this new day,
For all doubt gone, all is forgiven in love's say.
Move on let time's past go,
Take destiny's path, free your soul.
Honor their memory, their hearts, their love,
Living life fully the knowledge of it floats above . . . .