To Your Health
The sound of a bolt being slid back and a heavy metal door scraping across stone filled the air, causing the two agents to wince in pain. When they were able to open their eyes, they found themselves staring at Winston Garver. There were three armed guards with him. The thought of escape briefly crossed both agents’ minds, but each of them knew they weren’t in any sort of condition to attempt it with three guns trained on them.
“What do you want?” Vin asked, glaring at the man.
Garver offered a Cheshire-cat smile. “I have exactly what I want, Mr. Tanner,” he assured. “I have you and Mr. Standish.” He allowed that to sink in, taking pleasure in the anger he saw building in both sets of eyes. “And now that I have you, I get to have some fun,” he explained, his grin widening even more as he snapped his fingers.
At the command, two of the three guards moved forward, each taking one of Ezra’s arms and lifting the man off the cot. The third man had taken his gun and thrust it painfully against Vin’s ribs, leaving the Texan no doubt that if he made a move, he’d be dead. Unable to do anything else, Vin growled, “What are you going to do to him?”
Garver chuckled evilly. “Mr. Standish and I are going to become better acquainted. And then we’re going to have some fun.” His cold eyes reflecting only madness, his smile became indulgent. “Don’t fret, Mr. Tanner. Your turn is coming.” And with that he turned and left, the guard following after.
As the door slammed shut and the bolt slid into place, Vin gave vent to his frustration in a primal scream answered only by Garver’s fading laughter.
Orin Travis watched as the five men boarded the plane that would take them to Ohio. It wasn’t quite dawn yet, but he’d been awaken by a rather lively call from Chris Larabee the night before. He had to admit, when he found out what had been happening in Toledo, he had been tempted to let his own superiors know exactly how he felt. He was willing to break every rule the WCB had and call in as many favors as needed to get the rest of Team Seven off their current cases and headed toward Ohio. Fortunately, it seemed Dennis Wright and Chris Larabee had that end of things all set up. All he had to do was contact the other Team Leaders and retrieve the rest of Team Seven.
As it turned out the other leaders were more than happy to let the men go when they found out what had happened and several had offered their assistance if needed. The only difficulty had come with extracting JD whose undercover assignment had him on an overnight school field trip. The case itself was all but wrapped up and the Team Leader felt they would be able to complete the case without the young man. One mysterious “family matter” later, JD was in Denver in time to head out.
As he watched the plane take off, Orrin could only wish the remaining five Godspeed.
Ezra stood and waited for Garver to come. He really had little choice in the matter since the two thugs who had brought him into this room had tied his hands to an iron ring above his head. They had taken pleasure in stretching him until his feet just barely brushed the ground. When he had tried to fight them, they had simply knocked him on the head again, rendering him senseless just long enough to move him into place.
The Southerner glared at the two men standing guard over him. He had little doubt as to what he should expect; his study of the autopsy on the Canadian agent as well as his knowledge of Garver left little in doubt.
“Ah, Mr. Standish,” Garver greeted, an oily smile gracing his face. “I’m pleased to see you face to face again. It’s been far too long.” His eyes gleaming with evil, he added, “One might say a lifetime.”
“You’re looking well,” Ezra replied, trying to shove aside his worry over what would be happening shortly.
“Thank you, I’ve done my best. Being dead has been something of a stumbling block, but then, as a corpse, I don’t have to worry about taxes and such.” Then holding his hands up, he continued, “As you can see I’ve done quite well for myself. In fact I own this whole island out-right. It’s a shame I won’t be able to give you a tour of the entire facility, but I’m sure you understand my reluctance to offer you any opportunity for escape.”
Ezra smiled bitterly. “Of course. Might I inquire as to your reasons for desiring Mr. Tanner and myself to be guests?”
Garver’s eyes narrowed as his smile turned colder. “You and your partner are the only agents to ever get that close to me. You caused my demise and made it impossible for me to continue with my plans. You stole my dreams left me with nothing,” he hissed, anger and madness sharing equally in his gaze.
Swallowing, Ezra offered, “Perhaps it wasn’t us who were so good, but maybe your second in command who didn’t do his job?”
“He paid for his mistake,” Garver assured. “Now you will pay for your.”
As Winston nodded to the two thugs, Ezra tensed in preparation for the beating he knew was coming. He felt his eyes grow wider as one of the thugs pulled out brass knuckles and slid them on his meaty hand. He had been hit by a fist decorated in brass once before and knew no amount of preparation would help him. In fact, he would be lucky to escape without serious injury. The human body just wasn’t designed to take the repeated impact of metal.
Though dread filled him, it was quickly replaced by pain as the first fist connected with his exposed abdomen, quickly followed by repeated applications of the fist. His extended muscles had little choice but to absorb the impact as the knuckles dug deeply against them, bruising him internally and stealing his breath.
A flare of intense pain extended from the point of impact, upward and outward, washing over him and igniting his nerve endings with one basal command - pain. Losing all capability for higher thought in the waves of agony, his eyes slipped shut revealing a world of red fire which he could only pray would consume him.
After several minutes, his oxygen-starved body struggled to control the bruised and battered muscles necessary to move his diaphragm and permit the flow of air. As he gasped, a cry of pain echoed and a portion of his mind screamed to him that breathing shouldn’t hurt so much.
Slowly the pain began fade, or he became accustomed to it, and he began to notice other things. He was no longer standing, the impact of the fists having knocked him off his feet. This meant he was hanging only by his arms, thus extending and adding stress to his abused abdominal muscles.
Allowing his head to loll backward, Ezra bit back a groan as the burning strain on his shoulders added to the impossibly painful act of breathing.
Though it came slower than would be expected, eventually the thought entered the pained Southerner’s mind that he should move his feet underneath his hanging body to ease the pull on his shoulders. With great effort and minute movements, he accomplished this feat.
“Bravo, Mr. Standish,” Garver cheered, applauding the efforts of the injured man.
Ezra brought his head to an upright position and stared at the monster before him. He found that if he took only very shallow breaths, the pain wasn’t too intense.
“That was a brilliant display of pain and agony. I could almost taste the anguish you were feeling.” A self-satisfied sigh escaped him. “I’ll let you catch your breath before we move on to your back. Then, depending on your performance there - and your stamina - we’ll move onto your ribcage. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to see someone have every other rib broken.”
Ezra could feel fear, disbelief and disgust filling him as Garver explained what would be done to him. A chill ran down his spine as he realized Winston Garver would follow through on every single one of his sick suggestions. His only hope was that unconsciousness would claim him before things went too far.
Vin stood as he heard the bolt slide back, ready to greet whatever was coming his way. He didn’t have long to wait. The door was thrown open, but before he could react, Ezra came hurtling at him.
Rushing toward his friend, Vin wasn’t in time to catch Ezra before he hit the ground, but he was able to keep the Southerner’s head from coming in contact with the rock floor. Looking up, he caught sight of the guard’s laughing faces as they closed the door and slid the bold back into place.
“Ez,” Vin called, looking down at his friend. It only took him a glance at the man’s lax features and the lack of tension in his limbs to conclude that Ezra was unconscious. Shifting his grip, the Texan stood, bringing Ezra up with him. Making his way to the cot, he maneuvered the Southerner onto it, startled when Ezra groaned at being laid on his back.
Allowing the man to shift on his own, Vin watched as Standish turned onto his side and half-curled, a look of pain crossing his face. Looking at his friend more closely, Vin noticed that Ezra’s shirt was buttoned incorrectly. Reaching out to undo the buttons, he said a silent prayer that he was wrong. Vin was unable to stop the gasp of horror that escaped him as he opened the shirt and caught sight of Ezra’s abdomen. Lifting the shirt slightly, he also noted the marks and bruises on the man’s back. Still visible were the red indentations that Vin knew could only be caused by brass knuckles.
In his time in the army and later as a Bounty Hunter, he had become familiar with the effects of most weapons. What he couldn’t understand was why Garver had tortured Ezra in such a way. Had the two of them held any knowledge that might be beneficial to the man or his plans, Tanner could understand the treatment. That wasn’t the case.
Then the words from the report he’d read came back - the types of torture used, the prolonged agony before death was granted... This was what he and Ezra had to look forward to. It was true that Dennis, Calder and Ben were aware that they had disappeared and that Dennis would call in the rest of the team, but would they even know where to look? Where to begin? Closing his eyes, he sent a silent prayer to every deity he could name that the others would be good enough to figure this out. In the mean time, he would use some of their water supply to tend Ezra’s wounds while he thought of a way to escape.
Dennis Wright stood straight, outrage burning slowly in his eyes. The crowd parted to move around him, instinctively knowing to stay away from him. A fire of anger licked at the Canadian who had done all he could and was now waiting the reinforcements he had called.
Through some fancy footwork and a little finagling, he and Larabee had managed to gain official sanction for the remainder of the Denver team to come to his aid. His attempt to get the rest of his own team permission to work on this side of the border fell discouragingly flat.
At his right shoulder stood and equally angry and imposing Calder Robb. To his left was Ben Hastings. These three men had hit their limit. They had listened to Hemke and kept to the background of the case. With the betrayal and eventual death of Robert Cole, they had stepped forward and demanded an accounting. The Toledo man had no answers, having been blinded by his own thirst for power and trusting completely in the lies Cole had been feeding him.
When Wright and Robb had stepped in and taken over, he had sputtered and protested, but when both his and their cases had been presented to Hemke’s and Robb’s superiors, and the fact that an international gun-smuggling case had resulted in the death of one agent and the disappearance of two others, control of the operation had been immediately granted to Robb.
Now the three men stood in the airport waiting. They didn’t have to wait long.
Looking at the large mass of disembarking passengers, the trio could see the group from Denver making their way toward them. The crowd parted before these men, feeling their power and presence behind, even as they felt the same before them in the waiting trio.
Wright eyed the group coming toward him. There was a relaxed danger about them, an air of expectancy and power. They had naturally formed a slight V shape, though it appeared that they were walking almost side by side. In the center was a blond man dressed entirely in black, his jaw was set and he radiated power, obviously Larabee. To his right was a taller man with dark hair and an equally deadly aura, Wilmington. To that man’s right was a man who Wright surmised to be in his early to mid twenties. Of the five, he looked perhaps the least hardened, but the confidence in his stride came from experience, not ego, obviously Dunne. To the left of Larabee walked an imposing figure, the tallest of the group. Power sat easily upon him, proving him equal to any of the others, Jackson. The final member might have grey in his hair, but his presence projected his silent strength, Sanchez.
Wright stood his ground, locking eyes with Larabee.
As the man in black approached, he stopped an arms length away. “Wright?” he demanded.
Dennis nodded. “Mr. Larabee,” he said, his voice holding it’s own edge, his gaze never wavering. “We have business.” When Larabee nodded, Wright turned and led the men out of the airport to the waiting van.
Ezra existed in a never-ending darkness, a void, a nothing. At first it had provided comfort, a haven, a refuge from... from what? But now he was feeling trapped and sought a way out. As he reached out to search for an escape, light seared the space around him in sparks, bolts and soon explosions of pain. The sparks of pain he might have dealt with, those being small and rather mild. The bolts of pain, like lightening, were brilliant, powerful and short-lived. Again, something he could deal with, though it made him less comfortable.
But then came the explosions. The first stole his breath and his thoughts. The next few gave him just enough time in between to catch his breath. Now, though, they were picking up speed and filling the darkness around him - chasing it away. With each explosion, pain slammed into him, coursed through him, washed over him until there was only the light of pain consuming his entire conscious mind.
Opening his mouth he screamed, only to cry out at the pain it caused.
A new sound introduced itself. At first it was drowned out by the explosions, but as the pain continued to be his existence, the gentle ebb and flow of the sound provided a lifeline to which he clung - crying for the comfort of that soothing stream and not caring at the tears that fell.
As he focused on delving deeper into that soothing stream, he was able to distinguish that the sound was a voice - a familiar voice. As it continued its litany of soothing words, a name came to him. “Vin?” he whispered.
“That’s right, Ez. You just lay still and try to relax. They did a number on you.” Vin replied.
Ezra furrowed his brow, still reluctant to open his eyes afraid he would be blinded by the explosions. “Who? What?” he managed.
“Don’t worry about that for now,” Vin ordered, his voice gentle. “Do you think you could open your eyes for me?”
Ezra was afraid, but he trusted Vin. Vin wouldn’t hurt him. Not like the other man... Forcing his protesting eyes to open, Ezra blinked several times before the smiling face came into focus. “Garver,” he said, the name coming to him, though he wasn’t quite sure why as another wave of pain swept over him forcing out another groan as he moved his body, trying to escape the torment. A hand on his shoulder had him stopping his writhing and struggling to open his eyes once more. Staring into the compassionate blue orbs of his friend, Ezra took comfort as tears of pain fell from his own eyes.
“Yes,” Vin confirmed. “Garver took you and let his boys have some fun with you. Looks like they got you in the stomach and the back. They try anything else?” he asked, not sure if Ezra could or would talk about it.
“No,” Standish gasped. “Passed out too soon. Wanted to break every other rib to see what it was like...” he ground out before once more allowing his eyes to slide shut against the pain.
Vin felt his anger grow, felt his need for revenge increase. Garver would pay - and he would learn what pain was before the end, Vin would make sure of that. “We’re going to get out of this, Ezra,” he assured, determination and anger mixing equally in his voice. “And we’re going to make Garver pay.”
"Which one of you is going to be on the computers?" Ben asked as the group entered the Sandusky offices.
"That would be me," JD piped up, following Hastings.
The ride from the airport to the WCB office had been filled with introductions and bringing the Denver contingent up to speed. Dennis Wright also began outlining what they knew, what resources were available and what was already being done with regard to recovering the two agents.
"So, JD will be helping Ben with the research and background on Garver. What can we expect from your people?" Chris demanded of Wright.
"We have all of our resources that could be spared working on this from the Canadian side. We’re trying to get in touch with our man at Garver’s compound. Should it be determined he has crossed the border, I already have the paperwork in process to allow you to work as duly deputized agents of the CBPF."
"Good," Larabee replied. "Here’s what we’re bringing to the table..."
"What’s going on here!" shouted a voice.
Turning to look at the source of the disturbance, Josiah asked, "May we help you?"
"Who are you?" the man demanded, anger flushing his cheeks and sparking in his eyes.
Larabee, taking immediate offense at the tone, stood straighter and turned to face the intruder. "Who are you?" he returned, his eyes sending their own message of anger. He took some small pleasure from watching the man pause and seemingly retreat from his glare.
"May I introduce Marvin Hemke," Robb said, his distaste for the man evident in his voice. "Marvin, I’d like you to meet Chris Larabee," he watched Marvin pale slightly at meeting Larabee in person. Just for emphasis, he added, "Standish and Tanner’s Team Leader." He smiled slightly at the sight of Hemke’s face as it rapidly faded from flushed to pale to white as a ghost.
Hemke silently cursed. Part of the reason he’d been adamant about completely cutting Standish and Tanner off from their team had been because he didn’t want to face this man. He had known that the two men Cole had forced him to bring in would be difficult enough to handle without the added problem of the rest of their team. Now, with Cole dead and everything a mess, he’d ben so busy covering his tracks, and protecting his career, that he hadn’t thought to try to find the missing agents, having mentally already written them off as a loss. Still, he couldn’t lose this. "I’m still in charge of this investigation," he instructed, forcing himself to take a step closer to the man in black.
A cold smile curved Chris’ lips. "Not for long," he gritted, knowing command of the situation had already passed to Robb. Then, seeing the man was too scared to back down, he added, "Besides, we’re here at the behest of the Canadian government and the CBPF. We don’t fall under your command at the moment, we fall under Wrights, and before you even try to say it, we are fully authorized to act within the boundaries of the United States. We don’t have the same restriction that Wright and his men do." Then, taking a step closer to the man who had sent two of his team, two of his family, into potentially life-threatening danger with inadequate backup and protection, he ordered softly. "Josiah, Nathan. Please escort this piece of slime to the nearest office and make sure he stays there. We may need him later on."
"Our pleasure," Josiah agreed, placing one hand on Hemke’s shoulder and the other on his arm while Nathan did the same on the other side of the man.
Larabee looked on as the two agents led the sputtering man away.
"Thank you," Robb said.
"Anytime," Larabee responded before both men turned their attention back to the matter at hand.
Vin looked over at his friend resting uneasily on the cot. He wished there was more he could do for the man, but with only their clothes, the blankets on the cot and a pitcher of water, he didn’t have much with which to work. Still, when Ezra came to, he tried distracting him with conversation and held on as the waves of pain washed over the Southerner. He had managed to get one of the buckets that had been provided for their "sanitary convenience" under Ezra’s head as his already abused stomach rebelled against the small amount of water Tanner had managed to get into him. The pain that had followed had been almost more than Vin could bear to see. It was after that incident that Standish had fallen asleep, or more likely, passed out, but at least for a time he would be pain-free.
As he sat contemplating what their next course of action should be and trying to figure out what Ezra would be healthy enough to attempt, Vin noticed the Southerner’s head turn slightly. A sign he was about to wake up. Moving forward, Vin prepared to take Ezra’s hand, knowing that his friend would be disoriented and in pain.
A groan from Standish had Vin beginning his soothing litany.
Somewhere in the midst of the red world of pain that surrounded him, Ezra heard a soothing blue stream running. Turning his attention to finding the source of that comforting sound, he headed off in the direction he needed. Unfortunately, as he approached that sound, that promised refuge, the pain increased in intensity until it was almost unbearable, but he was now so close to that cool, blue stream that he could see it altering the red landscape around him. Just as he thought he could bear the pain no longer, his eyes opened and he found himself staring into the eyes of his friend. "Vin," he whispered, his eyes sliding shut once more.
"Hey," Vin greeted softly, smiling at his friend. "Welcome back to the land of the living."
Ezra cracked one green eye open and peered at his friend. "You’re sure about that?" he asked. When his answer was light laughter, he grumbled, "Hurt too much to be dead anyway."
Vin’s countenance softened at the admission. "I know, Ez," he comforted. "Wish there were more I could do for you, but we don’t have a whole lot of resources at the moment." Lifting the cup of water he’d set by the bed, he asked, "Do you want to try some water?"
Ezra eyes the water and shook his head. "In a minute. First I have some other business to tend to."
"Ah, Vin observed, understanding. "I’ll help you sit up and bring the bucket over. I don’t reckon you’re quite up to a walk to the corner just now."
In too much pain to feel any embarrassment at this situation, Ezra simply nodded and braced himself for the agony he knew would be coming his way. He felt Vin’s hands gently but firmly guide him upward and allowed the Texan to do most of the work. Once he was upright, he gripped the side of the cot until the waves of pain retreated to a manageable level. When he nodded that he was ok, he felt the hands that had been helping him remain upright disappear and the sound of his friend crossing the stone room.
A moment later the sound of a bucket being placed on the floor caused him to open his eyes. A grimace of disgust for their conditions crossed Ezra’s face. This was worse than camping.
Vin smiled. "I know, Pard. It ain’t exactly the Ritz, but at least they gave us a couple of buckets." Hearing the resigned sigh from his friend, he patted Ezra on the shoulder and ordered, "Call me when you’re done." Then, turning, he headed toward the other side of the small cell, careful to keep his face turned away in order to afford Standish what privacy he could.
Though too tired and in too much pain to thank his friend for his thoughtfulness. He did make a mental note to thank Vin later should they somehow manage to survive this ordeal. Taking care of his business, he grew concerned as he noted the presence of blood in his urine. He felt a wave of panic and debated whether he should tell Vin or not. Deciding to spare the Texan that information, he finished what he needed to and called out, "Vin."
Turning, Tanner walked across the room and picked up the bucket by the handle, ready to move it back to its place in the far corner. "You passin’ blood?" he asked.
Ezra sighed. Leave it to Vin to cut right to the chase. His friend would probably be able to tell if he was lying too. "Yes," Ezra replied, starting to lay back down. He had just released a groan of pain when he felt Vin’s gentle touch easing him back to the cot. "Thank you," he said, his eyes closed and his face screwed up in pain.
"No need for that," Vin deflected. "That’s what friends are for."
As he finished speaking, the door to their cell opened and Garver walked in with three thugs in his wake. Offering an evil grin, he informed, "Your turn, Mr. Tanner."
Two of the men came forward to take Vin. Not wanting to leave his friend, but needing to test the boundaries, he fought off the two guards who came at him - the third standing watch over Ezra. He had one guard down and was making good headway against the other when he felt a sharp prick on his neck. Suddenly his world wavered. Reaching up, he pulled out the tranquilizer dart. "Wha..." he managed to get out before collapsing to the ground, unconscious.
"Pick him up," Garver ordered. The second guard helped the first one up. The first one gave Vin a good kick in the ribs before Garver snapped. "Don’t! He is mine. You are not to touch him." Nodding his head in apology, the guard lifted Tanner and he and the other guard headed out carrying the unconscious man between them.
Without a word to the other occupant of the room, Garver turned on his heel and headed out, the third thug following him.
Ezra was left alone in too much pain to move. He had watched his friend fight for his freedom and been unable to even call out a warning when he spotted the tranquilizer gun. He berated himself for his inability to help, for not doing anything. "Some kind of friend you are, Ezra Standish," he admonished in a whisper as a tear snaked down his cheek.
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