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Hombre's Magnificent Seven Fan Fiction

Hide and go seek

Thanks to Kitty for her help in getting the final medical situation sorted. Thanks also to Tex and Willow for beta-readiing. If there are gaping holes in the plot, then blame me. I had terrible trouble with this story and I'm not sure whether I've sorted it out satisfactorily. Thanks also to my mate Shirley, who pointed out a few odds and ends, some of which I have now changed!





Story first added 21/12/04. Finished 1/3/05

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“Larabee,” Chris said as he answered his phone. While doing so, the blond ATF team leader also attempted to sign the report that Buck had just handed him. Sometimes in this job he felt like an octopus, needing three pairs of hands to complete the tasks he had to juggle.

“Your agent is in danger,” a voice informed him seriously.

Chris stopped what he was doing, pen in midair, as the words sunk in. He looked up at Buck with a frown. “Who is this?” he demanded as he retained eye contact with his oldest friend and co-worker.

Listen to me! You’ve gotta get him out before it’s too late,” the voice warned urgently.

“Who are you talking about?” Chris asked, trying to discover if the call was a hoax. He had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that told him it wasn’t though. He indicated for Buck to try and get a trace put on the call and watched his agent go and do his bidding. The blond, meanwhile, flicked a switch to start recording the call so that he could listen to it again later if need be.

“You have an agent currently undercover. The gang knows that he’s an agent and they’re gonna kill him. He’s going by the name of Nathaniel Bloom and he’s pretending to be a potential buyer of some guns from the Petrie gang. His real name is Ezra Standish and he’s being held hostage at one of our bases.”

Shit! Chris cursed silently, his thoughts being confirmed. He raised a hand to his face and rubbed it slowly while taking in a deep, worried breath. “How do you know this?” he eventually asked.

“I’m a member of the gang,” the man replied as if it was an obvious answer.

Chris paused, his mind racing. He looked up as Buck reappeared and mouthed that JD, their computer expert, was trying to track down the origins of the call. Chris nodded and then turned his attention back to the phone. “Tell me your name,” he said, trying to keep the man talking so that the youngster had time to do his job.

“Marlon.”

“Marlon what?” Chris asked as he listened to the background noises in an attempt to get some clues as to where Marlon was.

“That’s all you need to know,” the man said angrily.

“Why are you giving me the heads up?” Chris asked, playing with the phone cord distractedly. He wondered how the gang had found out about Ezra’s real identity in the first place. That was definitely something he would have to find out as soon as possible. If there was a leak in the department he needed to plug it and fast.

“I wanna cut a deal. If I give you details of what they’re gonna do, I don’t wanna be charged when you catch ‘em. I don’t wanna be jailed for killin’ an ATF agent.”

Chris narrowed his eyes, hating to be blackmailed in this way. Ezra, though, was all that mattered and he would do all he could to get the agent back unharmed. “I’ll do what I can,” he replied, not committing himself.

“Not good enough.” The line went dead.

“Shit!” The ATF leader slammed the phone down and ran his fingers through his hair roughly while trying to decide what to do next.

“Pard? What was all that about?” Buck asked from where he’d been listening anxiously.

“That was supposedly one of the Petrie gang saying that Ez is being held hostage.” Chris’s brain was still sifting through the random thoughts that kept assaulting him. One idea suddenly pushed itself to the forefront of his mind and he acted upon it instantly. “See if there is a gang member called Marlon. Ez sent that list of names earlier in the week, didn’t he? Go on, move your ass, Buck,” he ordered as he made shooing gestures with his hands.

Petrie, a gunrunner, had been recruiting a whole bunch of new gang members in the past few days while Ezra had been undercover. Chris hated not knowing who exactly they were dealing with now. The whole case had changed in the space of a week and he didn't like it one little bit.

“Check if the kid traced the call, too, while you’re at it,” Chris yelled to Buck as an afterthought.

The tall agent did as he was told and came hurrying back a minute later looking worried. “JD couldn’t trace the call in time, and there is a gang member called Marlon.” Buck consulted the piece of paper in his hand to check the details. “Marlon Capell.”

Chris scowled hard. “Dammit, have to take what he said seriously then. I hoped it was just a hoax. We’re gonna have to try and find Ez if Marlon doesn’t phone back. God knows how though, he could be anywhere and not necessarily in Denver either.”

The phone rang again and Chris snatched it up. “Larabee.”

“You reconsidered?” the familiar voice from a few minutes ago asked.

The black-clad man nodded in relief. “Yeah, when the gang’s caught we’ll let you go without charge. Now, what’s this about my agent? Is he okay?”

Marlon didn’t say what Ezra’s current condition was. He just advised Chris of what would happen to him in the near future. “They’re gonna inject him with a drug that will kill him. It affects the victim within an hour.”

Chris frowned and quickly wrote the drug's name down as Marlon spelled it out for him. “Why the time delay? Why not just shoot him?”

“They want you to try and find him before he dies. I’ll tell you where to find him so that you can. They were only gonna phone you when they’d already drugged him but I can give you the details of where they’ll dump him well before that, so you can be waiting and catch them in the act. I’ll have to be there at the time or they’ll get suspicious that I snitched. Keep your end of the bargain or I will shoot him,” Marlon warned.

Chris was in turmoil. He’d wanted details there and then, but it seemed he was still going to have to wait. “How do I know that I can trust you?” he finally asked.

“You don’t,” the gang member said as he put down the phone.

Chris almost threw the phone back onto the cradle in frustration. He looked up at Buck as he began trying to sort out the problem they faced. He needed to be calm but at the moment he was anything but.

“Pard? What did he say?” the ladies’ man asked, seeing the upset on his friend’s face.

“They’re gonna give Ez a drug that’ll kill him within an hour. Marlon says he’s gonna tell us where he is so that we can get to him before the drug takes effect.”

“Have they already given him the drug?” Buck asked in fear as he flicked a quick look at his watch.

“No, Marlon’s gonna call us, but I wanna find Ez first if at all possible. Get JD and Vin out on the streets checking the known haunts of the gang. We need to do all we can to find them. He said that Ez was being held at one of their bases, but we only know of their main headquarters in town so he could be anywhere, as I said before. The rest of you call your informants to see if they know anything. Someone must know where he is right now.”

“Sure hope so. I’ll get the guys right on it, pard.”

“I’ve got no idea of the time-frame for this, but I can’t see them hanging onto Ezra for too long. Get everything that we might need in case I get the call from Marlon so that we’re at least ready when the time comes. Ask Nate to have a well-packed first-aid kit with him and let everyone know the drug that’s involved. Need to have an antagonist to hand for each team so they can treat Ez with when we find him. Get Nate to organize that.” Chris sighed. “I’d better let Travis know what’s going on.”

Buck went out orders to the rest of the team while Chris headed to see his boss.

“Vin? JD? Get out on the streets and try and track down where the Petrie gang hangs out. Stay in contact though in case Marlon calls.” Buck gave his friends the full details of what they were facing and he saw four faces become clouded with concern.

“Damn, I had a bad feeling about this fucking case from the very start,” the long-haired sharpshooter grumbled as he stood up and shrugged into his jacket.

Vin and JD then left the office immediately to trail round town on what turned out to be a wild goose chase. Back at the office Buck, Josiah, the team profiler, and Nathan, the team’s medic, spent all their time phoning contacts with the same lack of results. For once, the grapevine was silent. Either no one wanted to get involved or they genuinely didn’t know where Ezra was.

When the group reconvened a few hours later, Buck went to give the bad news to Chris. The blond took the news well, all things considered. The men had expected one of their boss’s explosive reactions. The circumstances certainly warranted one.

“As much as I hate it, it looks like we’ll have to wait until we get the heads up from Marlon. Fucking hell,” Chris said sharply before shrugging resignedly. “Well, there isn’t much else we can do but worry, is there?”

“No, don’t look like it, pard, but we’re all gonna keep trying to find him. It ain’t right to sit twiddling our thumbs.”

“I know, but I don’t think we have much choice.”

******************************************

None of the men slept that night, inevitably choosing to spend their time desperately trying to get a lead on their friend’s whereabouts. Chris kept them supplied with plentiful cups of coffee and plates of food to make sure they got through the hours of darkness. Come morning, though, they were still no nearer their goal. The whole team was becoming frustrated and increasingly concerned at their lack of progress.

Chris made every one of them go out to get some fresh air and clear their heads for an hour before they started work again. He always marveled at the team’s unending determination. They never gave up trying when one of their own was involved.

Hours ticked by and there was still no breakthrough. In between working, Chris spent most of the day clock-watching, wondering where, and how, Ezra was. He was on the verge of going to talk things through with AD Travis when his phone began ringing.

“Larabee,” he snapped irritably as he snatched it up.

“It’s time. We’re gonna dump him soon,” Marlon informed him calmly.

“Where, godammit!?” Chris asked anxiously as he waved frantically to attract the team’s attention. He watched as all his men piled into his office to find out what was said. For once, though, in his panic, Chris forgot to put the phone to speaker so that everyone could listen in.

“Where you’ll never find him,” came the unwanted reply. “Hah! You’re a damned fool for thinking I was gonna help ya.” The phone went dead.

“Bastard,” the blond cursed as his stomach did a somersault, thinking that Ezra was now definitely going to die. He picked up the phone and threw it forcefully across the room where it smashed against the wall, spraying bits of plastic everywhere.

“Chris?” Nathan asked in trepidation after wincing at his boss’s reaction. It definitely boded ill for Ezra’s life if Chris was behaving so angrily.

The blond threw his hands in the air and then kicked his desk. “It was a fucking setup. He was never gonna tell me. They were probably just confirming that Ez was an agent and I fell for it. Damned fool. Get on the phones to your informants again, or get out on the streets. Offer them whatever they want in terms of money in return for information. We have an hour to find Ezra, if we’re lucky so get going.”

“But…,” Buck said, on the verge of pointing out that they wouldn’t succeed after their lack of progress so far.

“Just do it. Threaten them if you have to but one of them knows something. They have to.” Chris frowned as a thought flicked into his head. "Can't think why Marlon gave us his name in the first place. Seems a damn stupid thing to do now considering the circumstances."

"Perhaps he just changed his mind, or maybe it's another gang member calling you but using Marlon's name to get him framed," Buck said with a half-hearted shrug.

"Well, unless you lot get back to work, we may never know, guys," Chris snapped.

The men left Chris’s office to go and do as they had been asked although they were of the same mind as Buck. It seemed a hopeless task. Miracles do sometimes happen, though.

“Chris? One of my informants says that he knows where Ez is,” Buck said as he headed to his boss’s office quickly. He’d been amazed to get a positive answer so fast and he just hoped it bore fruit.

“Where dammit?” Chris asked irritably when Buck didn’t speak again.

“In a building in Park Boulevard.”

Chris growled in frustration. “Which building?”

“He don’t know, but he identified this area,” Buck said as he spread a map on the desk in front of the blond and pointed to the spot he wanted.

Chris studied it in increasing horror when he realized the enormity of the task ahead of them. “Shit, there’re about ten skyscrapers there,” he whispered in awe.

“Then we’ll have to be quick, won’t we?” Buck snapped angrily, his fear over Ezra’s welfare making him lose his temper, which was a rare occurrence indeed.

“Do ya think your informant knew where Ez was last time we asked?” Chris said shaking himself out of his morbid mood.

“This is the first time that I’ve been able to contact him. He said he’d been outta town and had only just heard the news. He seemed to think that the gang musta moved Ezra from their original hiding place though. Park Boulevard is the commercial district and it’s not the usual place for a gang to hang out, is it? We certainly would never have considered it as a possibility.”

“Whatever. Let’s get going. Ez is depending on us,” Chris said as he collected his jacket and started running.

He pulled out his cell phone and called in the backup groups of agents and police that had been promised to him by Travis. He also contacted his own agents who were still out pounding the streets. He needed everyone in position when he arrived so that he could give them all their orders at once.

The men drove to the area concerned within minutes and Chris saw that everyone was there. He’d called in a lot of people because they had such a large area to cover. He knew that the gang members would probably be long gone by now anyway, so there was no need to go in quiet. At the moment, all he cared about was finding Ezra, not catching the gang.

Chris split the men up and assigned them all a particular building to check. He made sure that they all had means of communication and stressed that he should be told immediately if Ezra was found. He handed out photographs of his missing agent and watched as the teams hurried to do his bidding. He turned to his own men and accompanied them to the building assigned to them.

Chris stared up at the massive skyscraper and shook his head in despair. This was no time for dallying, though, so he pulled himself together and turned to face his team.

“Buck, Josiah and JD start at the top and work down. The rest of us will start at the bottom and work up. Let me know if ya find him. We’ll meet halfway but make sure you check every closet and hiding space you come across.”

“Surely we only need to check closets and maybe the parking garage. They ain’t gonna leave him in plain view of workers,” Nathan disagreed.

“Check everywhere. I know it’ll take more time but we can’t guarantee that the person you see in an office isn’t one of the gang. Ez may be hidden on the floor, or behind the desk outta sight for all you know,” Chris pointed out sensibly. “I don’t wanna take any chances with Ezra’s life.”

The men split up and painstakingly started to search every square inch of each floor. They got more and more anxious when there was no sign of their missing friend. All the men kept glancing at their watches and were horrified to see the time ticking away twice as fast as usual. Things didn’t bode well for Ezra. They didn’t really know whether they had been told the truth about what had been done to Ezra. For all they knew, he could just have been shot dead, and they were now racing in vain to save him. They really were stuck between a rock and hard place.

Chris set off with a vengeance. He barreled into the first office he came to and held his ID in the air and drew his gun.

“ATF agent. Stay where you are. I just need to check this office.” Chris strode round as he talked, keeping an eye on the room’s sole occupant. He opened a closet and shut it angrily when he saw it was only full of files. “Have you seen this man?” he asked as he showed the photo of Ezra. “Have you seen anything, or anyone, suspicious?”

“No, sir.”

Chris scowled and left the room and moved on to the next one. He continued along the hallway asking the same questions and searching each room thoroughly. His colleagues continued doing the same, so far, also unsuccessfully.

Chris reached the fourth floor and was getting very frustrated. He’d kept in constant contact with his team and prayed that he’d finally get a call to say that Ezra had been found safe and sound. His mind was full of worried thoughts and he opened the next door he came to almost distractedly, and revealed a small unlit closet. He looked around unseeingly and closed the door and moved along the hallway. He kicked himself mentally to get his mind back on track. He turned round and went back to the closet because he knew he hadn’t checked it properly. He pulled out his flashlight and opened the door again. This time he looked inside carefully and he spotted what he thought was a hand on the floor at the very back of the closet. It was nearly hidden under a blanket, just the up-curled fingers showing and it could so easily have been missed if he hadn’t had his flashlight. Chris dropped to his knees and pulled away the material to reveal what was underneath. It was an unconscious Ezra. The blond looked him over quickly and saw a trickle of blood running from his brow, which was pooling on the floor by his right ear.

Chris rubbed Ezra mid-chest with the palm of his hand quickly. “Ez? Fucking hell, Ez. Wake up, dammit.” He then felt for a pulse and was immensely pleased to find one, although it wasn’t a strong or regular beat by any stretch of the imagination. “Thank God.”

He hastily pulled out his radio as he kept a comforting hand on his prone agent. “Nate? Found him in a fourth floor closet. He’s unconscious.”

“On my way,” came the crackling reply. The medic hurried down in the elevator. “Chris?” he yelled as soon as the doors opened.

“In here, Nate,” Chris said as he stepped out into the hallway and waved frantically. “He’s obviously been hit but I can’t wake him. Has he been drugged, though?” he asked as he squeezed in beside Nathan.

“Need more light.”

Chris moved the flashlight beam and shone it directly on Ezra.

The medic knelt down beside Ezra, not wanting to move him until he knew exactly what he was up against. He pushed up Ezra’s sleeves and found a faint needle-mark. “Shit! Yes, he’s already been given it.”

“Dammit, I’d hoped that he’d just been knocked out.”

A few of the team arrived and they hovered in the hallway anxiously. They didn’t dare get in Nathan’s way at the moment. They could be sure of an angry outburst if they did, so they stood and waited silently for more news.

Using the sparse light from the flashlight, the medic quickly checked Ezra for any other injuries and was pleased to find none. The unconscious agent had enough to deal with, without other complications.

“I need to get him out so I’ve got room to work. I can’t see a damned thing in here.”

Chris bent down and helped move Ezra out into the hallway. They laid him gently on the floor and Nathan took up position beside him again.

The undercover agent was terribly pale, sweaty and shaking continuously. While his friends watched, he suddenly started convulsing severely. The agents stepped back and quickly moved any obstacles out of the thrashing body’s way to prevent any injury to their friend. Once the seizure had stopped a minute or so later, Nathan pulled out a syringe and got hold of Ezra’s arm again.

“Shouldn’t we just get him to the hospital?” Buck asked fearfully.

Nathan glanced at his watch quickly. “He could die if I leave him untreated ‘cause the hour deadline is nearly up. I need to stop these seizures before they do too much damage to his brain. The symptoms he’s exhibiting match the drug that Marlon said would be used and I need to act now, before it’s too late.”

The medic emptied the contents of the syringe quickly. “Come on, Ez. Stay with us,” the man pleaded as he continued monitoring Ezra’s fluctuating condition.

“An ambulance has arrived downstairs, Nate,” Buck said after answering a call on his cell.

“Let’s get him to it then.”

Josiah came hurrying along the hallway having had the furthest to come to reach the others. “Need a hand?” he asked after hearing the last sentence.

The medic looked up worriedly. “Yeah, can you carry him?”

“Sure, brother. Come on, Ez.” Josiah bent down and picked up the undercover agent gently. Ezra’s limp body lay unmoving in his arms and Josiah couldn’t even tell if he was still breathing. He hugged the unconscious man closer to his chest and hoped that Ezra could feel his presence.

Josiah hurried to the elevator with his burden, flanked by Nathan and Chris. They traveled down to meet up with the paramedics whom Buck had notified. The profiler laid Ezra carefully on the gurney and the two paramedics checked him quickly before taking him out to the ambulance with Nathan.

“Buck?” Chris called as the tall man stepped out of another elevator and hurried toward him. “You and JD see if there are internal security cameras in this place. I wanna see exactly which gang members were involved in dumping Ezra. If it was Marlon, I want him caught. Secure all the tapes you can lay your hands on and then meet up at the hospital. We can look at them later, but I need them safe for now, okay?”

“Sure thing, pard. Just let us know if anything happens to Ez,” Buck pleaded as he watched the emergency vehicle speed away.

Chris saw the direction of Buck’s gaze and patted his back gently. “I will, but he’s gonna be okay, bud,” Chris said, hoping he was telling the truth.

*************************************

As soon as he arrived at the hospital, Ezra was taken for tests to discover exactly what he had been given. Even though Nathan had told them what he thought was involved, the medical staff were taking no chances. It was a good job they double-checked because the news was not good, and Nathan especially was not going to like hearing it.

“Mr. Larabee?” a doctor called as he stepped into the waiting room and looked at the men in expectation.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Chris replied as he rose to his feet rapidly. He even put his hand in the air like a school kid asking permission to leave the room. He almost blushed and quickly dropped it back to his side when he realized how foolish he must look.

The middle-aged, bearded doctor took a step toward him, looking very serious. “I’m Dr. Fitzpatrick and I’ve been treating Mr. Standish. I am afraid that the drug he was given wasn’t what you’d been told. In consequence, the drug that was given to counteract the symptoms is actually causing more harm than good. The people who drugged him in the first place obviously meant to kill him, but the way they planned it meant that you would be the one to administer the fatal dose.”

“You mean he’s gonna die?” Chris asked, shocked to a whisper as he sat down slowly, the last words he’d said to Buck coming back to haunt him.

“No, you got him here just in time, and now that we know what is involved we’ve started counter-measures. I know that you didn’t have much choice in your actions, so there’s no need for blame. You did what you thought was best with the information you had to hand.”

“I still don’t understand how they could have guaranteed what Nathan would give him,” Chris said in confusion as he looked up at Dr. Fitzpatrick with a furrowed brow.

The doctor relaxed his pose and leaned against a chair nearby. “With the drug that was mentioned, there is only one known antagonist. They would therefore know exactly what Nathan would use. All they then had to do was change the drug they injected to something which shows the same symptoms, but reacts badly with the antagonist. Quite neat really,” the doctor said in seeming admiration.

“I don’t agree,” Chris snarled as Dr. Fitzpatrick stood up straight and backed out hastily.

Nathan’s legs seemed to give way and he stumbled backward until he came up against the wall. He then slithered slowly down to the floor with a shell-shocked look on his face. “Jesus, I nearly killed him,” he said quietly as he started shaking.

Josiah dropped to his knees beside him and put an arm round the shaking man’s shoulder. “Brother? You weren’t to know. For all you knew he was dying already, and the doc said that we didn’t have any choice.”

Nathan bent forward and put his head in his hands, his emotions in turmoil. “I shoulda waited until we got him here.”

His big friend detected the slight hitch in his voice. “You couldn’t take that chance, son. He coulda died before we got him here. You said yerself that the deadline was up,” Josiah said gently as he rubbed his back in encouragement.

“I’m sorry, Chris. I was negligent,” the medic said as he looked up at his boss, totally ignoring Josiah’s placating words.

Chris shook himself from his own shocked state when he saw how badly Nathan was taking things. He stood up and strode across to his friend and squatted down beside him. “No, you weren’t, Nate. I was the one who fucked up at the start of all this. You couldn’t do a blood test on site, could you? You had no way of knowing that the drugs had been swapped.” He studied the shaking medic critically and sighed. “Look, why don’t you go home with Josiah and get some rest? We’ll call you with any news. Ezra’s gonna be alright, Nate, so there’s no need to blame yourself for anything.” He patted Nathan’s knee. “You look like shit, bud. Go home.”

Nathan nodded, knowing he wouldn’t be any good to anyone at the moment if he stayed. For once, he felt useless and hopeless. He knew Ezra was in the best place and would be looked after very well, so he stood up and headed out dejectedly with Josiah. Chris watched him go and knew that Nathan wouldn’t forget what had happened for quite some time. Nor would he, come to that.

You okay, Chris?” Vin asked as he studied his boss closely. He moved to stand beside him and put a concerned hand on his shoulder.

Chris shrugged and smiled weakly. “Yeah, but I thought that we were gonna be told that Ezra wouldn’t survive. Never would have forgiven myself if that had happened. I can’t believe how stupid I was when Marlon first called. I shoulda been much more cautious.”

Vin pursed his lips as he put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “There was no reason for you to doubt what he said. We’ve all listened to the call and we agree with your actions. The gang obviously had suspicions that Ezra was an undercover agent or they wouldn’t have called in the first place. God knows how they knew exactly who he was, though, and who he worked for. They must have as good a set of informants as we have.” Vin looked at Chris and saw that the man didn’t look convinced about anything he’d said. “Look, cowboy, you had to think of Ezra’s welfare and if that meant trusting Marlon, then that’s what you had to do.”

“Yeah, but it turned out that we couldn’t trust him at all; not about giving us Ezra’s location, or the type of drug they’d given him. Got caught out twice, didn’t we? Got no idea how Ezra’s cover was blown either, have we?” Chris shrugged and ran his fingers through his hair. “As far as we can tell, there aren’t any leaks at work, but hopefully when Ezra’s awake he may have some ideas about how it happened. I wanna nail Marlon’s ass to the wall, though. Bastard ain’t gonna get away with this.”

“Well, we may get something off the security tapes that tie him directly to harming Ez. You know we won’t let things rest as they are,” Vin said reassuringly as he patted Chris’s back.

Chris nodded and sighed loudly. He would always wonder, though, if he could have acted any differently in the circumstances. There was nothing he could do about it now. Hindsight was a wonderful thing, but it always produced a lot of regrets. What if was one of the worst phrases in the English language.

********************************************

Ezra was eventually taken to a room in ICU for monitoring. His two friends were called to see him and Chris took a seat beside the bed and watched his unconscious agent intently.

“How’s he doin’?” Chris asked Dr. Fitzpatrick.

The doctor looked up and shook his head while writing some notes in Ezra’s file. “No improvement. He’s alive, but that’s about it. He shows no signs of regaining consciousness at the moment. He was given an almost fatal dose so it’s gonna take time for it to get out of his system,” the doctor said. He finished what he was doing and left the room.

Chris sat back in the chair and stared into space. He thought of how close they’d come to losing Ezra. It really didn’t bear thinking about. Every time he went undercover there was a real possibility that he wouldn’t come back alive, but this time had been a bit too close for comfort. Chris rubbed a hand over his face and then looked back at his hospitalized agent, just to satisfy himself that he really was still with them.

“I need to get things sorted. I want one of us always with Ez while the rest of us search for the Petrie gang,” Chris said as he transferred his gaze to Vin.

“Can I stay, Chris?” JD asked from the doorway after having just arrived after collecting the surveillance tapes. The youngster wandered into the room and sat down heavily on the spare chair in the corner. He looked toward his boss expectantly and awaited his answer.

Chris looked at him in surprise, although he was also secretly pleased by the offer. JD very rarely stayed in any hospital voluntarily and for him to want to stay was a real step forward. “Sure, kid, if that’s what ya want. That’ll be real helpful.”

“Yeah, I’ll stay with him first. I really want to, Chris.” JD sighed and rubbed his eyes as he stifled a yawn. “We got all the tapes and Buck’s just started looking through them. There’s quite a few to get through, though. We collected some from outside the building, too, so hopefully one of them should have something of use.”

Chris smiled as he stood and let JD have his seat next to the bed. He patted the youngster’s back and moved toward the door with Vin. “Great. Call us if you need anything, or if Ez wakes up,” Chris instructed as he waved and headed back to the office.

***************************************

The two agents walked into the office and Vin immediately went to his desk and began work on trying to track down the Petrie gang.

“Nate? What you doing here?” Chris asked, when he saw the medic sitting at his desk working hard. There was no sign of Josiah, though. “Where’s Josiah?”

“Out following up on a lead. As for me, I need to keep busy, Chris. Ain’t much help to you if I let things get to me, am I?” he replied with a shrug. “Let Ezra down once, and I ain’t gonna do so again.”

Chris studied the man quietly before nodding. “Okay, but if you ever wanna talk, my door is always open,” Chris said as he patted the man’s back and indicated for Vin to keep an eye on him. He waited for confirmation from the sharpshooter before turning on his heel.

The ATF team leader strode on into the conference room and saw that his oldest friend was there as expected. “Hey, Buck. Anything yet?” Chris asked.

Buck shook his head without looking round. He held the remote control tightly in his hand and was busy scrolling through the tape at speed. Every time he saw a person on the screen, he stopped and studied the face to make sure that it wasn’t Ezra. So far, none of them had been.

Chris pulled up a chair and sat a few feet from the screen as he watched the dizzying images scoot across in front of his eyes. “How many tapes have you checked so far?”

“This is only the first, pard. It’s the one from outside the closet. I started running it from two hours before Ez was dumped ‘cause we can’t really trust the time-line we were given.” The tall man sighed in frustration. “I think every man and his dog has been on camera so far. I have to keep stopping every few seconds ‘cause we don’t know whether Ezra was upright or not when he was put in the closet. I can’t take the chance of missing him,” Buck said as he shook his hand to get the feeling back in it. He’d been pressing buttons nonstop and his fingers were aching.

“I know,” Chris agreed as Buck stopped the tape again and studied the five people on screen. “No, that ain’t him.”

Buck started it running again as he shifted uncomfortably on his chair. “How was Ez?”

“Still unconscious.”

Buck scowled at the unwelcome news but kept his attention focused on the events playing out in front of him. He stopped the tape for a few seconds before pressing the button angrily to continue. “Dammit. Come on, Ez. Show yerself, pard.”

“Stop, Buck. There, is that him?” Chris said as he stood and pointed to someone who was being accompanied by three men, one young and two in their forties.

Buck stopped the tape and joined his boss at the screen. “Sure looks like him. Let me run it on a bit.” He leaned forward and squinted at the grainy image. “Looks like he’s got a gun held to his back, doesn’t it?”

The two agents watched as the four men came to a halt in front of the closet. The youngest man looked up and down the corridor and then signaled an accomplice to open the door. Ezra struggled against the man who now held him, but his captor hit him on the head with the butt of a gun and knocked him to his knees. While Ezra was still stunned, the man hauled him to his feet and almost threw him into the closet before following him in quickly. The other two men, meanwhile, moved to the opposite side of the corridor and pretended to be talking while keeping lookout. After a few minutes, the older man moved to the closet door and could be seen knocking it surreptitiously, to signal that all was clear. The man from inside eased himself out and closed the door after giving his companions a thumbs up sign.

“Get pictures done of those three bastards, Buck. If one of them is Marlon, I’ll fucking kill him,” Chris snapped as he turned on his heels to go and see Travis.

“Sure, pard. I’ll be there to help make him see the error of his ways, too,” Buck said as he sat down to carry out his orders.

**********************************************

JD sat staring at Ezra. The drugged man was as white as the youngster had ever seen him. There was a thin sheen of sweat on his brow and JD automatically reached out a hand to see if his friend was hot. He was, so the young agent pulled a clean handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face gently to rid him of the dampness. The sweat came back almost immediately, though, as Ezra’s body fought the foreign drug in his body.

“Alright, Mr. Dunne?” the doctor asked as he came to check on his patient.

JD shrugged and looked up at the doctor. “Yeah, but he’s real sweaty.”

Dr. Fitzpatrick strode forward and felt Ezra’s brow gently before looking back at JD. “He’s bound to be. The combination of drugs he was given produce pretty nasty reactions, so he’s finding it hard to cope.”

“He will be alright, though, won’t he?” JD asked worriedly as he turned his gaze back to his friend. “He don’t look too good right now.”

“I know, but he’s young and strong. You’ll just have to be patient with him, I’m afraid. It may be a few hours before you see any improvement.”

JD nodded and stood up once the doctor had gone. He was getting fidgety so he started pacing round the room. He’d always been a hyperactive individual and being inactive for any length of time wore on his nerves. Jeez, I’m getting as bad as Chris, he thought wryly. He sighed and headed to the window and tried to occupy himself by counting traffic and pedestrians. Only a few minutes had passed, though, before he’d tired of that game, so he headed back to the chair by the bed.

He looked at the patient again and couldn’t help the empty feeling that made itself known in his guts. He rather wished that he hadn’t volunteered to stay with Ezra now. He was afraid for his friend’s welfare and his anxiety began to make him feel sick. He rubbed his stomach distractedly and sighed loudly.

Half an hour passed and then Ezra began shifting on the mattress and mumbling softly. The undercover agent was aware of noises near him, although they were very muffled, and he thought he had heard voices earlier. He tried to move his arm to signal whoever was with him, but it wouldn’t obey his commands and he didn’t have the energy to continue with his efforts. He had trouble enough just encouraging his lungs to keep sucking in vital oxygen. Where his lungs were sluggish, his eyes seemed to have developed a life of their own. They moved restlessly behind the closed lids, which remained firmly shut. He felt as though he was wrapped in cotton wool, listening to the world through a thick, foggy barrier.

“Ez?” JD called when he heard a soft moan escape the man’s lips. He stood and leaned over his friend, but sat down in disappointment after realizing that he wasn’t going to get an answer to his call. “Least you seem to be on your way back. Gotta be thankful for that,” he muttered to himself.

**********************************************

“Hey, kid. Cavalry’s here. Not like you to stay here of yer own accord. Chris twist yer arm?” Buck said as he bounded over to stand by the bed. He looked down at Ezra and reached out to pat his hand, thinking how pale the man still looked.

“No, I wanted to stay,” JD replied as he started twisting a corner of the sheet nearest him.

Buck studied his young house-mate for a few seconds, not quite sure of his mood. “Fair enough. He’s been keeping you entertained, has he?” he said as he indicated Ezra with a nod of his head. As he talked, Buck perched on the bed awkwardly and looked down at JD in amusement.

The youngster shook his head sadly and winced. “Hardly. He’s only just started to move and he keeps mumbling. I’ve been real worried about him, Buck.”

Buck wiped the smile off his face when he saw just how concerned JD was. “I know, son. Look, I’ll take over while you go and help Chris. He’s waiting for ya downstairs. We looked through a few of the surveillance tapes and I reckon we'll eventually get Marlon dead to rights. Just gotta find the bastard now, though.”

JD stood up and ran his fingers gently through Ezra’s hair before flicking a quick smile at Buck and leaving to meet up with Chris outside. Buck watched him leave and then transferred from the bed to the chair.

“Just you and me, pard. Now, don’t you go keeping me awake with all that racket,” Buck said with a rueful smile as he looked over at the silent undercover agent. “Jeez, being in a library would be noisier than here.”

He reached out and took hold of Ezra’s hand before settling back in the chair and closing his eyes to catch up on some sleep. It had been a good day and a half since he’d managed to get any rest. The whole team was running on empty, but that didn’t mean they would slacken off their efforts to find Marlon.

******************************************************

Chris drove JD back to the office and led him into the conference room. He wandered over to the table and opened the file that was there. He pulled out several sheets of paper and the younger agent saw that they were photographs.

“Right, kid, I need you to try and put names to these faces. This is the list of gang members that Ez managed to send us before his cover was blown. Find out who’s who. This one,” Chris pointed to the tallest man, “is the one who drugged him.”

“Sure, Chris. I’ll get right on it.” JD picked up the photos and hurried out to his desk.

The rest of the men continued chasing their own leads to try to track the gang down. They worked without a break for hours and they were still no nearer getting a lead. JD on the other hand at least completed his task successfully.

The young agent collected all his information together. “Guys? I’ve identified them.”

Chris came out of his office and gestured for them all to go through to the conference room again. “Give us what ya got then, kid,” he said as he let JD stand at the head of the table.

The youngest agent placed the pictures so that everyone could see. He pointed to the man who had drugged Ezra. “He’s Augustus Veron and the other guy is Patrick Weatherall. Those two weren’t listed on Ezra’s sheet of names.”

“What?” Vin said, in confusion.

“Check for yourself,” JD said as he pushed the sheet toward Vin, looking slightly angry.

Vin shook his head and pushed it back again. “I wasn’t doubting you, kid. This means that Petrie is trying to distance himself from Ezra, though. He set Marlon up for the fall, but no one else from his gang is touched. We can get them for gun-running, but not for the attempted murder of an ATF agent. Marlon ain’t as bright as he thought, is he? He’ll take all the heat and nothing he says will be believed. Petrie will just say that he was acting alone.”

“Yeah, well, if we can get them behind bars for somethin’, I won’t complain,” Josiah said. “We’ll have done our job. We only ever expected to arrest them for gun-running so we haven’t lost out, have we?”

Chris nodded. He’d rather have the whole gang on charges of attempted murder, but as Vin had said, that may never happen. Petrie had certainly covered all bases.

“The other man,” JD said, pointing at the young, unnamed gang member, is Marlon.”

Chris snatched it up and stared at the photo intently as if he could kill the man with just a nasty look. “Get this out to every police precinct. If anyone gets a sniff of him, I wanna be the first to hear about it. Make copies for everyone here, too, and then get out on the streets searching. I’ll call Josiah and let him know what’s going on.”

His team nodded and stood up to carry out their orders. Hopefully, the net was beginning to close in on the gang. How wrong they were.

***************************************************

Twelve hours passed, in which time several of the men had taken turns to sit with Ezra. It was now Buck’s turn again. He dozed in his usual chair, the odd snore or groan sounding as he dreamed about a beautiful woman, a pink pig in a tutu, and a tub of pistachio flavored ice-cream.

The man started awake as he thought he heard something different from the usual noises in the room. He sat up straight and took a sip of water from the glass next to him. His eyes drifted to his friend and the mustached man sat up even straighter.

“Ez? It’s Buck. Can you hear me?” he asked when he saw his friend’s eyes open briefly.

“Ooohhhh, Boo?” Ezra muttered softly.

Buck stood up and leaned over his friend anxiously. “Buck. It’s Buck, pard.”

"Wuzz…mmp’ned?” Ezra mumbled, hardly able to open his lips. It felt like they’d been stitched together.

Buck sighed and ran his fingers through Ezra’s hair carefully. “Don’t talk, Ez. Sounds like you need some more rest. You ain’t quite up to being coherent at the moment, are ya?”

“S’ck,” Ezra stated just before he vomited, loudly and spectacularly. His lips opened well enough to let out the entire contents of his stomach over nearly everything in sight.

“Sweet Jesus, Ez. Bit more warning woulda been good,” Buck said as he hopped back quickly, but not quite in time. He sighed and went out into the hallway where he looked up and down. Luckily the area was teeming with medical staff. He picked out a pretty blonde and smiled at her once he’d caught her attention. “Nurse? He’s just upchucked all over the place.”

“Okay, I’ll clean him up and get the doctor to check him out,” she promised as she smiled back at him sweetly.

Buck nodded and stepped back into his friend’s room to make sure he was alright. “There ya go, Ez. Nice sponge bath from a pretty nurse. I’m almost jealous,” he said quietly with a grin. He looked down at his pants and grimaced. “Think I might ask for one, too. You seem to have made a direct hit on me. I know you’re a generous fella but I don’t wanna share everything you’ve got.”

The nurse arrived and washed Ezra over and changed the bedding with the help of a colleague. They’d just finished when the doctor arrived after being paged. Buck watched anxiously as the medic checked the state of Ezra’s pupils and did a general physical exam.

“Doc?”

“Well, as you’ve seen he’s feeling exceedingly nauseated. I’ve given him something to try and settle his stomach. He’s very drowsy and it will be quite some time before he’s anywhere near recovered. The drug he was given has played havoc with his system.” Dr. Fitzpatrick looked down at Buck’s clothes. “Looks like you could do with something fresh to wear, too. You’ve got to be nimble in this place or you get covered in all sorts of horrible things,” he said with a glint in his eye.

“Tell me about it. This ain’t the first time it’s happened to me either. You think I’d learn, wouldn’t you?” Buck replied with a quiet laugh as he pulled his damp pant legs away from his skin.

“I’ll see what I can find for you,” the doctor offered.

“Appreciate it.”

Buck ended up in a pair of green pants that were usually worn by the medical staff in the operating room. He thought he looked rather dashing in them. All I need is a stethoscope round my neck and I’ll have all the young ladies swooning at my feet. Doctors seem to have it made when it comes to attracting the opposite sex. Huh! The uniform! It’s all in the uniform.

While his friend was prancing about in his new clothes, Ezra opened his eyes but felt on the verge of sleep again. He couldn’t focus on anything at all and it made him feel dizzy. Sounds didn’t seem to be reaching his brain properly either and they merged into one another confusingly.

“Ezra, pard?” Buck called, sounding as if he was a hundred miles away.

“Bun?” Ezra guessed as he squinted up at the green-legged person by his bed. He frowned and rubbed his eyes, but his vision got worse if anything.

Buck shook his head in despair. “Jeez, Ez. I’ve been Boo and now Bun. Sure hope ya wake up properly before you find something real awful to call me: like Butt.”

“Who ya talking to?” a voice asked in amusement.

Buck turned round and smiled when he saw Josiah in the doorway. “Oh, hey, big guy. Talking to myself, I reckon. Ez ain’t even up to saying my name at the moment.”

Josiah wandered forward until he was standing beside Buck. The older man looked down at Ezra sympathetically. “Yeah, well you oughta’ve heard him try mine yesterday. I’ve been Josie, Si’h and Joy.”

“Hah!” Buck laughed and slapped his friend’s back boisterously. “Suddenly my names don’t seem so bad.”

The profiler smiled distractedly as he continued studying the drugged agent. “How is Brother Ezra? He looks rather pale still,” he observed as he reached out a hand and brushed some errant hair off Ezra’s brow.

“He’s been asleep most of the time,” Buck admitted with a shrug.

“What happened to your pants?” Josiah asked as he switched his gaze to Buck’s sartorial elegance curiously. He backed up a step and put his hands on his hips as he raked the man from top to toe with his gaze.

“Oh, Ez threw up. Managed to send most of it over me, too. Talk about share and share alike!” he laughed.

“Well, you can go home and change if you like. I’ll sit with our troubled brother,” Josiah offered as he smiled.

Buck nodded as he reached for the bag that contained his vomit-covered clothing. He held it away from him, the smell emanating from it nearly making him sick. “Okay, thanks. I’ve gotta bring back these pants, though, so I’ll drop by again. Don’t think I’d better leave them here now and walk home in just my underwear, do you?”

Josiah shook his head quickly as he grimaced in distaste. In his mind’s eye he was picturing the younger man swaggering down the street as if he was Adonis. “No, I think that would be a bit much for the majority of the population to cope with.”

“What’s wrong with my legs? I’ve got nice legs. Lisa told me so anyway last time I...well, that’s another story, pard,” Buck said as he actually turned red in embarrassment.

Josiah laughed as Buck made a hasty exit. He then turned back to Ezra and sat down beside him. He reached out and took his hand and sat watching the drugged man intently for any sign that he was waking. All of the men had been very worried about Ezra’s condition, despite the doctor telling them that he would recover fine. Where drugs were concerned they never felt happy.

The two men had an hour of peace and quiet before Buck came back. The ladies’ man sat by the window and read a sporting magazine, occasionally laughing out loud at something amusing inside. Little did Josiah realize that the giggling agent actually had a comic hidden behind the magazine and was reading the cartoon strips with glee.

Time passed in this fashion while Ezra tossed and turned continually in distress. Josiah tried unsuccessfully to totally calm him down.

“Jo’?” Ezra mumbled as he woke with a start, unable to get out any more of the man’s name. “Help me, Jo’.”

“I’m here, son. Take it easy,” the older man said softly as he reached out and wrapped his hand round Ezra’s wrist in comfort. He could feel the man trembling under his touch.

Ezra then started hyperventilating and fidgeted mightily as he shook his head. “Ti’ed. Dre’ms bad.”

“I know, son. Drug is just playing games with yer mind.” Josiah stood up and made sure that Ezra could see him. He rubbed a hand up and down the man’s arm until his friend had settled slightly.

“Don’t like.” Ezra gasped and tried to hide from something only he could see. “Chase me. Hurt me,” he cried.

“Alright, pard. We understand, but we’re here. You’ve got nothing to worry about,” Buck said quietly as he stood and moved to the other side of the bed. He began running his fingers through Ezra’s hair gently to try and calm him.

Ezra switched his gaze between his two companions, not really able to tell one from the other even though their hair was a different color. “Ti’ed,” the drugged agent eventually mumbled, feeling sleep tugging at him.

“Go to sleep then, Ezra.”

Ezra closed his eyes and his friends heard his breathing even out as Josiah rearranged the blankets covering the man.

“Do ya think he even heard what we said?” Buck asked his big companion.

“Doubt it. He’s in a world of his own. He probably understood the tone of our voice as non-threatening and comforting rather than the words,” Josiah replied with a shrug. “Hope he doesn’t have to suffer for too much longer ‘cause it don’t sound like he’s having much fun right now.”

“That’s an understatement, pard,” Buck said as he ambled back to the window. Suddenly, reading his comic held no appeal whatsoever.

**************************************************

JD was sitting at his desk, staring into space. There was an idea swirling round his brain, but he wanted to run it by Chris before proceeding. It probably wouldn’t get them any further but, right now, they were clutching at straws. He heard the sound of footsteps so he fixed his eyes on the hallway in anticipation of it being Chris. A blond head appeared in view and JD rose hastily to intercept his boss.

“Chris? Can I ask you something?”

The black-clad man nodded and beckoned the agent into his office. The man headed to the window and stared out for a quiet minute before turning to face JD. The younger agent waited patiently, knowing better than to speak before invited to do so.

“What’s on your mind, kid?” Chris finally asked.

JD leaned against the couch and crossed his arms. “I was just wondering how Marlon got hold of the drug he used on Ez. I thought it might have been stolen. Do you think it’s worth checking out, or not?”

Chris tilted his head to one side and then smiled. “Yeah, run with it, JD. We may get something useful and it’ll all add to the case against Marlon if we can prove he stole it. Check all pharmacy and drug store break-ins and anywhere else in town that this drug could be obtained from.”

“Sure thing,” JD agreed as he hurried back to his phone to begin checking out his thoughts. It was going to prove a long and hard task.

Once JD had gone, Chris took up position behind his own desk and sighed. He really wasn’t in the mood for doing anything. They were quickly running out of options and he was at a loss at what to do next. At least his men seemed to be still thinking up possible angles to pursue. Hopefully they would get a break at some point, but he doubted it somehow. Time was moving on and the trail seemed to have gone cold.

“Chris?”

The ATF leader flinched and looked up to find Josiah hovering in the doorway. He hadn’t heard the man’s approach or the knock on the door.

“You okay?” the profiler asked.

“Yeah, just thinking.” He rubbed a hand over his face in the hope it would get his mind back on track. “How’s Ezra?”

“Suffering some real bad dreams. I’ve left Buck with him for the time being. He seems to wanna stay with him, so I didn’t see the harm.” The big man sighed and sat down opposite Chris. “We getting anywhere here?”

“No. I can’t understand why no one knows where the gang has gone. I’ve never known it to be this quiet on the grapevine. We usually get one or two good leads, but this time – zilch. I’m beginning to lose hope that we’ll catch them.”

Josiah nodded slowly as he crossed his legs. “Hate to admit it, but I have to agree with you. It feels like we’ve asked nearly every inhabitant of this town if they know anything. At least Ezra will recover. That’s what I’ve been
clinging to.”

“Yeah, that’s the most important thing, but this was the chance of a lifetime to get Petrie and we’ve lost it. Dammit, we can’t even find out how Ezra’s cover was blown.” Chris frowned. “You were out chasing up a lead a while ago, weren’t you? You obviously didn’t get anything worth while on it?”

Josiah snorted unhappily and shifted on his chair, re-crossing his legs the other way. “Yeah, I was out pounding the streets after someone told me they’d seen Marlon. He supposedly used a false ID to get some money out of the bank. When I tracked the fella down, he didn’t look anything like Marlon. I know handing out photos of people we’re looking for to businesses is a good thing, but the number of false leads we get is beyond belief.”

“Tell me about it. When I was working homicide, I had an old lady insist she’d seen Tom Cruise murder a local woman. I showed her a picture of the person we were looking for, as well as a photo of Tom Cruise. She couldn’t tell the difference at all, despite their different facial shape and the fact that our felon had ears that stuck out like handles.”

Josiah laughed and then sighed. “So, what shall I do next?”

Chris shrugged and stifled a yawn, which finally broke out despite his efforts to keep it under control. He stretched his arms over his head and let it have free rein. There was nothing like a good yawn to make you feel better. He looked up and saw Josiah watching him and he smiled sheepishly. “You go home and get some rest, if you want, Josiah. There’s nothing else to do right now, unless JD needs some help with his inquiries.”

“Looks like you’re the one who needs some rest,” Josiah said with a smile as he stood up and headed to the door. “I’ll check with JD before I think of going home, though. Hate leaving when there may be something else I can do that’s of more use.”

Josiah stepped out of Chris’s office and moved to stand beside his youngest colleague. “Hey, kid. Need some help?”

“Jeez, thought you’d never ask. Never knew how many outlets there were for drugs in this town. I’ve only just scratched the surface, I reckon,” JD grimaced and flexed his hand, which was beginning to ache after tapping in all the phone numbers he called.

“Tell me what you need doing, and I’ll lift some of the burden from your shoulders, brother.”

“Can you check the hospitals? I’m working my way through all the pharmacies at the moment.”

The big man nodded and took up position beside the youngster and they set to work.

***********************************************

“Buck?” Ezra called quietly as he tried to sit up.

The tall man looked up and smiled. “Hey, yer back! You’ve got my name right,” he said as he stood up and helped his friend get comfortable.

“What do you mean?” the undercover agent asked in confusion. He scratched his head and blinked to try and focus properly on his friend. His vision improved slightly but the edges of what he could see were blurred and seemed to move continually.

“Nothing, pard. It ain’t important. Just glad yer compos mentis again,” Buck said as he ran his fingers through Ezra’s hair gently.

The sick man blinked several times and took a deep breath. “Oh, God. I feel rather bedraggled."

“Look it. Yer a bit frayed round the edges, ain’t ya?” Buck said sympathetically as he sat down facing his friend on the bed.

“I am experiencing a remarkable deficiency in good health.”

“I can imagine. The amount of drugs you’ve got swilling inside ya would be enough to make anyone feel bad.”

Ezra closed his eyes and groaned. The room had started swimming and his stomach chose that moment to jump up and down.

“Ain’t gonna puke again, are ya?” Buck asked as he got ready to grab the bowl. He saw the pinched look on his friend’s face and knew just how he was feeling.

The undercover agent raised his arm and laid it over his eyes carefully. Things continued whirling round and round and he had the sensation of falling. He took in a halting breath and said, “I can’t guarantee anything at the moment. I don’t seem to have much control over my body right now.”

Buck ran his fingers through his friend’s hair again in an attempt to comfort him. “Try to get some sleep. Maybe you won’t feel so bad next time you wake up.”

“I do hope you’re right. Oh, Lord. Sick, sick, sick,” Ezra said as he moved his hand and clamped it over his mouth quickly.

Buck grabbed the bowl on top of the nightstand and changed position on the bed so that he was beside Ezra. “Sit up a bit more, Ez,” Buck said as he helped the man while holding the bowl ready under his chin.

Ezra threw up noisily as he clung to his friend’s arm with one hand to steady himself. “Oh, Buck, I am sorry.”

Buck supported the vomiting man gently against his chest. He gave him an encouraging squeeze and then rubbed his back to try and ease his sickness. It had no immediate effect because Ezra threw up again. “Don’t worry about it, pard. Least you didn’t target me this time. How ya feelin’ now?” Buck said as he eased his friend back onto the mattress.

“Just this side of dead. Whatever did they give me?” Ezra asked as he curled onto his side and rubbed his stomach awkwardly.

“Somethin’ unpronounceable, pard. Kinda reminded me of one of yer elongated words, Ez. Seemed rather appropriate,” Buck said softly as he kept rubbing his friend’s back even though the man was lying down. The gentle circular motion over his skin finally lulled Ezra back to sleep for which Buck was glad.

**********************************************

Chris took over from Buck a few hours later while Ezra was still dozing. The blond had brought some paperwork with him and he settled down to catch up on some correspondence. He’d cleared quite a lot of his backlog before his friend sighed and opened his eyes. It was just getting toward dusk and Chris leaned over and turned on the light over Ezra’s bed.

“Ez?”

“Mr. Larabee,” Ezra greeted quietly.

“Yeah, you up to talking?” Chris asked as he brushed Ezra’s hair off his sweaty brow.

“At the moment, yes, but please forgive me if that doesn’t remain the case.”

“Sure, Ez. Now, tell me what you remember,” Chris instructed as he tidied away his work files and pulled out a notebook instead.

The undercover agent drew in a long breath and let it out slowly before talking. “I thought the case was progressing well. I seemed to have ingratiated myself with the gang well enough. Anyway, we were supposedly going to collect the next consignment of guns. Needless to say we didn’t, or should I say I didn’t. I went to get in the truck with the others but I was tackled from behind.”

Ezra’s voice was starting to fade and Chris knew it wouldn’t be long before the man gave into his fatigue once more.

Ezra wiped a hand over his face and rubbed his eyes while emitting a heartfelt moan. “A cloth was put over my nose and mouth and I presume that it had been soaked in ether, chloroform or something of the like. Whatever it was, it rendered me unconscious.” Ezra closed his eyes and groaned as a wave of weakness swept over him. “I assume that somehow my cover was blown, but I have no idea how.”

“We’ll talk later, Ez,” Chris said as he patted the man’s hand. He knew that he wouldn’t get any sense from him now.

The blond turned as soon as he heard noises behind him and he saw Josiah entering the room.

“Chris? How’s he doin’?” the big man asked. It was his turn to sit with Ezra again, although he was a few hours early for his duty. He just found it hard to stay away. He’d much rather be watching over his young friend, and as JD now seemed to have things under control, he'd chosen to turn up at the hospital.

“He’d just started to tell me what happened to him. Didn’t say much before he fell asleep again, though,” Chris replied with a resigned shrug.

Josiah put one of his bear-like hands on Chris's shoulder and squeezed it sympathetically.

“Well, JD’s still plugging away with checking out the origins of the drug, but we hadn’t got anywhere when I left. Nate’s due in soon so he can help him if need be. Our youngest brother is determined to get an answer, but I think he’s flogging a dead horse. It doesn't seem that there have been any drug robberies in Denver recently, not any that we can trace, anyhow.”

“Dammit.” Chris shook his head in frustration. Nothing seemed to be going their way at the moment. He sighed and looked back at Ezra, knowing he was probably their only hope. “Well, I’d like to stay with Ez for a while longer, just in case he can tell us anything else.”

“Sure, I’m real early anyway,” Josiah said as he looked at his watch. “You hungry? I haven’t eaten today and I bet you haven’t either.”

Chris put aside his notebook and pen on the nightstand. “No, but at least that explains why I’m kinda dizzy. How the hell can I forget to eat?” he asked, in surprise, as he rubbed his rumbling stomach.

“Other things on yer mind, son. It’s easier than you think.” Josiah headed out to find some food and came back with some strong coffee and a few candy bars. “That’s all there is on offer.”

“That’ll do fine, bud. I could eat anything right now. Even one of JD’s attempts at baking a cake.”

Josiah looked horrified at the suggestion as he shook his head vehemently. “Oh, I don’t think I could. He just ain’t got the gift for baking, has he? I usually have to employ his cup cakes to scare the birds out of the garden when they’re eating my vegetables. Very good missiles they make.”

“Josiah!” Chris said as he laughed.

The big man grinned from ear to ear as he sat in a nearby chair and pulled open the wrapping on his candy bar. “Don’t you dare tell the kid. His heart’s in the right place, but I don’t have the guts to tell him that I once broke a tooth trying to eat his lemon sponge.”

********************************************

The next morning, Vin made his way to the hospital to take over from Chris and Josiah, both men having stayed all night with Ezra. He was riding his Harley and as he sped along he caught sight of someone flagging him down. He recognized an ex-con-turned-informant of Ezra’s. He realized that they hadn’t had any contact with him through their troubles. Maybe he could help them.

Vin pulled over and removed his helmet but remained astride the bike as he looked at the man. The sharpshooter had to admit that the informant had a rather unfortunate countenance. Preach had a very prominent nose and his thin face accentuated its size making it stick out like a beak. Vin found he couldn’t take his eyes off it until he realized he was being rude by staring.

“Hey, Preach. What’s up?” he asked as he settled his helmet in his lap.

“How’s Mr. Standish?” the hook-nosed man asked.

“Improving.”

The curly-haired informant took a pace forward as he looked round suspiciously to make sure no one could overhear him. He then settled his gaze back on Vin and said, “I might be able to help you out.”

“How?”

“I have some info about the gang you’re after.”

“I’m listenin’,” Vin said with interest, his eyes involuntarily drawn to Preach’s nose.

“Marlon’s just come back to town and is renting an apartment in a block that I own, and I overheard him talking about things,” Preach said as he moved even closer to Vin, while still flicking his gaze at passersby.

The ATF agent frowned. “We haven’t been able to track the gang down. None of our other informants have been able to help us. Guess it’s our luck that he turned up at your place. You’re not lying to me, are you?” Vin asked suspiciously.

“No, Mr. Tanner. I wouldn’t lie, you know have no dealings in something like that,” Preach retorted, sounding hurt. “I’ve been away from town for the past week and only just got back. He just turned up last night and asked if he could have an apartment on short lease. I swear.”

Vin studied the man for a silent minute before shrugging. “How long for?”

“Only a week, but I reckon he don’t intend staying that long.”

"Well, what did you hear him say?" Vin prompted when the man stopped talking.

The informant watched a vehicle drive past, very close to Vin. He turned and watched it until it was out of sight, before turning his attention back to Vin once more. “I kinda eavesdropped on a phone call he had. From what I heard, he said the gang’s splitting up again for a while and regrouping in Castle Rock in a few weeks time. They left town straight after attacking Mr. Standish but they’ve only come back now to clean up some loose ends.”

Vin hoped that one of those loose ends wasn’t Ezra. He would have to warn Chris just in case. “You weren’t using an illegal tap on the phone, were you?” Vin asked with a knowing smile.

Preach, at least, had the decency to blush. He’d been an electronics expert for the police but had been caught doing things he shouldn’t have been, but he’d proved his worth on more than one occasion as an informant because of his skills. “Well, you know I just can’t help myself. It was in a good cause, wasn’t it?” he replied with a grin.

“Give me your exact address, then, and the apartment number he’s in. If we catch him I’ll give you a call. You’ll get a good reward, but here’s a little bit to keep ya goin’,” Vin said as he handed over a few notes.

“Thanks, Mr. Tanner. I hope you get him ‘cause he gives me the creeps,” Preach said as he wrote down the address and handed it over. He looked once more at Vin before putting his hands back in his pockets and hurrying away.

Vin watched him go and then put on his helmet and headed back to the office. Hopefully this was the breakthrough that they had been waiting for.

He rode up in the elevator once he’d parked his bike, and then strode along the hallway with determination. He was glad to see a couple of his friends were in the office already working hard.

“JD? I’ve got a lead on Marlon. Nate? Can you call Chris and let him know that we’re closing in on the gang. I was supposed to be taking over at the hospital from him. Can you also warn him that the gang is back in town to tidy up some loose ends and I’m just worried that Ezra might be one of them. Can you get Josiah to come back to help, too? I’m not really sure if he's still at the hospital or not now.”

“Okay. I’ll track him down,” the medic said with a decisive nod.

Vin turned back to JD once he’d watch Nathan pick up his phone to do his bidding. “Get yer gear, kid. We’ve gotta act fast or we could lose him.”

He then went to his own phone and called in Buck to help with the arrest, too. Vin wanted as much backup as he could get. He knew they were only dealing with one man but he had proved to be a slippery customer in the past and Vin wanted to be sure to apprehend him this time.

When everyone had arrived and equipped themselves, the five men set off to the address that Vin had been given by Preach.

The agents congregated opposite the building they wanted and surveyed the area carefully.

“Wait here while I check things out,” Vin ordered as he took off across the street.

The sharpshooter arrived back after about ten minutes and nodded in satisfaction. “Right, I’ll stay on this side of the street and cover things from here. Buck, go round the back and watch the rear exit. The rest of you go in and get him while we cover any escape attempts.”

The four agents nodded and split up to carry out their orders. Vin set up opposite the condo and continued watching the area intently for any sign of movement. Buck, meanwhile, hurried round to the rear of the building and found a good vantage point.

JD, Josiah and Nathan entered the building and made their way upstairs quietly. JD and Nathan stood on either side of the condo they wanted, while Josiah knocked in the door, and yelled, “ATF, open up.”

Inevitably there was no reply, although he could hear frantic movement inside. Josiah took a backward step and kicked in the door easily before striding inside. JD and Nate followed him in quickly and began searching the apartment room by room.

Vin, meanwhile, was still watching the building closely and saw movement at one of the windows. He saw his prey climb out onto the ledge and shuffle along to make his way down the drainpipe. He didn’t get much further because Vin was there to meet him when he reached the sidewalk. The first Marlon knew of his presence was a gun being held to the back of his neck.

Vin grinned sadistically.. “Do ya think we’d be so stupid as to not cover the exits? Hands behind yer back, you bastard. You’re going down for attempted murder.”

He quickly disarmed and cuffed his prisoner and then kept him covered with his gun again. “Got him, guys. You can come round front again,” he said into his radio.

The agents met up with Vin and took charge of Marlon so that Vin could head off to take over from Chris at the hospital.

***********************************************

Vin strode along the hospital hallway and entered Ezra’s room hastily. He smiled at Chris and moved to stand beside him so that they could talk without disturbing Ezra who was currently asleep.

“Chris? Got Marlon, bud. Josiah and Buck are leaning on him to get him to tell us where the rest of the gang is.”

“Great. I’ll go back and keep an eye on things. Good work, Vin,” the black-clad team leader said as he stood and stretched. It seemed that things were finally happening, although he had thought that before and been disappointed.

“Ez okay?” Vin asked as he looked down at his slumbering friend.

“Still real tired and sick. Don’t think he’s been awake for more than ten minutes at a time, though.”

Vin nodded, but failed to take the seat that Chris had just vacated. “Right, well I’ll take over then, but let me know how you get on with Marlon.”

“Will do,” Chris said with a mock salute.

Vin headed to the window after Chris had left and stared unseeingly out of the window. He was still hyped up after capturing Marlon and he couldn’t settle down at the moment. He stayed still for all of two seconds before starting to pace round the room like Chris. Back and forth he went until the sound of his perpetual motion woke his companion.

“Vin? Are you alright?”

“Hey, Ez. Yes, just hyper,” the younger man replied as he moved back to the bedside.

Ezra squinted up at the long-haired man and sighed. “Why?”

“Caught Marlon. May get the rest of the gang now if we’re lucky. I met Preach and he tipped us off."

“Good.” Ezra rubbed his brow and blinked several times rapidly.

The blue-eyed man frowned in concern as he put a gentle hand in his friend's shoulder. “Feel alright?”

“I’m seeing multiple Vins.”

“What a sight,” Vin said with a grin. “One’s enough.”

Ezra breathed deeply and paled considerably as he began to feel sick and claustrophobic.

“Ez?”

“I cannot comprehend why people indulge in drugs for pleasure. Why do they wish to experience these awful sensations? Everything’s now spinning like a whirlpool. I keep feeling like I’m falling.” Ezra sighed. “I’m hot, but then I shiver. Horrid experience. Really horrid.”

Vin took up position beside his suffering friend and took hold of his hand. “Just gotta work through it, Ez.”

“Easy for you, or should I say you all to say,” Ezra said as he started at the five Vins he could see. The undercover agent yawned. That was the only good thing about the drugs he’d been given. He slept a lot. Hopefully he could sleep through the worst of the aftereffects.

************************************

Back at the office, Chris stood outside the observation window and watched his two agents interrogate Marlon. He really hoped that they would be successful in cracking him.

“Let’s see where we stand, shall we, Marlon?” Josiah asked as he wandered round the room. “Firstly, we’ve got you for dealing guns, then there’s the small matter of kidnapping.”

“We didn’t kidnap him. He was with us of his own free will when we found out that he was an ATF agent. We didn’t snatch him off the street or nothing.”

The profiler lifted his eyebrows in seeming surprise as he shook his head. “I still say you kidnapped him. You held him against his will when you discovered his identity. You didn’t let him have his freedom and that sure sounds like kidnapping to me.” Josiah stopped pacing and stood opposite Marlon. “Why be so dumb as to give us your name if you never intended to help us find our agent?"

"Never expected to get caught, did I?" Marlon admitted.

Josiah smiled at the man's reply as he shook his head in disbelief at his logic. "Now to get back to your list of crimes, of which stupidity should be one. Seeing as you've already been inflicted with a life-sentence for that, I'll let you off." The profiler smiled at his joke before turning serious again. "Right, we can get you for the charge of attempted murder. Coulda been murder, but the doctor discovered what you did just in time. That all amounts to a lot of years behind bars, wouldn’t you say, Buck?”

“Sure would.”

Marlon scowled, his brow furrowing to make his bushy eyebrows meet and form one thick line over his eyes. "He shoulda damned well died. Never expected you to find him in time. We just wanted to see you try and fail."

"Well, you got that wrong too, didn't you?" Josiah snapped angrily.

Buck studied their prisoner quietly for a minute of two before speaking again. “We could, of course, make a deal if you tell us where the rest of the gang is.”

“No way,” Marlon replied shortly as he stared at Buck furiously. “I ain’t no snitch.”

Buck shrugged and looked unconcerned. “Oh well, never mind. We know that they’re meeting up in Castle Rock again. Shouldn’t take much to track them down by ourselves, so we don’t really need you anyway. We were just giving you the chance to help yourself and you blew it.”

Both agents walked out in order to let him sweat for a while.

“I want a lawyer,” Marlon called after them.

Josiah turned back and took a pace forward. “You’re entitled. Sure changed your tune though. Didn’t want one earlier, did you?”

The profiler escorted the man along to a room where he could phone in private. Josiah then waited patiently outside for him to finish.

Marlon, however, was using his call for other purposes. He called Augustus instead and warned him that Ezra was indeed still alive as they had feared. He then asked the man to call his lawyer so that the agents didn’t get suspicious if the attorney didn’t come.

Marlon put down the phone and then knocked on the door to be let out. Josiah got hold of his arm and took him back to a holding cell to await his lawyer's arrival.

***********************************

Back at the hospital, Vin was getting increasingly worried about Ezra’s condition. The man had started vomiting badly again and seemed to be getting worse instead of better. After the fourth bout of sickness in half an hour, Vin went out and found a doctor and asked him to check the patient over.

The doctor examined the sick man and nodded sadly. “Well, I think you may have developed a bit of a nosocomial infection and your temperature is way up. I’m afraid we’ve discovered several cases here over the last couple of days. Because of his current condition his body was more susceptible to picking something up. I’ll get some antibiotics and put him back on the IV for a few days. He’s gonna feel pretty sick though.”

"What's a nosocomial infection?"

"In short, one he shouldn't have got. Cleanliness in hospitals is not always perfect and infections sometimes occur as result of dirt. This is one of them, I'm afraid."

“I see.” Vin wandered outside and called Chris. “Cowboy? Ez has caught some kinda infection at the hospital. The doctor says they’ve had several cases recently.”

“Damn. What they gonna do?” Chris asked anxiously.

“Antibiotics and IV again.” Vin sighed as he rubbed his face wearily. “How’d it go with Marlon?”

Chris snorted angrily as he was reminded of the man. “He’s asked for a lawyer. I’m gonna arrange for a policeman to take over from you, ‘cause I want us ready to go to Castle Rock, whatever Marlon says to us. I want us all there, okay, but I still want Ezra protected.”

“Sure.”

***********************************************

Chris was getting very frustrated. Marlon’s lawyer had finally arrived and, inevitably, but much to his annoyance, the man had advised his client not to say a word. Every question Chris asked was met with a stony ‘no comment’ and an arrogant smile. The ATF leader felt like smacking the man, but he knew that wouldn't help his cause at all. In the end he charged him with the crimes they had evidence for, although he didn’t feel at all satisfied with that. He would just have to hope that his team could track the rest of the gang down themselves in Castle Rock.

Chris stalked through to his team’s office after offloading Marlon and he clapped his hands to gain their attention. “Right, guys, get your equipment. Seems we’re gonna have to go to Castle Rock with no information, ‘cause Marlon’s lips have been well and truly sealed by his shyster lawyer. I wanna be ready to leave in an hour. Vin’s gonna join us and I’ve arranged for a policeman to guard Ezra’s room while we’re gone.”

“How long do you think we’ll be gone?” Buck asked, thinking of the young lady he’d arranged a date with the following evening. It had taken him ages, and all his powers of persuasion, to convince her to accompany him to the cinema, but now it looked as though all his hard work had been in vain.

“As long as it takes,” Chris said sharply.

The ladies' man sighed, knowing he’d have to cancel. Oh, well, plenty more fish in the sea. Maybe she’ll reschedule, he thought, trying to console himself.

As arranged, an hour later, the team headed down to the parking garage to collect their vehicles. They drove out onto the road in convoy and headed to the south toward their destination.

********************************************

On arrival in Castle Rock, Chris split his men into teams of two and gave them each a section of town to check. Each team had photos of the gang members so that they could show them around some of the less reputable joints in town in the hope of striking it lucky.

Two hours had passed and so far in their search, things weren't going at all well. Vin and Chris entered their fifth bar and headed to the counter. The blond beckoned the obese bartender forward and placed the various photos in front of him.

“Seen any of these gents recently?”

“Who wants to know?” the man asked warily, his brain warning him that he was talking to officialdom.

I do,” Chris retorted as he thrust his ID under the man’s nose. He held his gaze, out-staring him successfully.

The bartender dropped his eyes to the photos and stretched out a yellow, nicotine-stained finger. He scowled as he pointed to the picture of Petrie. “This one was in here two days ago.”

“Was he alone? If not, did you happen to overhear anything he said?”

The man shrugged and shook his head, his long greasy hair swinging around his face as he did so. “He was with someone for a short time but I didn’t hear nothing. He stayed overnight in a room I have upstairs, but he only paid for one night. I assumed that he wasn’t staying in town any longer.”

“He didn’t make any bookings for this week? We think he’s been to Denver, but we heard he was coming back here to meet up with these other men,” Chris queried hopefully.

“If he’s booked anything, it ain’t here.”

“Was the man he was talking to anyone you knew? He definitely wasn’t one of these guys?” Vin asked insistently.

The large, gray-eyed man shook his head, getting annoyed at the constant questions that were being fired at him. “No, I reckon he’d only just met him. The stranger left after your guy got a bit angry. Looked like he may have refused to do something he wanted. That’s what I assumed anyway,” he said as he picked up a glass to clean. He spat on it and rubbed it with a dirty cloth, oblivious to the astonished looks he was getting from nearby customers.

Chris grimaced at the lack of hygiene being displayed and made a note to call in the health inspectors. “Thanks,” he said in distaste as he beckoned for Vin to follow him. Chris frowned and went back outside onto the sidewalk. “Now what?”

“Try the next bar,” Vin said. He surveyed the surrounding area as he talked and his eye caught sight of someone he knew. “Justin?” he yelled as he hurried across the street to accost the man. The summoned slim man had been an informant of Vin’s until he’d moved out of Denver. Hopefully he still kept his ear to the ground in his new abode.

***********************************

Ezra was still suffering the nasty symptoms of his infection. The guard on his door checked in on him every so often but spent the majority of his time in the hallway outside.

Two hours into Pat, the guard's, shift there was a commotion further down the hall. He looked toward the disturbance and saw a very irate man wrestling with a rather petite nurse. The struggle was very one-sided and the policeman moved to intervene.

Ezra heard the sounds of the fight and he rolled slowly out of bed to see what was going on. He clung to the IV stand as if it were a lifeline as he stumbled, wheeling it, toward the door. He’d just reached his destination when he got his foot tangled round one of the legs on the IV stand. He fell heavily and let out a startled yell.

“Oh, dear, that wasn’t very clever, was it? Let me help. I timed bringing your meal rather well, don't you think?” a young woman’s voice said. “Just stay where you are while I put the tray down.”

Ezra did as he was told, not having the energy to get up himself anyway. He heard soft footsteps heading his way and then saw a blue-shod foot come into view and felt a hand under his arm. His helper managed to get him to his knees and from there he could get upright by himself.

“Now, back to bed. I don’t think you were supposed to be wandering about in the first place, were you?” his companion chastised.

The petite woman escorted the sick agent back to bed and helped him get back under the covers. “Right, let’s get you sorted out. You’ve got your IV in a terrible knot. You start your meal while I get it straight, okay?”

Ezra wasn’t really hungry but he saw that his savior had brought him soup. He thought he might be able to manage that so he began to spoon the liquid in while the woman saw to his IV as promised.

“There you are,” she said a few minutes later.

“Thank you,” Ezra said as he put his spoon down having eaten his fill.

The dark-haired lady smiled. “You’re welcome. I expect I’ll see you again tomorrow. I’m a hospital volunteer, you see, and I quite often deliver the meals to patients every day during the week.”

Ezra nodded. “What’s your name?”

“Carol.”

“Nice to meet you, Carol,” Ezra mumbled as he pushed his half empty dish away and closed his eyes.

“I’m just going to get the doctor to look at you. You seem to have cut your arm when you fell. You really are in the wars aren't you?" she said as she picked up his tray and headed outside.

The young, handsome doctor came a few minutes later and he studied the deep cut on Ezra's left forearm closely. He probed about a bit as he sucked on his lower lip. "Well, I think you need a few stitches in there. Hold on while I get what I need."

The doctor came back and started work. Ezra ended up with a neat row of stitches, which were then covered by a protective bandage.

"Seems I'm not even safe in the hospital," he muttered to himself. How right he was going to be.

*****************************************

Back in Castle Rock, Vin was interrogating his ex-informant.

“Hey, Justin. Good to see you. Wonder if you can help us out. Have you seen any of these men recently? Or, have you heard any news about the Petrie gang in general?”

Justin shrugged as he put his hands in his pockets to protect them from the chill wind that had blown up. “I heard that Marlon Capell had been arrested, by you, I assume. Seen one or two of the others around here, but not for a few days. I think they weren’t hanging around much longer from what they said. Heading off somewhere else again but I don’t know where. They spent a few days in Denver, I believe, but after that I’ve no idea. Think they got the heebie-jeebies after hearing that Marlon had been caught.”

“When were they in Denver?” Vin asked, hoping to verify their timings.

“Last couple days, I reckon. Tying up some loose ends from what I understand,” Justin said, confirming what Vin already knew.

The sharpshooter stayed silent as he pursed his lips thoughtfully. “And they’re definitely not coming back here afterwards?”

“I’d have heard about it if they were.”

“Thanks, Justin,” Vin handed over some money and patted the gray-haired man’s back. He really wished that the man still worked out of Denver. He was an invaluable source of information.

“Damn, another dead end,” Chris cursed as he watched Justin walk away.

“One of the other guys may have got something. Don’t give up yet, Chris,” Vin said, trying to cheer his companion up. He could hear the despondency in Chris's tone but he knew the man would never cease in his quest to catch the gang.

Chris pulled out his radio and called the other men. None of them had got any new leads, either, as expected. The word on the street was that Petrie’s gang had left town for good.

"Well, let's stay overnight and head back home tomorrow after checking out one or two more places in the morning," Chris decided. It seemed there was not much point staying longer after what Justin had told them.

******************************************

Ezra was dozing when Carol arrived with his mid-day meal. She put it quietly on his lap tray and then began fiddling around with his IV.

"Everything okay?" the police guard asked worriedly when he looked into the room a minute later and saw her touching the medical equipment.

Carol put a finger to her lips and moved to join the man outside. "Yes, fine. I was just moving the IV. I'm sure he ties knots in it just for pleasure," she said with a laugh.

She looked back into the room as she heard a groan and saw that Ezra was waking up. She wandered back in and stood by the bed. "Hello. How are you feeling today? You still look rather pale."

The sick man sighed as he rubbed his eyes and blink rapidly. "I had a very unsettled night. I've never known sickness like it," Ezra said quietly as he looked at the food in front of him. "I really can't face anything to eat, Carol. Just looking at it makes me want to expectorate."

"Oh, dear, well we can't have that, can we? I'll pop back later and see if you want anything then," Carol said as she picked up the tray and headed to the door.

"Thank you. You are an angel." Ezra sighed and went back to sleep, needing to catch up on the rest he missed during the night.

Vin arrived at the hospital a couple of hours later to relieve the policeman on duty. He stopped off at the nurses’ station on the way and asked for an update on his friend’s condition. He was concerned to hear that Ezra was still quite sick.

"Hello, Ez. How ya doin', buddy?" Vin asked as he entered the man’s room.

Ezra grimaced unhappily. "Not at all well, but seeing you makes the day brighter, Mr. Tanner. I've been rather lonely, although I've had a rather pretty lady bring my meals every day lately. She's eased the boredom somewhat."

Vin saw the clean bandage on Ezra’s arm and he frowned. He was sure it hadn’t been there before. "What happened to your arm?" he asked.

Ezra looked at the injury in exasperation. "I fell over. There was a fracas in the hallway and I went to see what was going on. Anyway, I didn't get there in one piece. That will teach me to be nosy, won’t it?"

"Did ya cut it?"

"Yes, and I've got about twelve stitches in it." Ezra rubbed a hand over his face and then looked at Vin again. "Was your escapade successful?"

"No luck. All we know is that the gang are no longer in Castle Rock and aren't going back there any time soon."

Ezra sighed and stared up at the ceiling blindly. "Maybe Marlon will become talkative once he's spent a few nights behind bars. Seeing the same room every time he wakes will wear on his nerves soon enough. I feel like that when I'm in here, that's for sure."

"Doubt it would affect him, bud. He's been in jail before remember. He don't strike me as a snitch anyway."

The sick agent nodded in agreement and closed his eyes. He really couldn't remember feeling so bad in all his life.

Vin took up position beside the bed in the chair and joined his friend in sleeping. He'd shared a room with Chris overnight and needless to say he hadn't got much rest. The blond was a notorious insomniac and he'd spent the whole night wandering round their small room muttering to himself. Vin could usually sleep through anything, but the restless blond had been more than he could cope with.

Vin reckoned he'd caught up on a few hours sleep when he was woken by Ezra calling his name.

"Mr. Tanner?"

"Yes, Ez?" Vin said as he sat up and ran both hands through his hair to try and wake himself up.

"Marlon...Preach said that the gang was meeting up in Castle Rock in a few weeks time, didn't he? Marlon..." Ezra's voice faded to silence as he tried to put into words what he wanted to say.

"What about Marlon, bud?"

Ezra flicked a confused look at his friend as his brow furrowed. "I don't think Preach was right. I keep hearing Marlon's voice in my head." Ezra sounded very confused. "I don't know whether it was a dream or whether I actually heard something significant when I was first immobilized by the gang."

Vin leaned forward expectantly. "Try to remember, Ez. It's important."

"I know it is."

"Close yer eyes and think back. Take yer time."

Ezra did as he was told. In his head he imagined that he was walking to the gang's truck with Marlon and the others. He felt something being placed over his nose and mouth. He frowned as he tried to recall what had happened then, because he knew that he hadn't lost consciousness straightaway. He knew he'd been bundled into the truck and he was laid on the back seat. He concentrated hard and heard a faint voice in his head again. His eyes snapped open and he turned to face Vin.

"Not Castle Rock," he said definitely.

"Yeah, we got that far on our own, Ez," Vin said in disappointment, wondering if Ezra had only been dreaming about what they'd been discussing before he'd gone to sleep. “They were there for a short time, but it wasn’t going to be their final meeting place.”

"Marlon said Elizabeth near Castle Rock."

Vin perked up again. "Yer sure?" he asked eagerly.

"Yes, he said another name, too." Ezra closed his eyes tight and stayed silent for a minute or two. "Boulder something or other. It was a building, but I'm afraid I don't recall any other details."

The blue-eyed man patted Ezra’s shoulder in delight. "That's real great, Ez. I'll just let Chris know and maybe we can get Marlon talking again with that little tidbit."

Chris was certainly very pleased with Ezra's memories. "Great, Vin. I'll get JD to do a bit of checking before we tackle Marlon again. May get what we need without him, anyway."

Vin went back to his vigil, while in the office, the youngest ATF agent was given his orders by Chris.

JD sat at his computer and did quite a bit of research, and within half an hour he had everything he needed. He stood up and headed to his boss's office feeling rather pleased with himself.

"Chris? There're three possibilities for what Ezra overheard."

The blond beckoned JD in and waved to a chair. "Come in and tell me about them, kid."

The youngster sat in front of Chris's desk and read aloud from his notebook. "There's Boulder Bar, Rolling Boulder Diner or a warehouse for a company called Boulder Beer."

Chris nodded. "Check their background," he ordered.

JD smiled and turned the page of his notebook. "Already done. Boulder Bar went outta business last year and it's supposedly derelict. The diner and warehouse are both legitimate businesses. I checked them thoroughly and they aren't a front for Petrie's gang."

"Good work, son. Looks like we're heading to the bar," Chris said, pleased that they seemed to be getting a few results at last.

"What about Marlon?" JD queried.

"Don't need him after all your hard work, do we?" Chris said as he smiled and winked. "Better call in the troops again."

He made arrangements for Vin to be relieved at the hospital by a policeman and the team then drove down to Elizabeth, a town to the east of Castle Rock.

**************************************

Carol wandered along the hallway with another bowl of soup. She smiled at the policeman outside Ezra's room before striding inside. She saw that her favorite patient was awake and she smiled in welcome.

"Hello. How's the appetite today?" she asked briskly.

"Waning still," Ezra admitted feebly.

"I've brought you some soup. Can you handle some of that?" the woman asked as she indicated the tray she held.

"Possibly."

Carol placed the bowl in front of the man and held out the spoon. "I'll be back in about half an hour and I want to see that bowl empty."

"Yes, ma'am," Ezra said as he saluted half-heartedly.

He watched the woman leave and then took a few mouthfuls of the hot liquid. It tasted pretty good and he managed to finish every drop. He put down the spoon and pushed the tray away as he fell asleep once more.

As promised Carol returned to collect the empty bowl. "You're a regular sleeping beauty, aren't you?" she said quietly as, once more, she fiddled with the IV surreptitiously.

Half an hour later Ezra woke with a groan. The room spun around him and he felt sick as his stomach seemed to lurch. He moved a hand and rubbed his abdomen in the hope of making the sensation go away. No such luck. He sat up quickly and vomited into a hastily grabbed receptacle.

A nurse happened to pass by his room and look inside. She frowned worriedly and stepped into the room quickly.

"Let me help," she said as she took hold of the receptacle and held it in place.

Ezra threw up again and couldn't help shivering. His body seemed to erupt in a cold sweat and his vision drifted in and out of focus.

"All done?" the nurse asked.

"For the moment," Ezra mumbled as he lay down slowly. Even that small movement exhausted him. For a place that was supposed to be for healing the sick, the hospital seemed more than capable of making its patients even worse.

"I'll just empty this and come back to see how you are," the nurse offered kindly as she smiled at him sympathetically.

She went out of the room only to return a few minutes later to find Ezra asleep. She put a clean receptacle on the nightstand in case it was needed and then left the agent to rest.

****************************************

The team of six men finally reached their destination. The vehicles pulled into a parking lot on the outskirts of town and checked the specific direction of the bar.

Chris turned round in his seat and looked at his best friend who was seated behind him. "Right, Vin. When we get there I want you to go and scout round to see what you can find. See if there's been any recent activity."

"Okay, boss."

The men drove on and parked a short distance away from the bar. Vin climbed out of Chris's Ram and headed off on his mission. He was gone quite some time and his friends were beginning to get worried.

"Hey, Chris. Getting jumpy?" a voice said suddenly at his window.

"Jesus, Vin. Don't creep up like that," the black-clad man complained. He’d automatically reached for his gun as a result of being startled in such a way. “I could have damned well shot a hole in you, you idiot,” Chris said as he removed his hand from the weapon. “You’re like a damned ghost sometimes. Make a bit more noise like a normal human.”

"I like to keep you all on yer toes. Thought you mighta been taking a nap while I was gone," Vin said with a smile as he leaned his forearms in the gap left by the open window. Although sneaking up on his friends might not seem too bright, Vin knew that none of them would harm him. They were too well trained to shoot without first identifying who they were aiming at.

Chris scowled at the younger man. "Well, what did you find out?"

"They're in residence. Nearly bumped into Petrie himself in the back alley."

Chris smiled ferally as he limbed out of his vehicle and waited for the rest of his team to join him. "Right, get up high, Vin. I want all those bastards behind bars before nightfall."

The team split up. Vin went high as instructed, Buck and Josiah covered the back of the building while Chris, Nathan and JD went through the front door.

After hearing that his three agents were in position, Chris led his other friends quietly inside and stood listening for a few seconds. He heard faint noises to the rear and he beckoned his agents on. They spotted their quarry sitting round a table playing cards, totally oblivious to their presence.

Chris stepped out into view with his gun aimed at the group. "Well, look who's living in this shit-hole," Chris snarled as he looked over the startled men who hadn't heard his approach. "Think we need to call the exterminators into this rat-infested place, don’t you, guys?"

Josiah yelled a warning from the back of the room and the agents scattered as gun-fire broke out. The profiler had seen one man lurking in the shadows when he'd entered the building from the rear. The sniper had a perfect shot on Chris, but Josiah’s warning had put off his aim.

"Dammit," Chris cursed as he felt the bullet nick his arm. It had been heading for his heart, so he got off very lightly.

The sound of gunfire continued for several minutes until a shout of surrender was heard. The ATF agents rose slowly from their hiding places, not making themselves clear targets until they had verified that they were no longer going to be fired upon. They saw several bodies lying on the floor, but there were also a few gang members standing with hands held high over their heads.

Chris walked round the whole group and also checked the bodies. He wanted to make sure he had everyone he expected, but he cursed when he realized that Augustus was not there.

"Shit. One missing, guys. Get this bunch of idiots to the local police precinct. Check town for him first and then get back to Denver as soon as possible. If Augustus is still loose, Ezra could be in real danger."

"Before you go anywhere, let me look at your arm, Chris," Nathan ordered as he strode toward the blond purposely. The medic studied the flesh wound and saw that it didn't require stitches. "Come out to the truck and I'll fix that up for you. Just needs bandaging, I reckon."

The two men left their friends to finish securing their prisoners while Nathan carried out his first aid duties. Chris ended up with a neat dressing over his wound and he took a couple of painkillers that the medic passed him.

After getting rid of their captives and searching town once more for the elusive gang member, the team headed home empty-handed.

***************************************

Chris went straight to the hospital to relieve the police guard when he got back to Denver. He entered Ezra's room and saw that his friend was asleep so he took the seat next to bed quietly, not wanting to disturb the sick man. Chris was still wondering whether to tell Ezra that Augustus was on the loose. He certainly didn't want to worry his friend but he also didn't want him to be kept in the dark. It was a delicate balancing act.

An hour passed before Ezra stirred. Chris heard the usual elongated moan that signaled his companion was on his way up from the depths of unconsciousness. Slowly two green eyes opened and turned to look at him.

"Hey, Ez. Feel okay?"

Ezra shook his head slowly. "Not particularly. No doubt Mr. Tanner told you about my acrobatics with the IV stand?"

"Yeah, he did. Is your arm hurting?"

"No, it's just a bit stiff and sore." The injured man sighed and licked his dry lips with an equally dry tongue. "Do you think I could have a drink, please?"

"Sure you can. Let's get you sitting up a bit," Chris said. He stood up and pulled back the covers and helped Ezra into a more vertical position. He accidentally rearranged Ezra's gown in the process and he frowned when he noticed a couple of new bruises on his friend's torso. "Did ya hit yerself anywhere else when you fell?" he asked curiously.

"Not that I'm aware of. I landed on my arm and knees. It was rather undignified. I felt like a six-year-old scraping his knees in the playground. Why are you so concerned?"

"Where do you reckon you got those bruises from?"

Ezra looked down at his body and shrugged. "Perhaps I injured myself more than I thought."

A nurse passed the door at that moment and Chris called out to her. She stepped into the room and moved to see what Chris was pointing to. She examined the discolored flesh and pursed her lips worriedly.

"I think I'll get Dr. Fitzpatrick to check him out," she said as she hurried out.

The doctor appeared in the doorway soon afterwards and headed to his patient. He double-checked on the marks and shook his head, looking very serious.

"What's wrong?" Chris asked anxiously, when the doctor didn't speak. He hated it when medical staff looked any of his men in such a way.

"We are unhappy about Mr. Standish's condition."

"I gathered that. Why?"

The medical man turned to face Chris. "As you pointed out, he seems to have developed a lot of bruising that cannot be accounted for. I'll order some blood tests to be carried out. I want to find out what we're up against."

"He fell over a few days ago. Couldn't it just be bruising from that?"

"No, I’m sure it's not. The wound on his arm is oozing blood so that points to something wrong in that department," Dr. Fitzpatrick said with certainty as he hurried out of the room.

Chris was left to wonder what else could go wrong for his friend. An hour passed by with no news, but just as Chris was going to go and find the man to demand some answers, he strode into Ezra's room briskly.

Dr. Fitzpatrick did not look at all happy and Chris's stomach tighten in anticipation of the bad news. "Mr. Larabee? We've tested Mr. Standish's blood and it seems that some of his clotting factors are abnormal. His hemaglobin and hematocrit numbers have dropped."

"What can you do?" Chris asked, not really knowing what the man was saying, but knowing it was obviously bad.

"We'll start him on vitamin k straightaway and that should even things out," Dr. Fitzpatrick said. "We need to find the underlying reason for his condition, though, so we've still got some work to do."

Chris watched the doctor begin treatment. He flicked his gaze to Ezra's face and couldn't quite read the man's features. "Okay, Ez?" he asked.

"I admit to being rather perturbed."

"Try to relax. I'll just call Vin and let him know what's going on." Chris hurried outside as the doctor left the room and he put a hand on the man's arm and pulled him to a halt. "Could this have been done to him deliberately?"

The tall, bearded doctor looked startled but then frowned as he considered the possibilities. He shrugged and said, "Maybe. There are drugs that can be given to thin the blood and stop it clotting. I just can't see who would have done it. One of your guys has been here all the time, or that policeman. I can't think that anyone would attempt foul play while he's so well guarded."

Chris nodded, mystified. He put his hands on his hips and stared unseeingly at a picture on the wall opposite him. "Best to talk to the person involved, I reckon. I'll have a word with Ezra and see if he can think of anyone. Thought he woulda said something if he felt threatened, though. Thanks, doc."

Chris wandered outside first of all and called Vin to update him about the next chapter in the saga of Ezra's hospital stay. He then went back to talk to his injured agent.

"Ez? Has there been anyone hanging around lately that you thought was suspicious?" the black-clad man asked as he took a seat beside his friend. He leaned forward with forearms resting on his knees and hands clasped together as if he was praying.

Ezra stopped and thought for a moment before answering. "No, no one out of the ordinary that I can recall."

Chris frowned and pursed his lips. "Any new members of medical staff?"

The dark-haired man shrugged and looked a bit unsettled. He raised a hand and pinched his nose briefly before letting out a long sigh. "Only the volunteer who's been bringing my meals. She came the day I fell and I've seen her everyday since, although I admit that I hadn't seen her before that."

"Well, I certainly don't know her. Does she hang around when she visits?" the ATF team leader asked curiously.

The green-eyed man turned his head and looked at his boss. "She sorted out my IV for me when I fell and she stops to have a chat too. She's been very kind to me," Ezra said, not believing that Carol could be the cause of his problems.

"Well, she's the only suspect at the moment. Can you describe her?"

"Petite, dark short hair. Hazel eyes, and she's about thirty years old," Ezra said quietly.

Chris wrote the details down in his notebook and then continued with his questioning. "White or black?"

"White."

"Name?"

"Carol," Ezra mumbled as he rubbed his brow. He really just wanted some peace and quiet, but Chris was only doing his job and trying to help him.

"Anything else distinguishing?"

"She has a small facial scar."

"Right, I'll check her with the medical staff." Chris went to the nurses' station and caught a tall male nurse who was on duty. "Hey, do you know a hospital volunteer called Carol? She's apparently been delivering meals to Mr. Standish."

The man looked up and nodded. "Yeah, she's only been here a short while. Seems to have taken a liking to your friend. She visits him every day and insists on taking his meals to him. Almost fought off another volunteer to make she got there first," the nurse said with a huge grin.

Chris frowned. Either Carol had a really big crush on Ezra, or she wanted to see him for other nefarious reasons. He nodded in thanks and ambled back to Ezra's room. Before he got there he saw the policeman who'd guarded Ezra while they'd been away. The man happened to be there visiting a colleague and Chris decided to get his views.

He walked to meet the man and tapped his arm when it didn’t look as though he’d seen him. "Hey, Pat. Can I just ask you something? Has the lady that's brought Ezra's meals acted suspiciously in any way?"

The policeman stopped and shrugged. He looked rather embarrassed and he turned a slightly pink color. "She was fiddling with his IV the other day ‘cause she said there was a knot in it. Didn't have any reason to doubt her although I suppose it was a bit odd that she didn't call a nurse to sort it out. She helped him out when he fell over too, and she was messing with the IV then, come to think of it." Pat studied the anxious-looking blond. "Is there something wrong?"

"Yeah, Ez has suddenly developed a problem with his blood. I just can't help thinking that someone's got to him, despite all our precautions. The volunteer seems to be the only new face around, and Ezra's problem may only have arisen since she's been here."

"Damn. Well, I had no reason to suspect she was up to no good. Perhaps I should have challenged her but she seemed genuine."

"She probably is. I've just got a real suspicious mind." Chris smiled at Pat and then ambled back to see Ezra.

"What news?" the agent asked wearily.

Chris shrugged as he studied his friend. He could now see how truly unwell he was. "Carol's only been here for a little while. From a few things that have just been said to me, I think she may have something to do with your problem. Just need to prove it now. The good thing is, if it is her, we've got surprise on our side. She obviously thinks she’s free and clear so hopefully she'll come back and we can see if she tries anything. I'll work things so I leave her alone with you."

"Well, I hope you are wrong," Ezra said quietly.

JD wandered into the room to see how his friend was progressing and he smiled at Ezra. "Hey, Ez. How ya doin'?"

"I'm still alive, Mr. Dunne," the sick man said with a half-hearted smile.

"Glad to hear it." JD was unable to impart his own good news though before Chris spoke to him.

Chris looked at his computer expert. "Could you go back to the office and check someone out for me, JD? Only got a first name and a description, but see if you can track her down. Maybe check the hospital records first to get her full name. Didn't think of that earlier."

"Sure. Who is it?" JD asked as he reached out and took the notebook to begin reading the description.

"The volunteer who's been seeing Ez for the past few days. I wanna know everything about her," Chris said.

JD frowned as he continued staring down at the notebook in his hand. "What height is she exactly, Ez?"

Ezra sighed at being quizzed again. He really didn’t have the energy or the inclination. "I couldn't say precisely, but a little over five feet. She'd be quite pretty if it wasn't for a scar on her cheek."

"Shaped like a crescent?" JD queried as he looked at Ezra seriously. He arched a questioning eyebrow and awaited an answer.

Ezra stared at the young agent in astonishment. He hadn't given that much detail to Chris, so JD hadn't seen it in the notebook he now held. "You've seen her?"

The youngster shook his head. "No, but I know who she is without having to check. She's Augustus's sister and he sometimes works with her in small-time thefts. She's the decoy while he takes what he wants, if you get my meaning. I just happened to be looking through his file before coming here. I was checking for any clues of where to look for him. Her name's Myra by the way, not Carol."

"Good work, kid. You're really proving your worth on this case," Chris said as he patted JD’s shoulder gratefully. "Now, we just have to catch her in the act of trying to harm Ezra. Maybe she can then lead us to her brother."

"Do you need me here?" JD asked. "I was gonna go back to the office and check for drug store robberies in Castle Rock and Elizabeth seeing as I drew a blank in Denver. Thought I might have more luck now that we know exactly where the gang's been." JD pointed to the notebook. "Also with this new information, I reckon that Myra and Augustus would have been the ones responsible for carrying out any drug thefts. I think we're getting very close to catching them, Chris."

"The theft idea is a good one to keep pursuing, kid, but for the moment can you hang around outside in the hallway? Or better yet, you see the surveillance camera there?" Chris pointed. "Can you get it trained on this room? I want you watching what's going on from the security room. I want evidence on tape, you got it?"

"Yes, I've got it," JD said as he nodded.

Chris watched JD go out into the hallway and change the camera's position after checking it was safe to do so. JD then hurried off down the hallway to find security.

Ezra sighed and the blond looked at him.

"Okay?" he asked.

"Seems looks can be deceiving. I really ought to know better than to trust anyone at all."

"You can trust us, bud."

The sick agent nodded and kept his gaze focused on his lap. "I know, but it makes it hard to make any friends outside our group. I never know whether I'm actually getting to know a person who intends me harm, as I've just proved. It's a very lonely life, being an undercover agent," Ezra said softly. "Exciting, but lonely."

Chris reached out and patted the man's arm, hearing the real regret in his voice. He really didn't know what to say to make Ezra feel better. He didn't think there was anything he could say.

********************************

Lunch-time was rapidly approaching and Chris couldn't help feeling a bit nervous. Ezra was asleep and the blond decided to leave him as he was rather than wake him. The man needed as much rest as he could get. Chris heard footsteps approaching Ezra's room and saw Carol enter the room with a tray of food.

"Oh, hello. I didn't realize Mr. Standish had company today." She seemed a bit perturbed, but she quickly wiped all expression from her face and walked forward to put the tray on Ezra's lap-tray.

Chris flicked a quick look at Ezra and then smiled at the woman. "Can I make use of your time? Can you stay with Ezra while I just go to the restroom? If he wakes and I'm not here, he might worry."

"Sure," Carol said eagerly, her eyes gleaming at what she perceived as her lucky break.

Chris hurried out and disappeared from view. Carol waited for a short time and then pulled out a syringe from her pocket. She moved to the IV and was in the process of injecting the liquid into the IV hub when Chris stepped into the room again.

"Give that to me," Chris ordered as he strode forward and took the syringe roughly, but carefully, from her hand. He cuffed her quickly and led her away from Ezra. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Ezra woke as he heard the sharp voice and he tried to sit up hastily. He'd forgotten what Chris had planned and his heart was beating fast as a result.

"It's okay, Ez. Just stay where you are, buddy," Chris said as he saw the startled look on his friend's face.

Running footsteps sounded in the hallway and Chris turned to see JD enter the room.

The young agent nodded and smiled. "Got it on tape, like you asked, boss," he said in satisfaction.

"Great. Take this to the doctor and ask him to get the contents tested immediately. Come back when you've handed it over."

"Sure thing." JD took the syringe and hurried out the room again.

Chris turned his attention back to his prisoner and stared down at her from a great height. "Where's Augustus?"

"What are you talking about?" Carol/Myra asked, trying to sound innocent and failing miserably.

Chris hoped that she'd soon crack under pressure. He did think she'd be particularly strong now she'd been captured. "Augustus. He asked you to do this, didn't he?"

"Don't know who you're talking about," the woman replied as she lifted her chin defiantly.

"That's strange seeing as you're related to him," Chris said sarcastically.

“Alright, he’s my brother, is that a crime? He’s got convictions. Does that make me guilty by association?”

“You’ve got enough convictions of your own and you’re not blameless in any of this. Now, you’ve admitted your relationship with Augustus, can you tell me how the gang got to hear about my agent being undercover?”

Myra scowled and hesitated as she considered co-operating. If she was going down, she was going to take a few others with her, but she wanted some assurances first. "If I tell you what I know, I don't want to be prosecuted."

Chris shook his head. "All I can do is put in a good word for you. I can't make promises about letting you off after what you've done. That's up to others to decide, but I'll do what I can for you if you help us catch your brother. As I mentioned earlier, I want to know how the gang got to know about Ezra's identity."

I told them, alright? I was visiting Augustus and saw your man from a distance. I’d come to know him a few years ago when I was dating an ex-FBI agent. My boyfriend, Pete, used to work with Standish, but that bastard got him thrown out for selling information to the highest bidder. Anyway soon after Pete got dismissed, we were in a bar when Standish came in. Pete went ballistic and got into an argument with him about what had happened between them. He told me who Standish was and I've never forgotten him. So, when I saw him with my brother's gang, I warned them, and Marlon came up with the scheme to get rid of him. I swear that I don't know how they found out that he worked for you, though. All I knew was that he no longer worked for the FBI, and I told Marlon that, too." Myra shrugged. "You can’t charge me for passing on information. I didn’t have anything to do with hurting Standish the first time.”

“Sure made up for that now, haven’t you? Did Petrie know everything that was going on?”

“Course. Marlon wouldn’t do nothing without his say so.”

JD returned at that point from carrying out his previous orders, and he moved to stand near Chris.

"Take her back to base. Charge her with attempted murder," Chris said as he exchanged glances with his youngest agent.

The dark-haired kid took charge of the prisoner and almost marched her out to his truck. Only one person left to catch, he thought to himself in satisfaction.

Chris, meanwhile, waited for the results on the contents of the syringe.

Dr. Fitzpatrick came into the room. "Everything okay?"

Chris shrugged worriedly. "I assume they are. Is Ezra going to be okay, now?"

The doctor nodded and smiled. "I don't think there's any lasting harm. We'll keep him on vitamin k until we're happy that his condition has returned to normal. I have a bit of news for you concerning what was in the syringe. The lab have just called and they say it was heparin, which is a blood thinner. I must apologize for allowing this to happen. Our volunteers aren't screened as vigorously as our own medical staff. Perhaps it's time that changed."

“Yeah, I thing I have to agree with you,” Chris said.

***************************************

JD took Myra through to an interview room. She’d been formally read her rights and refused the services of a lawyer.

Buck joined his colleague a few minutes later and leaned against the wall just inside the door after passing JD a note. He studied the prisoner and then moved his gaze to JD. He arched an eyebrow and nodded to his house-mate when he saw the pleased look on his face at the news he’d just received. The young agent looked at Myra and then picked up a remote control. He aimed it at the TV standing in the corner of the room and set it going.

“Can you tell us what you were doing in this hospital room?”

“Delivering a meal to the patient.”

“You feed him by IV and syringe? What was in the bowl on the tray then?” JD said curiously as he pointed to the screen. The current picture clearly showed Myra adjusting the IV and injecting something from a syringe. “You were deliberately trying to harm this patient, weren’t you? That was heparin in the syringe, wasn’t it?”

Buck stood up straight when Myra didn’t answer. “Tell, me ma’am, did your brother make you do it?” As expected, he received no answer. “You see, we know all about Augustus and what he did to Mr. Standish to put him in the hospital in the first place. Got him committing the crime on tape, too. Seem to have a liking for the camera, don’t you, darlin’?” Buck asked with a smile. “Not a good idea for someone in your profession.”

Myra scowled but held her tongue. She realized she should have kept her mouth shut before at the hospital. She thought she'd covered her tracks well and had been a bit disconcerted to find her own cover blown. Reaping the whirlwind after snitching on that damned ATF undercover agent.

“Not talkative? Shame. You’ll just have to take the heat yourself. We’ve got you on tape as you’ve just seen. We’ve also just heard that your fingerprints were found at a drug store robbery in Castle Rock. Even though we know you weren’t alone, yours are the only prints. Feeling set up yet?”

“Crap. I was just following orders, you bastard,” Myra said as she thumped her fist on the table.

“Lord, she speaks, kid,” Buck said with a grin as he winked at JD.

“Tell us what really happened and then tell us where Augustus is,” the younger agent ordered.

“He just told me he wanted help to steal a drug. I just found somewhere with easy access. He stole more than one drug, though. He used the one he told me about and then when he found out that Standish was still alive he made me use the other one. He said he’d turn me in if I didn’t.”

“Oh, poor you,” Buck said. "Why didn't you just kill Ezra outright? You failed the first time, yet you went for subterfuge again."

"A quick death in the hospital woulda been too suspicious. Anyway, there was always someone with him. If I'd turned up for just one day and Standish had died, it would have been too obvious. We wanted to make his death seem natural, but you caught me before I could finish preparations. I'd been giving him heparin all week to make him bleed and then things were helped along because of that infection he caught. He was weak and ripe for finishing off but I never got the chance, did I?" Myra snarled.

"No, thank God." Buck sighed and shook his head. “Where is Augustus?”

No reply.

“Come on, Myra, he ain’t worth protecting. He was happy enough to let you sink or swim, wasn’t he? Don’t see him coming to rescue you.”

“Last time I saw him he was packing to leave,” she replied sullenly, keeping her gaze down.

Buck leaned close to the woman and said in her right ear, “Were you supposed to be meeting up with him?”

“Yeah.”

The tall agent looked across at his colleague and winked. “Maybe we can meet him instead, and send him your regards. Seems a shame to keep him waiting. I heard that you wanted to make a deal, anyway. Can’t do that if you don’t tell us everything we need to know.”

“He’s my brother, dammit.”

“So? You’re his sister. What he done for you, except get you a criminal record?” JD said as he leaned forward, hoping to make the woman feel claustrophobic now that both agents were close to her. He'd found in the past if you invaded a suspect's personal space, they were more likely to give you what you wanted.

“He was at my apartment,” Myra mumbled as she looked at her two interrogators.

“Where? Write down the address,” JD said as he pushed across some paper and a pen.

Myra wrote for a few seconds and then threw down the pen angrily. Buck nodded in satisfaction and then charged her properly before taking her away and handing her over to be taken to jail until trial.

“Come on, kid. We’ve got a felon to catch,” Buck said as he collected his friend on the way back and hurried toward their office.

“Who checked about the store robbery?” the kid asked, not answering Buck’s question. He took a few running strides to catch up with his furiously pacing friend.

“I did. Hope you don’t mind me stealing your thunder but we needed to work fast." The handsome man wasn’t sure if he’d upset his young colleague.

“Just glad we got a result.”

Josiah looked up as the two agents entered the team's office. "Hey, guys. Anything to report?"

"Yeah, saddle up, pard. We're going Augustus hunting."

The older agent smiled and stood up. "She ratted on him then?"

“Yeah, and I don’t wanna lose this chance of getting Augustus where he belongs.”

“Seems rather familiar, don’t it?” Vin commented from where he lounged in his chair. "First off to catch Marlon and now Augustus."

“Yeah, hope we get the same result,” Buck agreed and put on his coat and headed to the door.

The group of men followed him and set off to Myra’s address. Vin, as usual, went off on a scouting mission. This time, though, it seemed that the bird had flown.

Vin ran across the road from the apartment block to meet up with his team-mates. “Looks like he’s gone, guys. The neighbor saw him get in a cab fifteen minutes ago.”

“Let’s go inside and see if there’re any clues, anyway. I'll call the dispatcher and get an address for where the cab was taking him, if you tell me which cab company was involved, Vin,” Buck suggested already halfway back to their destination as he talked.

JD pushed his way to the front of the group and used his skills to gain entry without breaking the door down. He'd become a master lock-picker since he'd joined Chris's team, and the times that his skills were called upon couldn't be counted. Ezra had tutored the young agent in the arts required and he'd found that JD was a very willing student.

The men followed JD inside as soon as he'd gained entry. They began looking around, while Buck checked with the dispatcher.

Vin started checking the bedroom first and came back to the living room with a huge smile on his face. “Damn fool left Myra a note telling her where to meet him at the airport.”

“Not a deliberate ploy to put us off the scent?” Josiah asked suspiciously.

“No,” Buck said as he got off the phone. “He booked a cab to the airport alright. I called them, too, and I know exactly where he’s heading if we miss his flight. We’ve only got thirty minutes to get there, but security at the airport is already on the lookout for him.”

“Great, let’s get going, then,” Vin said eagerly.

*******************************

The men spread out in the airport foyer while Buck went to converse with security. Vin and the others first headed to the check-in desks for the flight they were interested in and pushed their way to the front. They asked each person on duty if Augustus had checked in yet. They got a positive answer from the third lady they showed a photo of their suspect to.

She nodded and pointed in the direction required. “Yes, he’s gone on through to the departure lounge. His companion hasn't turned up, though.”

The agents headed to where they'd been advised and they met up with Buck and a couple of burly security guards on the way. They congregated outside the departure lounge to receive their orders.

“Right, can you guys cover this exit, while we tackle him?” Vin asked the security contingent.

“Sure thing,” the older of the two men agreed.

Augustus had unfortunately seen their arrival, though, and was already on his feet. The balding man looked at each door and found them covered and he began to panic. He saw the ATF agents heading toward him and he reached out a grabbed the nearest fellow passenger to him.

“Back off, you bastards,” he yelled as he pulled out a knife and held it to the terrified woman’s throat.

Vin made eye contact with the hostage and tried to settle her with just a look. After a few seconds, she stopped struggling against Augustus’s tight grip round her waist. The agents had stopped moving and watched the man carefully, not wanting to do anything to make him harm his hostage. Meanwhile, security was getting everyone else out to safety, so that only the agents, Augustus and his hostage were left in the large room.

“Now, Augustus, there’s no need for any more hurting. Let the lady go,” Buck ordered quietly as he took a hesitant step forward.

“I’ll slit her fucking throat if you get any nearer,” the man yelled hysterically as he took a step backward.

Josiah held out a placating hand and waited until Augustus turned to look at him. “Calm down, son. Hurting her will only make your situation worse. Let her go and we’ll talk.”

“We can talk just as well with her here,” the man disagreed as he tightened his grip once more. He knew he was in an impossible situation, but he was still going to do all he could to escape.

“We’ve got your sister in custody. She’s singing like the proverbial canary, but we’d sure like to hear your side of things,” Nathan said calmly. He knew that Augustus was feeling tapped and that could make him do something really stupid.

“Whatever she’s said, she’s lying.”

Augustus moved his hand and accidentally cut the woman’s neck. She screamed and he let go his hold at the unexpected sound from his previously quiet hostage. Vin jumped forward and pulled the woman toward him before hurrying her away from the area.

Josiah and Buck pounced on Augustus who was waving his knife around like a sword. The big profiler managed to duck under his wildly waving hand and tackled him to the ground so that Buck could disarm him carefully. The two agents turned the man onto his stomach and handcuffed him before pulling him roughly to his feet.

“You okay, ma’am?” Vin asked gently as he tried to calm the shivering former-hostage down.

She nodded, but seemed stunned and understandably upset. Nathan strode forward and took charge of her and sat her down outside the room. He stayed with her until the airport’s own paramedics arrived on scene. The medic then walked back into the departure lounge and helped his colleagues escort Augustus through the airport and out to their transportation.

“Got the full set now,” Josiah said in satisfaction. “He wants a lawyer, so let’s dump him back at base and go tell Ezra the good news.”

***********************************

The team converged on the hospital and met up in Ezra’s room, where Chris was still on guard.

“Sentry duty’s over, cowboy. We got Augustus,” Vin said when Chris looked at him expectantly.

“Good. Anything else to report?” the green-eyed man asked, wanting to hear all the news. He hated to miss out on the action, but he'd wanted to take care of Ezra himself. Pat had done a good job in caring for their friend but the blond hadn't wanted to leave anything to chance.

Vin leaned back against the wall near the window and smiled. “There’s not much love lost between Myra and Augustus, I tell ya. Reckon they’re gonna try and bury each other as deep as they can,” he drawled. “Myra was the one, by the way, who told the gang who Ezra was in the first place. It was just unfortunate that she turned up when she did to put the kibosh on things.”

“Well, it’s all wrapped up nice and neat in the end. Just the way I like it,” Chris said with a grin, the anxiety he'd been feeling floating away like a puff of smoke.

“How’s it going here? Everything alright, Ez?” Josiah asked after studying his friend for a few quiet moments.

Ezra shrugged and frowned. “I feel safer, Mr Sanchez, after hearing your glad tidings, but I can’t admit to feeling all that well. My infection is clinging to me rather too enthusiastically for my pleasure.”

“You’re improving, though, son,” Josiah said, trying to sound encouraging. "You certainly look better than when I saw you last."

“Oh, yes, I’ll be out and about eventually.”

“Well, you have had three indispositions to contend with so it’s gonna take time for you to recover fully,” Nathan said as he took the spare seat by the bed. The medic still hadn't got over his guilt about what had happened to Ezra, but seeing the man improving daily was easing his pain.

The undercover agent turned to Nathan and smiled. “At least I won’t be sabotaged again. I feel rather embarrassed to have allowed a woman to harm me.”

“Talking about women,” Buck piped up indignantly from where he was standing by the door. “I had to give up a date on account of you. Took me *ages* to get her to go out with me in the first place.”

“Can’t think why,” Ezra muttered sarcastically as he scowled. “Maybe she was enlightened about your philandering ways.”

“You owe me,” the ladies’ man stated, totally ignoring what Ezra had just said.

“I owe you a date?” Ezra replied as he arched an eyebrow thoughtfully. “Well, I’m happy to oblige. Where do you want to go?”

“I want a woman,” Buck replied in exasperation.

“I can dress as one if you prefer,” Ezra said innocently.

The ladies man put out both hands in desperation. “Oh, God. I don’t wanna even contemplate that idea,” Buck snorted in disgust. “I’m not gonna be able to get that image outta my mind now.”

“Mr. Wilmington? You are in a hospital. Go ask for a lobotomy. That should sort your problem out,” Ezra retorted with a grin.

The group of men laughed. Ezra’s tongue was still as sharp as ever, so perhaps he was getting better after all.

The End

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