Chapter 5: Your Own Worst Enemy
Don: Never been in combat, but I've been in my share of fire fights and you know what scares the hell out of me? It's not dyin'; it's letting my guys down.
Don's head hung forward against his chest. He was keeping in reserve the strength it would have taken to hold it up for withstanding whatever Esteban was going to throw at him next. He knew the only reason he was still alive was that Hector Simeon wasn't here yet and wanted to witness the final downfall of the Fed who had caused him so much trouble.
It was ironic that the weapons they'd been seeking for days were right in his sight, but there was nothing he could do about it. All he could do was hope that Charlie and Amita had made a breakthrough and identified the location as the building he was currently sitting in. Since his comm unit and cell phone were both crushed into dust, there was no way for his team to track him, and he was sure they hadn't been close enough behind to see which way he was taken.
Now, he sat in a chair, arms tied behind him, mouth bloodied and ribs aching from more than one solid punch delivered by Esteban himself. Don supposed he should be pleased that he'd caused them enough disruption that they were taking it out on him, but his aching body didn't really see it that way.
There was one guy standing guard over him, Glock drawn but not aimed at him. Several feet away, Esteban was talking on a cell phone, far enough that Don couldn't make out the words, and a third man was over by the crates of weapons, doing something that he couldn't see. There had been two other men here when they arrived, but they'd taken off in an SUV not long after, presumably to pick up Simeon.
Suddenly a flash of light caught Don's eye, and he looked up to see a door opening on the far side of the warehouse. No one entered, though, which was puzzling. He looked up at his captors, but none of them had noticed.
Then a scrape off to his left caught his attention, and he turned his head to see Liz crouching behind a pile of boxes, gun at the ready and finger at her lips. Turning back to the front, hoping that nothing had been given away on his face, Don dropped his head again and took a few breaths. He only had to hold out a little while longer.
When he raised his head again, the man watching him had backed off a few steps, his head turned towards where Esteban stood still talking on his phone. So Don carefully looked to the side, where Liz's eyes were fixed right on him.
She held up two fingers and pointed to the side, off where he had seen the door open, and mouthed, Colby. He blinked to indicate that he understood. Then she tapped her wrist to indicate a watch and flashed an open hand twice. Ten minutes.
Don blinked again and eyed his captor once more, who was still oblivious to Liz's presence. Ten minutes until backup arrived and they made their move; in the meantime, Liz and Colby and presumably David were here just in case. He could hold on for that long. As long as Esteban didn't go another round with him; he was pretty sure that one rib was already fractured, and he didn't relish the idea of broken bones grinding around inside of him.
Esteban flipped his phone shut and came towards him. "You tried hard, Agent Eppes, but not hard enough," he said. "The business you interrupted the other night is still going to take place despite your interference."
Don glared up at him, wanting to say, Not if I can help it, but knowing that he had to appear as if he was still completely on his own. Instead he asked, "You found another buyer?"
Esteban looked back at him coolly. "We have," he replied. "They'll be here any minute."
Don stiffened. What were they planning on doing with him while an unknown party bought illegal weapons?
As if he had heard Don's question, Esteban said, "Cut him loose for now. We'll need to put him in the back office until Simeon arrives."
The gunman came forward and produced a wicked-looking switchblade, slicing the ropes around Don's wrists and nicking his arm in the process. Don winced and brought his hands in front of him, rubbing at his wrists and stubbornly remaining in the chair.
"Let's go," Esteban said, motioning with his gun.
Don wanted to stall, but he figured he could only push these guys so far. Simeon would be plenty happy to see him dead, and since they hadn't tried to get any information out of him yet, he couldn't use that as a stalling tactic. So he slowly rose to his feet, holding one arm across his ribs for support but also to signal to Liz that he was injured.
The gun at his back prodded him forward, and he took advantage of his changed position to search for Colby and David. Don caught a flash of sandy brown hair behind one of the crates along the far wall, and then the sight of a second person had him stumbling in surprise. He was able to pass it off as being from his injuries, though not without getting a shove from behind, but he still ruminated on it as he went.
What was Theresa Pennington doing here? With Colby, no less?
Don's thoughts were whirling, and he forced himself to work through them. David wasn't here, which might mean that he'd been overpowered by his driver as well. No one from his team would have called on Theresa for assistance, which meant either that she'd been assigned to them—which was unlikely except as part of a larger team, of which there was no sign here—or she'd been the one to tell them where Don was being held, and God only knew how she'd figured that out.
They were almost to the hallway to the back offices where Colby and Theresa had come out of when one of the main warehouse doors at the front of the building slid open, and bright halogen headlights filled the room. Don turned and held up a hand to block out the light, but a shove from behind sent him forward again.
Esteban was going forward to meet the new arrivals, and now Don did drag his feet, wanting to catch a glimpse of who they were.
While he didn't recognize the man getting out of the driver's seat, it was clear that he was pissed. He came up to Esteban and said loudly, "You brought me all this way to lead me into a trap?"
"What are you talking about?" Esteban scoffed.
"I'm talking about the fucking FBI. There's a black SUV in the parking lot next door that has government-issue written all over it. You thought we wouldn't notice?" Suddenly there was a large firearm being waved in Esteban's direction, probably a Desert Eagle, from the size of it.
A hand grabbed Don's arm and spun him around to face Esteban, even as the gun dug into his side. Esteban had turned back towards him, his face like a thundercloud. "How many of them are there, Eppes?"
He lifted his chin and braced himself. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Who the fuck is he?" the driver asked, pointing at Don.
Figuring he had nothing to lose and everything to gain if he could set these two groups against each other, Don said, "I'm a federal agent."
The man looked him over, taking in the weapon pressed into his side. "That's your car next door?"
Esteban was eyeing him carefully, and Don realized there wasn't a right answer that he could give. Saying no would alert the men that there were federal agents nearby, and he couldn't blow their cover right now. But saying yes would be instantly identified as a lie, with the same result. So he did the only thing he could do and stayed silent.
That got him a punch in the kidneys, and he doubled over with a grunt. "Where are they, Eppes?" Esteban demanded, coming forward and delivering an uppercut that would have flattened him if not for the tight grip on the back of his shirt.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" Don ground out, aware that it was kind of childish but feeling it nonetheless.
Esteban nodded at the man behind him, and Don felt the pressure at his side relieved.
Then Esteban's gun was under his chin, safety off, and the time for bluffing was over. "Tell me now," he demanded. "Or I blow your head off."
There was dead silence for a second. Then two voices sounded simultaneously from the far corners of the warehouse. "FBI!"
It was Colby and Theresa, who had apparently split up to give the illusion that their numbers were bigger, which meant that backup wasn't actually here, which meant they were probably all screwed.
"There's your answer," Don ground out, staring down Esteban and wondering if the last thing he was going to see was the man's angry face.
Suddenly the sound of machine gun fire split the air, and Don looked over Esteban's shoulder to see the passenger side window of the SUV rolled down and the muzzle of a machine gun pointing out, spraying the far side of the warehouse.
"No, stop, you'll set off the grenades!" Esteban shouted, but his voice was lost in the chatter of gunfire. Cursing, he wrapped a hand around Don's arm and started dragging him to the side, unknowingly towards where Liz was waiting, while firing at the windshield of the SUV.
There were bullets flying in all directions, although Don had the feeling that none of them were coming from FBI-issued Glocks. Better to let these two gangs shoot it out among themselves, even if he was at risk of being in the crossfire.
Then they rounded the corner, and Liz's voice stopped them dead in their tracks. "Hands up," she demanded, and Don looked to see her in firing stance, gun in steady hands.
Esteban reacted quicker than Don would have expected, hauling the agent in front of him and jamming his gun under Don's jaw. "You again," he snarled. "You know I'm not going to have any problem with shooting him."
"There are agents surrounding the building," Liz said calmly, and Don couldn't tell from the flat tone of her voice whether that was true or not. "Put down your weapon, Esteban."
"You put yours down," Esteban demanded, pushing the gun harder into the underside of Don's jaw.
He stood there, arms trapped at his sides, feeling the gunsight digging into the underside of his jaw and keeping his eyes locked on Liz's. He was the same height as Esteban, but his head was angled to the side, and Liz should have a chance at a head shot. Still, she was hesitating.
Then her words from the walkway outside the FBI building came back into Don's head, and his stomach sank. I think I would have done anything they asked to keep them from hurting you, she'd said, referring to when he'd been kneeling in the storage unit with this same man threatening his life. Even if she had the shot, he had the sinking feeling that she wasn't going to take it.
If it was any other agent in front of him, Don would trust them to do what had to be done. Instead, he could see Liz wavering, could see her considering Esteban's demand, and there was no way he was going to let that happen.
Figuring he had no other choice, Don let himself go limp, falling back against Esteban, hoping to dislodge the weapon that was pressed against his head.
When the gun went off, the sound in his ear was deafening.
It took a few minutes for Colby to scope out the situation and count the number of armed men: three, including Luis Garcia Esteban, certainly the man in charge at the moment. Don looked damaged but not in immediate danger.
Colby could see the moment he spotted them, his head moving upwards, eyes flickering towards his captor before covering their direction. Then, as expected, he continued sweeping the room, and it was obvious the moment he saw Liz, even though he was clearly trying to hide it. Colby held his breath, but it appeared that no one else had seen what Don had, and he relaxed slightly. David and the rest had to be less than ten minutes away now; he and Theresa just needed to quickly scope out the building and make their way back outside.
They edged away from the door to start looking around when Don was prodded to his feet and sent in their direction. Theresa wasn't quite hidden from the approaching men, and Colby waited with his heart in his throat, sure that the gunman holding Don was going to see her.
Then the door opened and an SUV with spinning rims rolled in, and their presence was effectively blown. Theresa started edging farther away from him, taking advantage of the shouting between the two groups to explain her idea, and Colby prepared himself.
As it turned out, the moment to move was obvious, and they both shouted "FBI!" without having to coordinate it at all.
The ensuing spray of gunfire wasn't surprising, although the intensity was, and as Colby ducked for cover, he grimaced. They should have known that someone coming to buy rocket-propelled grenades was probably already in possession of some pretty serious firepower. Thankfully, the man didn't seem to care what he was aiming at, trusting the wide spray of bullets to take care of any threat out there.
Unfortunately, that also meant he was firing towards the crates of weapons that Theresa was crouched behind. Making sure he knew exactly where all of the gunmen on both sides were, Colby popped up and took a shot at the man in the car, wincing when he heard the ping of the bullet striking metal and ricocheting off.
The chatter of machine gun fire abruptly cut off, and Colby darted to the side and down. Apparently he'd managed to damage the weapon enough to render it useless, as the ensuing clatter of it hitting the ground followed by a torrent of cursing told him.
Unfortunately, he'd also managed to give away his position, and the whine of a bullet past his ear told him that he needed to keep moving. The bark of a gun from his left meant Theresa was giving him cover, trusting that Esteban's men wouldn't fire back while she was taking cover behind the RPGs, which made for a simultaneously clever and monumentally stupid plan.
Colby found himself behind a broad support pillar with a clear shot at the third man of Esteban's crew. Aiming carefully, he squeezed the trigger and was rewarded with a sharp cry as the man dropped his gun to clamp a hand to his shoulder. One down, two to go, he thought. Assuming the newcomers stayed in their vehicle, that was.
On the far side of the warehouse, he could see Don being dragged along by Esteban, close to where Liz would have been hiding, and he hoped she could take advantage of the relative lull.
Suddenly there was a screeching of tires, and Colby looked up to see the SUV reversing out of the warehouse. Whoever the visitors were, they were on their way out, unless the FBI had gotten close enough to surround the building. That left only Esteban and the second man, the one who'd originally been holding Don captive. Colby had last seen him heading towards the door that the three of them had entered by, which meant that he could be—
The scrape of footsteps on the concrete behind him was followed immediately by something hard and cold against the back of his neck. "Drop the gun, Fed," came the harsh command.
Colby froze. He couldn't turn to his right because of the pillar, which left one direction to turn if he made a move. The guy was making the mistake of holding the gun right up against him, which meant Colby knew exactly where to go to duck out of the way, as soon as he got himself to move.
"We got your buddy across the way," the gunman said. "And we're gonna put a bullet in his head, same as yours."
Colby couldn't look to see what condition Don was in, but he figured he could move better with two free hands anyway, so he slowly held up his Glock and didn't resist as it was taken out of his hands. "Looks like your customers didn't like the conditions very much," he couldn't help but taunt.
"Shut up," came the swift reply. "Take that vest off."
Colby swallowed hard. Not that he wouldn't be screwed if the man fired point-blank at his back with the vest on, but the thought of removing it made him uncomfortably vulnerable. "No," he said, straining his ears for any sign of Theresa.
The gun pressed in harder. "Now, or I shoot."
"You're not going to shoot." It was Theresa's voice, off to Colby's left, and he let out a whoosh of breath. "You're going to put that gun on the floor and lay yourself down after it."
Colby felt a hand gripping his shoulder and yanking him around to the side. When his vision cleared, he was standing in front of the shorter gunman, probably completely blocking him from Theresa's view, gun jammed into the side of his neck. "I'm not bluffing, Fed," the man behind him snarled.
"Neither am I." Theresa's eyes were hard and bright, her aim locked firmly on what looked to Colby to be the side of his own head but was presumably the only part of his captor that she could see.
Megan's question to him back in the van flashed into his mind, and Colby realized with a sudden shock that he did trust Theresa. Not at a personal level, not given how close she'd gotten to him by pretending to be someone else, but professionally speaking. If she was good enough to infiltrate their team and gather whatever information she'd been able to without any of them noticing, then keep working on the case even after Don had thrown her out, there was no reason to doubt her skills as an FBI agent. And no one but Colby could know better how you could split yourself in two like that, keeping your loyalty to colleagues and country completely separate.
"Take the shot," he muttered, staring at her hard.
Her eyes flickered to his in acknowledgment and then back to the gunman. "What's it going to be, Salazar?" she asked. "You gonna take the opportunity to be deported back home, or are you going to bleed out right here on the floor?"
"You're not going to risk it," the man snapped back, but Colby could hear the uncertainty in his voice, and he could see from the flash in Theresa's eyes that she did, too.
"No, you're not going to risk it," she said, taking a step closer, arms never wavering. "It's over, you know. There are agents surrounding the building, taking into custody the buyers who just left. We have Esteban's cousin, and boy, did he sing loud and sweet. I'm sure your wife and kids back home would rather see you back in one piece than hear about how you dying up here."
It was working, but Colby wasn't sure it was fast enough. Catching Theresa's eye, he tilted his head slightly to the side, away from the gun, and gestured upward with a fist on the same side. Her eyes widened slightly, but she gave an almost imperceptible nod and tightened her grip on the gun. "So I'm going to give you one more chance—"
The grip on his shoulder was loosening, so Colby twisted down to the left, turning towards the gunman, bringing up his left hand to shove the gun away. It fired into the air over his head, but a swift punch to the gunman's jaw sent him staggering back, and Colby was able to wrestle the gun away from him and hit him again, sending him sprawling to the ground.
Theresa moved forward to stand over him. She looked up at Colby, and he could see worry and fear flash across her face before her features settled into calm once more. "Good job," she said, sounding slightly surprised.
He reached behind him for his handcuffs. "I never doubted your ability to do the job," he said, watching as her chin lifted slightly and understanding swept over her face, followed by resignation.
"Thank you," was all she said, and then they were silent except for the necessary work of cuffing Salazar and the first man Colby had shot, still groaning on the floor with his hand pressed over his shoulder.
At one point, he looked up to see Liz and Don standing over Esteban, Don's foot on his back and Liz's gun pointed down at him. Liz was saying something in a low voice, and Colby could see Don's grimace before he bent down to secure handcuffs on his former captor.
Colby wasn't looking forward to finding out what that was all about.
For all that David's nerves were strung tight as piano wire on the drive to the warehouse, the raid itself was surprisingly anticlimactic.
He was in one of four FBI-issue Suburbans, lights and sirens off as they blazed down the freeway and off the exit ramp towards where Charlie had guessed and Megan had confirmed their bad guys were waiting. When Megan relayed that Esteban was among their number and that they had Don, it took everything David had not to tell the junior agent who was already driving seventy miles an hour to go faster. Instead, he checked his vest and weapon one more time and willed himself to stay calm.
The most excitement they had was nearly running into a large SUV racing out of the warehouse they were headed to, except in reverse. The lead vehicles instantly swung to intercept it, and David watched as they were quickly surrounded and forced out of the car. He couldn't tell by the glow of their headlights if it was Simeon's men or not, but a quick report over their earpieces informed him that Don was not in the vehicle.
The main overhead door to the warehouse was still open, and they slid quietly to a halt next to it. A moment later, they were entering in careful formation, David taking point, every sense alert after hearing a single shot fired. At his signal, six agents swarmed the warehouse, their shouts and raised weapons filling the large space.
As it turned out, it wasn't necessary. The first thing he saw was an obviously-injured Don exchanging heated words with Liz while cuffing a man on his stomach whom David hopefully thought looked a lot like Esteban. He sent two men over to assist and told them to insist that Don get checked out by the ambulance that was on its way.
Then he moved to the other side of the building, where Colby was standing guard over a man with a gunshot wound to the shoulder. "All clear?" David asked.
"Yeah, all clear." The corner of Colby's mouth turned up. "Doesn't mean we're not glad to see you," he said.
"Same here," David replied. "Any other unfriendlies around?"
"Theresa's got one back there," Colby said.
David knew his jaw was dropping open, but he couldn't help himself. "Theresa?"
Colby nodded tiredly. "Long story, but she had my back."
David looked at him for a long moment, wondering what on earth had happened since he saw his partner ready to slug the woman he'd spent the night with. "You're gonna tell me later, right?" he said, more an instruction than a question.
"Soon as I figure it out," Colby said with a rueful grin.
David clapped him on the shoulder and moved away, directing two more agents to assist Pennington in securing her prisoner, not quite able to meet her eyes despite Colby's half-hearted endorsement. When he laid eyes on the crates of weapons, he pointed the remaining agent in that direction, instructing her to radio in that they'd found what they'd been looking for.
When he got back to Liz and Don, he moved directly to his boss, taking in the split and bleeding lip, the bruising around one eye, and the way he was holding one arm against his ribs. "Let's get you outside, Don," he said, moving closer to assist if necessary without getting in the way should Don's pride not allow him the help.
Sure enough, the older agent snapped, "I'm fine," and moved away.
"You're not fine," Liz retorted. "And that's based on what we saw since we got here, not to mention what Esteban did to you before we arrived."
"David, what's the situation?" Don asked, almost completely turning his back on Liz.
David frowned and adjusted his position so he was speaking to both of them at once. "We've secured the vehicle outside but haven't identified the guys inside yet."
"They were here for the RPGs, but they scrammed when they saw the car these guys left next door," Don said with a jerk of his head towards Liz.
She pressed her lips together but didn't say anything, although David could almost see steam coming out of her ears like a cartoon character.
"So as far as you know, those are all of the RPGs?" David asked.
Don nodded. "Everything we've been looking for except Simeon is right here."
"Sounds like a good operation, then," David said.
Grimacing, Don turned away from them and towards the open door, where the wailing of an ambulance siren could be heard in the distance. "Yeah, it was fantastic," he replied as he started to walk away.
David exchanged a look with Liz. "You okay?" he asked cautiously.
She was glaring after Don. "I'm not hurt," she replied, and that told him more than he had asked right there.
"You'll be fine," he said somewhat awkwardly. "Both of you."
Her mouth twisted into a half-grimace. "I'm sure we will," she said completely unconvincingly before turning to follow Don.
David watched her walk off, wondering how, if everything had gone so well and no one had gotten seriously injured, it still felt like failure was hanging over their heads in a dark cloud.