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: This is my first story so be kind. It seemed to take forever to come together and is probably a little stilted. Has a bit on everyone - with all these wonderful men who could leave one of them out to fend for themselves. I hope you enjoy - it's all for fun!
"So Chris whatcha think?" When Chris noticed the sly smile on Vin’s face he knew something was up.
It was finally Friday and all Chris wanted was for this day to be over so he could relax at his ranch for the weekend. His eyes narrowed when he asked cautiously "What do you mean?"
Once they had exited their building Vin's attention had been drawn to a group of people standing on the sidewalk. "What excuse you gonna use to get out of the judge’s invitation?"
Chris grimaced, thinking of his day being even longer and having to sit through hours of sheer hell dressed in a tux. The judge had been away overseas with his wife over the past 2 weeks but had returned early for a commendation ceremony and expecting Chris also to be in attendance. "Not sure yet, guess whatever comes out at the time".
Vin looked over Chris’ shoulder and chuckled "Well, that time seems to be now". Chris swore under his breath at Vin for stalling him but turned to meet the judge with a smile on his face.
The judge walked up giving greetings to both men and jumped to the point that Chris was trying to avoid. "Well Chris, I assume you are all ready for tonight?"
Chris could see the pits of hell getting closer but he had to at least try to save his soul. Watching the traffic he waited for some divine inspiration to hit but ended instead fumbling for a reason, "Well Judge about that, you see, something just came up and......." Chris stopped as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.
He watched as a black car slowed when it reached opposite the men, the driver’s window slid open and a gun barrel appeared, "what the hell!........GET DOWN" Chris shouted the warning and leaped at the judge pushing him to the ground as gunfire erupted.
The crowd on the sidewalk screamed in panic and scattered to the ground. Keeping a controlling hand on the judge, Chris rose to back up Vin who had already draw his weapon and was firing on the rapidly retreating car. With a last shot the rear window shattered as it squealed to disappear around the corner.
"Are you alright judge?" Chris helped the judge climb to his feet.
"Besides a bruised ego you mean? I’m fine, thanks to the both of you" pronounced the judge while brushing the streetdust off his clothes.
Chris shook his head while admiring the judge’s stamina. The man was quite calm considering, he had just been a target.
Vin had still remained on guard as the three were soon surrounded by other agents once the news of a gunshot spread.
Chris frowned as he turned to the judge "I want you inside. We’ll be up when we finish checking around here first." The judge became the centre of a circle of agents and was escorted inside the building.
Something about this incident wasn’t right and Vin had realised it as well. "It doesn’t make sense Chris", Vin was still scanning the area when Chris walked up to his side. "Why did he miss? These shots were way off even if you hadn’t pulled the judge down."
Chris fingered the holes in the concrete of a flower bed that Vin had pointed out to him. Vin dug through his pocket to produce a small flipknife and handed it to Chris. Slowly Chris was able to slowly extract the bullet that was still imbedded. "Something else that doesn’t make sense, this bullet didn’t come from that gun. This was fired from a rifle....."
Chris was stopped by Vin’s hand on his arm "Chris, the building on the right, someone on that roof thinks we’re doing something mighty interestin’."
Chris looked up to see what had caught Vin’s eye. The sun glinting off glass and the silhouette against the sky showing a man holding binoculars to his face. Both men took off at a run across the road causing cars to scream to a halt and their drivers to make a noise of their own.
Chris reached the roof door first having come up by elevator while Vin arrived shortly after puffing for breath, "Out of training there pard?"
Vin gave him a dirty look and mumbled his response, "Like to see an old fart like you try 20 flights of stairs."
Both grinned, and breathed deep ready to tackle the confrontation. As neither had seen their quarry on the way, they hoped that the person was still trying to find them in the crowd below.
Taking the lead Chris slammed the door open with his foot, bringing his gun to bare out in front of him. Vin covered in the opposite direction as they slowly made their way across the roof to where the figure had last been.
Turning around it was obvious the man had escaped. There were no other places on the roof they hadn’t checked. "Damn!" Chris exclaimed as he holstered his gun.
Vin followed suit while walking over to the edge of the roof to peer down. "This is where he took his shot.....and left his mark."
Chris was startled to see Vin stretching over the side of the building and ran forward to catch his legs. "I’m alright Chris, you can let go now. Just wanted to get this, it was on the ledge."
Once he had achieved getting Vin’s legs firmly back on the ground Chris was finally able to find out what had caused his agent to attempt an acrobat manoeuvre. In his hands Vin held up a single card, totally white except for the roman numeral for two inscribed in gold.
"You think the shooter left this?" Chris wasn’t sure but looking at the other’s face he knew that Vin was serious. "Okay, lets get this analysed. Time to go see the judge anyhow." With that the 2 agents took the luxury of riding the elevator back down to the street.
Chris and Vin walked in to see the judge sitting behind Chris’ desk with the other agents gathered in the room. The blinds had been drawn for protection making the room darker than usual, and emphasising the tension that hung in the air. Noticing how crowded the room had become, Buck left his seat to allow Chris to sit across from the judge.
Chris produced the card wrapped in a plastic bag and tossed it onto the desk in front of the judge. "This mean anything to you? We think the shooter left it as a calling card." Chris pulled out a second plastic bag as he explained finding the different calibre bullets and their little venture onto the roof.
While listening to Chris the judge had picked up the bag turning it around to examine the card inside. "I’ve never seen anything like it before. I’m not even sure I was the target Chris, there were plenty of other people on that sidewalk."
From his perch on the bookcase Vin was certain, and had a gut feeling that this was just the start of their trouble, "Chris and I have been discussin’ that. What if today was just a warning? The gun Chris saw from the car was probably just a hired thug to act as a distraction, while the guy on the roof was the real threat. From that spot and usin’ a rifle would’ve given him greater accuracy, he could have killed the judge easily." With that Vin looked over at the judge, "Sorry judge."
The judge just nodded. He knew how close he had come to meeting his maker and found out he wasn’t ready yet. Looking around the room he felt his hope renewed. These agents were his best and they were also his friends, they wouldn’t let him down.
The card was slowly being passed around the room for each agent to examine while they mulled over Vin’s words. Buck shoved the remains of his half eaten candy bar into his pants and wiped his hands before he took his turn to examine the evidence.
JD shuffled his feet and put his hands in his pockets before he spoke "Well, I don’t get it. If someone wanted to take the judge out, why would he warn him first?"
The other agents also looked between Chris and Vin waiting for an answer. Vin just shrugged and Chris sighed, that was something they hadn’t figured out yet. "I think the judge might have a better idea about that."
Everyone’s eyes travelled to the man behind the desk. He had steepled his hands in front of face and was slowly tapping his fingers against his mouth, deep in thought. “I was thinking, Vin might be right. Since getting back from Paris some accidents have been happening.”
The tension had returned in full force with the agents intently leaning to hear the judge’s soft words. “Since my wife is staying longer overseas I travelled back with some friends of mine and have been a guest at their home. Yesterday I got a call from my neighbour about a fire at my house. It was only a small fire in the garage but I wasn’t sure how it had started. This morning the brakes on my friends’ car failed and they were almost killed. I had just thought it was a run of bad luck but in light of this, they were probably more warnings.”
"Don’t worry judge, we’ll get it checked out and put a watch on your friends. For now, I think we will have to find you a safe house."
"Sorry to disappoint you Chris, but I didn’t get this far by running away every time my life is threatened. I have a speech to make tonight and I intend to be there." Chris had known the judge would be stubborn and even admired him for it. He knew tonight would be an opening for the assassin to strike but also an opportunity for his team to catch him.
“Alright, but we’re all going to be there.” All the agents had the same determined spark to their eyes as Chris. “Judge, I think you should stay here while we do some researching.”
The judge nodded his agreement and leaned back in the chair. He knew why this team was the best when he observed them interacting. Each seemed to know what was expected of them before Chris confirmed their duties.
“Nathan, I want you to stay with the judge. See if you two can figure out any motives or likely suspects for us to check out. JD, Buck, I want you to do some research on that symbol and the car description from this morning. See if any bells turn up.” Chris picked up the 2 plastic bags and tossed them at Josiah “After you take these to the lab, I want a profile on known assassins who could be our mystery shooter. Also get the layout of the function centre for tonight.”
As the three agents left the room Chris turned to Vin and Ezra. “We’re going to hit the streets and find out who hired this guy.”
* * * * * * *
Chris leaned against the alley wall as he watched the backs of two figures standing in the shadows. One was acting very nervous and kept darting glances towards him while the other was leaning forward to listen to every word being said.
Ezra had directed Chris to the haunts of his contacts to seek out some information. Chris stayed in the background to let Ezra work his magic but always kept him in sight to help if needed. He watched as once again something changed hands and the snitch went away happy. Ezra turned, shaking his head and walked back towards Chris to inform him how he fared.
“I hope you’re using your own money”, Chris stated, bringing his hands to his hips in an intimidating manner.
“Well, Mr Larabee the agency has never begrudged me my bag of tricks.” Ezra saw the gesture but laughed it off. He knew they had depended many times on his devious habits to get out of trouble.
“It better have been worth blowing our budget again. Did he know where Lopez was?” Chris was getting worried. They were running out of time and still hadn’t found out much information.
“I’m afraid that the only information I could obtain was exactly the same as when we started this endeavour two hours ago.” Ezra’s frustration was evident. He had been scrapping the bottom of the barrel for his known informants for the last half hour. Many of them had moved on or disappeared. Lopez was one of the latter.
“Ezra, do we have any more options?” Chris raised his eyebrows when he was met with silence.
Ezra was thinking over the situation. He had talked to a lot of lowlifes that morning. Many used to the rough life on the streets but this time they were scared. All had heard word on the acceptance of the judge’s contract by a mysterious out-of-towner. The large contract had originated from a big underworld boss but his snitches wouldn’t even mention any snippets of gossip as they were terrified to end up like Lopez. Most had the sense to stay well clear when an offer to assist was passed around but Lopez had apparently been down on his luck and jumped at the chance to earn some easy money. All he had to do was be a distraction....the guy in the car. Now he had disappeared which meant that Lopez was in serious trouble.
Chris interrupted his contemplation “Ezra, answer me!”
Ezra finally turned to look at Chris with a sombre gaze, "I believe we have covered everywhere I can think of. No-one has seen Mr Lopez for more than 3 days. I am beginning to think we are too late for that miscreant, unless it is to find him in a shallow grave." Chris nodded as Ezra continued, "I suggest we see how Mr Tanner prospered."
* * * * * * *
They had dropped Vin off in his neighbourhood to scout for the gang of kids he had befriended. Vin had helped them in the past and they returned the favour by listening for any word on the street that could help his team.
They pulled up to see Vin standing in the middle of a playground in front of a set of swings. He waved as he spotted them but as he tried to move towards the truck his legs were weighted down by a dozen tiny hands.
“Oh dear, I do hope these are not his informants, or else I’m not recruiting them young enough”, Ezra smirked.
Chris laughed as he watched his friend continue to wade slowly over and lessen the gravity by hauling two of the kids up into his arms. Once he reached the truck Chris handed him a small bag. The kids squealed with delight as he handed out the lollipops and ran back towards the playground.
“So what did you find out? I hope you had better luck then us or else this was wasted time.” Vin leaned through the truck window and rewarded Chris with a nod.
“Yeah, the gang has been hearing a lot of movement lately. They heard the contract was put out by someone in the Mangione mob family. Know of the connection?” When Chris just shrugged he continued with the next piece of news, “And they found out the assassin is well known in New York. He goes by the name of Gemini.” Vin was proud his gang were willing to face the risk to help his team. They had promised to let him know of any new developments, and knowing them they would search for it.
“Well gentlemen, that would explain the cards. The symbol for the astrological Gemini can be represented by the roman numeral for two.” At least now they could find out who they would be dealing with.
Vin jumped in the truck as Chris picked up his mobile phone, “JD, we’re on our way back in. Great, good work. Yeah, it is the sign for Gemini. I also need you to do some digging on the Mangione family as well. I want everyone ready for a briefing when we get there.”
* * * * * * *
Josiah propped himself against a spare desk as he observed the others. Buck and JD were getting ready for the briefing by transferring the files on the Mangione family to the boardroom, while Nathan sat nearby waiting for a fax to arrive. In all his years of profiling he had never seen a team quite like this one, let alone be part of it. They were more like family than work colleagues and what happened to one affected them all. Each of the men had their individual, unique skills but together they had earned their nickname of "the magnificent seven" within the ATF.
"Hey, what’s that?" Buck dumped his files on top of JD’s existing ones and walked toward an unopened package he had noticed sitting on another spare desk.
"Damn it Buck, these are heavy you know." JD’s loud complaining made Josiah take pity on the youngster and take half his load, "Thanks Josiah, at least someone around here is helpful."
Buck ignored them both and focused on the package. It was a plain box wrapped in brown paper with only a label reading, "Deliver to ATF Team 7." Without thinking of any danger Buck tore the paper and opened the lid of the box.
Chris, Vin and Ezra had just returned to the office but bolted to Buck as he yelled, stumbling back with his hands covering his face. Chris and Vin grabbed Buck lowering him to the floor while the remaining agents arrived at their side. "Hold his arms, I need to see his face", Nathan had gone into medic mode to examine the damage. "Did anyone see what happened?"
"It was the parcel, I saw something spray into his face when he opened it", Chris answered Nathan while trying to keep Buck still. "Nathan, what is it? Is he going to be alright?"
"Yeah, I think it was just tear gas. I’m gonna go get some eye irrigation equipment. Help Buck to the boardroom couch, I won’t be too long." Pausing he laid a reassuring hand on Buck’s shoulder, "Now I know it hurts, but don’t scratch, it’ll only make it worse."
Examining the offending item, Ezra pulled out another Gemini card that was tucked inside. Turning it over he noticed some writing. "Gentlemen, it seems that our quarry has provided an inspirational message that fails miserably....You can’t save him, but you can join him."
"Cocky son of bitch" Buck exclaimed in a raspy voice, as he was helped to his feet. Chris and Josiah lead the way down the hallway while Vin and JD were trailing behind guiding Buck.
"It didn’t take him long to figure out we were gonna be there tonight" Chris growled. He didn’t like it when something happened to his men, especially when it was on their own turf. He blamed himself for not being more alert, they all needed to be at their best for the judge’s sake, and their own. They were currently playing catch up with this case and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was missing something obvious.
"Guess he doesn’t like party crashers", Vin remarked to alleviate some tension after recognising Chris entering one of his dark moods. "Don’t worry Chris, it’ll be our turn tonight." Chris acknowledged Vin’s words with a slight nod and then moved to sort the pile of files gathered on the boardroom table.
All attention turned towards Ezra when he took his place at the table. Disregarding the moaning coming from Buck as Nathan put wash solution into his eyes, Ezra reported his findings from the security department. "Apparently the package was dropped off downstairs by a courier, it got past security as a junior brought it up thinking it had already been scanned. The courier company informed me they picked up the parcel from a guy waiting on the corner of Cedar and Alpine Streets. The transaction was cash and no receipt was recorded. I might be presumptuous, but I dare say the man is long gone by now", his sarcasm not lost on his colleagues.
Nathan finally finished and let Buck lay back with his arm covering his irritated eyes from the light. Another presence entering the room reminded them of what this mission was all about. "So how are you handling being cooped up Judge?" Nathan inquired.
"I think I am having a better time of it then you all are, especially Buck over there", he gestured at the prone agent while seating himself at the head of the table. "Nathan told me the contract originated from within the Mangione. It doesn’t surprise me, that family has been involved in many underhanded deals over the years, but I can’t say I recall having any direct connection. They mainly deal in blackmarket drugs and the ATF have never launched an operation against them. So what else have we established?"
Chris gestured for JD to begin, "Buck and I pulled the files on the Mangione family. Umm, we didn’t get a chance to go through them because there is so many of them." JD started to fidget in his chair until Josiah reminded him of his other research.
"Oh yeah, I scanned the symbol into the computer and ran a search to see if it had turned up anywhere else. The FBI had it in some files on an assassin known as Gemini. Looks like he uses the card as a trademark to mark his prey." JD flicked a page in the file before continuing, "They have listed about 10 confirmed assassinations in the past year in the New York area alone where the card has turned up. Says here they have tried several times to set up some traps but he never fell for them. They had a whole lot of profile info but I passed that onto Josiah."
Taking that as his cue Josiah cleared his throat "The FBI have listed Gemini has first having appeared only 3 years ago and his number of hits have been steadily increasing each year. He tends to only take high profile contracts for the challenge and has been building a reputation of successes. In the last 15 cases he not only eliminated his target but anyone in the vicinity at the time killing a total of 120 people", he stopped looking up at his comrades. He had been shocked when he first read the number of innocent lives taken and their expressions showed they felt the same.
"He takes pleasure in warning his victims and then stalk them for weeks, the longest up to 6 months before finally finishing his contract. His method changes each time, a car bomb, food poisoning, hotel fire, sniper shot, apparently he even decapitated one guy.....", collective groans emitted from the agents at the thought and JD sat rubbing his neck, "so we won’t know how he may attack the judge. The only thing constant is that damn Gemini card is found at every scene. No witnesses have ever come forward so we don’t even have a description to work with. He associates himself with the word Gemini which could mean anything, twin lives, double personalties, good at disguises, or even some astrological meaning. He obviously has no remorse at taking human life and may even perceive it as an achievement. In short, he is highly dangerous not only to his target but everyone around them", Josiah slumped back against the chair indicating he was finished. All the agents remained silent, contemplating all that had been said in such a short time.
A soft voice coming from the couch broke the silence, "JD, tell them about the car for me will ya." Even though Buck was starting to feel better he couldn’t be bothered getting up to grab the file when JD had them right in front of him anyway. Besides the kid liked the attention he was getting.
"Sure Buck", JD shuffled through some papers until finding a slightly scrumpled piece covered in scribble. "Geez Buck, how can you read this?"
If Buck’s eyes hadn’t been sore he would have made a show of rolling them at JD’s comment. "Alright, it was found abandoned in a used car lot this afternoon. A search on the car came up showing it to belong to a Mr William Rogers of 24 Cedar Street. Buck tried to get hold of the owners but according to his message service he is currently away on holidays."
"Wait a moment, JD", Ezra had sat up straight in his chair. "What was that street name again?" Once JD confirmed the name he turned to the other agents with a grin large enough to show his dimples, "I do believe we have just located Mr Lopez."
"Oh c’mon Ezra, you don’t think he would be so stupid to use the guy’s car and then stay in his house do ya?" Vin questioned.
"On the contrary Mr Tanner, he has never been known for his intelligence. I believe we should not overlook the obvious in this instance."
* * * * * * *
All four men had their guns drawn. Chris and Vin waited covering the front door while Buck and Ezra made their way around the back of the house. Climbing over the fence they made it halfway across the yard before a growling from behind caused them to stop in their tracks. Grimacing at each other both slowly turned to confront the new threat, a bull mastiff who didn’t take kindly to intruders. "Oh man, could this day get any worse?" Buck complained.
Chris used his foot to slam the door open while Vin entered searching with his gun in front. As Chris maintained sentry over the front door and Vin was moving methodically through the house checking each room, Eddie Lopez could only see one avenue of escape, a window. He managed to get the screen off with a minimum of noise but Vin checked the room in time to see him disappear over the ledge. "Chris! He went out the side window." Vin followed the same route and joined Chris outside to give chase down the footpath.
From the commotion inside Buck and Ezra knew the snitch had escaped the house but were powerless to join the hunt. With the dog advancing on them with it’s teeth bared they found themselves backed against the house. "Think we could shoot it?" Buck joked after realising he and Ezra still held their firearms.
Easing the guns back into their holsters, hoping to pacify the agitated mastiff, Ezra noticed the wrapper sticking out of Buck’s pocket. Holding his hand out to Buck Ezra announced, "If you would kindly donate that half eaten sweet I believe I can extract us from this situation." Buck gladly handed Ezra the candybar, who unwrapped it and waved it front of the dog’s nose. Catching the dog’s full attention Ezra then threw the bar towards the back of the yard. As the dog headed for his treat, Ezra and Buck bolted over the fence back to safety.
Ezra brushed his clothes trying to get them back to their normal pristine condition after having a run in with a bush on the hasty getaway. Buck hit his arm to get his attention and he looked up to see Vin and Chris walk into the front yard hauling a man between them. "What took you guys so long?" Vin asked.
The dog jumped up at the fence causing them all to flinch. "We stopped to feed the animals", smirked Buck as he pointed towards the enraged canine. With the intensity of the situation easing all the agents resigned themselves to their next duty and turned towards the snitch.
Feeling all eyes fall on him he started to babble, "Ezra, I was coming to tell you honestly, but he was gonna kill me if I did tell you and I was just hiding out here cause I knew you would find me really and...."
Ezra held his hands up interrupting the flow of words pouring from the other’s mouth "Mr Lopez, you might have been able to placate me with your excuses in the past, but you will find my colleagues here a lot harder to please." Ezra watched the snitch’s face blanch and knew he had struck a cord of fear.
"Yeah, that dog still looks hungry to me." Buck grabbed the terrified man and dragged him over to watch the large teeth lunge at the fence. "Those teeth sure could make a mess of a man, don’t ya think?"
The other 3 agents stood back laughing quietly, while watching Buck work. He had a way of making people think he was just crazy, rampant, and totally overpowering but they all knew he was in full control.
Buck returned with his quivering burden, and by the look on his face he knew the man would co-operate completely. "Seems our little friend here will tell us everything for some protection." Looking at Chris he raised his eyebrows, "Do you think we should?"
"Should be able to find some spare beds in lock up." The snitch jerked trying to escape, but with Buck still holding him tight realised he no longer had a choice. "Why don’t you and Ezra get him settled and find out what he knows, then we can decide how much protection he needs."
Chris clapped Ezra on the back as they walked back to their cars. "Good pick up Ez, nice to know you can pull a rabbit out of a hat when we need it."
"More like a rat", Ezra replied as touched his fingers to an imaginary hat brim, in the gesture of their customary salute.
Separating, Ezra slid into Buck’s truck next to Eddie keeping him hemmed in between while the 2 men and Chris walked up further to where Vin was waiting in his jeep.
* * * * * * *
Ezra walked out of the elevator to an unusually quiet office. Most of the agents were at the conference centre preparing for tonight. Hearing an unknown voice coming from the boardroom he walked in to find Chris and the judge seated at the boardroom. When Chris realised he was there he gestured for Ezra to take a seat and stay quiet.
The voice was coming from the speaker phone, "Judge Travis, all the surveillance equipment is ready and my team is set to go. All we need now is our target and orders, sir."
"I think that information has just arrived Agent Morris. So Ezra, got a name for us?" Chris was relieved when he saw Ezra’s grin and slight nod.
"I would hardly like to keep our impatient comrades waiting. Your target is a man by the name of Luis Mangione. I have taken the liberty of processing the paperwork so you have no reason to delay." Ezra signed as he could finally relax into a comfortable chair. Being cooped up in one of the interrogation rooms for to long was bad for one’s health. Not that Eddie wasn’t ready to comply but it needed a fair length of time to unravel his rambling language.
"Agent Morris, I want your team to establish and maintain surveillance on this Luis Mangione, including wire tapping phones, offices and vehicles, to obtain any intelligence or communication with the assassin. Your remaining orders will be forwarded to you shortly. As soon as you uncover any useful information contact Agent Larabee in field", with that the judge disconnected the line.
Both men settled into back into their chairs looking intently towards Ezra. The undercover agent chuckled at the sight but refrained the impulse to make them ponder further, "Our associate was most helpful in the reasoning behind the threat against the judge. Luis Mangione isn’t the one who has any personal grudges against the judge."
"Then why did we just organise a team to watch this guy?" asked Chris patiently. Even though Chris was getting frustrated he knew he wouldn’t get any answers out of Ezra if he pushed. That didn’t mean he sometimes, hell all the time, wished that Ezra would just get to the point.
"Oh don’t get me wrong Agent Larabee. Luis is the man who is paying the assassin but he is aspiring it to be a favour to Joseph Battaglia." Ezra watched as recognition filtered through the judge’s eyes, "His daughter, Tasmine, is soon going to be married to Joseph’s son and what better way of forging the families together than the death of an enemy. Joseph is apparently quite willing to extend his gunrunning enterprise for Luis to manage in Denver if he takes care of the judge. In fact he is even visiting at the moment to oversee the operation."
"Do you really want to go through with tonight?" Chris tone was serious, "We can still call it off."
Both men watched the judge come to a decision and then nod, "I have been wanting to put Joe Battaglia away for a long time. This could be the last chance I get."
* * * * * * *
As the night grew late the agents became more cagey. They had expected the attack to come early when the judge made his speech but it was getting close to 11.00 pm without any incident.
Chris pulled at the bow tie of his tux and once again scanned the room. He confirmed that Nathan still stood patiently by the back exit and gave him a nod when their glances connected. Towards the front of the room the judge sat with Josiah and Ezra on either side of him listening to the second last speaker. At least Vin, Buck and JD had been spared the hell of formal wear, mainly because there was no way of getting a tux at late notice.
Speaking softly into the a hidden microphone Chris checked in with his remaining agents "So how does it look out there?"
Vin’s texan drawl responded, "Still nothin’, gettin’ boring actually. Have to stop Buck from getting too friendly with the passing ladies."
Chris smiled when he heard the slight yelp of pain from Vin as Buck paid him back for the comment and his voice was heard, "Don’t listen to him boss, I’m working out here."
JD’s excited voice suddenly interrupted them "Chris! There’s something going on in the south passage. can’t see what... uhhh.. some people just came running up to reception. I think Vin and security went to check it out but Buck’s still guarding the door."
"Heads up everyone, this could be it." He pulled his gun hiding it under the table and watched his other agents in the room do the same. "JD, stay there and watch those monitors. Josiah, Ezra have the judge ready to move out of here."
Everyone in the room flinched as the fire evacuation alarm sounded. "What’s going on out there?" Chris asked into the mic but only got static as a reply. Nathan was also tapping his earphone after getting no response.
Noticing the crowd getting jumpy he stood up taking control while moving towards Nathan at the back doors, "Please everyone stay calm, we will evacuate as soon as I find out it is safe."
Upon opening the door smoke poured in from the hallway revealing the panicked stream of people outside. The whole room rushed to the exits as more smoke flowed from the air shafts.
Nathan and Chris lost the fight to stay in the room as the mass pushed them out of the doorway. "Ezra, Josiah, if you can hear me, take the judge out the back and we will meet you there." Vin, Buck and JD joined the 2 agents as they ran down the passageway to the designated meeting position.
Before Chris could ask Vin explained, "Some people got knocked over, we went to help and got caught up ourselves. Tried to tell ya, but the mics are out."
"Fine, we’re getting the judge out the back way. Be ready." This was not going to plan and Chris didn’t like it. This guy was good, he used the people around them to be the uncontrollable element.
Inside Josiah and Ezra watched as they lost sight of Chris and Nathan through the smoke. After failing to contact the others they decided to get the judge to safety. Grabbing the judge they crouched down low and lead the judge towards the concealed back exit behind the stage.
When Josiah opened the door he hesitated and contemplated staying where they were. The ceiling of passageway was on fire with debris falling and the air thick with ash and smoke caused all three men to cough as their lungs burned.
Josiah placed a protective arm over the judge as they started along the hall. Ezra followed behind trying to cover them but his eyes kept watering from the smoke making it hard to see. He was grateful when he saw a fireman appear through the smoke and move towards them. Their saviour turned deadly when Ezra watched the man slip down his mask to uncover eyes filled with hatred and a large scar running down the side of his face. His arm came up to reveal the gun pointed towards the judge.
Ezra shouted a warning but knew they wouldn’t be able to react in time. As the gun shots fired he knocked the 2 men behind a nearby statue before feeling the impact of one of the bullets hit his arm throwing him back against the wall. All went black when his head connected and he slumped to the ground stunned.
While Josiah’s gunfire distracted the gunman the judge dragged Ezra to shelter behind the statue relieved to find the man still alive. When other gunfire erupted towards the fireman, Josiah knew the others had arrived and came to Ezra’s side.
"Oh Lord, Ezra", Josiah exclaimed when seeing the amount of blood that covered his face. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket he wrapped it around the Ezra’s head. When the judge pressed down on the bullet wound Ezra groaned, and tried to move away from the touch "Hang in there Ezra, we have to stop the bleeding."
They heard the sound of glass breaking and another volley of shots was fired before the rest of the team joined them. "Damn it, we’re no closer to getting this guy." Chris growled between coughing. All were having trouble breathing the thick air and could feel the heat of the fire surrounding them.
Seeing Ezra wounded Nathan quickly examined him but knew they were still in danger from the fire. "It’s ok to move him. Buck, help Josiah with Ezra. We have to get out of here fast before this place collapses." Supporting Ezra in their arms the agents followed the same path made by the hitman through the broken window.
* * * * * * *
A soft light began warming the cold shadows of the abandoned church as Josiah completed lighting the various candles. The agents seemed cagey as they explored the set up of the large room and it’s smaller chambers.
"So how did you know about this place, Josiah?" Chris asked breaking the stillness. He had been discussing the situation with the judge seated on one of the few pews not broken, and now walked over to stand beside Josiah.
"My father used to bring me here when it was overflowing with people rejoicing. I used to be fascinated with the beauty of the building and was heartbroken when I came back to find it abandoned. I’ve been slowly rebuilding it back to it’s original state for about a year now."
"Doin’ a fine job too." Vin clapped Josiah on the shoulder as the others joined them at the front of the church. Vin raised his voice to Nathan, "How’s Ez doin’?"
Nathan had propped Ezra up against the altar and stripped him of his jacket to examine his injuries. Cutting the white shirt he was relieved to find the bullet wound was only a graze and quickly cleaned and bandaged it up. The head wound was more of a worry, and was still seeping blood through the new wrappings. He gave Ezra some painkillers which would eventually give him some peace in sleep. "I think he’ll be fine, but he’s got a concussion so I need to keep an eye on him."
"No need to worry Mr Jackson, I’ll just remain here placidly while you gentlemen carry on with your duties," a soft southern voice intoned. Ezra still had his eyes closed and his head leaning against the wood behind him. He didn’t risk moving as the first time he had tried only made the throb in his head increase and his sight had been blurry.
They all smiled, glad to see the agent had still retained his drawl sense of humour. "Should’ve known he’d do somethin’ like that just to get out of workin’." Vin slyly mocked with a chuckling Buck joining in "Dang Ezra, isn’t there a level you won’t stoop to?"
"Well gentlemen, I believe I have already fulfilled my obligations. Jumped in front of a bullet, saved the judge...saw his face". Ezra waited for the reactions he knew would come.
"You WHAT? The assassin? When? What did he look like?" they all practically yelled. Ezra couldn't resist opening his eyes and found he could focus on their eager faces awaiting his description. The pounding in his head had eased slightly and the world actually stayed still, so he began, "He shifted his mask before attempting his first shot and I got quite a good look at his face. Slender, quite young, maybe late 20’s, with a large scar running from his right eye to his jaw. Probably Mr Larabee’s height, though I am not sure about the build due to his disguise. Long black hair from what I could see and I believe blue eyes."
"You saw all that in one glance and through that smoke?" Josiah was amazed. He had only seen a flash of the fireman’s coat as he fired from his cover behind the statue.
"It’s a talent Mr Sanchez, what can I say." Ezra quipped back sleepily. Chris’ mobile phone began to ring as Ezra felt Nathan pat his shoulder and move the others away to allow him to rest.
"Larabee", Chris barked into the phone. Chris indicated it was Agent Morris on the phone and smiled evilly to the group surrounding him. After disconnecting, he updated them "Looks like we got them. Surveillance team picked up a conversation that provides enough evidence for them to convict Luis Mangione and Joseph Battaglia for attempting to kill the judge and their other various activities. A team is on the way to bring them both in."
"That’s great Chris, but what about the assassin?" JD spoke what they were all feeling. It was almost like they were trying to catch a ghost the way this man kept disappearing.
"They also gave us a location to check out. Apparently one of Mangione's goons dropped some money tonight at a warehouse for Gemini to pick up", Chris informed them. "Buck, Nathan, I want you to stay here to watch over Ezra and the Judge. The rest of us will go check out this warehouse."
* * * * * * *
The entrance to the warehouse was secured but JD squeezed through a narrow opening in a window to unlock the door for the others. Slipping quietly through the darkness with their guns drawn, they didn’t yet risk using any flashlights that would alert their presence. Hearing movement coming from the center of the room the agents manoeuvred down the passages created by large stacked crates. Josiah pulled JD back as they reached the end and peered around the corner. A light was dazzling in the black showing a hand sorting through a crate to pull out a black case. This was it, the assassin collecting his money. Josiah nudged JD towards the control room to get the lights on and signalled the other agents. They quickly spread out to surround the lone man in the center of the room. The lights came on startling Gemini, "ATF Freeze, your surrounded." Chris ordered.
The man immediately crouched behind a container letting loose automatic gunfire at Chris’ position. Chris ducked for cover but was still showered in splinters as his shield fragmented, he was pinned down. Chris looked around for high ground as he knew they wouldn’t be able to take down the gunman from their current positions.
Seeing a ladder leading to the boardwalk above Chris caught Vin’s eye and gestured towards it. Vin weaved his way over to the ladder and quickly scaled the rungs feeling the breeze of flying bullets just missing their mark. As JD and Josiah distracted the gunman, he crawled closer to the edge to find the assassin had moved so Josiah was in his line of sight. "Josiah get down", Vin screamed. Losing sight of his original target, Gemini arched his gun upwards but was slammed to the ground as Vin’s bullets entered his chest.
Vin kept his gun trained on the downed man as the others crept forward. Josiah reached the man first and used his foot to move him onto his back. Bending down he turned the man’s face towards him and closed the glazed blue eyes. "He’s dead, but I think we have another problem."
"What’s that Josiah?" Vin called out from above. He received no answer as Chris joined the group to stare at the body.
The man fit Ezra’s description except for one thing - no scar. "He doesn’t have a scar. What does this mean? We killed the wrong man or was the scar fake?"
Josiah turned to the men enlightened, "Think about it Chris. The name Gemini, it was right in front of us, it means twins, identical except one had a scar. There were two of them the whole time." Josiah finally felt all the pieces fall into place.
"My god, the others!" Chris exclaimed, pulling his phone.
* * * * * * *
Ezra was pulled from his sleep to the sound of harsh ringing. He shook his head slightly thinking to rid himself of the noise to realise it was his phone still in his jacket folded on the front pew. He swayed unsteadily but made his way over to the answer the phone just as Nathan reached him. He only had time to open the line before an explosion caused both men to be thrown backward. Ezra lost the phone as he was slammed into the altar and slumped to the floor into blackness. Nathan landed against a partition which partly collapsed bringing a large beam to fall across his legs pinning him to the floor.
Buck and the Judge remain hidden where they where tossed behind some pews unable to reach either Nathan or Ezra without breaking cover. "I guess this means, the others are on a wild goose chase", Buck whispered to the Judge while handing him an extra firearm.
"Come out, come out where ever you are", a spooky voice echoed in the chamber. The flickering light of the candles silhouetted the assassin as he made his way slowly into the room using the debris as refuge.
Buck’s gun discharged as he pinpointed the enemy’s position but missed when the man dived behind the altar. Both men began to move, each trying to gain a better position on the other. Buck’s luck departed when a floor board beneath him cracked sending him stumbling forward into the other’s view. Taking advantage of his good fortune the gunman shoots with the bullet piercing Buck through the shoulder and pushing him down to the floor, with his gun sliding across the floor. Trying to remain behind the pew the Judge returned fire with his borrowed gun as he helped Buck back into safety.
Never one to take chances the assassin surveyed the scene to watch as the dazed Ezra moved to pull his gun and peddled backward seeking shelter. Knowing the Judge would still be occupied with the wounded man the gunman quickly reached the agent and disarmed him easily due to his weakened state. Buck and the judge could only watch helplessly as he forcibly dragged the struggling Ezra behind the altar. "Send the Judge out or this man will die in his place."
Buck’s rage manifested itself in his wild firing at the solid timber. "You let him go you bastard", he yelled. He finally slumped back to the floor defeated and tried to pull himself back together, for Ezra’s sake.
A muffled scream drifted to them and both men flinched at the pain it held. "I’ll make it so bad for him he’ll wish he was dead already. You hear me judge? You are the only one that can save him."
Determined not to be the cause of Ezra being hurt further the judge made a move towards the aisle but was roughly hauled back to the ground by Buck, "Are you crazy? You know he’s gonna kill Ezra whether you go out there or not. We have to come up with something else...."
The church doors slammed open causing a gust of wind to blow out some of the rear candles. Buck smiled with relief when he saw four shadows creep over the threshold and disperse to different positions, each with a weapon held ready.
Chris had hoped to enter the church from different positions and take the assassin by surprise, but Vin and JD had returned to report half of the church in ruins. That had left only the main door as their entrance putting them at a disadvantage. Keeping his hand pressed against his wound Buck shifted allowing the figure that appeared beside him room behind the pew. "Hey Buck, looks like someone’s been using you for target practice." Chris tried to make his words light but the underlying menace threatened to take over. Buck pitied the man who would face Chris’ wraith.
Anger burned in Chris’ eyes as he studied the scene. He frowned at the collapsed timber of the church with Nathan pinned underneath. He could only see part of his body and was unsure how badly hurt he might be. Looking for his other agent he realised Ezra was nowhere in sight. "Where’s Ezra?"
Buck gestured with his head, "That bastard shot me and then dragged Ezra behind there. Wanted the judge in exchange."
"Well that ain’t gonna happen." Standing up into view Chris ignored Buck’s hands’ pawing at his coat. His voice sounded loud in the quiet when he spoke to the hidden man "We figured it out what it means...Gemini....twins. You and your brother were hiring yourselves out as one man but you were a team. Could be in two places at the one time, and make a legend for yourselves." Chris slowed walked up the aisle and paused his speech before delivering the final blow, "Except it’s just you now, we killed your brother."
The reaction was instant. "NO, YOUR LYING!" the hysterical voice wavered. The man was on his feet dragging Ezra to stand in front of him, a gun pressed deep into the side. All weapons pointed towards the two men but no-one dared a shot with the agent in the way. Looking down his scope Vin prayed for Ezra to take a small step in either direction but the injured agent was concentrating more on just keeping to his feet.
Ezra’s world was once again spinning and he felt his strength draining from him as he was jerked backwards. His feet skidded on a metallic object on the floor making it spin a little closer to the hand reaching out for it. Nathan almost had the gun, his fingers stretched to touch the handle and edge it over.
Realising they were telling the truth, they watched in horror as grief for his brother overtook the assassin’s mind. With his face twisted in agony he shoved Ezra away into the other agents’ line of fire, and took aim at the stumbling man. The moment the gun left Ezra’s side Nathan snatched up his sought after prize and fired.
His aim was true and a shocked expression grew upon the face of the killer. He was dead before his body even touched the ground. Rushing to their comrades, Vin reached Ezra’s side to soften his fall as he crumpled unconscious and Josiah freed Nathan from this trap.
Chris alone approached the prone body. He kicked the gun away from the killer’s hand before turning him over like his brother. Gemini, two evil brothers, that used the unique bond between twins to become a deadly team. His own team, a band of seven brothers, were the reason they hadn’t succeeded this time.
* * * * * * *
At the hospital the eight men took up every available space within the room. Buck and Ezra were the only residents while the others sat beside their bedsides keeping them company. Both men were glad they would be released the next day after having recuperated in the same room for the past week. The easy manner showed the tension had passed with the death of the Gemini twins and the knowledge the all men had survived.
"Before I go, I want to thank you for risking lives and to let you know I have recommended a commendation for each of you." A confused expression crossed the judge’s face when his kind gesture was met with a collection of groans. "What was that, you don’t want a reward?"
His explanation came from Chris,"Only if our reward is a holiday and no boring presentations sitting around in monkey suits."
The judged agreed to their demands, "Alright, I don’t want to see any of you men in the office for another 2 weeks." He joined the laughter at JD’s excited yell and left the room before being overwhelmed by the bouncy young man.
All eyes turned towards Josiah who cleared his throat, "Since you all had a part in destroying my church, I think this time off should be well spent helping me rebuild it." Josiah smugly grinned "After all, seven is the lord’s favourite number."
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