Disclaimer: This story is the product of different minds coming together to have some fun. We have ownership over any new characters but the rest belongs to others (such a shame!).
Authors' Note: The basic idea for this story was developed months ago, I'd even forgotten about it, until Karen sent it to me at work. Seeing as I had time on my hands, because work was so damn boring, my imagination ran away with me. Oh well, I looked busy.
"Good, you guys are just in time to fill us in on the Pardella case," Chris watched as Vin and Ezra each took a seat in his office.
Ezra smiled, he was pleased with the way this case was going, everything just seemed to be falling into place. Even though Ezra usually liked to work alone, having Vin around was actually an advantage. After Vin had proven himself to Pardella and his men, the bodyguards had accepted him as one of them, keeping them out of Ezra's way so that he could talk to Pardella alone. "In a few weeks' time Mr Pardella's supplier should drop off a shipment of firearms to his men who will keep the stock hidden. If after a few days, everything seems clear Mr Pardella's bodyguards will then retrieve the merchandise bringing it to Mr Pardella and myself at some prearranged location. I know it seems like a roundabout way, but it keeps his source anonymous and gives them time to make sure nobody is on to them."
Chris nodded, "Hopefully after the arrest, Pardella or his men might give up his suppliers."
"I doubt that Mr Larabee. Mr Pardella will still want to keep his contacts, especially when they're involved in a large syndicate as this seems to be. I'm afraid prison would be far less frightening than this alliance being broken."
"Besides, I thought this case was just about Pardella," JD said.
Chris sighed, "It is, but if we can get the supplier as well..."
"You'll get a pat on the back," Buck finished for him.
"Maybe if we can find out where the drop is, we can get the supplier then. Or at least part of the syndicate." Nathan stated.
"I'm afraid Mr Pardella keeps those details private. He will contact me when he decides it's time to release further information. However, Mr Tanner is becoming very friendly with the other bodyguards, perhaps they've said something about the shipment to him."
Vin hadn't been listening to the conversation and was startled when everyone turned to look at him, "Huh?"
"Are you awake?" Buck smirked, but his only answer was a glare so he asked, "Have Pardella's goons been gossiping around you?"
"Not really. Ez should know more than me."
"Is everything alright?" Josiah had noticed that Vin staring at the table and not leaning back in his usual posture.
Vin just shrugged, "Yeah, sure."
"Mr Tanner is still licking his wounds from the other day," Ezra smiled, although he'd also felt that something was wrong. Vin had seemed distant after they'd left Pardella's house that morning, but this assignment was coming together nicely so nothing could affect Ezra's good mood.
"You weren't hurt, were you?" Nathan immediately became concerned, he knew that Vin had fought a couple of guys to get their approval, but he hadn't said anything about any wounds.
Vin shook his head, "Of course not. I'm fine."
Ezra grinned, "You couldn't possibly be doubting Mr Tanner's prowess, it was only three against one."
Chris looked down at the file in front of him, "If we knew when and where the drop was, we could wait until the bodyguards have the guns, and move in to arrest the suppliers. The operation should then go ahead as planned and we'll catch Pardella selling the shipment to Ezra. I think you two should wear a wire. If anyone says anything to you about the drop, we can act on it almost immediately."
"No," Vin blurted, "I mean, these guys are pretty strict with their security."
Ezra nodded his head in agreement, "Mr Tanner is right. If Mr Pardella or one of his men imparts any information, I am sure we would have plenty of time to notify you, the man cannot be hurried. Besides, seeing as this case is going so smoothly, Mr Tanner will probably get invited to join Mr Pardella's men in fetching the firearms."
Vin shook his head, "I doubt it."
Chris sighed, he knew those two wouldn’t want to wear a wire, but it was always worth a try. However, if they thought they could get away with not wearing one when the actual sale went down, they had another thing coming.
* * * * * * *
Ezra tried not to look disappointed, "So you're saying that the shipment is already here and hidden?"
"That's right," Pardella answered, "It will still be a couple of weeks before I'm prepared to hand it over, but I thought I'd let you know that everything was on schedule and that the merchandise is of a high standard."
Ezra appeared pleased, "Being a cautious man, I understand your reluctance to......" Ezra stopped abruptly when he saw Vin being led through the door at gunpoint.
"What's going on?" Pardella asked his bodyguard.
"I found Val here in your office."
"I got lost."
The bodyguard ignored Vin, "He was going through your papers."
Pardella stared at Ezra who was glaring at Vin, "I don't believe this, what did you think you were doing?"
Vin looked Ezra in the eye, "Just thinkin' I could get to the guns first. You ain't the only one who needs weapons."
Well, at least he hadn't blown Ezra's cover. Ezra drew his gun and pulled Vin from the other man's grip, "I apologise, I had no idea I'd hired a traitor."
"I don't like people going through my personal things. Maybe it would be best if we ended our business dealings here."
"Mr Pardella, please let me take care of this problem and I'll give you a call later today. I really feel we should try to salvage this association."
"I don't know, let me think about it and give me a call tomorrow." Ezra nodded and shoved Vin towards the door.
* * * * * * *
Vin glanced over at Ezra to see if he could gauge his mood, not very good by the looks of things. Ezra was gripping the steering wheel of his Jag so tightly that his knuckles were turning white. His expression was grim and his eyes were flashing with anger.
"Ez, I'm sorry."
"I don't want to hear it, in fact just don't talk to me at all."
Vin wished he could give Ezra a good enough explanation for almost blowing the bust, but he needed to find out what was going on first. Hopefully Ezra would forgive him eventually.
* * * * * * *
Ezra stormed off the elevator, straight for Chris' office, slamming the door behind him. The rest of Team 7 swung around ready to ask Vin what had happened, but he just retreated into his own office, quietly closing the door.
"Looks like someone's in trouble," Nathan remarked.
"Yeah, and for once it isn't Ezra," Buck tried to lighten the mood that had descended when the two agents had returned.
It didn't work, and the tension only increased when Chris came out and yelled, "Vin, in here now!"
* * * * * * *
"What the hell is going on?" Chris glared at Vin.
Vin looked at Ezra who was sitting in one of the seats, he hadn't turned to acknowledge Vin's presence and had the same expression on his face as when they were driving in. Vin hung his head slightly, "Exactly what Ez's told you."
"Why?" Chris hated questioning Vin, the sharpshooter's answers were never informative.
"I was just helping."
Ezra jumped out of his seat, "By snooping around Pardella's office and getting caught? At least if you'd told me what you were planning, I could have kept an eye out"
"You would've tried to stop me."
"Of course, it was an idiotic idea."
"I was just tryin' to find out who the suppliers were."
Ezra couldn't believe he had to explain this to Vin, "The assignment is to arrest Pardella, we can set up another operation for the suppliers at a later stage if necessary."
"The suppliers are long gone. He's already got the guns hidden," As soon as Vin shut his mouth he realised he'd said too much.
"How did you know that? You were off playing detective when Pardella told me that."
Vin looked to Chris for assistance. "Vin? Tell us what you know?"
Vin looked at the floor, "Nothin'."
"This is ridiculous, I haven't heard one reasonable explanation, he hasn't even bothered making up an excuse. I'll be telling Mr Pardella that I killed Vin, perhaps I'll be able to get him to trust me again." Ezra said as he headed towards the door, as he turned the handle he added, "Oh and Chris, I don't want Vin anywhere near me for the next day or so."
Vin slumped into the seat Ezra had vacated earlier looking completely dejected. Chris softened his demeanour a little, "Okay Vin, something's obviously bothering you, I've never known you to jeopardise a bust. And even though sneaking off is like you, getting caught isn't."
"I thought I was helpin'."
Chris was becoming frustrated, "I'm warning you Vin, if you know something about this assignment, I want you to tell me right now. This is your last chance."
Vin shook his head, "I can't...."
"You're off the case, and considering the way Ezra feels, I wouldn't be showing my face around here for a few days."
* * * * * * *
Vin waited for someone to answer his knock. He was determined to keep the kid out of this, he just wasn't sure how to do it. He should have told Chris and the others, but if they knew then they'd probably have to arrest the boy.
"Vin! What are you doing here?"
"Hello, Mrs Mannix. Is Jeff home?"
"Not at the moment. Why? He's not in any trouble is he?"
Vin liked Jeff's mother, and didn't want to worry her, "No, just haven't seen him for a while. Thought he might like to play a little one on one."
"He's probably at the store, he's been working really hard. He even got a promotion, and a pay rise. For once I haven't had to worry about having enough money for food. I don't know what I'd do without him. Listen to me rambling, would you like to come in for a drink?"
"No, thank you."
"I'll let Jeff know you dropped by."
Vin smiled, "Thanks."
* * * * * * *
Vin spotted Jeff playing a video game at the arcade. "Thought you'd be at the store, after getting that promotion and all."
Jeff spun around to face Vin, "Ah, yeah well, they gave me the afternoon off for workin' so hard."
Vin stopped the kid from turning back to his game, "Really? I've just come from the store and they said you quit."
Jeff wrenched his arm free but still followed Vin when indicated some seats outside. "What do you want?"
"I want the truth."
Jeff just sat next to Vin looking sullen.
"Ever heard of anyone by the name of Pardella?" Vin sighed.
"Well, I have and apparently he has some guns hidden somewhere. They're to be picked up in a couple of weeks."
"So? What's that got to do with me?"
"What do think's going to happen to whoever has the guns stashed?"
"Get rich probably."
"Get himself arrested more likely. And when that happens, how do you think he's mother's gonna feel?"
"Leave her out of this. You don't understand."
"I understand perfectly, but if you were in trouble you should have come to me."
"You can't fix everything. Besides I can look out for myself and my mother."
Vin was becoming exasperated, this kid answered questions the way he did, "Pardella is just using you. If the cops find the guns, you'll be the fall guy. He'll deny knowing you..."
"He doesn't know me, I don't know who you're talkin' about. I'm just helpin' out a couple of guys," Jeff wished Vin would just go away and leave him be.
"Damn, the bodyguards," Vin muttered.
"When these people don't need you anymore, they'll get rid of you. Just show me where the guns are and I'll take it from there."
"You don't know what you're talkin' about. I never said I stashed anything. Mum and me are doin' fine so just leave us alone," Jeff stalked back into the arcade.
Godammit why did the kid have to be so stubborn. Going along with some stupid plan, he'll get himself caught and then where will he be? In jail, and I could have stopped it. Why doesn't he just tell me? He should know he can come to me for help any time. Shit, I sound like Chris. I'll have to stop that.
* * * * * * *
Vin had been following Jeff for a week, when finally he saw Jeff drag a box out of an abandoned warehouse into the alley behind it. He watched as Jeff hid the box behind the dumpster and then leaned against the wall.
"Nice night for loitering."
Jeff nearly jumped out of his skin, "Shit Vin, you scared the hell outta me."
"Don't tell me to leave, I need the money."
A shadow fell across the alley, "What's going on? Hey aren't you Val?"
Vin swung knocking one of the bodyguards to the ground. He pulled out his handcuffs and cuffed the guy to the dumpster.
"Get out of here Jeff, NOW!" Vin yelled as he chased the other bodyguard. Unfortunately, Vin wasn't able to catch up to him before he jumped in a car and drove off.
"Shit," Vin cursed as he went back to take care of the guy he'd arrested.
* * * * * * *
Ezra stood across from Pardella, it had taken a lot of sweet talking, but Pardella had finally accepted Ezra's apology. Actually it had taken a considerable amount of sweet talking to persuade Chris to let him back undercover without another member of the team. Chris had been determined that he wear a wire, stating that the Team would be able to move on the information quicker if they could hear the sale taking place. At least Pardella trusted him again and their business relationship was almost the same as it had been before Vin almost blew it. Ezra had been ready to forgive and forget after a couple of days, but Vin had been staying out of his way for over a week now. Ezra didn't really want Vin to be feeling bad, hell usually Chris was yelling at him for not including the other team members in his schemes, although Vin usually seemed to be able to get himself involved in whatever Ezra was up to. Ezra guessed that he probably just felt left out when Vin hadn't come to him, he would have understood. Shit, I'm actually beginning to think like Chris. I'll have to get over that.
"You don't mind, do you?"
Ezra was startled out of his musings by Pardella's question, "Excuse me?"
"We're just going to scan you for any electronic devices."
"Mr Pardella, this is completely unnecessary. I thought we'd developed a certain amount of trust," Ezra said as one of the Pardella's men headed towards him, equipment in hand.
"He's wearing a wire."
* * * * * * *
JD threw down his earphones, "They're onto him."
Buck flew out of the van signalling Chris, Josiah and Nathan that something was wrong.
* * * * * * *
Pardella took and aim fired, shooting Ezra in the shoulder before the rest of the Team 7 rushed through the doors their own weapons ready. Nathan ran to where Ezra was lying, pulling out his cell phone and calling for an ambulance. Pardella's men had all run in a different direction. Chris, Buck, JD and Josiah had managed to round up some of them, but Pardella himself and few others had gotten away.
Chris crouched down beside Nathan, "Is he going to be okay?" Nathan shrugged, "The bullet's still in there, the ambulance is on its way."
* * * * * * *
The doctor came out of surgery and smiled at the five men in the waiting room, "Your friend's going to be fine. We were able to get the bullet out, and it hadn't hit any major arteries."
"Can we see him?" JD asked.
"Only for a minute, he's still unconscious."
After Chris was satisfied that Ezra was going to pull through looked at his team, "I'm going back to the warehouse, I wanna see if we can track these bastards down."
"Right behind ya," Buck intoned.
"Should one of us stay with Ez?" JD asked.
"He'll be sleeping for a while yet," Nathan answered, "Besides, he'll recover much better if we can tell him we got the guy that shot him."
* * * * * * *
Vin waited until everyone had left the hospital and then snuck into Ezra's room sitting down next to the unmoving form. When he'd heard the call come in through the FBI lock-up where he was securing his prisoner, he felt as though he'd been shot in the chest himself. This was all his fault, he should have just gone along with the assignment and let Jeff fend for himself. He couldn't believe it when Pardella's men had started talking about some kid called Jeff Mannix, who was supposed to be their scapegoat in case the police were onto them. Vin also knew he'd feel just as guilty if it were Jeff lying here instead of Ezra. If only those bodyguards hadn't recognised Vin, then the bust would have gone down as planned. Vin could just picture the look on Pardella's face when the bodyguard that got away told him how Vin had handcuffed his accomplice, especially considering Vin was supposed to be dead. Vin wanted to explain everything to the man that was lying here unconscious because of him, but he couldn't even find the words to express how sorry he was. Ezra probably wouldn't be able to hear him anyway, and even if he could Vin didn't deserve his forgiveness.
Vin's thoughts were interrupted when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He jumped out of his chair and headed towards the door.
"It's alright Vin, you can stay," Josiah said, he hadn't meant to alarm the young man.
"No that's okay," Vin avoided everyone's eyes as he flew out the door.
He was already halfway down the hall before Chris caught up to him. "Where are you going?"
Vin felt trapped, Chris was searching his face for answers and all he could think of was escape, "I can't..... This is my fault."
Vin couldn't possibly be relating Ezra being shot with him snooping around over a week earlier, Vin hadn't had anything to do with the case for that time, "Vin, please stay."
"No, I have to take care of it," Vin mumbled as he ran for the exit.
Chris watched the retreating back, take care of what? Godammit, he better not be going after these guys. Why did I believe he'd stay out of it, the son of a bitch probably knows more than they do. For once Ezra had gone along with the plan, without going off on his own, he'd even accepted the fact that Vin was going in as backup. What happens? Vin starts behaving like Ezra, those two were interchangeable. From now on I'm going to watch them both more carefully. I wonder if they realise what I go through every time they pull a stunt like this.
* * * * * * *
Vin was glad when he found Jeff at home the next morning. He hadn't really wanted to search all the kid's usual haunts.
"Are you here to arrest me?"
"No, just need some information."
"I don't know anything else."
"Look a friend of mine was shot because those bodyguards recognised me. I need to know if they said anything when they hired you, anything at all that might give me a clue as to where they're headed."
Jeff had never seen Vin this upset before, "They said something about meeting at Brett's Bar."
Vin sighed, "Thanks."
"Wait, I'll come with you."
"No you won't. And if I find you following me, I'll shoot you myself."
"You can't go alone. Besides, this is as much my fault as it is yours. You were tryin' to protect me."
"So you figure, I'm going to let you tag along to arrest these guys."
"I said no. Stay put and don't get into any more trouble."
Jeff shook his head as he watched Vin jump into his jeep and drive off. "Mum," he called into the house, "I'm going out for a while."
* * * * * * *
"Is there a Federal Agent here that's been shot?"
The nurse looked up from her computer screen, "You'll have to give me a name son."
"I don't know his name. He's a friend of Vin Tanner's."
JD swung around when he heard Vin's name, "Who are you?"
"My name's Jeff. Do you know Vin?"
"I work with him," JD answered.
"He's gone after the guys you were chasing."
"Come with me," JD said, "There are a few people that are going to want to hear this."
JD led Jeff down the corridor towards one of the hospital rooms. It sounded to Jeff like they were trying to persuade someone to stay in bed.
"Make a new friend?" Buck asked when he saw JD wasn't alone.
Before JD could say anything, Jeff spoke up, "Vin went after Pardella and his men, and I'm the one that told him where they were."
Once Jeff had uttered Brett's Bar as Vin's destination, Chris was ready to move.
"I'm coming too."
Nathan swung around, "Ezra, you've just been shot."
"I'm fine, besides that was yesterday."
Chris placed a hand on Jeff's shoulder, "Keep and eye on him for us, kid," and turning to Ezra he added, "If you're not in this hospital when I get back, you're fired."
* * * * * * *
Vin was being backed up against a wall by six goons, Pardella could've kept this fight fair. Six against one, I bet Ez would be doubting his ability now. Oh well, may as well make it hard for them. Vin managed to knock one guy down, when another grabbed him holding his arms. Padella and four of his men advanced, ready to teach Vin a lesson. The rest of the patrons in the bar were either egging the guys on or fighting amongst themselves.
"Alright, a brawl," Buck yelled as he jumped into the fray without a moment's hesitation.
"Vin doesn't do anything by halves," Josiah muttered as he pushed his way through the crowd.
Chris couldn't be bothered with all this, he took out his gun and fired into the air, causing everyone to abruptly stop what they were doing. "ATF freeze."
Pardella ran for the back exit, but Josiah was already there blocking his way. Buck already had one of the bodyguards and JD and Nathan were rounding up the others. Vin was kneeling on one leg trying to catch his breath.
Chris waited as Vin carefully stood up, noticing that the young agent was clutching at his side and having trouble straightening up. A bruise was already appearing down one side of his face and his lip was bleeding. "What are you guys doin' here?"
"Saving your sorry ass," Buck answered.
Josiah smiled slightly, "Ornery, wanted to come down and save your ass as well."
"Yeah, right. Probably would've finished me off."
Chris knew Vin was blaming himself, but he didn't have time to go through everything right now, "You're hurt, go to the hospital, we'll take care of these guys."
Nathan came over and poked Vin in the ribs, causing him to double over, "You could have some broken ribs. I'll drive you."
"I can drive myself, besides I need to get something from home."
Chris didn't feel like arguing anymore, "Fine, but if you're not at the hospital when I get there, you're fired."
"Is that an idle threat?" Buck laughed, "Because you've used it twice in two hours."
* * * * * * *
"It looks as if you've had an altercation with a bear."
Vin wasn't nearly as surprised as he should have been to find Ezra sitting on his couch when he got home, "A couple actually. Shouldn't you be at the hospital?"
"I could say the same thing."
"Yeah well, I just stopped off to grab something. I was headin' there to visit you," Vin was glad Ezra was well enough to sneak out of the hospital, but he still felt guilty, "Ezra, I'm sorry. If I hadn't started snooping around and if that bodyguard hadn't recognised me, you wouldn't have been hurt. You could've been killed, and I wasn't there to back you up..."
"Mr Tanner, I was shot because I was wearing a wire." Vin finally looked surprised as Ezra continued, "Your friend, Jeff explained everything. It was admirable of you to try and help him, however next time keep me apprised of the situation."
"How did you think the others knew where to find you, and I did require a little help to get here."
Vin smiled, "I hadn't thought about it."
"I can't imagine you've been thinking about much, as you seem to have been hit in the head a few times."
"I guess I'd better get you back to the hospital. Besides, Chris said he'd fire me if I didn't go and get checked out too."
"Mr Larabee used the same threat on me. However, I never thought you'd be scared into doing everything our illustrious leader says." Ezra really didn't want to go back to the hospital, and he was becoming frustrated, especially since he didn't think he'd have this much trouble convincing Vin, "You're starting to annoy me. Would you rather incur Mr Larabee's wrath or my own."
"At the moment, yours. Chris is pretty pissed Ez, his vein was throbbing at the bar and he's using that 'don't mess with me' tone."
"Perhaps I can sweeten the deal."
Vin grinned, "I'm listenin'."
Ezra dangled some keys in front of Vin, "My mother owns a holiday apartment down by the shore, which is conveniently empty right now. If you're fit enough to drive, we could get there by early this evening. You and I deserve to recuperate in luxury, without having doctors poking at us or well-meaning friends giving us grief."
Vin nodded and grabbed a duffel bag, stuffing some clothes into it, "Sounds good, will we need to stop off at your place?"
"I already have some clothes at the apartment, we can leave as soon as you're ready."
As Ezra and Vin headed out of the building towards the jeep, Vin asked, "So what are you gonna do after Chris fires ya?"
"Becoming a professional gambler sounds good. What about you? Would you return to bounty hunting?"
Vin chuckled, "Yeah, probably."
Send us some vibes on what you think of the story!!!
More Ladysmiths Stories here
Divider Bar courtesy of BOON DESIGN