The Magnificent Seven - ATF AU

To Your Health
By MMW


Part 6

The morning came far too early for Ezra. He and Vin had retired at a reasonable hour, but his worry over his doctorís report had him up and thinking most of the night. His biggest concern was if heíd be able to continue doing his job. He didnít think the WCB had any regulations about his condition, but he wasnít sure. He would have to check that out when they got back.

A knock on his door shook the agent out of his reverie. Walking across the room, he looked out the peephole to ensure it was only Vin. Seeing the Texan waiting outside his door, Ezra undid the chain and deadbolt and then opened the door. "Mr. Tanner," he greeted formally. "What brings you here at this godforsaken hour?"

Vin rolled his eyes and smiled at his partner. "Sam Ďll be here in about 45 minutes. Figured we should head down, eat breakfast and check out before then." Taking a closer look at the Southerner, Vinís face clouded with concern. "You alright, Ez? You look like you didnít sleep at all."

Ezra straightened slightly, upset by having been caught out. Normally he would have done a better job hiding the fact he hadnít slept. On the other hand, all those other nights of no sleep were probably, finally, catching up with him. Running a hand through his hair, Ezra sighed. "Sleep and I have not been on the best terms recently."

Vin nodded his understanding. Heíd seen Ezra look worse and still pull of assignments far more difficult. Something about his posture and words, however, caused the tickle of worry that had been plaguing Vin to grow. "OK," he said, not willing to push the issue. "You ready?"

Ezra grabbed his bag from where heíd placed it earlier that morning. "Willing and able," he finished, hoping it wasnít a lie as he left his room and headed down to the diningroom with Vin.

As they were seated, the both men ordered coffee. By the time the waiter returned with their coffee they were ready to order. Having noted Vinís order, he turned to Ezra. "And what would you like, sir?" he asked.

Ezra opened his mouth, hesitated and then said, "Iíll have toast and the fruit salad."

"Very well," the waiter said, taking the menus and walking away.

"What?" Ezra asked, noting that Vin was looking at him oddly.

"Nothing," Vin denied. Then, unable to let it go, he asked, "When did you start eating healthy breakfasts? Did Nate finally convert you?"

Ezra snorted at the thought. The teamís medic had been trying to convert them all to a healthier diet since their inception. "I felt the need to eat something since we donít know when we shall have lunch," he replied. It wasnít a complete lie, but then, it wasnít the full truth either. Thankfully it seemed to be enough to satisfy Vinís curiosity for the moment.

The two men, having determined they were safely out of earshot of all the other patrons, reviewed their case notes once more as well as their covers and the cover story of how they escaped arrest and what theyíve been doing since the last time they met Garver.

Finished with breakfast and their review, the two men left money for the bill and the tip before heading out to the lobby and the main desk.

Check-out was easy and went smoothly. Just as they turned to head for the exit, Sam walked through.

"Perfect timing, " Vin greeted, walking up to Sam. He was rewarded with a smile.

Placing their items in the trunk of the car, the two Denver agents climbed into the vehicle, riding in silence to the building. Retrieving the luggage, the trio headed up to the offices they had first seen the day before.

Entering into the main office area, Sam directed them to a smaller conference room. Stepping in ahead of them, he pointed quickly to the table. "We have your IDís for your covers there. Let me know what else you need and Iíll get it. Robert, Marvin and Calder will be in in a few minutes to brief you about whatís going to happen, where youíll be staying and all of that. Robert will go into it more before you leave for Sandusky."

"Thank you, Sam," Ezra smiled, his eyes already regarding the identification.

Vin looked up and nodded at the young agent who smiled in return before leaving. Turning his attention to the identification, he dropped his bag next to him and studied the driverís license of Evin Daily. Shrugging out of the leather jacket heíd been wearing, he folded it and tossed it over the back of the chair behind him. Tugging at the sleeve of the cashmere sweater he was wearing, he shifted uncomfortably in the loafers that matched his khaki pants.

"You look fine," Ezra commented, having turned his attention to digging through his bags. "Stop fidgeting."

Vin sighed. Ezra may be used to this sort of clothing, but Vin would rather do this in a flannel shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. Unfortunately, Ezra had convinced him that a dealer such as Evin would wear clothing more appropriate to his position. Reluctantly Vin had agreed and gone shopping with Ezra - and experience he hoped to never repeat. Grabbing his own bag from where heíd dropped it earlier, he placed it on the table and quickly retrieved his comb and something to use to hold back his hair.

With a slight curse Ezra surfaced from his search of his bag and began searching his pockets.

"What Ďre you looking for, Ez?" Vin asked, puzzled by his friends actions. "You lose somethiní important?"

Ezra frowned at Vinís question until his hand reappeared from the depths of his coat pocket holding a small white card which he quickly slipped into the wallet he would be using while undercover. Turning toward Vin he asked, "Did you say something?" He was puzzled when Vin snorted, rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to his own bag.

It was only a short while later when the three men showed up. Ezra was quick to note that the head of the Sandusky field office did not look pleased with something. He could only hope it had nothing to do with the concerns expressed by Mr. Wright the night before. Sliding his eyes toward his partner, he saw the same concern on Vinís face.

"Gentlemen," Marvin Hemke greeted with a smile. "I trust you have everything you need?"

The Denver agents exchanged a look that clearly communicated, Ďnot by a long shotí, but instead, Vin said, "Just about."

"Good," Marvin beamed. " Robert and Calder will brief you before you drive to Sandusky." Reaching out his hand, he finished, "Gentlemen, I wish you luck."

Taking the offered hand, Vin shook it and watched Ezra do the same. He resisted the urge to wipe his hand on his pants afterward.

"So," Robert said. "I suppose you want to know what to expect." Feeling two piercing gazes fall on him, Cole shifted uncomfortably before settling in a seat. "Iíve been in contact with my buyer and he wants to meet you for dinner. I told him you wouldnít be in until this evening and would most likely be tired from the flight."

"Weíve rented you a car under your aliases and itís waiting for you downstairs," Calder supplied.

"I have directions..." Robert said, his voice trailing off as he reached into his back pocket. "...here." he finished as he pulled out a folded sheet of paper. "Itís called "Island Inn". Itís not four stars, but itís comfortable, quiet, out of the way and fits with your covers. Thereís a dining room on the first floor. Weíll meet you there at seven. Hereís what you need to know..."

<><><><><><><>

"You need to let him know, JD," Buck encouraged, looking at his friend.

JD shook his head. "I donít think so," he disagreed. "I mean, itís not like I exactly got these through normal channels and besides, what if Iím wrong? What then?"

Buck sighed, knowing Dunne hadnít shared everything with him. Still, none of them had been comfortable with the lack of contact with their friends. "Look," he tried again, knowing their lunch was almost over. "Chris went into this practically blind, so did Ezra and Vin. I would bet even Travis didnít know this because He sure wouldnít have let them go in alone if he had." He could see JD wavering. "Just show Chris. He wonít hold it against you and heíll know what to do with the information."

Reluctantly JD nodded his agreement.

Part 7

As the two men continued on their route to Sandusky, Vin couldnít help but look at the man in the passenger seat. Ezra had been quiet since the meeting. He had grilled Robert and Calder on the details of the meet, precautions and everything, but once that was over and they had headed down to the car that had been rented for them, Ezra had seemed to drift away. "Earth to Ezra," Vin called.

Ezra straightened in his seat and turned to face his friend. "What" the normally eloquent man asked, puzzled and wondering if heíd missed something.

Vinís brow furrowed slightly. It was good that Ezra felt he could relax around him, but even relaxed, Ezra was a bit more on the ball. Shaking off the concern, he smiled slightly and said, "Just makiní sure you were still breathing."

Ezra smiled, slightly shaken at his own inattention. He knew Vin was there and had his back; he knew they were just traveling and this was most likely his last chance to lose himself in his thoughts until the assignment was over, but he still shouldnít have fallen so deeply into his own concerns. "I assure you, Iím breathing perfectly well at the moment, thank you," he responded, a smile tugging at his lips, knowing that wasnít the answer Vin had been after. In fact, he knew his friend was concerned for him, concerned about him, but the truth was, Ezra just wasnít ready to share what was bothering him.

Vin sighed silently. Ezra was hiding something, bothered by something and did didnít have to do with Tristanís injuries, but, for whatever reason, he wouldnít tell anyone. Biting back his annoyance at being shut out so close to the beginning of the danger in their assignment, Vin offered, "If you need to talk - about anything - Iím here for you, Ez." Then glancing at the Southerner to make sure he understood, he assured, "When you are ready to talk, it wonít go beyond me."

His heart warmed by his friendís declaration, a smile appeared on Ezraís face. "I know my friend," Ezra returned sincerely. "But I canít... Not yet."

Vin nodded his understanding and then grew serious again. "Youíll let me know if itís a problem?" he asked, knowing Standish would take offense at the question, but needing to ask for his own peace of mind.

Ezra blinked at the question. Had he been so remiss, so inattentive that he had caused Vin to doubt his preparedness? Rather than take offense at the question as he normally would, Ezra felt a jolt of fear race through him. Had he become so lost in his own concerns he had failed somehow? He couldnít think of anything, but that didnít necessarily mean he hadnít let something slip by unnoticed. "I would never put your life in danger through inattention to the task at hand," he assured solemnly, surprised by the note of venom in his voice.

Vin nodded, frowning slightly. He didnít want to cause problems, but he needed to be sure that Ezra was completely with him on this job. "Good," he said. Then, picking up the paper with the directions Robert had given him, he thrust it at Ezra. "Tell me where we go next. Weíre three miles from Sandusky."

Ezra took the page and shook his head, all tension and awkwardness gone. "Fear not, Mr. Tanner," he assured. "Your expert navigator is on the job."

<><><><><><><>

With the directions Robert had given them, they had little trouble finding the Inn. Ezra had to admit, he was impressed. The Island Inn was nice. An apparently renovated Victorian house, it carried a certain amount of style and culture. The exterior was well maintained and understated. If the interior was even half as well-done as the exterior, it would be an enjoyable stay. Hearing Vinís door close, Ezra quickly opened his own and went around to the trunk to retrieve his bags and followed Vin inside.

Absorbing the interior of the building, he felt a smile appear on his face. This was going to be quite a treat. The understated elegance of the exterior had, in fact, continued on into the interior of the building. It was perfectly suited to their covers and to Ezraís own taste as well. Glancing over at the reception desk, he noticed Vin smiling at the young woman there. Shaking his head, he walked over just as she handed Vin two keys before turning to pick up the ringing phone.

Vin saw his friendís expression and smiled. Handing Ezra one of the keys, he picked up the bag heíd dropped and headed toward the stairs. "What?" he asked, knowing perfectly well what Ezra was smiling about.

Chuckling softly, Standish asked, "Isnít she a little young?"

Vinís eyes twinkled. "Sheís twenty-four and finished hotel management school this past Spring," Vin informed as the two men climbed to the second floor.

"I see," Ezra said, his smile growing.

Vin saw the smile and laughed. "Get your stuff put away and weíll tour the town a little before meeting up with Calder and his man," the Texan ordered.

"Now, Mr. Daily," Ezra began, "as the senior partner in this business arrangement, I feel it is I, and not you, who should be giving the orders."

Vin raised an eyebrow at this statement, relieved Ezra was acting a bit more like himself, or at least like Ephraim Huntley. "Oh?" he asked. "And what, then, do you suggest we do?"

Ezra paused a moment, " I recommend that we put our things away and then tour the town a little." He watched as Vin rolled his eyes and shook his head.

"Iíll knock when Iím done," Tanner told Ezra before opening the door to his room.

Ezraís smile lasted another minute before fading. He had to get past his worry, and quickly. Things were too far now to pull out. Pulling his shoulders back slightly to stand straighter, he opened the door to his room and entered.

Part 8

Ezra and Vin had been driving around the town of Sandusky for a while. They had easily located Cedar Point and, though Vin felt an urge to go and ride some of the roller coasters there, they had passed up the opportunity and headed off to the location where they were supposed to meet with Calder Robb and his surveillance man, Ben Hastings.

As Ezra turned down the small road, he felt some of his worry lift as he noted how remote and isolated this meeting would be. Neither he nor Vin had spotted a tail and both had checked their rooms for any listening devices, but it never hurt to be cautious especially when dealing with someone like Garver. The fact that Robb was meeting them somewhere so obviously out of the way and difficult to watch confirmed the Denver Agentsí earlier opinions of this manís worth.

Stopping the car and shutting off the engine, Ezra and Vin exited the vehicle and approached the house slowly, scanning the area. Before they had gone too far down the path to the front door, it was opened by Calder himself. He smiled his welcome.

As the duo entered, Calder ordered, "Follow me". He led them through the living room, past the kitchen to a room in the back where another man waited for them, an array of electronic equipment in the room with him. "Gentlemen, Iíd like to introduce you to Benjamin Hastings. He takes care of all our electronic needs out here. Ben, Iíd like to introduce you to Agents Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner from Denver."

The pleasant looking man smiled an stood offering his hand. "Itís a pleasure to meet finally meet you. I heard a lot about you back in the ATF before I was reassigned."

Ezra and Vin smiled as they each shook Benís hand. "The pleasure is ours, Mr. Hastings," Ezra greeted formally. Somehow comforted by the fact the man had been ATF.

"Nice to meet you, Ben," Vin agreed. Then, getting down to business he asked, "What have you got for us?"

Ben smiled and turned toward his table.

<><><><><><><>

Vin knocked on Ezraís door. "You ready?" he called. The door opened and he took a step back.

"As ever," Ezra replied in-character as he headed for the stairs.

Arriving at the dining room, the two quickly spotted Robert Cole. He was sitting at the far end of the restaurant in a darker corner. There was another man with him, but they were unable to make out his face as he leaned back in the shadows. Both Denver agents knew it had to be his contact, Peter Milovick. They had been provided pictures of the man and knew what to expect.

Taking the two remaining seats, they nodded their greeting to Robert who hastily made introductions. "Evin, Ephraim, Iíd like you to meet Peter."

As he turned to introduce Peter to them, Vin thought he caught something in the look they exchanged, but couldnít put his finger on it. Glancing at Ezra, he found his partnerís face as unreadable as ever when on assignment. Suppressing his own concerns, he turned his attention back to the introductions.

"Peter, Iíd like you to meet Evin and Ephraim."

The three men nodded their acknowledgment to each other. As Robert was about to continue, the waiter came up to take their drink orders. Those given, the menís attention turned toward the menu and their dinner selection. Knowing this would be an introduction and that business would most likely not be discussed, once the men had determined what they each wanted to eat, and their orders were given, topics continued along neutral lines, though Vin had to work to keep himself from doing a double-take at Ezraís selection. Once again the man had ordered more like Nathan than himself.

As the meal progressed, conversation turned toward business, though again, in a very general way.

"So," Peter said in his slightly accented voice, "Robert tells me that you two are in the business of supplying rare and unusual items to customers."

A polite smile curved Ezraís mouth. "We are the best at what we do," Ezra assured. "And our customerís satisfaction is our first priority."

A cruel smile twisted Peterís mouth at this statement as an evil glint showed in his eyes for a moment before he glanced at Robert who offered the slightest of nods as acknowledgment. "That is very good to know," he observed. "Tell me, do you guarantee your products?"

Vin looked slightly offended. "We only deal in the best and with the best," he declared, his voice betraying a hint of insult.

Peter held up a hand in apology. "My apologies, my friend. I intended no insult. It is just that another friend of mine had some difficulties a few years ago with a delivery and he never received what he wanted."

Ezra stepped in at this point, locking eyes with Milovick. "I assure you, sir. That we will deliver what you order or we will gladly refund your money."

The two men stared at each other for several seconds as if taking each otherís measure. Finally, Peter broke eye contact and smiled. "It will be good to work with men of such integrity," he said as the waiter brought the check.

"Indeed it will," Ezra returned, his smile less jovial than that of Milovick.

"So, business is on?" Robert asked eagerly.

"Yes," Peter replied. "Let us meet tomorrow at at the marina, say nine oíclock at night? Robert, you know where."

"Yes," Robert agreed. "Weíll be there tomorrow."

"Then weíre done here for now," Ezra said, rising from the table. "Gentlemen."

Vin rose with Ezra and followed him out. Just as he reached the doorway he glanced back to see the two men already deep in a serious conversation. He made a mental note to tell Ezra about it later. In the mean time, he decided a little fresh air might do him good. "See you tomorrow morning, Ez," he said quietly as he headed for the front door.

Ezra turned in surprise. Heíd wanted to go over this meeting and the following dayís with Vin. Locking eyes with the Texan, he read suspicion in their depths and simply nodded. Whatever was bothering Vin would wait until morning. For right now, Ezra had a little research of his own to do.

<><><><><><><>

Josiah stood at the window of the office looking out. Chris had been called into a meeting immediately after lunch and JD had asked them all to stay until he returned. It was obvious to Josiah and Nathan that JD had done some research on his own and had some concerns. That was fine because Josiah had done a little research on his own and had come up against a few too many walls for comfort.

Scanning the area, he noted the string of birds on the window ledge across the street. He counted seven. He figured they were probably pigeons. Shaking his head at the tenacity of nature as it survived even amongst man-made worlds, he watched as two of the birds flew away. A moment later a shudder ran through him as two crows landed in the now-vacant spaces.


On to Parts 9-11
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