“It was too short,” JD said apologetically. “I can only tell you it came from Denver.”
“Dammit!” Chris almost shouted as he slammed his hand against his desk.
“Easy now, Stud,” Buck said. “At least we know he’s alive.”
Chris locked eyes with Buck. “Only if we believe what that guy said! How the hell do we know if he’s telling the truth?”
“It’s better than anything we got so far,” Buck replied.
Chris just looked at Buck like he had grown a set of horns.
“He said O’Brien took him, right?” asked Nathan.
“There would be no benefit to someone saying that O’Brien took him if O’Brien didn’t take him.” Nathan huffed as he tried to figure out his own logic. “The only people outside of this room that know he’s gone are the police and forensics, and we sure as hell didn’t tell them we thought O’Brien was in on this. At the same time, no one knew what Ezra was working on, except Travis and the higher ups, so the only person who could have made that call, who knew Ezra was taken and knew that O’Brien was suspected…”
“One of O’Brien’s guys?” JD interrupted. “You really think one of his guys are gonna roll on him? Knowing what he’s done to his own people in the past?”
“I don’t know JD. Who else would know?” Nathan said.
The six men just looked at each other. No one had any better guesses.
“So where does that put us?” asked Vin.
“Square one. Again.” Chris ran his hand down his face. “We either believe this mystery caller and wait for him to ‘do what he can’ or we keep trying what we’ve been trying. Doesn’t matter, we aren’t making any progress.” He ran both of his hands through his already mussed hair, lacing his fingers together at the back of his neck and gazed out the window. He shook his head in disgust as he loudly huffed his breath.
“You’re not giving up are you?” asked Vin.
Chris looked at Vin, and waited a fraction of a second too long to answer.
“You are…” said Vin, rising from his seat, staring at their leader. “You don’t think we’re gonna get him back.” He paused, then raised his voice as he spoke. “How can you give up on him? How can you expect us to keep looking if you feel like it’s hopeless?”
Chris didn’t have an answer. “Vin…” he began.
“That’s a real shitty thing, Chris,” Vin said as he turned and left the office, slamming the door on the way out.
There was silence in the office after Vin’s departure.
“Guys…” Chris began, “I’m not giving up on him. I just don’t know what to do.”
“We’ll find him,” said Buck. “I don’t care what we have to do, but we’ll find him.”
“So how did this happen?” Charles O’Brien paced back and forth as he spoke. Jimmy and Rick sat lounging nearby.
“I don’t know boss,” said Rick.
“I want to know how he got in. Then I want whoever let him in dealt with!” O’Brien roared.
Jimmy and Rick both nodded solemnly, but said nothing.
“We need to know what he knows,” mused O’Brien. “What the ATF knows.”
“Maybe we should just clear out of town for a while boss,” offered Jimmy.
“Oh, we will. But I want this fucking mess dealt with. And I want to now how much the ATF knows. We may need to take more drastic measures…”
Jimmy felt his stomach drop. He didn’t know what Standish knew, but he hoped it wasn’t much. If O’Brien found out exactly what the ATF had uncovered about the whole operation, then Jimmy’s information could be at risk. O’Brien would change his ways, again, and the FBI would be set back another few months’ work, at least. However, if Standish didn’t know anything, or if he somehow managed to not tell O’Brien what he knew, Jimmy’s information would still be solid.
Jimmy knew that he didn’t have enough to get O’Brien locked away for good. He had to keep his cover intact. But what about Standish? One way, Standish would end up dead and the info would be safe. The other way, the info could be compromised, but Standish might keep his life. Both ways sucked.
Ezra rolled onto his side and tried to figure out where he was. Was it an office building? If it was, it needed work. The floor was bare concrete, the rug having been torn up. The sheetrock was in the process of being replaced, and the joints hadn’t been finished yet. Maybe a new construction?
Ezra could only see out of his left eye, his right one was swollen shut. Christ, he felt like he had been hit by a bus. The inside of his cheek had been torn open by the edges of his teeth, especially the void of where his tooth had been. His mouth tasted like blood. He doubted the taste would ever go away. It was nauseating.
He craned his head upward towards the door when he heard it open. The figures that entered were blurry at best, but he could tell from the sizes of the individuals that it was Jimmy and Rick. They picked him up and dragged him into the next room, which again seemed office-like in nature. He was dropped to the floor again. God his head hurt. Everything hurt.
He felt his bonds cut and his arms freed, not that he could do anything with them. He felt so wiped, all he wanted to do was sleep. He put up no resistance when he was flipped onto his back, his arms laying slack beside him.
“He dead?” O’Brien asked, almost laughing.
“No sir. He’s just out of it,” replied Rick.
“Wake him up.”
Jimmy reached for a bottle of water that was sitting on the nearby desk. He walked over to the Southerner and dumped it on his face. Ezra sputtered as the water doused his face, but didn’t move his body from his prone position. He lay his head back down with a soft thump.
“Hey there, Zeke,” said O’Brien. The disdain dripped from every syllable as he used Ezra’s undercover name.
Ezra glared at him.
“So, Agent Standish, was it? I would like to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind.”
“I mind,” Ezra croaked out, closing his eyes.
O’Brien nudged him with his shillelagh. “Oh, it won’t be so bad.” O’Brien actually sounded… was it friendly?
“Says you,” Ezra drawled. He opened his eyes to look up at his tormenter. And the fucking stick. Seriously? he thought.
O’Brien used the knobbed end of his shillelagh to nudge Ezra’s chest and abdomen, eliciting a groan. “I bet that hurts,” he mused aloud.
“Not so bad,” Ezra grunted out. He lied. It was bad. He imagined his whole torso to be a large bruise. But damned if he was going to admit his pain to this man. O’Brien leaned the knob onto the southerner’s stomach, just below his sternum. Ezra whooshed his breath out with a small grunt as O’Brien pushed down. He raised his hands and tried to swipe at the offending object. The pressure eased up, and Ezra took a cleansing, painful breath.
Jimmy hung back, watching the scene with trepidation. There was nothing he could do for Standish without jeopardizing his own identity or the case. He was torn. He caught O’Brien nodding to Rick, then gesturing towards the downed agent. Rick knelt down next to Standish, who was still battling to remain conscious. Jimmy watched as Rick put his knee on the downed man’s ribcage and let his weight come down on that knee.
Standish’s eyes opened wide and his hands went to Rick’s leg, trying to dislodge him.
Ezra lay there, taking deep cleansing breaths with his eyes closed, trying to bring himself all the way out of the muddled state of consciousness he was currently floating around in. He felt a pressure on his chest and swatted it away, groaning. Once the pressure was gone, he resumed his deep breathing. Even breathing hurt.
Ezra vaguely sensed that someone was near him. Then he felt something on his chest where the first pressure had been. Then it got heavy. Ezra’s eyes flew open in a panic. The weight had made breathing difficult, almost to the point of impossible. Every little bit of breath that went out of his lungs was replaced with less and less of a breath in. He raised his free hands, as weak as they were, and tried to dislodge Rick’s knee from his battered ribcage, to no avail.
Just as suddenly as it had started, the pressure stopped. Ezra sucked in his breath and coughed. He panted, staring at the cold eyes of Rick, whose knee still rested on his ribs.
“Well Agent Standish. I appear to have your undivided attention now,” O’Brien said as he came into Ezra’s line of sight. “Now, I’m going to ask you some questions. And I’ll know if you’re lying. So we’ll start with an easy one. What’s your name?”
Ezra stared at the man, but didn’t answer. Immediately, he felt the pressure on his chest increase and he couldn’t breathe. He struggled to dislodge the knee from his chest, again to no avail. Rick caught his hands and pinned them to his chest. Ezra was helpless, at their mercy. He was starting to see spots in his vision when the pressure finally let up. He sucked his air greedily.
“Let’s try again, shall we? Your name?”
“Standish,” he rasped out, still sucking at the air. His heartbeat pounded in his ears as his blood rushed through his panicked body.
“Your full name.”
“Good. Who’s your boss?”
“No…” he rasped out. The pressure was immediately back, and seemed harder this time. Ezra struggled, but to no avail. Panicking, he groaned out loud, a sound of frustration and fear. The pressure let up.
“I already know the answers to these, Agent Standish. These are the easy questions. Try again?”
“Good. Now, what have you told Chris Larabee and the ATF about my operation?”
Jimmy looked on anxiously.
Ezra met the arms dealer’s gaze and rasped out, “Nothing.” It was the best lie he could muster.
Again the pressure. Again the spots dancing in his vision.
“I don’t believe you,” O’Brien said.
“Believe whatever you want, it’s the truth.” The pressure started to decrease slightly. “I was on my way… there this morning… when you… came by…”
“A month and a half, and this was to be the first day you were going to tell them anything? I don’t think so.”
“They’ve got nothing on you!” Ezra spat. “I was going there today and they were going to take me off the case!” He panted.
O’Brien seemed to consider this for a moment. He nodded at Rick, who got up off of the Agent. Ezra lay on the floor, arms spread out to his sides and heaved large breaths, trying to calm his rattled nerves and appease his battered body. Once Rick was clear of him, he rolled to his side and brought his arms to his chest protectively and drew his legs up.
Rick and O’Brien stepped away from the downed man over towards where Jimmy stood. O’Brien leaned on his shillelagh with both hands and seemed to be in thought.
“What do we do?” asked Rick.
“Well pack up and move locations. We’ve been here too long anyways.” O’Brien seemed bored with the whole situation.
“You believe him?” asked Jimmy.
“It doesn’t matter,” O’Brien replied.
“What do you want to do about him?” Jimmy asked, motioning towards the agent.
“Get rid of him. Your choice how and where.”
Jimmy nodded in acknowledgement. He was to kill Standish and get rid of the body. O’Brien started to walk away, then turned towards his men.
“Jimmy, I want Larabee to find the body. I want the ATF to get the message.” The man smiled his evil grin.
Jimmy nodded and turned to Rick. “Let’s go.”
“So what’s your pleasure?” Rick asked from the driver’s seat. They had loaded the southerner into the trunk none-too-gently. Jimmy tried to discern what kind of damage had been done to the man. Standish’s face was the most obvious injury, the right side swollen and bruised, gashed and bloody, eye swollen shut, but that was all Jimmy could tell of the man’s injuries without making it obvious what he was checking. The damage that had been done to the man’s torso remained hidden by his clothing. But still, blunt force trauma could kill. And he’d seen O’Brien do it before. He’d seen men beaten this badly die. Jimmy hoped he didn’t have to face Larabee if his man succumbed to his injuries.
“Jimmy?” Rick asked.
“I’m thinking.” And he was, but he was trying to think of a way to get Standish to safety. “Rick, you still got this guy’s cell?”
“I think so.” Rick started rifling around through his pockets. After his short search, he held out the agent’s phone. “Here. What are you thinking?”
“Kill Standish while I have Larabee on the phone. Then I’ll leave the phone with him.” He smiled a wicked grin he didn’t mean.
Rick considered it for a minute. “Nice. Where?”
“Fuck, I don’t care. Let’s just get this done, I’m hungry,” Jimmy replied, acting as bored as he could muster. In reality, his heart was thumping so hard in his chest he thought he could hear it hit his ribs, and there was no way he could eat anything right now without it making a swift return. He ran his hand over his face.
“Alright. Next turnoff work?”
The car came to a stop at a rest area. There were no lights, no people. The road wasn’t heavily traveled in the evening. The trees nearby offered the cover they needed. Jimmy and Rick got out of the car and went to the trunk. Once it was opened, they took the barely conscious man out of the trunk and walked him the ten feet to where the trees began, draped between the two of them. Dropping him to the ground, Jimmy took out the cell. Before dialing, he turned to Rick.
“Have the car running. If I want Larabee to hear the shot I can’t use the silencer.”
Rick nodded and started back towards the car. It was understood that they should leave immediately after they were done. Normally, it wouldn’t be done this way, but O’Brien wanted Standish found.
“I’ll leave the door open,” Rick said before walking away.
Jimmy looked at Ezra, whose face was resting on the ground where he lay on his stomach. His shallow puffs of breath stirred the dirt near his nose. Other than that, the agent didn’t move.
Please, just stay down, thought Jimmy. It’s better if you do.
Looking back over his shoulder to where Rick waited in the car, door open and engine running, Jimmy dialed Chris Larabee from Standish’s phone and waited, gun in hand.
The six remaining members of Team Seven were gathered around the conference room table with Travis. They were going over what little progress had been made by all parties in locating their missing agent.
Chris’s extension lit up as the phone rang, causing several people to jump in their seats.
With only the slightest bit of hesitation, Chris stood and reached for the phone and hit the light signifying his line. “Larabee.”
“I have a message for you.” The phone was on speaker.
“What message?” Chris’s voice didn’t hold the same bite it usually did. Instead, it held a tone of panic.
“You should never cross Charles O’Brien.”
Chris flinched and dropped into his seat as three rapid gunshots came through the speaker.