Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, not intended to infringe upon the rights of Trilogy, MGM, or the Mirish Corporation.
It was getting on for 7pm and Chris had agreed to meet the rest of the boys in Inez's saloon. The November nights were getting colder and it had just started to drizzle as he drew into a parking place outside. He decided to put on his coat before he got out of the truck. He entered the saloon, stopping just inside to allow his eyes to adjust to the change in light. He looked over to the table his team usually occupied and sure enough they were all there. Ezra looked up, saw Chris and rose to meet him.
"About time pard, you're already three drinks behind," called Buck. "Ezra's buying, so take advantage." Chris smiled and raised his hand in acknowledgement.
"What concoction do you wish to imbibe?" asked Ezra as they converged at the bar. Before Chris could reply there was a commotion behind him.
A muffled "Shit" was uttered as a young woman fell up the step into the saloon and landed flat on her face.
"My dear, what a spectacular entrance, are you alright?" exclaimed Ezra.
Chris turned and helped her to her feet. She had turned a deep shade of pink and had difficulty meeting his eyes. When she did lift her head they could see her nose and lip were bleeding and she had several bruises that were developing. The injuries had definitely not been caused by her fall. Ezra passed her a handkerchief which she used to dab at the blood.
"Thanks," she mumbled to both men.
"Are you okay?" asked Chris. He tried to get a better look at her injuries by tilting her head by the chin towards the light. She was breathing hard as if she had been running and she had a panicked look about her. She kept trying to look behind her but was unable to as Chris held her.
"Are you expecting someone?" asked Ezra, noticing her unease. He could see she was trembling.
"Maybe," she said. "Look, I've got to go. Is there a rear exit in here?"
Chris pointed to the back of the room. "Over there," he said "but can't we help you?"
"No, I'll be alright, if anyone does ask about me, just say you haven't seen me." They noticed she spoke with a British accent. She extricated herself from Chris's grip and made her way out the rear door. Chris's eyes met Vin's and he inclined his head, raising his eyebrows to get him to follow her.
"What's going on, brother?" asked Josiah.
"Damned if I know," answered Chris. He walked to the bar with Ezra and leaned against it.
Three men hurriedly entered the saloon and scanned the room.
One approached the bar and called Inez over. "Anyone come in recently? Young woman, early thirties."
"No, just who you see here," she replied.
The six remaining members of Chris's team looked the men over. They were all tall, muscular and looked formidable opponents. When the men realised they were being scrutinised they left quickly. Chris walked out onto the street and pretended to be getting into his truck, but he watched where the men went. He saw them run down the street to a dark coloured car. They conferred with someone inside and then split up, presumably to continue searching for the girl. They did not come back towards the saloon. The car drove off towards the middle of the city.
Chris re-entered the saloon.
"Have they gone?" asked JD. He had a feeling he should have known one of the men, but he couldn't put a name to the face. He would keep his thoughts to himself until he was sure. He liked to be certain of his facts.
"Yeah, let's check on Vin," said Chris.
Meanwhile, Vin had exited the saloon only to confronted by the sight of the girl being forced towards a car at the end of the alley. A man had hold of her hair and was roughly pulling her along.
Vin drew his weapon and called out to him, "Freeze, ATF, let her go."
The man turned, pulling a knife as he did so. He raised his arm as if to throw it at Vin. Vin fired instinctively and heard a grunt as the bullet struck the man in his arm making him drop the knife. He pushed the girl forcefully away from him and she hit the alley wall with a sickening thud before falling to the ground. He turned clutching his injured arm and ran to the car. He drove away without looking back.
Vin walked to where the girl had fallen. He approached carefully. She was cowered behind a dumpster with a hand held to her head.
"Ma'am, are you alright?" he asked. He reached out and touched her arm to try and gain her attention. She visibly jumped and tried to back away from him. "It's alright, I'm not going to hurt you. Let me have a look at your head." He could see blood between her fingers.
She looked up at him with frightened eyes, blood running down her face. He pushed her hair off her forehead where he found a cut bleeding profusely.
"My name is Vin and I'm an ATF agent. Can you tell me your name?" He smiled reassuringly at her, trying to get her to relax.
"Megan," she whispered.
"Did you know that man, what did he want with you?" Vin quizzed.
The other team members had heard the gunshot and came running out with weapons drawn. Vin motioned them with his hand to put their weapons away and to stay where they were.
He called Nathan over and turned back to the girl. "This here is Nathan, he's a medic, let him help you. I'm just going to talk to my colleagues."
Vin stood and walked over to the others after giving her a pat on the arm.
"What happened?" asked Buck looking towards the girl with concern etched on his face. "We heard a gunshot, is she alright pard?"
"Yeah, she just hit her head."
Chris and Vin exchanged information as to what had happened since they had parted company.
"Doesn't seem like a normal abduction, seeing as they kept searching for her. She must be a danger to them," observed Buck.
"In that case we'd better get out of here in case they come back," advised Chris.
"Shall we retire to my abode?" enquired Ezra.
"She might take some persuading, she's pretty frightened. It's not as if she knows us," said Vin.
"Okay, we don't all need to stay anyway," said Chris "Josiah, JD, Buck why don't you head off and we'll meet up tomorrow at work. The rest of us will go to Ezra's."
Josiah and the others left, first returning to the saloon to inform Inez of events.
"Nathan, is she okay? Does she need to go to hospital?" Chris asked as he walked over to them and looked down at Megan.
"No, she just needs rest and cleaning up. The cut doesn't need stitches it just looks worse that it is, although she'll have a headache for a while. It looks as though she has been roughed up fairly recently." Chris and Nathan helped her to her feet supporting her until she had regained her equilibrium. Chris studied her intently trying to read her face.
"Are you alright to come with us to Ezra's house? We are all ATF agents, maybe we can help you. If you feel happier we can go to the local police precinct," suggested Chris. He showed her his ID as he spoke, but at the mention of police she backed away looking ready to bolt.
Vin stepped forward and caught her eye. "Megan, we're not going to hurt you, we want to help with whatever trouble you're in. If you don't want to get the police involved yet, come with us to Ezra's. You'll be safe there, I promise."
"The police are already involved. They told me I would be safe and I believed them and look at me now," replied Megan bitterly. She looked at the faces of the four men in front of her and saw only concern and friendliness. She had only just met them, but she did feel safe. Yes, they had helped her, but out of kindness or some other hidden reason because they knew she was vulnerable. She had no one else to turn to anyway, so what did she have to lose. "Okay," she at last answered, "You seem sincere."
Chris said, "Vin can you bring your jeep round to the end of the alley." Vin left and a couple of minutes later reappeared in view in the jeep. "I'll collect my truck tomorrow, it should be safe here tonight," said Chris.
They moved towards the jeep. Ezra took Megan's arm and looped it through his and patted her hand. "Come along, my dear, let's get you indoors and cleaned up." He smiled at her flashing his gold tooth. "We have been most remiss in not introducing ourselves properly. I am Ezra, this is Chris and Nathan, and Vin in the jeep you already know. The other three reprobates you will meet tomorrow. I'd stick with a man of sophistication though if I were you."
"Who would that be Ezra? You talking about me?" asked Vin. They had just reached the jeep and he had caught the last of their conversation.
"Hardly, Mr Tanner. I've seen better dressed tramps," retorted Ezra. Megan laughed. The first time for ages it seemed to her.
Chris was grateful to Ezra. His charm could disarm anyone and he was certainly having that effect on Megan.
They got in the jeep and Vin pulled away from the sidewalk. He kept an eye in the rear view mirror to see if they were followed. Concentrating on the road he failed to notice a man in the shadows of a doorway. The man wrote down something in a notebook and left his hiding place, making his way to a nearby car.
As he walked he pulled out a mobile phone and punched in a number. "Hi George, it's me," he said "The girl just left with four men in a jeep. Can you run a trace for me?" He gave the vehicles details and disconnected. He reached the car and got in. He informed his passenger, "We should have a fix on the girl soon."
"Good," he replied. "We can't afford to have her loose and mouthing off to all and sundry."
Vin parked outside Ezra's house. They got out and made their way quickly to the front door. Ezra unlocked it and let them in, he looked outside before shutting the door to check for anything unusual.
"Nathan, you see to Megan," instructed Chris. "We'll all stay here tonight to be on the safe side."
"I'll go and get a room ready for Megan," suggested Ezra. "The rest of you will have to find a comfortable couch somewhere."
Nathan led Megan to the kitchen and sat her down at the table. He proceeded to tend to her injuries.
When Ezra returned he remarked, "You're looking vaguely human again."
"Well, I'll never be pretty. These bruises are probably an improvement. I was behind the door when beauty was handed out," Megan smiled.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," replied Ezra.
"You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," retorted Megan, eyes shining.
"Beauty is only skin deep," Ezra countered.
Megan hesitated, she couldn't think of another saying to come back with. "Does he always get the last word?" she asked Nathan.
"Invariably," he smiled.
"You're sounding a mite chipper," Vin interceded from where he stood listening in the doorway.
"Chipper?" queried Ezra, "where did you learn such language?"
"Must 'a been around you too much, Ez."
Chris came in at this point and spoke directly to Megan. "Are you up to telling us what prompted tonight's events?"
"Have you got an hour or two to spare?" she replied quietly, depression dropping like a curtain.
"We've got all night," smiled Chris.
Nathan passed her a couple of pain killers. "Here take these." He turned his attention to Chris, "I want her to get some rest soon."
"Okay, we'll see what we're up against and go into details properly tomorrow," Chris agreed.
"Let's adjourn to more comfortable surroundings," suggested Ezra. "Somewhere more suitable for the outpourings of a troubled soul."
"Geez, Ezra, speak English will ya," complained Vin.
They settled into the television lounge. Megan met the eyes of each man and then dropped her gaze to the floor by her feet.
"Take your time, there's no rush," Chris reassured quietly.
Megan took a deep breath which she exhaled slowly. She collected her thoughts and sighed. "Where should I begin," she murmured to herself.
"The beginning would seem a good start," interjected Ezra kindly. He gave her a quick smile which she returned sadly.
"As you probably realise by now, I'm not from these shores. I was brought over here to give evidence against Mickey Barnes."
The others looked at her incredulously. "The infamous Mickey "Drug Baron" Barnes?" asked Ezra. He made speech marks in the air as he spoke the nickname.
Megan nodded. "I worked for a charity in England which was set up about a year ago. I was their accountant. I started getting suspicious when large amounts of money were being donated on a fairly regular basis through banks in tax havens. Not always the same bank, not always the same named donor. I don't know why but I got a feeling something wasn't above board. I was instructed to disperse the money to other branches of the charity in other countries. I got in contact with a banker friend who was a genius with computers. We tried to track down where the money came from, if it was all donated from one person and if we could find out what actually happened to it after it left us. Anyway to cut a long story short we managed to tie some of the donations to Mickey Barnes. He had set up accounts using false names and was laundering his drug money through us. I eventually discovered he was the person who set up the charity in the first place to try to make it seem legitimate. So I downloaded all the information we had onto disks which are being kept somewhere safe. I printed off enough evidence to get the police interested and when they took notice I printed off the rest. Anyway they put me in the witness protection scheme after they arrested Barnes." She paused, licking her lips. "Needless to say he has contacts in high places and managed to find out where I was being held. He had already killed my computer friend as he was also going to testify. That was when I was brought over here, hopefully out of harms way. What a laugh that was. The thugs you had the pleasure of meeting tonight were his. They came to the safe house and somehow managed to force their way in. I was upstairs and heard fighting and shouting and then gunfire. I went to the window and climbed down the fire escape. I had reckoned without them leaving a sentry outside and he was waiting to greet me. We had a bit of a scuffle, which he was winning until I kneed him somewhere sensitive. I ran like the devil and then met you. I don't know what happened back at the house to the police who were protecting me. I don't know whether they are dead or if they were in on the deal. Anyway I didn't hang around to find out." She stopped talking, her story finished.
"Must be a leak somewhere for her to be traced," said Vin.
"Right, I'll call AD Travis now and see what he knows. I'll see what he wants us to do with you," said Chris. "It sounds as if you have had an eventful few weeks."
"Ezra, you and Nathan do a sweep round outside to make sure we definitely weren't followed."
Vin stayed with Megan. "Are you alright?" he asked. She looked rather pale.
"Yeah, I still can't believe what I've got myself into. I have always liked to see the right thing done when it comes to the law, but I think I've bitten off more than I can chew this time," she conceded ruefully.
Ezra and Nathan returned after finishing their sweep outside and reported seeing nothing out of the ordinary. They sat and waited for Chris to return. They talked amongst themselves until he came back about twenty minutes later running his fingers through his hair.
"Right this is what we're going to do. We stay here tonight, I want two of us awake at a time. Tomorrow we find a safe house and we will take it in shifts to protect Megan. We'll go to the office first thing to update the others and get things moving. I'll ring Buck in a minute anyway to put him in the picture."
"What about the policemen at the old safe house?" asked Megan tentatively when Chris didn't continue. Chris looked at her and wondered how she was going to take the news. "I'm sorry Megan, they were all shot dead. The police had reports of gunshots being heard in that area but when they got there they were already dead."
She rose and walked out of the room, her face white. Vin got up and said "I'll go and make sure she's okay." He found her in the kitchen, leaning forward over the sink with her head bowed.
"Megan?" he called quietly.
She turned and looked at him with haunted eyes. "God Vin, what have I done. I might as well have killed them myself."
He strode quickly to her and took her in his arms. "Now Megan, you can't start thinking like that. They knew what their jobs entailed." He rubbed her back comfortingly as he spoke and felt her slowly relax. She laid her head on his shoulder and sighed softly. "I don't want to be responsible for any of you getting hurt."
He got hold of her shoulders and pulled her away from him so he could see her face. He cupped her face in one of his hands and said "It's our job to protect you. If it wasn't for people like you, none of the drug dealers and murderers would be caught. You're very brave to have got this far. Don't let it all be wasted. Just think of the lives you could save by getting Barnes off the streets."
She knew he was right, but she would always have those deaths on her conscience. He took her in his arms again and gave her a comforting hug. "Come on, let's get you to bed. You've had a tough day."
Ezra had left her a tee shirt and shorts on her bed to sleep in. He had also left some toiletries. She washed and did her teeth and slipped into bed.
Her attempted abductors had gathered at their base after unsuccessfully searching for her. Their leader informed them that a trace had been put out on the jeep and they would soon have another chance to track her down. They settled down until more information as to her whereabouts had been found.
Megan couldn't settle and she tossed and turned continually. When she eventually dropped off to sleep she had a nightmare about being chased by a gang of men. In her dream she ran into an alley which turned out to be a dead end. She turned to face her pursuers and they leapt at her with outstretched hands. She woke with a start, a thin sheen of sweat on her forehead. Being in an unfamiliar house each noise set her heart pounding. She decided to give sleep up as a bad job and made her way downstairs on the pretext of getting a drink but really hoping for some company.
"Do you mind if I sit with you for a while?" she asked Chris. "I can't seem to get to sleep."
"Sure," he replied. "I'm not surprised after the day you've had."
Vin returned from the kitchen with some drinks for Chris and himself. He smiled at Megan, "Can I get you something?"
"No thanks, I just want some company." She stretched out on the couch and talked for a while about her life back in the UK. She eventually felt her eyelids growing heavy and before she knew it she was fast asleep. Chris rose and got a blanket that Ezra had left with them earlier. He covered her, being careful not to disturb her. He stood looking down at her for a while then retook his seat.
He looked over at Vin and smiled. "She's a tough cookie." He became serious. "Somehow I think things are going to get worse before they get better. Mickey Barnes is a violent man, no one's been able to stand up to him before. I hope she realises what she's taken on."
"She's just beginning to understand, judging by what she said in the kitchen earlier. I'm sure she'll stick to her guns, so to speak."
An hour later Ezra and Nathan came to relieve them and it was Ezra who shook Megan's shoulder to wake her in the morning. He squatted in front of her and smiled when she opened her eyes.
"Good sleep?" he enquired. "I don't know how you could have been more comfortable on the couch than in a fine feather bed, but at least you got some rest."
"What time is it?" she asked.
"6am. Do you want some breakfast?"
The other house-mates were already in the kitchen talking quietly. Megan took a seat next to Chris. Ezra placed a plate of eggs and bacon in front of her which she devoured hungrily. She hadn't realised how hungry she was. When she had finished eating she went and got changed back into the clothes she had on the day before. They left for the office when she was ready, diverting to the saloon to collect Chris's truck on the way.
In Buck and JD's loft there was already activity although it was only 5am. JD had woken early, eager to get to work and start looking on the database for the mystery man in the saloon.
Buck called down to him from upstairs. "JD, what are you doing, boy?"
"I want to get into the office early and do some work. Are you coming or shall I meet you there?"
"You're a bit eager aren't you? What's so important?" Buck asked as he made his way downstairs.
"There's just something I need to check."
"Well don't keep me in the dark, what is it?" pushed Buck.
"I thought one of the guys at the saloon looked familiar. I want to look on the database to see if I can trace him," informed JD.
"Why didn't you say so before? Come on let's get cracking."
When Chris and his group arrived, the remaining members of the team were already there. Buck was filling Josiah in on what he had been told by Chris last night. JD was working feverishly at his computer, oblivious to all the activity around him.
Buck approached Megan and asked "How are you doing, darlin' Did you manage to get some sleep?"
Buck wasn't convinced and he put his arm round her shoulders and gave her a squeeze of encouragement.
They all moved towards the conference room except JD who was engrossed in his computer search. As Buck walked past him, he slapped him on the back of the head and said, "Come on kid." JD jumped in his seat and raised a hand to rub his head. He rose and followed the others while giving Buck a sour look. They scattered around the table each taking their favoured place.
Chris announced that he had an appointment with AD Travis at 8.30. He went over the details of what Megan had told them last night, so everyone was up to speed.
Josiah asked "Who has got the paper copies of the accounts?"
Megan answered him. "I took them to the local police in England to start with and they passed them on to the relevant people. A set was also sent over here to the FBI. I can give you the name of who I dealt with in the UK if you need it."
"Who was in charge of the case over here?" queried Vin.
"George Mendez. I only met him a few times when he took my original statement. I was passed onto other people after that, but he was in overall charge."
"How many people know about the disks you have? Does anyone else know where they are?" asked Nathan.
"I assume whoever has been involved with the case so far knows of their existence. However, there is only one person who has access to them. As I had printed out the evidence, there didn't seem to be any need for the police to have them too," replied Megan.
"That's what has probably kept you alive so far. They need to trace all copies of the evidence. They can't risk computer files turning up in the future," observed Josiah.
"Can you give us the name of the person who has the disks? I think we need to secure them right away," said Chris.
"I sent them to a friend of mine over here. He has them in a bank safe deposit box. I'll need to contact him as he is the only one with all the details."
"Use my phone to call him. You'll probably need to give us something we can show him to verify he is handing the disks over to the correct people. He probably won't hand them over to us on our own."
Megan phoned her friend and arranged the pickup. She would write a letter for Chris to show him with some personal details in it that only the two of them knew. Chris thought it best that Megan didn't go with them to collect the disks as it was not safe. Although it would have made things easier.
JD decided he had better tell the group the angle he was working on. Although he hadn't had any success yet he wondered whether any of the others may have second thoughts about the man.
"Good work, JD. You keep working on that. It could be the breakthrough we need to start things rolling," praised Chris. "Right, I need to go and meet AD Travis now. Those of you who weren't at Ezra's last night will take the first shift at the new safe house. Go and get what you need. Megan, make a list of anything you require and we'll pick it up for you."
Buck and his team left to prepare, taking a list from Megan with them. Vin took her to Chris's office and sat her on the couch.
"You relax there, we'll just be outside if you want us. I'm getting the file of evidence sent over from the FBI so we can start looking through it," he informed her.
When he had returned from collecting his belongings for the safe house JD went back to scrolling through the computer files. Vin and Josiah started looking through the FBI files which had by then arrived.
Chris returned an hour later and he gathered everyone together.
"We will all go to the safe house after Buck and I have collected the disks. The second shift can then leave when we have secured the building and should return to relieve the first shift at 6pm."
Chris and Buck left taking Megan's letter with them. They returned a couple of hours later with the disks. Chris deposited them in the safe in his office. They then all left for the safe house.
The safe house was in a terrace due for demolition. It had been occupied until recently, so no-one in the area should think anything of it being in use. Some windows were boarded up and the accommodation was basic to say the least.
Ezra wrinkled his nose and commented dryly "It's certainly not the Ritz, is it?"
"Needs must when the Devil drives, brother," replied Josiah. "I've seen worse on trips with my father on his missionary work."
Vin, Chris and Ezra left when the others had settled in. They returned to their homes to gather clothes and equipment for their shift. Nathan had decided to join the first shift even though he had spent the previous night at Ezra's.
Meanwhile Vin's jeep had been identified by Barnes's men and when Vin returned home he was unaware of being watched. When Chris arrived to pick him up for their shift a tracking device was placed underneath his car and the jeep while Chris had gone up to Vin's apartment. They now had two ways of tracing Megan. They didn't follow immediately when Chris and Vin left in case they were spotted. They waited to get feedback from the tracking device. Luckily for them, but unluckily for Megan, the men were led straight to the safe house.
They drove past the house and around the surrounding area later on to check things out. They decided to let their quarry settle in first as the men guarding her were likely to be very vigilant to start with. After a day or two they would start to put their plans into action.
Now that the villains knew who they were up against they would have to be very careful. Chris and his team had a formidable reputation. Everything would have to be planned down to the last detail. They decided to do a trial run to make sure each person knew exactly what they had to do. They would do it the next night in the same conditions that they would be facing when they did it for real.
Chris, Vin and Ezra met up at the office two hours before they were due to relieve the others. They wanted to look at the FBI files and other evidence. They made a list of the aliases used by Barnes to be checked against the ones already known to them. They also checked the backgrounds of the police officers involved in the case to see if they could track down the leak.
Things were quiet at the safe house. Megan had gone to sleep, she needed to catch up on what she had missed the previous night. Josiah and Nathan had been playing a game of chess. JD and Buck had just completed a tour of the property to make sure everything was alright.
"Well, if it remains this quiet I'll be surprised," remarked Nathan when they gathered together in the kitchen for lunch.
They left some food aside for Megan after deciding not to wake her up. When she did surface and had eaten, Josiah found her sitting staring into space in the kitchen.
"A penny for them?" he said sitting down next to her. She didn't hear him. He touched her arm to get her attention and she flinched. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," he said.
"It's alright, I was miles away," she sighed.
"What were you thinking about? They say a problem shared is a problem halved."
"I think this whole situation could be classed as a pretty big problem. I was just thinking about life, the Universe.... you know, inconsequential things like that," she said smiling sadly.
Josiah tried to think of a way to give her something else to concentrate on. He asked "Do you play chess?"
"Never have," she said.
"Well there's no time like the present to learn."
He explained the rudiments of the game to her and they started playing.
"Sorry, I haven't got a very logical mind," she said as she lost her third straight game.
"Practice makes perfect," encouraged Josiah. "We'll play again on my next shift."
Chris and his team arrived soon after and they discussed what each group had been doing all day. They decided to change shifts again at noon the next day, to give JD time to do some more searching on the computer at work.
After the others had left, Chris and Vin did a circuit of the house and grounds. They came in to find Ezra and Megan kneeling on the floor with their heads on the floor and bottoms in the air looking under the couch. The carpet was covered in playing cards. Chris and Vin stood looking at them from the doorway. Vin looked at Ezra's rear end and had a terrible urge to let loose with his foot. He exchanged looks with Chris and knew he was thinking along the same lines. They grinned at one another.
Megan surfaced triumphantly with a card in her hand.
"There, I told you it was under here," she admonished Ezra.
Ezra righted himself too and they then noticed their observers.
"What the hell are you doing, Ez?" asked Vin.
"I was trying to teach Megan the finer arts of shuffling cards, needless to say I failed miserably. It seems she suffers from the tactile equivalent of two left feet."
Chris laughed, "Don't agree to play poker with him, Megan, he cheats."
"Mr Larabee, that is slander. Have you actually ever caught me cheating?"
"No, can't say that I have, but that doesn't mean you don't."
They all picked up the scattered cards and handed them to Ezra. Megan suddenly let out the most enormous sneeze, the result of the dust on the floor. Ezra flinched letting the cards fall in a heap on the floor by his feet.
"Good grief, girl, I don't think I shall grow anymore. It's a good job you don't wear false teeth or we would be searching for those on the floor too."
"Sorry Ez, if I'd known you were of such a nervous disposition I would have sneezed more genteelly," laughed Megan.
It was by now getting late and Megan decided to call it a night and go to bed. The three men would take it in turns to sleep, always leaving two of them on duty.
JD had been working hard in the office after leaving the safe house. He was trawling through all the mug shots on the database. He was just thinking of giving up for the night when he came across the man he had been searching for. He punched the air and said "Yes, I knew I'd seen you before."
Buck had wandered over to see who it was. "Billy Wilkins," he read "ex FBI agent. Busted two years ago for fraud, released six months ago. Yeah, that's him alright. Ring Chris and give him the good news, kid."
"Good work, son," congratulated Chris when he was told the man's name. "When you are next free look up who he used to work for in the FBI and who he was imprisoned with too. He may have made some friends in prison."
Things didn't change much on the subsequent day at the safe house. The shifts change over twice more, the men putting in some work at the office as well when they were free.
Megan's pursuers gathered to put their plan into action on the third night. Their trial run had ironed out a few problems and they were now sure they could pull off their plan without a hitch. They all wore dark clothing and balaclavas. They had collected in an alley off the end of the row of houses that contained the safe house. They had all received their final instructions earlier, so they split up to carry out their assignments. Three men made their way round the back of the houses and climbed over fences and walls to get to the safe house. They kept to the shadows and made little noise.
When they reached the property next to the safe house, one went inside while the other two stayed outside in case Chris or the others appeared unexpectedly. The man inside went to the attic, where there was only a wooden partition separating the two houses. He had brought a can of petrol with him which he proceeded to pour over the wood liberally. He laid a trail of rubbish up to the wall and set light to it. The trail would hopefully give him time to get out before the wall erupted in flames. The flames took hold and slowly crept onwards. The man exited the house and met up with his companions. They stayed at the back of the house in case Megan was brought out that way.
Meanwhile Billy Wilkins and another man had moved to the front of the house and hid in the shadows of the car being used by Chris. They would be ready if Megan exited that side of the house.
Inside the safe house, the wall in the attic had now caught fire and was burning fiercely. The floorboards were soon alight, as was the roof. The wood crackled in the intensity of the heat.
Chris was on the next floor down and could hear the noise. He looked up and noticed smoke coming through the ceiling. "Shit," he said with feeling.
He raced downstairs calling the others as he went. They gathered at the bottom of the stairs to meet him.
"The house in on fire," he informed them. "Whether deliberately or not I don't know, but we need to get out. Vin find the body armour and fit everyone up in case and then take Megan out to the car while we cover you. Take her to the office and we'll meet you there."
He pulled out his mobile phone and got through to Buck. "Buck, the safe house is on fire. Can two of you go to the office and meet Vin and Megan there. Send the others here."
"Alright, pard, we're on our way. I'll ring the others."
Everyone had gathered back at the stairs.
"Right, Ezra, you and I will go out first and take care of any problems. Vin, you come out with Megan when I call and go straight to the car and away. Here are the keys," instructed Chris.
Megan's heart was pounding as she wondered what was in store for them outside.
"Okay, Ezra, let's go," said Chris.
They crouched low, opened the door and waited. It was dark and difficult to see anything clearly. When nothing happened they slid out, one on either side of the door. Again no movement or sound, although it was difficult to hear anything over the roar of the fire. They studied the surrounding area to see if anything was out of place. They moved further down the path towards the car. Nothing stirred. The house was now well alight and they needed to get the others out pronto.
"Alright Vin, off you go."
Bent double, Vin and Megan ran towards the car trying to keep to cover as they went. Vin had hold of Megan's hand. When they reached the car, Vin put the keys in the door and unlocked it. Megan was suddenly pulled from his grasp and he felt the cold steel of a gun barrel against his temple. A hand reached past him and collected the keys from the door and also relieved him of his gun.
"Chris," he yelled. "It's a trap." He then collapsed as the gun butt was smashed against his temple. Megan had a hand forced over her mouth and she was then hit on the back of the head and forced into the back seat of the car.
Chris and Ezra made their way towards the car, firing as they went. The car engine roared into life and sped off down the road before they could get near.
"Shit! Ezra get on the phone to the police, get them to look out for the car. Call the fire department too."
Chris pulled his own phone out and called Buck as he made his way over to Vin. He was just getting to his feet rubbing his head and brushing down his clothes at the same time.
"We've got a problem. The fire was set deliberately and now Megan has been abducted. I need you here," Chris told Buck.
"God almighty. We'll be there as soon as we can."
"Are you okay," Chris asked Vin after disconnecting the call.
"Yeah, no permanent damage." He started scouting the area to see if there were any clues.
Chris was furious with himself. How could they have been duped so easily.
Ezra got off the phone to the police and fire service. He wandered back to Chris, who was standing staring into space with one hand held over his mouth, the other on his hip. He was looking rather pale.
"Mr Larabee, are you alright?"
"No, I'm not. What a bloody fool question. I'm responsible for her safety, and they took her as easily as candy from a baby," he snapped. He paused and looked at Ezra. He saw the same look of anger in his eyes that must have shown in his own. "I'm sorry Ezra, I didn't mean to take it out on you. I can't believe I was so gullible."
"It's alright, Chris. They fooled me too. If there was anybody waiting for us we expected to be fired on as soon as we exited the building. It was quite a clever ploy really to keep quiet, I'll give them that."
"We should have gone all the way with them to the car, but we were on higher ground and had a better view of the whole area from where we were. My mistake.....I just hope it doesn't turn out to be too costly." Ezra put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"What's done is done, it's no good thinking 'if only', my friend. We have to concentrate on rectifying matters and getting her back," said Ezra, trying to get
Chris's mind back on track.
Vin came back and reported that he had found signs that there had been three men at the rear of the building too.
Buck and the others arrived at that point and they rushed towards Chris and Ezra to see what had happened. They heard the sirens of the fire engines approaching, so they all moved out onto the other side of the road.
Ezra's phone rang. "Standish." He stood and listened and then disconnected. He turned to the others and relayed the message he had received. "It seems the police have found Chris's car. It has been abandoned about five blocks from here."
"Buck, you and JD go and take a look at it. See if anyone saw it being dumped or what vehicle they exchanged it for. JD, before you go, did you find out who Billy Wilkins worked for in the FBI?"
"Yeah, I was just about to phone you when you rang us. You'll never guess who it was."
"Come on kid, I'm not in the mood for games."
"Sorry, Chris. It was George Mendez."
Chris just stood and stared at him. "Well, that explains the leaks, I suppose. Josiah, Nathan go and pay him a visit. Arrest him if you have to."
"What are you going to do, pard?" asked Buck.
"I need to go and tell AD Travis what has happened. If any of you get any information whatever I want to know about it. Ezra can you stay and finish up here?"
Buck and JD reached the abandoned car. It had been sealed off and was being guarded by a policeman. They approached him and showed their ID. They put on gloves so as not to interfere with any evidence. He let them through and Buck opened the rear door to look inside. He was not pleased with what he saw. There was a blood stain on the seat, not very big, but it just proved she was hurt. He found the bullet proof vest that Megan had been wearing in the rear foot well. JD checked in the front, but no incriminating evidence could be found.
They checked with the policeman that forensics had been called. Hopefully there would be some fingerprints that would prove useful. They also asked him whether anyone was checking with the residents to see if they had seen anything. They were told it was in hand.
JD happened to look across the road and noticed a tramp asleep in a doorway. On the off chance he went across and woke him up.
He showed his ID and asked "Did you see who left that car opposite?"
The tramp looked at him with narrowed eyes. "What's in it for me?" he questioned belligerently. Buck had wandered across and heard the remark. He lunged at the man grabbing him by his coat.
"You get to stay in one piece, that's what."
"Buck, let him go," shouted JD. He grabbed him by the arm and pulled him away.
"Look, I'll give you ten bucks if you know anything," JD said.
He eyed Buck warily before answering. "Well, I saw two men get out from the front of the car. They dragged a girl from the back seat, she was unconscious. Two men were waiting in a red jeep and they all transferred to it. They drove off to the south."
"How can you be sure it was red, it's pretty dark?"
"They parked under a street light."
"How long ago did this happen?"
"About half an hour."
"Did you notice anything else that would help us find the jeep?" asked Buck.
"No, I've told you all I know. Where's my money?"
JD stepped in front of Buck before he could retaliate and handed over the promised reward. He could feel the anger emanating from Buck. The tramp stowed it in a pocket and made a hasty retreat.
"Buck, why don't you call Chris and update him," suggested JD. He steered him back to the other side of the road.
He left Buck on the phone and asked the policeman at the car where it would be taken to when forensics had finished. The policeman gave the name of the precinct they could get in contact with if they needed to see it again.
Josiah and Nathan arrived at the FBI headquarters and went in search of George Mendez. They found his office empty and no-one seemed to know where he had gone or when he was coming back. A fellow agent checked his desk and found his ID left in the top drawer, but his weapon had been taken.
"I assume that means he has flown the nest," said Josiah. "I'd better let Chris know. Let us know if does return, here's my number."
The made their way back out onto the street and made tracks back to their office block.
The red jeep travelled out of the city heading south. It reached Castle Rock and they turned right and then left onto a dirt track. Megan was still out cold, they had bound her hand and foot in case she woke up and tried to escape.
After a fairly uncomfortable ride along the track and crossing over a river, the jeep stopped on a gravel track in front of an old building. The back door was opened and she was pulled out and carried towards the building. It looked like an old house. The door was opened and she was hauled through to a room at the back of the house and unceremoniously dumped on the floor. A chair was pulled over and she was pushed into it. It was wooden and very uncomfortable as it had no padding. The ropes holding her hands and legs were untied and re-fastened to the chair. To make the ordeal worse, Billy removed her jumper, the temperature was getting down towards freezing. He hoped it would encourage her to tell them what they needed to know. The room had no windows and the only furniture was the chair she sat on and a bed with a metal frame in the far corner.
Billy Wilkins held her head and slapped her face trying to rouse her. She stirred in his grasp and moaned. He hit her again.
"Come on, you bitch, wake up. We've got something nice arranged for you later," he snarled.
Her eyelids fluttered and she slowly opened her eyes trying to get her bearings. She tried to pull away from him but he held her tight.
He patted her face and said, "I'll leave you now to consider your options. You either tell us where the disks are or we knock you into next week. We will beat the information out of you if we have to. We have no qualms about hitting women."
They then turned and left. Billy turned the light switch off as he left, the room plunged into darkness. The switch was outside the room so if Megan did get free she wouldn't be able to turn it on.
She started to try and free herself anyway, but her bindings were tight. The chair back was cutting into her shoulder blades and her chest was beginning to ache because her arms were pulled back too tightly. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness but she could not pick out anything discernable. She thought longingly of the bed, she would have done anything to have laid down on it.
The light suddenly came on heralding the arrival of her captors. Two different men entered this time and Megan gasped loudly. One of the men walked over to her. She blinked in the light, it seemed extremely bright after the darkness.
"Hello, Megan, I bet you didn't think I was behind all this did you?" he said smugly.
"George, you bastard," she shouted struggling against the rope.
"Temper, temper, my dear. Are you going to tell us what we need to know or do we rearrange your features?"
Megan knew she couldn't tell them where the disks were, but she couldn't bear the thought of being hit. She knew though that even if she did tell them what they wanted to know they would still kill her. So the only thing she could do to keep herself alive for the present was to resist.
"I'm not telling you, no matter what you do to me," she said defiantly.
He punched her viciously in the face making her head snap backwards, her nose bleeding.
"You bitch," he shouted. He slapped her hard and turned and left the room angrily. "I'll be back and you'll wish you'd told me what I want to know."
The light went out again. She was getting colder by the minute. She couldn't move very much to keep herself warm. She did become drowsy and couldn't help but drift off to sleep. She was left alone for a couple of hours. The light came on again startling her from sleeping and marking the return of her tormentors. The light affected her eyes even more after such a long time in the dark. She blinked rapidly trying to focus on the men in front of her.
George looked as though he meant business this time. He pulled back a fist and sent it flying towards her face. She managed to move her head slightly and he only succeeded in connecting with the side of her face, which hurt enough in itself, but wasn't what he had intended. It proved to increase his anger. He savagely punched Megan in the stomach, forcing the air out of her lungs in a rush. He then beat her until she lost consciousness. He hit her over and over again, opening cuts on her face and adding to her tally of bruises. She was going to be black and blue.
His colleague stepped in front of him, "Leave it be, George. We can't afford you to kill her in anger before we've got what we need."
George reluctantly realised he was right. He probably would have killed her. He gave her a parting slap, pushed past his colleague and walked out.
Chris called his team together.
"I am thinking of trying to lure our fugitives out into the open with the bait of the computer disks. What do you think?"
"How do you plan on them getting the info. Do you suspect another mole?" asked Buck.
"Yes I do. JD have you got the list of the policemen Billy used to work with. One of the names was Billy's ex-partner, Johnson I think his name was. Nothing was ever proved against him, but he was suspected of being involved in Billy's fraudulent activities."
"Bit of a long shot, pard, but anything's worth a try," Buck said. "Are you going to use the actual disks or dummies?"
"I've got some old disks we can use. They won't be able to verify that what's on them is the information they want, but I'll set files up on them with dummy accounts, so they at least look plausible."
JD returned with the list and Chris verified his suspect's name.
Chris said, "I'll meet with one of my informants. He has contacts in the FBI, if anyone can get the message heard it's him. He owes me a favour too."
The team split up to go back to their various jobs.
Chris left and waited in a bar about two blocks away. About an hour later he saw the man he was looking for. The man made his way to the bar to order a drink. Chris slipped into the space next to him and whispered, "Hello, Jimmy."
Jimmy looked round and frowned when he saw who it was.
"Mr Larabee, what do you want?" he said shaking. Chris frightened him like no other man.
"I need you to return a favour. Get a drink and come over to my table." It was an order, not a suggestion.
Jimmy paid for his drink and reluctantly made his way over to Chris.
"I need to you spread some news to the FBI," he said after Jimmy has settled into a seat opposite. "Don't tell them I gave you the info, say you heard it on the street....rumours.... you know," Chris held Jimmy's gaze making sure he understood.
"What do you want me to tell them?"
"I want them to know I am going to have a certain set of computer disks in my possession. They are important to an upcoming case. I am collecting the disks tomorrow from a secret location. If you get a bite with that information, I will give you the exact details of where to find them. Tell your contact, if they express interest, that you don't know where the disks are but you will do some more digging to get the exact location if they want you to. Keep your ears open too about a recent abduction of a witness. I need to find where she is being held. It'll be worth your while, I'll pay double your usual rates. It's very important that I find out where she is, I need that information urgently."
"Are the disks and the abduction linked?" asked Jimmy.
"Maybe, but you don't need to know that. Just do your job. Don't cross me or you know the consequences," threatened Chris. "Don't think you can sell the information to someone else. I'll get to hear about it, you may be sure of that."
Chris passed some money to him. "Here's something on account. You know where to contact me when you have some news."
Jimmy finished his drink, rose and left.
Chris waited until he had gone and then went to the bar to order another drink. He left soon afterwards to await developments.
Chris and his team were at the office waiting for a lead on Megan's whereabouts. They were still doing their own search in case Chris's ploy didn't work.
Several hours had passed since his meeting with Jimmy and Chris was pacing up and down by his office window. He was becoming increasingly frustrated and worried.
Buck appeared in the doorway. "You'll wear a hole in the carpet if you're not careful," he said.
"I just feel so useless, Buck. We don't seem to be getting anywhere. Someone, somewhere must know something."
"Calm down, getting angry won't help. We're doing all we can to find her. You need to focus and concentrate on the job in hand. It's no good brooding."
"If it wasn't for me she would be safe," his anger increasing.
"Now Chris, it wasn't your fault."
"Who's fucking fault was it? I was in charge, it's down to me," Chris shouted.
The phone interrupted their argument.
Chris picked it up and snapped, "Larabee."
"Mr Larabee, it's Jimmy. I've got that info you wanted. My FBI source is a blabbermouth and I didn't have to ask too many questions about the girl. She's being held in a house near Decker's. There are about three men guarding her at a time. My contact was very interested in the information I had for him too, so I can give him the location of the disks when you are ready. Better leave it a while or it will look suspicious if I get back to him too quickly." He relayed the exact location of where Megan was being held.
"Good work, let me get things sorted out this end and I'll get back to you with the locker number."
He disconnected and called Buck into his office
"I know where Megan is, so we need to get the sting sorted out. I want you, Vin and Ezra to go and get her free, better take Nathan with you in case she's hurt. The rest of us will go to the airport to catch the rest of the gang. When we've got our end secured, I'll radio Vin and tell him to move in. Is Vin here?"
"No, he's just gone out for lunch."
"Get him to come in when he gets back. Can you ask Josiah to put the disks in a locker at the airport and stay there on surveillance. Get him to let me know the locker number, I need to tell Jimmy so we can get things going. Ask him to take JD with him, I don't want him at the airport alone, just in case our quarry turns up before I get there. I'll meet them there when I have set things up this end."
Buck turned and left to relay the instructions.
Vin returned from lunch and knocked on Chris's door.
"You wanted to see me?"
"Yeah, I know where Megan is and I need you to do a recce of the area surrounding the house where she is being held. See if there are any potential problems in getting her out. Buck, Ezra and Nathan will meet up with you when I receive a report from you. Here's the location, can you go now?"
He explained exactly what his plan was at the airport, so that Vin knew what was going on.
"I'll radio from the airport when we have arrested the ones that turn up there and give you the okay to move in. Watch your back."
Vin left and did a thorough search of the area around the house. There seemed to be only one way in. There were three men, including George and Billy on guard. He phoned Chris to give his report and Chris dispatched Ezra, Buck and Nathan to help him.
Chris waited a couple of hours before contacting Jimmy again with the required information. The waiting was hard, but he knew he couldn't act too quickly. He wondered what was going on at Megan's prison. He hoped she was alright, but he had a feeling of foreboding.
Jimmy contacted Chris later after giving his contact the locker location. Chris made arrangements to meet with him later to pay him off.
Megan tried to keep an ear out for noises to suggest her captors were returning, but not a sound could be heard outside the room. The light coming on was the only notification she had. Sitting in the dark for hours was wearing on her nerves. It gave her too much time to think of possible outcomes. She could only think of one....death. Not that she didn't hold out the faintest hope that Chris would rescue her, but she knew what he was up against.
Her imagination was running riot, as she thought she could hear rustling in the room. She wondered if it was rats.
The light came on again cutting off her musings. George entered the room and untied Megan from the chair. She stood shakily, her hands still tied. She felt numb from sitting still for so long. She hoped she kept the fear that she felt from showing in her face.
"We might not need you much longer. We know where the disks are. When my associates have collected them I will take great pleasure in killing you. You have been a thorn in our side for too long. I have thought up a nice painful death for you. I won't go into details, I'll let you dwell on the possibilities."
Megan walked towards the bed ignoring George. She could with something more comfortable to sit on. She would have laid on a bed of nails just for the change. George grabbed her and spun her round to face him.
"Where do you think you are going, I haven't finished talking yet." He didn't take kindly to being ignored.
She spat in his face. He raised his fist and punched her in the face. She fell backwards hitting her head on the bed post. She couldn't regain her balance as her hands were tied. She continued her downward journey and landed in an unmoving heap on the floor.
"Come on, get up," snarled George. He walked over to her and kicked her hard in the ribs. She did not move.
"Oh well, if she's dead it will save me a job, but I was quite looking forward to killing her slowly," he said heartlessly.
He left the room, turning the light out again.
Chris set out for the airport and met up with Josiah and JD. He went over the plan again and then they spread out around the concourse keeping the lockers in view all the time. After two hours no-one had shown up. Chris was beginning to wonder how long to wait when he saw the ex-partner of Billy's arrive. He discreetly signalled the others and then waited for the man to make a move. He was very cautious, making a circuit of the lockers and seeing if anyone was lurking suspiciously. When he was satisfied he went straight to the locker that Josiah had used. He forced it open and took out the disks and then left hurriedly. Chris and his team followed at a distance to see who he met up with. Outside the terminal he walked towards a car containing three men. Chris gave another signal to his men and shouted, "Freeze, ATF. Hands in the air where I can see them."
JD and Josiah appeared in view and positioned themselves on either side of the car. The men inside hadn't had a chance to draw their weapons. They were pulled from the car and quickly disarmed, handcuffed and then taken back to the office for formal charging. Half of the gang had been caught and now it was up to Vin to get the others to ensure Megan's safety until the trial.
Chris radioed Vin and gave the all clear, while he travelled back to the office to question the prisoners.
Vin gave a signal and his team moved towards the house. Billy and another man had come out of the house. They split up to go on opposite circuits of the house. Ezra and Buck took one out each, with no sound or fuss. Vin and Nathan made their way to the door and opened it quietly. Vin paused and listened for noises to suggest someone was in the room inside. After detecting nothing, he stepped inside and Nathan followed. Ezra and Buck turned up shortly afterwards after securing their two captives.
They start searching each room systematically. Ezra moved towards the back of the house and was confronted by George holding a gun. George fired his weapon without aiming properly. Ezra felt the burn of the bullet along his upper arm, but it did not deflect his aim. George was hit in the chest and fell without a sound.
Vin and Buck came running up behind Ezra.
"Ezra, you alright?"
"Look, Bucklin. He's made a hole in my jacket and shirt."
"Let me look," said Nathan, arriving on the scene. "It's only a scratch, you'll live, but your tailor won't be happy."
Buck left the others and continued checking rooms. He came to the last one to be searched and tried the door but found it locked. He put his shoulder to it and after a few tries managed to force it open, he stumbled inside from the effort of getting the door open. It was pitch black inside. He searched for a light switch and eventually found it outside the room and switched it on. The room was illuminated and showed him something he had hoped not to see.
"Jesus Christ!" he exclaimed and ran into the room. "Nathan, I need you here."
He knelt beside Megan who was lying in a small pool of blood. He checked her over for other injuries and found some broken ribs. He untied her hands, chafing her wrists to get the circulation going.
Nathan came in and pushed Buck out of the way.
"Megan can you hear me, can you open your eyes?" Nathan asked as he checked her over. He got no response.
"She's bad off, Nate. She must have been like this for a while," said Buck.
Vin and Ezra came in and looked on in silence.
"Is she alright. Shall I get an ambulance?" asked Vin.
"She's unconscious. One of those bastards beat her pretty badly," Buck said furiously. He got up and left the room. Vin looked at Ezra and indicated for him to follow. He didn't know what Buck planned.
Nathan answered Vin's original question. "I think it would be quicker to get a helicopter to take her. Can you arrange that while I get her stabilized. Could you bring a blanket in from the car, she's shivering."
Buck walked up to Billy and poked him with his toe.
"Who did that to her?" he asked menacingly. His normal affable nature gone, replaced with rage.
"Are you sure you didn't help?" Buck hauled him to his feet and hit him. Ezra caught his arm before he could strike again. Buck very rarely lost his temper. It was usually in the defence of someone else when he did. The ladies man got particularly upset when women were involved.
"Bucklin, calm down. He's not worth hurting your knuckles for," Ezra said pulling him away. Buck shook of Ezra's hand and stormed back inside.
Ezra said to Billy, "I should have let him tear you apart after what you have done. Think yourself lucky I at least have a conscience." Ezra turned and followed in Buck's wake.
Vin called Chris to tell him what had happened. Chris said he would leave his arrests with Josiah and meet Vin at the hospital.
Chris met up with Vin's team in the hospital waiting room after checking on Megan's condition. He flopped down in a seat next to Nathan and put his head in his hands. At least she was alive. It could have ended in tragedy and he didn't need any more deaths on his conscience. He would never have forgiven himself.
Ezra turned up half an hour later and found the team still in the waiting room. He had stayed behind to see to the collection of the prisoners at the house.
A nurse appeared and addressed Chris, "Mr Larabee, Megan has been moved into a room now. She's still unconscious from the blow to her head, but she's stable and warmer than she was. She had several broken ribs, buts it's the head wound that could be cause for concern. We don't know how long she had been unconscious before your men found her. We'll need to keep her in for observation until we are sure she will be alright."
Ezra said, "I'll go and sit with her if that's alright. I expect she could do with a friendly face when she wakes up."
"Thanks Ez," Chris said gratefully.
Vin and Nathan made their way back to the office after hearing the news. They could help Josiah and JD with questioning the prisoners.
Ezra left and the nurse showed him Megan's room. He took a seat next to the bed. She was lying on her side with her hands up by her head. She had a plaster over the bridge of her nose and a pad covering the stitches in her head wound. She was covered in bruises and small cuts on the flesh he could see. He knew the rest of her body would be in a similar condition.
He brushed the hair off her face and said, "You certainly know how to make young men turn prematurely grey. You've scared me out of ten years growth and Mr Wilmington looked positively ancient last time I saw him."
"What's that you're saying about me, Ez?" Buck called from the doorway. He had decided to keep Ezra company.
"It's alright, Bucklin, she can't hear me. She won't know I insulted you. She'll still see you as the virile stud you seem to think you are."
Buck roared with laughter, "It's my animal magnetism as you well know. I can't help it if I'm irresistible to the fairer sex."
He picked up a chair and moved it round to sit near Ezra. He looked over at Megan and anger swept through him again. How could they have been so cruel. He sighed. He had brought a newspaper in with him, he passed half of it to Ezra and settled back to wait for Megan to wake up.
After several hours Ezra looked across at Megan after detecting movement. She was awake, but looked pale and vulnerable.
"Welcome back," he said quietly, "We were wondering when you would wake up."
"Hello darlin' How do you feel?" Buck boomed boisterously.
Megan winced at his loud voice. Her head was pounding and the room seemed to be spinning. She gripped the pillow tightly.
Ezra noticed her reaction and said, "Bucklin, quieten down. I think she's feeling a bit delicate."
"Sorry, sweetheart. I'll go and tell someone you're awake," he apologised before leaving.
Tears rolled down Megan's cheeks and onto the pillow. Ezra was at a loss as to what to do.
"Now Megan, whatever's wrong?" He reached out and stroked her cheek, wiping the tears away.
Between sobs she managed to say, "I was so frightened. They said they were going to kill me."
Ezra sat on the bed and pulled her towards him. He wrapped his arms around her and rocked her until she stopped crying. He was careful not to hurt her ribs.
"Don't you fret. You're safe now, we caught all the men involved."
Buck had come back and stood outside the door listening. He didn't enter as he didn't want to embarrass Megan. Chris came along to see how things were and Buck moved to meet him. He stopped him before he went into the room explaining what was going on inside. They decided to leave Megan alone with Ezra as he seemed to be coping.
Megan finally settled down and she wriggled out of Ezra's hold. He helped her lay back down after she had a drink. She rubbed her temples, head pounding, she felt nauseous. He retook his seat next to the bed and then asked, "Do you want me to leave you alone for a while?"
"No, please stay."
Ezra settled back to his newspaper again and when he looked at her again she was asleep.
Buck and Chris returned and didn't let on to what they had witnessed. A doctor came in after them and checked her over. She told the waiting men Megan would have to stay in overnight at least so they could watch for any complications from the effects of her head wound.
Chris was pondering the problem of what to do with Megan when she was released. Did they get another safe house? He pulled out his phone and punched in AD Travis's number and was lucky enough to find him in his office. They discussed the problem between them and AD Travis said he would think on it and get back to him. Megan would spend the night in hospital, so they needed an answer fairly quickly.
Travis phoned back within the hour with a solution. A major trial had just collapsed and Megan's case would be moved forward to the following week. That left three days to keep her safe. Chris decided to take her out to his ranch rather than get another safe house. It was as good as any other place to defend and they would have the advantage of knowing the surrounding area intimately.
Megan spent a fairly uncomfortable night in hospital, and it was decided she should stay in hospital until the afternoon.
Ezra and the rest of the team turned up after lunch so they could transfer Megan to Chris's ranch. A nurse brought the paper work to start the process of getting Megan released.
Megan appeared dressed and looking relatively well. She still had the plaster over her nose and one on the back of her head. She looked pale and tired and still had a killer headache. She had been sick on various occasions through the night due to concussion. She took a seat next to Buck, who put an arm round her shoulders and pulled her over so she was leaning against him. She was on the verge of falling asleep again when he nudged her and told her they could leave.
They made their way out to the foyer of the hospital. Buck had gone on ahead to bring his truck round to the entrance so Megan didn't have far to walk.
Buck drove them out to the ranch. Megan was taken straight upstairs to bed by Buck, who wouldn't take no for an answer.
She asked "Please don't turn out the light."
He looked back at her, not understanding.
She said, "I know it is stupid for a grown woman to be afraid of the dark, but I was in darkness most of the time I was in that house. The only time the light was on was when they came to beat me. I suppose I should be more frightened of the light, but waiting for them to return in the dark was excruciating."
"Do you want me to stay with you for a while?" he asked.
"If you don't mind."
"Of course, I don't. Being in bedrooms with women is my favourite place to be," he said laughing.
Megan smiled and they talked until she fell asleep.
Ezra had been sent out for supplies. He returned fairly soon and decided to challenge JD to a game of cards after they had checked round the property.
"What shall we bet with?" asked JD.
"I think whoever wins is treated to a weeks worth of free drinks by the loser," suggested Ezra.
"Hell Ezra, how am I going to afford that, you drink like a fish," complained JD.
"I'm glad you assume I will win. You should however have more faith in yourself."
Buck joined them when he came down from sitting with Megan. He was quiet, pondering the emotional state George had left her in.
"What's the matter, Bucklin? I usually can't get a word in edgeways when you're around," Ezra asked.
"Oh, I've just been talking to Megan. She didn't want me to turn the light out, she was frightened of the dark after being in that room at the house."
"I dare say she will take along time to get over it. We will probably never know what really happened to her while she was there. There is no doubt that she was treated abominably," agreed Ezra. "Perhaps Josiah could be persuaded to talk to her. It often helps to talk to someone else."
Megan came down a few hours later and found them still playing. She took a seat next to Ezra to watch. When Ezra had indeed won, she said smiling, "Chris was right when he said not to play with you. I can't see how you're cheating."
"Madam, I take offence at that remark. I can't help it if I am just an exceptional player."
"Well, that's a weeks wages down the drain," complained JD.
"Are you hungry?" Ezra asked Megan. She nodded, so they moved into the kitchen to see what was on offer.
Chris was sat in the kitchen. He looked up when they came in and said to Megan, "Can I have a word?"
"Yes, of course you can."
She sat down next to him and waited for him to speak. He seemed to be turning his thoughts over in his mind before he spoke.
"I just wanted to apologise for not keeping you safe. I knew what Barnes was like, I should have been more careful."
Megan put a hand on his arm and he looked up into her face. She smiled at him and squeezed his arm.
"There's no need. I knew what I was getting into before I even came over to America. I could have pulled out a long time ago, but I didn't like the thought of giving up. If I had known what was going to happen I would probably not have carried on. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Everything has turned out alright in the end and I certainly don't blame any of you for what happened. I'll chalk it up to experience and keep my nose out of other people's business in future. I count myself lucky to have met you all. Who else can claim to have been protected by such a group of handsome men," she said laughing.
Chris smiled and relaxed. If he had been in her position he didn't think he could have been so forgiving.
Buck let out a great gale of laughter. "I think you need glasses. I know I am a chick magnet, but the rest of the boys couldn't be called handsome by any stretch of the imagination."
"Mr Wilmington, how you claim to be America's answer to Adonis, I cannot comprehend. Especially when you have a dead ferret on your top lip. How women can bear to kiss you, I have no idea. It must be like kissing a nail brush, they must suffer from a rash afterwards."
"Now, Ezra. A moustache adds panache."
"It adds something I grant you, but it certainly isn't panache."
"I don't see you surrounded by beautiful women when we go out drinking," Buck pointed out.
"I have standards, Bucklin. I don't chase after everything in a skirt. I want sophistication, intellect, things you wouldn't know how to handle."
"Boys, boys, you make finding a mate sound like bidding at a cattle market. What happened to love?" enquired Megan laughing.
The days before the trial passed uneventfully. Chris kept Megan occupied so she didn't dwell too much on the trial or what she had been through. The days went quickly. Josiah talked to her about her experiences and she started to come to terms with what had happened to her.
Vin helped Chris take care of the chores around the ranch so the rest of them could take turns at guarding Megan.
The trial had started and Megan was at the court house waiting to be called as a witness. The boys were all there.
"Thanks for everything you've done for me," she said. "I was beginning to lose faith in human nature before I met you. You really have been my white knights in shining armour. I know words aren't much in payment for all you've done." She gave them all a hug.
A court official came and collected her and she went to do her duty. It was at least some payment to the men that she would help to bring down one of the biggest drug barons in America.
She walked out of their lives at the end of the trial after Barnes had been convicted and sentenced to many years in prison. She started a new life in a secret location and with a new identity.
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