The Stakeout Part 4

by Linda. T

ATF Alternate Universe

It was purely by chance that while Ezra Standish was strolling through the Denver Art Museum almost a week after his encounter with Julia, aka the Crimson Fox, when he noticed the familiar red of copper coloured hair moving through the crowd. At first, he was uncertain that it was indeed the object of his passions and tried vainly to keep her in his sights as he shoved people out of the way in most ungentlemanly fashion in his determination to clarify his assertion that it was indeed her. Unfortunately, as always, she was too quick for him and once again, Julia vanished into thin air with the same spectral trail he was becoming begrudgingly accustomed to finding whenever he tried to find her.

Fortunately for him however, Ezra did not believe she had seen him despite his fruitless attempts to pursue her, and that left him at something of an advantage. Since the woman was a professional thief, not to mention an international cat burglar, there could only be one reason why she would be at the museum. Knowing that allowed him a little bit of leverage when he approached museum security and identified himself to them and alerting the rather disgruntled security chief that there was the possibility of a robbery being planned. Although unhappy at the involvement of an ATF agent in what should have been exclusively his domain, Ezra bartered his information well enough to procure himself a view of all security video recorded by the cameras located strategically throughout the establishment.

It did not take long to find her even though she had been moving through the place with dark glasses covering her amazing emerald coloured eyes and was wearing a nondescript tan coat that was sold in a thousand different shops over the continental US of A. It was the kind of apparel that would allow her to fade into the background had she been seen by anyone else but Ezra Standish. As he watched her glide across the screen, appearing so tantalizingly mysterious that she occupied his thoughts almost night and day, Ezra remembered with a smile, their last encounter.

It had taken almost two days for the smile to wear off his face.

The only thing of interest at the museum at present was a new exhibit from Europe, featuring one of Da Vinci's lesser paintings but nevertheless, the famous Italian's name on any piece of oiled canvas was enough to send its value through the stratosphere. The painting would be on display for another two days and Ezra was convinced that the Crimson Fox, should.... no, when she decided to make a move on the priceless piece of art, would do so before its removal from the museum. For the first time since he had met her, Ezra had some idea where she was going to appear next. He wanted to find her more desperately than anything in his life and intensity of his feelings for her told Ezra that if he did not find her soon, she would vanish forever.

Thus instead of going it alone as he normally did when attempting to catch her and usually incurring the wrath of Team 7's leader, Chris Larabee, when the inevitable foul up landed in a file on top of his desk, Ezra played it smart this time and requested help. Surprisingly enough, instead of receiving a stern reminder what was in the purview of ATF jurisdiction from the man, Ezra was instead astonished when Chris agreed that it was time to put this matter of the Crimson Fox away forever. In retrospect, Ezra could see why Chris would have agreed to their involvement, since the woman had slipped out of their fingers on two occasions already. Failure was not something Chris tolerated well and after so many arrests of the worst characters imaginable, allowing a cat burglar to get away twice would have inspired the man's hostility to no end.

Julia was about to learn what a dangerous thing it was to injure Chris Larabee's pride.

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"I hope this ain't another wild goose chase," Vin Tanner drawled as he and Ezra waited inside a maintenance closet down the hall from where the Da Vinci was being exhibited. However, Julia would be making her entry into the premises, she would have to pass by this room to get to the painting. Chris and the others were stationed discreetly at every possible entrance into the building leaving Vin and Ezra here to drop the net once the quarry had arrived. Since on every occasion that Ezra had run into the Fox, he had been beaten senseless (at least in the encounters Chris knew about), Vin, who was Team 7's residence expert in hand to hand combat was to see to it that it did not happen again.

Apparently Chris was sick of filling out injury reports for just one person.

"I assure you Mr Tanner," Ezra said trying to keep his own impatience from his voice at their less than glamorous surroundings, "she will be here."

Of course it was very hard to be optimistic about this when he was surrounded by brooms, mops and the distinct stench of ammonia from detergent bottles was really cramping the scent of his cologne (which he was still telling himself he had worn only for Vin's benefit). It had been two hours since the sun had gone down and the various security patrols assigned to do their regular patrols on the hour had faded away, leaving automation to take care of the painting for the rest of the night.

"She's really got under your skin, hasn't she?" the sharpshooter asked with a hint of teasing in his voice.

"This from the man who discharges his firearm in order to get rid of a rival." Ezra looked at him with a smirk on his face.

"It was a misfire!" Vin hissed defensively. "Why DOESN'T anyone believe me?"

"Because it is a load of horse manure," the gambler grinned.

"You seriously think I would shoot you in the ass on purpose?" Vin stared at him.

"Do you seriously think that anyone would believe you had a misfire when you are the most proficient person we all know with a gun?"

Well, Ezra had him there Vin had to concede defeat. "Keep it up and you'll be getting another dimple on your cheek and I'm not talking about your face." Vin glared at him deviously.

+ + + + + + +

Julia emerged from her hiding place in the wet space between the walls of the museum, having been there since closing this evening. As far as she was concerned, the best way to get into a museum with this kind of security was through the front door. She had prepared her way out but decided to save herself the trouble by entering the museum as a tourist and then hiding out until the doors were closed. Slipping through the vent leading to the floor of the Da Vinci exhibition room, Julia quickly took a moment to change into her work clothes, via a small bag containing her tools and equipment she had secreted behind a large pot plant in the corner of the corridor just before it.

Once she was in her familiar leather body suit and more suitably attired for the task ahead, Julia went to work. Firstly, she took the precaution of disabling all the security cameras in her immediate vicinity before donning a pair of infra-red goggles and turning her attention to the more sophisticated security devices in place. It took her almost a good half an hour to bypass the laser sensor, motion detectors and sonic equipment in place to protect the valuable painting before she even reached the doorway leading to the exhibition room.

The painting sat in the middle of the room since it was the showcased piece and as she side stepped the crisscrossing beams of laser energy running through the room, she knew that there were probably more surprises waiting when she reached the object. A Da Vinci made a Monet look like pocket change and she could understand why most would rather keep the thing than sell it on the black market. She would not have minded keeping the painting for herself if it was not so damn dangerous, but she let out a sigh when she reached it and told herself with some disappointment, it was simply not meant to be.

Reaching the velvet ropes that surrounded the painting, Julia took a moment to admire the beauty of the Maestro's work. The observation lasted no more than a second before she crossed the ropes and got to work.

+ + + + + + +

"Mr Tanner," Ezra hissed quietly at the sharpshooter who was poised at the door, poised for action. "Mr Larabee has just informed me that all the video in the northeast corridor is no longer operational," he replied, tapping the small headset he was wearing around his ears that allowed them communication with the rest of Team 7.

Vin tensed immediately at the realization. "She's here."

"I believe that was what I was attempting to say," Ezra frowned. "I believe we should make our move now."

"Good idea," Vin agreed. "Tell Chris to disable all the security devices. We're going in."

Ezra nodded, hating to trap Julia this way but he had no other choice to find her. He was trying not to let his conscience get the better of him as he was reminded how she had saved his life only a week ago. Suddenly, he felt like an utter cad for orchestrating her capture like this. However, he had set into motion events that could not longer be stopped and would have to see it through.

"Mr Larabee, Mr Tanner and I are moving in. Please disable all the security devices so this establishment does not become a Fourth of July parade when we tackle the Fox."

"Taking care of it now," the leader of Team 7 answered before a short pause followed. "Okay, security is disarmed. We'll be in position when you acquire the target," Chris's familiar voice returned through the earpiece shortly.

"Understood," Ezra replied and then turned to Vin. "It appears we have a go."

Ezra saw Vin nod and slowly twisted the handle of the door. The mechanism made little sound as it unlatched before the door swung open and Vin slipped out first with Ezra following close behind. Outside the corridor was dark and Ezra allowed Vin to take the lead since when it came to stealthy approaches, there was no one better than Vin Tanner at the art. The sharpshooter moved across the floor without making a sound and their approach was aided by the inert status of all the security devices in place within the museum. Somewhere in the darkness, Ezra knew that Chris Larabee and the rest of Team 7 were closing in. He wondered how Julia would react when she knew that the trap that about to be pounced upon her was entirely his doing.

Suffice to say, there was probably not going to be a repeat of what she had done to him in his apartment.

Vin reached the exhibition hall first and paused at the doorway. Ezra could hear nothing and his confusion mirrored that of Vin's because they both assumed she would be well into stealing the painting by now. All signs indicated that the Fox was in the building. Yet as they peered over the edge of the doorway, the space that she would have been occupying in order to remove the painting, was vacant.

"What the hell..." Vin started to say as the barrel of the gun in his hand sagged a little.

Suddenly, a foot kicked out at him from the corner of the doorway and sent the weapon flying across the room. Julia stepped out then, prepared to make another kick but this time Vin had some idea of what he was dealing with after their last encounter and was ready for her, despite the loss of his weapon. He grabbed her foot before it could strike and twisted it viciously, spinning her in mid air before she came crashing down on the hard floor.

"Julia, give it up!" Ezra called out as he saw her lying on the floor dazed as Vin moved to retrieve his gun.

His voice sent a surge of clarity through her disorientation and she immediately got on her feet and faced him briefly before she realized what Vin was doing. Knowing that she could not allow him to retrieve his weapon, Julia slammed her body into the sharpshooter, knocking him off his feet as Ezra hurried forward to help his fallen comrade. Julia swung a flying kick at the gambler, kicking his gun from his hand and smashing her palm into his throat, which more or less destroyed any resistance he was going to put up.

"You son of a bitch! You set me up?" Julia glared at him through narrowed eyes with no sympathy whatsoever for injury as he staggered backwards, clutching his throat in pain after she had nearly crushed his windpipe. "After I saved your ass that night and....well you know what!" Her cheeks flushed red with crimson while sputtering in fury, unable to believe that he could do this to her.

"Get over it lady!" Vin declared, ending his response with a full body tackle of his own. Both of them tumbled to the floor as footsteps started pounding towards them. Both combatants broke free of each other and got to their feet before immediately launching themselves at one another in a series of high kicks and defensive blows.

Through the haze of pain, Ezra saw Vin giving as good as he got and there was just a little bit more power behind his blows to gain the advantage. She was fighting him with everything she had and Ezra could tell that Vin was fighting to keep her at bay. Her legs moved at lightening speed, sending kicks in his direction that Vin was able to fend off at the barest fraction of a second to spare before impact and the sharpshooter delivered strikes of his own that had to hurt. Suddenly, Ezra saw the realization in her eyes that there might not only be two agents in the building but more, just as it dawned upon her that staying to fight had robbed her of precious time that should have been used to escape.

She broke away from Vin abruptly, pausing long enough to cast an expression of betrayal and hurt at Ezra's direction before she ran out of the room and down the corridor. She was just about to turn down the hallway when she ran straight into Chris Larabee.

"End of the road," Chris said simply and emphasised his point by the gun he pressed against her heart no sooner than those words had left his lips. Julia had to only look at those steel coloured eyes to know that moving right now would be a fatal mistake. Behind him, she could see the rest of the ATF agents swirling around her, closing off any other avenues of escape. With a loud sigh as her shoulders slumped slightly, she knew she was done.

She was caught.

"I guess it is," she said with complete dignity and would not show anyone how deeply Ezra's betrayal had wounded her. Julia could deal with being caught. She could even deal with the fact that these ATF agents had been the one to apprehend her. But Ezra's taking part in this had hurt more than she had expected it would. Of course, Julia could hardly blame him for being what he was any more than she could help herself for she did for a living, but it still hurt. She cared about him a great deal and could not deny that she might even love him. Nothing else could explain the changes she had been going through the last weeks since their meeting. Begrudgingly, Julia was forced to admit she was in love with Agent Standish just as she knew that her anger at him was not permanent. She was going to make him pay for this in sweet agony once she extricated herself from this present difficulty. Capture was always an aspect of the game even though it did not happen to her very often, but there was still that trump card left up her sleeve that the ATF did not know about.

The lights came back on illuminating the entire room and Julia saw that there were ATF agents and security guards surrounding her. Their total numbered in the dozens and she realized that there would be no miracle escape this time. Fine, she was caught, she could live with it but she was still furious with Ezra though.

"Vin, Ezra, you okay?" Chris shifted his gaze long enough to see the sharpshooter and the gambler approaching. Vin was limping a bit but seemed all right for most part while Ezra seemed to be turning a shade of blue as he clutched his throat, barely controlling the pain that her attack had caused.

Julia saw him suffering and though to herself, Good.

"I'm fine but I think Ezra needs to go to the hospital," Vin replied, looking at him with concern.

Goddamn it, Chris swore under his breath. Not another one of those damn forms!

"We got your girl though," Buck said exuberantly as he moved to snap handcuffs around Juilia's wrists. She seemed more amused by the notion than anything else.

"I would not waste my time, Mr Wilmington," Ezra managed to say as he approached Julia when Buck made the attempt. "The lady is a professional thief who unlocks safes for a living, I doubt she will any difficulty extricating herself from a pair of handcuffs."

"He's right," Chris agreed, not removing the gun from her chest before he looked down at the titian haired beauty who was quite diminutive now that he had a chance to observe her. "You were at the fund raiser," he realized and looked at Ezra in a hint of accusation that his agent had kept that bit of news from him.

"What can I say?" Julia gave him a sarcastic smirk and then had to begrudgingly admit as well that she could now see why Mary was driving herself to distraction over this man. He was without doubt utterly magnificent, if dark, brooding, sombre, sons of bitches were one's cup of tea. "I like raffles."

The rest of Team 7 stifled their sniggering before Chris gave Ezra a look that said ‘we'll talk about this later' and the turned back to her. "Get her out of here."

"What for?" a new voice suddenly spoke out, one that no one recognized and was not part of either teams, security or ATF.

They all turned to a man who was dressed in a tuxedo and appeared to have come from formal event. He was accompanied by two other suits and did not at all look impressed with what had happened.

"Thank you for arriving so quickly Mr Packard," Julia called out with a smile, astonishing everyone with that action. "As you can I see, I have encountered difficulties."

While Ezra and the rest of Team 7 did not recognize the new arrival, the security men employed by the museum certainly did and gulped immediately at his presence. Packard marched straight up to Chris Larabee with an unhappy expression on his face and not at all intimidated by Chris' usually overpowering demeanour.

"I am Roderick Packard, Director of this museum," the man said sharply before allowing his gaze to sweep over the rest of the people present. "Who are you?"

"Agent Larabee," Chris replied. "ATF. We just caught this woman attempting to steal your painting." The leader of Team 7 stiffened at the man's behaviour, particularly since he and his men had just busted their asses to save this museum from a multi-million dollar art heist.

Ezra stared at Julia, unable to comprehend what was happening or why she appeared so unperturbed about being in custody. Earlier, he thought her anger was about getting her captured but now he realized that it was directed at him on a more personal level. She was glaring at him with nothing less than outrage, but her ire was only for him and not anyone else. About the situation she presently found herself in, Julia was decidedly composed and Ezra started to have a very bad feeling abut this.

"What you did was interfere with a contracted employee of this facility in the process of doing her job!" Packard barked back not caring at all for the impressive qualifications wielded by these men. His eyes blazed with fury and Chris began to share the same feeling of foreboding that Ezra was secretly experiencing right now.

"Doing her job?!" Buck cried out in disbelief. "She was stealing a painting!"

"It's a fake!" Packard exclaimed as if he were talking to bunch of moronic children. "The original was moved this morning!"

"Aw hell....."Chris started to groan, suddenly understanding. "Let me understand this. That painting in there is a fake and she was hired to test the security system?" He had heard of operations like this before, where some museums hired people who were capable of bypassing the internal safeguards like this woman had proven herself over adept at doing, in order to correct any blind spots that may exist in the security system. No doubt, after she had taken the painting tonight, she would have reported to Packard and his people, just how she had managed to accomplish that feat in order for them to correct the oversight in security that would prevent such an incursion from happening again.

"That's right," Julia pulled herself away from the reach of Chris' gun and gave him a triumphant smile. "When I heard you ATF idiots stumbling around here like a pack of wild elephants, I called Packard on my cell phone anticipating that I might need his help if you assholes actually got lucky and caught me."

"You mean you knew the painting was a fake?" Ezra looked at her with confusion.

"Of course I did." She stepped up to him. "I was planning on staying in town for a while and thought the job might prove interesting."

The rest of team 7 started to groan at the spectacular bungle that this was turning out to be but Ezra had only eyes for Julia at this time. "I thought...."

"I know what you thought," she said sharply. Her voice might have been angry put her eyes were filled with pain and Ezra cursed himself for a fool. Here she was, preparing to make a life changing decision by going straight of all things for him, and he had repaid her by turning her in. He did not think it was possible to feel so miserable in this entire life.

"You can kiss my ass you son of a bitch," she retorted and flattened Ezra with a single blow before brushing past all of them. He reeled backwards from the punch, feeling blood gush out of his nose and wondering whether he was ever going to get past this sadomasochistic relationship he had with this woman.

"Julia, wait!" he called out and ran after her.

"Go to hell!" she swore and rounded the corner, not waiting for him.

Ezra let out a deep breath and decided to give up. Besides, if he knew Julia, she would be dropping in on him soon enough probably to make him bleed some more. Turning around, he saw Chris arguing with the museum director and besides, by the time Chris got through with him, the injuries he sustained at Julia's hands would be slight in comparison to what the ATF team leader was going to do to him for this mistake.

Sometimes, he wondered if it would be simpler to go home and hang himself with a tablecloth.

Part 5

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