To Your Health
Ezra stood by the window of his room watching as the sun rose over the lake. Though further from the shore than they had been in Toledo, the rooms still provided a view of Lake Erie and the spectacular sunrises and sunsets over its waters. He shook his head and smiled slightly. His teammates must have more of an affect on him than he thought. He was certain that it wasn’t all that long ago he never would have noticed such things as sunrises and sunsets...
A sigh escaped the Southerner as he pushed himself away from the window and finished preparing for the morning. Before long there was a knock at the door. Moving toward it, he glanced through the peephole and spotted Vin. Opening the door, he stepped out.
Vin took in his friend’s appearance. Ezra looked tired and drawn. Vin was fairly certain that something was bothering his friend, but could only guess at what it was. "Ready for breakfast?" he asked, knowing they had some time to kill before meeting up with Ben and preparing for their sunset meeting with Milovick.
Ezra opened his mouth to respond, but his stomach chose that moment to growl. Eyes opening wide in embarrassment, he saw Vin chuckle softly. "You may take that as a yes," he said, grinning himself as they set off for the dining room.
Settling in at a remote table, Vin began relating what he had seen and done the night before after their dinner.
"I turned back as we were leaving and saw them, Peter and Robert, in conversation. I know that he’s been under and established himself, but there was something about the way they were talking... Anyway, I went outside and came around to the open window by them. They were talking about money and about Garver. I’ve heard you talk a lot of things with a lot of targets, Ez, but there was something off about this."
Ezra thought about his words and about this entire assignment. He knew he hadn’t been giving it his full attention, having been distracted by Tristan and by the other news he’d received. He felt a pang of worry as he thought of his dog, but pushed those worries aside quickly. The whole case had been handled very oddly. True, the procedures for the WCB were still being worked out, but the emphasis on silence and not communicating with Denver were very odd. He should have taken the time before hand to check into it more closely. Still, they were here now and had Wright, Hastings and Robb on their side. It may not be much, but at least it was something. Hopefully it would be enough
Later that day, the two men made their way back to the house where they had met Hastings and Robb the day before. Walking to the front door, they knocked and were surprised when it was answered by Dennis Wright.
Seeing their surprise, the Canadian smiled. "I thought it best if I made Calder aware of my involvement. Given that this is a joint investigation between our two agencies, I felt it important that I be present at this next large step in our venture."
A warm smile spread across Vin’s face as he reached out, tapped Dennis on the arm and acknowledged, "Glad to have you a long."
"We can always use a friendly face," Ezra added with his own genuine smile.
"Come on back," Calder said as he stepped out from the back of the house. "Ben’s got everything ready for you."
"Isn’t Robert coming?" Vin asked, wondering where their he was.
An odd look shaded across Robb’s face before he admitted, "Robert felt it best that he not see you prior to tonight. Therefore, Ben dropped of his equipment and went over the plans for the meet this morning."
Ezra picked up on the disapproving tone and the unstated disapproval of such procedures. It was obvious that this did not sit well with Robb. He wondered briefly if the disapproval was because of the disrespect it showed for Robb’s authority. Quickly that thought was dismissed. Robb hadn’t been anything but up front with them. It was more likely the worry that he was being kept out of the loop and that if anything went wrong, he would be responsible for it.
"If you’ll follow me," he repeated, leading the way to the back room.
"Hey!" Ben greeted, looking up from the table where he’d been fiddling with something. "I’ve got your wires ready." Picking up two items from the table, he held one out to each man. "Don’t let the size fool you. These are far more powerful than what you had last night." Seeing the slight hesitation, he laughed. "And they’re perfectly safe."
Vin and Ezra looked a little embarrassed at having been so easily read.
"What range can we expect?" Ezra asked, knowing that part of the meet would involve them going out on a boat.
Ben took a deep breath and released it slowly. "On-land, it’s a little less because of the buildings. On the lake... depending on atmospheric conditions... we’ll be able to hear you in Detroit."
"And what’s it look like tonight?" Vin asked as he attached the device.
"Clear from here to Deluth," Calder inserted. "We should be able to pick you up anywhere on the lake." He could see that bit of knowledge eased some of the tension from the two Denver agents.
"And, though we doubt there will be a need," Dennis added. "We will be monitoring that channel from the other side of the border as well."
Vin nodded to the Canadian. "Much obliged," he said, gratefully.
"There’s one other thing," Ben said as he picked up two very small items from the table
"And these are?" Ezra asked taking the small object.
Two sets of eyebrows rose in surprise.
Shifting uncomfortably, Ben looked up at Calder.
"They’re our own precaution," Robb explained. "Since you’ll be out of sight, we want to be able to know where you are."
"Won’t it interfere with the boats GPS navigation?" Vin asked, surprising Ezra with the question. Vin smiled slightly at his friend’s surprise. Ezra, Chris and Buck weren’t the only ones who knew boats.
"No," Ben assured, speaking confidently since this applied to his area of expertise. "I’ve modified them so they not only use a different frequency than the normal navigation systems do, they have a more limited range."
"How much more limited?" Ezra asked, trying to figure out the best place to put the locator.
"It really just applies to the lake area and about 15 miles inland." Seeing the worry on the Denver agents’ faces, Ben explained. "Garver is known as being fairly techno-savvy. It’s really the only way I could think of to guarantee knowledge of your location while minimizing the danger discovery. But even these are a really big risk."
Ezra nodded, accepting the answer. "Will Mr. Cole be wearing one as well?" he asked. His eyebrow rose as he saw the guilt flash across Hastings’ face before his eyes looked to Robb. Calder shifted uncomfortably on his feet and cleared his throat, not quite meeting Standish’s eyes.
"I asked them not to tell him," Dennis interjected, daring the other agents to question his actions.
"You suspect Robert?" Vin asked bluntly, cutting straight to the heart of the question.
Robb and Wright exchanged a long look before Robb nodded. Clearing his throat, Wright explained, "Calder and I know each other from long ago and have ample reason to trust each other. When I approached your agency with the information we have... Well... There were some machinations that went on behind the scenes that left both of us uncomfortable. You know most of what I suspect from our discussion two days ago. I asked Calder to take this extra precaution because I don’t trust that this will be just a regular meet."
Vin and Ezra nodded, feeling some relief that Robb was on their side as well. Turning to look at the head of the Sandusky office, Ezra admitted, "We met with Dennis two nights ago and discussed our concerns. At that time, we didn’t know where you stood. Should something go wrong, he has Mr. Larabee’s contact information. I think it would still be best for him to contact Mr. Larabee since there could be unknown repercussions for you otherwise."
Calder accepted the words and nodded his agreement.
"So where’s the best place to put these things?" Vin asked of Ben, changing the subject back to the issue at hand.
To say that Chris Larabee was unhappy would be an understatement. Two of his agents had been sent away against his better judgement and had been cut off from all communications. His team, worried about their friends - their brothers - had gone behind his back and dug into the men involved and the case. He wasn’t sure if he was more upset at them putting their careers on the line or at what they found out.
JD had done some checking and discovered that things pointed to Winston Garver still being alive. And that was the good news. It appeared, from what little JD had gathered, the man had gotten even more sadistic since his supposed demise in Denver - and more cautious. There was no trace of the man’s whereabouts that JD could find, but Dunne had found out that Garver had a son. And if the information was correct, that son was working for the WCB in Toledo.
Chris let out a growl of frustration. Winston Garver was a nightmare and he had sent two of his men into an unfamiliar situation to face him without adequate preparation or backup. He had spent the morning doing whatever he could to convince Travis to do something - anything. Travis had remained a stone wall. He could do nothing at this point and there was no way for him to approve Chris or the others going out to Ohio, especially given the sensitivity of the issue. The only way that could happen would be for one of the men in charge to ask for their help. Of course, with the other members of his team on assignment including JD who left on a school trip that morning, he wasn’t sure what help they could provide. The whole situation just didn’t sit right with him.
Slamming the door of his office, he managed to resist the temptation to vent his anger by tossing all the objects off his desk and against the wall. There had to be something, some way he could get in touch with his men. He had tried calling the night before but the Team Leader in the Toledo office had been less than forthcoming, saying Larabee’s men were already under and the operation was at too delicate a position to interrupt.
Standing and staring out his window, he tried to allow the anger to dissipate. He had just gotten his temper back under control when the door cracked open. He knew it would be Buck. “We can’t do anything,” he informed, not even turning.
It was a several hours after a pleasant dinner that Ezra and Vin drove the rented car to the marina, following the signs to the visitor’s parking. The sun was dipping toward the horizon and promised yet another spectacular summer sunset. The sound of children laughing and parents calling for them to walk drifted upward painting a picture of familial life in direct conflict with the Denver agents’ supposed purpose of selling arms.
Vin shifted the briefcase he was carrying to his other hand. The sample they had gotten from Robb was nestled inside and should be exactly what Milovick wanted. The microphone and tracker helped ease his concern slightly over the lack of back-up, but actually seeing Sam Advis on a nearby boat added yet another level of comfort. He knew they wouldn’t be seeing Calder, Ben or Dennis at the meet. The trio were on a boat somewhere on the lake, waiting and ready to lend whatever aid they could. Hopefully, they were all wrong and nothing would happen tonight other than the deal that had been laid out by Cole.
“Ready Mr. Daily?” Ezra asked as they approached the slip for Milovick’s boat.
“Reckon so,” Vin responded, knowing it was too late to turn back now.
“Ahoy the boat!” Ezra cried, stopping next to the stern. After a few seconds, Peter and Robert appeared from the cabin and stepped onto the deck.
“Welcome to my little slice of heaven,” Peter greeted ushering the men onboard. “Why don’t you settle yourselves on the bench here and we’ll be on our way.
After boarding, the two Denver agents made themselves comfortable and settled in for a ride.
It was perhaps half an hour later when Milovick brought the boat to a stop and they settled down to do business. “So,” he asked, his eyes locked on the briefcase in Vin’s hand, “is that it?”
Vin smiled. “One sample per our agreement,” he replied, lifting the case and setting it on the seat beside him. With a quick flick of his fingers, the case opened to reveal exactly what Milovick had requested. As the other man reached for the weapon, Vin snapped the case shut. “Unh-uh. First we talk money.”
Peter sneered at the two and nodded his agreement. Glancing out at the horizon, he saw it was almost dark. That meant it was almost time. Conversation continued for about fifteen more minutes. By the time terms had been agreed upon, it was fully dark. “Now, let me test the weapon,” Peter said, holding out his hand.
Ezra looked at Vin and nodded. Slowly the Texan opened the briefcase, extracted the weapon and handed it over. After a thorough examination and a quick test, the two Denver agents were rewarded with a smile. “I take it our sample meets with your approval?” Ezra inquired.
Peter smiled. “It’s perfect,” he lauded. Then, his smile turning cold, he pulled out his gun, aimed it directly at Ezra and added, “As you are the perfect gift for Mr. Garver - the WCB agents who caused his demise.”
Vin was about to move to come to Ezra’s aid when Robert pulled a gun and aimed it at him.
“Take off your microphones,” Robert advised, waiting until both men had complied. “Now drop them over the side of the boat.” Again, both men complied.
“So you’ve sold us out? Switched sides?” Vin spat at Cole.
Cole laughed. “You honestly think I’d be happy with a government salary when I can have so much more with Garver? Of course I sold you out. It was easy.”
Vin felt his face flush with anger, glancing at Ezra, he saw the fire in the emerald eyes.
“Now you both be good boys while Robert here ties your hands. We’re going on a little trip,” Peter informed them.
Ezra and Vin remained still while Cole tied their hands and feet. Neither protested as gags were shoved in their mouth, the threat of Milovick’s gun too real for them to ignore. Vin looked over at Ezra as the faint sound of a boat’s motor reached his ears. He had almost forgotten about Robb being nearby since he was out of sight. Rescue was just a little ways away, he thought as the sound seemed to grow louder.
But, as Peter finished gagging the two agents, he turned and started the boat. He made sure to turn off all the running lights. The dark color of the boat’s hull made it virtually invisible. As he started the engine, Tanner felt his hopes plunge. The sound of this boat might give away it’s position, but that would be covered by the sound of the other boat running. Still, they had the trackers so Hastings should be able to find them.
That hope sustained Ezra as well - at least until he saw they were approaching a lake barge. The ship was huge and their small craft minuscule by comparison. Pulling up close to it, Milovick raced along it’s length before cutting around the stern - fighting the wake on his way. It was on the far side of the ship that they spotted a larger yacht keeping pace with the barge. It was next to this that Peter pulled the smaller boat and tied onto it.
Stepping across, Peter greeted someone in the shadow of the awning. The men in the smaller boat could hear some light laughter and then Peter reappeared. It was the man standing next to him, however, that caused fear to sweep through Vin and Ezra. For next to the man they’d been dealing with stood Winston Garver.
“It’s good to see you could join us, Mr. Standish, Mr. Tanner,” Garver said, a self-satisfied smile on his face. “I believe we have some unfinished business to take care of.”
“Delivered as promised, Mr. Garver,” Cole piped up, the fire of greed evident in his eyes.
A look of distaste passed over Garver’s face as he regarded Robert Cole. “Yes, you did,” he said drily.
“And my payment?” Cole asked.
Garver nodded his head. At the nod, Milovick pulled his gun and fired twice. One bullet tore through Cole’s heart, the other made a neat entrance wound in his forehead and a very messy exit wound out the other side of his head. Turning to smile at Vin and Ezra, Garver explained, “I never trust a man who would betray his ideals for money.”
The two agents just stared at the body before them, real fear gripping their hearts as they wondered what Garver had planned for them.
“Search them,” the madman ordered.
When the microphones had been discovered and thrown overboard, none of the men in the chase boat had been too surprised. They continued to lurk just out of sight.
When he heard the microphones dropped overboard, Ben had cranked them and managed to pick up a distorted version of what Robert was saying. He would be able to do more with it when he got back to the office. In the mean time, he turned his attention to the trackers. When they started moving again - away from shore - he called Calder over and showed him.
Calder took one look at the moving images and cursed. Calling to the pilot to get the boat started, they moved after the quickly receding dots and prayed they would be in time to stop whatever was going on. He had breathed a sigh of relief when the men stopped moving, giving them a chance to catch up. Before they could approach, however, the dots started moving again; this time in a straight line away from shore.
Pushing the boat’s engines, the men soon began making up ground. It was almost two hours, though, before they caught up to the still speeding boat.
Looking over, they could only spot a lifeless form crumpled on the deck. Needing to know for himself, Calder moved to the edge of the chase boat, and, in spite of the protests of the others, managed to jump into the abandon craft. His first order of business was to bring it to a stop - something he accomplished quickly.
Then, turning around, he looked at the crumpled form of Robert Cole. He didn’t even have to check to see the man was dead. Picking up a powerful flashlight from the deck, he shone it around and stopped cold when he spotted the two tracking devices sitting on the back seat, a note underneath them.
With a shaking hand he read:
Never trust a man who will sell out his colleagues for money.
Chris stood on the porch looking out at the darkness, his thoughts far away. He sipped at the beer in his hand, taking no pleasure in its taste. Tristan was resting beside him, having worn himself out running after the stick Chris had repeatedly thrown.
Anticipation lay thick in the air, pressing down on the man, causing his muscles to tense in protest.
It would be after midnight in Ohio. The two hour time difference seemed like an eternity especially when there had been no word on Vin and Ezra, no information on the case. All he’d been able to get from Hemke was that they had arrived safely and were already undercover.
He jumped slightly when his cell phone rang.
“Larabee,” he snapped.
“Mr. Christopher Larabee of the Weapons Control Bureau, Team Seven?” a voice asked.
“Yes,” Chris replied, tension clawing at his guts.
“This is Dennis Wright of the Canadian Border Protection Force. I’ve been given your number as a contact by Vin Tanner and Ezra Standish.”
“What’s happened to them?” the blond managed to choke out somehow as panic and worry strove to override his rational mind.
“That is something we need to discuss in detail and in person,” Wright informed before loosely outlining the events leading up to that night’s meet.
A faint dripping sound was the first thing to penetrate the all-encompassing darkness that had held Ezra so tightly. Though part of his mind insisted it was impossible, most of him believed the sound unnaturally loud. As more of his thought processes seemed to come on-line, he tried to remember what had happened and where he was.
Given the throbbing in his head and the very specific point that was most painful, he was able to deduce that someone had hit him with something. If only he could remember what and why.
Deciding to see if he had any other injuries, he tried moving each of his limbs. Though the efforts felt remarkably uncoordinated, Ezra soon determined nothing was broken. Now if he could just figure out how to open his eyes he’d be all set.
A soft groan had him accomplishing that feat more quickly than he would have wished because the groan had not been from him.
Slamming his eyes shut against what he was sure was a blinding light, he cracked them open and searched for the source of the sound. Looking to the side, he soon spotted the slow-moving form of Vin Tanner trying to sit up. As the Texan propped himself up with his back against the wall, Ezra could only blink as he tried to process the question he had been asked. Unable to do so, he asked, “What?”
Vin chuckled slightly and reached a hand up to his head. “I asked you if you’re alright.”
“Oh,” Ezra said, understanding this time. “I’m fine, Mr. Tanner. Not a care in the world,” he replied sarcasm lightly lacing his words.
“So you going to tell me what’s wrong with you?” Vin asked, not expecting an answer as he began examining the room around him. He would need to find out exactly how injured Ezra was before they could figure out how to get out of this place. The first step, though was to stand. Now if only he could keep his head attached to his body, he’d be doing well
Ezra remained frozen in place on the floor. He was afraid to say it out loud, afraid to say it at all...
Vin suppressed a moan as he used the wall to help him inch upward, his mind trying to focus on not passing out.
“I’m diabetic,” Ezra finally spat out quickly. There he’d said it.
“That all?” Vin asked through clenched teeth as he tried to deal with the excessive pain his now vertical position provided. Suddenly the Southerner’s words registered and Vin’s eyes shot open.
Ezra’s eyes opened wide in shock and his mouth dropped open slightly at the callousness of the question. It took him a few moments before he managed an indignant, “I think that’s quite enough.”
Vin’s pain-filled eyes fixed on Ezra, regret evident in them. “That’s not what I meant, Ez,” he apologized. He staggered over to where his friend still lay on the floor, pain, indignation, fear and tears shining in the green eyes. Squatting down next to the still prone-man and staring intently into the emerald depths, he assured, “I know what it means. I know how serious it is and how terrifying. I know this is going to be hard for you. But you need to know, I’ll be there for you every step of the way and will help you in any way I can. We all will. You’re not alone and you don’t have to face it alone.” He waited a few minutes to make sure his words were absorbed. Reaching out, he rested a hand on Ezra’s shoulder and squeezed lightly. He let determination and strength flow through him, through his words and through his eyes. Waiting to make sure he had Ezra’s full attention, he affirmed, “This is one more fight we’re going to win.”
Ezra listened to Vin’s monologue and wondered if he hadn’t overreacted to the question. By the end of Vin’s comments, he was certain he’d misinterpreted the Texan’s original response. Every word of encouragement, friendship and comfort his friend spoke chased more of the fear away. By the time Vin finished, the dread and nagging belief that his life was over, had been replaced by a flicker of hope.
Seeing Ezra’s acceptance, Vin smiled and squeezed his shoulder more firmly. Debating briefly, he decided to share some little-known information. “Now, if you don’t tell anyone,” he said confidentially, “I’ll let you in on a secret.” He smiled as Ezra quirked an eyebrow. “Miss Nettie’s had diabetes going on fifteen years. She controls it by diet and exercise.” He smiled a little broader at Ezra’s surprise. “And you know her Apple pie? The one you like so much?”
“Yes,” Ezra replied, his voice holding a note of trepidation.
“It’s sugar free and from a diabetic cookbook.” Vin chuckled softly as Ezra’s mouth dropped open slightly. “Means you may not need to give it up,” he advised. Then, letting his eyes soften and once more show his concern, he repeated, “I’m sorry ‘bout the way I responded at first. It wasn’t that I thought it was a small thing, just not the answer I was expecting. I know what this diagnosis means and I know you’re scared. But I also know you’re not alone. Now you need to know that too.”
Warmed and encouraged by Vin’s words, Ezra thought about how lucky he was. He had been so scared, so worried about losing everything - about being treated differently by the team, about losing his job, of the potential complications of the disease - he had never thought of the strength his friends could lend him. “Thank you,” Ezra said quietly, smiling.
Vin grinned down. “Now let’s get you up off that floor.” He tried to stand and staggered slightly before regaining his balance. “Course, you’re going to have to do most of the work and I’ll warn you now, if you received a welcome gift anything like mine, you’re going to regret it.”
Ezra grimaced, but knew he had to move. He was getting chilled and wanted to get off the hard floor. Accepting Vin’s hand, he was unable to suppress his groan as his head protested every movement. Still after a moment, he regained his equilibrium and managed to open his eyes once more.
Looking around the room, a frown formed on his face. The walls were all stone and the cell - for it could hardly be called anything else - appeared to have been mined away. The dripping sound he had heard came from condensation in one of the corners. The light provided was from an antique-looking oil lamp and the only furniture, other than the crude table upon which the lamp rested, appeared to be a rather ratty looking cot. His nose wrinkling involuntarily in disgust, he couldn’t help asking, “What is this place?”
Vin smirked at the question. He’d woken up a few minutes before Ezra and had reviewed what he knew about the area. “Near as I can figure we’re on one of them islands in Lake Erie,” he explained.
Ezra’s brow furrowed as he headed toward the cot. “The American Islands?”
“Those would be the ones,” Vin agreed, also heading for the cot and sighing as he sank onto the foot of it, his back resting against the wall. He waited while Ezra settled himself at the head of the cot, also resting his back against the wall.
“How can you tell we’re on the island?” Ezra asked, trying to distract himself from the pain that was nearly overwhelming him.
“If you’re quiet, you can hear the waves crashing,” Vin said, allowing his eyes to slide shut.
“How do you know we’re not just on shore somewhere?” Ezra wanted to know.
“Back in the War Between The States, one of the islands was used as a prison,” Vin began. “There have been rumors, though never confirmed, that a second, smaller, unnamed island was used for particularly offensive prisoners - those that committed war crimes and such. The island was privately owned and no one was sure which of the small islands it was. The cells were all underground and each cell was dug by the man who would inhabit it.”
Ezra studied the wall next to him, easily identifying the tool-marks on the stone. A shudder ran through him at the thought he and Vin currently inhabited such a cell. “Surely it’s been proven and documented,” Ezra said, turning hopeful eyes to the Sharpshooter.
Vin sighed. “Actually, no. It’s never been confirmed. Because it was just a rumor during the War and the island was supposedly privately owned, no one ever verified it.” He was about to say something else, when a voice sounded by the grate in the door.
“But you forgot the most interesting part, Mr. Tanner,” Garver interrupted. “None of the men supposedly imprisoned here ever left alive.”
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