Title: The List
Disclaimer: See parts 1-5
Ezra released a sigh. Act or not, Larabee’s yelling was hurting his ears. Glancing over at the Texan, he shook his head. Vin appeared to be sound asleep. Lord he hoped someone would complain soon. Watching the blond pace across the room yet again going on about their expense reports, he began wondering how much of this was show and how much was what Chris really felt about his reports. True, Ezra did have a tendency to be more explicit in his reports than most and he did try for reimbursement for everything – at its full cost, but his claims were never unreasonable, at least not to his way of thinking.
A momentary silence fell in the room. Ezra focused on his Leader. Had Chris just asked him something. “Pardon me, Mr. Larabee,” he began, “I was contemplating some of the finer points you have made and lost track of what you were saying. Would you mind repeating the question?”
Chris’ eyes sparkled with laughter and a smile curved his lips. He knew that Standish hadn’t been listening and had asked him if Ezra would mind loaning him the Jag for a week. “I’ll take that as a yes,” he said, his smile broadening to show his even white teeth.
The immobile form of the sharpshooter emitted a low chuckle. “He’s askin’ ta borrow your Jag, Ez,” the young man informed the Southerner.
“Traitor,” Larabee muttered, knocking Vin’s booted feet from his desk.
Ezra smiled at the men. “Mr. Larabee,” Ezra began, trying to find a diplomatic way of saying, ‘No way in Hell!’ “While I know you are a safe driver and you have proven yourself reliable, I feel that our current circumstances would make my loaning you my fine automobile… inadvisable at best.”
Chris let out a low chuckle. “Think we’ve gone on long enough?” he asked, sipping his coffee. His throat was sore from the shouting.
“Reckon,” Vin said. “Think you’ve been repeatin’ yourself goin’ on fifteen minutes now.”
Larabee’s phone rang. “Larabee,” he barked. “Thanks,” he replied to something the caller said and hung up. Looking at the expectant faces, he reported, “That was JD. The other Team Leaders are meeting. Adam is on his way up to see Travis and Tom is going to talk to Connors and Daniels. Guess we better wrap this up.” Seeing the nods of agreement, he launched into a final tirade ending by ripping open the door and storming his way up to Travis’ office.
Looking down, Ezra took a moment to straighten his cuffs before glancing over at his partner. “That was a thoroughly deplorable experience,” Ezra stated. He received a grin in response. “Mr. Tanner. Might I recommend we return to our desks and appear busy?”
Tanner’s smile broadened. “Nope,” he replied. “I got a better idea.”
Raising an eyebrow in question, Ezra waited. Vin’s ideas could be dangerous at times, but they were always amusing. “And what, pray tell, have you in mind, Mr. Tanner?”
“With Chris gone, I’m thinking we should cut out for lunch.”
Ezra’s eyes widened as he looked at Vin. The man must have a death wish. True, they were supposed to appear to make waves, but this was taking it beyond what they’d planned. Still, an extra long lunch did sound appealing, though leaving at 10:30 for luch was almost…hedonistic. A sly smile curved the corner of Ezra’s mouth. “That, Mr. Tanner, sounds like an excellent idea. Just allow me to stop by my desk and check my emails, then I’ll be ready to join you.” Standing, he allowed his smile to broaden. “I have just the place in mind for our luncheon,” he said. Seeing the face Vin made, he laughed lightly, clapped friend on the shoulder and assured, “Trust me, Mr. Tanner, it well meet even your… pedestrian tastes.”
Stepping out of the office, the duo headed toward their desks, ignoring the furtive glances of their teammates. Settling at their desks, both men began scanning their emails.
“Hey, Ez?” Vin asked quietly, looking up at his partner.
“Yes,” came Standish’s reply.
“Did ya get the email from him?” he asked, his voice soft enough to only carry to Ezra. He caught the slight nod and sighed. “Guess we wait on lunch, then. You want ta answer for us?” Vin inquired, hoping Ezra would say yes.
“Of course, Mr. Tanner,” Ezra replied, clicking reply and informing Tom Rollins of Team 10 that he and Vin would be happy to join him for lunch and the sooner the better. Completing his perusal of his emails, Ezra then began checking his voice mails, still ignoring the silent looks of his teammates.
“Feel like a damn animal on display,” Vin muttered with regard to the other members of Team Seven.
Ezra, sensing the rising tension in his partner turned his cool gaze upon his co-workers daring any of them to speak. The four quickly focused on their work, ignoring the duo.
Half an hour later, Larabee came storming back into the room. “Tanner! Standish! My office, now!” came the shouted order as the man in black stalked into his office.
Exchanging a look, Vin shrugged at Ezra. The two men took their time straightening their desks and closing their programs before strolling into the office and closing the door behind them.
Taking the seats they had sat in during the earlier tirade, they got comfortable and were treated to a Larabee smile.
“I take it from your demeanor that all has progressed according to plan?” Ezra inquired.
“Better than we thought,” Larabee explained. "The other leaders had been complaining about our recent run-ins to Travis. Travis ‘suggested’ it might be a good idea to shift personnel for a brief period of time. According to Grant, the others had already decided this and since Tom’s people are the only ones not involved deeply in something, you two will be changed out to Team 10.” Chris watched the two men smile in satisfaction. Things were going according to plan. They were beginning to enter the more dangerous part of the job, but they were still in control. As long as they maintained control, they would be fine. His smile turned sly and a mischievous glint entered his eye as he added, “And both of you will be getting another official reprimand in your folders, as well as having to re-write your expense reports.” He saw their faces fall and the real discomfort in Vin’s eyes; reports were still difficult for the sharpshooter. A pang of sympathy assaulted the blond Team Leader. “Don’t worry,” he added quickly, “the letters will be removed when this is over and I’ve marked all the changes that need to be made, so it should be pretty easy.”
Turning to his desk, Chris picked up the two reports, he handed them to his agents. He felt concern begin to flood him as he looked at his two men. “You boys know we’re all here anytime day or night. Anything you need.” He saw the smiles of acknowledgement, and doubts about the wisdom of sending his men into this assignment once more assailed him. ‘How do you send your brothers to do something like this?’ he wondered.
Seeing the doubt in his best friend’s eyes, Vin smiled at Chris. “Don’t worry, Cowboy,” he said, his lopsided grin widening. “We know how ta call the Calvalry.”
Chris nodded and moved to sit behind his desk. “You’ll be assigned to Team 10 starting tomorrow morning,” he explained. Watching the two men rise and head for the door. Just before Vin reached for the knob, he added, “I expect daily updates, understood?” Ezra snapped a salute and Vin smiled and nodded.
Turning the knob, Vin paused. “We’re meetin’ Rollins for lunch today,” he told Larabee, twisting his head to meet his friend’s green eyes. He saw Larabee nod. “We’ll let you know what happens,” he finished, turning the knob and leaving the office, Ezra following behind.
Finishing his report, Ezra checked his watch. Catching Vin’s eye he said, “It’s time.”
Nodding his understanding, Vin saved his work and then stood. Walking over he tapped Buck on the shoulder and tilted his head to indicate Larabee’s office before turning and heading there himself. Turning the knob to Larabee’s office silently, he stepped inside and waited for Buck to enter behind him before closing the door just as quietly.
Chris quickly picked up his phone and placed a call to Orin to provide cover noise for the two men as they prepared. He watched as Buck pulled out a small microphone and worked it into the underside of Vin’s collar. The operation only took a few minutes and before he knew it, his two men were leaving his office. Quickly wrapping up his call, Chris replaced the receiver. They weren’t expecting to get anything useful today, but it would be a start with their surveillance on Team 10.
On the off-chance Vin was caught with the mike, he would pass it off as something he was helping Buck with and forgot about. Chris wasn’t too worried; he knew Vin and Ezra would do their jobs. Still, he’d feel better when all this was over. Splitting up his team and being out of touch with Ezra and Vin so much didn’t sit well with him.
Preparing to leave, Ezra stood and headed toward the door as Vin emerged from Larabee’s office. Raising a questioning eyebrow, he received a slight nod of confirmation. He waited while Vin caught up to him and the two headed off to meet Rollins. They didn’t know where they would be going for lunch, but wherever they ended up, they would be ready.
Arriving in the lobby, they only had to wait a few minutes before Rollins showed up.
“Hi!” the team leader greeted. “I’m glad you could make it.” Vin and Ezra both smiled in response. “Looks like we’re going to have a little business to discuss at lunch as well,” he continued.
“Quite all right, Mr. Rollins, I assure you,” Ezra said, smiling at his new Team Leader. Vin nodded his agreement.
“Well, then let’s get going. I know this great little bistro, good food, nice atmosphere, I think you’ll both enjoy it.” Leading the way out of the building, he brought Vin and Ezra to his car and indicated for them to get in. Topics remained general on the drive over and the men began relaxing around one another.
After they arrived, they were quickly seated and handed menus. Scanning the restaurant, Vin was very impressed. The restaurant was clean and didn’t feel crowded. He saw plenty of room between the tables and was impressed by the atmosphere. It appeared to be prosperous, but not overly busy. He decided he liked it. Scanning his menu, he discovered, much to his surprise, that the prices were quite reasonable as well. He would have to remember this place for future reference.
Having placed their orders, Rollins looked at his two new agents. “Sorry about the hard time you’ve been having,” he said, looking each man in the eye.
“’S OK,” Vin said. “Been buildin’ for a while now,” he dismissed.
“I do apologize if Mr. Larabee’s instructions to us have in any way caused your team distress. It is my understanding that Mr. Travis has rectified the situation in a way more amenable to almost everyone involved?” Ezra inquired.
Rollins smiled. “Word does travel fast,” he observed. “This morning the other team leaders and I got together to see if Orin would intervene in the problems on your Team. It turns out his solution was to remove the two of you from Team Seven. The only other team not in the middle of a case right now is mine, so, the two of you will be welcomed on Team 10 starting tomorrow morning.”
“Well, hot damn!” Vin exclaimed. “That’ll work out just great. Well, for us anyway. Don’t reckon I can see as how Connors and Daniels will be too thrilled with the arrangement.”
“I assure you, Mr. Larabee will be fair and even with our replacements, Mr. Tanner. Provided, of course, that they don’t make any mistakes. But then, he does give everyone a grace period,” Ezra observed. Then looking at Rollins and seeing a slight hint of worry in the man’s face, he sought to allay any concerns the man might have about sending two good agents to Team Seven. “Mr. Rollins, the others on the team will do their utmost to deflect Mr. Larabee’s wrath from the newest members. You need not fear that they will meet the same fate as Mr. Tanner and myself.”
“At least not at first,” Vin muttered.
Rollins relaxed a bit. Daniels and Connors were good agents. Not exactly what he wanted and certainly not the type of people he would bring into the organization, but they deserved better than being sent to an uncontrolled Larabee. Having Standish and Tanner’s assurances that the two agents would be fine helped ease that worry from his mind. The need to know where the two of them stood and how approachable they were, however, remained. Cutting into the steak he’d ordered, Rollins inquired, “I understand the two of you had an interesting weekend?” Watching both men, he saw Standish pause ever so briefly in the cutting of his chicken dish and Tanner shift slightly in his chair.
“It held its share of adventure,” Ezra explained.
Vin said nothing.
OK, thought Rollins, this is going to be difficult. How do I approach this? “Davey was telling me you went to a rodeo,” he said, smiling slightly at the slight shudder that ran through Standish. Glancing over at Tanner, he noted a small smile on the Texan’s lips.
“Indeed,” Ezra confirmed dryly.
“Aw, c’mon Ez,” Tanner encouraged. “You had fun and you know it.”
Releasing a longsuffering sigh, Ezra explained, “Mr. Tanner. While you may enjoy traipsing through crowds while attempting to avoid cow patties and horse droppings, I can honestly state I derived no such enjoyment from such things.”
Vin smiled at Ezra. “Didn’t seem to mind the events,” he observed.
Ezra looked his partner in the eye. “True,” he agreed. “However, I do feel it my duty to point out that it is much more desirable to view said skills from the comfort of one’s home rather than the odiferous and overpopulated stands.”
“Yeah,” Vin said with a grin, “but from home you miss all the fun.”
“Fun?” Tom asked, feeling it time to alert the others to the fact he was still there.
Both agents looked at the Team Leader, having forgotten he was there. “Of course, Mr. Rollins,” Ezra explained. “Our Mr. Tanner had the opportunity to play knight in shining armor and rescue a maiden in distress.”
Shooting Ezra a small glare, Vin added, “Weren’t just me. Reckon I remember her endin’ up in your arms.” He smiled as Ezra opened his mouth to retort, thought the better of it and closed his mouth again.
“Knights in shining armor?” Rollins inquired, intrigued. What in the world were these two doing there?
“Yes,” Ezra replied, continuing the narrative. “As we were returning from our luncheon, some vile miscreant set off firecrackers near the warm-up area for the barrel riders. It appears that the young woman warming up at the time found herself in possession of a very scared horse. Mr. Tanner ran into the corral in time to catch the woman as she fell out of the saddle. Being but a step behind him, I found myself in possession of the young woman in question shortly afterward while Mr. Tanner worked to calm the frightened beast.”
“I see,” Rollins said, truly impressed by their actions. He made a mental note about their tendency to charge to the rescue. That might be a liability in the plan he would propose to them. He would have to be very careful about with what and how fully he allowed these two to be involved in the group’s activities. Turning to Vin he asked, “So, did you at least get her name and number?” He let out a soft laughed as he watched a blush color the sharpshooter’s cheeks.
“Her name’s Anna Haskell,” Vin said.
“I bet her husband was real happy about you saving her life,” Rollins observed.
“Ain’t got a husband,” Vin offered. Then, knowing it to be an uncharacteristic addition but aware Rollins wouldn’t know that, he continued, “she’s got a father and uncle what was real impressed with what we done.”
“Really?” Rollins asked.
“Yes,” Ezra said, taking over the story once more. “Perhaps you have heard of her uncle, Frederick Fellini?”
Rollins furrowed his brow as if in thought for a moment before smiling. “Yes, I remember Mr. Fellini. Nice gentleman.”
Vin observed the furrow brow but from the look in the man’s eyes, he knew Rollins was aware of Fellini. The look in Rollin’s eyes had been more than just recognition, though; it had been… what? Joy? Excitement? “Davey says you busted up a smugglin’ ring at one o’ his warehouse,” Vin stated.
“That we did,” Rollins said. “He offered us just about anything you could imagine as thanks, but of course we declined,” he explained. “Well,” he amended, “except for the box seat at the Rockie’s game. He said he rarely used it and didn’t mind if we did.”
Vin nodded. “I reckon I can’t blame ya. Was a right nice way to watch the game,” Vin confirmed. “You go there often?”
“Nah,” Rollins admitted. “Davey and Craig use it mostly. I’m not all that into baseball. Makes for a nice summertime team outing, though.”
“Indeed, Mr. Rollins,” Ezra said, glancing at his watch.
Noticing the Southerner looking at his watch, Rollins checked his watch and noted the time. “I suppose I better get you boys back before Larabee has another conniption fit. We’ll go out again tomorrow and welcome you properly to Team 10.”
The trio quickly paid for lunch and left to return to the office.
Vin leaned back in his chair and watched the members of Team 10, of his team, move around the patio. They had insisted on throwing the two new members a welcome to the team party. Now, sitting in Rollin’s back yard, drinking beer and watching the interplay of the men and their wives and girlfriends, he felt and odd stirring in his chest. They seemed so normal, so much like what he had dreamed of for his life. If he didn’t know what he did about Team 10 and what was going on with it, he decided these were men he’d like to get to know, like to have as friends.
He let out a gentle sigh. It would be so much easier if these men weren’t so damn likeable. Why couldn’t this be like the movies where the corrupt agents were despicable and had no redeeming qualities? Instead he was sitting here, laughing his head off at Davey’s jokes and watching with a certain amount of jealousy as Craig tenderly interacted with his pregnant wife. Maybe that was part of the problem. They never really saw their targets outside of business and this very human side of these men just made it that much harder.
Without looking, Vin greeted, “Tom.”
“Vin,” came the returned greeting. “Not feeling sociable?” he asked.
Vin smiled. “Just enjoyin’ the sight,” he explained. “Don’t reckon I’ve got much experience watchin’ happy families. Kind of a treat for me, gives me some hope.”
Tom nodded, surprised by Vin’s openness. He knew of the young sharpshooter’s background, knew he lived in one of the worst areas of Denver and now surmised that he lived there because he didn’t know anything else. “Not such a far stretch,” Tom encouraged. “Find a good woman, make a home. Something every man should do.”
Vin looked down at the bottle in his hand and sighed audibly. “Wish it were that easy.”
“Oh, come on, you can’t tell me you have any problem attracting women,” Tom said in disbelief.
Vin smiled. “Ain’t attractin’ a woman’s that’s hard,” Vin admitted. “It’s findin’ a good one that’s damn near impossible. Soon’s they find out how much of my time the job takes, they get jealous and leave.”
Tom nodded. “Yep,” he agreed. “We got lucky. Of course, having a wife means sometimes we compromise, go home instead of going out as a team, that sort of thing. But it’s worth it.” Peering at Vin out of the side of his eye, he thought he’d begin sending out some subtle tendrils to see where the young man stood with regards to the organization’s plans. “Besides, being married and having a family makes it easier to make sure there will be enough of the right type of people in the world in the future if we raise our kids right.”
Vin suppressed the chill that ran down his spine. He knew exactly what type of people Rollins meant and the thought of raising a child with the same beliefs left Vin feeling a little nauseous. Still, he needed to play along. Nodding in agreement, Vin said softly, “Reckon I’ve seen enough of the wrong kind.”
“Purgatorio?” Tom asked, his voice non-judgmental.
Vin nodded, and ran a hand through his hair, eyes still focused on the laughing couples. “When I settled here in Denver after joinin’ the ATF, I thought I could make a difference, find kids like me. Kid’s that’d just had a raw deal.” He let silence drag on for a few minutes. “Guess that old sayin’ that breedin’ tells is true,” he finished, sounding slightly bitter and disappointed. It wasn’t a lie exactly. There were many good kids in his neighborhood and they came from good families and grew to be good people themselves. Rollins, of course, would take that statement differently, and that was fine with Vin.
Rollins just nodded, a tingle of excitement hitting him low in his gut. Tanner was ready. He’d still need to be brought into it slowly, but everything appeared to be in place. Clapping the young man on the back, he smiled and said, “Best get over to the grill before Davey does. He gets there first there won’t be any steaks left!” Then standing he made his way over to where Standish stood talking to Greg and his wife, Lara.
“Mr. Rollins,” Ezra said in acknowledgement. “We were just discussing the opera. It appears that Mrs. West has seen a recent production on PBS. We were discussing the
finer points of the production.
Rollins smiled and looked at Greg who, though he didn’t seem about to inflict bodily harm on anyone, looked a little bored with the conversation. “Just came to let you know steaks are ready,” he supplied. Standing next to Standish, he didn’t move as Greg and Lara headed off toward the grill to get their dinner.
“I must say,” Ezra began, “it is extraordinarily refreshing to have the opportunity to engage in such erudite conversation at an assembly such as this.”
Rollins took a moment to untangle the words. “Yes, it is,” he answered. Standish would require a different approach, but he would still seek the information he needed. “It’s a shame so many people are so incapable of appreciating the finer things of life.”
“Indeed,” Ezra replied, seeing his words for what they were. Deciding he had no choice but to play along, he continued. “Sometimes it seems that the majority of people aren’t worth the effort we put forth to save them.” With a brief pause, he released a sigh and continued, “But I fear that is just me being uncharitable. I have always seemed to have very little use for most people.”
Rollins nodded, resisting the urge to grin. Fellini had been right about these two. He knew he should trust the head of the organization, but there was always that caution, after all, it wasn’t Fellini who would lose everything if things came to light. “Indeed, Mr. Standish,” he replied, moving off toward the grill. “Indeed.”
Ezra watched the retreating back, his stomach unsettled and sour. At one time in his life he had believed part of the vile lie he’d just uttered. Growing up the world in general had very little use for Ezra Standish, so Ezra Standish had learned to have very little use for the worlds. Through his friendship and association with Team Seven, that view had been altered. He felt sickened by the thought that the people with whom he now stood could feel they alone had the right to encourage the destruction of so many lives. They stood here with family, friends, homes, loved ones and believed that most of the rest of the world had no right to survive. Would he have been one of the people they had deemed unworthy?
Pushing aside those thoughts, he headed over toward where the rest of the group had gathered to begin the process of eating dinner.
Ezra sought out a quiet place to sit. This had been a quick bust. His contacts had done a remarkable job giving him information and Team 10 had managed to take down the dealer within two weeks of the first tip.
As he waited for the accused to be led away, he reflected on the past two weeks. After their welcome to the team, things had gotten more interesting. The men on the team were becoming more open about their world views which Ezra seemed to quietly agree with and Vin just seemed to eat up. He allowed a shudder to race the length of his spine even as a small sense of pride pricked his heart. There were times when even he couldn’t tell if Vin was acting or not. He had taught his friend well.
He and Vin had been invited back to Fellini’s twice during the time. The first time was last Saturday. They had arrived for lunch and spent the afternoon and evening discussing their recent change to Team 10. The topic of Fellini’s theory on population control came up only obliquely, but the time spent there had leaked back to Rollins.
The second was an invitation for the weekend this upcoming weekend. The rest of the team wouldn’t be there, at least not the whole weekend, but Rollins would be there Saturday night for dinner as well as several other members of the organization.
Ezra shifted uncomfortably at the thought. Fellini had quickly embraced Ezra and Vin. When it came to Fellini, Ezra didn’t worry for himself. He could read the man and managed to temper his enthusiasm somewhat. Fellini viewed Standish as a compatriot, an equal, someone he could call a friend. Given some of the things Fellini had said, however, it was apparent the businessman viewed Vin as a son and potential heir apparent. Such a situation would make their jobs more complicated and far more dangerous. As it stood now, it was dangerous enough and this added twist only served to make Ezra more nervous.
Ezra had yet to find the time to discuss the development with the Sharpshooter, though he was fairly certain Vin was aware of Fellini’s feelings. Such a relationship was dangerous for several reasons. Not only because it would cause waves within the organization, but also because it illustrated more clearly than ever the instability of Fellini’s mind. Vin would have to be careful with everything he said or did, every action he took, especially since the developing relationship meant Ezra couldn’t always be there to watch his back.
Yes, Ezra would definitely need to talk to Vin about this situation before their weekend away. But for now he needed to bring his mind back to the present.
Last night, the night before the bust, Rollins had invited Vin and Ezra over to his house. The two had arrived and been surprised to find Fellini there as well. The discussion had been detailed. Rollins and Fellini had discussed their operation with Vin and Ezra - what they would need to do and what they would receive as compensation. Though no details as to the true size of the organization were given, they were led to believe that is was large and they would be perfectly safe. Jeff Corbin would be available to help them with the financial side of things.
By this point Ezra hadn’t been nearly as surprised as he should have been at the blunt discussion. Unfortunately, neither he nor Vin had been able to get in touch with Team Seven to arrange for a wire. The evidence would have been damaging to say the least, but, hopefully there would be other opportunities. Right now they needed to wait for Team Six to clear out before they started “securing” the evidence.
Finally the moment came and Ezra moved off to start documenting what they had stopped from reaching the streets. For today at least, he would be partnered with Craig while Vin would be reviewing things with Rollins. “Are you ready to proceed Mr. Devon?”
“Sure, Standish, and it’s just Craig,” he admonished. The truth was, he was beginning to like the Southerner. The fact that Ezra didn’t seem averse to the team’s activities helped. The whole Mr. Devon thing actually amused him. He felt rather like he was talking to one of the neighborhood kids sometimes when Ezra called him that, but it amused him and his wife thought it was just the sweetest thing. He trusted his wife’s judgment on people. She’d worked in the DA’s office before deciding she wanted to be a stay at home mom. She had always been noted for her quick eye and flawless character assessments. If she said Standish was OK, then he was.
“As you wish,” Ezra stated, indicating Craig should lead the way.
As they walked through the warehouse, Ezra had to admit their plan was far more clever in execution than it had appeared the night before in explanation. The most clever part of it was its simplicity. All they did was overlook one or two crates containing what Fellini told them they needed. The team would note the location of the merchandise; Rollins would notify Fellini; and others in the organization would come that night to collect the weapons. All Team 10 had to do was miscount and they would be richly rewarded.
He and Vin would be meeting with Corbin tonight to discuss their expense reports, which would really involve is recommendations for handling their reward. Ezra knew that any money he and Vin received would be tagged, traced and accounted for by both Corbin and the two of them; Corbin because he handled all the agents’ money; the two of them because they needed it for evidence.
Finally finishing their tasks, Ezra and the rest of Team 10 headed back toward the Federal Building to finish up what they could today. At the very least he and Vin would need to finish their expense reports to ensure their cover reason for seeing Corbin was intact.
Several hours later the two agents found themselves sitting in Corbin’s office. The outer office was quiet, but the door was closed nevertheless. All of these precautions were meaningless, however, since Vin had his small tape recorder turned on in his pocket. After much discussion with Buck and JD, it had been determined that a wire might not work within the building, but something like Vin’s tape recorder would be fine. Usually the sharpshooter used it to record his thoughts and observations as well as immediate impressions at site of the bust. It would be reasonable that he would have it on him and the fact that it was recording… Well accidents do happen and the tape could always be re-recorded, erased or destroyed to ensure their cover. With luck, though, it would remain undiscovered.
“So, gentlemen,” Corbin began, smiling at his two newest co-conspirators. “Let’s discuss your finances.”
Vin stopped his jeep at the end of the driveway. The deep darkness of predawn blanketed the sky. “The darkest part of the night,” he whispered, smiling at the irony of it. Here he was, sneaking up to his best friend’s house in the deepest dark of night because they couldn’t be seen together. “Sounds like one of them classics Ez watches on PBS,” he muttered. Stepping out of the Jeep and walking quietly down the drive.
As he approached the corral, he couldn’t stop the smile spreading across his face at Peso’s greeting. He hadn’t had a chance to spend time with his horse since all this began and realized he missed the quiet time he spent away just he and his horse. “Hey, boy,” he greeted, rubbing Peso’s nose. “I know, boy. I wish we could go out too,” he answered as Peso nuzzled Vin’s chest. Hearing a slight noise behind him, Vin asked a little louder, “Has Chris been treatin’ you right?” Hearing the snort of disgust from the man behind him, Vin couldn’t help but smile.
“Either me or that mule is going to need a grave before long if things keep up the way they are. Damn devil nearly took off my hand yesterday,” the blond declared, stepping up next to Vin as the Texan laughed. Turning to face his friend, Chris lifted his arm which was taken instantly in their forearm grip. He felt his throat constrict for a moment at the emotion he felt. He hadn’t realized how much he missed Vin until just then – the easy smile and understanding, the undemanding friendship. Pushing aside the emotions, Chris took a good look at Vin. He looked tired, and not just from getting up so early. Although he physically looked in good shape, Chris could read his eyes clearly, even in the very dim starlight. “How’s Ezra?” he asked.
Vin smiled, knowing Chris already had his answer as to how Vin was doing. “’Bout the same ‘s me,” Vin replied, pulling a part of an apple from his pocket and offering it to Peso. “Brought you the tape,” he added, pulling the cassette from another pocket. “Dropped the reports on how they get the guns from the bust in your mailbox. Don’t have the whole story on that, they didn’t tell us everything yet, just the basics.”
“How are things with Fellini?” Chris asked. He felt his concern increase as Vin turned away from him to look at Peso. Even though Vin wasn’t looking at him, Chris could tell something wasn’t right and that worried him. “Vin?” he asked, his voice demanding an answer, not as his friend but as his boss.
Heaving a sigh and resting his head on Peso for a moment, Vin quietly informed, “Fine.”
Chris felt his worry heighten at the response. “Fine?” he demanded incredulously, “Fine! Damn it Vin! I know it’s not fine! When things are fine with you all hell’s about to break lose. Don’t stand there and tell me it’s fine. Tell me what’s wrong!” Fear for Vin threatened to overwhelm him as he watched his brother’s eyes close and his head drop. He heard Vin mutter something, but wasn’t sure he heard correctly. “What?” he demanded, quickly losing his patience.
“I said he wants me to be his heir,” Vin repeated, his own temper beginning to rise. He and Ezra hadn’t meant to tell Chris or the rest of the team about it, at least not until they knew for certain and had developed a plan to deal with it.
Chris stood staring at the young man he considered his brother. The information stunned him into immobility, though before he could figure out what to say the risks and benefits of such an action began playing in his mind. Getting Vin that deep in could really move the investigation along by allowing him access to all of the inner workings of the organization. On the other hand, the personal danger to Vin would be… unacceptable. “No,” Larabee commanded.
Vin set his jaw. He’d been prepared to discuss it with his friend, to argue it with his boss, but he was not prepared for the order. Turning his flashing blue eyes, to face his boss, Vin gritted his teeth in frustration and said in a low voice, “Ain’t my call, cowboy. Fellini’ll do what he wants and ain’t nothin’ you or I can do about it. If he makes me heir apparent, then that’s what I’ll be.”
“No,” Chris repeated, feeling like his heart was being squeezed. In the gray light that had slowly grown brighter he could easily read the defiance and determination in Vin’s eyes. Chris knew Vin as planning on going forward with this anyway; it was Chris’ job to talk him out of it. Larabee felt confident he would be able to do so. Not only did he have the logical and procedural arguments on his side, he had the emotional ones as well. “It’s too dangerous,” he observed, adding silently, I can’t lose you, cowboy.
Vin read the unspoken message in the early dawn light. Releasing a sigh as he scanned the peach-hued landscape around him, he allowed his anger to leave him. He knew what was at steak, not just for others, but for himself. It wasn’t just his life he was putting in danger with this move, it was Chris’ soul right there with him, as well as those of all the rest of his teammates he considered brothers. The full weight of the situation settled on his shoulders and he blew out a breath. He hadn’t asked for this, hadn’t asked Fellini to trust him, had done what he could to avoid this. Sometimes life just wasn’t fair. He knew exactly how Chris felt. He didn’t want to run the risk of losing them either, he had spent far too much of his life alone. Turning understanding eyes to Chris, he said softly, “Can’t stop it, Cowboy. It’s purt near a done deal. Pull me now and might’s well pull the trigger yerself fer both Ez and me.” He waited for the truth of his words to sink in before continuing. “Don’t like it no more ‘n you, but if I resist this any more ‘n what I done, Fellini er someone else ‘ll catch on and that’s it.” Seeing his words penetrating, he added the one bit of information he knew would allow him to continue down this dangerous road. “I’d not be the first they done it to neither.”
At Vin’s last statement penetrated, Larabee’s head snapped up, his eyes locking on the blue ones before him. He saw Vin nod his head confirming the truth of what he’d just said. “Who?” Chris choked out, his voice roughened by his emotions and shock. How the hell had Fellini’s organization gotten rid of a federal agent without anyone knowing? And who was it?
Vin looked out at the horizon once more and knew he had to leave. His heart was telling him to stay and spend time, but his brain knew what he was risking by staying. Resisting his urge to stay, he replied “It’s in the report.” Then, turning to face his boss, best friend and brother he added, “Gotta go, Cowboy. It’s getting late.”
Chris looked into the eyes of the man who’d brought him back to the world of the living. He would do anything to protect Vin, to ensure no harm befell him. Chris knew he’d give his life to save his friend and knew Vin would do the same. Yet, the young Texan was right, they had no choice. Fellini would do this with or without Chris’ blessing and fighting it would most likely blow Vin and Ezra’s covers. Pushing aside his personal feelings, he still had grave concerns about this course of action, but at the moment they were backed into a corner. Fellini was too unstable and the bust too important to back off now.
Looking over at the younger man, Chris nodded his head in agreement. “ I’ll tell Travis. You watch your back,” he said, offering his hand.
Vin grabbed Larabee’s arm in their trademark grip and nodded his head, offering a cocky smile as he headed off the driveway to his Jeep.