by Angela B.
Two Years Ago:
Axle Coltrane had not been the typical gun buyer. He was known to be vicious in getting what he wanted. More than one man had died because they had not provided the gunrunner with appropriate respect. Though none of the killings could be directly linked to him, the FBI, as well as the ATF were aware Coltrane gave the marching orders.
After repeated attempts to infiltrate his tight knit group, the FBI had reluctantly handed the case over to the ATF in hopes of getting the man on gun smuggling. The case had been handed over to the group notoriously known as Team Seven. Within a couple of weeks Ezra had been able to ingratiate himself with Coltrane.
Ezra had gone in deep and alone. There was very little surveillance, making the whole team nervous beyond usual. Each one knew how good the undercover agent was, but they also knew Coltrane had a quick temper and a quicker way of dispatching of the source of his anger. The others also knew how well Ezra could wield his vocabulary. Using his slick words to soothe and temper emotions or flare them to a roaring fire. For the sake of everyone involved, Ezra had kept a tight control of his flippant tongue.
Ezra had been undercover for less than four months. The only contact he had with the any member of the team was once a week, either by running into one of them at the water vendor in the park after one of his jogs, or mysteriously getting in the same line as one of them at the grocery store. Every meet, the team rotated through its members so Ezra wouldn't be meeting the same person twice. The meeting always appeared innocuous and would hold up under the tightest scrutiny. The times when he didn't meet with a team member, he would pass on the tapes through a mediator, a trusted friend at the local diner, the mailman or a door salesman played by an agent from another team The tapes always found their way to the desk of Chris Larabee, where the man-in-charge and the rest of the team would sit for hours on end listening to both the messages hidden in the tapes and for a change in tones, or an inflection in the voice telling them all was well or things were getting hard for the agent.
Towards the end, Ezra had infiltrated his way into the inner circle, including Coltrane himself. He quickly learned of a large gun shipment that was coming in through the Denver train station. The information had been relayed and the bust gone down as smoothly as it could have. Coltrane was shipped off to prison to start serving a twenty-five to life sentence for his part in the illegal sale and transport of equipment, and life went back to being normal for the team. No one gave the gunrunner a second thought as Team Seven surged ahead to other cases.
3 months ago:
Axle Coltrane walked out of the prison gates with a cold smile. His lawyer had found a loophole in the gunrunner's trial and now the man had been released pending a retrial. Coltrane lit up a cigar. An evil smile played on his lips as he thought about the plan he had spent the last two years formulating to put an end to the infamous Team Seven and, to make it even sweeter, it would be a team member that would be the instrument of destruction. Climbing into the awaiting car, he turned to the man sitting beside him and asked, "Everything ready?" A simple nod was his answer.
Coltrane sat back against the black leather seats and sighed in satisfaction. Soon Team Seven would be minus at least two agents and the rest would be so destroyed that they would melt back into the woodwork of where they came from.
Present day: warehouse somewhere in Denver:
The numerous law enforcers surrounding the warehouse stood away from the fray that was unfurling in the far corner. They had witnessed this scene many times before and had learned it was best to just stand back and become invisible. Side bets, of course, were secretly made and money changed hands during the ongoing altercation.
"What. Do. You. Think. You. Were. Doing?" asked the blond leader loudly, pacing back and forth in front of a relaxed undercover agent, punctuating the beginning of each word.
"My job," came the smooth reply. Ezra had heard this argument many times before, yet each time the scathing remarks stripped away a small piece of his security he felt within this special group.
"I swear, Ezra, one day I'm going to have enough and kick your smirky, irritating little face right through the door and slam it behind you!" Chris continued to vent. He couldn't believe that Ezra had survived the stunt he had pulled just minutes before.
The bust had been going down with much success. Everyone was playing it cool and, up to a point, no one had made a wrong move. Until a small-time up-and-comer decided he was going to show he was braver than the rest and took aim at the youngest agent. Ezra and Vin had seen the movement at the same time. As Vin sighted the jerk through his scope, Ezra took off at a dead run, sprinting the ten feet and tackling the young perp at the same time as Vin's rifle report sounded through the warehouse. At the very last second Vin had sighted another movement and in less than a second had calculated it was his friend and jerked up the rifle as he shot off the round. Now, Chris was still trying to get his racing heart to calm down and needed to target his panic at someone, and that someone was the undercover agent.
Tired and weary, Ezra stood rooted in his spot with a could-care-less-smile plastered on his face. He couldn't fathom why the team leader was so upset. Everything had gone down just fine and all suspects were under arrest. Ezra did what he always did in these situations: he smiled, nodded and agreed not to perform similar situations in the future. After he walked away, Buck walked slowly up to his long time friend and nudged the man. "Ya know, in all that yelling I don't recall you telling him 'nice job'," he chastised.
Chris hung his a head a moment before looking into those truthful blue eyes. "I know, Chris said as he relented. "It's just that he pulls those stunts like he's invincible or something. One day his luck is going to run out and we're going to lose him. I just don't want that to happen," Chris said sadly.
"I know, but an 'atta boy' would go a lot further in getting him not to do those things than pointing out his faults," Buck smirked, slapping the blond on the back before moving off. Personally he was grateful for the man's unselfishness; it had probably saved JD's life. At the very least, it had kept him from being injured but, like Chris, he wished Ezra wouldn't always try to out-best the bullet.
Coltrane watched the condo from his parked car down the street. Looking around, he noticed that only one house, way down the block, had any lights on inside. He looked at his watch; it was almost one o'clock. His informants had called to report that the team had carried on with its normal celebratory routine after the bust and, though the undercover agent had been reamed out at the warehouse, it appeared that all had been forgiven by the time they had arrived at the little out-of-the-way bar the team frequented. His men had then reported that the undercover agent had also left earlier than normal and had driven around for a while. Coltrane smiled. He had had the men of Team Seven under surveillance since his incarceration. He had been smart enough to change out the surveillance man every couple of weeks and had paid a bundle for the information not gathered through observation. He had gathered a montage of information on each team member and now he was ready to put that information to use.
Ezra pulled into his garage and turned off the engine. Sitting there for several minutes, he contemplated the earlier hours. He had seen nothing worthy of a chewing out by his esteemed boss. He had merely been trying to prevent the demise of one his colleagues and friend. It had taken a long time to get comfortable with that word, 'friend'. Growing up the way he did and in the manner he was raised, Ezra had never formed any close ties to anyone in particular. There had been a few people along the way he had liked and gotten along with better than others, but he had never considered any of them worthy of giving his life for…that was until he met these six men and it all changed. Except for the occasional hiccup in their relationships, it was a pretty smooth ride. He had almost forgotten and forgiven Chris for their earlier altercation hours ago. Buck would have made a great diplomat and certainly a good hostage negotiator.
Ezra wearily crawled out of his car and headed inside the condo. Throwing his keys on the counter, he made his way through the house, turning on lights as he went. It felt good to be back in his own space; to eat his own food, sit in his own chair and mostly it was going to feel good to sleep in his own bed. During undercover times, he always rented a townhouse. One in his position never led the suspects to his doorstep. Ezra headed to the back, emptying his pockets and stripping off his coat. Walking into the bathroom, he turned on the hot water to wash his face when he heard the doorbell rang. Thinking it was one of the 'peacemakers' of the group to make sure imagined ruffled feathers had been smoothed out completely, he dried his face and headed for the door. While Ezra would admit to himself that the 'little talk' Chris and him had bothered him, he did understand that the team leader felt profoundly responsible for each team member's life. Heaving a heavy sigh, Ezra went to the door, slipping his gun from his waist pant to his hand, just in case, flipped on the porch light and looked through the peephole. Seeing the back of the agent he worked with, Ezra placed his gun on the foyer table, opened the door and said, "Mr. Wilmington."
Buck turned and calmly said, "We don't want you anymore." At the same time as he spoke he pulled the gun from his pocket and shot the undercover agent in the chest.
Coltrane sat watching the scene unfold with glee. Max Kline, had worked on his impersonation of the team's surveillance expert for over two months for his short scene. Kline had studied his mannerisms, grew and dyed his hair, had grown out his mustache in the same way and, even though he would only be saying a few words, Kline had perfected his speech pattern.
Coltrane had watched as Kline and another 'agent', who stayed away from the line of sight afforded by the peephole, approached the door, rang the bell and then turned slightly where only his back would show through the small peephole. Seeing the door open, Coltrane made up the undercover agent's line. It would be something like: "Mr. Wilmington, what are you doing here?" No matter what the younger agent said, Coltrane knew exactly what Kline's lines would be. The gunrunner watched with a growing smile as the undercover agent, who had tried to ruin his life, fall back into his house. The selected sedative would have almost instantly paralyzed the body and, within a matter of moments, the subject would be unconscious.
Coltrane watched as Kline and other 'agent' walked into condo. An hour later, looking every bit like the affable agent in the dark, Kline walked out and back to his pickup, an exact replica of the one driven by the real Buck. Coltrane had left nothing to chance.
During the hour the two 'agents' had been in the house, they had found a suitcase and filled it with clothes, and arranged the apartment like they were instructed. Between the two of them, they hoisted the lightweight undercover agent into the black car he owned. After the larger agent left through the front door, the other one took the keys to the Jag and disappeared into the garage. The black Jag backed out of the garage and took off down the street and out of sight.
It had taken Ezra a second to process the fact that the man standing on his front porch was not his friend. It took another second for the well-trained man to understand that the man was pointing a gun at him. As he fell backwards, a strange numbness took over his body. His mind screamed for him to defend himself, but his body refused to follow orders. He slipped into unconsciousness with his mind replaying Buck's final words.
The well-detailed plan called for Kline to follow the other driver, that had Ezra, to a designated deserted area and meet with two men waiting beside a town car. Kline wondered just how much Coltrane had spent to just get the initial stage of the plan going. Passing off the drugged agent off to the two men, Kline parted ways with the other man, climbed into his new truck and headed out of town. Stopping at a café on the edge of town, he stopped for coffee and went into the bathroom and collected the envelope taped behind the toilet. Coltrane had made it clear that none of the participants would be envolved with each other any more than necessary. Kline walked back to his truck and vowed he would never return to this section of the country again.
Two men took their charge to an old run-down apartment. Their orders were to keep the man tied and drugged for three days. During this time, Ezra was allowed to come to enough to eat, drink and occasionally use the bathroom. His mind was never allowed to clear up enough to be thoroughly conscious. His hair was left unkempt and his facial hair grown to a stubbly stage. After the three days, the two paid men changed into 'orderlies', then changed the drugged agent's clothing into scroungy pants and a simple, dirty, white t-shirt that had been splashed with alcohol, loaded their patient into an old ambulance that had been restored and then headed for the designated hospital. Coltrane had done his homework and learned that the famous team got injured at a frequency that made him amazed that any of them were still alive. He also learned that the team used one specific hospital…it was this hospital that the undercover agent was being taken. In Coltrane's mind, it would be just another slap in the team's face.
The orderlies parked the rig and pushed the gurney through the back door where Dr. Jack Belvin stood waiting. The doctor had been just a street kid when he came into Coltrane's exclusive 'family'. Coltrane had taken the young kid under his wing and made sure the young man made it through medical school and Belvin had been paying the piper for the last five years. The doctor walked next to the gurney where the unconscious agent laid. Taking the elevator up to the eighth floor, he waited for the men to push the gurney out into the hall and then punched in the codes next to heavy metal door to buzz the new patient into the psych ward. Dr. Jack Belvin took a deep breath and led the men into the isolated room.
Dana Mandlin was, young, engaged and had been a nurse for just over seventeen months. She walked out from behind the nurse's station to meet the doctor and the new patient. Smiling kindly down on the sleeping man, she asked, "We have a new patient?"
Dr. Belvin answered in his normal warm tone, "Yes, this Mr. Hammond. Here is all the paperwork we could get on him."
The doctor handed her a clipboard of mostly blank paperwork that had been filled out weeks ago for this one moment. "He is delusional and perhaps suicidal. I'm going to keep him sedated for several more hours and the restraints are to be kept on him at all times," he said, as the nurse led the way to an empty room. Nodding her head in acceptance of the instructions, she took out her keys, unlocked the patient's room door and pushed it open. Stepping aside so the orderlies could push the bed into the room, she watched them transfer the disheveled man onto the bed. After the two men and Dr. Belvin left, she checked on the IV line and catheter that had been inserted during the ambulance ride and took vitals. Walking out the room, she was surprised to find the doctor waiting for her.
The doctor walked the nurse back to the circled desk where one other nurse sat filling out paperwork. Slowly and with fake sadness, Dr. Belvin began talking, "Mr. Hammond believes he is a member of the Team Seven of the ATF."
"T H E Team Seven?!" Nurse Mandlin asked in surprise. She had never seen the men themselves, but the name was revered in the hospital. Most of the staff at the hospital had never met the members. The notorious men were mostly contained either on the ICU, Surgical or the Orthopedic floor when a stay was necessary.
"Yes," Dr. Belvin said sadly. Portraying every bit the caring doctor he was known to be on the psychiatric ward. "We will just have to do our best to correct his beliefs."
Nurse Mandlin solemnly nodded her head. In her eyes there was no better or more devoted doctor than the one standing before her. After signing the appropriate papers, Dr. Belvin exited through the main metal door and pushed the elevator button. Once inside the carrier, he sucked in deep breaths to steady his nerves and his stomach. Regret for ever meeting Coltrane settled heavily inside. He wasn't sure which would be worse, going against Coltrane or going against the men that made up Team Seven if they were to ever find out about his role in this indenture.
It had been three days since his undercover agent had been discovered missing. Buck and JD had gone over the following morning to see Ezra only to discover there was no sign of him. Searching through the house, they discovered a suitcase was missing and some personal items. Figuring Ezra just needed to get away for the weekend, they had called it in to Chris and were informed to let it go for a couple of days. The sound of the growl had told Buck that Chris wasn't happy about this new development. Whether Chris was angry at the undercover agent for leaving without notifying someone or whether the blond was blaming himself for Ezra leaving period, Buck wasn't sure but, he figured it was probably a little of both.
The men on the team were at the office early Monday morning waiting for the arrival of their seventh member. When ten o'clock rolled around and there was still no sight of the man, Chris began listening to his 'cop' gut that had been silently warning him all weekend that something wasn't right.
Chris strode out of his office looking grim. Scanning each face before him, he knew they were thinking the same thing. To everyone outside the office, it appeared that Standish arrived when he wanted and gave no consideration to his fellow co-workers. But the opposite was true. Manners dictated Ezra's life and therefore he always called when he was running late and was very considerate of his boss' requirements. He might break the rules, but he let someone know when he was going to do it, most of the times. Turning towards the young computer whiz, JD admitted lowly, "I checked the hospitals and morgue and got nothing. I even checked his aliases and still nothing." Staring hard at Chris, he asked, "That's good. Right?"
Chris nodded and then ordered, "Put an ABP out for his Jag." Turning his attention to Buck, he said, "Take Nathan and go over to his place. Take a closer look this time. Look for the unobvious." Receiving a promising nod, the leader turned to Josiah; he said, "You and Vin start pulling past cases, see if anyone Ezra has put away has gotten out. If that doesn't pan out, you know where to look next." Both men nodded and the team broke up to start on their jobs. Each one having a sinking feeling in their hearts that nothing appeared as it should.
Buck and Nathan entered the house, both feeling like intruders. Ezra very seldomly invited any of them over to his place, but never minded when they dropped by. The undercover agent had been slow in letting them into his life and would gladly meet them anywhere but here, it seemed to be the last holdout in Ezra's life. The one place that held solitude and comfort behind the physical fortress of brick and stone.
The two men walked into the bedroom and began mentally cataloguing just what Ezra would take on a getaway trip. Opening the closet door, Buck began categorizing just what clothing was still left in the closet and what, from what he knew, was gone. Nathan took the bathroom and searched through the drawers. In the last drawer he found Ezra's nail clippers. To most guys, this would have been obviously left behind, especially if one was just going to be gone for the weekend. But Ezra was different; this item would have been packed…unless Ezra had been in a big hurry when he left.
Buck was still looking in the closet when a thought hit him. Ezra had taken his big suitcase instead of the small green one stowed at the back of the shelf. There were very few that knew the importance of that, six in all. Buck mused about this, 'Did it really have any significant meaning' or had Ezra merely grabbed the first available bag. Buck shook his head at the thought. Even when Ezra did something spontaneously, his mind was thinking ten steps ahead. Something was off; Buck just couldn't put his finger on it.
Nathan stepped back into the bedroom and looked expectantly at the mustached man. Buck merely shook his head. He had no proof except for the gut feeling that Ezra didn't just leave without telling them. Nathan walked by and clamped a hand on his friend's shoulder. He, too, had the deep feeling the undercover agent's disappearance wasn't all what it was suppose to appear.
After searching for more clues, the two men realized just how little they knew about Ezra. The place had a cold feeling to it, like a place that was used for little else than eating and sleeping. Three hours later, the two disheartened men left the condo, having more questions than answers. Walking back into the bullpen, the two agents could tell their comrades hadn't had much luck either. The Jag had yet to be discovered and wouldn't be, since Coltrane had ordered it to be stored for future use. Josiah and Vin were still working their way through the numerous criminals Ezra had helped to put behind bars.
Chris walked out of his office and knew without looking that his team was now in 'hunt' mode. They would be just as efficient in finding their missing friend as they would be when hunting down a criminal. The leader walked back into his office and sat down behind his desk. Rubbing his forehead, thoughts of his agent flooded his mind. There had been some who had told him he was out of his mind taking on Ezra in the beginning and though he would have mentally agreed with them, he physically told those same people it was his decision. A decision he had never regretted, even if he and Ezra had butted heads more than a few times. It was no different from how Ezra had butted heads with almost everyone else on the team. Sitting here now though, he knew without a doubt he wouldn't trade the man for anything in the world. It would be like asking him to give a member of his family away and in his mind, family stuck together. They would find the man and when they did, they would make sure he was okay, then they would rip Ezra apart completely and then go with to the hospital and get him patched and take him to the ranch to recuperate. When they found him.
Nurse Mandlin was pulling a sixteen-hour shift. She checked on her patient and patted the sleeping man's arm. Ezra had been bought in at dawn. Nurse Mandlin and two other nurses had cleaned the man up, shaved his whiskers and changed him into the standard gown all patients were given at the beginning. Dr. Belvin had finally decided to let the sedative wear off and let the man come to somewhat. Nurse Mandlin watched as green eyes struggled to open. "Hi there," she said softly. Seeing the man startle, she said reassuringly, "It's okay. You're safe. You're in a hospital."
Ezra looked at the nurse and tried to recall just how he came to be in this place. It was all fuzzy but, as his thoughts slowly cleared, he remember opening the door at his apartment and being shot by Buck. Buck. The thought shook him. He needed to tell the others. At the very least, ask why. He looked around in search of the men that had always been there every time he wound up in this place since joining the team. Not seeing anyone, Ezra began to panic. Grabbing the nurse's hand, he pleaded, "You have to help. I'm Agent Standish with the ATF. You have to help me! The man who shot me was also an agent. I need to contact someone. Help me, please!"
Nurse Mandlin looked down sympathetically at the bewildered and frightened agent. Patting his hand, she calmly asserted, "Sir, you're Mr. Hammond and you're okay."
Ezra shook his head. "No! I'm telling you, I'm Agent Standish with the ATF and I insist you help me!"
Nurse Mandlin let out a sigh. "Okay, sweetie, I'll help you. Now just lie back and rest," she said as she left to go get the shot of sedative that Dr. Belvin had left ordered to use in case the patient became agitated. Returning with the syringe, she ignored the man's pleadings not to give him the shot. She stuck the needle into the IV port and pushed the medication in. Not long afterwards, the man's pleadings died as he slipped back into a heavy sleep.
This went on for the next two days. Each time Ezra was allowed to wake up, he asserted his identity only to be ignored or pacified. Ezra was frustrated with the fact no one would listen and he couldn't muster enough physical and mental faculties to escape. He knew he should be able to, but he couldn't get his muddled mind to strategically plan an escape. His wrists and ankles almost raw from struggling against the restraints kept him penned.
Two days later, Dr. Belvin arrived on the floor with three men. Meeting up with Nurse Mandlin, he introduced the men. "This is Agent Larabee, Agent Tanner and Agent Dunne. I called and explained our patient's asserting of his identity to Mr. Larabee and he has been kind enough to come down and try and persuade the man he isn't whom he thinks he is," Belvin explained
Ms. Mandlin shook each of the proffered hands and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you gentlemen. I've heard a lot about you."
The young man with shoulder length hair blushed as he whispered, "Pleasure is ours, ma'am."
Ms. Mandlin spoke softly as she said, "I do hope you can convince Mr. Hammond of the truth. He seems to be such a dear man."
The tall blond man replied, "We hope so too, ma'am."
Dr. Belvin decided that was enough interaction and ushered the three men into the solitude room. He had lowered the drug amount in the patient's system until he was coherent, but still slightly foggy. It was the same disconnected feeling Ezra got when he was coming out of anesthesia and he hated it.
"Mr. Hammond," Dr. Belvin said loudly enough to garner Ezra's dazed attention. Getting it, he went on, "This is Agent Larabee and two of his men from the real Team Seven."
His eyes wouldn't focus clearly, it was same effect as looking through a fogged up mirror. Ezra could only make out the tallness and hair color of the man standing before him. Defined features were lost to the drugs. "Chris! You finally came!" Ezra cried out in relief. "Get me out of here, now!" he begged, he would forgo pride if it meant his release from this place.
"I'm sorry, young man, but you aren't our Ezra. Our undercover agent is on assignment," the clone said in perfect pitch of the original Chris Larabee. "I hope this will help you finally realize you need help and let this fine staff help." The fraud finished and took a step back.
"NO!" cried Ezra. Shock that Chris was turning on him flooded him. Turning to the dark haired agent, Ezra pleaded, "JD, help. Tell Josiah. Tell someone I'm here. Help me, please!" Fear had taken a stranglehold on the drugged agent and was managing to rip away all his self-control.
"Sorry, pal," the young man said, hanging his head down in a JD fashion. "But I can't help ya. You aren't Ez. Not even close," he added, acting sorrowful.
"Vin?" Ezra asked in a last chance desperation.
"Sorry, man, you aren't close to being good enough to be on our team," the impersonator said in a soft Texan accent.
Ezra flopped his head back against his pillow and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to stop the tears of frustration and fear from flowing. He was truly stuck now and done in by his own team members that had called themselves friends.
The doctor nodded his head, and the blond and black-haired men moved to follow the doctor out the door. The lanky one stayed behind and waited until they'd left the room before quietly saying, "See ya, Ez."
The undercover agent shot up in bed. "Vin! You do know me?" he asked, relief mixing with despair.
"Of course, I do. We all know you, stupid. We finally got rid of you," 'Vin' said with a sneer. "Took old Chris a while to think of the plan, but you have to admit it's a grand one." Walking to the door, he tuned and said, "Never thought you belonged on the team anyway." With that, the slender man walked out the door with a suitable sad face on.
Keeping his sad face intact, he stopped before the nurse. "Sure hope you can help that man. Seems real awful for him to have to live the rest of his life in here," he said sincerely.
Nurse Mandlin nodded her head in agreement and watched the three men walk to the main door and wait to be buzzed out. Dr. Belvin turned to the nurse and said, "We'll up his meds for a little while and then I think it will be time to start psychiatric sessions." Getting a positive response from the nurse, the doctor went on to make rounds to the rest of his patients.
Ezra didn't know how long he been asleep. It was hard to keep track of time. There was no clock in his room and they kept him drugged so much he couldn't track the sunrises and sunsets out his window. He was aware that they were cutting back on his drugs. He knew that if he kept insisting on being Ezra Standish, the doctor would remedicate him. Ezra let his mind slow down and get back under control. He needed to get out of this room and get a layout of this place and in order to do that, he needed to be as drug-free as possible. He decided, for right now, he would go along with whatever he was told. He pushed away the part of him that criticized himself at the thought that he had been stupid enough to let those men into his life and had let his walls down. He had been burned in the ultimate way and it was his complete fault for letting his guard slip.
Later that night, after eating all of his hand-fed meal and playing the meek and subdued patient, he was left alone at last. He had convinced a nurse's aid earlier to loosen his wrist restraints by a couple of notches. It hadn't taken much; the girl was young and easily manipulated by his words. He had made a fist and tightened up his muscles, causing the restraints to be even looser when the arms were relaxed. After the young nurse left, it only took a few minutes for Ezra to free himself of the hand restraints. Working quietly, he finally freed himself of the ankle restraints. Rubbing and flexing the limbs, he pushed circulation back into the almost atrophied members. Sliding out of bed, he stood for a moment, letting the blood flow back into his shaking legs. A few seconds later, he walked to the door and muttered to himself when he found it locked. Going back to his bed, he slid underneath and started untwisting a piece of the long wire that made up the electrical system for raising and lowering the bed. After retrieving a long enough piece, he twisted the wire until it snapped in two. Sliding back out from under the bed, he walked to the door; he looked through the small window. Seeing no one, he listened for any noises coming from the other side. Carefully he slid the wire into the lock and jiggled it around until he heard the familiar click. Taking a deep breath, he eased the door open and was relieved to find the hallway empty. He stood rooted to the spot and listened for the nurse's voices. One was way down the hall and he heard two others across the divide from his hallway, struggling to get a patient to take his pills.
Sliding out of the doorway, Ezra did a quick visual search and quickly settled on the heavy door leading out. Ezra stood rooted just outside of the doorway scanning everything, not letting the door close completely. He noticed the alarm on the wall next to the outside door. Getting past it would take him a couple of seconds, he figured. Gathering his nerve and his strength, he headed for the door to freedom. Stopping before the alarm system, he let out a slow grin. He figured the staff didn't expect anyone on this floor would have much sense because the alarm was a simple one-step system. Using his fingers, he easily manhandled the covering off and, tapping a few wires, soon had the alarm off. Replacing the cover, he turned to the door, pulled out his wire and once again picked the lock. Giving one last look over his shoulder, he opened the door and slipped outside and quietly pulled the door closed.
Coltrane sat in his special office watching through a closed circuit security camera, he watched with awe and amazement as Standish slipped out of his holding room and then cut off the alarm and escaped the floor. His money had bought a lot of information; one snippet being Ezra Standish was extraordinarily good at escaping confined places, especially hospitals. He was only disappointed in the fact that had been so easy for the man to escape. He picked up the phone and punched a button. "Yeah, he's already out and in the stairwell now. You know what to do," he said sharply to the man on the other end.
Stepping through the door that led downstairs, Ezra leaned against the railing to catch his breath and let out a sigh of relief. The hardest part was over, getting out of the hospital itself would be a piece of cake, since he had learned form extensive past experiences that most hospitals had a similar floor plan. Being relieved in his accomplishments thus far and still dealing with some residue from the drugs in his system, he failed to remember he was still in his hospital gown. After several stops to regain his strength, Ezra finally reached the main floor. Pushing tentatively on the rod door handle, he smiled when it gave easily. The door opened and, before he could exit, a tall black man stepped in. Trying to step around the man, Ezra felt a sharp prick and felt himself sliding to the floor. He didn't loose conscious like all the other times he had been fed the drug, but his eyes got awful sluggish and he found them hard to focus. It was like looking through a prism glass. Ezra felt himself helped into a waiting elevator and watched in a dazed stare at the tall dark man stood beside him. Ezra tried to fight the drug and shook his head to clear his mind. It didn't work. He looked at the man beside him for help and stepped back in surprise to find it to be Nathan.
"What do you think you're doing? Escaping?" the black man asked with a hard laugh. "Come on, Ez. We know all your stunts by now. You think we wouldn't be waiting for you to try it? Heck, Josiah was just itching to be the one to catch you so he could rip you apart."
Ezra watched the man with Nathan's mannerisms and voice reach over and push a button. He felt the elevator start an upward movement. Panic set in. "No! Listen, Nathan. I'll disappear. I'll never bother any of you again. Just help me get out of here and I'll be gone forever." Ezra was pleading again and the thought burned like acid, but right now he was so desperate he would do anything to escape the hospital.
The black man was kneeling beside him again and shaking his head. Laughing, he said, "That's real funny, Ez. All those times I tried to help you and you wouldn't let me or pay attention to my advice and now you want me to help? Sorry, Ez. We can't let you go. Not yet."
"Why?" Ezra said confused.
The question went unanswered as the elevator came to a halt and the doors opened. Nathan maneuvered the wavering man back into the psych ward and back into the room, completely unnoticed by the three nurses working the night shift. The black man had to hand it to the doctor; it was going just like he said it would. He wrestled Ezra back into bed; the drugged man's attempt at fighting hampered by the lack of use and the man's superior strength, and replaced the restrains. Patting he leg before he left, he said, "Bye, Ez."
It had been a week since Ezra's disappearance and all avenues and ideas had been searched to exhaustion. From the outside, it looked like Ezra had simply packed up and walked off. The judge had demanded that they work along other teams as backup while they worked on trying to find the missing agent.
Travis and Chris had gone around and around on how long the team would be allowed to look for Ezra. Chris was insistent that Ezra had made too many enemies that could make his disappearance look innocent. Travis declared that maybe the man just wanted a break and had left without notice so he wouldn't have to wait for the paperwork to go through or have any unwelcome company joining him. He gave Chris a pointed look at this point. Chris had bristled at the suggestion. Ezra tended to show a flagrant disregard for certain rules. He wouldn't deny that, but there were some things that Ezra knew were too important not to follow through with: like telling at least one person he wouldn't be coming in for a couple of days. An undercover agent's life depended on backup, whether he was in the field or not. After a much heated debate, both men gave-in a little. The team could go on looking as long as they cooperated with the other teams when they required assistance.
The tension during the past five days had grown substantially. Each member had taken a turn at playing devil's advocate only to be bought to reality by the others. If Ezra's departure had happened during the first year or so of joining the team, they wouldn't have questioned the disappearance so much. But, after four years it set heavy in their gut. Whether it was cop instincts, loyalty or disbelief that their brother would just walk off without so much as a note, they knew something was wrong.
Josiah and Vin had gone through every case Ezra had ever worked, including those that he had worked on while with the FBI. Now they were in the process of trying to locate the cases that the computer had spit out on those that were no longer incarcerated, but it would take a while to research every case. Life wasn't like TV, there was a lot of leg-work involved in tracking down released prisoners and problems weren't solved in an hour. JD had started looking to scrap heaps and hot spots for the Jag. Pieces were sometimes worth more than the total car. Buck talked to snitches and Nathan kept up the looking into all missing bodies found. It was taking a toll on all of them.
Dr. Belvin strode into the common room of the psych floor and headed for the specific room. Today would be the beginning of the patient's new and unorthodox therapy. Walking into the room, he began unstrapping the restraints, to the disbelief of the patient. Ezra watched wearily as the restraints were removed. It was just too easy. The doctor smiled down on the man. "How about a shower, and then we can take a walk and stretch those muscles," he said with concern.
The doctor went to the door and waited. Ezra hesitantly slid out of bed, letting his body become accustomed to being upright and wondering what kind of prank was fixing to befall him. Instead, the youngish doctor led Ezra to the shower room. He stopped Ezra from entering and smiled as he twisted the IV tube out of the port. Pulling out a roll of tape out of her pocket, she taped the open port down and wound several strips around the site to keep water out. Looking back up into the hazy green eyes he said, "There, now you're ready. I have already ordered some decent clothes to be laid out for you. They should be already in there. If you need anything simply pull that string and a nurse will come immediately."
Ezra nodded mutely. Walking into the isolated room, he stripped off the medicine-smelling gown and stepped into the shower. Standing there, enjoying the flowing hot water over tired and achy muscles, he tried work out just everything that had happened to him. One thing was for sure; he was stuck and had no backup. Ezra shook his head from the depressing wave that threatened to overwhelm him at that thought. "Snap out of it, Ezra. You've been on your own before. You started counting on those men and it has made you lazy and sloppy," he scolded himself. He couldn't get over the fact that they were behind this. The one word kept repeating itself over and over, "Why?"
After toweling off and dressing in a set of warm-ups, Ezra slipped on a pair of socks and stepped outside the door. Walking slowly towards all the noise, he found a big living area painted in different hues of blue, complete with a stereo system, large screen TV and several tables set up for groups of people to play games. The nurse came up to him with his IV pole, untapped the port and hooked his IV back up; then turned and left. Ezra was standing there taking it all in and trying to orient himself, when Dr. Belvin appeared at his side. "How about that walk now?" the doctor suggested with a smile.
Ezra nodded and turned to follow the man in the white coat, pushing his stand along beside him. He would have to play along until he could figure a way out of this place. The sudden remembrance of what he assumed was the night before flashed into his brain. The disbelief, anger and hurt caused a sudden headache as he found himself fighting morose thoughts at the betrayal. Dr. Belvin stopped and placed a hand on the shaking shoulder and asked, "Are you alright?"
Ezra looked the man in the eyes and replied, "Yes, I believe so. I think it is just the sudden ability to be mobile again."
Dr. Belvin smiled worriedly. "Do you need to rest first?" he asked.
"No. No, I'm quite fine. Thank you," Ezra assured the man. The last thing he wanted to do was lay down.
Ezra followed the man to the main door and looked at the doctor in puzzlement as the door buzzed and opened under the doctor's hand. Seeing Ezra's puzzlement, Dr. Belvin explained, "I don't do my therapy sessions in this section. I believe it works better for the patient if they separate their therapy sessions from their living residence, like out in the real world. That way, once you get released, you are settled into a routine of leaving your house and going out for therapy."
Going down the hall to the opposite end, the doctor opened his office door and ushered Ezra in. Sitting there in one of the office chairs was another doctor, or what Ezra presumed was another doctor. Coltrane had been smart enough to alter his appearance, so he would be unrecognizable to the agent. While in prison, he had taken full advantage of the weight room. Once on the outside he had dyed his hair, let his facial hair grown out and had even gone so far as to wear contacts that changed the color of his eyes.
Gesturing towards the man, Dr. Belvin made the introductions. "Ezra, this is my partner Mr. Comantaryian. We call him Dr. C. for short," he ended with a pleasant laugh.
The man rose from his seat and met Ezra halfway across the room. Sticking out his hand, Mr. C said, "It's a pleasure. I've waited to meet you ever since you were brought in."
Ezra, taking in the man's marine-style haircut and full mustache and beard, returned the pleasantries warily. "Nice to meet you."
At that time, Dr. Belvin's pager went off. After taking a cursory glance at it, he said, "I'm sorry, Ezra, it's an emergency." Gesturing with his head for Ezra to follow him back outside and presumably back to his room. Ezra tried to hide the disappointment. Not that he relished the idea of spending time with a psychiatrist, or two as it appeared, but it was preferable over the other situation.
Before Ezra could move, Dr. C stepped forward and suggested, "If Ezra doesn't mind talking with me, he could stay here and I could do his first session while you see to your emergency." Dr. Belvin looked expectantly at his patient, who, not having many options, agreed. Dr. Belvin grinned; everything was going the way Coltrane had said would. With Ezra's permission, the doctor slipped out of the room and left the two men alone. Now the cat-and-mouse-game really began.
The two men sat down in the leather office chairs, each waiting the other out, Ezra pushing his stand to the side of his chair and adjusted the tubing. Ezra stared at his hands waiting for the other man to start talking. He had learned a long time ago that waiting was almost always rewarded. Coltrane was glad that Ezra was putting up a resistance, however small. It would have been less satisfactory if the man had broke too easily.
The imposture decided it was time to start luring the victim into his web. Blinking first, by choice, the taller man said in hushed tone, "As I understand it, you believe you are a member of the infamous Team Seven of the Denver ATF."
Ezra stiffened inwardly. His mind racing, considering and throwing out options faster than a normal person could think of one choice. He would have to admit to the belief, but where to go from there? How to persuade this man he didn't need any more drugs in his system?
Before he could say anything, Dr. C was talking again and the words floored Ezra. "I believe you."
Thinking it was trick, Ezra grinned sarcastically. "What mental process has bought you to that conclusion?" he asked.
"The team hasn't been very busy these past few weeks. Heard through the rumor mill that one of their agents left about the same time as you appeared here. At first, they told everyone he had simply gone on vacation. Later they said he resigned. Rumor has it they're training a new member," Coltrane spoke the rehearsed lie easily.
"Weeks?" Ezra asked stunned. His mind trying to wrap itself around the idea he had been in this place for weeks.
"Yes. You have been in the hospital for about five weeks. You were in a coma for the last month. They found quite a lot of drugs in your system. Hospital records have it listed as an attempted suicide," Coltrane filled in. "When you came to, you kept insisting you had been shot. That's when you were diagnosed as delusional," Coltrane added.
A picture of him standing in front of someone and being shot flashed into Ezra's mind. The agent doubled over as the intense moment caused a blinding headache.
Coltrane, playing every bit the concerned doctor, leaned toward the patient and asked gently, "Are you all right?"
Ezra nodded as the sudden headache dispersed. The memory was fuzzy, but realistic. "I believe one of my fellow agents shot me," he stated hesitantly.
"No, you weren't shot. I sassure you," the doctor said. "When you were first taken to the ER you kept trying to tell them it was one of your partners. There was however no proof to this claim." Coltrane said, waving his hand towards Ezra body in general.
Ezra nodded grimly at the new information. Ezra thought back to his shower and realized he hadn't any new scars or wounds. He heaved a heavy sigh and closed his eyes. He knew with absolute certainty that he had been shot. The picture was there in living color behind his closed eyes. He had opened his door to find Buck standing there. The next image was of the gregarious man pulling out a gun and shooting him. "Buck," Ezra said softly, vowing not to start crying at the memory. He didn't want the doctor to think he needed any sedation.
"You think he was the one to fill you with drugs?" Coltrane asked in a quiet professional manner.
Ezra could hardly get his mind wrapped around the images that leapt at him. Buck shooting him. Chris, Vin and JD coming to the hospital and telling him he wasn't Team Seven material. He was lost in his own world until the next words out of the professional's mouth bought him back to reality with a figurative slap.
"Do you think Mr. Larabee ordered it?" Coltrane asked, fertilizing the seed of betrayal. "From what I've heard about that team, Agent Larabee calls all the shots."
Ezra shrugged. The thought that Chris had ordered Buck to shoot him and then plan this elaborate scheme was beyond his thinking of the man he had come to know and believe to be closer than a friend. "I don't see how Chris could get the whole staff at Memorial to go along with it," Ezra stated meekly.
"Memorial? Ezra, this isn't Memorial. This is Lakeside," Coltrane lied again.
The staff on the psyche ward wasn't allowed to wear any materials on their body, including identification, when visiting a 'lockup' patient, in case the patient tried to grab it and hurt themselves or the staff. Mental patients were known to use the least innocuous thing as a weapon. Ezra had just assumed that since Memorial was where he always woke up at, that it was true this time also.
Coltrane watched as the shoulders sagged a little more. He wanted to smile at the effect each one of his carefully placed words had on the man. He would get his end results soon enough and then move away and start fresh again.
"Relax. I believe you, but it will take some time to get you out of here though. First of all, a patient that is classified as you are just doesn't walk out after one session. Besides, I would think Larabee would have someone keeping a close eye on the situation for a while longer," Coltrane said.
Ezra could only nod. The man made sense, but how did Chris get all the other team members to go along with his plan? Wouldn't any of them stand up to him on his account? He sighed wearily. No, they wouldn't. How often had Chris reamed him out or they had gotten into a fight and one of the others stepped in on his benefit. "Never," he mentally answered himself. No one would go toe-to-toe for him, not even Josiah.
"You look tired," Dr. C said, his voice filled with concern. "Why don't you go back to your room and we'll talk tomorrow, okay?" Coltrane stated as he led Ezra out of the office and back down the hall. "Tomorrow I'll have them give you something beforehand so the headache won't be so bad."
Ezra nodded absently. He had a lot to think about. This was the first time he felt semi-clear headed since he had been shot. Ezra didn't notice being passed off to one of the nurses, or being locked back in his room. He walked disjointedly to his bed and laid down. He didn't even mind the shot of supposedly painkiller being injected into his IVP, IV port. There was so much to think about. Had Chris really orchestrated all of this? Why? Just to get him off the team? He thought he knew the man so well. He thought he knew all of them better than this. Ezra curled up into himself and let his mind float away. It was all too much to think about at once. At least now, he had someone on his side, someone who believed him and willing to help him. Sleep came as he thought about how he was going to get out of this place and get away.
Chris sat in his recliner surrounded by the remaining members of his team. They had taken another blow today when Travis had appeared in their office. Since they couldn't find any evidence of malice, the AD had ordered the team back to work full time. Chris was told he could either look for another undercover agent or one would be assigned to him. Chris had bought himself and the team a little time by arguing that they couldn't just replace Ezra with any undercover agent. Finding the right one, with the right credentials and personality would take time. Travis had argued that no one would be like Standish and while Chris had wholeheartedly agreed, he had also argued that to fit in with these men, the agent was going to have to have certain traits in order to survive. Travis had no choice but to consent on that thought and gave Chris a month to fill the slot.
Now they were out at the ranch going over every piece of information they had gathered concerning their missing friend. Chris' gut was still screaming at him that they were missing something. The picture wasn't adding up. The others were behind him a hundred percent. Chris was rarely wrong when he followed his instincts.
"JD," the blond said quietly, "Run through the lists and sort out the most qualified uncover agents."
"Chris!" the young agent exclaimed, his eyes growing wide. "We aren't really going to replace Ezra, are we?" JD couldn't imagine working with anyone else but Ezra.
"We have to appear to be looking, JD," Chris said wearily. He didn't want to replace Ezra any more than the rest of them did , but it had to appear as if they were at least looking.
"Appearances are everything," Josiah laughed quietly with a sad inflection, earning a few other depressing laughs in the process.
Chris looked over to the sharpshooter. Since Ezra's disappearance, Vin had grown quieter and Chris was getting worried. "Vin?" he asked simply.
"It doesn't feel right," the sharpshooter said quietly. "Something's wrong, I can feel it," Vin tried to explain. Ever since they discovered Ezra had gone missing, Vin had gotten the instinctive feeling that something was horribly wrong. Shrugging slightly he said, "Can't explain it, but I know Ez is in trouble."
The others nodded; they, too, didn't feel right about the simple explanation everyone else was giving. That Ezra had simply packed up and moved on, deserting his teammates without a second thought.
Chris leaned forward and grabbed one of the few manila folders that held information about Ezra's past convictions. Somewhere in there was the answer. This simple maneuver was an indicator to all of them to get back to work and keep looking for clues.
The next afternoon a new nurse appeared in his room. "Mr. Belvin will be here any moment for your session. He's ordered a shot before you go," she said kindly as she scrubbed the IVP with an alcohol pad.
"Don't need anything. I'm feeling quite fine," Ezra said sweetly as he watched the nurse work.
"I'm sure you are feeling much better, but Mr. Belvin doesn't want you getting any more of those terrible headaches like you got yesterday after your session," the nurse explained as she inserted the needle into the tiny valve and pushed the medicine in.
"No, I guess not," Ezra acquiesced. If he was going to help Dr. C. think of a plan to get him out of here he couldn't be hampered by one of his migraines, especially like the one that hit the previous night.
Ezra walked out into the big living area and for the first time really noticed how big and airy it was. He also noticed how well kept the other patients seemed to be. Nothing compared to what one saw on TV. There was no dull lifeless coloring on the wall; instead there were several brightly colored murals. The patients were dressed in everyday clothes for the most part and were allowed to move about freely. He knew if he began playing the part of a recovering mental patient, he too, would receive these privileges and then maybe he could emancipate himself from this place with a much better achievement than his last attempt.
Ezra waited quietly while Dr. Belvin signed his name, showing he was taking Ezra down to his office. After he was finished, the doctor led him out into the hall before saying, "Dr. C and I were discussing you last night and he thinks since he has already formed a slight bond with you that, if it's acceptable to you, you should keep having your sessions with him."
Ezra felt relief. He wasn't sure what the doctor had been going to say when he started, but now he was glad to know he would be seeing the other doctor. Maybe the doctor had ideas on how to get him out of here without anyone knowing. His stomach churned at the idea that Chris had planned all this. It wasn't anything like the man he knew. If Chris didn't want you, he'd simply tell you get out, or shoot you. But this, this wasn't like Chris. Maybe it was an old enemy that had set up this elaborate plan. The idea brightened Ezra's thoughts; that had to be it. It was someone from his past and if so, Dr. C could contact Larabee and the team would be here in minutes to get him and cover his back. His mind refused to listen to the small voice in his head that said he was grasping at straws.
Ezra walked into the room smiling. Tension that had been harboring inside released its hold. He would simply convince Dr. C to let him place a call to Chris and this whole matter would be cleared up no time.
"Well, you're looking better today. Even perhaps cheerful," Coltrane said, hiding his worry about the reason why.
"I have figured it out!" Ezra exclaimed. "It's not Chris. It's someone else that is setting all this up," he said with a joyful smile.
"I see," Dr. C said carefully. Hiding his anger and surprise. . The rumors he had heard seemed to be true; this young agent was quick minded with only half his brain functional. He would have to see to it that Ezra was kept a bit more drugged. Thinking for a moment, the doctor asked quietly, "Then how do you explain Buck shooting you and Mr. Larabee coming to the hospital and denouncing you?" he asked.
Ezra felt like someone had punched him in the stomach. That was harder to explain. Having him incarcerated in a different hospital where he was unknown was one thing, getting men to portray his teammates so effectively seemed a little out there even to him, that was more like a bad TV movie.
Coltrane watched the color drain from his patient's face and rushed forward. "Sit down and put your head between your knees," he said authoritatively. He would have to rethink his words in the future. Coltrane didn't want the man keeling over before he could effectively wipe out Team Seven.
"Come over here to this chair and let's talk this out," Coltrane said as he guided the upset man over to a chair in the middle of the room. Whatever medication the nurse had given him for prevention of the headaches was beginning to make Ezra feel sluggish; he hated this feeling. He would have to talk to Dr. Belvin about reducing the amount next time. The longer he sat there, the more tired he became. He heard Dr. C's voice from afar ordering him to just rest his eyes, while he flipped through some papers.
He couldn't tell if he was awake or dreaming as pictures of the team began flashing before him. He heard a voice penetrating the fog, asking him if the team really did care about him and if this was a plot by an old nemesis, then why wasn't the team tearing apart the city looking for him. The team's loyalty was legendary, especially in the medical field. Doctors from other hospitals had heard how Chris Larabee always made sure his men got the best treatment available. The voice continued asking him if the team cared, why didn't they come for him?
The self-doubt in Ezra came back stronger than ever. The tiny seed of hope that this was all a scheme by someone in his past was squashed. No one wanted him for who he was, only for what he could do for them.
The flashing pictures stopped. Only a blurred, solitary picture of Buck remained in front of him. The voice was back. "Good old Buck. Made you think you were best friends. Do best friends come to your door and shoot you in the chest? Do best friends leave their friends behind?" the voice asked. "Remember the meet at the zoo. You were drugged, completely incapable of caring for yourself. You had to depend on them for your survival and what did they do? Josiah passed you off when you became too much of a burden. And whom did he pass you off to? Buck. Remember. Buck was carrying you and what did he do with you? He left you behind. But not just anywhere. He left you in the tiger pen." The voice lowered to a whisper. "He left you with a tiger. Is that what a friend does? Leave you behind; drugged; unable to fend yourself with a carnivorous animal?"
Ezra didn't really remember that whole time at the zoo. He did remember being told about it later. Buck had said he couldn't go on and had apologized profusely when they had come back and realized the momma tiger had been able to get to the unconscious man after all.
"Didn't mean to," Ezra mumbled.
"Are you sure?" the voice asked. "Remember the time you were suppose to drive Chris and Vin home after hanging out at the bar, but they disappeared? Recall how you drove after them, only to watch them be blown up. You called Buck to come help. What did Buck do? He didn't ask if you were hurt; and you were, weren't you? He hit you. He beat you to a pulp and blamed you instantly because you were seen as the least important man on the team. Would he have hit any of the others if the situation had been reversed and you had been in that jeep? No! Because you don't matter to them. Later, you learned it was all a prank. You had been made a fool of at the expense of a joke constructed by who knows how many of those teammates you placed your trust in. And when Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner conned you into taking them to the bust, you got hurt again. Did they notice or care? NO! They left you behind to deal with your own problems. Buck left you behind to die. He was always angry with you for something you had no control over, wasn't he? If he needed to release some frustration or anger, did he turn on any of the others? No. Who did he always take it out on? You. Did he ever apologize? No. Remember the other times, he felt you had done wrongly? What is his answer? What does he always do? He lashed out at you. And Mr. Larabee allowed it. Chris Larabee cares nothing for you, he deserves to die." Coltrane had paid extra for that information. It hadn't been in the filed reports that the Team had completed, but there had been other witnesses, including other law enforcers and fire personnel, that had talked about the episode. Coltrane had been most happy with the information. It seemed not everyone liked the team and was more than willing to share a few tidbits of gossip. They had offered the information almost too willingly.
A couple of hours had passed and Ezra was wiped out. He felt like he had been asleep the whole time he was in session, and yet he was emotionally depleted of energy. He could hear Coltrane's voice clearly now, telling him, he would be taken back to his room so he could rest. Ezra thought that sounded like a really good idea. He was shuffled back to lock-down and helped into bed. A cover was placed over him and the exhausted agent fell asleep to the images of tigers chasing him and cars exploding and Buck's face everywhere laughing at him.
Ezra sat up in bed in a cold sweat. The Jeep explosion had been real, but this time he had been in the Jeep. Instead of being concerned and worried, he had watched himself looking out the side window as it burned. Outside, stood Chris and Vin laughing and pointing and Buck was leaned back against his old pickup, arms crossed, with a smile gracing his face as he watched Ezra burn alive. They had planned the whole thing, he was supposed to be in the vehicle; not them and this time it was for real.
The next morning a new routine was established. Ezra was allowed out into the main room after his shower and breakfast. The undercover agent casually strolled about the big area. Keen eyes taking in the routine of the nurses, he counted the number of patients. Who had keys to what doors? He observed it all while keeping himself shielded from peering eyes.
After lunch, Ezra was resting on his bed when a nurse he hadn't recalled seeing before entered his room. "Good afternoon, Mr. Hammond. Ready for your meds before you go to therapy?" she asked cheerfully.
Ezra easily slipped into 'patient' mode and nodded his acceptance. Holding out his hand expecting his medicine to be in pill form he was surprised and weary when the nurse held up a syringe. "Mr. Belvin says the injections work faster than the pills and he wants you to be as comfortable as possible during your sessions," the nurse explained, as she injected the small hypodermic needled into his forearm.
Ezra cursed his luck. If it had been in pill form, he could have easily made a slight of hand and made the nurse think he had taken the pills. He didn't like the fogginess the medicine enveloped around him. A short time later he walked into the well-decorated office.
"How are you today?" Coltrane asked sincerely. He needed to keep this man drugged, but coherent.
"Fine," Ezra replied. "Did some observing today. Beginning to get a feel for the place. A couple of days of watching to get the complete routine down and I'll have a detailed plan on how we can get me out of here," the agent explained as he lowered his tired body down into one of the comfortable chairs.
"That's good, Ezra. But we must be careful. Mr. Larabee must have people watching this place," Coltrane said conspiratorially.
Cocking an eye at his doctor, Ezra was puzzled.
"You don't remember trying to escape earlier? You told me you were almost out of the hospital when you got caught by Nathan," Coltrane explained. "The only way Nathan could have known you were escaping was because Larabee has someone watching the place AND you."
Ezra leaned his head against the high-rise back of the chair. It made sense, but if Chris kept someone watching the whole time, that would draw suspicion and if it was someone outside the team, money. Ezra, not realizing he was speaking, had spoken his thoughts aloud.
"My guess is Mr. Larabee is only doing this until he can think of a more permanent solution," Coltrane whispered suggestively.
The pictures once again started flashing before his eyes, before stopping on the very person they had been discussing; Nathan.
The dark-skinned man's face loomed in front of him like a taunt. Nathan could have helped the other night, instead he had returned Ezra right back to his room. What was it Nathan had told him…"We can't let you go? Not yet."
The voice was back whispering in his ear. "Nathan never did accept you as a team member, did he? He always judged you by what you did as your job, not as a person. He took the high road, didn't he? Made you feel less than acceptable. Like dirt. He believed the rumors, didn't he? Didn't voice them around the others, but you knew. He believed you were worse than the scum you put away. Always questioning your ethics and morals. Always compared you to those you put away. He never gave you a chance to prove him wrong, did he? There were so many other instances when his disapproval of you showed through. No one stopped him either, did they? Because, in their hearts, they believed Nathan. Good ol' ethical, perfect Nathan," the voice taunted him
"When you were ill or wounded, did he show you the same patience and caring he would have on the others? No. He did only what he had to in order to keep you alive and able to work. He didn't use his fists like the others; he struck were he knew it would count, with his words. He never let you forget your days with the FBI, did he, Ezra? Did he worry at all about you when you were hit with that dart gun at the zoo? Did he show concern about what kind of drug was flowing in your system? No. Why, Ezra? Why didn't he show concern? Because he doesn't care. Chris Larabee doesn't care about you. Larabee doesn't deserve to be a leader. Someone should kill him. Chris Larabee deserves to die."
Ezra didn't recall how he got back to his room. He had woken to find himself in his bed and the lights out. There was no noise coming from out in the hall and he wondered what time it was. Going to steel door, he felt like a fool having to knock to be let out. At first he only tapped lightly, embarrassed by his position as prisoner. When no one came to his door and the need to use the facilities increased, he knocked louder. A nurse appeared on the other side of the door. Ezra could see her through the small eight-by-eight window. He stepped back to allow the door to swing open.
The nurse, one he had seen earlier, stepped inside. "How can I help you, Mr. Hammond?" she asked.
"I am in need of your male facilities," the agent mumbled, as he tried to recall the nurse's name. Mandy Manly. Mandlin. Yes, that was it, Mandlin
The nurse paused for a minute before nodding and leading the way down the hall. She stood guard outside while Ezra took care of matters. When the southerner came out, she obligatorily led him back to his room. Walking into the room and around the bed, she picked up the call devise. "Sweetie, next time you need one of us, just push the red button. You don't need to knock, okay?" the nurse said with a smile.
Ezra mentally slapped himself. How many times had he been hospitalized? He should have known to look for the devise. He began considering how necessary it was going be to talk to Dr. C to persuade Dr. Belvin to reduce his narcotics. Ezra smiled sheepishly at the nurse and humbly apologized. The nurse patted his arm before leaving the room. Hearing the dreaded click of the lock being turned, Ezra sat down on the side of his bed. He needed to think while his mind was clear enough to do it. Unfortunately, the only thing that kept popping into his mind was memories of how Buck and Nathan had treated him over the passed few years. Every slight, every barb seemed to come to the forefront. Ramming him like a red-hot poker, burning him and leaving an irrepressible mark. The agent sat on the side of bed for a long time, thinking. Chris wanted him gone from their lives. He had sent Buck to kill him. He had convinced Vin and JD to lie to him, which hadn't seemed too hard for the two young agents, so they must not have objected too badly to the idea. Chris had set this whole thing up.
Ezra quickly tired of the images and tried many of the strategies he had learned over the years to make his mind obey him. He needed to clear the haunting images and think of way out of this predicament. As hard as he tried, though, those images always came back.
The day after discussing Nathan, the picture of Josiah flashed up before him.
The voice began, "He calls you 'son' but, does he really treat you as a son he would be proud of? Or does he treat you like an incompetent child who constantly needs supervision? Does he pat you on the back and tell you, "Good job" or critique your work? How often has he stood back and allowed Chris to yell at you? Attack you verbally? Physically? Does a real father allow people to hurt their children? Does a real father stand back and let their children be put in danger? Remember when Nathan, Vin, JD and you were held captive? You managed to escape and get help. Remember, you led Chris, Buck and Josiah back to where they were being held captive and what happened? Chris and Buck both hit you. What did Josiah do? He stood back and watched. Did he intervene? No. He just let those two hurt you and he said nothing.
Do you trust him enough to share your past with him? A true son would have no qualms about sharing his problems with a father that really loved him. Do you trust Josiah that much? Or do you know, inside, he is not a man worthy of your secrets? Have you ever gone to him with a problem or a secret and he betray you? He has, hasn't he? Josiah is not a father to a son whom he's proud of. Josiah is a father to a child who he feels is incompetent. A child that doesn't need love or protection , but chastisement and rebuke," the voice declared.
"Then there is Maude. He fell in love with your mother, didn't he? You tried to warn him, but did he listen? Did he take your side when he learned how she had dumped you time after time? Or did he try to make excuses for her, defend her? Tell you that she was just doing what she had to as a single mother? See, Ezra, you're not thought of as a son. A father would kill to protect his child, not make excuses.
He allows people who should care for you to hurt you, like Chris, because he doesn't have the love for you as a real father to stop him. Has he come to help you? No. Because Chris Larabee has made Josiah's choice for him and Josiah has let him. Chris Larabee is thought of more than your safety. Chris Larabee deservers to die," the voice ended like always.
The undercover awoke from his ritual evening nap, another routine that had come into play. He thought about the earlier session. While he had tried to fight the images, he realized the undeniable truth. Josiah didn't protect him from anyone, especially not Maude. Maude! The name sprang forth like the preverbal rope being thrown at the very last second. He would simply locate Maude and have her effect his release. She would be greatly displeased that he had not been able to emancipate himself from this place, but he would gladly take her criticism if it meant release from this place. He was beginning to wonder if Dr. C was ever really going to help him get free. Maybe, he could get Dr. Belvin to place the call instead. He didn't seem to interested in him and he was sure the good doctor would be keen on the offered reward if he were to help. Ezra suddenly felt better. He could hold on a couple more days until Maude's arrival. With the new plan in place, Ezra readily ate his supper and went back to bed.
It was getting to the point that Ezra no longer tried to resist the injections. In fact, he welcomed them. With the injections, he didn't have to live with the knowledge he was a loser; a sucker who had fallen for the biggest fool's game. He didn't have to remember how he was rejected by his mother, again. Permanently.
Dr. Belvin had come back the next morning after Ezra had proposed to him to let him call Maude. The doctor had been very kind about the matter and had led Ezra down the corridor of the psyche ward to a small office. The doctor had picked up the phone and telling Ezra it was hospital rules for the psyche ward, he would have to punch in the numbers, plus his own pin number. Ezra had willingly given what he hoped was the correct number. After all the weeks of drugs; he was unsure of anything one hundred percent. The doctor had asked if he had reached the correct household, listened for a minute and then handed the phone to Ezra and stepped out of the office.
Ezra asked tentatively, "Mother?"
"No, Senor Standish, this Ms. Luiz. I'm Mrs. Cargill's maid," the woman on the other end informed him.
"Ah," Ezra said, rubbing his forehead, trying to recall if Maude had been married before all this had happened or merely engaged like so many other times. "Senorita Luiz, may I please speak with my mother," Ezra asked, retaining civility in the moment of crisis.
There was a long pause before the woman spoke again. "I am truly sorry, Senor Standish but, I am told to inform you, that your mother wishes to have no more contact with you. Mrs. Standish said…," the woman on the end paused again, seemingly regretting being put in the middle. Ezra felt sorry for her, Maude had done that to more than one servant when she was upset with him. "…She said, 'She wishes her son would realize she is tired of carrying the load of having a no-account son who has done nothing but plague her life and ruined her existence and whatever predicament you have found yourself in, it is up to you to get yourself out. She is tired of bailing you out.' " The maid heaved a heavy sigh. "I am sorry, Senor Standish," she said in a sorrowful tone.
Ezra was still trying to regain both his breath and his balance. He had always known Maude had times when she couldn't cope with being a single mother, but he never realized just how much of an imposition he had been on her. Retaining his manners, Ezra said in low voice, "Don't be, Senorita Luiz. It is not your fault. Thank you very much and please inform my mother I will not be bothering her any more."
The woman on the other end hung up the phone. She walked past the man in the suit and picked the folded money from his hand as she continued out the door.
It had been two weeks since Ezra had gone missing. Doubts that they would ever find their missing comrade slowly began to sneak in. The six men that made up Team Seven had dutifully carried out their tasks at work. After work, they had worked on every lead, idea or whisper from a snitch. It was becoming oppressive. If they could just find out if Ezra had left on his own accord or with the help, wanted or not, from someone else that would answer a lot of questions.
Josiah and Vin kept working their way through the many files containing all the criminals and the subsequent 'friends'. So far they had found, much to their relief, that the majority of them were still behind bars. Those that were not were passed on to JD. The computer wizard would search through DMV records, parole files, and anything else that would help locate the released convict. The team had to admit one thing: Ezra had wracked up a pretty amazing arrest record. If JD couldn't find the perp through computer networking, the case was turned over to Nathan, who searched the old fashion way.
Chris held off on choosing a replacement: always finding fault with each suggestion; scaring off the two that showed up for a personal interview. Travis had held his tongue, he knew what Chris was doing. He had always dreaded the day when Team Seven would have to replace a member. He knew it was like trying to replace a family member. He decided to give the team another couple of weeks to come to terms with losing their undercover man, while secretly hoping that they could find Ezra in that amount of time. It wasn't looking good.
Buck walked into Chris' office. The mood out in the bullpen was depressing. Worry had turned to anger, which turned to despair. Sinking down into the chair in front of the big oak desk, Buck propped his feet up on the edge and crossed his arms in back of his head. "Not looking good, Chris. The guys are sinking out there."
Chris looked up into his friend's face. Buck was the most loyal person he knew. He was more faithful than a dog. Chris easily read the lines that had appeared the other man's face over the last couple of weeks. Heaving a sigh, Chris leaned back in his chair. "I know, Buck. I don't know where else to have them look. Between JD working on the computer and Vin and Josiah doing leg work, they've just about located everyone on the list of released perps. They even put some names on that list that are still in prison, but would have the money to carry out a kidnapping."
Buck nodded. "Chris, not hearing anything from him this long it's not looking good," Buck said softly. "You know what search and rescue calls it after a certain length of time?" he asked reluctantly.
Chris shut his eyes to the possibility. "Body recovering," he whispered.
Buck continued, "Ezra hasn't been heard from at all. We haven't received any demand signifying he's been kidnapped. No trial is coming up that might be judged in a different light if he weren't there to testify," Buck stated the obvious. "I don't want to say it out loud, Chris. It just makes it seem more plausible, but we have to prepare the others for the possibility when we do find him, it's his body."
Chris drew in a deep breath. He didn't want to be forced down this avenue. Not yet. He was just getting on solid ground from the death of his wife and child. Now he was being asked to ponder the possibility of losing another family member. "We keep looking, Buck. Only when every single rock has been tossed over twice will I go down that road."
Buck gave one sharp nod and seemed relieved that Chris wasn't giving up on their friend just yet. "I'll tell JD to keep searching through the computer banks. The others will go back over the lists and see if they missed anything," Buck stated as he drew his legs back off the desk and set them down. Rising from his chair like a weary old man, Buck cast his friend one last look before leaving.
The next afternoon Dr. Blevins came for him and Ezra realized something else: Dr. C was never seen in this part of the ward. He shook his head at his incompetence processing such information. He had talked to Dr. Belvin about reducing his medication; explaining how detached he felt and how hard it was to think straight. The doctor had agreed to try reducing his medication, but cautioned he would have to do in way that would not draw suspicion from the nurses dispensing the medication. They weren't as incompetent as all the jokes and rumors led people to believe. In fact, it was the nurses who often caught prescription mistakes. Dr. Belvin had explained if he were to suddenly cut out his meds all together it would raise suspicion. Ezra would just have to be patient.
Ezra had then tried to persuade the doctor to give him the meds orally instead of by injection. Once again, the doctor came back with a valid sounding reason for not doing so. It seemed to Ezra if he was almost expecting these arguments and had already prepared answers for him. When he approached the doctor about calling his mother and how as a patient he did have that right to place phone calls, the doctor had actually been stumped for an answer. He had instead guided Ezra onto another topic. Ezra recognized later that the doctor had been too capable of distracting him. It was like he knew what was going on around was wrong, but he couldn't get his thoughts organized enough to figure out a sound solution.
The next couple of days progressed much the same as the day before. Ezra woke feeling refreshed and positive he would be leaving soon, only to be returned to his room after therapy: tired, depleted and depressed. His hate for Chris Larabee growing each day. He would now have to agree with Dr. C.; this entire situation was indeed the agent's planning. There were enough people who either respected the man or feared him to help him carry out such a plan.
It seemed his mind was categorically challenging his trust in each member. He never recalled specifics of each session; he just knew he felt more distrustful of each one daily.
His mind focused on the youngest member of the team when he visited the psychiatrists next.
Like all the previous times, weight forced his eyes closed, he felt overwhelmingly tired. When he had settled, the voice came and with it the pictures. His eyes, like every other time, popping back open with the starting of the voice.
The young face loomed before him. The bright smile that JD flashed so eagerly. The bright shiny eyes that relayed trust, eagerness, innocence, youthfulness and honesty.
"He looks so innocent doesn't he?" the deep voice that Ezra had slowly grown accustom to whispered. "Is he really all that innocent or is he just a better player than you saw him as? Can anyone who went through the police academy and then worked for three years on the force, and then work for the ATF for four years really be all that naïve and innocent? Maybe he simply played you, Ezra? Perhaps he saw you as the biggest threat. The one that would eventually see through his guise. He played all of them with his act. He was the youngest and therefore the most susceptible to pranks, jokes and the first one to be let go. But with his 'innocence' he was everyone's little brother. The one they all protected. And they did protect him, didn't they? Buck took the kid under his wing. Invited JD to move in with him and became his protector. All the while, John Dunne knowing exactly what he was doing. He was enduring himself to all of them, that way, no matter what went wrong, no one would have the ability to blame him. They would blame it on someone else first before ever blaming the kid. JD knew that, didn't he? And who was the best possibility of taking the blame? The black sheep. You.
He played his trump card well and frequently. When he got hurt, he had everyone hovering over him. They would leave you to bleed on some cold concrete warehouse floor if JD had been shot. You were a threat to him. He knew that you would eventually see through his charade. He was always so eager to go undercover with you. Did you wonder why a computer whiz would want to go undercover? Did he want your job? Become more than just another computer genius on the list of the ATF? He wanted your job, your title, and your place. In order to achieve his goals he needed to get you out of the way. What better way than going along with Chris' plan? Chris is to blame for all this. Chris Larabee should die.
Ezra sat on the edge of his bed thinking. He thought back over the last couple of days and realized his mind was only acknowledging what he must have known for a long time, but had tried to fight. He was not the member of the group he had led himself to believe he had been. He haltingly realized that he had been played the fool. How could he have been as tight with the team as the others were? He was gone most of the time on assignment. While they sat around the office, or gathered at Inez, or Chris', he was out doing a job. While they worked eight hours a day for five days, he worked twenty-four/seven. He was coming to terms with the fact that he wasn't really a team member, not like the others were. He decided he had to quit waiting for the doctor to help him. He had to help himself.
Sliding out of bed, he ducked under the bed and removed another strip of wiring. He quickly affected his release from the secured floor like he had managed to do the previous time. This time, though, he wouldn't follow the same plan. Instead, he took the elevator, but instead of going all the way to the floor, he got off two floors later. Ezra stepped off the elevator and took in his surroundings. The bank of elevators had been located at the end of a hall. The nurses station looked to be about three-fourths of the way down. Ezra began walking down the hallway, staying against the same wall as the nursing station. Judging by the way not one room had its lights on, he assumed it to be quite late. That would be good, it meant the late shift and fewer nurses worked the graveyard shift. Slipping along his path, he came to another hall that intersected with the one he was on. Peeking around the corner, he was relieved to find no nursing station. It appeared that this was a walkthrough hall, a corridor that led from one section of the floor to another. Walking more comfortably, he kept walking until he came to a stairwell. Hoping for the best, he pushed on the bar and was relieved when an alarm didn't go off.
Walking as quickly, but quietly, as possible, he made it to the bottom floor. Stepping up to the door, he froze. Imaging the worst, Nathan or one of the others stood just on the other side waiting to grab him. He knew if he was caught again, he might not ever get out of the hospital alive. He would either be killed or taken to another hospital where he would reside for the remainder of his years. He would never be able to garner anyone else's believe that he was who he said he was. Taking several deep breaths, he tried to calm his pounding heart so he could listen for noise coming from the other side. After several minutes, he took a deep breath and cautiously opened the door. When he realized it was an empty foyer, he let out his breath in a sigh of relief.
If this hospital was designed anything like Memorial, he could easily escape. He had done it numerous times. He couldn't keep the smile from spreading on his face. He was in the home stretch, just a little further and he would be out of here and in a few minutes he would disappear into the darkness never to be seen or heard of again. Ezra was almost giddy with happiness. Slipping into one of the numerous general doctors' offices that were located throughout the hospital, he closed the door behind him and did a quick search of the area. This doctor obviously didn't make this office his home because it held a sparse number of things; a prescription pad and doctor cards would do him no good. Looking through the drawers, he finally hit the gold mine. A fresh set of scrubs, the flimsy slip on's one wore over their shoes during surgery and a white coat, obviously stored in case of emergencies. Slipping out of his clothes, he slipped on the green scrubs. The man must have been Nathan's size because the shirt was too large as well as the pants, but the pants had drawstrings. Tightening the pants as tight as possible, he put the white coat over his top and hoped if he met anyone, they wouldn't noticed that the sleeves almost hung off his shoulders. Opening the door, he made a quick check of his surroundings and stepped out into the hall like he belonged.
Ezra could see the doors in sight. He held himself in check and kept his gait steady. Taking a deep breath, he knew it was now or never. Pushing the door open, he peered around the door and stepped out into the dark night. The door he had taken led out into the back of the hospital, at this hour all was deserted. Pausing for a moment, he tilted his head up and looked at stars and the bright moon. Feeling the cool breeze brushing against his cheeks, Ezra had never realized how much he had taken moments like this for granted before. Shaking his head, he realized he needed to be moving along. Stealing across the empty lot, he headed for the nearest street. A figure pushed himself off the wall and slid into the shadows cast by the building. Immediately, Ezra became aware of a presence. Trying to ignore the rising hairs on the back of his neck, he kept walking, afraid to look back. The kicking of a stone had Ezra whipping around to face the stalker lurking in the shadows. He stopped in shock as he came face-to-face with Josiah.
"You didn't think it would be that easy did you?" the big man smirked.
Ezra's determination to be free grew with force as he threw a right cross, striking the other man in the temple. Ezra winced when the man's face snapped to the side, but immediately recoiled at the look the man shot his way when the eyes came back to settle on him. Ezra blocked and parried with the other man for a couple of minutes before the agent landed a blow to the side of cheek. The blow was hard and did the trick as darkness crowded in and he slumped to the ground.
Sitting out in the big living room, Ezra watched the clock on the wall. It was almost time for his session with the doctor and, with it, the drugs. Ezra no longer fought the injections. Instead it was a relief to be drugged, he almost craved it now. After his dose, Dr. Belvin came and got him. Ezra no longer questioned Dr. C about getting out, he now knew it was futile. The undercover agent was slowly losing hope of ever leaving this sanctuary. As he sat down in the chair, Vin's picture flashed before his eyes. The realization that the sharpshooter was less faithful than he had let himself believe burned almost as bad as realizing Buck's deceit.
Several different scenarios involving the sharpshooter flashed before him. Ezra was no longer able to discern whether the images were photo or really in his mind and bought forth by the voice. The voice was always there, guiding him through the memories. "Do you remember your first nation-wide agency gathering? The whole team had gathered to watch Vin win his spot towards the championship finals, but did one of them show up to see you win your placement? No. They didn't care about you. They never did. You were nothing but a token to achieve their goal. When you and Vin went scouting the back roads for those punks and Vin rolled the SUV that ya'll had borrowed from the car dealership that morning, who was the first person they pulled from the wreckage? Vin. Mr. Larabee didn't even bother caring that you were injured. All he wanted to do was rescue his fair-haired sharpshooter. Whose side did he sit by in the hospital? Whose side does Chris Larabee always chose to be by? You are cast aside like nothing and Vin knows it and does nothing about it, does he? Who would Chris pick to save if it was between you and that sharpshooter? You know the answer, don't you? Of course you do. You mean nothing to Chris Larabee. Vin is everything. Heck, Vin was the one who masterminded that little prank that involved getting you to witness that explosion. He set it up for you to take the blame. And you did, didn't you. You played right into his hand."
The voice continued on, "Him, playing the dumb Texan with his 'Aw shucks' attitude. How many times has he spilled all your secrets to Chris? How many times have the two of them laughed over your gullibility to trust in that sharpshooter. Getting you to trust him and all the while he was sharing your secrets with his good friend, Chris. It was a trick and you fell for it. How often have the two of you played pranks on the other team members? And who is the one that always catches the revenge?Nobody is going to touch Vin; he's Chris'pal, his right-hand man, and his brother. You will always be the scapegoat and that's just how he liked it. He came to the hospital and did he stand up for you when he had the chance? No. He's Chris compatriot to the very end. Chris should learn how it feels come in second place. Chris Larabee should die."
Ezra lay in his bed staring up at the ceiling. Time was no longer traceable. He had no idea how long he had been locked up in this hospital. He knew in the beginning he had been determined to escape, but over time it seemed so futile. There was no way to get out without being caught. Dr. C. had informed him that there was always someone loitering around that looked suspicious to him.
Dr. Comantaryian had steadily increased the length of his sessions. At first, Ezra had protested, but the doctor had convinced him they had to keep up the charade for any interested parties that were keeping tabs on the situation. After a few sessions, Ezra didn't really pay attention to the length of his sessions. Patients like him usually had longer sessions once the patient began showing signs of improvement and wanting to get better. He was counting on the doctor more than he was comfortable with, but he was stuck and he knew it. Maude had always said, "Lord helps those who help themselves. Everyone else was on their own." So he tried to help himself by befriending the only person who believed him and had promised to help him get out.
Axle Coltrane sat back in his wingback chair watching the light dance of the amber colored contents in the snifter twirling gently in his hand. A smile that was meant to be pleasant, but would scare most men, graced his face; an evil looking gleam resided in his hazel eyes. Earlier in the day he had began making the preparations for the finale of his macabre play. The details were coming together nicely and he was enjoying the evening in silent celebration. In less than a week, he would watch the downfall of the touted Magnificent Team Seven of the ATF. Afterwards, he would board a plane and leave the country.
The liquid swirled lazily in the glass. Around and around it went, lapping up on the sides every so often. Coltrane found the motion almost hypnotic and laughed at the irony of such a thought. He had been doing the same thing to a certain undercover agent for over two weeks, using drugs and yet a simple motion like his brandy was doing the same thing to him, relaxing him into a comfort zone where he let go of his control over his mind and let it freely roam.
The mind was a wonderful and complicated organ of the brain. to control the rest of the body; --breathing, heart rate, the ability to think about and then move a limb--was faster than the speed of sound. The ability to process and store memory was far greater than the first computer ever made. In fact, it had taken scientist decades to create something that could be equated with the brain. Coltrane had always been interested in knowing what made a person tick. How was the brain involved in the makeup of one's personality. Only after going to prison, did he start really studying about the interest. Then he had focused his learning in how to manipulate it. He had been surprised at how easy it was. It just took time and patience. If time wasn't allowed then there were drugs.
When Coltrane had first pledged to destroy team Seven, he had been unsure how he was going to do it. He just knew he would. After deciding that it would be best if one of their own began the destruction, he began to slowly formulate a plan. He had looked over every piece of information his lawyer could get his hands on, and then he had began the process of elimination. He knew what he wanted, he just had to pick the best person for the job. That's when he had decided on the undercover agent. He was gone most of the time on assignment and therefore, while close to his teammates, he didn't get to enjoy the constant day-to-day interaction like the rest did. Getting Agent Standish to allow himself to be subjected to treatment had been planned out very carefully and timing had been crucial. Coltrane had waited through three busts before the right one presented it to him and Chris Larabee was the one who made his choice for him. The thought of the tall blond leader made his heart beat a bit faster. Today had been the best session yet. Today they had targeted Chris Larabee. Using the man who bought him down to bring Larabee down was what made this effort so sweet.
Ezra had quit fighting. A man can only struggle against the truth for so long before succumbing to the truth or that which is perceived as the truth. The day-to-day schedule had become a new part of his life. He had lost hope of ever getting out. He wasn't aware of his lost hope. It just seemed natural. As he sat in the outer room, the other patients around him went unnoticed. His mind no longer functioning like the fine tune machine it once was. Now it was blank and unthinking, Ezra had to admit it was actually nice to be able to sit and let his mind be completely blank. Nothing hurt anymore, the memories, the pain of past injustices, nothing. Ezra took a deep breath and settled deeper into the chair.
Chris' face flickered in front of him and pure rage flowed through Ezra's system. Larabee -- the man to whom he had given his explicit trust and had it thrown back in his face. As he stared at the face before him, Ezra studied the green eyes staring back at him. Those eyes had held so much faith, promise, loyalty and Ezra had given him everything back in spades. He had given the man his respect, something precious few other men had garnered unwaveringly.
The voice was barely a whisper as Ezra recounted the number of times, he had gone out on a limb for the man. He had put his life in jeopardy more than he could count because bringing in the case meant a lot to the blond. He had starting caring what the blond thought of him as, not only an agent, but a man and had put it all on the line to prove to Chris that he was worth the respect Chris had shown him. Now it was apparent it had all been a ploy to get recognition for the team. The team, and Chris, would not have the record they did if not for him and they had all turned on him, on Chris' simple word.
"Who is it that Chris let his ire out on the most?" The voice asked. "How long did it take for Chris to warm up to the other members of the team? How long was it before Chris even began to treat you with a reasonable amount of civility? Who came last on his list of concern? When you were drained from a case, did Mr. Larabee care? How fast did he expect you to jump from one case to another? Did he ever give you the credit you deserved when he was up there beside the mayor accepting any of the many awards the team was given? Or did he give the team the credit? Where was the team when things went wrong? Who got blamed when, on the rare occasion, the case didn't go through right? Or worse, when someone was injured? You. It was always like that wasn't it? The team got the credit and you got the blame. When Colonel Norton took Nathan, Vin, JD and you hostage, Chris blamed you automatically, didn't he? He didn't care about your welfare. Instead, he lashed out and hit you, like he always did. He took the others to the hospital, but left you behind to not only fend for yourself, but to take care of the horses. But, who was it that he expected to save them all, when Norton came back and captured all of you? Norton was after Larabee, and Larabee turned to you to save them, instead of saving his own men. He plays both sides of fence. Using you when it's to his benefit, casting you aside when you have nothing of value to offer him.
The voice kept going. "Which one would he sacrifice at a moment's notice without any pretext of thought? You. You were only wanted for what you could offer the team. You were only accepted because you had a talent so few have. But the rewards didn't match having to put up with you. You are worthless except for your talent of lying and deceiving people. Everyone gets tired of you. Even your own mother. Did you really think Mr. Larabee was any different? He tired of you and had to think of a way that he could get rid of you where no questions were asked. Do you know what he's saying about you? He's telling everyone you turned to the other side. He's reinforcing everyone's belief that you are the dirty agent they had you pegged for in Atlanta. This is the reward you get for letting your guard down and trusting the man."
Ezra fought the pain ripping him apart from the inside out. It was all so true. He had put it all out there for the blond who had promised a new life. Chris had been the light at the end of the tunnel back in Atlanta, when he walked through those doors and offered him a clean slate. A new job, a new home and new beginning and in the end, Chris had yanked that all away from him. He could not longer fight the indelible truth, he was nothing more to the team than an ends to their means. He felt himself breaking on the inside and no longer had the strength to fight it. As he looked up at the large screened picture of Chris Larabee, the voice told him what he needed to do to make the pain stop. He must kill Chris Larabee.
Ezra woke in his room, tired and drained. His limbs felt like limp rags. He needed to use the facilities, but didn't have the strength to even buzz the nurses. He laid there on his side, staring out into the darkness, seeing nothing, both figuratively and literally. Life held nothing for him anymore. He only had one mission in life now and he would fail at that simply because he couldn't emancipate himself from what was once such an easy predicament. The darkness remained, both on the outside and the inside of Ezra's world. Finally closing his eyes, Ezra let himself slip back into a world of painless slumber.
The next morning he awoke feeling no better. Nurse Mandlin walked into his room with a small syringe. He held out his arm for her to put it in the IV and realized with a certain amount of surprise that his IV line had been removed. Looking quizzically at the nurse, he asked, "I didn't realize it had been removed." The words seeming too much even for the simplicity in which they were spoken.
The nurse smiled gently, but slightly confused and replied, "Took out two weeks ago, sweetie. Don't you remember? She made a mental note to mention this to the doctor. Mandlin brightened up a bit as she went on, "Dr. Belvin said you had a real break through though and has high hopes for a faster recovery now."
"Yes, I did come to some enlightening revelations," Ezra said morosely.
"That's good," the nurse said encouragingly. "I know it's hard, but in the end it'll be better," she said, not knowing how close to the truth she was getting.
"Yes, I suppose in the end we all get what we deserve," Ezra said flatly, as he watched detachedly as the nurse gave him the small injection of whatever medicine he would be receiving. "I'll come by later and check on you, okay,doll?" Nurse Mandlin said as she left the room.
"I'll await your kind visage," Ezra said, feeling the tiniest bit better.
Later after lunch, Ezra laid on his bed waiting his daily session with Dr. C, not caring how he looked anymore. What good were appearances in a place like this? He taken his mandatory shower and shaved his face. He hated the scratchy feeling facial hair caused him. He really didn't know why it was necessary to keep up the charade, but Mandlin had been by and told him, he would be going to his regular counseling session. A few minutes later, he heard the click of the lock on his room door, but didn't bother to turn over and see whom it was. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered.
Dr. Belvin walked around the bed and leaned down on the mattress. His face was uncomfortably close to Ezra's and he tried to back up, but was restrained by a hand on his arm. "Dr. C and I have come up with a plan to get you out of here," the man in the white coat whispered.
Ezra stilled. Looking for any traces of a lie, he stared at the physician and waited. Dr. Belvin continued, "You'll escape on your way to the session. Dr. C and I couldn't believe we hadn't thought of this earlier," he said in a way of an apology.
Ezra asked hesitantly, "What about those who wait and watch?"
"That's the beauty of the plan. We figure they won't be watching during that time because they'll be expecting you to be in session and you've never tried to escape during that time," Dr. Belvin explained, having to wing it as he went.
Suddenly Ezra realized the truth of it. He mentally kicked himself. Why hadn't he tried that? he asked himself, chastising himself over his own stupidity. The plan in its simplest form just might work. Suddenly he began seeing a hint of light in an otherwise dark room he feared he would spend the rest of life in.
"What about clothes?" Ezra asked, knowing a person walking around in hospital wear would draw attention.
Dr. Belvin explained the rest of the plan, "Dr. C will be waiting for you in his office like always. Once inside, he has clothes waiting for you. Once you've changed, Dr. C will escort you out as if you are a colleague. Dr. C will take you a hotel where you can stay and rest for a couple of days," the doctor finished his outlined plan with sincerity worthy an Oscar. Of course, if it had been in the beginning and without the drugs, Ezra would have seen through the lie like a three-dollar bill, but not any more. What and who Ezra once was had been stripped away by time, drugs and suggestions.
Ezra stood up and followed the doctor out his room. He was hesitant to believe he would really be getting out of here. He would refrain from true belief until he was safely ensconced in that motel room with his own room key and locks on the door to keep whoever he wanted out.
Arriving in Dr. C's presence, Ezra felt hope flicker ever so lightly when the man presented him with a suit. Slipping into the private bathroom, Ezra relished the feel of the clothes as he slipped them on. Looking into the mirror, he felt a little bit like his old self.
Stepping out of the bathroom, his appearance met with approval. "Let's get you out of here, shall we?" Coltrane said as he opened up the outer door and checked the hallway. After confirming it was empty, he motioned for Ezra to follow him. The undercover felt as nervous as he had on his first solo mission. Checking the halls for himself before following, Ezra couldn't help but feel like a character in one those silly TV comedies. Walking down the hall, butterflies emerged in his stomach. He entered the elevator with Dr. C at his side. Coltrane looked over at his stool pigeon and offered some reassurance, "We're going to make it."
Ezra nodded politely. "I sure hope so," he said quietly.
Arriving at the basement floor, Ezra was almost reluctant to step off. Gathering his breath, he walked out into the hallway. Walking down the hallway, he followed Coltrane out the door at the far end. Fresh air never felt so good. Stopping to take a look around, Ezra never thought he'd never be so happy to see the outside of a hospital as he was at that point. Dr. C gestured to a car that was parked at the entryway.
Ezra climbed into the car and buckled up. A fleeting thought crossed his mind that he should be apprehensive about this particular ordeal, but he realized he had nowhere else to go; literally,
Fifteen minutes later, the car pulled into a moderately nice looking hotel. The agent waited in the car while Coltrane went in a paid for a room, the less people to see him the better. Coltrane exited the lobby and drove the car around to the far end of the building. The two got out of the car and Dr. C slid the card through the glide and opened the door. Ezra felt a sudden rush of euphoria as the idea that he was finally free began to sink in. Bouncing down on the bed, he couldn't help but grin. The rushing of emotions was almost too much for him. He laid back on the bed and crossed his arms under his head as he watched Coltrane place the lone piece of luggage he'd retrieved from the trunk into the small closet. The man who had had promised him freedom and risked his license to help was truly a good man.
Coltrane handed him the card and told Ezra he would be back later to check on him. Taking a wad of twenties, he handed them to Ezra. " In case you want to order in some food," he explained.
Ezra accepted the cash with gratitude. "Thank you," Ezra said, sticking out his hand. He found himself suddenly at a loss of words to adequately thank his savior.
"Think nothing of it. I'm glad to have helped," Coltrane said as he returned the handshake.