Disclaimer: I do not own the main characters (still not sure who really owns them… I gotta get that information someday). They belong to whoever owns the Magnificent Seven.
Thanks: To Mog for the ATF universe. Wyndewalker, Wnnepooh, and C. Coombs for introducing me to it.
This is dedicated to all the people (and you know who you are) who begged for an answer to all of your questions.
Warnings: None that I can think of.
A Winter Wonderland pt 2
The intern stared at the man on the hospital bed, his eyes glittering with hate. He liked the bruises marring the ATF agent’s face – turning it into a harlequin mask of blues and purples. The dark, nearly black bruises that stretched from the agent’s collarbone to his jaw nearly made him smile – until he remembered. This man was going to pay. He quickly read the chart, noting a few things with interest.
Finally finished with his perusal, he turned to the next bed. This one held a young man – almost a boy really. But a dangerous one at that. He noted the IV lines and the drainage port with clinical disinterest. The bandaged hands made him frown, he did not remember doing anything to the agent’s hands. Unsettled, he picked up the chart and scanned down until he found the notation – frostbite, possible nerve damage to the fingers. Oh, he liked that note. Maybe it would slow the computer geek down, or even take him out of the picture completely, disabling him permanently. This one reminded him too much of his brother to kill – maim, yes, but not kill.
The intern crossed the room, wondering vaguely if the ATF agents realized how easy they were making things for him. All four wounded agents were in one room. All were sleeping from their painkillers. All four had ragged their three unwounded friends until the other agents gave up and went home for the night. It was almost the perfect set up for him and he was definitely going to take advantage of it.
He glanced down at the mustached man with dislike. This one, with his two broken legs and obscenely handsome face, was the one the nurses were whispering about so much. He glared at him, wondering why the women seemed to like him so. It had been the same when he infiltrated the organization. It was his testimony, along with the fancy man’s, that was going to lock up his father for a long time. The intern pulled a syringe from his pocket and looked over at the IV line. It would be so easy. Did he want it be easy?
No. He didn’t want easy. He wanted painful. He slid the syringe back into his lab coat.
Still thinking about his choices, he moved to the final bed. This one he did not recognize. The man was big, almost at big as he was. The man’s gray hair and rough, unshaven face puzzled him. It was… grizzled, that was the word he wanted. He pulled the man’s chart and wandered to the head of the bed, reading it. Shotgun wound. He must have been the one who tried to keep the boy from being grabbed. Close call, that was. He checked the list of medications, thoughtful. Then he noticed the man’s name and he froze. Sanchez. His mother’s people were Sanchez.
When the sky blue eyes opened, the intern stared at them without any comprehension.
“Son?” The whisper was filled with concern. “Are you all right?”
The intern stared at the man on the bed for another moment and then smiled. “I’m just tired. Been a long night. You’re doing very well, Mr. Sanchez. Go back to sleep.”
“My friends?” The concern was still there as was the worry in the blue eyes.
“They are going to be fine.” The intern found himself gently patting the big man’s shoulder. Then he turned, replaced the chart, and left. He knew what he was going to do. It was perfect.
The shrill ring of the phone brought Chris Larabee to a very unhappy awakening. He was tired. It had been a very long week and he did not need anything to be added to his plate. Not right now, anyway.
“Larabee.” He barked into the phone.
“Mr. Larabee, this is Denver Memorial Hospital. One of your agents has been brought in and he insisted we call you.” The polite, overly cheery voice grated on Chris’ nerves.
“Who?” He sat up, fully awake and alert.
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Don’t let him go anywhere.” Chris’ growl was automatic as he surged to his feet. Ignoring the other man’s words, he dropped the phone onto its cradle and began dressing. What on earth had the southerner been doing that put him in the hospital?
The plan was working wonderfully. Larabee was en route to the hospital on the other side of town. The medic was about to die a nice, slow, painless death. Standish was out of the picture – for a long time. Now all he had to do was take care of the four in this hospital.
Chris stared at the doctor, trying to make sense of the words. “Repeat that please?”
“Your agent was attacked in his home and the attacker dialed 911 before leaving.” The doctor, his hospital scrubs liberally streaked with blood, was trying to explain without upsetting the ATF agent. He knew from long experience that Larabee was dangerous when his people were involved. “The man who did this was very intent on causing the most damage without killing Mr. Standish. All of the damage is painful, most can probably be repaired by a competent plastic surgeon – but there will be some scars that cannot be erased by this attack.”
“What happened to Ezra?” The judiciously cautious tone of the doctor’s voice was setting off alarms in Chris’ brain. “What kind of damage are you talking about?”
“Someone took their time playing with Mr. Standish. Someone who wanted to ruin his appearance as painfully as possible, and they did a good job of it. The worst of it is the facial damage – his jaw and cheekbone are both broken in several places. The orbital rim is intact, so his eyesight should not become impaired. There are two stab wounds, but with aggressive antibiotic treatment we should be able to stave off peritonitis. Everything else – well, the other wounds entail a lot of stitches and a lot of blood loss, but they should heal fairly well.” The doctor grimaced as he thought of something the agent would need to know. “Do you know anyone who would want to carve the word ‘Traitor’ in his chest?”
Chris paled. He could think of too many people who would like to face Ezra and pay him back for his undercover work. The damage sounded like a vicious attack, the kind that only someone with a serious hatred could cause. But then why call for help? Why make sure that Ezra was kept from dying?
“Where is he now?”
“We called in a surgeon to fix the jaw and the cheekbone. Mr. Standish will be in surgery for the next five, maybe six hours.” The doctor looked down at his scrubs. “I can have a nurse give you directions to the waiting room.”
“I know where it is.” Chris nodded to the man and spun around. He stepped out of the hospital, pulling his cell phone as he did. There was only one reason he could think of for the assailant to call 911 and make sure Ezra survived. He needed a distraction. When Nathan didn’t answer, Chris cursed furiously. He dialed another number.
“Murphy?” Chris knew his voice was strained. “Someone’s targeting my team, Standish was attacked at his home and Jackson isn’t answering.”
The other ATF agent went alert immediately. “I’m on my way. I’ll get someone out to keep an eye on the four in the hospital. Where are you?”
“Denver Memorial. Ezra’s in surgery.” Larabee knew he didn’t have to say anything else. It was a given fact that he was not about to leave one of his men while the man was in surgery.
“One of my people will be there in a few minutes. Waiting room on three?”
“I’ll be there.” He hung up and turned, reentering the hospital. He had a very bad feeling about this.
The intern grinned to himself as he loaded the gurney into the van. He was careful as he attached the IV to the hanger hook. He didn’t want anything to happen to Mr. Sanchez. The man had been so concerned, so worried. He had to make sure his kinsman was not hurt by his plans. As he started engine and drove out of the staff parking lot, he noticed a group of unmarked cars, police lights flashing on their dashboards race into the main hospital lot. They were too late.
The world was a blur when he opened his eyes. He frowned. He despised the oddly out of touch feeling drugs gave him and his doctors knew it. They rarely gave him enough to cause this kind of vertigo. He’d have to talk to the nurse when she came in to check on him.
Josiah looked around uncomprehending. He vaguely recognized the intern from earlier, but something about the man made him uneasy. The cold hand that patted his shoulder gave him the creeps but he was too drugged to care. He closed his eyes knowing that his friends would protect him if there were any danger.
Chris watched every move the nurses made like a hawk. Two sets of nurses, one from Denver Memorial, the other from Four Corners, were carefully shifting the unconscious man from the ambulance’s gurney onto a more permanent hospital bed. Standish’s doctors oversaw the procedure, noting every change in the many monitors connected to him. Experts from several areas waited for their turn to assist.
“Ready, doctor.” The head nurse spoke calmly, seemingly unphazed by the circumstances or the situation.
None of the doctors were happy about moving the undercover agent from one hospital to another. Only a stern directive from their superiors and the threat of armed men roaming the hospital ward had quieted them. The move was dangerous – Standish had not done well in surgery, fighting the anesthesia and coming awake on the table. Drugged though he was, the wily agent had nearly killed himself fighting the doctors. Since then, they had kept him in a medically induced coma, giving him a chance to heal before he tried to escape again. The mass of monitors and the multiple IV lines hinted at the severity of Standish’s condition.
But the ATF Team Leader was too afraid of another attempt on his agent to leave him at the larger hospital. There were too many entrances, too many access routes, too many new faces, and too much traffic for an effective security detail. Four Corners, though not much smaller, was far more defensible. In fact, the staff at the hospital was so familiar with Team Seven that they had a special training class for newcomers. And it was an unspoken, unwritten policy that all new doctors and nurses had to be introduced by someone the team knew well before being assigned to a wounded agent.
Two doctors stepped close to their patient and began adjusting their equipment. Grimly attentive to detail, they checked and rechecked the patient before removing the specialized vents that allowed the numbing drugs to flow freely into the patient. They spoke softly to each other and nodded, satisfied with their readouts.
“He’s all yours,” one doctor stated, stepping back.
The other only shot Chris and his companion a glare before stalking out of the room. The doctors from Four Corners exchanged a rueful smile. They were used to Larabee’s ways and made allowances. No one from Four Corners argued with Larabee when his men were involved, they simply advised him of the best treatment and did their work. If Team Seven’s leader had any concerns, they listened and worked that into their treatment. The nurses had their own way of handling Larabee and usually that kept him quiet, out of the way, and relatively under control – the doctors didn’t ask, they just watched.
“Mr. Larabee?” The head nurse was at Chris’ side, one hand gently resting on his arm. “Mr. Standish is in good hands. The doctors will be with him for a few more minutes. Why don’t we go down and see JD? You know he’ll be worrying.”
Silently, with one last pale-eyed glance around the room, Chris meekly followed her. Behind him, the doctors relaxed slightly and went about their work. They could easily ignore the FBI and ATF guards in and around the floor. After being under Larabee’s eye, they figured they could handle just about anything.
“How is he?” JD was the only one awake. The young man’s face was pale, his bruises fading bruises still standing out against the fair skin.
“Stable.” Chris settled into a chair beside the bed.
The room was quiet without the others. Buck was upstairs in the bed next to Ezra, fighting for his life as his weakened body fought off the anaphylactic shock. Only Chris’ call to Murphy had saved Buck’s life. The other team leader had called the hospital and warned of a possible threat to the ATF team members. The night nurse and the security officer had arrived just as Buck’s monitors began stridently shouting their alarms. The nurse, forewarned to foul play, had quickly ripped the IV line loose as she stabbed the call button and yelled for assistance. The timing had saved him – barely. But due to the stress his body had undergone, they upgraded his condition from good to serious and moved him up one floor to CCU.
Vin was up there too. Chris didn’t want to dwell on that thought. Instead he marveled that either of them survived. Their assailant had chosen well, adding medications to the IV’s that would cause death in a quick, painful manner – Buck from a penicillin allergy and Vin from poison. The security guard had responded to the nurse’s shouted instructions, removing the IV’s from both Vin and JD. Vin had received only a small amount of the poison – enough to cause problems and need 24 care. JD’s IV had been clean, but lying on the surgical tray next to him was an eerie note that read, “The debt is paid a life for a life.”
“Nathan?” JD stirred restlessly in the bed.
Chris grinned. “Nathan is fine. A lump on his head and a lungful of gas won’t keep him down long. The nurse said he’d be moved over here in another hour or so.”
“Have they found Josiah?”
Chris shut his eyes. He still had not reconciled himself to Josiah’s disappearance. The big man had disappeared without a trace. His medical record, the medical equipment hooked up to him, enough bandages and medicines to finish treating him, and an ambulance had all vanished without a trace. Whoever had tried to kill Vin and Buck had taken Josiah with him. In the twelve hours since then, the Denver PD, the FBI, the ATF, and the Colorado State patrol had all searched without any result.
“We’ll find him, JD.” Chris whispered, wondering if he was trying to reassure the boy or himself.
This time the wood walls and ceiling made an impression. So did the pain. Josiah let his head fall to the side, scanning the room. This was no hospital and his friends were nowhere to be found. He let his eyes trace the IV line from his arm to the silver stand next to him. It was tagged with the Four Corners Hospital logo, but that didn’t make sense. He closed his eyes again as an unfamiliar hand added something to his IV.
“JD, be still.” Nathan growled from his bed. The medic was unhappy about being a patient. Being a patient while the majority of his teammates were in the IC-CCU unit made him even unhappier. JD’s constant movements as he tried to get comfortable were only getting on his already irritated nerves. “I’m serious. If you keep moving and rubbing those bandages against your hands and feet, you’re going to do more damage to them.”
“Sorry, Nate.” The younger agent looked sheepish as he tried to still his restless movements. “They itch.”
“That shows that you’re healing.” The older man fought off a grimace as JD stirred again. IF only he had seen the man who had attacked him – then they would have a clue as to who was targeting the team.
“Don’t mean I have to like itching.” JD grumbled, a mulish look on his face. Suddenly he brightened. “Nathan, how about we go and take a peek at Buck and Vin and Ezra? You could push me in a wheelchair and that would keep you from getting dizzy and fallin’ –“
“No, JD.” Nathan wished he could go along with the kid’s plan. But if he let JD get away with it once, he would never be able to keep him in bed when he was injured. And that only went double for Vin and Ezra – those two were hard enough to keep down as it was. If they thought Nathan had allowed JD to get out of his sick bed there would be pure hell to pay. Regretfully, Nathan let the tiny ember of hope die. “We stay here.”
JD frowned, his lower lip poking out and his eyes growing wide as he stared at the big medic.
“Nate, are you forcing JD to stay put?” Chris Larabee’s voice made both of them look up, startled by his arrival. The grim visage and the two armed guards taking positions just inside the door made them stiffen.
“Who?” Nathan forced his voice to stay calm.
“It’s not what you think. We’ve got a lead.” The pale face of their leader relaxed slightly. “JD, I need to know everything you remember about what happened last week. Everything from the moment we arrested Hodges until we got you in the hospital.”
JD opened his mouth and then closed it. He knew Chris would only be asking if it was
important. He nodded and thought back.
Vin and JD sped down the stairs, happily racing toward Vin’s Jeep. Neither of them wanted to take the chance that their boss would change his mind. The two of them were restless and full of unbridled energy. They had been stuck on surveillance for the entire month of December – torture for the two young men. But their inability to sit still had finally driven their leader to toss them out of the office. They were free, not only that but today was Friday, they were facing a three-day holiday weekend, there was fresh snow up at Chris’ ranch, and they had new snow boards which they had yet to break in. Neither noticed the unmarked van idling near the loading dock.
“Brothers.” Josiah Sanchez, one of their teammates, called to them from his dilapidated Suburban. The ancient, beat-up vehicle was the only thing that could hold the entire team and their equipment, but sometimes (a lot of times, actually) they wished he could be talked into getting a newer one. “Chris finally kick you out?”
Vin nodded with a sly grin. “Couldn’t stand us any longer. Said we were worse than a pair of four-year-olds.”
Josiah started to say something, but his words were cut off by the blast of a shotgun. His hands went to his stomach as he fell, eyes wide with shock.
Vin broke into a sprint, drawing his pistol and yelling for JD to take cover. A man jumped from the van, clamming a crowbar into the sniper’s head. As Vin fell, the big orange tabby that lived in the parking garage leaped onto the attacker’s back. Cuervo was grabbed by the scruff of his neck and thrown against Chris’ black truck. The vehicle’s alarm began stridently blaring.
JD saw all of this happen in disbelief. Before Josiah hit the concrete, the computer expert was diving for cover, his weapon targeting the man swinging the crowbar. Barely seconds after the masked man slammed it into Vin’s head, he was down, a single shot tearing through his skull. Swallowing and forcing himself to keep his lunch in place, he turned his attention back to the van.
A hand holding a shotgun, slid out the open side door. JD waited until the man’s torso appeared and tightened his finger on the trigger. He had to finish this. He had to get to Josiah and Vin. He calmed his mind – just like Vin had taught him, divorcing his thoughts from the shot. Red blossomed in the center of the target’s white shirt and the shotgun fell from the man’s grip. It fired as the stock hit the concrete, the heavy gauge shot taking out the door and side windows of Josiah’s Suburban.
A heavy sounding ka-chunk made JD freeze. He peered over his shoulder. The double bore muzzle of another shotgun stared at him. The man holding it was wearing a ski mask, only his eyes and mouth visible. The mouth was smiling.
“Drop it, boy.”
He released his grip on his weapon, placing it on the cold concrete. At the slight motion of the gun barrel, he slid it away. At this distance, especially since he was not wearing body armor, the shotgun would cut him in half and he knew it. A brutal kick to his stomach sent him face first into the concrete. Immediately a hand grabbed his wrist, pulling it high into his back. A moment later, both of his hands were painfully locked together by zip-ties.
“Don’t let him see you face!” A voice called from the van.
How many were there? JD wondered. He heard the sound of approaching footsteps. The voice was much closer when it spoke again. “Is he alive? D*** brat – he took out two good men. Didn’t think this one was dangerous.”
JD tried to hide his satisfied grin. He hated being discounted when people thought of the team, but sometimes it came in handy. He heard another curse and the footsteps came closer. He looked back over his shoulder just in time to see the approaching shotgun butt. His head rebounded off the concrete into a welcome blackness.
“Come on, wake up, kid.” The familiar litany finally broke through JD’s pain filled slumber. Something jostled him, making his head pound even harder. “Hsst. JD!” Wake up!”
“Go away, Buck.” JD growled and tried to burrow under his covers. He did not feel like getting up, maybe he should call out sick. No that would only bring Nathan and the others and the way he felt he did not want the company. He tried to move his arms and get comfortable, but that caused pain as his arms refused to move. His eyes flew open and he stared in shock.
“I ain’t Buck, kid.” Vin’s familiar Texas drawl made him remember the parking garage.
“You’re alive?” JD could not hide the relief in his voice. He was sitting in an old metal folding chair, his hands cuffed to a pole behind him. He looked around the room. Old, red-brown bricks and thick, warped glass told him they were in an old building. He tugged on the pole he was cuffed to but it was solid. “Where are we?”
“Don’t rightly know.” Vin’s response was laconic. From the sound of it, JD guessed he was handcuffed to another chair behind him. “How ya doing? You were out for a long time.”
“Been worse.” JD was not about to let his friend know how bad he felt. From the distinct blurriness of the room, he guessed he had a mild concussion. Not much nausea and the room did not swim when he turned his head, so it had to be a mild one instead of a serious one.
“At least you didn’t say ‘fine’.” JD felt Vin’s fingers move against his handcuffs. “Don’t move, kid. This is hard enough as it is.”
“What are you doing?” He hissed in surprise a piece of sharp metal jabbed into his wrist.
“Sorry. Ez taught me to pick these things.” The Texan growled, struggling with the cuffs. “But it’s a lot harder to do when you’re cuffed to a pole an’ can’t see what you’re doing.”
JD was silent for a moment, letting Vin struggle with the unruly metal wires. The huge room was pretty empty. A metal table and an open lock box were nearby. JD could see the sleeve of Vin’s favorite leather jacket peeking out of the box. His motorcycle helmet was resting next to it. He frowned. That should be at the apartment. He wasn’t crazy enough to ride his bike to work with all the snow and slush on the roads.
“Looky! They’re awake.” A voice called from above. A man stood in the doorway at the top of industrial metal stairs. He was huge, filling the entire entrance, shoulders brushing both sides of the metal frame. His voice was overly loud, echoing in the room. He moved down the stairs, his feet as silent as a cat’s. As he approached, JD went cold. He had seen men with eyes like the behemoth’s before – but those men had all been behind bars. These eyes belonged to a free man and that scared him. “I have been waiting so patiently for them to wake up.”
“Joe?” Another man followed him into the room. He seemed unhappy, his voice sharp. “No games. Just take the pictures so we can go.” He stopped in front of JD, his eyes going wide with shock. “Who is this? Pop wanted you to grab Standish and Wilmington. This kid isn’t old enough to be an ATF agent.”
“Pop don’t know anything.” Joe replied, his hands stroking JD’s hair. He dragged JD’s head back and stared at him, his eyes glittering madly. “These two are young and pretty. And I’ve been watching – watching real close. Larabee’ll do anything for the longhaired one. Standish will do the same for the boy. Wilmington will too.”
“Damnit, Joseph! We can’t do this.” The other man took a step forward only to back off as Joseph began stroking JD’s throat with a knife. “Let him go. We can take the pictures of the two of them and do what Pop said.”
“We’ll take the pictures when I’m good and ready, Bradley.” The madman released JD and moved to Vin. “And if Larabee and the others don’t let Pop go, I get to play with their friends. Won’t that be fun, Tanner?”
JD heard a sound, but he could not place it. He felt Vin’s arms jerk against him and he dimly heard the lock pick hit the ground. But the big man’s body kept him from seeing anything.
“You’re killing him. Larabee won’t play if you kill him.” Bradley’s voice was almost calm. Only the panicked look, barely visible through the ski mask let JD know the smaller man was just as frightened as his captive.
“I would never kill him this early.” Joseph stood, smiling over the two captives. He contemplated the scene for a moment. Then, moving with startling speed for a man his size, he grabbed JD’s shoulder and pulled. Once JD was leaning against Vin’s shoulder he nodded to himself and stepped back. “There, the perfect shot. Both of Larabee’s men in one picture – all the better to make him worry. And if he doesn’t believe me, well then you are mine.”
“Let’s get this done, bro.” Bradley turned his attention to the camcorder.
Joseph turned a harsh look on his brother and nodded. He unfolded a newspaper and placed it on JD’s lap. “Final edition, JD. Hold it steady, we wouldn’t want you to mess up the shot.”
JD refused to play to the man’s words. He looked down at the newspaper, half surprised to see that it was not the normal Denver paper. Instead it was a local edition of the Denver Journal. He kept his smile to himself. He knew how meticulously his friends would be going over the videotape. Ezra would notice – the conman rarely missed the little details.
“Mr. Larabee,” Joseph’s voice was pitched low, almost to a soothing tone. His words were suddenly erudite and reminded JD of Ezra when he was out to confound and confuse. “Your associates are thriving at this moment. Should you desire this situation to remain the norm, you will obey the instructions contained herein. Should you, through some invariably important but necessary form of legal negotiation, conclude that your colleagues are unredeemable, I will be ecstatic to store them.” There was a brief pause as Joseph turned his attention to the camera. “In brine.”
JD fought to stay still as the hunting knife caressed his throat. Beside him, he could feel Vin’s shoulders tremble as the knife slid up and down, not quite hard enough to break the skin. Then it was gone, and from the corner of his eye, JD saw that it now rested against Vin.
“They are extremely handsome young men, Mr. Larabee. They have the kind of attractiveness is more than skin deep. If Hodges is not released by four p.m., that beauty will be gone. I’ll send it to you wrapped around their hearts.” The fancy words were gone as Joseph leaned close, one hand wrapping around Vin’s throat while the other held the knife to JD’s. “Think it over, Lawman.”
Abruptly, their captor pulled away. With a frown, he signaled his brother to stop recording. Joseph’s voice was puzzled, “I cut you.”
“That happens when you play with knives.” Vin drawled. His reward was a heavy handed slap that made him gasp in pain.
“Brad, get my kit. We can’t have the boy bleeding so early in the game.” The big man placed light but firm pressure against the wound. “It just wouldn’t do for you to hurt this early.”
JD was quiet as the man carefully applied a bandage to the long, thin slice on his throat. Being that close to their captor made him nervous. Having the man’s hands on him scared him nearly senseless. Finally, after what seemed to be hours, the man stood. Giving JD a crooked grin, he went to his brother’s side.
“Did you tape all of it?”
“Yes.” Bradley pulled the videotape out and handed it to his brother. “I even taped the fear in the kid’s eyes as you worked on him.”
“I said I wouldn’t hurt him… yet.” Joe pulled off his mask and stretched. He turned to face the two captives and smiled. “Not for a long time. I wouldn’t want to ruin the game.”
“Come on. Let’s deliver this thing.” Brad tugged on his brother’s arm. Reluctantly, the big man turned and followed his smaller brother out the door.
“You okay, JD?” Vin’s voice was hoarse form the choking he had received.
“I’m alive. Guy gives me the creeps.” Vin’s arms began moving as he tried to force the lock barehanded. “We gotta get out of here.”
JD didn’t argue. Instead he let his eyes roam along the floor, searching for the piece of wire. After a long moment, he found it. “I found the pick. It’s too far for me to reach.”
“Are you two ready to eat?” A voice called from the top of the stairs. The big man carried a tray as he descended to the basement floor. He set the tray on the table and smiled at them. “I think we’ll have fun, boys. You want to eat, you gotta behave. You want to starve – that’s fine too.”
JD let his words trail off. He looked up at Chris, and seeing his boss’ fury he flinched. He bowed his head, closing his eyes as he thought about the long evening spent in the hands of his kidnapper. The only reason they had lived was the man’s insistence that it was too early in the game for them to die.
“JD? Son?” Chris’s soft voice broke through the memories. The quiet ATF leader had moved closer and was propped on the edge of JD’s bed. His eyes were sympathetic as he stared down at the young man. “What happened next?”
JD shrugged. “Joseph played with us. Beat us a little. Threatened us a lot. Then his brother got back. Brad brought some other men with him. They yelled at Joseph. One of the other men called Joseph crazy.” JD frowned. “It made him lose his temper and he… he killed him with one punch, Chris. Then he told Brad to take care of us and left.”
Chris nodded thoughtfully. “So they were already fighting before we got there?”
“Mr. Larabee.” A doctor interrupted them. “I need to check on Agents Dunne and Jackson. Would you mind stepping outside?”
Chris was reluctant to listen to the doctor.
“Go on, Chris. JD is going to need some painkillers for the rest of the story.” Nathan’s whispered words made him shoot a worried look at the young man. JD was pale, his eyes wide, his breathing quick and nervous. Reluctantly, Chris left the room.
“Where am I?” Josiah asked the man carefully tending the wound on his stomach. He recognized him from the hospital.
“You’re safe, cousin.” The soft voice and gentle hands made him shiver. Something seemed a little off.
“What’s going on? Where are my friends?”
“They died.” Big brown eyes glanced up at him as the big hands spread an antibiotic ointment over the stitches. Then a bandage was carefully laid over the wound. “All done.”
“They died?” Josiah tried to move, but the leather and Velcro straps held him firm.
“Shh. Uncle Josiah.” The other man smiled, his grin crooked. “They died days ago. You’re going to be safe here. We’ll both be safe here.”
“Uncle?” Josiah stared into the brown eyes and saw the flickering madness there. He knew he was in deep trouble.
“You are a Sanchez. My mother was a Sanchez.” An expression of pure delight spread across the younger man’s face. “That makes you my uncle. Pop always told us she didn’t have any relatives. He lied. Now I have you.”
“That’s right, son.” Josiah decided it was the better part of valor to agree with his captor. “When can I get up?”
“Not for a while yet, uncle.” The man stood. “Your stitches have barely begun healing. You have a lot of recovering to do before we can stress them. At least five more days before I can let you sit up. Then we have to slowly recondition your muscles – there was a lot of damage from the shotgun pellets. At least a month before you can walk.”
Josiah did not let his feelings reach his face. He had to get out of here sooner than that. He smiled at his captor. “Got any good books to read?”
“If I release your arms, you will try to get out of bed, uncle.” The brown eyes were laughing at him. “I read your file. You never listen to the doctors. I’ll put on a movie.”
Josiah nodded in defeat. Maybe it wouldn’t be today, but he would escape.
“What happened after that?” Chris kept his voice low, trying not to disturb the young man staring so thoughtfully out the window. JD had ignored them since the doctor had left and it was making the ATF team leader nervous.
“Not much.” JD turned an unseeing face towards his friends. The blank expression and the furious eyes startled both men. “Not much beyond what you can expect from scum like them.”
“JD?” Nathan’s voice cracked when the young man shot him a glare.
Chris frowned. He would drop the whole thing if he could. Unfortunately, the only chance Josiah had was if JD told them everything. Somehow he knew everything was interrelated. And JD held the key.
“I know it’s hard, but we need to know.” Chris coaxed, trying to soften his tone. He was not made for this kind of thing. He could beat or threaten information out of anyone. Ezra was the one who could coax. But the uncover agent was upstairs in a medically induced coma and could not come to his friend’s assistance. Nathan was great for rescues and fixing injuries – not for getting others to talk. His blunt words had a tendency to make people clam right up.
JD nodded, his face still a mask as he resumed his recitation. “You know, Joseph Hodges was crazy, don’t you?”
The medic shot a look at his leader, suddenly understanding what was coming.
It was hours later when the big man returned with another tray. He quickly dismissed the guards his brother had left watching the two ATF agents. He set the table, even including a pair of candlesticks. Once he had the table set, he lit the candles and sat down to his dinner.
“If you want to eat, you obey me. If you want to drink, you obey me. If you want to breathe, you obey me.” Joseph grinned from his seat at the table. He was eating from a plate at the table. The heavy silverware and the fine glass winked as he moved it. The scent of the food was enough to make JD’s mouth water. Beside him he heard Vin’s stomach growl hungrily. “Do you understand?”
Neither captive responded.
Joseph shrugged and returned to his dinner. He ate with a flare that reminded JD so much of Ezra that he expected to see or hear the undercover operator at anytime. After he ate, Joseph picked up a sealed bottle of water and approached the captives.
As soon as he was within range, Vin kicked at him. Their captor grinned and retaliated with a punch to Vin’s stomach. The sniper yelled and collapsed into a ball, pulling his legs up to his chest. JD could feel the frantic tugs as Vin instinctively tried to bring his hands up to protect the wounded area.
“Don’t do that again, boy.” Joseph smiled as he crouched close to Vin’s side. He dragged the longhaired man’s head up and whispered into Vin’s ear. JD could not hear what was being said, but he watched as Vin went pale.
“Go to h***!” Vin whispered, his voice cracking with his pain. Joseph smiled again.
“I could always play with Dunne.” The wicked smile made JD wince, especially when the big hunting knife appeared at his throat again. “But first, I better make sure you’re not tempted again.”
The big man walked away and began searching the shelves against the far wall. Finally he found what he was looking for, rope. With easy, efficient moves, he tied the long legged man’s feet to his chair. Then he turned to JD.
“Are you going to cooperate? Or do I need to tie you up too?” Joseph grinned. He leaned close, and whispered into JD’s ear.
Fury and rage shrouded JD’s thoughts. He reacted instantly to the words, slamming his head into the big man’s face. As he staggered backwards, JD kicked out, catching his captor in the knee. Putting all his weight and his anger behind his the heavy tread of his motorcycle boots, JD slammed a second kick into the big man – this time hitting dead center. The man fell to the ground, writhing in pain as he vomited onto the concrete.
“Good going, kid.” Vin managed to murmur over his gasps for air.
Before JD could reply a roar cut him off. Joseph was standing, his fury plain on his face. He strode over to JD and plunged the knife into his side. Then he turned his attention to Vin. Two massive hands wrapped around the tracker’s neck. JD could hear Vin struggling to breathe but he could not move with the hunting knife in his side. As it was, it felt as if a hot poker was stabbing through him.
“Joseph!” The sudden sound of men fighting made JD open eyes he had not realized he had closed.
Four men were holding the big man down. The only reason Joseph stopped fighting them was the shotgun pointing at his middle. Bradley appeared at JD’s side. He studied the knife for a moment and then yanked it out and slapped a bandage onto the wound.
“Doesn’t look like he was aiming for anything vital.” Apologetic brown eyes met JD’s and Brad shrugged. He over to Vin and nodded to himself. “This kind of stuff is what got us kicked out of med school. He wanted to know how much a body could handle before dying. I patched up the survivors. As long as you don’t rile him, he won’t kill you.”
JD felt horrified as he realized that Brad was used to handling his brother’s rages and the results of them. “But, why isn’t he…”
“Because he’s family, Mr. Agent.” Brad stepped back. “I would remember that. I will do everything I can to protect you as long as you are useful in regaining our father. If you aren’t,” the young man shrugged, “then you belong to Joseph. I never interfere in his games.”
JD glanced at Vin and saw the same dull acknowledgement in his friend’s face. They were going to die. No matter what Larabee wanted, there was no way the D.A. or Judge Travis was going to release Hodges.
It had taken nearly ten years just to get a name on the elusive gunrunner. Seventeen undercover agents had failed to get into the organization in the five years since the name had come to light. Five more had been returned to the agency, bound and gagged after getting inside. Ezra had gone undercover and vanished for six weeks.
No one, not Chris, not Vin, not even Nathan had expected him to survive that long without any backup. Only the weekly Ace of Spade e-cards to JD’s email account had given them hope he was alive. Then Maude had appeared with a message from Ezra – he needed a bodyguard, fast. Buck had gone with her, disappearing into the French underworld. They had reappeared in Denver, along with Hodges only a few weeks ago.
A bit of slight of hand and JD had found a DVR disk in his coat pocket. Every scrap of Ezra’s knowledge about the Hodges’ family was on that compressed disk. The sheer scope of Hodges’ network had shaken the ATF agency to its core. The notes indicated political figures, police officers, FBI and ATF agents, military officers, and more all on the payroll. But none of it tied Hodges himself to the network. He worked through underlings and corporate shells.
The raid had been perfect. Over one hundred arrested, carefully coordinated so the members of Hodges’ organization never knew it was coming. Seventeen major caches of arms discovered, accounting for more money than JD could easily imagine. There was only one flaw. Every single underling who had direct ties to Hodges fought to the death. They trusted their boss implicitly. He had promised to kill anyone who betrayed him, along with his or her families. Anyone who died for his organization, died knowing the boss would personally care for the families left behind.
Only Ezra and Buck were left as witnesses to the fact that Hodges was the mastermind. They were placed in special cells in the jail – the ATF hoping Hodges believed their arrests were real. There was no way Chris could bargain to get Hodges released.
Brad shook his head at the expression on JD’s face. He reached out and gently touched the young man’s face. “You don’t think they’ll do it? Then I would be scared boy.”
“Take Joe upstairs.” Brad turned his attention to his brother and the men holding him. “Go on.”
The men dragged the big man onto his feet and escorted him up the stairs. Joseph growled at them, struggling as he was forced out of the room.
Bradley walked around the two men cuffed to the chairs. He stooped and picked up the lock pick. He twirled it around his fingers curiously, his eyes still on the captives. Finally he nodded to himself and went behind the bound men. JD heard Vin grunt in surprise. Then Brad was talking, low and fast.
“The two guards will be back down in about five minutes. That’s the longest I can delay them.” The words were so fast, they almost slurred together. “There’s a train through the yard at 2 a.m., that gives you fifteen – twenty minutes. Grab it and ride to the next stop. Joseph will do anything to keep you from reaching your people. Don’t make me have to interfere again.”
JD didn’t say anything, too shocked by the words to ask any questions. Brad was up stairs and out the door before he could regain his voice. He felt Vin’s hands moving, the lock pick working the handcuffs. It took several minutes but they were free when the guards came to check on them. It only took a few moments for them to subdue their guards and handcuff them to the chairs.
JD headed for the stairs as the door opened. Joseph raced inside, a pistol in his hand.
“Get them out to the truck. Larabee found us!” He boomed, pausing as he recognized JD. The pistol came up, only to be knocked aside by Bradley. Betrayal and suspicion flared as Joseph looked from Bradley to JD and then with a sweep of his hand, the big man knocked his brother down the stairs.
“Vin!” JD yelled as he dove for the falling man. Behind him, he heard the familiar sound of a Sig-Sauer firing. Vin had found his weapon. Somehow, miraculously, JD caught Bradley, both of them tumbling to the ground.
Then Vin was there pulling both men to their feet as he fired one-handed at the door. His voice was painful sounding from the abuse his larynx had taken. “Is there any other way out?”
“Behind the shelves, back exit to the train yard.” Bradley gasped. JD slung the man’s arm over his shoulder when he saw the young man had managed to break his ankle on the stairs.
They were at the hidden exit when Vin pulled up sharply. Behind them, came the clear, angry sound of Larabee’s voice. Buck and Ezra were also there, calling for them. Then came the roaring, rumbling sound of C-4 detonating. Red and orange flames flew at them, the shockwave thrusting the three men through the metal door and into the snow covered train yard.
“CHRIS!” Vin’s voice broke as he screamed. JD grabbed his arm, preventing the tracker from going into the flames. They watched in horror as the back wall crashed down into the warehouse.
Bradley’s voice was weak and his breath hitched, but his grip on their arms was hard. Both men looked down, surprised to see a large chuck of metal sticking out through the man’s chest. “Joseph would only blow it if he was out. He will… be here… soon. Go.”
They looked at each other; still dazed from the explosion and the knowledge their friends had just died, trying to save them. Neither man was thinking straight, they both knew it, but they did not know what to do. The sight of a moving train was enough to galvanize them into moving. They reached for Bradley, but the young man’s eyes had closed and he was no longer breathing. Neither said a word as they ran for the train.
“We left you behind, Chris.” JD murmured quietly, tears streaking his face as he recounted the events.
“JD, you said the wall collapsed right after the explosion?” Chris was frowning thoughtfully.
“Yeah.” JD’s eyes squinted at his friend, trying to understand what Chris was getting at.
“So you were out for at least half an hour.”
“Huh?” JD looked at Nathan who was nodding in agreement.
“Vin probably woke him when he yelled.” Nathan commented. “According to their charts both had pretty nasty concussions – and if JD had one to start out with. It makes sense.”
“Yep. I wondered why they didn’t go straight to the Federal Building once they got out of the warehouse.”
“The last thing Bradley Hodges told them was to get away and not go near the usual places. But since they didn’t know Joseph died, they didn’t know it was safe.” Nathan finished the explanation.
“But he’s not dead.” JD whispered. Both of his teammates looked at him startled. “He was on the train too.”
“He nearly finished strangling Vin. I barely managed to knock him out of the car. I saw him standing up as we went around the bend.” JD watched them, perplexed by their reaction.
“Then who did the M.E. identify as Joseph Hodges?” Nathan asked as Chris ran out of the room, pulling out his cell phone and dialing on the run.
The boy was arguing with someone over the phone. Josiah didn’t know who it was, he only knew the man was seriously agitating the intern. He was pacing and growling at the phone, ignoring his captive patient. And Josiah needed help.
Josiah stared at the dots covering his hand. They itched and burned. He tried to move but the Velcro straps held him still. His vision swam and he managed to croak, “Son? I need your help.”
He heard the young man approach and curse. Suddenly, he felt the Velcro ripped away. A moment later, the IV was pulled roughly from his arm. Josiah moaned in pain at the move. He tried to breathe but could not get any air into his lungs. The curses were steady as the young man stabbed a needle into Josiah’s chest. He could see panic in the young face as it faded into blackness.
“Breathe!” He could hear the intern’s voice yelling against the roar in his ears. “Don’t you do this to me, uncle Josiah! I won’t let you!”
The darkness claimed him just as he heard Chris’ voice. Josiah tried to smile. It figured, he thought. If all of his friends passed on before him, they would wait for him on the other side.
“How is he?” Ezra spoke from a wheelchair, his face and torso swathed in bandages.
“Sleeping. Which is what you should be doing.” Nathan grumbled quietly from Josiah’s bedside.
The undercover agent ignored the comment. “No one would tell me anything.”
A second wheelchair forced its way into the room. “They sleeping again?”
Ezra nodded, his movement slow and painful.
The door opened again and this time Chris wheeled JD into the room.
The ATF team was together. Battered, definitely. Two men, Josiah and Buck, sleeping in hospital beds. Three men, Ezra, Vin, and JD sitting uncomfortably in wheelchairs. Even the two healthy ones, Nathan and Chris, looked bad with bandages showing the heavy toll they had paid. But they had survived another new year – barely.
“How long until the next set of rounds?” JD asked, glancing at his friends.
“Twenty-two minutes.” The southern drawl answered.
“Will they wake up in time?” Vin asked softly.
“Yes.” Josiah replied, his voice raw. He opened his eyes and smiled at his friends. “I take we’re all alive?”
Buck groaned in reply. “I’m not so sure about that.”
Chris grinned. “I think we need a vacation.”
“Oh, no.” Ezra replied immediately. “I remembah what happened that last time we took a vacation. I will remain in my condo for the duration.”
“I’m staying in Purgatory.” Vin backed his wheelchair away from his leader.
“I think I agree with them.” Nathan looked at the man in black, shaking his head. “I’m going home and staying there. Rain will come by and keep me company.”
Chris began chuckling as his friends responded to his words. It was good to have them all back.