by Heather

Ezra Standish matched measured step to measured step of Sean Finnegan. They descended a concrete stairwell with no hand rail. The undercover agent did not mind the fact he trod on the edge of the steps. A few feet below and to his right on the concrete warehouse floor stood Mr. Chris Larabee. Ezra did not bother hiding his small smile. He took great comfort in knowing his team stood outside ready to back them up. More importantly Chris Larabee stood right there, a few feet from him. Standish took comfort in the company. "You look pleased Mr. Sullivan." Finnegan noted as they traversed the stairs. They had just completed the deal. Ezra paid cash and for his troubles he was about to preview the large shipment of Armaments. It had been captured all on tape. The cordless wire he wore worked perfectly. (Or so Ezra hoped) Ezra trusted JD’s expertise with the surveillance equipment. Standish knew, just as he knew the sun would come up tomorrow, that JD recorded and saved every piece of the conversation. "Yes, Mr. Finnegan, quite pleased. This has been a long time in coming."

That could not have been more truthful. The team had been working on this deal for months now. Ezra himself portraying himself as a one Eric Sullivan of Georgia, for well over three months. Chris Scott, better know as Chris Larabee had been posing as Ezra’s right hand man. This morning would be the last time either one would have to impersonate someone else for a while. Again Ezra smiled. It would be good to have the pressure off his shoulders even if it would only last a few weeks. Tonight they would celebrate at Inez’s take the next day off and then start writing endless reports. Then something grabbed Standish’s attention. Something glittered high to his left. A gun scope? The undercover agent slowed his step falling behind his seller. It was a gun. "What the hell..?" He whispered to himself. "What’s he doing here?..." Standish took a tentative step downward staring at the almost obscured gun barrel that peaked out along a catwalk nearly fifty feet off the floor across the warehouse. "Who’s he aiming at?..." Standish asked himself again not realizing he spoke softly to himself.

"Is there a problem Mr. Sullivan?" Finnegan asked turning to stare at the suddenly troubled southerner. Ezra was about to brush the arms dealer off. Standish then figured who the assassin intended to hit. "CHrrrrriiiiisss!!!"

Standish screamed diving off the side of the stairs, throwing his body sideways.

He flew sideways crooking his lower right arm around Larabee knocking him to the floor. Standish felt the first high powered slug slam him in the shoulder. Pain radiated through his body only briefly. He hit the concrete like a tossed bag of laundry.

Larabee heard Ezra holler a warning and then found himself thrown to the ground with enough force to knock the wind from him. Then he heard people screaming "ATF! ATF!" "Drop your weapons!!" Chris jolted to his knees his gun already in his hands. He rested one hand on the unmoving undercover agent keeping the unconscious form shielded behind himself. Chris recognized Josiah, Buck Nathan and Vin tearing in through the open doors, brandishing arms and deadly force. "We have an agent down!!" Larabee hollered. The others had heard over the wire but the mere fact Chris vocalized it made it seem more real. The already electrified atmosphere became super charged. Those slow to relieve themselves of weapons found themselves bleeding on the concrete floor. Chris turned his attention back to Ezra.

The undercover agent lay on his right side. Larabee quickly felt for and found a pulse. He knelt down in front of his friend and started searching for the telltale marks of blood. He found none. A cautious smile cracked his features. He gently padded Ezra’s side and chest, "You crazy son of a bitch, you wore your vest." Larabee whispered in relief. Nathan and Josiah quickly materialized beside him, "He wore his vest." Chris simply stated. Jackson gave the leader a shocked disbelieving look and felt for himself. The healer cursed shaking his head. They rolled Ezra onto his back, Josiah held his head straight trying to keep the neck aligned with the rest of the body. Nathan made short work of the silk tie and shirt and exposed the black and now well used vest. Four telltale slugs still buried themselves in the material. Chris easily removed two handing them to Vin, without looking up. The sound of wailing sirens could be heard in the distance. Then Ezra suddenly jerked alive, his legs bicycling trying to free himself from the hands that held him all the while repeating, "no minute, no minute, no minute," over and over again. His green eyes roving wildly about. The three men surrounding him gazed at each other the same question clearly etched on their faces, finally Chris asked, "what the hell is he talking about?" Josiah and Nathan both shrugged, they had no idea. Jackson tried to penetrate the dazed mind of the injured agent to no avail. Standish struggle suddenly ended just as quick as it had begun, his eyes rolling in his head.

Larabee angrily stood up. He stared at the men around him. Josiah and Nathan squatted next to the unconscious form of Standish. Buck and JD jogged up to Vin and Chris. Larabee waited until the two men came close and finally hissed out, "What the hell happened?" Noone moved. Finally Buck asked, "You don’t know?"

Larabee threw his boyhood friend a withering glare. JD visibly shrunk back. Vin quickly jumped in afraid Chris would take his boiling temper out on someone, "Ezra saw someone."

JD immediately added, "yeah, and then he screamed your name."

Buck finished, "We heard the shots and barged in." The leader of the Magnificent seven glared at the men before him and then the undercover agent. "Nathan can you tell where the shots came from?" Jackson found himself suddenly in the hot seat. He gazed at vest the angle of the body the stairs and then the cat walk. "I’d say from up there." He pointed to the high walk the circumvented the upper wall.

"Vin check it out." Larabee stated. "Buck , JD help’em" He indicated to the other law agencies who rounded up the live bodies, "get this mess cleaned up."

The EMT’s let Josiah and Nathan gently ease Ezra onto the stretcher. After a quick cursory exam and equally short communication with the hospital, an IV catheter was established, and Standish loaded into the ambulance. Nathan made to climb into the back of the ambulance but Larabee stopped him. "I’ll go, you and Josiah follow once this place is settled." Jackson did not bother arguing. Larabee had been barely holding his ire in check. The ex-EMT was not going to push him any further.

Chris sat beside the gurney watching Standish for any sign of life. The EMT’s looked even younger than JD if that were possible. Larabee stared down at the southerner almost willing him to wake up. The sirens were muffled from inside the ambulance and Larabee held onto the side of the stretcher trying to keep his seat as the vehicle wove itself through traffic. Ezra moaned. His eyes opened. "Ezra?..Ezra. It’s me Chris." Larabee leaned closer to the younger agent, bracing his arms on either side of the injured man. "Chris?" It was weak, confused and then the green eyes grew wide and scared, "Oh my God he’s gonna shoot Chris!" Larabee tried to hold his friend still as Standish tried to sit up.

"Who Ezra? Who’s gonna shoot me?" Chris asked imploringly. Then the ambulance hit a bone jarring infamous Denver pot hole, occupants and equipment were thrown left then right. Though Ezra was strapped in, the movement was not lost on him. Broken bone edges grated mercilessly against one another. His strangled scream was cut short as he fell back unconscious. Larabee swore silently to himself resting a comforting hand on Ezra’s arm trying to avoid the IV tubing. Within a few minutes, which seemed intolerably long the ambulance pulled up to the emergency door entrance. The pneumatic doors wooshed open as a flurry of people rushed out. The ambulance doors were swung open. Chris never leaving his friends side held onto Ezra afraid if he should let go he’d loose his undercover agent. Finally a gentle but forceful hand pressed against his shoulder, "You should wait out here Mr. Larabee we’ll take good care of him don’t worry." Chris merely nodded at the familiar face. A nurse he had met many times before under similar conditions. "He doesn’t like doctors." Chris stated simply. The nurse chuckled quietly and added, "sometimes I don’t either, but Dr. Murray is going to be attending him." Chris breathed a sigh of relief.

Larabee paced liked a caged panther in the emergency waiting room. He glared up as the others boiled into the emergency waiting room. "How’d it go?" Chris asked. The five other men were walking jumbling of voices and questions. He had to rein them in or they would cause trouble, waiting was not their forte, especially if one of their own were down.

"No problem." Josiah answered. "How’s Ezra?"

"Don’t know yet." Chris pushed himself back up out of his chair and began pacing, "he’s in x-ray."

"He say anything?" Buck asked.

"Not really, he came to in the ambulance. Then again in the ER kept saying, ‘minute’ every time they touched his ribs or shoulder." Larabee really did not understand the ‘minute’ Ezra kept talking about. He directed his gaze to JD, "He give any indication that he knew the shooter?"

Dunne thought for a moment, "yeah," He looked up excited and added "..yeah! Yeah he did." His brown eyes wide with shock at the realization.

"Once we know how he’s gonna be I want you and Buck to go over those tapes." He stared pointedly at the youngest member of their team, "I want you to know them forward and backward, every inflection of his voice, understand?"

The seriousness of the situation was not lost on Dunne. He nodded, "no problem."

"Mr. Larabee?" An authoritative female voice rang out across the busy room. Chris’s head snapped around. He recognized the doctor. Dr. Lauren Murray. A tough seasoned MD. She ran the emergency department and wielded considerable weight with the medical establishment. The formidable doctor stood close to 5’7 and kept herself in good athletic shape. Her sandy brown hair was kept short and wavy giving her a playful tomboy appearance. Chris knew her personally, their parents had been friends when they were children. Though Lauren was a good ten years older, they had been good friends growing up, except when she baby-sat for him. ( She tended to be very strict) They lost contact when she went to college, but a few years ago with his unexpected admissions through her emergency doors their friendship picked up where it had left off. Chris felt rather than heard the other five men close rank.

They all liked Murray. She held no punches and came directly to the point. "Hello boys." She greeted with a smile. They smiled in return. The news was going to be good. "I must say how fortunate my staff feels that it is not Mr. Tanner they’re going to have to keep tabs on." She said good naturally. The long haired sharpshooter turned red. The others chuckled. Last time Vin had been forced to convalesce at the hospital he drove everyone nuts with his multiple escape attempts. "Ezra will be worse." Nathan muttered. Dr. Murray heard the comment and shook her head chuckling, "Figures, you boys are worse than my husband’s unit."

"Ezra gunna be ok?" JD asked. His penned up nervous energy manifested itself in shuffling feet and restlessness. JD had the patience of youth, none.

"He should be. He’s a rugby player from the sounds of it. Tough nuts to be sure." She smiled at the group infront her. She knew their reputation, a tough, relentless group, they held the best success record of the local ATF regional office, hell this side of the rockies. She held in her chuckle. If people only saw them as I did, scared, concerned nervous, whenever one of their group were struck down.

"What makes you think he plays or had played Rugby?" Josiah asked intrigued. As far as they knew the conman partook in no team events. He was a consummate loner.

"He kept saying ‘minute’ every time we palpated a fractured rib," the doctor answered. She saw that her answer fell short and explained herself, "In Rugby if someone is injured a minute is given. Most times those nuts normally say, ‘no minute’ and ignore broken fingers and toes the usual stuff." She smiled when she saw the brightened expressions. Apparently Standish had been muttering in the warehouse as well.

"I’ll show you the films. They should be getting him settled in a room soon." Murray continued.

"Can we see him?" Buck asked. He did not care much about the films they never made much sense to him. He just had to take a doctor’s word on what they said.

"Not just yet. Besides he’s pretty doped up right now. He won’t beable to make heads or tails of anything or anyone for awhile."

She led them to a viewing box and slapped up a series of films. "Ok, to keep it simple. The vest unquestionably saved his life." To stress her point she pointed to a select few films, "Here, here and here, broken ribs. This is a badly fractured left clavicle."

"Huh?" JD asked

"Collar bone," Nathan answered. "He’s not going to be moving around to much."

"No, not at all." Murray agreed, she smiled pleasantly at Vin, "isn’t that right Mr. Tanner?" Vin had fractured his collar bone eight months ago getting thrown from a green broke quarter horse at Larabee’s ranch. Vin met the Doctor’s eyes and suffered through a small smile. He hated hospitals, and wise doctors.

Chris surprised everyone when he asked, "when can we take him home?"

Murray eyed Larabee closely. He protected his men fiercely, even the sarcastic roughish Standish. Something was wrong, a threat still existed, Murray mused. This worried her, "Honestly not for a day or so." She turned back to the films and pointed out some more pathology, "see here, lung tissue is badly bruised, pulmonary contusions." She turned to the others and explained. "The lungs bruise just like anyother tissue. We’re looking at four broken ribs and few others cracked, and the collar bone. He’s not going to be in anyshape to be moved around and I’ll bet he won’t be wanting to move around."

"He might not have much choice." Chris said. He stared at the others, "if he saw and recognized the shooter it’s a good bet he saw Ezra."

The others nodded and curses were softy uttered.

"I don’t want another incident like the one we had with Buck last year." Murray said. Last year a crazed gunman sought out Wilmington in the hospital and when all was said and done , the whole third floor had been shot up and destroyed. Thankfully no innocents were hurt but quiet a bit of sedatives had to be administered that day. Buck smiled sheepishly the whole event had been and still was a blur.

Their present dilemma unexpectantly found a solution. An orderly briskly walked up to the head of the ED. She stood infront of the viewing box surrounded by six very imposing men. The orderly liked and respected Dr. Murray she treated everyone like a person and not a lesser being because they were not doctors. He slowed his pace, he did not want to be the bearer of bad news.

"Umm Dr. Murray ma’am." He paused shuffling his feet. He felt her eyes as well as everyone elses on him. He stammered out, " That patient is missing."

"What patient?" Her tone suddenly cold and very authoritative. Murray despised ineffectiveness.

"The gunshot, the ATF agent."

"Gone?" Larabee suddenly stepped forward. One of his men had suddenly become unaccounted for, inexcusable. The orderly stepped back afraid the six men would think he spirited away the injured man.

"Where’d he go?" Murray asked. She and the group jogged down the hall toward x-ray.

Sure enough the gurney lay empty the IV stand and it’s orange labeled bag lay on the floor. "Damn." Murray and Larabee uttered simultaneously. "All right guys lets turn this place upside down," he smiled at his old friend, "with discretion."

"Why does it have to be the most difficult ones that get shot." Murray said with exasperation aimed at the leader of the seven. He merely shrugged. He understood her frustration. He promised the next time Vin got hurt he’d bring restraints with him, he’d now do the same for Standish. Chris grabbed Vin, " We’ll look for Ezra. I want you to go back to the warehouse, look for any clue of the shooter the others might have missed."

Tanner hesitated only briefly. He worried about Ezra but it seemed the others had things under some semblance of control.


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