Don’t wait too long

~ Yolande  

Thanks to Mitzi,  Debby Gerl & NotTasha for their  assistance in making this a better story.

Story moved to Blackraptor in October 2009


~~~~~Part 1~~~~~

Chris Larabee was one pissed off agent.  He stormed across the warehouse floor until he reached his undercover agent. His wide stance was consciously intended to intimidate the shorter man by invading his personal space, but Standish, to his credit, didn’t budge an inch.   “Who’s fucking side are you working for?” he shouted, not caring who witnessed the reprimand.  Larabee stepped closer.  “I went to a hell of a lot of trouble to get your ass into this team, and this is how you prove yourself?” he asked incredulously.  “Maybe those rumours weren’t all lies after all.”  He glared menacingly, daring Ezra to contradict him.  Did the rumours surrounding the undercover agent in Atlanta tell the truth after all?  Had Standish conned him so thoroughly that he’d believed Ezra when he stated that he’d been set up?  

Disappointment surged through him.  He thought he was a better judge of character.  Had Standish straight out lied?  He did have a propensity for making a person question whether he understood the difference between right from wrong.  But then, as an undercover agent, that was a necessary skill - being able to slip in and out of different characters and personalities.  Perhaps he should have listened to the voice of reason when he was considering the former FBI agent to join their team.  Although his file did read well, apart from the reprimands he’d received over his going it alone.  Not really a team player, he recalled AD Travis’ summation.  And was he on the take?   He did spend a lot of time associating with the criminal element.  Did that make a man more susceptible to the power of money?  He needed to sort this out.  Larabee couldn’t afford to have a rogue on his team.  Or someone who didn’t know where his loyalties lay.  

When Standish remained close lipped, Chris continued the verbal lashing.  “I’m gonna have your hide pinned behind a desk for the rest of your career,” he threatened.  “That’s if you even still have a job by the time Internal Affairs have finished with you.”  The leader of the ATF Team 7 clenched his fists at his side.  All his muscles were tense and the flow of adrenaline was still raging through his blood. 

“Mr. Larabee,” Standish started, his tone neutral.  The Southerner’s response was cut short unexpectedly.  The punch pounded forcefully across the side of his jaw smashing molars deep into his cheeks.  Blood spurted from his mouth and dribbled down his chin.  Standish grunted as his head whipped around with the momentum of the hit.  He turned back to face Chris and all reason vanished.  Why should he explain?  Hell, Chris was obviously waiting for this chance.  The Southerner glared defiantly and spat the pooling blood from his mouth to the warehouse floor.  Not a good move Standish, he chastised when he was shoved up hard against the concrete post at his back in retaliation.  His head bounced on the pillar blurring his vision momentarily.  

Standish swallowed painfully and raised his hand to wipe at the blood off his split lip.  His jaw ached and he consciously ran his tongue over his teeth to ascertain if any were loose. That was one hell of a hit. 

“What the hell were you doing?” Larabee hollered mere inches from Ezra’s face.  “Is this what you did in Atlanta?  Any wonder none of them trusted you,” he sneered. 

The Southerner valiantly raised his head and smiled sardonically at the man in black.  It was his only defence to show his contempt and that he was unfazed by the mostly verbal assault.  That punch had taken him completely off guard.  He could see the doubt building in Chris’ blue eyes and the pure rage that simmered just below the surface.  He allowed Larabee to vent his anger – this was nothing new to him, but damned if he was going to sit back and accept the consequences meekly.   He’d been down that path before.  Somewhere in all the explanations and reports that would ensue, his account of the events would be misplaced, mislaid or lost.  Nobody would take his word over that of a superior. 

“You smug son of a bitch,” Chris ranted.  Glowering, the leader released his hold on the wildcard, pushing him away.  Turning his back, Larabee stalked out of the warehouse not bothering to wait for a response or explanation.  He didn’t see Standish stumble and fall to his knees after Larabee shoved him or the pained green-eyed look that followed his departing back.  He shouldered past his oldest friend, Buck Wilmington, and with a sigh of frustration, ordered him to, “Clean up this shit!” 


~~~~~Part 2~~~~~ 

Wilmington nodded, staring after Chris for a full minute before he headed inside the warehouse and surveyed the damage.  First things first, he crouched down beside the Southerner, and shook his head wryly.  Why couldn’t Standish do like he was told?  It was gonna be a simple raid, but that didn’t work.  He’d obviously done something to warrant Larabee’s wrath, but what that was, Wilmington hadn’t a clue.  Both he and JD Dunne were outside in the surveillance van during the negotiations and when the bullets started flying, he didn’t see either Standish or Chris until the end.  What Buck did see, was Chris launch himself at the Southerner and give him a tongue lashing, but the final physical blow had stunned the surveillance expert.  It just wasn’t like Chris to attack someone without provocation. 

“Come on, Ezra,” Buck sighed with resignation, tugging the downed man to a seating position.   Buck liked the easy going Southerner.  His dry wit and quick humour were an asset to the newest member of the team.  He just needed to relax a bit more and learn to enjoy their company.   That’s if they could ever get him to join them outside of the workplace.  Trouble was, he’d only been in Denver for two months before starting his first assignment.  That first few months hadn’t been an easy transition for Standish, then he’d had to disappear for the last eight weeks with his only contact to the team being his weekly meetings with Vin, initially, then as the meet date was set and a buyer required, Chris came into the negotiations.  Buck knew that they had only talked over the phone to go through the finer details of Larabee’s cover and he was aware that Chris had been concerned about working with the Southerner for the first time.  Wilmington wondered if Standish had picked up on Larabee’s hesitation in working with him. 

Ezra winced as Wilmington pulled him upright; breathing through the pain, he fought the rising nausea.  The undercover agent yanked his arm free of Buck’s grasp and glared venomously at the older man.  Climbing to his feet, Standish swayed slightly and the ladies’ man once more steadied him, but Ezra glowered at him and Buck quickly released his hold.   

Wilmington frowned at the smaller man; it seemed strange that Ezra should be so unsteady on his feet after only one hit from Chris. Maybe Standish had been hurt during the raid, but he hadn’t said anything.  The ladies’ man would try persuading the smooth talker into going to the hospital or at least have Nathan check him over back at the office. “Time to face the music,” Buck announced, a touch too brightly for Ezra’s liking. 

“I’m not going with you,” he puffed swaggering toward the open doorway.  He felt the grip on his arm wrenching him back around and swung his fist with the momentum.  Ezra stepped back, surprised and ashamed that he had resorted to violence.  Thank God Buck anticipated the Southerner’s strike and sidestepped his aim.  Damn, he didn’t intend that to happen.  Way to go Standish, get Buck mad enough to hit you too.  “DID YOU NOT HEAR ME?!” Standish yelled.  “I’M NOT GOING WITH YOU… In fact,” he shrugged out of his jacket and ripped off the bulletproof vest, flinging it at Buck’s feet following it with his gun.  He would have added his badge to the pile, but didn’t have it in his possession at the present.  He’d send it later.  “You can inform, Mr. Larabee, that I have resigned, effective immediately,” Standish snarled derisively.  “And,” he growled in anger, “I’ll have my letter of resignation on his desk by morning.”  Standish cast a forlorn look about the warehouse, feeling the probing eyes of the remainder of team watching with interest.  The hell with them all!  He didn’t need this!  This is just what he’d walked away from in Atlanta.  So much for a new start, he lamented.  He thought he might have been able to fit in here with this unique group of misfits.  It didn’t take long to discover his real worth among these men.  Standish turned on his heels and left the building. 


~~~~~Part 3~~~~~ 

Chris Larabee slammed down the phone, crunching the handle into the cradle.  He spun in the chair to face the window, showing his back to the door.  “Damn asshole,” he muttered under his breath.     A light tap on his door had him spinning back to his desk, his face a bleak mask of irritation.  “Dammit, Buck!” he growled in annoyance, standing quickly to his feet.  “I don’t want to hear it!” 

“Fine,” Wilmington agreed, but continued to walk into the middle of the room.  “Then I won’t say a word,” he added grimly as he opened the canvas bag he’d been carrying and emptied the contents on his boss’ desk.  The surveillance expert tossed the bag in the corner and, without a further word, reeled on his heels.  He had the door jam gripped in his hand when he heard the harsh intake of Larabee’s breath. 

“I told you to clean it up!”  Chris shouted, not caring that his voice could be clearly heard through the open door.  “What the hell happened?”  Larabee picked up Ezra’s gun, turning it over in his hands. 

“Now don’t you go blaming me, hoss,” Buck countered, thumping the wall with his fist.  “He quit!  And it ain’t anything I said or done that made him do it!” Wilmington stared accusingly at Larabee.  “I’ve known you a long time, pard, but that don’t mean I’m about to take any crap from you.  You shouldn’t have hit him.  Hell, you could be facing charges, Chris, if he decides to make it an issue.  What was that all about?”  Wilmington stood in the doorway, his hands spread wide on his hips, his stance one of defiance. 

Chris dropped his head guiltily and rubbed at his aching jaw.  It still smarted from where the Southerner had hit him and, it irked him that the younger man had managed to get the drop on him.  That was probably why he’d taken out his anger on Standish when the bust had concluded. Plus, that it had gone so badly.  He felt justified in hitting the damn Southerner.  He just hadn’t expected the loner to throw in the towel.   “You didn’t see what went down, Buck.  He damn near got us both killed,” Larabee riled hitting the desk and upending his cold coffee spilling it over the collection of reports that covered his desk.  “Fuck!” he cursed, quickly lifting the reports out of the puddle and relocating them to a drier position.  “Buck…” he beseeched. 

Wilmington looked out into the bullpen and with resignation turned back and sadly shook his head.  He had to admit that being out in the van had its disadvantages at times, but he still could hear enough through the others’ mics.  Or so he thought, but he must have missed something that had Chris so riled and Standish resigning.  Though he was there at the end to witness Chris’s confrontation with their new team-mate.  “I hear what yer saying, hoss and I’m not gonna argue with you.  Why don’t you explain to me what went down?” 

Chris sank back to the chair and squeezed the bridge of his nose.  Damn, he could feel the beginnings of a headache – just what he didn’t need.  “I don’t know, Buck…” he paused trying to organise his thoughts.  “Things weren’t going so well…” 

“Yeah, I’ll say,” Wilmington agreed with a half-hearted chuckle. 

Larabee wiped his face with both hands and spread them on top of his desk.  “Santaguiliano didn’t fit with the profile we had of him, then he started acting nervous.  Ezra was trying to talk him around and I think I screwed up by not asking to check the guns.  He just didn’t seem…I don’t know…maybe old enough,” he shrugged.  “I got the impression I’d met him before,” he tapped his fingers and screwed his brow in concentration.  “Guess it threw me a bit,” he admitted. 

“Yeah, he sounded jumpy, like it was his first time,” the ladies man added thoughtfully.  “You work out where you know him from?”  Larabee shook his head in reply.  “So how does this fit with what’s going on between you and Ezra?” 

“After the shooting started we dove for cover behind the crates.  I don’t know why he did it, but Standish shoved me back out into the middle of it,” Chris growled bitterly, jumping to his feet again and pacing behind the desk. He could still feel the impression of hands pressing against his back. 

“Might not have been him,” Buck protested lamely. 

“Wasn’t anyone else there, Buck!  It was deliberate.  He probably thought there wasn’t enough room for both of us, so he got me out of his way.  He must have changed his mind about going through with it, ‘cause he then saved my ass getting me out after that.”  Larabee resisted against going with Standish - that was when the Southerner had hit him. 

“You need to sort it out, Chris.  That is, if you want him back.  Go and talk to him,” he urged. 

“What makes you think I want him back?” Larabee asked tersely. 

Wilmington tapped his fingers on the wall.  “Guess that’s your call,” he admitted and walked out of the office. 

Chris kicked the wastepaper basket, sending the crumpled papers tumbling about the floor.  When he looked back up the door stood open and his oldest and longest friend had gone.  “Fuck!” he hissed, frowning in irritation.  “He deserved what he got,” Chris’ voice echoed in the office.  


~~~~~Part 4~~~~~ 

JD Dunne stepped sombrely out of the elevator, having only just arrived back at the office. “So Ezra’s really gone?” he asked.  

“Yeah,” Tanner solemnly agreed.  Vin had heard Chris’ version of events surrounding his two friend’s blow-up - in fact, Larabee had been so vocal in his explanation to Buck, the whole floor would have been deaf, not to have heard.  But Vin was reserving judgement, as he’d yet to hear Ezra’s side.  And there were always two sides to a story.  He couldn’t put his finger on it, but Tanner believed there was something missing that only Standish could clarify. 

“But he’s coming back, right?” Dunne doggedly persisted, unable to accept the outcome as a definitive. 

Vin stopped and faced the youngest member of the team, leaning against the junk vending machine.  “I dunno, JD.  He ain’t answering his mobile or his home phone…” 

“I say it’s about time,” Nathan opined as he passed the stationary duo on his way to the break room. 

“It ain’t right,” the Texan argued, trailing after the African American. 

Jackson shrugged and poured coffee into his mug, grimacing at the dark mixture that flowed from the pot.  “You make this?” he absently asked Vin. 

Tanner stared furiously silent at the black man, wondering why Standish had bothered to try and form a friendship with Nathan.  The older man could not conceal his pleasure at the Southerner’s departure from the team and was not even attempting to.  “One day, Nathan,” he warned, wagging a finger at him,  “One day, yer gonna need his help and he won’t give it to you.   Course, I wouldn’t blame him,” Vin snapped. 

Jackson sipped at the brew and arched his eyebrows.  Nope, he couldn’t care less about the Southern pain in the ass.  In the four months since he’d joined the team, the former medic had not been able to establish any sort of rapport with the slick undercover agent.  Fact was, that half of that time Standish had been undercover and Jackson had rarely seen him.  In his opinion, he couldn’t understand Larabee’s appointment of the younger man to the team in the first place.  He wondered if Chris had been ordered to take Standish into their midst.  Well it didn’t matter now.  Standish had failed his first assignment, almost got Chris killed into the bargain and all for nothing.  They had four dead nameless gophers and Santaguiliano, a stack full of crates filled with sawdust and the organization now knew that the ATF had infiltrated their business and would not allow any future negotiations.   He smiled satisfied with the ultimate result.  Standish had quit.  Couldn’t even last the six months probation period that he had to serve. 

“I dunno why I bother, Nathan,” Tanner slammed out of the break room and headed for Larabee’s office. 


“Chris!” Tanner announced as he flung open the door, slamming it hard against the wall.  He stopped mid-stride, his arm raised in anger.  “Chris?” he questioned the empty office as he looked half-heartedly under the desk for his missing boss.  The desk was cleared of reports, papers and writing material - they were scattered haphazardly around the room.  The phone was off the cradle and lay broken in pieces by the upturned bin. The computer buzzed with the screen-saver playing, but the monitor teetered on the edge of the desk and at an odd angle.  Vin absently centred the machine back to its original position.    The pictures on the wall hung askew and the chair lay upturned on its side.  The three drawers of the desk were emptied and in an abandoned pile of broken timber.  In general, it looked like a whirlwind had ripped through the office.  If he hadn’t known better, he’d assume that the office had been ransacked.  But he knew intuitively that Chris had caused this mess.  Tanner walked thoughtfully out of his boss’s office.   “Anyone see Chris leave?” 


~~~~~Part 5~~~~~ 

Ezra Standish departed McQuerters, a bar of discernible taste and was immediately confronted by two of Michael Santaguiliano’s henchmen. 

“Hey, Dave,” Rudy Benson smiled asininely at his partner, “it’s Eddie Samuels!” Benson wore his hair cropped short and bleached white.  During the two months Ezra had known the oafish henchman, Standish had seen the man change his hair colour, and style, at least four times.  Rudy had obviously been to the barber’s that morning at the time of the raid. 

“Eddie,” Dave Hendricks greeted overly cheerful.  One eye twitched as he forced the false façade, anxious not to alert the pedestrians of any looming danger.  Out of the two bodyguards, he was more conservative in his mode of dress, though he did sport a gold stud through his left earlobe. 

Ezra barely glanced at the bulging jackets, he knew what was hidden beneath their coats and had no intention of waiting for either man to use them.  He stumbled slightly and laughed overly loud.  “Rudy!  Dave!” he drawled, recognising both men from his interactions with Santaguiliano’s business.  Although, he’d never personally met Michael Santaguiliano until three days ago, when they set up the time for the meet.  Smiling widely, he draped an arm around each of the henchmen’s shoulders and ushered them along the pavement away from the entrance of the bar.  “Santaguiliano is dead,” he slurred, easily feigning a shudder.  “The Fed’s got the drop on the meet.”   He rubbed at his jaw and winced at the fresh reminder.

Rudy and Dave shared a confused glance over the Southerner’s shorter frame, but moved along with him.  

“Were you standing a little too close to the action, Eddie?” Rudy sneered, pointing out the darkened colouring on his face. Not interested in an answer he continued.  "There’s somebody who wants to talk to you, Eddie,” Rudy stated. 

“After the fiasco this afternoon, I’m doubtful that my buyer will be too enthusiastic to re-establish further contact with your company.  And with Santaguiliano gone,” he paused, stepping out of both the larger men’s reach, “I’m sure your business will take some time to recover the loss of Michael’s leadership.” 

“That’s too bad,” Dave grunted, reaching a hand inside his coat. 

“Eddie, you should have known that we’d find out your buyer was a Fed.” 

Standish’s heartbeat jumped erratically, but his face remained unmoved by the mobster’s declaration.  “I don’t know where you got your information, but I can assure you that Mr. Larson is indeed genuine.  I’d think you’d be looking inside your organization for the traitor who tipped off the ATF.”  He could talk his way out of this situation.  After all, that was his calling and Ezra had been taught by the best. 

“Hah!” Rudy barked with contempt.  “Chris Larabee, ATF.  Forty-two, leader of Team 7, wife and kid were killed in a car bombing four years ago.  Ring a bell…. Ezra?” 

Ezra took a step backwards and re-weighed his options.  This was not good.  How had they discovered both Chris and his true identities?  Had he compromised their cover?  Had he let something slip?  Ezra quickly ran through several conversations he’d had in organising the scam and came up empty.  He’d have to work that out later; at the moment he needed to escape. 

“Now, Ezra,” Dave grinned maliciously, “we need to visit Santaguiliano.” 

Standish shook his head in amusement and even chortled.  “You gentlemen need to find a new boss.  If you haven’t already heard, Michael Santaguiliano was killed in today’s raid.”  At least Standish thought he had died.  Not that the undercover agent had checked the body, but it was…well - obvious.  Ezra wondered once again, why Benson and Hendricks hadn’t attended the meet - other than the obvious - being Bensons’ haircut.  He was astounded to find Santaguiliano at the meet without his usual minders.  But Ezra had buried his concerns as he recognised most of the others present.  They were new in the organization, but he had seen them around.  And then, he had to contend with Larabee’s nervousness and stilted exchange and negotiations with Santaguiliano.  Chris couldn’t stop staring at the gun-dealer.  Hell, he didn’t even ask to view the weapons that he was supposed to be purchasing.  Talk about running on faith.  Whether it was just because it was the first time Chris and Ezra had teamed up together the Southerner couldn’t fathom, or more likely Larabee just didn’t trust the undercover agent.  Standish thought he had handled Chris’ slip up, when Santaguiliano signalled his henchmen.  The group of four thugs he brought along started blasting the warehouse full of lead.  The noise was quickly equalled with that of Vin, Josiah and Nathan who were strategically dispersed throughout the warehouse, and the prompt arrival of Buck and JD from the surveillance van.  The end result being, that all the dealers, including Santaguiliano, were brought down.   

Standish glanced from Benson to Hendricks and back again.  He looked at the identical expressions worn by both henchmen and couldn’t help the spark of suspicion that crept along his spine.  Something was not quite right.

Rudy smiled and Dave barked with laughter.  “That’s where you’re wrong, Ezra Standish, FBI and ATF agent,” Benson scorned.  “You don’t think after only two months that you’d get that close to the boss?” he guffawed, slapping his partner wholeheartedly on the back.  “But he’s mighty pissed with you right now, and wants to see you.  Before you die, that is,” he smirked.  


~~~~~Part 6~~~~~ 

Standish bowed his head and slowly nodded it as in resignation.  Who the hell had been killed at the warehouse then, if it wasn’t Santaguiliano?  And if Benson and Hendricks were telling the truth – and why, at this point, would they lie? - What the fuck was going on?  If it wasn’t Michael Santaguiliano who Ezra introduced to Chris, then where was he?  And why didn’t he show?  The Southerner’s head swam with the unanswered questions.  There were plenty of leads to follow up, but now he was unemployed and at present his situation was more dire. 

His Jag was parked on the side street around the corner and he was certain he could out-sprint the overweight ruffians.  What he needed was a distraction.  The sidewalk was curiously deplete of pedestrians, but the road was heavy with traffic for that time of day.  A white van swept by them on the roadside lane, whipping a surge of wind and spraying a sheet of water from the gutter at the small group.  Standish rocked on the balls of his feet and nimbly shoved Dave into Rudy then took off in a sprint.  Pity he’d given up his sidearm to Wilmington, earlier in the day.  The undercover agent didn’t look behind him as he ran, but kept his eyes on the Jag as it came closer.  Using the small remote attached to the key ring, he unlocked the Jag before reaching it.  Thank God for central locking.   The door was opened roughly and Ezra slid behind the wheel of the sleek machine and roared away from the curb, filtering through the traffic. 

Ezra pushed his foot down on the accelerator and glanced up in the rear-view mirror to see both men jump into a black Mercedes.  He cut across the three lanes, dangerously slipping in and out between other cars.  He kept the pedal depressed and glanced over his shoulder.  “Damn!” he cursed.  The Mercedes was still on his tail.  Standish slammed on the brakes hard, white smoke spewed from his squealing tyres, he winced as two cars crashed behind him, but he couldn’t stop.  The Jag jack-knifed into the side street and sped through the narrow access.  He gripped the steering wheel firmly and navigated the laneway with ease.  

Standish sighed with relief as he emerged at the opposite end and eased back into the traffic.   He was now heading the wrong direction, but he’d remedy that when he was certain he’d lost his pursuit.  Damn, he could do with his gun right about now; even some back up would be nice.  The agent slowed to a stop, waiting for the lights to turn green.  He checked behind him and watched the laneway, which he had emerged through.  A blare of horns from impatient drivers behind, alerted the Southerner to the changed signal.  He drove cautiously through the junction and was partway across when he spotted the black Mercedes in the front row of the intersecting road.  He kept his eyes on the road in front of him and hoped that his pursuants didn’t recognise him, but as was his luck of the day, the Mercedes ran the red light and swung out in front of the oncoming vehicles. 

Ezra stepped on the accelerator and zipped between the cars, jumping from lane to lane and then back again.  The Mercedes stayed with the Jag.  Before long it edged along side of the Jag and Hendricks hung out the window aiming to shoot.   With a wary glance to his left, Standish swung the wheel pointedly at the Mercedes.  The driver, Rudy, followed Standish’s movements and swung left just in time to avoid a collision with the Jag.  Dave’s bullet went wild and he was thrown back into the passenger’s seat.  

The vehicle in front of Ezra braked suddenly and the undercover agent twisted hard on the steering wheel and drove up on the sidewalk.  He slammed the horn and blared at the pedestrians.  Fortunately they had the good sense to jump out of harm’s way.  Ezra grimaced as a cyclist fell from his bike, and Standish glanced back in the rear-view mirror to see him shaking a fist and cursing at the ATF agent.  At least he wasn’t hurt.  He swung back onto the road and roared down the straight strip, the Mercedes an ever-present threat. 

Ezra jumped the Jag onto the freeway and increased his speed.  The Mercedes stayed with him, a few car lengths back, and he wondered why they were maintaining the static distance.  Glancing back, he noticed the black vehicle take the off ramp and he frowned in confusion.  “Why the hell are they giving up the chase?” Standish muttered, banging his fist on the steering wheel.  He stayed on the freeway for a while longer, then took the next ramp off and in a round about route headed towards his townhouse.  Taking a decidedly different approach from usual to his abode, Standish debated whether it was more advisable to find a hotel for the night, until he was satisfied that it was safe to return.  

He slowed the Jag to meet the speed limit and considered the possibilities that Hendricks and Benson knew so much about both his and Chris’ backgrounds.  Standish wondered exactly just how much they knew. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to return to his townhouse at present.  Staying in a hotel was looking immeasurably better.  Standish turned the vehicle about and headed away from his home.  And maybe he ought to call Larabee and inform him of his confrontation with Santaguiliano’s goons.  Not that he relished doing that.  He could picture the scene as it played out in his mind, and grimaced at the inevitable outcome.   The Southerner glanced at his cell phone on the passenger seat and picked it up ambivalently. 

Ezra was four blocks from his home when the Mercedes reappeared from a side road and ploughed into the side of the Jag, shaking the vehicle askew across the road. The heavier vehicle steadily pushed the Jag until it was hard up against a brick wall.  The airbag deployed explosively, slamming Ezra back into his seat.  His head swam as he attempted to regain his bearings.  A small groan slipped past his lips when he moved, feeling the fresh bruises on his chest from where the seatbelt had restrained him.  The deflating airbag now hampered his escape.  Groggily, he unbuckled the seatbelt and pushed back his seat.  The Southerner sighed tiredly, realising that he’d have to climb into the passenger seat to exit the Jag.   And the waiting Henchmen blocked that exit. 

“Come on out, Eddie,” Rudy beckoned smiling widely and waving his weapon at the trapped agent.  Somehow these men had predicted Ezra’s moves, right down to which back streets he had chosen to use. 


~~~~~Part 7~~~~~ 

Chris Larabee glanced at the elevator, fully expecting Vin to emerge through the doors, or even Buck for that matter.  It was easier to leave the building than he’d anticipated.  He waved casually at the security guard as he exited the underground parking garage.  Chris turned off his cell phone and tossed it onto the vacant seat.  Now they won’t be able to contact him either. 

The ride to Standish’s townhouse took a little over half an hour.  It was a pretty quick run as the build-up of the evening traffic had yet to start.  He wondered briefly if Standish arrived late in the mornings and left well after the other’s had finished, just to avoid the rush hour.  Either way, the man always managed to put in a full day’s work.  

Chris parked in the street and intently studied the Southerner’s house, mentally equating the Southerner’s choice.  It was a quiet neighbourhood and on the better side of town.  Probably pays a fortune in rent, unless he owned it.  He hadn’t been to Standish’s place before and wondered what it would be like inside - probably neat and orderly, if he had to hazard a guess.  Not that he expected Standish to be the one responsible for keeping his place clean – he probably employed a cleaning maid for that.  Chris realised that he didn’t know a great deal about his undercover agent.  What would Ezra do when he discovered Larabee on his doorstep?  

He rubbed at his stubbled jaw and leaned back in the seat.  The bust had been a disaster.  Four dead men at the scene and even the guy that Standish had introduced to Chris as Michael Santaguiliano was not the wanted arms dealer - he was a stooge.  That means that the real Santaguiliano would be well aware of the bungled raid as the Media had swarmed all over the bust this morning.  Larabee wondered if Standish realised he’d been set up?  Or was he part of it from the beginning?  Surely the undercover agent wouldn’t have been fooled?  Then why did Ezra push his boss into the line of fire?  He’d trusted Standish, and the Southerner had abused that trust.  Chris could have been killed as a result of that stunt, or seriously injured. 

The crates, as it turned out, had nothing in them other than sawdust.  Where had the shipment of arms disappeared?  They’d lost the opportunity to secure the shipment of weapons, now they had no chance of finding them.  They’d fouled up big time and AD Travis was breathing down his neck for an explanation.  One he didn’t have.    He needed to hear Ezra’s story before Travis and IA put their noses in.  He wanted Standish to talk to him, and he needed to remain calm enough to listen to what the Southerner had to say - even if he didn’t want to.  Larabee hadn’t expected Standish to up and quit, at least not like this.  He still had another two months on his probation to complete.  Chris probably shouldn’t have hit Standish, but he was riled.  Pissed, was a better word.  And disappointed, he added thoughtfully.  He drummed his fingers on the console and agonised over what he was going to say to the stubborn man.  Chris was damned if he was going to allow the undercover agent to crawl out the hole before he’d paid his dues.  He had a lot to answer for.  Larabee wanted answers, and Standish had them all.  With that thought on his mind, Chris slammed out of the Ram and crossed the road.  

He was about to hammer on the front door, but his knuckles were still midair when he felt the prickle of tension ripple at the back of his neck.  The door was ajar barely an inch and he thought even in the Southerner’s current frame of mind, he wouldn’t leave it opened.  Larabee pulled the gun from the back of his belt and slowly edged the door opened with the toe of his boot.  Chris waited until the door lightly hit the wall before stepping inside the apartment.  The room was torn up, furniture was overturned and papers strewn everywhere.  He wondered if Standish had done this or if he’d had visitors.  Larabee noticed several boxes in the middle of the lounge area, all empty.  The contents were scattered over the floor. Chris stepped over the Southerner’s belongings and headed up the stairs.  Once Chris had determined the townhouse was empty, he returned to the living area and absently surveyed the scene.  

Sighing deeply, he righted one of the overstuffed chairs and sank down into it.  “What’s going on, Ezra?” he asked, a worried frown marring his face.  This wasn’t how he’d planned this visit.  His impression of his agent’s home was a little skewed.  The packing boxes, although they were empty now, he’d swear that they hadn’t previously been unpacked since Ezra had moved from Atlanta.  Why hadn’t he unpacked?  Was he afraid to settle in?  Was he planning on not staying long?  And why hadn’t Chris invited the Southerner out to his ranch, like he did with each of the others, as they joined the team?  Make him feel welcomed. 

Chris reached for his phone and belatedly remembered that he’d left it in the Dodge.  He spied the phone socket and followed the lead under the pile of books and papers.  “Vin,” he paused, “look, I don’t have time for that,” he interrupted.  “I’m over at Ezra’s and somebody has been through here, and good,” he emphasised the last word.  “Yeah, yeah…he ain’t here…Vin?  Tanner?” he spoke loudly down the disconnected line.  Fuck!  How’d he miss hearing somebody entering the building?  

“Mr Larson, ain’t it?” a disembodied voice asked from behind.  Larabee felt the cold metal as it dug into the skin of his neck.  “Drop the piece,” he gruffly ordered. 

Chris obeyed and he saw the shiny boot kick the weapon out of reach.  He twisted his neck to see who was behind him, but a punch to his lower back prevented the move.   A low moan escaped his lips and he reached around to massage the bruised area.  “Where’s Ezra?” 

“Ya mean, Eddie?” he chuckled sardonically.  “He’s keeping company with the boss,” he replied amicably enough.  “Real nice of you to consider joining us.” 

This was the last Larabee heard as he was plummeted into a blanket of darkness. 


~~~~~Part 8~~~~~ 

“Vin?” Buck dropped the article he was reading and walked over to the sharpshooter’s desk.  

“That was Chris,” he answered vaguely.   

“Told you he’d call,” Wilmington joked, slapping the shorted man on the back.  Sensing that all was not right he signalled for the others to join them.  “What’s going on, Tanner?” he asked more seriously. 

“Vin, has something happened to Chris?” Nathan, ever the medic, inquired. 

“He hasn’t been in an accident?”  JD’s voice quavered unsteadily.  “Has he talked to Ezra yet?”

“Vin, why don’t you just tell us,” Josiah advised, halting the barricade of questions. 

“Chris was calling from Ezra’s place.”  Vin scowled at the medic when he motioned to leave.  Staring intently at the dark-skinned man, he continued.  “Said the place was trashed and Ez wasn’t there.” 

“So he’s human after all,” Jackson sniped.  

Buck stepped between the opposing forces, placing a hand in the middle of Tanner’s chest.  “Ain’t gonna get us anywhere,” he warned.  “What else happened, Vin?  Does Chris think Ezra’s in trouble?” 

Tanner shrugged, frowning as he mentally revised the sketchy conversation.  “Phone went dead.  And I just know something bad has happened to them both,” the sharpshooter confided his gut instinct. 

“Probably a perfectly logical explanation,” Sanchez reasoned, hoping that he was right.  

“Such as?” Vin spun and glared at the older man.  Josiah shrugged his shoulders. 

“JD, try Chris’ cell phone, would ya?”  Buck ordered.  They waited impatiently while the youngest completed his task.  They started to erupt with questions the minute the younger man hung up, but Dunne held up his hand to silence the group and redialled and then once more.  

“Tried both Chris and Ezra’s mobiles and Ezra’s home phone.  Both the mobiles are either turned off or out of range and I kept getting a busy signal on Standish’s home phone,” JD informed the group of agents.  

“That’s it!” Tanner thumped his hand on the desk.  “I’m going over there,” he declared.  He knew that both Standish and Larabee were in some kind of trouble, he could feel it in the pit of his belly.  He was marginally surprised to see the group assent and grimly smiled his thanks.  Even to Nathan.  

“Should we check the ranch?” Dunne asked as the agents converged on the elevator.  

“I’ll go with you JD,” Sanchez offered.  “We’ll let you know if we find either of our lost lambs.” 


~~~~~Part 9~~~~~

Buck and Vin piled into Nathan’s vehicle, while JD and Josiah climbed into the profiler’s suburban.  They nodded grimly to one another as the two groups separated and went in opposite directions. 

It was well after eight when Jackson pulled up in front of Ezra’s townhouse.  He remained seated and glanced out through the tinted glass windows.  “Looks pretty quiet,” he acknowledged as both his passengers alighted the vehicle.  

“That’s Chris’ Ram.”  Tanner set off across the road to the parked vehicle.  He cupped his hands and quickly glanced inside, then returned to the others.  “Phone’s on the seat.”

Wilmington was already at the front door and barged through the opening, tripping over the turned up corner of the floor rug.  “Shit, shit and shit,” he cursed landing belly up on the floor. 

Vin flicked the light switch and assessed the room with conviction.  “Try not to touch anything else,” he sarcastically informed Buck.  Assuming the role of leader he ordered Nathan to phone it in.  


Vin rolled his neck and yawned.  It had been a long and exhaustive day.  Leaning against the lounge wall he made eye contact with the surveillance expert as he wandered down the stairs.  “Anything?” 

Buck shook his head.  The place had been turned upside down and, they couldn’t confirm that nothing was stolen until the Southerner had sorted through the chaos.  Fingerprints were taken, but it was likely that they would only turn up to be Ezra’s and maybe Chris’.  None of the others had ever been to Ezra’s place before that night.   Jackson even needed directions to navigate them here.  At least Buck knew the Southerner’s address.  “Told ‘em to pack it up,” he thumbed his hand up the stairs.  The boys in blue had been thorough in their search, eventually, spending over two hours just photographing the house with numerous rolls of film.  The fact that Vin lost his temper and threatened to call in their boss might have caused the officers to make a more exerted effort. 

Half a dozen police officers trekked down the stairs, murmuring quietly to Wilmington on their way passed.  They filed singularly out the door and left. 

“Let’s get some of this straightened out afore Ez sees it,” Vin pushed off the wall and began picking things off the floor.  

Jackson waltzed in, holding his cell phone in his hand.  Both Tanner and Wilmington stopped and glanced up at the dark-skinned man.   “That was Josiah.  The suburban broke down on the way to Larabee’s.  That’s why we haven’t heard from them.  They had to walk the last five miles in from the main road.  Nothing’s been disturbed at Chris’ place, but they’re gonna be stuck out there for a while waiting for the tow truck.” 

“So why did it take them so long to call?” Buck frowned.  

“Josiah tried fixing it,” Nathan laughed.  “Then after they started walking up the drive, JD twisted his ankle.” 

“That still don’t explain…” Buck persisted. 

“Maybe you oughta check if your cell’s turned on, Buck,” Jackson pointed to the instrument attached to his belt.  He held up his hand to stall the comebacks and continued.  “Ezra’s is still unplugged, and mine was out in the car.  Vin?” 

Tanner looked embarrassed as he pulled it out of his pocket.  “Ah…it kinda needs recharging.” 

“Yep, figured,” Jackson nodded. 


~~~~~Part 10~~~~~ 

Rudy drove the newly acquired car with economical movements.  There was no point keeping the stolen Mercedes, since its involvement in the accident.  The crushed in fender and hood would make it too noticeable on the Denver streets.  The replacement vehicle wasn’t as smooth as the previous one, but it got them to their destination.  Benson glanced over the shoulder-rest at the unconscious agent in the backseat and grinned.  Santaguiliano would be happy.  They finally had Standish, or Samuels, as they had come to know him.  

The blue sedan drove right up to the private jet and both bodyguards leapt from the car and assisted the removal of their unresponsive passenger.  They carried the unconscious agent aboard.   The small plane was not ready to depart, but the prisoner was secured and, in their opinion, had no chance of escaping.  They returned outside the jet and stood watch over the aircraft. 


The painful throbbing at the base of his head caused the Southerner to wake.  He didn’t immediately open his eyes, but remained unmoving in the uncomfortable position he’d been dropped and listened.  After waiting for what seemed a long while, he cautiously opened his eyes.   If he expected to be somewhere, it certainly wasn’t to be in the body of a plane.  He lethargically lifted his arm and discovered it handcuffed to the armrest.  The cuff clinked – the scratching grate of two metals against one another caused him to wince, reminding him of the dull ache that speared through his head.  Damn, what had those gorillas hit him with?  Ezra tried lifting his other arm and found it similarly trapped.  The cuffs bit tightly around his wrists and twisting them only aggravated the painful hold.  Voices floated up through the open cabin door and he craned his neck back to see if he could place those voices with an image, but the owners were out of range of his limited vision.  Cursing softly he kicked the seat in front of him, but it hardly moved under the aggressive jolt. 

“Patience Mr. Standish,” an unfamiliar voice echoed in the plane as he climbed through the hatch.  

Ezra twisted in his seat and scowled at the well-dressed figure.  “Where are you taking me?” he rasped. 

“Michael will explain in due course,” the veteran answered, threading his way down the aisle.  

Standish shrank back into the chair as the man dropped into a crouch and deposited a bag on the floor.  Ezra peered curiously over the edge and down on the bowed shiny bald patch.  “What are you doing?” he asked hesitantly.  Dark brown eyes lifted from the task he was applying and the balding man held up the syringe to show the agent.  Ezra’s eyes widened in panic and he used his feet as weapons to keep the drug away.  He kicked the syringe from the man’s hand and continued to struggle in his seat and flail unsuccessfully. 

“Benson, Hendricks get in here!” the older man ordered, yelling urgently out the open doorway.  The two minders surged through the narrow space and converged on the trapped undercover agent.  “Hold him still while I get another one ready, ” he directed impatiently. 

Hendricks wrapped a death lock about Ezra’s neck from behind, pulling the Southerner back and upright against the seat, making it difficult for the agent to breathe.  Benson flipped a pocketknife open and slit the sleeve of the agent's jacket, rolling the shirtsleeve up past the elbow.  Ezra tensed in opposition to the manhandling and attempted to kick the bleached blond.  Rudy slugged Ezra in the gut and when he groaned, pulling his knees up to protect his midsection the henchman punched the uncooperative agent in the face.  Hendricks relaxed the neck hold a fraction, allowing Standish to catch his breath.  The needle entered his arm in all the confusion and the effects of the drugs took effect almost immediately. 


~~~~~Part 11~~~~~ 

The cold shock of water roused him from his drug-induced slumber.  Droplets cascaded over his face and soaked his shirt in the process.  Through the foggy daze, he squinted at the blurry images that hovered above him.  He wanted nothing more than to go back into the darkness, but for some reason his mind urged him to consciousness.  He licked the water from his lips and grimaced at the salty taste.  Blinking open the heavy eyelids Standish searched his muddled mind to explain his predicament.  A tight grip around both arms lifted him off the floor and supported his weight, his uncoordinated legs wobbling at the knees.  His chin was lifted and dropped after an initial assessment.  He heard voices that wavered in altitude and seemed to come from a distance far away.  And his head sagged between his shoulders and lolled listlessly from side to side in a haze.  The firm hold on his arms was released and he was gratefully lowered back to the floor.  With a supreme effort Ezra attempted to regain control over his lethargy, but he could only stare vacantly at the ceiling.  His eyes glazed over and the Southerner slipped back into the world of oblivion. 


The cold seeped from the floor through to his bones and the Southerner drew his legs up to prevent any further warmth bleeding from his body.  The movement reawakened the numerous aches and pains his already abused body had received. The drug was still in his system, and although he felt marginally better, the sluggishness of mind and limbs was very real.  Damn he hated not being in control of his own body.  It left him vulnerable and exposed, and that was not something Standish was comfortable with. 

He wondered where he was and how long he’d been missing.  He noticed that he was no longer on board the plane, and the subtle movements rocking beneath him suggested he was on a boat or a similar vessel floating on water.  Ezra vaguely recalled waking for short periods, but his memory was awash with confusion and pain.  He wondered if any of his former teammates were aware that he’d been kidnapped and if they even cared.  Would they come looking for him?  Or would they just assume that since he’d quit, that his disappearance was probably a willing one?  If they found his Jag, then surely they would realise he was in serious trouble, he reasoned logically.  And although he was on the outer with the tight-knit group, he prayed that the six agents would place aside their differences and help him.  That was assuming they had some idea where to begin a search.  And Ezra was fairly certain that the trail to him was well concealed.  

Standish flexed numb fingers and rolled to his side, his gaze lingering on a pair of new Reeboks.  He tilted his head back and immediately recognised his companion – Benson, leaning idly in the corner.  He met the man’s gaze head on and it was Benson who eventually dropped his eyes.  The bodyguard had been surprisingly quiet, the Southerner had not realised he had company – probably a side effect of the drug he’d been administered.  “Waiting for something?” he slurred attempting to get a reaction from his sentry.  The older man grunted, but otherwise ignored the agent.  Mumbling under his breath something about the oaf’s parentage, Standish wriggled on the floor trying to get comfortable.  With both hands tied behind his back and feet also, it made the manoeuvre much more difficult.  “I don’t suppose you could loosen these?” he gestured with an optimistic look to his bonds.  “No?” he didn’t really expect Rudy to be helpful.  He licked his lips and a faint salty taste lingered there.  He wasn’t sure when he’d last had anything to drink and his throat was parched dry.  “I could do with some liquid refreshments,” he hinted to the unmoving guard.  After another silent pause Standish tried again.  “If you are not going to assist me, then perhaps you could inform me, where we are?”  Benson crossed his feet at his ankles, but otherwise didn’t respond.  

Ezra groaned inwardly, this was worse than talking to a baboon.  No, he amended, that would definitely be more animated.   A small satisfying grin curled the corners of his mouth as he envisioned the ape in place of the bodyguard.  He sighed and wriggled backward until he was touching the wall.  His minder just stared, not giving the slightest notion that he was interested in anything Standish was doing.  Benson’s expression was clearly one of boredom.  “You do realise kidnapping is illegal?”  Ezra pushed against the wall until he was sitting, never once taking his eyes off the guard.  “Don’t suppose I could interest you in a game of cards?” he queried.  

The blond wrinkled his nose and rolled his eyes.  “Do you ever shut-up?” he groused in irritation. 

The Southerner smiled, showing his perfect white teeth, he was beginning to annoy Rudy.  “Only when I’m asleep,” he mocked. 

Santaguiliano’s henchman shrugged off the wall and squatted at Ezra’s side.  He gripped the Southerner’s shirt and pulled him forward.  “I’ll take great pleasure in making you stay permanently asleep if you don’t quit yer jabbering,” he threatened. 

“Never let it be said that I don’t know how to take a hint.” 

“Good,” he growled and returned to his previous position. 


~~~~~Part 12~~~~~ 

“Hold him up,” Santaguiliano suggested, gesturing by waving his hand in a lifting motion.  The gun-dealer stood back and watched while his bodyguards worked over the ATF agent.  He’d been surprised to discover the younger man wasn’t Eddie Samuels, but an undercover agent.  Santaguiliano had checked out his background in the beginning of the negotiations and his cover had been impressive.  As was his habit, Michael didn’t meet with any new buyers until a few days before the meet.  It gave him time to be satisfied of their genuineness – and kept his identity safe also. 

Michael was mortified that the ATF agent had infiltrated his organization so easily.  And if it hadn’t been for Al Swami’s timely warning, then he would have lost control of the situation, and his haul of weapons into the bargain.  He owed his life and business to the astrologist.  It had been fate that placed the younger man at his disposal, and he intended to consult him with a lot more regularity, now that he proved his worth.  Santaguiliano grimaced at the brutality that was necessary, but he was well aware of the repercussions if the agent escaped.  “Stop,” he ordered.  Two able bodied henchmen held the beaten man between them.  

Standish lifted his head and blearily looked to the man who called the shots.  Santaguiliano, he curiously thought?  

“I’m being generous – I’m allowing you the knowledge that your friend, Chris Larabee, will be sharing this momentous day with you.” 

Ezra’s head snapped up.  “What!”  What the hell did Chris have to do with his incarceration?  

Michael barked with laughter.  “He is your buyer…you brought him into this deal.  It seemed only fitting that as you were both part of this,” he paused, snarling as he groped for the appropriate word, “…deception, then you both should pay the consequences of deceiving me.” 

Chris was here?  With him on the ship?  His weight sagged in the restraining holds and he looked bewildered as he tried to come to terms with Santaguiliano’s allegation.  How was he going to escape and get Larabee out as well?  “Let him go,” Ezra rasped, “It’s me you want, Chris had nothing to do with the raid.” 

“And if I believed that, I’d believe in Santa Claus,” he retorted, unswayed by the Southerner’s plea.  He motioned that the punishment could continue and walked to the door.  He opened his mouth to speak, but the muffled grunt from Standish interrupted his thoughts.  “Hendricks, stay with him, until we return,” he ordered. 

Dave flexed his knuckles and nodded in understanding and ploughed a final blow at the semiconscious agent.  They dropped him to the floor, and other than Hendricks, followed Michael Santaguiliano out of the room. 


~~~~~Part 13~~~~~ 

Chris peeled back his eyelids and winced at the intrusion of light, quickly closing them once more.   He moaned, rolling his head on his shoulders he realised, through the deep foggy haze, that he was sitting upright in a chair with both arms tied behind him.  He struggled against the bonds, but he was firmly attached to the chair. 

“Mr Larabee, it is useless to struggle.  James here is a most proficient knots man.” 

Chris snarled, and made a more fervent effort to release the ropes.  “Who the fuck are you?  And where am I?” 

“I’m pleased to make your acquaintance at last, Mr. Larson…Charles was it?” he asked contemptuously, pacing in the small iron clad room.  “We didn’t quite have the pleasure earlier…” he hinted stepping closer.  

“So you’re Michael Santaguiliano,” Chris guessed.  He squinted at the glowing light and tried to see past into the shadows.  

“That is correct.  And I don’t like to made a fool,” he growled backhanding the bound agent across the mouth. 

Larabee’s head flung to the side with the momentum of the strike and very slowly he turned back to face his captor.  He caught a fleeting glimpse of Santaguiliano as he stepped closer in order in inflict the punishment.  A large gold medallion swung about his neck on a thick chain, it stood out against the black silk shirt and between the lapels of the purple (?) jacket.  A heavy moustache and a sickly aroma of musk aftershave and Havana cigars completed his hasty image.  Licking at the bloodied lip, Chris curled his mouth up into a snarl and, if he weren’t tied to the chair, Santaguiliano would know his full fury.  “What do you want with me?” 

“I like to tie up loose ends.  And as for where you are,” the crime boss spun in a circle and eloquently waved his hand at the surrounds, “you are going to have a front row seat in the demolition of this old Navy Frigate.  Her new home will rest one hundred and fifty feet below the surface.  Oh, it’s all very legal,” he proclaimed, “the government sinks these beauties from time to time to make artificial reefs.  Guess I’m just taking advantage of the situation.  And don’t be expecting any help from your friends…that is if they even figure you’re not in Denver anymore.”    Santaguiliano lowered his voice and spoke over his shoulder, the words not directed at the ATF agent.  “Is everything acceptable?” he questioned.  

Larabee heard the obtuse question and frowned at the meaning.  His toes curled and he shrank back into the chair at the distinctive tone of voice that answered Santaguiliano. 

“Everything is just perfect,” the robed man purred clapping his hands in elation.  Chris swore he could see the hips of the man jut to the left and the hands gaily gesturing.  “The moon, earth and sun are in perfect alignment, this is the exact day for you to assert your control,” the astrologist gushed.  “And disposing of them this way will broaden your domination.” 

“As you say Al Swami.  Your predictions have been accurate to date,” he praised.  It had been the astrologer’s suggestion that Michael not attend the meet the day before.  That he have a stand-in to assume his position.  And it certainly paid off nicely – at least for him.  He still had his shipment of arms and had a legitimate buyer lined up for later that week.  So he was short a few lackeys, but they were easy enough to replace. 

Larabee snorted and shook his head in disbelief.  “You’re doing this ‘cause some gay fortune teller…” 

Al Swami interrupted Larabee’s diatribe.  “Astrologist,” he squawked indignantly.  “I take my work seriously and have never posed as a fortune teller,” he huffed in a breathy quaver. 

“That’s enough,” Santaguiliano ended abruptly. 

“Where’s Ezra?”  Chris asked. 

“He’s another loose end,” Santaguiliano chuckled.  “And he’ll be dead just like you.  James,” he turned to face his right hand man, “it is time to leave Mr.'s Larabee and Standish to their fates.” 

Chris heard the departure of at least four pairs of boots.  So there had been four in the room with him.  The group stopped, pausing in the doorway.  He heard a burst of laughter and was stunned by the assertion.  “Chris, you’ve got just under four hours to live.  This tub is set to blow at high noon.  Such a fitting time.  So you’ve got plenty of time to say your prayers.  Au revoiur.” 

“Go to hell!” Chris screamed to the closing of the heavy metal door. At least he now knew that it was eight in the morning, and presumably Friday.  He’d been out of it for over twelve hours.  Damn! They must have drugged him, he concluded and began in earnest to tug at the ropes. 


~~~~~Part 14~~~~~ 

Wilmington picked up the phone on the first ring.  He rubbed his temples and stared out into the bullpen, listening to the voice on the other end of the line.  The others had spent the entire night at the office chasing a paper trail, and so far they come up with scratch.  They had to assume that the disappearance of Chris Larabee and Ezra Standish were connected, and as a result of the Santaguiliano’s operation. The fact that no weapons were seized in the raid and that the gun-dealer was still at large made it too much of a coincidence.  He dropped the phone back to the cradle.  “Listen up, boys,” he signalled the weary agents.  When five sets of eyes lifted, he informed them of his phone call.  “The boys in blue have found Ezra’s Jag…it was only a few blocks from his place.  It’s been in an accident and pretty smashed up.” 

“Do they know if the driver was hurt?” Josiah asked anxiously.  He wanted to believe that Standish had escaped unharmed, but the incidence of that was rather low.  And where was he now?  If he hadn’t been injured in the car crash, then the possibility was even greater now that he was missing. 

“They didn’t find any blood inside the car, but there was dried blood on the road.” 

“Where have they taken it?”  Sanchez queried. 

“They’ve impounded it at present, waiting to see what we wanted to do.” 

“Any prints?” Vin asked hopefully.  


“Figures.  So we’ve still got nothing,” Tanner slumped in his chair. 


~~~~~Part 15~~~~~ 

Standish ducked through the next compartment and quickly surveyed the room.  Pausing to briefly look at his wristwatch he mentally counted down the timescale.  Only two hours until detonation.  He wouldn’t still be on the ship if Santaguiliano hadn’t informed him of Chris’ capture and subsequent entombment on the ship.  He figured that was part of the arms dealer’s revenge - allowing the Southerner his freedom, but knowing he would forfeit it in order to find Larabee.  Santaguiliano didn’t really believe that Standish had nearly enough time available to find his friend.  It had taken the undercover agent a few muddled moments to register that the arms-dealer was authentic in his offer to let Standish leave, and a while longer to escape the loosened straps binding his hands and feet. 

Ezra would have fled the moment Santaguiliano left the vessel if it was only his neck at risk, but given the choice, he was compelled to search the hulking beast for his boss.  Knowing that the other man was alive…well he couldn’t just abandon Chris to the fates.  It would be almost as though he were an accomplice to the murder.  And he couldn’t live with the anguish of knowing he’d allowed a friend to die while he was allowed to leave freely.  

His meeting with the middle-aged arms dealer had been nothing but a revelation.  Ezra felt mortified that he’d been deceived so easily into accepting the ruse.  He kicked himself for falling for the ploy.  He should have known that the Michael Santaguiliano he originally met wasn’t the genuine persona, but a front man.  Hell he’d been in this business all his life – he had no excuse.  He’d been taught by the best. His mother would be appalled.  The others must think him a total incompetent, the way the bust panned out.  Nothing on this case seemed to have gone right. 

Deciding that the best course of action was to search the ship in sections, he worked his way to the bottom level of the bow of the ship, planning on doing the middle section next and lastly the aft.  Hoping that he’d find Larabee sometime before he had to search the entire ship.  Not that he thought that he had anywhere near long enough to do just that.  “Chris!” he called again, banging on the hull of the narrow passageway with a length of iron he’d picked up.   The iron echoed loudly and he prayed that Larabee would hear the commotion and respond.  Up until now, he had heard nothing but the creaking of the ship.  

The galley and mess were bereft, stripped to the very bones of the ship; there was nothing left but the casing.  Standish figured that the battleship had to be at least sixty or seventy years old and wondered that it hadn’t been scrapped for metal long before now.  

Standish swung down the ladder and found himself in the bowels of the boat.  This room appeared to be the central engine and boiler room and was dark and grimy.  Tentatively he called out his boss’ name.  There were another two rooms similar to this one, either side.  Slipping between several pipes he stumbled backwards, landing on his side as a shot of steam erupted directly in front of him.  “Shit!” he swore, grimacing at the near scalding.  Where the hell did that come from, he wondered bewilderedly?  Noticing the tripwire across the entry, he followed it to an elaborate set-up.  Had Santaguiliano arranged the intricate trap?  And why, if he did?  Sitting on his haunches he examined the new injury that had been caused to his body.  His upper arm had been sliced when he fell backwards and now was bleeding freely.  Ripping a section off his shirt he quickly bandaged the arm and backed out, intending to check elsewhere.  “Where are you Larabee?” he softly pleaded. 

His chest and side ached from numerous bruises, particularly the large knot on his lower back.  The lack of decent sleep over the past two months had sapped his energy and he was anxious to relax and have time to recuperate.  Except now he’d have to spend that time searching for a new job.  Maybe he’d contact Maude and take her up on her offer to join her in Paris.  He shuddered inwardly, there had to be something else he could do instead of that.  He cursed himself for throwing away the only decent job he’d had in years.  Ezra found that he enjoyed the company of the six ATF agents, and although he wouldn’t admit it to them, he would miss them terribly.  Even Nathan. 

The ship rocked in the water and unbalanced him, causing Standish to recheck his footing and reaching the walls for support.  The tub groaned softly as it listed, reminding the Southerner that he needed to hasten the search.  He wasn’t completely satisfied that both the fore and the middle sections were empty, but as there was so little time to afford a comprehensive search he grudgingly accepted the results.  With the aft section still to go Standish pushed on.  With each passing minute, there seemed less chance of him finding Larabee and exiting before the bombs ripped the battleship apart.  “Chris!” he called again more fervently and lumbered down the passage. 

Ezra started tapping the hull wall in a pattern, using Morse code to call out his leader’s name.  Funny how he still thought of Chris as his boss.  That was probably why it hurt so much when Larabee lashed out at him after the failed bust.  Not physically, although his body ached from the persuasive manipulations of Rudy and Dave and as a result of the car crash, but he hurt inside - a gut wrenching ache.  One that he felt was going to stay with him for a long time.  He knew that Jackson didn’t trust him, but he had hoped Chris had established some measure of trust.  It seemed that he was mistaken.  


~~~~~Part 16~~~~~ 

A fine sheen of sweat lined the blond man’s brow.  He’d broken the chair straight after Santaguiliano and his stooges departed, but was still frantically pulling at the tight knots.  His wrists were bleeding and raw and stung from the bite of the rope digging into exposed flesh.  Once the chair was broken Chris discovered that there was a cord attaching his feet to his hands, making it impossible to straighten out his lower limbs.  Trussed up like a roped calf.  Hell!  Even once he was totally free of the confining bonds he wasn’t certain he could escape the room.  What if the door was bolted from the outside?  Then what?  And if it wasn’t?  How was he going to find Standish anyway?  That’s if the Southerner was still alive.  “Standish, I’ll kill you myself if you’ve taken the easy way out!” he growled in irritation.  He couldn’t get past the suffuse worry he felt toward the absent Southerner.  After what happened in the warehouse, Chris was certain he’d only feel enmity toward the undercover agent, but this emotion was overshadowed by the mounting concern for the flippant man.  He didn’t want it to end this way, yet the longer he remained on the vessel, the less likely the chance he’d have to remedy the situation. 

Chris blinked up at the steel door.  Stopping his struggling, he concentrated on the rhythmic beating that pierced through the hulking metal.  After a while the repeated code began to unravel and a sardonic smile crossed his lips.  “Conceited bastard,” he groaned with relief. Larabee wriggled over onto his side and crawled to the door.  He didn’t know how he was going to do it, but he needed to make some sort of reply.  Larabee knocked the door with his knee, but it only thudded softly, he really needed to hit it with his steel capped boots.  With a sign of resignation, Chris rolled onto his stomach and pushed up as close to the door as was comfortable.  As if, he moaned disgruntled.  He then began a reply, hoping that Standish would hear it and come to his rescue.  Interspersed with the toe tapping, Chris shouted and hollered in desperation.  Come on, Ezra! 

What seemed like an inordinate period of time, Larabee dry mouthed and extremely tense and rigid was on the verge of losing faith when he heard the faint echo of the Southerner’s voice.  He answered quickly and recommenced in earnest kicking at the steel door.  The door swung outward and he craned his neck at the intruder.  “’Bout damn time!” he sighed on a wheeze. 

Standish stepped over Larabee and crouched at his head and lifted it a fraction off the floor.  “Your directions leave a lot to be desired,” he drawled thickly. 

Chris snorted and noted the Southerner’s dishevelled appearance.  Gone was the Armani suit jacket and silk tie, wearing only white shirtsleeves rolled to his elbows and trousers.  And both garments had obviously seen better days.  His feet were bare and by the swollen eye and bruised face he’d endured some more rough treatment since Larabee last saw him.  And he couldn’t see what was hidden beneath Ezra’s clothing, but he probably sported more injuries there also.  Chris noticed the red stained bandage that wrapped about his upper arm and curiously wondered what the undercover agent had done.  “You okay?” 


“You planning on releasing me anytime this year?”  Larabee smiled wryly, watching Standish absently glance at his wristwatch.  He twisted his face in bafflement to realise that they hadn’t removed the timepiece from Ezra’s possession. 

Ezra crouched at Chris’ back and tugged at the knots.  It was made more difficult with the blood that had seeped into the hessian rope. He glanced up and realised that Chris was staring at his watch.  “They thought it would be more amusing to be able to count down the time left,” he answered the unasked question.  “We have twenty minutes to depart this vessel,” he nonchalantly informed his boss. 

Chris grunted as his feet hit the floor, it was a relief to be able to straighten out his legs.  “Reckon you could work a bit faster,” he urged, attempting to sit upright.  Standish assisted the move and propped Chris’ shoulder against the hull.  

“If you stopped moving about, I’d have a better chance,” he retorted in frustration.  It had been a hell of a morning. 

Larabee twisted away from Ezra and scowled, hearing only the anger in the Southerner’s words.    “I don’t need any of your favours, Standish,” he growled, attempting to stand.  “Don’t know why you even came looking for me,” he grumbled.  Although he hoped that it had something to do with loyalty, trust and friendship.  The fact that he was here, had to mean Standish at least cared. 

Ezra flew from his position and flattened the taller man under him.  “We don’t have time for this,” he shouted, frustrated.  “I don’t plan on being around for when she blows!”  He dug his knee into Chris’ back and stifled a smile at the grunt that issued from the blond-headed man.  He released the last knot with a flourish and sat back and allowed Larabee to move.  He was surprised by Larabee’s broad smile that greeted him and returned it with a short twitching of his lips.  Chris rubbed the circulation back into his hands and glanced out into the passage.  Ezra offered his hand to pull Chris to a standing position. 

Both men stood chest to chest and looked into each other’s eyes.  Chris stepped back and lifted Standish’s left arm, twisting it to read the time.  “Let’s move,” he ordered, flying out of the room, only to skid to a stop a few paces from the door. 

“Straight ahead and up,” Standish directed. 


~~~~~Part 17~~~~~ 

The thump of Larabee’s boots clipped loudly as he sprinted down the passageway.  A bare-footed soft pad followed on his heels as Standish stayed close.  Occasionally Chris would glance over his shoulder, but Ezra had shoved him in the back the last time he did that, so he counted on the undercover agent to just be there.  Chris gripped either side of the ladder and hauled himself up to the next level.  Why couldn’t they have one set of stairs from the base of the ship direct through to the top deck?  He reached down the hole and grabbed at Ezra’s arm, speeding his climb though the hole.  “Which way?” 

Standish rubbed at his injured arm and rolled his eyes.  “Up,” he drawled sarcastically and pushed past the taller man. 

“Smart Ass,” Chris mumbled, and trailed behind Ezra. 

Ezra didn’t reply.  He’d checked his watch only moments ago and found that their time had elapsed.  Every step they took was now on borrowed time.  He was sure that the next level would see them safely outside.  He couldn’t be positive, because Ezra hadn’t taken this route to find Larabee.  When he’d heard the dull echo of metal on metal, he gave up any further systematic search he’d applied and headed in the direction of the sounds.  A tight smile formed on his lips as he reached the bottom of the next ladder.  This was it.  And the ship had not yet blown.  Standish climbed four of the rungs and pushed at the closed hatch.  His first attempt didn’t even budge it.  Ezra climbed higher and wedged his shoulder into the metal door, but it still remained tight.  Chris was at his heels and he felt the impatience flow off the older man.  Ezra gave it another shove and almost slipped off the ladder he pushed so hard.  “It appears to be stuck,” Standish lowered his foot to another rung. 

“Get out of my way!”  Chris gruffly ordered, elbowing into the slim hole.  Larabee grunted, pushing his shoulder flat against the strong hold.  He glanced down, and Ezra was looking up at him.  “Fuck!”  Chris slid back down, only just touching his feet when the first of the timed explosives detonated.  

Seven bombs in total had been planted along the base of the old naval ship and each one was set off ten seconds after the one before it.  In the space of just over a minute the ship’s base had been shattered and was beginning to sink as seawater quickly filled the hull. 


~~~~~Part 18~~~~~ 

Standish rocked off his feet and slammed against the hull.  His head connected with the edge of an open door and bounced on the hard steel.  He clutched at the opening to keep his balance, but the next explosion knocked his feet from under him.  Sprawled on the floor, he attempted to rise onto his knees, but at the same time was pushed down with the weight of Larabee falling into him.  He passed out from the unexpected jolt, striking his head on the floor. 

Larabee curled on his side, cupping hands over his ears.  The ear-splitting sound had rung piercingly through the empty hulk, incapacitating both its hostages.  After the seven blasts, Chris rolled to his knees, then crawled to Standish’s prone position and turned the Southerner over onto his back.  Lightly slapping the bruised and pale cheeks, Chris sat Standish against the wall.  

Standish’s eyelashes fluttered and his green eyes instantly sprang open.  He surged to his feet and swayed before catching at the wall.  Rubbing his neck he felt his stomach roll with the movement of the vessel.  “We’re sinking,” he rasped. 

Chris grimly nodded.  “You know how to get us out of here?” 

“Only the way I came in…” Ezra leaned into the wall as the ship tilted sideways.  

“Then what are we waiting for,” Larabee interrupted.  

“We’ll need to go down a level, before we can head to the surface…” 

“Great,” Chris groaned, holding out his arm to gesture Standish lead the way. 

The ship rocked and groaned as the vessel took on water, expelling air and pulling the giant to the seabed.  

The two ATF agents returned to the ladder and climbed to the lower level.  They passed the crew’s quarters, but their main goal of reaching another section prevented them from searching out a more easily accessible exit.  Besides, they didn’t have the time.  The door at end of the passageway was closed.  Standish turned the handle and was thrown back with the swell of water that spewed down the quarters knocking both men over in the eruption.  


~~~~~Part 19~~~~~ 

Larabee shook his head, spitting the salt water from his mouth.  Shrugging out of his jacket he tossed it carelessly aside and slipped out of his boots also - they would only weigh him down.  “Great exit,” he smiled ruefully. 

Ezra bent over at the waist, his hands rested on his knees, in the knee high water to catch his breath.  He glanced sombrely at Chris.  “Wasn’t here before,” he panted, flicking a handful of water at his boss.  The ship tipped precariously to the right and the water moved accordingly.  Balancing with a hand plastered to the wall, they trudged through the water. 

The level crept higher as the ship sank and the lighting flickered, alternately plunging them into muted darkness and glitches of faded yellow light.  The water lapped at their waists and slowed their progress.  With each tip and tilt of the ship, the water sloshed from one side to the other sucking at their footholds and drawing them into the deep blue oceanic waters.  Begging them to join the death throes of the naval vessel as it was swallowed beneath the surface. 

“How much further?” 

Standish wiped at his face and glanced at his watch.  It had been fifteen minutes since the first explosion.  They were running out of time.  “I don’t know.” 

Larabee dove into the water and swam down the corridor.  He could see a ladder and pulled himself onto the metal framework.  “This one?” he asked expectantly. 

“I believe so.” 

They entered the next level and Standish pointed out the open hatch.  Not that Chris needed the clarification as seawater gushed sporadically down the shaft.  “Let’s get off this sinking ship,” he elated. 

“Right behind you.” 


~~~~~Part 20~~~~~ 

The deck of the ship was about a dozen feet above the waterline and rapidly sinking.  The towering middle section still had a distance to go before it settled beneath the ocean.  They jumped from the ship and swam toward the shore.  Both agents were exhausted as they touched the sand on the beach.  

Ezra rolled on his side and watched as the last of the vessel disappeared beneath the water, a rush of bubbles and foam gushed on the final mouthful and the surf rushed excitedly up the sandy shore.  Flopping back, he collapsed to the sand.  

Larabee watched his agent with concern when he didn’t pull himself higher up the beach.  It had been a long swim to shore from the ship.  Standish covered his face with his forearm to shield his eyes from the blazing sun, hitching the soaked shirt up and exposing the deep reddish purple contusion on his back. Chris’ eyes widened, disturbed by what he saw.  “How’d you do that?” 

Ezra lifted his arm off his face and glanced over his shoulder.  He followed the direction of Larabee’s gaze and pulled the shirt down and rolled over on his back.  “It happened at the warehouse.”  

Chris frowned.  He didn’t recall Ezra getting hurt in the raid.  He remembered shoving Standish against a concrete pillar – could it have occurred then?  “I do that?” 

“Would you like to take credit for it?” Ezra asked wearily.  Raising himself up on one elbow he saw the look of contrition cross Larabee’s face.  “No, you didn’t cause it,” he assured and dropped back to the sand. 

Chris continued to watch his agent and the exhaustion was so apparent.  How had he missed seeing that yesterday?  “If it wasn’t from me…how’d it happen?” he asked suspiciously. 

Standish closed his eyes, the surf lapping at his legs.  That particular injury was the cause of all his problems with Chris.  He sighed tiredly.  How did he explain to Chris that it was an accident that caused him to push the older man out from behind the safety of the crates and into the gunfire?  They had been so close together, that when the broad tubular piping swung down and connected with the Southerner from behind it catapulted him forward, seemingly shoving Larabee out in the open.  Standish fell flat on his face, and the pipe crashed back into the wooden crates, breaking up the tower of boxes in the process.  All Ezra could recall was staring into his boss’ puzzled expression, then shuddering as the narrowed glint in his blue eyes changed to thunderous fury.  His confusion had gone and in the space of seconds, been replaced with a raging anger. Before Ezra realised, or understood, what was about to happen, Chris started moving toward the opposite wall, away from him and further into danger.  

The Southerner launched back behind cover.  Immediately he spied the forklift and a smile crept across his face as a plan came to mind.  He broke cover, firing a few rounds as he headed to the machine and dove behind the wheel.   It was as simple as driving through the hail of bullets and picking Chris out of the middle.  Bullets pinged off the yellow metal machine and Standish sat lower in the seat.  When the undercover agent reached Chris, the blond-headed man refused to join him.  He yelled at Chris, then jumped off the forklift and traded insults to no avail in the midst of the ear numbing confusion.  So he did the next best available option and sucker punched his superior, dragging him back aboard the machine and relaying them back to safety. 

Ezra groaned and shook his head - Chris would never believe that.  What did it matter now anyhow?  He’d quit.  “Does it matter?” 

Chris paused before answering, watching the flickering emotions cross his face.  “Yeah, I think it does,” he replied. 


~~~~~Part 21~~~~~ 

They’d moved up the beach out of the incoming tide and rested against the sandbank.  Ezra had reluctantly retold his side of the bust and Larabee had grown quiet during the retelling.  He felt ashamed at his handling of the situation and more so that he’d assumed Standish had done it deliberately. 

“Thanks,” he acknowledged, knowing that the one word wasn’t nearly going to show his gratitude, but it was all he could come up with.  “For back at the warehouse…and for not leaving without me,” he pointed out to sea where the naval ship had sunk.  He broke into a wide smile at discovering the undercover agent asleep.  

Chris walked up the beach a distance looking for some signs of life, but the beach where they came to was clearly deserted.   It was going to be a hike to get home.  He returned a short time later and Standish was still in the same position.  Dropping down on the beach beside Ezra, he dug his toes in the sand.  “You know where we are?” Chris asked. 

“The coast,” Ezra drawled, annoyed that he’d been woken again.  

Larabee sighed, then broke into an uncharacteristic grin.  “You planning on going after Santaguiliano?”  He smirked as the Southerner arched an eyebrow, but remained silent.  Yep that’s exactly what the smart mouth bastard’s got planned.  “You come back to work for me and you’ll get paid to go after him,” Chris coaxed.  Ezra laid his arm back over his face and rolled on his side.  “Well?” 

“I’ll let you know on Monday,” was all the Southerner would say before drifting off to sleep.


the end


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