Ezra woke realizing he slept on a couch. He rolled over and faced the now charred remains of last nights fire. His mind immediately fell to McDermit. It felt as if he had been kicked in the gut by a mule. What had he done? Shawn. Oh gawd, he couldn’t do this anymore. He wanted out, wanted back to Denver. No forget Denver, it was no better than Alanta. Larabee was no better than Palamon. Ezra shut his eyes again, that could not be true. Chris was out there somewhere, Ezra just had to reach him somehow. He needed to tell Larabee that he had not betrayed their trust, he had not failed them. Standish wanted to clear his name for no other than Larabee himself. Oh Gawd he got Shawn killed. Damn you McDermit. He let Shawn get killed. Larabee was right to set him a drift.
“ ‘Ey kid,” Mancini said. He sat back in the over stuffed chair watching the younger man wake up. The pain from last night was still very much evident. It was time to redirect him from the self doubt that plagued him. Larabee and his boys were in town. In a few days Ezra would be back among his pack.
Standish pushed himself up right leaning bare forearms on his knees. He still wore the white t-shirt and faded blue Levi’s. He hung his head below his shoulders. The events of last night seemed to much to bear.
“You need a shower, kid you’re a bit ripe,” Mancini intoned. He would do the thinking for them this morning. Standish would only be able to focus on the death. Andre had learned that from watching Henry when Laura and Troy were taken, and again when Patrick died.
Standish merely nodded. A shower, whatever. Ezra stood and started up the stairs, one foot in front of the other, just place one foot down and then the next. So much blood, such a big hole in the chest. Oh Gawd Shawn, I’m so sorry. Another step, turn right go down the corridor, a shower.
Mancini watched the methodical progression of his friend. Death was final. There was no coming back, no ‘do over’ no ‘time outs’ no ‘replay’ When death came that was it. It claimed a soul and left a countless number of numb victims in its wake. One of those that fell with in its shadow just trudged up the stairs for a shower.
Andre wondered how long it would be before Ezra’s mind kicked back in and he started pelting them with questions. Hopefully not before Henry and Terry returned, Mancini was not a diplomat.
+ + + + + + +
Dunne sat at the computer console his fingers flying across the keys. It took a bit but he figured out Standish’s password. Ezra was making it easy for him. Was Standish expecting help? The answer soon revealed itself.
“Oh gawd Chris,” JD muttered. He had access the e-mail program. None had been written in over 72 hours. JD checked the ‘Sent items’ and found 36 sent messages. He checked the ‘out box’ and found 36 messages waiting to be sent. Dunne sat in confused silence until he figured it out. His heart sank and he shut his eyes. Oh Gawd this was not fair.
The mail never left the terminal. The computer had informed its user that the messages had been sent but in reality they had been blocked. Someone barricaded Ezra’s mail system.
JD tested his theory. He sent a message to Larabee’s terminal in Denver, “Test” Dunne pressed the Send icon. The little green arrow jumped out of the box a few times, “message sent” was the reply. JD then checked the ‘out box’ 37 messages now sat there. He clicked on the latest message. His “Test” came up. It never left. Standish had no way of knowing. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”
Chris heard JD’s uttered exclamations. He left Hawkins on the floor sniveling defiantly. Larabee would deal with that problem more thoroughly later.
“What is it JD?” Chris asked. Dunne’s brown eyes fell on his leaders. The apprehension was clear. Chris would never kill the messenger but JD did not want to be the bearer of bad news.
The others gathered around the empty desk. Dunne took a breath and delved into his discovery.
A chorus of disbelief and curses echoed softly around the small group. Standish had been trying to contact them.
“What’s the last message Ezra sent,” Chris asked. He black anger boiled. One of his men had been denied access to his aid. His agent had been thrust into a hostile environment without any back up and no where to turn for help. Larabee would exact the proper price from the offending individuals responsible for this mess.
JD quickly scrolled down to the last message sent three days ago. He double clicked on it. The screen blinked and changed. A small word, all in lower case with no punctuation, was able to convey the desolation and pain the author felt. Nothing else accompanied it. Just one word captured the futility and desperation of the typist.
It simply read, ‘why’.
No signature, no initials, nothing. An uncomplicated three letter word that revealed the resignation and confusion Standish endured alone.
Jackson’s anger had reached new heights. He whirled around on the one remaining NY agent and landed three rapid solid blows to the unsuspecting man’s features. The agent fell to the floor clutching his face, blood streaming from his nose and lips.
Chris bit his inner cheek. Dark thoughts of revenge raged like a storm surge to the forefront. The quiet echo of intelligence and reason made itself known under the siege of hatred. Killing these NY ATF agents would not get them any closer to Standish.
“JD download the rest of his stuff and McDermit’s,” Larabee turned from the offensive terminal screen and faced Nathan. The chemist’s unadulterated hatred emanated from his lean form.
Chris had better find something for Nathan to do or the EMT would kill someone. Chris was not inclined to stop him if Jackson started in on that dark desire.
“Nathan start gathering intelligence on the area Burkhardt and his men frequent,” Chris turned to Josiah, Buck and Vin, “start gathering all the surveillance equipment you can get your hands on, worry about proper forms later.” Chris eyed his men. The were spoiling for a fight. God forbid someone stepped in their way. Well hopefully Hawkins would try an interfere, it brought a twisted prospect of pleasure to Chris’s mind.
“I’m going to call Travis,” Larabee said. His voice cut through the room like scapel.
Buck watched his boyhood friend descend on the conference room. Larabee would use the phone there to keep an eye on Hawkins. Wilmington smiled, the Judge sometimes could provide loop holes in the law. Like maybe how they could kill Hawkins without it being specifically labeled murder. Who knows maybe the ‘hanging’ Judge hated Hawkins too.
+ + + + + + +
Burkhardt stared at the chest films while he buttoned his shirt. Terry stood beside him offering support. Tom Fogle had joined the radiologist and oncologist. The collection of so many degree’s in one room meant only one thing...Bad news.
Henry knew it and welcomed it. He did not need these three geniuses to tell him he was dying. He knew it the day the first cough hit him. It felt like the cold fingers of death and it did not frighten him in the least. Hopefully in a short while he would be with his family. He would make sure Guidino and Mancini would be taken care of financially. Those two would never have to work again. He would see to the future of his Godson, Bobby Fogle and his parents. He would get Ezra home.
Burkhardt prayed the news would be ‘bad’.
The doctor was pointing out white fuzzy splotches in the surprisingly whitish lung fields. These whitish spots had a name, radio opaque or the such. Henry did not care. This was his ticket to see his wife and son and Patrick. Metastases, the multiple melanoma had traveled at an alarming rate. It covered most of his lung field. They could try treatment but it would be palliative.
Henry nearly choked out a laugh. Treatment? No, he did not want to prolong his separation from his family. He would not subject himself to treatment.
Guidino watched the doctors, scanned the films and observed his boss. Henry was not upset in the least. Terry took a breath and steeled himself for the impending death of the only father figure he had ever known.
Tom Fogle did his best to maintain his professional detachment. Oh gawd Henry. Burkhardt had met Tom Fogle when the surgeon was only ten years old. His parents had been killed in a shooting, his life miraculously spared. The boy had been jostled from one foster home to the next. Then one day an older man showed up and befriended the angry boy. Every weekend, every school break, Henry Burkhardt appeared at whatever foster home Tom found himself, and took him home. Burkhardt, Guidino and Mancini had been a stable force in a disruptive childhood. Henry financed his education, college, medical school, interships, residency’s, Henry had been Tom’s best man at his wedding. Tom and Cheryl named their first born after him, Robert Henry Fogle. Dr. Tom Fogle was losing another Dad.
+ + + + + + +
The six ATF agents worked furiously in the adjoining hotel rooms. The Judge had advised Larabee against killing Hawkins. Travis would think of a better settlement.
+ + + + + + +
Judge Orrin Travis had discreetly dropped the original idea of a specialized ATF team to his life long friend, Charlie Bishop. Bishop ran the Denver ATF office. Though the federal Judge wielded no specific power in the ATF world he did pull some weight. Over games of golf and late night drinks while their wives played bridge Travis began to put into mind a scheme. A team, headed by Chris Larabee started to take form. Bishop at first balked at the idea as they drank cognac but as the weeks passed and Travis continued to weave a delicate obtuse plan Bishop began to listen. Six months later Chris Larabee was recruiting his men. The Judge had bit his tongue, Team seven was not made up of the ideal individuals for law enforcement. Travis nearly bit through his cheek when Tanner joined the ranks. He closed his eyes in apprehension when Dunne was pulled in, chewed mutely on his bottom lip as Sanchez and Wilmington were signed on, the last straw had been Standish. Travis could not keep silent any longer and called Larabee on that choice. Chris would not budge. Orrin let it slide. They would wait and watch. Jackson was the only one who fit the idea that Travis had imagined. In less than a few months Team 7 had an impressive record. They developed a reputation for unorthodox tactics, more importantly the strange explosive grouping of men forged a strange fierce family.
Judge Travis had packed his bag, kissed his wife goodbye and simply explained, “Team seven is in New York.” Evie nodded in understanding. Godzilla would be less destructive than Larabee and his clan.
+ + + + + + +
JD had the laser printer pumping out pages on top of pages. Josiah and Buck poured over the surveillance equipment testing it and double checking it. Jackson studied road atlases. Buck was no longer driving. Vin studied blue prints and junction boxes. Taps and microphones needed to be placed. Chris read everything Shawn McDermit unearthed. The kid would have been an invaluable asset to their investigation. Larabee would have recruited him to his team had he known of McDermit. The fact Standish trusted him was enough for Larabee, the kid’s work was impeccable.
Larabee stopped briefly in his reading. He would make Hawkins pay dearly. Tedeschi would fall
and Ezra would be back among them.
Standish. Chris needed to contact him, despite what Burkhardt thought, Chris needed to talk to his agent, reassure the southern man that he had not been cast off and forgotten.
+ + + + + + +
Two hours later the six members of Team seven headed toward their newly acquired surveillance van. Jackson carried the keys.
+ + + + + + +
The white van sat around the block. The men in the van were tense and impatient. They kept their eyes on the modest two story brick, black, shuttered house. A chimney poked out through the slate roof. The lawn had the impression of being manicured but the effects of winter still held a strong grip. The black tarred driveway fed a two car garage and basket ball hoop and backboard rested between the two white mechanized doors. The home of Henry Burkhardt appeared as any middle class income home owner in the New York area. It gave no indication that the most powerful arms dealer on the East Coast resided with in its unassuming walls.
Tanner climbed numerous service poles with efficiency only matched in Chimpanzee’s. His white hard hat demarked him as a Ma Bell employee. The ATF in NewYork had old stuff. Did Ma Bell even still exist?
The six men were forced to do what they hated most. Wait.
They did it poorly.
“Can’t we just pretend to deliver somethin’ like flowers or somethin’,” JD asked as he played with the electronic equipment, “an’ let Ez see us.” Dunne could not believe they were so close to the southerner and still not be able to contact him.
“He won’t be answering the door kid,” Buck said in exasperation. He had already run through that scenario in his head. Standish was witness to a murder and a possible target himself. Burkhardt would not be letting the agent anywhere near the front door. They just had to wait for the encroachment of night.
Larabee despised this part. Learning the routine of a criminal. It consisted mostly of waiting and watching playing follow the leader. Toss in an unexpected murder, a possible second hit and a potential hostile take over and routines tended to change a bit. McDermit had done a good job, he had recorded every movement Burkhardt had made in the last month. He had done as good as any man working alone with no back up, Shawn had brains and dexterity. What a colossal waste.
Ezra would not be taking this death well, not well at all. A small part of Larabee was glad Burkhardt would be there, maybe the older arms dealer could help Standish.
They sat in the van stewing, wondering, praying night descended on New York a few hours earlier than normal.
Larabee was well aware his men could have split up, some going after Tedeschi and some staying here. The family had been separated to long, minds were not focused. Once they saw Ezra with their own eyes, then they would start behaving like the crack team they were rumored to be, until then they stuck together.
Vin jumped in the van as half smirk on his face. His sky blue eyes held no mischievous light, just revenge. The phone box was done, the house would be next.
+ + + + + + +
Mancini watched the southerner again. Standish flipped cards blindingly fast through his nimble fingers. They sat quietly waiting.
They had had a fantastic argument earlier in the day. Standish’s mind had clicked on by noon. Andre had been forced to pin the younger man to the kitchen wall and threaten him. The threat really did not frighten the agent, Mancini was aware of that, but his determination did hit home. Ezra wanted out of the house, go back to the warehouse dig up clues, try and find who shot Shawn. Andre had explained the foolishness behind the idea, it fell on deaf ears, logic always does when dealing with emotion.
Mancini had resorted to what has always worked for him. Physical intimidation. In a few short moves he had the Southerner pinned to the wall their faces barely inches apart both snarling in postured anger. With a captive audience Andre re-explained himself slowing his speech trying to get through the defiant man before him. When he thought he had succeeded he loosened his grip and the fight was on again. The crazy southerner moved quick bobbing and weaving even managed to knocked the legs out from under Mancini. Andre fell hard taking a few kitchen chairs with him. Standish had bolted for the kitchen door. The bodyguard lunged forward wrapping massive arms around his fleeing charge’s lower legs. Standish toppled like a sapling. In few seconds and a progression of moves Mancini had once again pinned the smaller man, this time to the threshold between kitchen and living room. The swinging door resting neatly against the southerner’s shoulder. Again Andre ‘discussed’ Ezra’s limited options, tied up and placed in a closet, taped up and placed in a closet, knocked senseless and placed in a closet. Andre was happy to see the fight leave his charge. With some trepidation he slowly released his captive waiting for Ezra to try and bolt again. Standish lay panting on the hardwood floors silently having chosen his option, a freedom of sorts with in the house, not the closet.
The van began to stink, like body odor and stale breath. None of the six seemed to notice then none had left the confines for nearly three hours. Frayed over tired tempers began to flare. Once they caught sight of their missing member they would get some rest and then start fresh.
Everyone perked up when a black Durango pulled quietly into the driveway. Burkhardt had come home.
Josiah, Vin and Nathan let out low whistles as the spry elderly gentleman exited the passenger side. Though the photo they had of Henry indicated he carried a resemblance to their leader real life nailed it home. Sanchez began to understand Ezra’s choice in staying. Was his young friend falling victim to “Stockholm Syndrome”--was he beginning to identify with his keepers? Had Ezra lost his objectives and found comfort in the enemy?
Sanchez closed his eyes and rethought it. Ezra was not kidnapped per se. He willingly went undercover, as willingly as one could when forced into a no win situation as the southerner had been cast. With no back up, no safety net to catch him and no life line, instinct took over. When in Rome.....except would Standish now see the criminal element as an acceptable way of life. Was Henry Burkhardt so much like Chris Larabee in features and mannerisms that Ezra would latch onto the older man for stability? Josiah did not know, he kept his observations to himself. He would speak with Larabee in another day or so, after the house was ‘bugged’.
+ + + + + + +
Burkhardt and Guidino entered the house and found a tense quiet pair sitting in the living room. Mancini was definitely in attack dog mode. Standish sat on the couch flipping his ever present deck of cards. Terry bit back a chuckle, The Kid must have tried to make a run for it. No new bruises could be seen so maybe Andre was learning some restraint. Not likely. Maybe the kid listened to reason...Not likely... Probably a wrestling match threats and a few well versed promises were uttered. Guidino arched an eyebrow at Mancini the younger bodyguard just smiled smugly. Problem handled. Good enough. With all four under one roof and Larabee’s men in town the night should go peacefully enough.
Ezra glanced up from his cards when the front door opened. He wore no shoes just socks, bolting now would do him no good besides Henry and Terry just came through the door. There was no point in running. Where would he go? Where would he stay? Someone was out there shooting ATF agents and he did not know who. Running would not solve his long range problem but the instinct to flee was strong. Henry and the others had protected him, brought him home and kept an eye on him. Though he did not really appreciate the ‘baby sitting’ he understood it was out of concern. Burkhardt worried about him, that was comforting.
“You boys have a good day?” Henry asked he peeled off his charcoal tweed overcoat hanging it in the front closest. Burkhardt had had a marvelous day. If all fell according to plan he would join Laura, Troy and Patrick very soon.
“No problems Mr. Burkhardt,” Andre answered a smile in his voice and a pointed glare at the dejected southerner.
“Just wonderful,” Ezra deadpanned flipping the ace of diamonds across his knuckles from index finger to pinkie.
Henry leaned against the closed closet door and stared amused at the southerner. The boy wanted out of the house wanted to avenge McDermit’s death probably. Admirable but foolish. So much like his Patrick. Judging by the proximity of Mancini, Andre must have pointed out the errors of Ezra’s thinking. Burkhardt smothered a chuckle, his younger bodyguard had no diplomacy or tact. Discussions consisted mostly of physically intimidation.
Standish stood and glanced out the front window of the house. He watched snow drift unhurriedly from overcast skies. The sun had set but a lingering grey light still clutched the sky. It would fall dark in less than an hour. He leaned against the window still turning his cards trying to think of a way out. Nothing came to mind. Maybe he should try and contact Chris one more time? No, if Larabee had not tried to reach him by now then Chris probably would never answer him.
+ + + + + + +
Vin Tanner bolted up right in the passenger seat of the van. Being in closed quarters was definitely getting to him. He watched the house, observing the shadowed movements of the occupants. Up until now he could only see the top of Mancini’s head. Then someone leaned against a paned window.
“There he is,” Tanner leaned forward and picked up the binoculars. He ignored the sudden rush of bodies that came forward. It is about time. Vin thought. He focused the spy glasses and watched the clean shaven features. Alive and well, that was good enough for Vin. He handed the glasses to Dunne.
“Let me see, letmesee,” JD reached for the binoculars impatiently, personifying their desperation. Chris allowed a small smile to tug at the corners of his mouth. If Vin had not handed the binoculars to the kid he would have taken them for himself.
Dunne readjusted the eyepiece and looked out through the windshield, leaning over the console. There he was after all this time Ez was safe. Kind of. Still, he stood just a few hundred yards away. He looked ok just real sad. Damn Ez we’ll git ya out of this. JD watched his older friend for a moment and grudgingly handed the spy glasses off to Buck. The others deserved a chance to see too.
Buck nearly whooped for joy. Sure he knew Ez was alive but seeing him in the flesh made all the difference. Standish had a life line now, a safety net was in the making. ‘In no time pard’ you’ll be home complain’n about my singin’, just hang on a little longer’. Damn he looked hurt.
Josiah widened the eyepieces and gazed out at the undercover agent. He appeared lost. Dazed. Sanchez had thought he had seen lost lambs before but watching Standish now he truly understood the term. The southerner did not know which way to turn. His options had suddenly become very limited. They, team seven, had become unreachable, McDermit was torn from him, and Standish’s instincts had dictated to him not to trust Hawkins. What was left? Burkhardt. A Larabee look alike in all sense of the word, a criminal, an arms dealer. The personification of everything Ezra and the team had tried to put a stop to in Denver. The only ally he could see was the criminal element he was suppose to bring down. Lost? That would have been an understatement. Sanchez closed his eyes and passed the binoculars to Nathan.
Jackson smiled. Damn southerner always turned up on his feet. Trust the cocky undercover agent to get shipped to New York and tossed in the middle of twisted intrigue. Damn fool had no sense. Why the hell did the fool not try and call one of the others? He stupid or something. Nathan categorized the bruising on the jaw and cheek. Not to bad, Ezra had been on the receiving end of worse. He would be again too, because when Nathan got a hold of him he was going to knock some sense into that southern boy.
Chris accepted the proffered glasses from Nathan. He stared at his undercover agent. We’ll get you out Ezra, just hang on.
+ + + + + + +
The white van pulled away. They would devise a plan, find away to contact Ezra, bring down Tedeschi and destroy Hawkins. The Judge was due in NewYork very soon. They were on a tight schedule.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah and Buck eased open the dark grained wood door. The brass numbers read 26, a hint of green tinged the once shiny display. The brass knob had become a soiled brown with only hints of it’s reflective golden color. Wilmington eased open the narrow door. The hinged squeaked loudly. Buck smiled. McDermit was a smart kid, the noise alone would alert him to any intruder. This midmorning the two ATF agents were not worried about alarming the one time occupant.
The door swung open revealing a narrow entrance way. A small battered end table stood next to the door. A pair of gloves and a NY Rangers ball cap rested on the tarnished surface. One of the legs was elevated by a magazine making a once unsteady piece of furniture stable. Wilmington moved forward crossing the dark threshold allowing Sanchez room to enter the apartment. The small alcove opened into a moderately spacious living room. Spacious being a relative term. In NewYork living quarters anything bigger than a large bathroom was considered roomy. Tall thick paned windows, with white peeling paint lined the eastern wall. The walls were done in brick, just like the outside of the building. The rooms were cozy and cluttered with paraphernalia that it’s one time occupant deemed to important to toss out.
A 13 inch television sat kiddy corner in the junction of the eastern and northern walls. It sat on a large crate. A leather baseball glove rested on top of it with a hockey puck resting in the palm. Two hockey sticks sat in the opposite corner an orange tennis ball rested in the curve of the black taped stick. The imitation leather couch was torn and tapped. A balled up blanket and throw pillows sat haphazardly on the uneven middle seat cushion. A radiator sat under the windows, steam whistled softly from the stop cock.
Posters and pictures adorned the walls at inconsistent heights. Occasional pieces of laundry littered the dark wood floors. A scattering of beat up second hand furniture graced the humble home of Shawn McDermit. A stereo sat near the kitchen with speakers placed discreetly through out the apartment. Wilmington picked up the Jimmy Buffett box set and smiled sadly. The kid had taste too.
Buck and Josiah took it all in with discerning eyes. Chris had kept JD from accompanying the two older agents. Dunne did not need to be reminded of his own mortality. McDermit was only eighteen months older than JD. Wilmington silently thanked Chris for his fore thought.
Shawn had many of the same tastes as JD. A play station and VCR were hooked the small TV. Where JD had Boston Bruins paraphernalia McDermit backed the Rangers. Both young agents interest rested in computers. The only modern and well kept area was the one around the home base computer and all its components. Wilmington watched as Josiah easily slid into the desk chair. It like the computer and desk appeared brand new. While Sanchez rebooted the computer Buck searched the rest of the small living quarters.
With every passing minute, Wilmington learned more of the young agent that had fallen to a sniper’s bullet. Buck’s anger and remorse paced one another. Pictures of the surviving family dotted the place along with a photograph of a dark haired girlfriend. Buck searched the personal belongings of McDermit but knew Josiah would find more information than himself. Shawn was to much like JD, they hid their thoughts on disks, hard drives and Zips. Thank God Chris kept JD away.
The laser printer started humming and paper filled the tray. Buck reentered the living room through the tiny standup ‘walk-in’ kitchen.
“You ready?” Buck asked. He wanted out of this place. It was to much like JD. The two young agents had to much in common. Knowing that McDermit was dead, knowing that it could have been JD was enough to set the large agent on edge.
“Yeah,” Josiah answered. He collected the pages. Shawn had been smart enough not to leave all his research at the office. The stuff that incriminated Hawkin’s was at his house on his private terminal. No connection to the parent agency, no leash for Hawkins to follow. Did McDermit do this on his own or did Ezra warn him? It did not really matter, the fact remained Shawn was dead, Ezra thought he was adrift and Hawkins still tried to play a game using two sets of rules.
Sanchez followed Buck to the front door. Before closing it, Josiah took one last look around at the cramped quarters. So much like JD. God help the wretched souls that tore such a vibrant life from this earth. Team seven would get revenge.
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