Title: The List
Disclaimer: See parts 1-5
The ripples of tension that had started that morning in the offices of Team Seven had become great crashing waves. Now those great crashing waves of tension were threatening to become a hurricane that the NOAA would label “Hurricane Larabee”. Four very uncomfortable men sat in the open area used by Team Seven, each attempting to look busy, all sitting on pins and needles waiting for the hurricane to make landfall.
JD’s nervous eyes darted around the room once more, as they had continually since eight o’clock when Ezra and Vin failed to appear in the office. Now, at 9:30, he resembled a wild rabbit ready to flee at the slightest disturbance.
Buck stared blankly at his screen, still silently berating himself for his attack on Vin and his comments that earned him a sore jaw. He almost wished his jaw hurt more than it currently did, thinking that would be a fitting punishment. His mind would also periodically bring up the pain in Vin’s eyes as he spun the young man around to face him. “What’s going on, Junior?” he whispered.
Nathan sat quietly at his desk doing busy work. His mind was still worrying over Vin and the sharpshooter’s potential injuries. Added to that was the uneasiness he felt raging around him. He hoped whatever had been eating at Vin and Ezra had been resolved. He didn’t think any of them could take much more.
Josiah watched his co-workers; the frightened JD, the guilty Buck, the worried Nathan, and the pacing, emotional storm that was Chris Larabee. Something nagged at Josiah that there was more to Vin and Ezra’s sudden change in attitude than met the eye. He had spent his whole life studying people and the past two years studying his teammates. Ezra and Vin weren’t always the easiest to read, but their belligerence and aggression the previous night were very uncharacteristic. Something more had to be going on. Josiah just hoped they all found out what it was before it shattered seven lives.
Chris paced. Never one for analyzing feelings and motivations, he found himself being torn between anger, concern and hurt. He found himself still hurting over Vin and Ezra’s words of the previous night. Drunk or not, he had been unprepared for the venom of his best friend’s attack and the Southerner’s accusation. Ezra’s words had planted seeds of doubt in the normally confident leader and that doubt ate at the man in black’s soul. What if he wasn’t a good leader? What if he did take too many chances or was too overbearing? Did people really see him as unstable?
Chris turned sharply in his pacing, doubt giving way to anger. Who the Hell did Standish think he was? If anyone was unstable it was the fancy Southern undercover agent. Yes, as leader he tended to be strong-willed and run things with a tight fist, but with this group of mavericks he needed to. Who did Ezra think he was kidding? The man wouldn’t be able to lead out of a paper bag with signs painted pointing the way! Chris’ anger boiled as the recalled the disdain in the under cover agent’s voice the previous night. He and that scrawny no-account Texan…
Larabee’s emotions shifted once more to the unbearable pain his friend’s words had caused. Is that really how he sees me? Chris wondered. He thought about his past actions. Yes, after the death of his family he had drowned himself in alcohol, but since meeting Vin, he couldn’t remember ever reaching the depths he had before. Yes he turned to alcohol on certain days that brought back the pain and yes, he still escaped when something came a little too close to the raw anguish that still lived within him, but he wasn’t the man Vin portrayed. “Can’t lose you, Cowboy,” he whispered. “Just tell me what’s wrong…”
Chris found himself suddenly assaulted with the image of his own fist picking up the younger man and flinging him into a table. He saw the sturdy table collapse under the sharpshooter and swore. Guilt started eating away at him until a small portion of his mind reminded him that no one treated him or his team the way those two did. All they had to do was say no if they didn’t want to come. What the Hell was wrong with them?
Anger took control again as the ringing of his phone interrupted his tirade. “Larabee,” he barked.
“This is AD Travis. I want you, Standish and Tanner in my office. Now,” the authoritative voice commanded.
Chris was about to explain about the missing agents when he heard the click indicating Travis had ended the call. “Shit!” he exclaimed slamming his own receiver down. Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes to try and regain a modicum of control; trying to suppress the urge to rip Ezra and Vin limb from limb with his bare hands. Finally noticing the long-ignored coffee mug in his hand, Larabee hauled back his arm and threw it against the far wall with as much force as possible.
Stalking out of the room he announced to no one in particular, “I’m going to see Travis. When those two idiots get here, send them up as well.”
The four men watched their leader stalk to the elevators and disappear inside. “Aw, Hell,” Nathan muttered.
Chris approached Travis’ office, his anger radiating off of him, causing him to nearly vibrate with rage. He acknowledged the secretary’s, “Go in, he’s expecting you,” with a terse nod.
Entering the office, he stood silently just inside the doorway, waiting to be acknowledged. Finally Travis looked up and barked, “Sit.” Taking a seat, Chris sat and waited.
“Where are they?” Travis demanded.
“They had a stop to make this morning and they’ve been delayed,” Chris covered, his anger level increasing, if that were possible. He hated covering for his men when they were being stupid. He was going to own a piece of their hides by the time this was over or else.
Travis leaned back in his chair, his eyes hooded, evaluating the man before him. Larabee looked tired, angry, torn. This wasn’t good. He needed Team Seven sharp; he needed Larabee sharp. Tanner had been right. The plan they had of alienating Team Seven had been the wrong path to take. Still, he had his instructions to follow and the rift was started. He would go along with Tanner’s idea and hoped that it would leave the man before him intact. “I’ll have security escort them up here when they arrive,” he said, reaching for the phone. After a brief conversation with the main desk, he leaned back once more in his chair and the two men waited in silence.
After ten minutes they heard loud complaining coming from the hallway. “Y’all ‘re treatin’ us like criminals!” the Texas drawl shouted.
“I demand you unhand me, sir,” came its indignant Southern counterpart.
The complaining and intermingled threats continued until the two loud men appeared in the doorway. “We under arrest?” Tanner spat at the men in the room, jerking his arm out of the grasp of the security guard and wincing at the pain it caused in his back.
Ezra pulled his arm free as well and straightened the cuffs of his shirt.
“Get in here and sit down,” Travis commanded, rising from his seat, face red with anger. He watched the two men do as ordered, suppressing his concern at the stiff movements and obvious pain of the sharpshooter. He noticed Chris didn’t even spare them a glance, but maintained his steady glare at the file folders on the desk before him. This couldn’t be good.
Waiting a moment to let his own disapproving air settle upon the trio before him, he began, “I have it on good authority, Mr. Tanner, that you and Mr. Standish provoked a fight in a bar last night – with your OWN TEAM!” He noted the defiant eyes of the sharpshooter and undercover agent, as well as the blazing glare of the man in black. “Need I remind you that you are federal agents…”
“He was provoked,” Chris ground out through gritted teeth. He wanted nothing more than to make the duo next to him suffer, but they were still his men and he bore responsibility for their actions.
“You will stay out of this, Mr. Larabee. It is obvious you are unable to maintain control over your agents, so I will be handling this situation. You are here as a learning experience so you’ll know how to deal with this sort of situation in the future.”
Vin watched Chris flinch at Travis’ tone before his friend’s face turned red. God, Cowboy, I am so sorry.
Turning his attention, and his own glare upon the duo in question, Travis continued, “You are federal agents. You will comport yourself as such at all times whether on the job or off, whether on assignment or off. You,” he said, pointing at Vin, “Will be making full financial restitution to the bar owner for the damage incurred by the fight.”
Tanner glared at Travis a moment longer before sinking back in his chair and nodding his head that he understood.
Travis walked around to the front of his desk and stood staring down at Standish and Tanner. “And as for your cavalier attitude to starting times, if either of you are so much as one second late getting into work for the next year, I will run both of you out of this organization and make sure you can’t even get a job as street sweepers! Am I clear?” he demanded.
“Chris…” Ezra began, about to offer an explanation of their delay.
“Don’t!” warned Travis. “Don’t even go there.” Pointing at Chris, he explained, “He tried to cover for you. He tried to convince me you two were out gadding about the countryside with his blessing. I know you weren’t. I don’t give a damn what you two were doing or thought you were doing. I will not have you bringing down the rest of the team with you.”
Three sets of startled and angry eyes focused on Travis. “To ensure you understand the point I’m trying to make,” Travis continued, his voice calm and deadly, “I want the two of you to give me your badges and guns. You are suspended for the rest of today, without pay. You will be here in my office at seven thirty Monday morning to reclaim them.” He raised a hand to cut off the protests.
Turning to look at Chris, he said, “Mr. Larabee, you may leave now. I will need a few more minutes to … discuss… this situation with these two delinquents.”
Larabee got up and left the office without even looking at his men. He closed the door behind him hard enough to rattle the glass and shutters on the wall of the office.
Larabee stormed back down to his area, furious with Travis, furious with Vin and with Ezra. Humiliation was something he didn’t handle well. His office door found out exactly how poorly he handled it as he slammed it shut with enough force to cause a set of blinds to fall.
“Shit!” he screamed, looking for something upon which to take out his anger.
In the main part of the office, four very concerned men exchanged glances. They still hadn’t heard or seen their missing comrades. Three sets of eyes eventually settled on Buck. They couldn’t let this go on much longer. Even if things went unresolved with Vin and Ezra, they couldn’t let Chris continue like this.
With a heavy sigh and chalking the coming confrontation up to penance for his comment the previous night, Buck stood and made his way to Larabee’s office, hoping he would emerge in one piece. Pausing outside the door, he placed his hand on the knob, screwed up his courage and entered the office quietly, closing the door behind him.
He watched as his oldest friend stalked the room much like a caged panther. He could feel the rage and frustration vibrating off the man before him. Releasing the breath he’d been holding in fear of his welcome he spoke quietly. “Do you want to talk about it or do something about it?” he asked.
Larabee stopped his pacing and tilted his head to the side, contemplating the question. Right now he wanted to get his hands on the two yahoos who put him in this position. He wanted to get his hands on them and strangle the life out of them. “Do,” he finally replied with all the force of his anger.
Buck nodded. “Let’s go down to the gym. I think there’s a body bag with your name on it,” he offered, opening the office door and waiting for his friend to leave before following.
Thirty minutes later, a tired and sweaty Chris Larabee gratefully accepted the town and bottle of water from his long-time friend. “Ready to talk about it, stud?” Buck inquired.
Chris mopped his face, placed the towel around his neck and cracked open the bottled water. Waiting a moment for his breathing to regulate, he stared walking around the gym to cool down. “What happened, Buck?” he asked.
Buck just looked at his oldest friend. He’d been asking himself that very same question and couldn’t offer an answer.
“What happened on that case to set them off like that? What happened to change them, turn them against us?”
Ah, thought Buck, we’re beyond the behavioral difficulties. Somehow the detective in Chris Larabee had been kicked into high gear and he wanted answers. “Don’t know, stud,” he offered quietly. “Don’t reckon I’ve ever seen the two of them like that before. You think there’s something else behind their behavior?”
Chris stopped pacing and sighed. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “I want to think it’s unusual behavior, but I’m just not sure. Maybe we don’t know them as well as we thought, maybe…”
“Stop,” Buck ordered. “We’re not going to go with speculation. We’re going to work with facts. Now, half an hour ago you were ready to rip the two of them apart. What’s made you change your mind? Certainly isn’t beatin’ the Hell out of the bag. What made you question their behavior?”
Chris paced a few more times before releasing a sigh. “I’m not sure...”
“OK. Then tell me what happened in Travis’ office.”
Chris took a seat next to the ladies’ man. “Travis called. He was furious. Demanded Tanner, Standish and I report to his office immediately. Those two weren’t in. I went up. Travis asked where they were and even though I wanted to kill them myself I covered. I said they had a stop to make on the way in and would be in shortly. He had me sit and then called down to the front desk telling the guard to escort them up when they arrived.” He saw Buck wince and allowed a small smile. “Yeah. I thought so too. Anyway, they arrive, fussin’ and cussin’ and stood in Travis’ office. Travis ordered them to sit, cut off their protests an started in about the fight in the bar.” They both winced at that memory of the confrontation the previous night at the Saloon. “I tried to intervene, after all, they’re my team and I should be the one to discipline them.” Chris’ face flushed, anger flashing for a moment in his green eyes. “He treated me like a damn first-time supervisor, told me he’d show me how to deal with problems like this. God, Buck, I can’t remember the last time I was so humiliated. I almost went for those two right then, Orin too.”
Buck smiled. “Now that would have been a sight I’d pay to see,” he said, patting Chris on the shoulder.
Chris felt a smile form on his own face. “Probably would have joined me too,” he said back. Feeling relieved at finding something about which to smile.
“So after that, what happened?” Buck encouraged.
Chris released another sigh. “Travis ordered Vin to pay all the damages at Inez’ himself.” The blond nodded in acknowledgement of Buck’s hiss. “Yeah, I know. Maybe we can help him out some. Don’t know what he does with his money, but… Anyway, they are both suspended for the day. They are to report to Orin at 7:30 Monday morning.”
“God, Chris. I’m sorry.”
“About what?” he asked, anger simmering in his gaze. “They did it to themselves. There was just…”
Buck waited several seconds in silence before prompting, “There was just what?”
Chris sat back and stared at the ceiling. “I knew Travis was mad. I knew those two were protesting, but something just seemed… I don’t know… off? Rehearsed? Staged? There was anger there, but it was as if the words, the punishment didn’t come as a surprise. They’ve been such hotheads the past day I couldn’t understand why they would just quietly sit there and take their punishment. Yeah, their jobs were on the line and they probably knew that, but…” Several seconds passed. “He dismissed me,” Chris stated.
“What?” Buck asked, confused by the shift in subject.
Chris sat forward and looked into Buck’s eyes. “After assigning their punishment, he dismissed me and told me he wanted to have a few words with them in private.”
“Guess that might not be too odd,” Buck said, thinking of reasons why Chris might be dismissed. “But if he wanted to chew them out, why have you there in the first place? He could have just let you know what he did… Maybe we just need a break,” the mustached man offered. “The weekend’s coming. We’ll have a cook-out at your place, watch the game and settle all this.” Slapping his friend on the shoulder; confident Larabee now had his head on straight; he stood. “You go get cleaned up. I’ll let the boys know about the cook-out Sunday.”
“Getting’ a little comfortable with offering my house, aren’t ya?” Chris challenged.
Buck laughed and left the gym.
Walking back toward the elevators, he glanced into the lobby and paused. Ezra and Vin were standing near the entry doors nodding at something Tom Rollins said. Buck bristled. He’d never liked Rollins. Every instinct he had said Rollins and most of his team was dirty. The fact that Roger Batten, one of the security guards also seemed very intent on the conversation also aroused his suspicion. He knew Roger’s brother Mark was no good. Buck and Chris had busted Mark several times, each bust for something progressively worse. The last time had been an illegal possession charge for carrying a 9mm.
Silently opening the door, Buck tried to catch the conversation, but couldn’t hear anything across the distance. He watched as Tom offered his hand and then as Ezra and Vin each shook both his and Roger’s hands, nodding as if agreeing to something before leaving. He watched Tom walk away, a smug, evil smile playing across his lips.
Easing the door shut, Buck headed for the elevator. “What the Hell are you two up to?” he asked quietly.
The three men waited for the blinds to settle before two released sighs of relief and one released a groan of pain.
Travis shot a look at the young Texan. “Are you alright?” he asked, concerned.
“My back had a meeting with a table last night. ‘S bruised, but the doc said it should be fine in a few days,” the sharpshooter informed him. Turning his head toward Ezra he asked, “How’d we do?”
Ezra sighed. The first part of Vin’s plan had been to make it look like the two of them were in official trouble. They couldn’t trust what Chris would do, so they had arranged for Travis to take over their “discipline” session, making sure Chris was present. The problem with this was that the three of them had to make it believable for Chris, and everyone else, while hopefully finding a way to raise a question of doubt in Chris’ mind. “I don’t know Mr. Tanner. I just don’t know,” replied the undercover agent. “I fear we will just need to wait and see.”
Travis sat back down in his seat and sighed. “I hadn’t realized the extent of what I was asking until I saw Chris walk in here,” he said, easing himself back in his chair. He saw the exhaustion and sorrow in the eyes of them before him. Yes, he’d asked probably too much from these men. “I hope that works because we aren’t cleared to do any more than that.” He saw both men’s eyes focus on him and sighed. “I got in touch with some friends in other agencies, friends who aren’t on the list. They’re starting their own investigations. They are all being coordinated at the highest level.” He saw two sets of eyes widen in surprise. “We can only assume that your contact has met her demise and we have just over five months until we receive her proof. I don’t want this going on that long. I don’t want this going on at all.”
“So, are there new assignments?” Vin asked.
Travis sighed. “I’m meeting with the others this weekend, that’s why I wanted you here Monday morning at 7:30. Did Batten see you when you came in?” he asked.
“Yes, that vile miscreant witnessed our less than heartwarming welcome as we entered the building. Mr. Tanner and I made every effort to ensure he was aware we were in trouble and on our way to meet with you and Mr. Larabee.”
“Saw him on the phone when the elevator doors closed. I’m assumin’ he was talkin’ ta Rollins. Either him or Corbin, but since Rollins has more of an excuse ta talk ta us, I figure it was him,” Vin added.
“Good,” Travis said, leaning forward. “Let’s go over a few details of this plan, then you can go and get things arranged.”
About forty minutes later, the two men made their way to the lobby where they were stopped by the duo of Tom Rollins and Roger Batten.
“I hear there’s trouble in paradise,” Rollins began, stepping in front of the two agents. He was met with two stony, inscrutable stares. “Travis called you in,” he stated.
“Sir,” Ezra began, “I don’t see where our business is any of yours.”
He smiled an oily smile at the two men. “Just worried about you. After all, can’t go having Larabee’s lapdogs straying too far from home.”
A low growl issued from Tanner, startling both Rollins and Batten. “Ain’t nobody’s lapdog,” he asserted.
Rollins met the deadly glare of the sharpshooter and cleared his throat, wise enough not to continue provoking the Texan. “Yes, well,” he said noncommittally. “You boys seem to be leaving a mite early on a Friday.”
“What of it,” Vin challenged.
Another smile crept across the face of Team 10’s leader. “Might be you boys received a one day suspension is all.” Vin and Ezra exchanged a glance. The grapevine did work quickly at the ATF. Rollins let out a laugh. “Don’t worry I won’t hold it against you. Roger here was at the Saloon last night and told me about how the two of you took on Larabee.” He paused a moment taking in the unreadable faces and eye. “Damn, you boys are good. No wonder you’re the best undercover team we have.” Then slapping Vin on the shoulder, he continued, “You’re doing a great job. Learning from the best.”
Vin offered a short nod of agreement. There could be no disputing Ezra was the best. And it wouldn’t do to completely blow the man off. After all, they needed him as their in.
Tilting his head to the side and looking as if he were deep in thought, he said. “I understand how sometimes being around the same people all the time can become wearying on a man. Why don’t you boys meet me and my team tonight at 7 at O’Leary’s. We’ll buy you a drink in the spirit of camaraderie, maybe another for finally hitting that sleaze Willmington. It’s just sick how he hits on anything in a skirt. You would think a federal agent would be able to show some sort of control.”
He noticed both men bristling and made a mental note. There were cracks, but not breaks. Not yet. He’d see what he could do to encourage those breaks tonight. If what he overheard last night was true, and he had every reason to believe it was, then he might have just hit the jackpot.
“But then, that could just be my jealousy talking,” he continued, trying to smooth over the situation. It seemed to work as the two members of Team Seven relaxed. “The drink offer stands, though. Will we see you there?”
Ezra glanced at Vin. Both men nodded their heads in gave their verbal agreement.
“Super,” Rollins continued. “Batten here will be joining us as will Jeff Corbin from accounting. It’s a great crew, really. Should be lots of fun. And the girls at the O’Leary’s are amazing.” Then offering his hand, he said, “I better let you two go, see you tonight?” Both Ezra and Vin shook his hand and then that of Batten before taking their leave.
Waiting until they were in the Jag, Vin and Ezra both released a sigh. “That seem too easy, Ez?” Vin asked. Not entirely comfortable with the warm welcome they received from Tom Rollins.
Ezra was silent for several minutes as he contemplated the situation. “I’m not sure, Mr. Tanner. I thought I sensed some desperation on his part, so it’s possible that he needs us and will therefore be less cautious about inducting us into his little circle. On the other hand, he could be setting us up as to take a fall and cover his tracks.” He thought a few minutes longer, turned the ignition and finished, “I suppose we’ll get a better read on the situation tonight at O’Leary’s.”
Buck sat at his desk contemplating what he’d just seen in the lobby. Chris was suspicious that Vin and Ezra were involved with Travis in something.
Buck had just seen them talking to Rollins and Batten, two men he had always suspected weren’t on the up and up. What if somehow Travis was trying to get Vin and Ezra involved with something Rollins was doing?
‘Nah,’ he thought. ‘Travis wouldn’t do that, not without clearing it with Chris first.’ Still, the question remained; what was up with Vin and Ezra? Buck also wondered if he should tell Chris what he’d seen in the lobby.
"Chris OK?" JD asked, unable to contain his nervousness any longer.
Buck looked up at his young counterpart. Running the question through his mind a second time to be sure of what he’d heard, he replied, "He’s better, JD." The other three men seemed to breath easier at this pronouncement. Buck returned to his contemplation and paperwork.
A few minutes later, a showered and much calmer Chris Larabee walked into Team Seven’s area. "Buck, my office," he commanded, walking into it without checking to see if his command was obeyed.
Nathan, Josiah and JD watched as Buck silently rose and followed Chris into the office, closing the door behind him. The trio exchanged glances.
"Something’s changed," Nathan observed.
"I hope whatever it is, Ez and Vin are back to normal soon," JD chimed in.
Josiah sat back in his chair, a thoughtful look on his face. "I think there’s more going on here than there appears to be," he offered.
Closing the door of Chris’ office, Buck made his way to a seat in front of Chris’ desk and watched his friend stare out the window. He would wait Chris out and see what the blond had to say before making his final decision as to whether or not he should let Chris know about Vin and Ezra’s meeting with Rollins.
"Why are we being cut out?" Chris asked.
After the prolonged silence, Buck found himself unprepared for the question. His blue eyes looking into those of his friend, he tried to think of an answer before finally admitting, "I don’t know, Pard."
Chris turned back to the window. After a moment, Buck saw Chris’ eyes narrow and his mouth set. He knew Chris came to the same conclusion Buck had. Whatever was going on, it had to be at Travis’ behest. "I’m going to find out exactly what is going on."
"Now, hold on, Chris," Buck interrupted. "If Travis is keeping this quiet, there’s a reason. If he is the one who’s putting Vin and Ez up to this, then there’s a reason. You know he doesn’t do things lightly and wouldn’t mess with our team without a good reason." Buck swore he heard Chris growl at this.
"No one messes with my team," Chris spat, heading for the door.
Buck finally made his decision. Standing and grabbing Chris by the arm, he said, "Now, hold on stud. I got something else to tell you that might make a difference." He saw Chris pause and felt him relax slightly. "Might want to sit down," Buck suggested. He waited for Chris to sit before he began. "After I left you in the gym, I was walking by the lobby and saw Vin and Ezra talking to Tom Rollins and Roger Batten. They seemed pretty amenable to whatever Rollins was saying. I saw them nodding in agreement and shaking hands with the other two. Then, after Vin and Ez headed out, Rollins had this self-satisfied smile on his greasy face."
Chris leaned back in his chair, processing this new information. Vin and Ezra were meeting with Tom Rollins and Roger Batten. Could whatever Travis had them doing involve undercover work on Team 10? But why choose Vin and Ezra, investigating other agents fell into the realm of Internal Affairs? "We need to know more," Chris stated.
"Sunday," Buck said, reminding Chris of the bar-b-que they had planned.
"Sunday," Chris agreed.
Rising, Buck asked, "How much should we tell the others?"
Chris looked up, having almost forgotten that the events of the past few days were bound to affect the rest of the team as much as they did him. He thought for a moment, trying to decide if they should tell the other three what he and Buck thought now, even though it was only suspicion? Would that do more damage than good? What if he and Buck were wrong and only got their hopes up to be disappointed? Finally he asked, "What’s their mental state?"
Buck thought a few minutes. "Tense. Nervous. Scared. Confused. Same as us. We just have an idea of what may be going on."
Chris thought a moment longer before nodding his head. "Let’s meet in the conference room in five minutes. We’ll tell them what we’ve seen and what we suspect. Then we’ll come up with a plan." Seeing Buck’s grin he asked, "What?"
"Nothing," Buck assured him. "Just good to be doing something." He saw Chris’ answering smile as he rose and left to tell the others.
Settling quickly around the conference table, Chris began "We have a problem." He saw the nods of agreement from everyone before continuing. "We need to find out why and Buck and I think we have a starting point."
"Thank God," Nathan breathed.
Josiah closed his eyes in thanks.
JD let out a small whoop.
"First," Chris continued, " What we know."
"Vin and Ez were distant and more tense than usual at the bust. Neither of them spoke to anyone after," Buck outlined. "They were the last to leave the office. They arrived at the Saloon, walked into the bar and started ordering whiskey shots. They picked a fight with Chris and left. This morning, they were late getting in and were put on a one day suspension by Travis while Chris was present. Chris was then dismissed. Forty-five minutes or so later, I saw them talking to Tom Rollins and Roger Batten in the lobby, nodding their heads and shaking hands with the two men."
"These are the facts," Chris said. "Now, for our suspicions. In the meeting with Travis, things seemed a little off – almost as if there was not surprise and the anger present was rehearsed. This is something I didn’t pick up at the time, but it came to mind afterward when I worked through a few things. That would mean whatever Vin and Ezra are up to, Travis is calling the shots or at least approving them. The fact that they were talking to Rollins and Batten would indicate they’re involved somehow. The question I have is; why Vin and Ezra, why not Internal Affairs?"
"I’ll check their computers and see if anything unusual has been opened or downloaded, or maybe if there’s an email about this," JD offered.
"I’ll see what I can find out from the office gossip ring," Nathan stated.
"I’ll check some of my sources," Josiah declared.
"Good," Chris said, approving of the actions and proud to see his team jump so readily into the role of investigators. "Buck and I will see what we can come up with and coordinate. We’re meeting Sunday at my place. I’d like to have something with which to confront those two. Then Monday, I’ll see Travis." Seeing his men’s heads nod their agreement, he ordered, "Let’s ride."
"Anything?" Chris asked of Nathan and Josiah who had spent the day talking to people, trying to get information.
"Only thing I’ve heard is that Vin and Ezra are in big trouble and Team Seven is breaking up," Nathan said dejectedly.
"Same here," Josiah affirmed, shaking his head. "Everyone I spoke to is saying it’s the end of the Magnificent Seven.
Chris sat back, disappointed and frustrated by the lack of information. He and Buck had had no better luck. "JD?" he asked.
JD shook his head. "I had a bit of trouble getting into Ezra’s computer, but nothing out of the ordinary for the last two months," he reported.
"And Vin’s?" Chris prompted.
"I’m just about to start on his."
Chris nodded. "Alright. Let us know what you find." Looking at the clock, he observed, "It’s six o’clock. The rest of us need to go to make it look normal. JD, you stay and work on Vin’s PC. Buck, you get in touch with Vin and Ezra. Even if we don’t have any proof Sunday, we are having this out with them." Receiving nods all around, he dismissed everyone.
Four hours later, Chris paced his living room for the twelfth time in the last ten minutes. He had been unable to settle down, upset by his actions of the night before – had he really thrown Vin through a table? – and his impatience to hear from JD.
When the phone rang, he jumped at it. "What did you find?" he demanded before making sure it was JD calling.
A shaky voice greeted him. "Chris," JD said before his voice trailed off.
"What is it JD?" Chris asked, alarm bells ringing in his head.
"Chris," JD began again. " You’d better come to the office and see this," he finished.
"I’ll be right there," Chris assured, cursing that his house was so far out of Denver.
Vin and Ezra stepped into the smoke-clouded interior of O’Leary’s Bar ten minutes after seven. Glancing around, they spotted Rollins and most of the rest of Team 10 sitting around a table. Making their way back to the group, they paused long enough to greet everyone and shake hands before bringing chairs over to sit.
"Name your poison, boys," Rollins encouraged.
"I believe I’ll have a Harp," Ezra said. Beer was not one of his favorite drinks, but he needed to try and fit in with the neanderthals of Team 10. If that meant he ahd to drink beer, well, at least he would be able to drink good beer here.
"Ginger ale," Vin said quietly.
"Ginger ale?" Rollins repeated, disbelief obvious in his voice.
"Too good to drink with us," came the angry accusation of Craig Devon, Team 10's surveillance expert. He was already well into his cups, and his words slurred slightly.
Anger flared in Vin’s eyes. Rollins saw it and jumped in. "Now, Craig, I’m sure Tanner has a good reason for not sharing in a drink with us, even if it is to honor him for his fine work."
"Pain meds," Vin replied, his eyes daring anyone to challenge him again.
"Too bad, man," Davey Simms offered with a quick pat on Vin’s bruised shoulder. The unexpected contact brought a wince to Vin’s face. "What happened?" he asked. "I thought everything went smoothly at the bust."
Ezra spoke. "Mr. Tanners injuries were incurred after the successful completion of the operation."
"The bar fight," Rollins observed, nodding his head in a knowing manner. "Heard you went through a table. Heard that bastard Larabee did it," he provoked, trying to see where Vin and Ezra’s loyalties rested.
"What happens in the team, stays in the team. You know that," Vin stated, his eyes flashing briefly. "Wouldn’t be right to talk out of school."
Rollins nodded, surprised by Vin’s failure to attack him for insulting Larabee. Interesting, he thought, maybe there is something to the rumor of a split. He studied the young man before him trying to judge if the anger he saw there was directed at Larabee or at him for what he had said. He had been hoping for a clearer sign, but would take what he could get. Still, he thought, they showed up here instead of the Saloon. "You’re right, Tanner. I apologize for speaking out of turn," he said sincerely. Looking at Craig, he asked, "Would you get their drinks?" Craig nodded and left. Turning back to the two members of Team Seven, he asked casually, "Still driving that vintage Jeep?"
"When it runs," came Vin’s bitter reply.
Rollins nodded in sympathy. "Still, it’s a classic, isn’t it?" he added.
"I have a new, well, pretty new, Firebird. She is some kind of sweet," Roger Batten injected, speaking for the first time.
"Not as sweet as that black Jag you drive, right Ezra?" Davey asked.
Ezra smiled. "I dare say there is not a finer car in the entirety of the Denver ATF," he stated, bringing smiles to the faces of the men around the table.
"Probably right," Tom said as Craig returned with a Harp for Ezra and a ginger ale for Vin.
The next several hours passed quickly. The general feeling out of topics common any gathering and especially those gatherings when the people didn’t know each other well, passed quickly. Vin and Ezra began relaxing around the others even as the others began to relax around the two members of Team Seven.
Ezra managed to get into a lively discussion with Jeff Corbin from accounting that saw the two of them go off into their own world of numbers, laws, by-laws, rules and more. Occasionally they would surface from their discussion of financial reimbursement to make a comment on one or the other conversations going on around them.
Vin followed the conversation around him offering insights and comments occasionally. As the evening progressed and alcohol continued to flow, Vin’s wisecracks earned him more and more laughter. He discovered that both he and Davey were rabid Avalanche fans as well as fans of the Rockies, but their loyalties when it came to football were divided. Vin would not cheer for any team other than the Cowboys and Davey refused to consider any team other than the Broncos.
For his part, Tom sat back and watched the interaction of the two men from Team Seven. They seemed to relax after a time and open up. He tried to guage their responses and sincerity to what he planned to propose.
Rollins had been unable to get two members of his team to fall in line with his "unofficial business", as he liked to call it. He knew that Standish had never been tight with Larabee, so Rollins had entertained the idea of recruiting him before, but Ezra seemed satisfied to be where he was. Also Tom had a great respect Larabee. The man might not always play by the book, he may be a maverick, but he was all integrity.
Tanner puzzled Tom. He knew the two, Tanner and Larabee, were close. That closeness had always been more than enough of a deterrent for Rollins to approach Vin. Still, in recent months the young man had been spending more and more times with Standish. Knowing Tanner had grown up on the streets, Tom figured the Texan just needed a role model to follow. Now Tom began to wonder if Tanner was ready for something new. After all, the skills Vin had obtained from living on the streets were just going to waste. Still, he would have to wait and see. At least tonight opened some doors, created ties between the two potential coconspirators and Team 10.
Seeing Vin suppress another yawn, Rollins gave Davey a sign.
Picking up on the signal, Davey asked, "Hey, Tanner. I"ve got box seats on the third base line for the Rockies game Sunday afternoon. You up for it?" He watched as a smile broke out on Vin’s face. "I’ll pick you up around noon. First pitch is set for one."
"Sounds great, Davey," Vin acknowledged. "Thanks!" Then, after suppressing yet another yawn, he elbowed Ezra.
Looking up from his discussion with Jeff Corbin, Ezra noted the tired demeanor of Vin. "Gentlemen," he said," this has been an exceptional evening. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with you, but fear we must now take our leave."
Vin stood, nodded at the group and simply said, "Thanks." The duo then headed out fo the bar.
After the door shut behind them, Tom turned and looked at the other men at the table. "Opinions?"
Jeff Corbin cleared his throat, a thoughtful look upon his face. "Standish certainly has some interesting ideas, but may bee too much of a loner. He’s still bothered by the rumors from the FBI... I’m not sure," he finished.
Craig focused his unwavering gaze at his leader, suddenly very sober. "Don’t know," he said. "They’re the best undercover team we have. I don’t know if they’re pulling a con on us or not. I don’t htink so, but more time wouldn’t hurt."
"I think Tanner’s a real possibility," Greg chimed in. "I was too far away to judge Standish, but I think so."
"Nice to know Team Seven isn’t perfect," Roger muttered. "Serve them right to lose them."
Rollins rolled his eyes. Roger was definitely not the brains of this or any operation. "Davey?" he prompted the final man.
Davey sat back and pursed his lips. "Standish is hard to read, but I don’t think he’d be averse to an approach, especially if properly motivated. As for Tanner... I think he’d be a good addition and if not, then he wouldn’t be that hard to set up or use. I"ll be seeing him Sunday for the ball game. Maybe I can find out more then."
Tom nodded. They were all on the same page. At least everyone who mattered is, he tought, looking with disgust at Roger Batten. So they’d take some more time and be sure. When dealing with an organization as large as theirs, it was best to be cautious.