Title: The List
Disclaimer: See parts 1-5
Ezra cracked an eye open, glaring at the offending object. How dare it make such an odious noise at… his brow furrowed. That couldn’t possibly be right. 6:30 A. M.? Surely there had been some sort of hideous mistake. Reaching out a leaden limb, Ezra attempted to drop his hand upon the object silencing it.
On the third try he actually managed to silence the noise.
Rolling onto his back, Ezra tried to recall why he would be attempting to arise at such an unholy hour. Travis, he thought. Yes. He and Vin were to meet Travis in his office at 7:30 sharp. For appearance’s sake they would need to be prompt. A part of him hoped that the others had figured out what was going on, but his more practical mind reared its ugly head and warned him against the dangers of hope.
Dragging his resistant body from its prone position, Ezra swung his legs over the side of his bed and rested, elbows on knees, for several seconds trying to wrap his mind around what he needed to do for his morning routine.
Finally standing, he shuffled off in the general direction of the bathroom. It seemed as good a place to start as any.
Fifty minutes later, he pulled his Jag into the parking garage of the ATF building. Driving to the area he usually parked, he noted Vin’s battered Jeep resting in its normal spot. He also noted the Sharpshooter holding a contented looking Cuervo. Releasing a sigh, he could see the tension in his friend and felt his own shoulders tense in response.
Though his first desire was to restart the car and drive out of the garage, out of Denver and forget any of this had ever happened, Ezra resisted his urge to flee. His determination to see this whole nightmare through was strengthened by the forlorn look in his brother’s eyes. He had promised Vin that he wouldn’t leave him. Ezra Standish didn’t promise many things, well, not promises that mattered anyway, but he would be damned if he would fail his brother in this.
Stepping out of the car, he made his way over to the patiently waiting Texan. Ezra reached out and scratched behind the ears of the purring cat. Smiling slightly, he said, “Would we were all so easily contented, my four-footed friend.” Cuervo rewarded Ezra with a knowing look and a quick flick of his sandpaper-like tongue. Shifting his attention away from the cat, he looked into the shadowed eyes of his friend. “How are you doing today, Mr. Tanner?” he asked.
Vin offered a half-hearted smile. “Back’s better,” he offered. “Rest is worse.”
Ezra nodded knowingly. “Shall we?” Seeing a nod of agreement, Ezra walked beside Vin as they headed for the elevator. Ezra smiled at the their positions. He walked beside Vin, an equal, a partner, a brother, not behind as a subordinate, or ahead as if he were better. There had been very few people in Ezra’s life he would have considered walking beside into Hell and back, only six as a matter of fact, and while he might have lost five of them, he knew that the sixth would always be there for him. Reaching out a hand, he patted Vin’s shoulder as he hit the up arrow for the elevator.
Though he held his mask of indifference firmly in place, Ezra could feel his increased pulse rate as they approached Travis’ office. His stomach clenched with a mixture of dread and hope. His fight or flight instinct seemed to be in overdrive, encouraging him to flee this scene. He stole a glance over at Vin. Noting the set jaw and firm step, he also saw the same mixture of emotions in the man next to him. Vin, however, didn’t seem about to flee. Drawing strength from the younger man’s determined step, Ezra lifted his chin, determined to face his nightmare, eased by the knowledge he wouldn’t be facing it alone.
Stopping at the outer office, the duo was asked to take seats until Travis was read for them. Sitting perfectly still, the two waited. The Assistant would shoot them the occasional glance, wondering at their placid faces and perfect stillness, after all, she had heard the tirade on Friday. Normally men who received such treatment from Orin Travis showed fear, but then, these two worked with Chris Larabee and if there was anyone in the world almost as scary as Orin Travis in a bad mood, it was Chris Larabee.
After about five minutes, the two men were told Travis was ready to see them. Standing, they made their way into the office, being careful to close the door behind them. Taking the seats Travis offered, they turned their hopeful eyes upon the man.
Travis watched the two men enter his office. He could see the same haunted look in their faces that had been there Friday along with exhaustion. Indicating for them to take seats, he offered them coffee. Seeing two nods of agreement, he walked over to the coffeemaker he kept in his office and poured two cups.
“So, what’d they say?” came a soft drawl from the seats.
Travis smiled and turned, a cup of coffee in each hand. Walking over to the two men, he handed each a cup of coffee. He noted the impatient, anxious look in the revealing blue eyes and sighed. Taking his seat, he settled down to explain what had happened at his weekend meeting.
“The other agencies have started their own investigations as I said Friday, but they aren’t as far as we are with most of it. I have a list of others in the Denver area who will be working on this,” Travis explained.
“Sounds like our own damn list,” Vin muttered under his breath.
Travis shot him a sharp look and smiled. “Yes it does,” he agreed. “But we’re facing a well-organized and powerful group. We are only at the most basic level. You’ve both seen the organizational chart on this. You know what we’re up against.” Seeing Vin and Ezra both shift in their seats, Travis raised an eyebrow, curious. “What?” he demanded.
Ezra saw the look Vin shot him, asking him to explain. “Well, sir,” Ezra began, “that’s not necessarily true anymore. It would appear that Mr. Tanner and myself have made far greater inroads into the organization than could be expected. In fact, one might say we’ve gone straight to the top.”
“Fellini?” Travis asked, his disbelief evident in his voice. Seeing the nod of agreement from Tanner, Travis closed his mouth. “We’ll get to that in a moment. I need to tell you more of what happened. Because we were contacted, I was put in operational control of the entire situation. I’ll be tracking the information you retrieve and updating my counterparts and the other required people. When the break finally comes, each agency will take responsibility for their people. The public figures involved will be tied to one agency or another. We won’t be letting on to the media or anyone else that this is all one syndicate. It’s going to be sold to the public as a government-wide crackdown on corruption. Each trial will be held separately, even when entire teams like Team 10 are taken in. We’re hoping that will result in too many individual trial for any one person to tied together.”
“But can we tell them?” Vin persisted, his need for his family evident in his strained question.
Travis leaned back in his chair and folded his hands. “Yes,” he said and saw the immediate relief flow through the two young men before him. He saw them ease back in their chairs, a large portion of their tension leaving them. It had been far harder on the men and most likely on Team Seven than he thought. Travis felt a vague twinge of guilt assail him at having misjudged his team, but it was too late to regret the decision now. Now he just had to hope the others were as good as Standish and Tanner at hiding the truth. “However,” he continued, regaining their attention, “you two are still operating more or less on your own undercover. They will continue their jobs and you will continue to draw away from them. They will be available as backup, to help with surveillance and in any other way necessary, but you two will be reporting directly to me on this. Understood.” He received two nods of understanding. The corner of Travis’ mouth twitched, he could probably ask them for their first-born children, a kidney and their right arm right now and they’d agree, he mused.
Leaning forward and opening his desk drawer, he pulled out the guns and badges he had collected the previous Friday. Handing them back to their respective owners, he said, “Both of you are now back on full status. Now tell me what happened this weekend.”
Four men sat impatiently at their desks, eyes scanning from the clock to the elevators. The clock read 7:45 and there was no sign of Chris.
“Try his cell again,” JD encouraged.
“I’ve tried every five minutes for the past 30 and there’s still no answer!” Buck shouted. Then, seeing the stricken look on JD’s face, he apologized. “I’m sorry, JD. We’re all just on edge and anxious to get up that meeting with Ez, Vin and Travis.”
JD smiled, acknowledging the truth of the statement. “I know Buck,” he offered, “I just don’t have that much patience left.”
Josiah opened his mouth to say something as the elevator doors opened revealing the ominous form of Chris Larabee. “Thank God,” he breathed. Standing to follow the others to the elevator their leader was holding.
Crowding into the elevator, the five men rode it up to the floor Travis’ office was on.
Stepping off the elevator, they strode down the hall, unaware of the imposing image they presented. Led by the man in black, the set faces of the other four men did little to encourage friendly greetings. In fact, most people took one look at the approaching wall of danger and quickly got out of the way, feeling a stab of pity for whoever had caused such looks to appear on the faces of the five men and a wave of relief that it wasn’t them.
Entering the outer office, Larabee and the others ignored the protests of Travis’s Administrative Assistant. When she actually stood in front of the door, Larabee picked her up and bodily handed her to Josiah who carefully placed the woman to the side.
Their way now clear, Chris opened the door and stepped in, followed closely by the rest of the team in time to hear Travis command, “Now tell me what happened this weekend.”
“That’s what we want to know,” Larabee hissed at his men. He heard the door click shut and looked at the three faces that had turned at the intrusion. “What the Hell is going on? We found the List. We know about Fellini and the others. We know that you know Travis and we suspect that you’re trying to get Vin and Ezra to make it look believable that we would kick them off the team or transfer them to Team 10. What I, what we, want to know is why Hell you didn’t tell us?”
The three co-conspirators scanned the five faces before them, seeing the resolve, seeing the truth and knowledge there. Vin and Ezra exchanged a look before turning to Travis for an explanation.
Travis sighed. “Let’s go someplace that has enough chairs for everyone,” he suggested. “Once we’ve settled there, I’ll tell you everything I know. Then Vin and Ezra can update us about the latest developments in the case.” Seeing nods of agreement, he stood and the eight men started toward the elevators. The five imposing figures still walked together, followed by a contrite looking Orin Travis and the unreadable pair of Vin Tanner and Ezra Standish, though if one were to give an opinion, the two bringing up the rear looked almost smug and pleased with something.
As they entered the elevator, Vin leaned over and whispered something to JD who nodded his understanding. Ezra shot Vin a curious glance. Vin just nodded that things would be ok.
When they arrived back on the floor which housed Team Seven, JD pushed his way out first, quickly making his way to his desk where he threw open a drawer and started rummaging through his random collection of electronic equipment before surfacing with something.
He just managed to squeeze past the others as they entered the conference room and began arranging themselves around the table. Scanning the room he caught sight of Vin motioning everyone to be quiet and wait. Finishing his scan, JD released the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding and said, “Far as I can tell, there’s nothing here.”
“Thanks, JD,” Vin said a grateful smile gracing his face.
Chris turned a puzzled glare at Vin. “Bugs?” he asked.
Vin’s face was serious. “It’s a possibility Chris. We can’t be too careful about this. There are too many lives at stake,” he said. Including yours, Cowboy, he sent silently. He saw Chris’ eyebrows rise in surprised shock.
Travis cleared his throat, settling at the foot of the conference table, Tanner on one side of him, Standish on the other and five less than friendly faces focusing their hostile gazes at him. Damn, he thought, hope I live through this. Clearing his throat, he began. “It sounds like you know most of what’s going on. I’ll fill you in on the details you’re missing and then these two can update us on the latest developments.” Seeing nods of agreement around the table, he continued. “About two or three weeks ago, while undercover, a young woman approached Agent Tanner at dinner and gave him a diskette. Tanner and Standish were reviewing the file when I walked into Team Seven’s area. As you know from having read the file for yourselves, the information in it is explosive. Evaluating the options, I decided on a course of action. My first request was that Tanner and Standish try to confirm the information’s accuracy without arousing suspicion. They managed to do so. Once informed that they had corroborated the evidence, I decided upon a plan of action.”
Scanning the faces, he took a deep breath. He knew what he was about to say would make him one of Team Seven’s least favorite people, but that couldn’t be helped. “Since Team 10 is mostly on Fellini’s payroll, I felt it necessary to get Vin and Ezra onto Team 10 as an in. I asked them to begin creating problems on Team 7 so that people wouldn’t question when I decided to swap the two of them with the two members of Rollins team not on the take.” Looking into each set of eyes now glaring hostilely at him, he said, “All of your reactions needed to be genuine. They needed to be believable.” Nothing. Silence. Suppressing a sigh, he continued. “Friday morning I received a call from Agent Tanner informing me that he and Agent Standish were finding their current course of action too difficult to maintain. He made some very persuasive arguments in favor of alerting you as to what was happening.”
All eyes turned to see Vin who seemed focused on Travis. Both he and Ezra wore enigmatic smiles, causing the rest of Team Seven to wonder exactly what the sharpshooter had said to persuade the AD.
Clearing his throat to regain the attention he had lost, Travis related, “I had already set a meeting with members of the other agencies involved, members I could trust, for the weekend, so I didn’t want to give away too much before then, especially because I didn’t want to jeopardize lives or the investigation. So, we staged the discussion over their behavior in the Saloon the previous night. Though we had to make it look good, we tried to make it seem rehearsed enough that it would raise your suspicions, Chris. I have to say, we were worried when you left that you wouldn’t pick up on that given your current state of anger.”
Chris smiled and shot a grateful look at Buck. “I didn’t until Buck got me calmed down,” he admitted.
“Good,” Travis stated. “Anyway, I flew out Friday and met with my counterparts and those in the know. We discussed the file, the proof and the investigations underway. Given the extent of the corruption, we felt the public would lose any and all trust in us if they knew the true extent of the problem. As such, we have decided to work together as much as possible, but feed this to the media as unrelated instances of corruption within various government agencies. Each agency will try their cases separately as unrelated to the others. Hopefully that will keep the media from putting things together and realizing the extent of the organization.”
Taking another deep breath, he continued. “This is a very delicate operation. We will offer the other agencies as much help as possible. The danger is if those involved get suspicious. That is why I was reluctant to let anyone else in on this. I know you are the best we have, but Vin and Ezra’s lives now depend on how believable you can make the fights, how realistic you make the rifts look. If Rollins or Corbin or anyone else suspects that the discord is anything but real…” He let the statement hang, seeing that everyone at the table understood the seriousness of the situation. “After a lot of discussion, I was told to allow you all in on it. You will be backup to Tanner and Standish. You are to take your queues from them and from me. It’s the only way,” he finished.
He scanned the unhappy group of men and saw Larabee’s reluctant nod of agreement.
“Good,” Travis replied. “Now we need to be updated on what happened this weekend.
Six sets of curious eyes turned toward Vin and Ezra. The two men looked at each other, holding a silent communication in which it was agreed Vin would begin, he being the one least likely to be shot by Larabee.
“Well,” he began with great trepidation, “we sorta spent the weekend with Frederick Fellini.”
“You what!” came the enraged cry from around the table.
At the initial sound, Vin and Ezra both flinched in their chairs. As the voices of their brothers fought for domination, the duo quickly scanned the table and noted Larabee sitting quietly at the end of the table, eyes burning. At the other end of the table sat Orin Travis, every bit as quiet and terrifying as their leader. Looking at each other, their eyes got larger in worry. This was worse than they could have imagined.
“Gentlemen,” came the commanding tone of Orin Travis. His authority carried over the table without the need for raising his voice. As the men quieted and sat, all now glaring at the two sitting by Travis, he continued. “I’m sure Agents Standish and Tanner have a very good explanation as to why they have attempted contact with Fellini at this stage.” Giving both agents a hard look, he queried, “Gentlemen?”
Vin shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Ezra adjusted his cuffs. Neither wanted to answer the question.
“Ezra,” came a low growl from the irate blond at the head of the conference table.
Clearing his throat nervously, Ezra commenced the tale. “Yes. Well. As you know, Mr. Tanner and myself were under orders from Mr. Travis to maintain the ruse that we found our current relationship with you less than idyllic and desired to precipitate a disunity among our assemblage. Finding within ourselves the inability to perform such a task without elucidating you upon the full scope of the situation, we conspired to enact a subterfuge, which would keep us out of communication for at least the day. Having decided upon our course of action…”
“What the Hell are you talkin’ about Ez?” Buck interrupted. Turning to the others, he could see confusion writ on JD’s face as well. “Vin, what the Hell did he just say?” The ladies’ man asked the sharpshooter.
Not meeting the eyes of his friends, he stared at the table and translated, “We couldn’t hurt ya deliberate like and decided to go somewheres all y’all couldn’t reach us.”
“And that was to Fellini!” shouted Nathan. He was angry. These men had done some stupid things in their day, but this had to come damn close to topping them all.
Vin’s eyes flashed as his glare bore into Nathan. “No! We found a dead zone for our phones and went to the rodeo.”
Silence reigned at the table for a good five seconds before JD could no longer muffle his chortle of laughter. Soon Buck and the others joined in, even Chris smiled.
“I fail to comprehend what is so amusing, gentlemen,” Ezra stated, somewhat affronted.
“Ezra at a rodeo?” JD choked out before trailing off into another stream of laughter.
Ezra looked at Vin. Vin just shrugged and waited for everyone to calm down. When order once more began to reign at the table, he continued. “On our way back from lunch, someone set off some firecrackers that spooked one of the horses. The rider was about to fall…”
“And you charged in to save the day,” Nathan muttered, shaking his head at the predictable and dangerous antics.
Vin and Ezra exchanged a look, were they really that predictable? Seeing Ezra’s slight shrug, Vin took a breath and continued. “Turns out the woman we helped was the one what gave me the diskette. Then Fellini came chargin’ in and thanked us.”
Silence blanketed the room. Six sets of eyes remained fixed on the duo. “And…” Josiah prompted.
Vin looked at Ezra to continue. With a sigh, Ezra opened his mouth. “In simple English,” Chris growled.
Releasing another sigh, Ezra continued. “Mr. Fellini was tremendously grateful for our assistance in ensuring his niece’s well-being and insisted we be his guests for dinner as a mode of thanks.” Chris raised an eyebrow. Ezra had been plain, but he hadn’t given much information. Looking over at Vin, Larabee’s eyes demanded more detail.
Vin shrugged and picked up the thread, “So we had dinner, chatted, spent the night and left.” Feeling their eyes boring into him, Vin knew they wanted more detail, he just wasn’t ready to give it to them. Everyone needed to calm down first. His back was hurting, they’d done nothing but yell at he and Ezra and he just wasn’t in the mood to be nice about things.
Larabee leaned back in his chair. Slowly unclenching his hands, he rested them on the arms of his seat. He hated being out of control. He hated when his men took risks. He hated when he didn’t know what was going on and he especially hated that he had suffered all of these indignities over the past four days due to the two Agents at the end of the table. The weekend he spent worrying about them, only to find them well had flipped his emotions once more. Then to hear them so blithely discuss having spent the weekend with the target of their investigation… “Tell me everything,” Larabee spat through gritted teeth, rage rolling off of him and washing in waves down to the targets of his dissatisfaction.
“Do you wish to summarize, Mr. Tanner, or shall I?” Ezra asked, hoping the sharpshooter would accept the task.
Looking into Ezra’s eyes, Vin read Ezra’s desire to hide. Feeling the same way, he decided to let Ezra off the hook. Taking a deep breath, he began, “Fellini had us stay with him for the rest of the rodeo. He wanted to take us ta his house for dinner. Seemed ta take a real shine ta both Ez and me. We decided to play him as straight as possible, especially with the inroads we’ve been making with Team 10.” He noticed the others sit up straight at this revelation.
“Inroads with Team 10?” Josiah asked, curious.
Vin looked at Ezra with pleading eyes. Closing his own, Ezra summarized, “Most of Team 10 is on Fellini’s payroll, as you know if you read the list in full. Friday night, we met with those members of the team who have sold their souls to the foul creature and did our best to find our way into their good graces. The end result is that Mr. Tanner attended a baseball game yesterday with one member of the aforementioned team while I attended the opening with both Fellini and Jeff Corbin.” Having summarized their involvement with Team 10, Ezra sank back in his chair hoping it would hide him.
Vin nodded his agreement with Ezra’s statement. “So we told him we were agents with the ATF, didn’t tell him what we did specifically, but let him know we were on Team 7. He’s heard of us and didn’t seem ta like ya a whole lot, Cowboy,” Vin reported, looking at Chris. “We took a tour of his house, had dinner and talked about stuff – just general stuff until he asked us a weird question.” At this point Vin fell back, his eyes lost in the disturbing memory of that question and revelation.
Ezra shifted uncomfortably in his chair, inadvertently causing six sets of expectant eyes to fall on him. Noticing the discomfort of the close scrutiny, he cleared his throat. “He inquired as to our thoughts on the problem that most plagued our world today. He then delivered his opinion – overpopulation.” He saw puzzled looks on most of the faces around him, before he continued. “It would appear that he feels two-thirds of the world’s population must be removed in some manner if the human race is to continue to evolve. His method of providing that means is to supply guns to those he deems undesirable and allow them to remove themselves from the population.”
JD shot a look around the table, he felt sick. He could see the same feeling being expressed in every man’s eyes. “Kill off two thirds of the people? How sick is he?” JD inquired. “And he just came out and told you?”
Vin picked up the narrative. “Yep, came right out and told us. Seemed real anxious ta get us ta agree with him. It’s late so we went to bed then. Next mornin’ I got up early and headed off to see the horses. Ran into Anna there, the lady what gave me the diskette. Seems her uncle is losin’ his mind. ‘Cordin’ tell her he’d never’ve told us nothin’ three months ago, but he’s losin’ his grip.”
Buck snorted and muttered, “Must be losin’ his grip on reality if he likes the two of you.” Silence fell around the table as all eyes turned to Buck “What?” he asked innocently. “They opened the door, I just walked through,” he defended.
A smile twitched at the corner of Larabee’s mouth. Catching sight of it, Nathan allowed a smile to form on his lips as well. Soon the other men were smiling and chuckling slightly at Buck’s humor.
“Shut up, Buck” Vin and Ezra ordered at the same time.
Vin focused on the table, collecting his thoughts as he waited for things to settle down again. Finally quiet settled upon the men. Looking up, Vin allowed his eyes to drill into each man at the table. “We can’t let it go on much more. He completely loses it, no tellin’ what kind o’ trouble we’ll be havin’.” He waited until all the men at the table nodded in agreement before continuing. “Anna is under constant surveillance which is why we don’t have the files yet. She and her pa are bein’ held against their will and will need ta be gotten outta there.” Vin shifted uncomfortably at the next part. He didn’t want to let on how much his back hurt him and especially not since he knew Chris would be carrying guilt about it.
“Well?” Travis encouraged. “What else happened? You said something about him not liking Mr. Larabee.”
Vin looked at Chris, winced and looked away. Shifting in his chair yet again, he offered, “Thursday I landed real hard on m’ back. It got all bruised up and some swellin’ and stuff. Went ta th’ doctor and got some pills for it, but it got ta botherin’ me. Anna figured it out an’ set it up so’s I could get a massage from Fellini’s Massage Therapist. Turns out she’s an old friend o’ mine, reliable and all. Might be an in for us. Anyway, Fellini found out, asked how it happened and I couldn’t see no benefit from lyin’ ta him, only harm, so I told him how it happened.” Vin’s voice had been getting softer and softer. All the men were leaning forward to hear him by this point.
“You told him I threw you through a table,” Chris choked out softly, ashamed of what he’d done to his best friend.
Vin kept his eyes locked on the table and nodded. “Fellini’s real mad about it. Wanted ta do somethin’ to ya, but I talked him outta it. He just don’t like ya a real lot, Chris.”
Silence enveloped the table for several seconds before Josiah cleared his throat. “That could be useful,” he said thoughtfully. He felt all eyes turn to him. “I’m not sure how it could be used just now, and I know it’s dangerous for Chris, but it might prove beneficial in the long run.” The men at the conference table pondered this bit of information.
“Did Fellini give any indication he would recruit you?” Travis asked.
“Mr. Fellini went out of his way several times to express his great admiration for Mr. Tanner and myself, take us into his confidence and treat us as if we were equals in his endeavors. I fear our ‘saving’ of his niece has given more of an entrance than months of undercover work would have been able to garner. Now we just need to be cautious about how we proceed,” Ezra informed them.
Travis nodded, then leaning forward he asked, “So, what’s your plan?”
Ezra looked around at his teammates and worked to suppress his smile. He and Vin had finally been able to tell the rest of the true reason for their behavior. The meeting hadn’t gone entirely smoothly, especially when they had revealed not only the fact that he and Vin had met Fellini, but also the fact that they had spent the weekend with him.
At one point he wasn’t sure his well-intentioned and protective friends would allow them out of the room alive. Nathan had looked about ready to throttle them. Buck’s face had achieved an interesting shade of red. JD, it appeared, had developed something of a glare of his own. Josiah seemed displeased, but at least open to listening to them. Travis appeared ready to spit nails. Chris… Chris had been angry and upset, but those emotions were tempered by an underlying guilt.
Ezra leaned back in his chair. Guilt. It could be a very destructive force, especially in someone like Chris Larabee, a private man who had difficulty admitting he was wrong and even more trouble forgiving himself for mistakes. Vin had forgiven him, had told Chris it was all right. Yet Ezra had seen the tiny flame of guilt flare in the Team Leader’s eyes each time Vin moved stiffly or shifted in his seat.
Ezra allowed his eyes to rest on the Sharpshooter across from him. All of Vin’s focus appeared to be on the report he was typing, but Ezra knew differently. It was a very rare occasion, indeed, when anything slipped past the notice of the young man, yet just now Ezra could tell Vin’s attention was equally divided between the report on his screen and easing the pain in his back. Releasing a quiet sigh, Ezra had to admit to himself that his partner was much better now than he had been the past few days, but it was still painful to watch him.
Soon, the end of the day arrived and the men on the team stood to leave. Vin lagged behind slightly, straightening his desk before painfully making his way toward the elevator bank. Members of the other teams were also filtering toward the elevators when a harsh voice called out, “Tanner! Get your butt back here.”
Freezing in their tracks, all faces turned to look at the sharpshooter, eyes filled with pity for his predicament. Larabee sounded angry and that caused several people to scurry for escape. Vin noted that Craig and Davey from Team 10 were watching the proceedings with interest and looks of sympathy. Allowing anger to flood his visage, Vin released a soft string of curses as he turned. “What do ya want, Larabee. It’s quittin’ time,” he demanded, staring at his boss defiantly.
Those who were unfortunate enough to miss the first set of elevators tried not to watch the confrontation but found their gazes drawn to the conflict by the same fascinated horror the grips drivers as they pass a fatal accident. They found themselves completely incapable of not looking.
Noting the vein throbbing in Larabee’s forehead, Buck felt a desire to stay and protect Vin. He had managed to pull Vin to the side and apologize for his comments of Thursday night at the Saloon. Vin had just smiled and said, “forget it”. Buck was grateful for the forgiveness, but a part of him still felt bad for attacking his friend causing him to be overprotective. Taking a deep breath, he turned his attention to the elevator bank knowing he couldn’t interfere.
Larabee drilled his gaze into the young man before him. “You will stay here until I say you can leave,” he ground out, his voice a low, deadly growl.
Tanner snorted in disbelief and turned back toward the elevators. “Quittin’ time’s, quittin’ time,” he declared sagely.
Larabee stormed up to the young man, grabbing him by the shoulder and spinning him around. “I don’t know what’s gotten into to you and I don’t care. You were supposed to have those reports to me before the end of the day,” he hissed.
The brief demand from Larabee gave Vin the opportunity to recover his breath. The sudden movement created by Larabee when spinning Vin around had aggravated the younger man’s back. “I gave you your reports an hour ago,” Vin spat back, anger radiating from ever fiber of his being, his very posture projecting danger.
Larabee’s eyes widened in disbelief. “You call those reports?” he demanded, his voice increasing in volume. “Hell, I know three year olds who write better than that.” Taking a step closer, he looked down, directly into the eyes of the Texan. “You will stay here and re-write those reports correctly, or…” he let the threat hang, allowing a slow, cruel smile to curve his lips.
Fists clenched and face reddened with his rage and embarrassment, Vin offered one more heated, hate filled glare at his Team Leader before stalking back toward his desk. Passing Chris he muttered, just loud enough to carry, “Fuckin’ Cowboy.”
Chris froze. “What did you call me?” he asked, the deadly edge once more returning to his voice.
“Ya heard me,” Vin spat back. “Or have ya gone deaf in yer old age?”
Stepping up to the younger man, Chris ordered, “My office. Now!” And then waited while the sharpshooter eyed him up and down before slowly turning and sauntering into Larabee’s office. Feeling all eyes upon him, he turned to the curious group. Allowing the full force of his anger to flow through his glare, he watched them shift nervously and scamper for the elevators as the doors opened. Chris waited until the last of the people were on the elevators headed down before returning to his office. Stepping in, he closed the door behind him.
Concern for his friend flooded Larabee as he witnessed Vin lying on his back on the floor, knees raised, a look of pain evident on his face. “God, Vin,” he said, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you more.”
“’S OK, Cowboy,” Vin offered. “Made it look more b’lievable.” Then looking up into the concerned, and guilt-ridden green eyes he suppressed a sigh, offering instead a cocky grin. “Think we ‘bout gave Buck a coronary, though.” He said, waiting for the grin to appear on Larabee’s face. Eventually the corners of Chris’s mouth began to twitch. Seeing that, Vin wiggled his eyebrows, earning a laugh from his best friend.
Chris felt some of his guilt ebb as Vin’s dry wit took effect. Looking into the expressive blue eyes of his friend, Chris read no recrimination for his actions. Allowing a larger portion of his guilt to slip away he asked, “Is there anything I can do?”
Vin watched as Chris began to forgive himself, almost releasing a sigh of relief when he saw most of the guilt leave his friend. “Left m’ pills on m’ desk,” Vin said, wincing as a muscle in his back spasmed.
Chris nodded and left to get the pills and some water. Returning, he saw Vin in the same position, only this time he had his arms covering his eyes. Chris, noting that Vin’s color was several shades too pale, quickly gave his friend the pills he needed. “Anything else I can do, Vin?” he asked, concerned and once more fighting the tendrils of guilt.
Vin looked up into the worried green eyes. “Nope,” he answered shortly. Another spasm raced up his back muscles. “Maybe call Barb?” he suggested through gritted teeth. “Her card’s in my coat pocket.”
Larabee nodded and reached down to retrieve the card. Walking over to his desk, he quickly placed the call and asked for Barb to come as quickly as possible. Finishing the call, he turned to look at Vin. “She’ll be here in about 20 minutes,” he informed the man on the floor.
Vin nodded to let Chris know he’d heard. Taking several deep breaths to help ease the pain, he asked, “Think we were convincing enough?”
Larabee looked down at the young man and couldn’t suppress the chuckle that bubbled up. “Hell, Vin,” he replied, “I believed it and I knew it was rehearsed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen JD go pale quite so quickly.”
Vin chuckled at the memory. “Guess we did pretty good, huh? Fooled our friends and ourselves,” he observed. A faint trace of guilt entered the sky blue eyes as he thought of his words to Chris from Thursday. Shifting slightly, he focused on his knees and said, “I’m real sorry about what I said Thursday.” Looking into the green eyes, Vin allowed his honesty and sincerity to flow out from his. “I don’t see ya like that, Chris. Yer a good man and I don’t judge ya fer nothin’.”
Chris smiled down at Vin. “You don’t have nothin’ to be sorry for, Cowboy. Now that I know what it was about, I don’t have any problem with it. I forgive you,” he offered.
“And I forgive you for throwin’ me through the table. Chris,” he said, trying to catch the man’s eye. “Ez and I set you up for that. We knew what we were doin’ and did it deliberately. I’m sorry we used you… I’m sorry I used you like that,” he offered, his voice softening. Seeing the last trace of guilt leave his friend as understanding bloomed, Vin held up his hand which was immediately taken by Larabee in their familiar grip.
A small spark of devilment glowed in Larabee’s eyes. “Manipulated me, did you?” he asked, looking down at the younger man, a less than comforting smile on his lips.
“Aw, Hell,” came Vin’s worried reply.
Tom Rollins slowly replaced the receiver in its cradle before settling back in his chair. The call had been unexpected and it shook him. He knew Fellini was aware of his interest in Standish and Tanner and bringing them onto Team 10, but Rollins had not expected Fellini’s personal involvement.
Tom wasn’t suspicious of Fellini’s instructions to get them away from Larabee as soon as possible; he was surprised. He had only heard of the Tanner/Larabee run in Tuesday morning, but Fellini knew every detail. The man also knew about the dressing down Standish received when he showed up five minutes late for a briefing on Tuesday. Everyone whispered that Larabee was losing it. Even the rest of Team Seven appeared to be walking on eggshells.
Fellini wanted Larabee removed. That could get interesting, Rollins thought to himself.
Simms and Corbin had given the green light to proceed cautiously with the two potential recruits, but Fellini was adamant that they be brought in without hesitation. What the Hell had happened? Maybe it was time to have lunch with Tanner and Standish and get some answers. The way Larabee was railing at them about their expense reports right now, they probably needed the break. Rollins shook his head, wincing as Larabee’s voice carried into Team 10’s area. For a man known for his menacing silence, Larabee sure could be heard when needed.
Typing out a quick email, Rollins invited Tanner and Standish to lunch. He would spend the time finding out why Fellini felt they were so important and feel them out about working on Team 10. If they agreed, he would speak with Travis this afternoon and see if he could get the men transferred by Monday.
Of course, he still needed to speak to Connors and Daniels about leaving the team, let them know it was nothing about their skills, but those two goody-two-shoes wouldn’t raise a fuss, especially if Rollins made it sound like they were doing everyone a favor. Yes, that would be the way he’d approach it with them.
As for Larabee? A frown creased Tom’s brow. Fellini had wanted him removed and Tom had been working with the man long enough to know removed meant dead. While other people had been “removed” over the years, Larabee would be a problem. Hopefully by removing Standish and Tanner from the man’s control, Fellini would forget about him. If not… Life could get a whole lot more complicated very quickly.
A knock at his door had Rollin’s head snapping around. “What?” he asked, seeing Sarah Daniels, Team 10’s current undercover operative in the doorframe.
“Just wondering if there’s anything you can do about Larabee. He’s already scared one of my contacts off the phone with his ranting. I’ll never get the information we need if he doesn’t stop,” she explained.
Releasing a sigh, Tom stood. “I’ll see what I can do,” he replied. Then letting a small smile show added, “Maybe I’ll get some of the other Team Leaders to go with me. He can’t shoot us all, right?” He saw Sarah smile in response to his joke. Yep, she’d be gone soon if he had any say. Once she and Paul Connors were gone, Team 10 could make a real difference – especially to their bank accounts.
Walking out into the hallway, he stopped by Team 4’s area and saw several other Team Leaders gathered there. Approaching the group, he nodded his greeting and asked, “Trying to decide who’s going to walk into the lion’s den?”
The others turned and smiled. Adam Grant, leader of Team 2 replied, “Yep. This can’t go on. If they can’t work it out, some changes need to be made.”
“We were going to go to Orin with this, see if maybe he could shift some personnel, but all of our undercover agents are, well, undercover at the moment,” Tina Jakes, Leader of Team 6 said.
Feeling all eyes upon him, Tom worked to suppress a smile. This was working out better than he thought. Now it will look like it wasn’t even his idea. Nodding, he said, “Let me guess, because we’re just starting a case you were thinking I’d be happy to swap for Tanner and Standish.” He watched several sheepish looks while he scanned the faces. Releasing a sigh he said, “All right. But only on a temporary basis.” He saw the relief flood the faces of the others. Then allowing a mischievous smile to curve his mouth, he said, “Of course, since I’m taking those troublemakers, you can deal with Larabee right now.” He laughed as the faces before him winced and cringed. He couldn’t have planned it more perfectly if he’d tried. Now he just needed to talk to Daniels and Connors and let them know what was going on. He’d see Tanner and Standish at lunch.
Turning to leave, he called back over his shoulder, “Oh, and one of you better tell Travis what’s going on.” He laughed as he heard the others groan.
Stepping back into Team 10’s area, he called, “Daniels! Connors! My office now.”
The sharpshooter and the undercover agent exchanged glances. They had been suspicious of their teammates for some time, but none of them had ever done anything to give them cause to report them. Both agents were aware that they didn’t fit in well with Rollin’s idea of Team, though they weren’t sure what exactly that entailed. Still, he had been a good and fair Team Leader, making sure they always had what they needed to do their jobs and progress in their careers. Something in his voice, though, bespoke of changes for the two agents.
Rollins waited for them to enter his office. “Close the door and have a seat,” he requested of his agents. Seeing their nervous looks, he smiled and let his eyes soften, trying to put them at ease. “I just met with the other Team leaders. They’ve gone to deal with Larabee right now.” Looking each agent in the eye, he continued, “Right now, we are the only other team either not already in the middle of a case or wrapping one up. The other leaders have requested that I arrange a swap – the two of you go to Team Seven, Standish and Tanner come here.”
Seeing the concerned looks on their faces, he continued, “I’m not going to force either of you to do this. Everyone knows that team isn’t the easiest to work with and I’m not exactly looking forward to having those two troublemakers on my team either. But the fact remains, if something isn’t done, the problems we’ve had over the past few days are going to continue and will get worse. I’ll give you some time to think about it and let me know.”
“Thank you,” Connors said. “We’ll let you know soon.” Then, standing, he and Daniels left the room to discuss the pros and cons of switching to Team Seven.
Rollins knew they would do it. They liked Sanchez and Jackson, were amused by Dunne, Daniels could handle Wilmington, leaving the only question mark if they would be able to handle Larabee. Contemplating how he would approach Standish and Tanner at lunch, Tom was startled by a knock on his door. He looked up into the face of Adam Grant. “You talk to Travis?” he asked.
Grant smiled. “Larabee was there when I got there already yelling at Orin about getting those two, and I quote, “insubordinate morons”, off of his team today. It really was something to see. Travis just sat there looking at Larabee as if he had grown another head. When Larabee finally took a breath I stepped in and mentioned we had a potential solution. Travis should be calling you soon.”
“Thanks, Adam,” Tom said, smiling at his fellow team leader as his phone began to ring.