Day of the Hunters
“Federal Agents…lay down your weapons…and possibly no one else will die,” Eugene Carmichael barged inside the house with his team. He would have preferred to have stayed on the sidelines, this was not his jurisdiction, but when the armed gunmen had converged on the house, he felt compelled to act. He’d been assigned to Denver with a small team, four of them in total, to watch Standish and wait. But if their target was dead then his job here would be finished. That wouldn’t be acceptable. If he could prevent that from happening, then he would. “You hurt?” he questioned the Southerner.
Ezra rolled away from the dead gunman that had fallen beside him and stared blankly at the CIA agent. What the hell was Carmichael doing here? He was a person from Ezra’s past, someone who probably knew more about who Ezra had been, than he did himself. The federal agent was familiar with Ezra’s dual life, a life he’d led as Nikoli Venkov, a Russian spy. One, Ezra Standish was only now remembering, and then only in small parts. And what did he care if Ezra was hurt? Wasn’t Carmichael’s team effectively gunning for him too? Ezra didn’t know what they wanted or expected him to do or have done…it was lost in a past that had been gone for fifteen years. So why start hassling him now?
“Standish?” Carmichael shouted impatiently.
“No, but we require an ambulance for Ryan.” If only to pronounce him dead.
“Ambulance has already been called,” Carmichael snapped. “Spence...check him out,” he ordered pointedly at the wounded agent. Damn fool! It was a miracle that they both weren’t dead.
Gordon Spencer lowered his rifle and bent over Ryan to assess the many injuries; there was so much blood. While his concentration was on the downed agent he was shoved forward and tripped over Ryan’s body as one of the intruders escaped outside. He grunted, but quickly scrambled to his feet.
“Get after him!” Carmichael shouted. Spencer and Lewis disappeared out the door in chase, leaving Carmichael and Garcia to contain the others. “The rest of you, on the floor.”
Ezra glanced at the open doorway, wondering at his chances of escape. Did Carmichael expect him to join the remaining gunmen on the floor too?
The remaining three bad guys looked at each other and for a moment they seemed ready to comply, until one of the three produced a smoke grenade. He pulled the pin and smoke spluttered from the canister, filling the room in a cloud. The other two brought up their weapons and began firing in earnest into the haze.
Carmichael and Garcia returned fire while Ezra tried to sink into the floor. The two CIA agents weren’t firing at him, but that may change if he attempted to go after a weapon. Instead he crawled on his stomach toward the kitchen.
“Standish, leave!” Carmichael ordered, yelling over the top of the gunfire.
Ezra threw a bewildered look back into the melee. “What about—”
“Get your butt out of here!”
Ezra hesitated for a moment then raced along the narrow hallway, keeping his head low as gunfire and smoke filled the Jackson’s future home.
Craig chuckled and taunted Chris. “It won’t be long now…we won’t be requiring your assistance much longer. Seems not everyone on your team is so vigilant—”
Chris glared through swollen eyes. “None of them would give up Ezra.” Not willingly, not intentionally.
“Ah…but there’s the newest member of your team…Ryan? Yes, I know them all,” he grinned smugly at Chris’ frown. “He wasn’t quite so careful. We should have word within the hour of Mister Standish’s demise. Then we’ll decide what to do with you. In the meanwhile, why don’t I acquaint you with this?” Craig rummaged in the box and slipped on the brass knuckles. He flexed his fingers and formed a fist. “Ready?”
Larabee’s cell rang and one of Craig’s men snatched it off a wooden crate and frowned at the display. Names placed into the phone’s directory displayed the incoming callers’ identities. They’d been monitoring the calls all day, refusing to open any lines of discussion with Team 7 and eventually turned it off to save the batteries. It’d been turned back on an hour ago, but for no other reason than to inform the next caller of Larabee’s death. But they wouldn’t do that until it was established that Standish was dead. “It’s Standish!”
“What?” Craig’d sent five of his best men…what had happened?
Chris managed a smirk…Ezra had escaped death once again. Assuming it was Ezra who was calling.
“Jas, ya want to talk to him?”
“Of course. He may have escaped, but he’s on borrowed time. Give it here…” Craig ordered the man holding the phone. He grasped Chris’ chin and pressed a knife into his crotch. Chris’ chest heaved painfully, but he didn’t utter a word. “Answer it! Or he’ll be hearing your castration first hand.” Jason Craig pressed the receive button and held the phone to Chris’ ear.
Why was Ezra calling him? Why now? “Larabee…”
Ezra rushed through the backdoor, a trail of destruction left in his wake. He sprinted out of the backyard and kept on running, not daring to look back. He wasn’t waiting around to see if Carmichael managed to subdue the killers, but doing so troubled him. They were after him and he was running for his life. He was unarmed in an unfamiliar suburb and on foot. What a Goddamned mess! Ryan was dead…at least he looked that way. What had he been thinking? He’d brought the damn felons and the CIA straight to his front door. How many had there been at the house? Standish didn’t have time to count. What was Carmichael doing there? And why had the CIA agent allowed him to escape? Ezra ran, confused and a little disoriented.
Standish shivered as the rain bucketed down, a silvery cascade against the dark backdrop of night. His teeth chattered as the biting cold seeped through his sodden jacket and caused an ache deep through to his bones. He hunkered against the sparse shrubbery, resting, as his breaths came in harsh panting gasps. He smeared his face with a mixture of rain and blood, and groaned as he accidentally touched the healing gash on his skull. It wasn’t until then that he felt the stickiness of blood oozing between his fingers and he turned his palm over in confusion. Damn! Where had that come from? He shrugged out of his wet jacket and frowned at his bloodied arm. He’d taken a hit. In all the confusion he hadn’t realized. It wasn’t serious…he’d yet to feel any pain, that would come later. He wrapped it up, rather awkwardly, before slipping back into his jacket.
There was no let up from the torrent, and the waiting was unbearable. Standish unconsciously sunk further into the leafy shelter, holding his breath when a car crept by, and praying it would continue down the road. It prowled along the road slowly; vibrant headlights scoured the terrain where he hid. Ezra shivered, the headlights reflecting off his eyes; he knew the shadows concealed him, but the tremors continued to flow through him. The vehicle stopped not far from Ezra’s hiding place, and the passenger stepped out and shone a flashlight into the bushes, waving its narrow beam haphazardly. Ezra stiffened, not daring to move an inch until the passenger returned to the car and it moved on down the road. He didn’t know who it was; it could have been Carmichael or it could have been the men who’d shot up Nathan’s place; it didn’t matter, Standish was taking no chances.
When the vehicle disappeared from view, Standish crawled from his hole. He could hear the approaching wail of red and blues a few blocks over, but there wasn’t time to return. Not that he even considered it for a minute. He ran in the opposite direction, following the concrete sidewalk that wound through the neighborhood. His loafers squished with each step, but Standish was not one to give up easily. His sense of direction was normally impeccable, but his reasoning seemed to have deserted him. He needed time to clear his head, time to work on a plan. Somewhere safe. He needed help and he wasn’t afraid to admit it.
Standish dropped behind a four-foot-high fence; falling eagerly to his knees he pulled his cell phone out. He could trust Chris; he’d know somewhere safe Ezra could hold up. And perhaps Larabee could explain what Ryan had been rambling on about…Ezra could only conclude that something had occurred in his absence and it concerned Larabee. There was no answer at Larabee’s home so he automatically dialed Chris’ cell phone. Surely Chris was okay? But why did Ryan talk of Buck as though he was in control of the team? The cell was picked up after half a dozen rings. Ezra sighed…Chris was okay.
“Chris?” Larabee’s voice was oddly tense, and held a strange unsettling note to it. “It’s Ezra,” he finally admitted. There was a long disquieting pause over the line. Was he still there?
“Well, well, well, what a surprise. Just the person we’ve been wanting to talk to,” the speaker drolled sarcastically. “Ready to make a deal?”
What? Standish whipped the cell phone from his ear and stared at it in bewilderment. Who the hell was that? Definitely not Larabee. And what deal? “Chris?” What the hell was going on? Had he dialed a wrong number? No – Chris’ number was on automatic dial. And Larabee had initially answered the phone.
“Larabee’s keeping us company,” the unfamiliar voice announced, a faint chuckle followed the revelation. “He’s been real friendly, but ya see, he ain’t feeling too talkative at the moment.”
“Who the fucking hell is this? Let me talk to Chris!” Standish ordered, shouting into the receiver. His problems suddenly seemed inconsequential compared to the threat that was being played on his cell phone. How had they gotten Chris? Why had they taken Chris?
“Yer in no position to demand anything…listen up.”
Ezra’s eyes widened and a knot of fear curled in his gut as Chris’ scream echoed down the line. “STOP! Whatever you’re doing to him, for God’s sake, stop! Please.”
The hollow voice laughed into the phone. “Then perhaps you’d like to join us, Mr. Standish. Or is it still, Simon Evans?”
The undercover agent shook with rage. He heard Chris shouting in the background, ordering him not to come, but in the middle of the plea, his friend went disturbingly quiet. Standish swore under his breath, imagining how Larabee’s silence had been achieved. Hanging his head with dismay, he instinctively felt Larabee’s pain. “Tell me where,” he snarled bitterly. They wouldn’t get away with this! Using his friends against him was not going to work.
Ezra entered the warehouse through a side door. Inside it was dark and he could hear the echo of rain hammering on the metal roof. It was a relief to be out of the torrent. He waited several minutes, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dim light before strolling toward a distant light. What am I doing? He felt the makeshift bandage through his coat and winced. This could go so bad…if only there’d been another way. He kept his tread even and his pace steady. No need to panic, Standish. It’s now or never. His legs refused to take him any closer and with a shuddered breath he called out, “Chris!” Ezra held still as several gunmen rushed to meet and surround him. He raised his hands and his heartbeat raced frantically. “Ah…a reception committee.” He grunted, falling to his knees when a rifle butt slammed into him from behind. He was searched for weapons and when none were found he was the recipient of a kick to his ribs. His hands were yanked to his back and heavy tape secured his wrists.
“On yer feet.”
Standish obeyed and was lead into the warehouse at the point of several automatic weapons. He made eye contact with Chris Larabee and grimaced. Chris hadn’t been treated well. Larabee was stripped to the waist: bloodied, bruised and battered, his face swollen and distorted. I’m sorry.
“You shouldn’t have come, Ezra,” Chris sighed, and then grunted when he was punched by the kidnapper standing behind him.
“Please, no heroics, Mr. Standish.”
Ezra altered his gaze to focus on the man issuing the orders and strained his memory for some recognition. “Who are you? You can’t be Torres’ family… if you are, he doesn’t acknowledge you as such.”
Chris moaned. Why provoke them? Ezra! He glared at his undercover agent, attempting to relay a message, to shut the hell up, but Standish refused to meet his look.
“Oh…I’m family alright.”
“Not by blood,” Ezra rebutted. And noticed the armed men were of the same opinion, but still they followed his lead. “You’re too old,” Ezra continued. “Coloring is wrong too, jaw line is too square and …argg,” he groaned when his head snapped back as a fist connected with his chin.
“Averill is my step-father.” Jason Craig wiped the smear of blood from his knuckles and sneered at the ATF agent.
Standish licked the corner of his mouth, but he was not intimidated by this man. “And he’s still calling the shots from behind bars…you must owe him bad.”
“Jas, you gonna listen to this crap or finish ‘em off?”
Jason Craig glared at the imprudent bodyguard. “Don’t ever question my procedures.”
Ezra cleared his throat and focused on Craig. “Let Chris go…you don’t want him.”
Jason backhanded the undercover agent and sneered, “I always liked the adage of ‘two for the price of one’. Besides…he’s seen and heard too much. Get it over with,” he ordered, having waited, in his mind, too long already.
“ATF… drop your weapons and lay down on the ground,” Buck Wilmington ordered. And all hell broke loose.
Ezra rushed to Larabee and knocked his boss to the floor, covering him with his body. It was the signal he’d been waiting for. He kept his head down, his eyes closed as the warehouse filled with gunfire. It seemed to go on forever and when the confusion died down he wasn’t immediately aware of it.
Wilmington glanced at the leader of Team 8. Could his men handle the clean up?
“We’ve got it under control, Buck…see to your boss.”
“How are they?” Tanner asked anxiously. This could have been avoided. He had opposed this plan. There had been no reason to risk Ezra’s life as well as Chris’. Once Standish had contacted Buck and they knew where Chris was being held they could have stormed the warehouse and rescued Larabee. But no…they had to use Ezra as bait while the rest of the Team 7 and Team 8 got into position. They shouldn’t have done it. Ezra had already been shot, and the undercover agent had refused to wear a bullet proof vest. Damn fool! They better not be dead!
Buck’s voice called through a fog. Ezra rolled off an unconscious Larabee and groaned feeling hands gently checking him for bullet holes. This was all too tiring. “I’m fine, check Chris.”
“We need an ambulance,” Nathan muttered, removing his jacket and placing it over Chris while Josiah removed the handcuffs and worked on the ropes keeping him attached to the buckled chair.
Nathan rode in the ambulance with Chris to the hospital, Buck with Ezra. Chris regained consciousness on the way to the hospital and found dark worried eyes watching him. “Nathan? What are…Where did you come from?”
Jackson eased his expression to a small smile. “Hey, there.”
“You shouldn’t be talking,” Jackson chastised gently, and replaced the oxygen mask that had slipped.
Chris groaned and closed his eyes for a moment attempting to bring events back into some order. “The warehouse…Ezra?”
“Yeah…You took quite a beating by the looks of it… Ezra’s fine.”
“Didn’t tell ‘em anythin’,” he slurred.
“How did…?” Chris waved his good hand, and frowned at the IV line attached to it.
“How did we find you?” Nathan completed the sentence and Larabee nodded. “Well the Fibbies took the case off us…but it was Ezra who gave us the address of the warehouse.”
“He rang my cell. They had Ryan followed…he led them to Ezra. Don’t know how he got away.”
Nathan wanted to ask the obvious question, but knew Chris was tired and in pain. How did Ryan know where Ezra had been? “Ezra didn’t mention Ryan, when he called Buck. He did take a hit to his arm though.”
Chris struggled to sit forward, but the pain in his chest held him back. Had to be broken ribs. “Thought you said he was okay?”
“Didn’t happen at the warehouse…I fixed it as best as I could before he went in.”
“Must have happened at your place…did he say how he got away?”
“What do you mean at my place?” Chris sighed and Nathan cursed as he put two and two together. “He broke into my house? The one Raine and I just bought? Damn him!”
“I knew.” Standish actually trusted Chris enough to call and tell him what he had done and where he’d gone. Chris hadn’t been happy with the arrangements and had argued with the Southerner to come over to the ranch to discuss an alternative. But if he had…they’d both be dead. He groaned.
Nathan leaned to the left as the vehicle turned and he looked out through the windshield. “We’re almost there…take it easy.”
Buck jumped first from the ambulance and followed the gurney into the ER. “You behave,” he ordered the Southerner when he was directed to the waiting chairs. “I’m going to talk to Nathan…find out how Chris is.”
“I’d like to know.”
“Will do, pard,” Wilmington assured.
Ezra awkwardly pushed the IV stand along the corridor toward the elevators. Lord, he hated this place. Even one day was far too long. He ignored the curious stares and moved to the back of the elevator. ICU was on the sixth floor. The doors opened on the third and fourth floors before arriving at the sixth. He waited for an empty gurney to leave first, then followed it out. Ezra stood undecidedly at the nurse’s station waiting while the nurse on duty finished talking to a doctor. He nodded at her and she in turn frowned at him. “I was informed Mitch Ryan was a patient in this unit.”
“Honey…do the staff from your floor know you’re up here?”
“Probably, by now,” he grinned ruefully.
“Come on, I’ll push this thing for you, they tend to have a mind of their own.” She grabbed the IV pole and waited for Standish to follow. “Is he a friend of yours?”
“Of sorts,” he agreed.
“Visiting is restricted to family, but I’ll sneak you in for a few minutes.”
“Thank you.” Ezra gratefully sank into the chair by Ryan’s bedside and the nurse left the room. The Connecticut agent looked at him through hooded eyes and Ezra attempted a small smile. “I wasn’t certain you’d make it.” Hell, he’d been certain that Ryan was surely dead. Ezra glanced at the bottles under the bed and the tubing that disappeared under the blankets. Ryan’s chest was protected by a large white bandage and for the moment a machine breathed for the wounded agent. “They said you’re fortunate to be alive…a bullet hit close to your heart.” Apparently only one of their attackers’ guns had been loaded with ‘cop killer’ bullets that were able to penetrate the bullet-proof vest he’d been wearing, and one of those had lodged close to his heart. Another bullet had missed the vest completely and gone through his shoulder, not to mention the two he received to his leg and one to his forearm. The body armor had ultimately saved his life; there’d been no less than eight bullets dug out of the vest. Or so Ezra’d been informed.
Ryan stared at Ezra, unable to say what he was thinking. But his eyes spoke volumes.
“I apologize for leaving you.”
Ryan closed his eyes and turned his head away, effectively dismissing his visitor.
Standish sighed, grabbing hold of the IV pole and rolling it in small circles. “We got Chris back, he’s a little worse for wear, but he’ll survive…I’m guessing that’s why you turned up at the house last night…to inform me that Chris had been taken…and about the trade?” Ezra waited, but Ryan remained unmoved. He could be asleep for all Ezra knew. “Well… I trust your stay here isn’t extensive,” Ezra said and stood to leave. He waited a moment, fully expecting Ryan to wave him off, but the recalcitrant agent continued to snub him. “See you around.” Or not.
Ezra nodded his thanks to the nurse who’d assisted him earlier and stepped into the elevator. As the doors closed he noticed Eugene Carmichael standing at the nurse’s station watching him. Carmichael raised his Styrofoam cup to a salute and Ezra was left wondering, yet again, what the CIA agent was up to.
Ezra returned from the bathroom, dressed and ready to leave. The drip had been removed and he was anxious for his friends to arrive. It was blissfully quiet at present; he knew that would change the moment the rest of the team arrived. He sat on the edge of the hospital bed and stared out the window. It was still raining. It had all night. He sat back against the pillows and watched Larabee in the adjacent bed. He wondered if he was worth it…wondered, after everything his boss had endured, whether Chris regretted it. Chris had known where Ezra had been staying, yet he hadn’t given up the address, even though Craig had beaten the shit out of him. Chris had protected him, to his detriment. Several broken ribs, bruised liver and kidneys, a burn on his side, fractured cheekbone, broken wrist and three fingers, a concussion and other numerous bumps and scrapes.
“Shut up, Ezra,” Chris groused.
Ezra raised an eyebrow. “I don’t believe I said a word,” he muttered in his defense.
Chris winced as he rolled and settled on his side. He glared at the purple fiberglass cast on his arm and tucked it away under the covers. Can’t believe Nathan chose this color, but at least it wasn’t pink. “Well I can hear you, and it’s keeping me awake.”
Mouth open, but unable to form a reply, he was saved from doing so when Buck, JD, Vin and Josiah arrived.
“Morning, Ezra,” Buck greeted, “Chris,” he added after noticing their team leader was awake.
“Yeah,” Chris grumbled, trying to ignore the invasion and return to sleep.
“Gentlemen…please excuse the grump; he’s awoken in a particularly foul mood.” Ezra returned the Larabee scowl with a grin. “JD how are you faring?”
Dunne shrugged stiffly. “I’m good.”
“Or he will be, if he ever gets some rest,” Buck heckled the younger agent.
Dunne rolled his eyes and gingerly settled into a plastic chair. “I can rest just as well at Casey’s place as I can at ours.”
Wilmington snorted and sat on the edge of Ezra’s bed. “How you doin’?”
“Anxious to leave.” Realizing that Nathan Jackson was not about to follow the others in caused a frown to mar his features. “Has there been any word from Nathan?”
“He’s still getting quotes for his insurance…most of the damage is superficial. Won’t take much to fix,” Josiah assured.
Ezra groaned. “Is he still upset with me for making use of his dwelling?”
“You’ll be able to sweet talk him ‘round,” Tanner smirked. “Reckon he was more pissed at you fer getting yerself shot. How ya feeling?”
“I’m perfectly f…”
“Fine…,” the five team-mates, including Larabee, all chorused together and broke into a laugh.
Ezra rolled his eyes. “It still wasn’t necessary for me to stay here.”
“Ezra, you were shot,” Buck argued. “Not ta mention the concussion or those bruised ribs.”
He glanced at the bandaged arm in the sling and shrugged. “Yes, well, I would have slept better at my place.”
“Nope, your place was trashed…So was yours, cowboy, but we’ll get it fixed up by the time you come home.” Vin chuckled at Larabee’s silent seething.
“Wonderful,” Ezra moaned.
“Don’t worry… you won’t be stayin’ there, least ‘til after Torres’ trial,” Vin stated.
“Oh? And where exactly will I be residing?”
“Somewhere safe,” Josiah said.
“Hey,” Buck exclaimed, slapping the undercover agent on the leg and deliberating changing the subject, “you’ll never guess who’s back in town.”
Standish waited a full minute before answering, “Eugene Carmichael.”
Chris snapped opened his eyes. Carmichael was back in town? “Since when?”
Buck tapped his foot on the bed rail. “I saw him here yesterday…think he was trying to get information out of the nurses.”
Standish shrugged. “He saved my life the other night…and Ryan’s.”
When Ezra didn’t say anymore Buck prompted, “That requires a little more explanation, pard.”
“He arrived at Nathan and Raine’s house at the most fortuitous time. He was also upstairs this morning watching over Ryan.”
“He say anything?” Chris asked, concerned that the CIA agent had returned to Denver.
“No…but I have the distinct impression I’ll be seeing more of him in the future.”
The End…for now.
I do hope you enjoyed reading this and I would love to hear your comments...Please.