Previous Stories in this Series
The South Wind
The Mouths of Crocodiles
High and Dry
Brothers in Arms
Buck kicked his feet up and rested them on the edge of the conference room table thinking about the events of late. It was a Saturday morning and Chris had ordered the team in early because he had some things he wanted to discuss. Everyone but Ezra was scheduled to arrive. Chris had ordered the Southerner to take a four-day leave of absence to regroup, to get himself collected. The team leader knew he was right in making the order when Ezra didn't refuse. The episode with his mother had caused him to become even more withdrawn from the rest of the team. The idea of sharing his thoughts on the matter was a subject he wouldn't broach with anyone. Chris and his men couldn't blame him.
Chris figured if it had been anyone else on the team who had gone through what the Southerner had things might have turned out differently. Except, maybe for Vin. The sharpshooter, Chris thought, may have acted in a similar manner. Turning himself inward, keeping his feelings and emotions away from the others. Buck, Chris was sure, would have been bailed out of jail on more than one occasion. Buck was about as volatile as himself when it came to certain things, and one of those things was betrayal. Josiah would have sought wisdom from those who came before him and sought sanctuary in the one place he felt at home, a church. Chris didn't even want to think how JD would have reacted. The kid had more faith in his fellow man than the rest of them combined. Nathan knew what it was like to face betrayal. His mother had been horribly raped and later died at her own hand. His father, a New York City police officer, had done what he could to keep his family together. But on a tragic January evening he was shot and killed by police officers driving patrol in a white neighborhood. He had been visiting his partner, who had weeks earlier been hit by a car while in a foot race with a suspect.
The team leader looked at his long time friend and chuckled. Buck had a way about him that made people want to stop and get to know him. His laid back personality and good looks made him irresistible with the ladies. Because it was a Saturday the ladies man felt the need to dress down, not that he ever dressed up, but the holey jeans and 'Elvis lives' tee shirt gave even dressing down a new meaning.
Chris looked toward JD and Vin when they entered the conference room. JD set his ever-present 32oz Coke on the table and slid into his chair next to Buck. Vin turned his chair around and sat down. He grabbed a small bag of beef jerky out of his pocket and grinned seeing the looks coming from the other three men at the table. Josiah and Nathan both entered and the team leader looked up and smiled. Josiah's legalize hemp shirt and military pants caused him to choke on the sip of coffee he'd just taken. The only thing he was missing was the peace sign necklace but Chris had to wonder if it wasn't under the shirt hidden from view. Nathan, as always, came in impeccably dressed in black slacks and a light blue shirt. If Josiah wasn't such a good friend to the medic Chris would have thought Nathan would be embarrassed to be seen with him.
"Boys," Chris spoke up looking around the table to his men. He stood up and threw down the files he'd made up concerning their undercover agent.
"What's this?" JD asked, opening up the file and started to read.
Chris returned to his seat and opened up the file he'd left for himself. "I want to put an end to the rumors concerning Ezra."
"Hasn't he already tried?" Buck looked questionably at the team leader.
"Yeah but he's always tried it on his own this time he's got the six of us." Chris stressed the last point making sure they all understood.
"Does he know about this?" Vin spoke up knowing the Southerner would be against the idea. He wouldn't want anyone looking into his background.
"No," Chris shook his head, "and I don't want him to. I want JD to start researching Ezra's bank records." He stopped when he heard Nathan clear his throat. "Is there a problem?"
"I don't think we should be investigating areas of Ezra's life that are private, he already has a hard time trusting us." Nathan voiced his opinion.
"I'm not concerned about his private life. I am, however, concerned about this team. I'm tired of it. Every step we take someone or something is throwing these accusations in his face." Chris laid it on the line. "I want it stopped." He paused and looked back at Nathan. Nathan nodded his head in understanding not offering any further objection. "JD look into Ezra's bank records and look for any large or suspicious deposits."
JD shifted nervously in his seat, "Don't you think the Feds would have done all this I mean if they didn't find any grounds for dismissal what do you think we're going to find?"
"I don't think we're going to find anything," Chris cleared his throat. "But I do want to make sure we have all the evidence we need just in case this thing surfaces again." JD nodded his head. "Josiah." The team leader looked to the big man, "I want you and Nathan to try and find out who started the rumors. See if you can find a department, a name, or anything that could prove useful." Chris directed his attention toward Vin and Buck. "You two track down all of Ezra's old cases. We'll see if we can tie in any connections from cases to accusations."
"What are you gonna do?" Buck asked closing the manila file.
"Somehow Carson is involved in this I'm gonna try and find out how." Chris stood up and headed for the door. "Don't talk to anyone, including Ezra, he doesn't need to know."
"What if he finds out?" JD asked getting to his feet.
"Pray he doesn't." Chris tipped his imaginary hat before exiting the conference room.
Buck slapped JD on the arm with his file as the kid walked by. JD responded by hitting him over the head with his file. "Hate to break the news to ya Buck, but Elvis is dead."
"Wrong," Buck snapped getting to his feet. "Elvis went home." The ladies man walked past the kid who laughed when he noticed the back of Buck's tee shirt. A photo of earth and in bold print above it was written 'wish he were here'.
"Yes, Brother Dunne," Josiah smiled getting to his feet behind Nathan. "The King went home." Josiah grabbed JD by the shoulder and pulled him out of the conference room.
+ + + + + + +
JD worked diligently on the computer until he managed to pull up Ezra's bank records since his start with the FBI. Fortunately he didn't find anything to capture his or anyone else's attention. He collected and printed up the data for Chris. The kid didn't have to be told to do something twice and he knew the team leader had Ezra's best interests at heart.
Buck and Vin continued to gather all the information they could on the cases Ezra had worked while in Atlanta. Buck contacted Harry Kessler and with his help they managed to gather all the case information they could. Harry was more than willing to help. He faxed and emailed all he could. Vin sorted and cross-referenced names, dates, and case files while Buck continued to gather all the information that was available.
Nathan and Josiah made phone calls, posing as IA personnel needing any and all information regarding rumors concerning Standish. Once Josiah and Nathan informed the FBI agents they were speaking to on the phone that they were IA nobody held anything back. Apparently, Ezra wasn't liked by anyone.
Chris stepped out of his office and rubbed his face in frustration. He'd spent the past few hours looking over anything in Carson's past that could prove useful. The team leader needed an explanation on why the balding FBI agent had a grudge against the Southerner. Only he couldn't find anything on paper. Ezra's former supervisor, Eric Anderson, seemed to be the only connection between Ezra and Carson. Even then the connections were thin.
+ + + + + + +
JD and Vin placed the bags of food on the conference room table. The smell of flame-broiled whoppers embedded the room as the other members of Chris's team gathered around to collect their orders. Chris tacked photographs, names, and case files both solved and unsolved up on the large corkboard. He reached back and took the carton of French fries from Vin all the while looking at the information in front of him.
"Something doesn't fit," Chris muttered under his breath.
"The accusations started four years ago," Josiah spoke up. "Apparently some of the cases Ezra had been working on were compromised by misleading evidence. Rumors started floating around the office that Ezra had taken a payoff in return for destroying evidence."
"Jared Harrison," Buck added, jumping in. "Seems the problems started while Ezra was investigating our mysterious Mr. Harrison."
"Wasn't Harrison the guy Ez was researchin' in Atlanta when we first met 'im?" Vin asked, looking to Chris. "Anderson just about had a calf when he found Ez in the office goin' through those files."
"Vin's right," Chris agreed, leaning back against the table while munching on his fries.
"Maybe this Harrison guy is the reason behind the rumors," JD offered up his opinion.
"But why?" Chris challenged. "And why would Maude know more about it than us." He turned and slid into a chair. "The guy she hired to pose as an FBI agent used the Harrison case as the reason behind my suspension of Ezra."
"Maybe Harrison is the obvious choice," Nathan pointed out, looking at Chris.
"But why?" Chris challenged again. "How many files do we have here?" He looked around the room. "Each one of these files is packed full of information, photographs, and wire tap records. How much do we have on Harrison?"
"A name," Buck offered.
"As far as we know Jared Harrison could be an alias. There aren't any photos, bank records, proof of citizenship, or a driver's license for this guy," Chris ranted, grabbing his coffee cup.
"Maybe Ez found out who he is?" JD spoke up pulling at the straw to his drink.
Chris and Josiah both nodded their heads. "But why not kill him right off? Why take the risk of him exposing what he knows?" The team leader continued to throw out questions to his team hoping for any answers that could help them analyze the situation.
"Ezra has always claimed that he found something. That he stepped into something. Hell " Buck crumpled up the paper that his sandwich had come in and tossed it into the garbage can. "Even Harry said Ez must have found something he wasn't suppose to have."
"But what?" Vin jumped in. "And even if he did find somethin' he wasn't suppose to have, why would rumors start?"
"To discredit him," Nathan theorized. "By labeling him as taking payoffs who's going to trust him within his own agency? So if he ever did find out anything that could prove incriminating on, lets say, someone with a certain amount of position or power. Who's going to believe a dirty cop?" He understood how the rumors had tarnished his own ideas of the Southerner.
"Could explain why he won't go to anyone and why he feels the need to gather solid evidence rather than risk a case." Buck surmised.
"Still doesn't answer Chris's question. Why not take him out before he could gather solid evidence? Why would they kill White and not Ezra?" Josiah posed the questions.
"White had cancer," Chris reasoned. "He didn't have much time anyway." Almost as soon as he said it the idea flashed into his mind that White's shooter or person who hired the shooter knew that fact, and possibly used him to their advantage.
"And Ezra said they shot him in the chest to make it look like an accident. He said a head shot would have looked intentional." JD remembered back to the conversation he'd had with Ezra after the shooting.
"Ah hell," Buck said, leaning back in his chair. "That raises a butt load of other questions."
"We know Harrison is somehow involved in this. Anderson and Carson both don't like Ezra for reasons none of us can explain " Chris was cut off by Josiah's voice.
"This could be something as simple as jealousy," the big man mused out loud, bringing up another avenue the team had yet to explore. He looked around to the confused faces of his teammates. "Think about it. Ezra was twenty-two when the Bureau recruited him, within six months after attending the academy he was working undercover. That's extraordinary by any standards."
"You think he might have stepped on some toes?" Vin asked, finishing his last fry.
"It's not that I don't find your point valid Josiah, but why destroy the kid's career because he can do a job better than anyone else, including veterans who have been at it for years." Chris looked again at his men.
"All I'm saying is if Ezra did step on some toes when he first started, there are a lot of hard feelings and when he needed some backing and some support he wasn't about to get it because of his reputation." Josiah nodded his head as if agreeing with himself. "Ezra has been in the system for ten years. Longer than anyone else at this table. I'm not denying your ability or knowledge of working within the Bureau but Ezra has seen more than anyone of us. Hell," Josiah sighed and took a deep breath. "We all are experienced in our own fields. How many years were you with the SEALS before you joined up with the Denver SWAT?" Josiah looked to Chris.
"Six years," Buck and Chris spoke in unison.
"How about you Vin, how long did you hunt bounty in Nevada after you got out of the Army?" Josiah looked to the sharpshooter who nodded his head in understanding. "Ezra knows the ins and outs of the system. He's still alive because of it. We're not going to find anything out until he tells us about it, and that is something none of us can force him to do."
"Do you think he knows, knows what it is he's dealing with?" JD asked looking to the big man for an answer.
"I don't know," Josiah hesitantly admitted. "But I do know that someone or something is watching out for him because this is bigger than any of us are prepared for."
"How do you mean?" Buck looked up from the table.
"Gut instincts Brother."
"No offense Josiah, but your gut instincts SUCK!" Buck chuckled and looked around the room.
"Maybe Ezra's like Keyser Soze, like in the movie The Usual Suspects," JD quipped. "You know maybe he's really Jared Harrison." The kid was rather fond of that movie. Plus he thought the idea of the underdog really being the instigator appealed to him. Because he really liked Ezra and he didn't like seeing him in such a mess.
"Damn kid," Buck groused, standing up. "You watch too many movies."
"It's an idea. Hell maybe Maude is Harrison."
"She's good kid, but she ain't that good," Buck said, following JD out of the conference room.
Chris shook his head watching the show before him. The kid did have a wild imagination. "It's almost 6:00, why don't you guy's go on home."
"When's Ez suppose to be back?" Vin stood up throwing away his garbage.
"Wednesday." Chris got to his feet and stretched his back. He followed his men out of the office. The team leader looked around at his men and saw for the thousandth time his men, but this was the first time he saw them as a team and not individuals. He'd worked hard to gather this group of misfits, troublemakers, and rogues together to form the team they had become. Chris didn't think they knew when it happened, but it did happen. And it was a pleasing sight. They looked out for each other, much like brothers who'd been separated at birth forced to live their lives differently from the rest but still brothers who shared the same pains, the same fears, and the same dreams. Chris slipped his coat on and headed for the elevator. "I'll see you boys tomorrow at my place." An echo of 'see ya's' could be heard as the team leader headed out.
Chris woke up and looked over at his clock, 8:15. He'd slept late. His dog 'Wasted', the name Buck had given the animal because he looked like he lived in a drug induced haze, sat at the foot of his bed looking curiously at his master. The black Lab had been a gift from his SWAT team after the birth of Adam. "It's to damn early," Chris muttered throwing the blankets off his legs and setting his bare feet on the cold floor. He didn't hear the horses nickering for him to come feed them, the sound that always woke him before his alarm clock. The tall blonde got to his feet and headed to the window over looking the barn and yard. He grabbed his robe off the old rocker that Sara had nursed Adam in to keep the chill from his bones. Wasted nudged his master's hand wanting a pat on the head as Chris pulled the curtains away from the window. He closed them not seeing anything out of the ordinary and turned to walk away only to stop suddenly and take another look out the window. Parked next to his Ram was the familiar black Jag that his undercover agent drove. Chris took another look and furrowed his brow in wonder. "Well, I'll be damned," he said looking again to the clock next to his bed.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra threw the Navajo weave blanket up over China's back and withers and quickly made sure it was square. He then grabbed the Australian stock saddle and carefully placed it on her back. The mare stood quietly while the Southerner moved about getting her ready for a short ride. He'd been working with her for two and a half months and from the beginning she acted like a pro. There wasn't a mean bone in her body, at least any that he could find. Of course Chris and the others said differently, complaining about her biting habit, but Ezra didn't see it or he chose to ignore it. China had been a gift from the one person Ezra had felt close to, Jules Montier. The Frenchmen had sent China to Ezra out of friendship and because he wanted to see the young Southerner get the animal before his death. Montier had died of cancer just weeks after Ezra received the animal.
The Southerner quickly finished buckling up the cinch and moved up to her shoulder to secure the running martingale when China reached around and nudged his arm wanting another piece of sugar. When she didn't get it she tipped her back foot and sighed in disappointment. She'd have to wait until after the ride.
Ezra unhooked the halter and quickly got the mare bridled. He held firmly in his grasp the soft cotton reins as he led China toward the pipe gate leading to the indoor arena.
Chris stood back and watched as his undercover agent handled the horse with an experience he hadn't expected. He knew the Southerner had been working the horse but he'd always done it when nobody was around. This was the first time Chris had ever seen Ezra at the ranch and it shocked him to see him here this early in the day. The tall blonde clenched his jaw in anticipation when the Southerner mounted up. He was surprised to see China stand perfectly still until Ezra got seated. Chris walked up to the piped gate and rested his forearms on the top rail. He continued to watch as Ezra took the filly through her motions.
Chris smiled when the pair galloped by the gate and Ezra tipped his imaginary hat in acknowledgment. "She's lookin' good," he called after the team. Ezra pulled China to a stop and walked over to the gate. "Give me ten minutes and I'll take you out back to ride up the trail a ways." He waited until the undercover agent nodded and Chris turned to get his own horse ready.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah had been right when he said Chris's ranch was beautiful riding country. Even in the winter months. China looked around the landscape in curiosity she didn't pay much attention to the black bay gelding that walked keeping in step with her. The breeze picked up and both Chris and Ezra pulled the collar of their coats up closer around their necks.
"Who paid her off?" Ezra broke the silence and asked the question he'd wanted to ask since his mother had made off with the brief case she held tighter than she ever held him.
Chris looked to the ground and paused. For some reason, he'd known all along that the Southerner knew who was behind his abduction. Chris had hoped he didn't know but obviously that wasn't the case. "David Montgomery," Chris responded looking to Ezra for a reaction.
The Southerner nodded his head and looked out past the trail not surprised. Of all the men that had played the part of his stepfather Montgomery was the only one who had a conscious and because he used to be a raving drunk Ezra knew Maude had probably played on his guilt in order to get what she wanted. If there was one thing he learned from her, it was perseverance; she didn't stop at anything and she didn't let anyone get in her way. In a way he was thankful, otherwise he might have quit the Bureau. But he didn't. He tried to ignore the harsh words and accusations. He didn't let his coworkers' opinions of him tarnish his job or how he performed it. However, as much as he tried, the words still stung and the accusations made him place doubt in himself and his ability to do his job. Not that he'd ever show or admit it.
"Montgomery seemed genuinely concerned," Chris spoke up breaking the silence.
"Guilt can force anyone to comply with the right incentive."
"Did he get drunk a lot?"
Ezra looked at the team leader surprised he knew Montgomery had a history with the bottle. It made the Southerner wonder how much more he knew. "Enough." Ezra gave China a pat on the neck not wanting to continue the conversation.
"Did he beat you a lot?"
Ezra visibly cringed and turned his eyes forward. "Apparently Mr. Montgomery and my mother had quite a lot to discuss before money changed hands."
Chris didn't miss the sarcasm in his voice. "I don't think discuss would be an accurate description of what happened." He smiled, trying to lighten the moment.
Ezra furrowed his brow in speculation. He questioned his senses for asking the next question. "What happened?" The muscles in his jaw flexed as he anticipated an answer.
Chris paused a moment, thinking of the best way to explain, "Your mother came in the day after you disappeared." He looked over at his undercover agent whose impenetrable mask was in place. "A day later we found your shirt covered in blood with a note attached. Your kidnappers wanted $350, 000 for your return."
"$350,000," Ezra muttered in disbelief. "She's upped the ante."
Chris listened to Ezra's tone and decided it was in reference to the kidnapping when he was just a boy. "She didn't want to get the cops involved so she called Montgomery who showed up a few hours later with the cash plus $150,000 more if she told us where you were." Chris looked again at the Southerner who seemed to be content to watch the trail ahead. "Maude claimed she didn't know but Montgomery broke down her barriers and some things were said, or yelled, depending on your point of view." Ezra nodded his head in understanding and Chris continued. "We found you forty five minutes later."
"I take it my mother was getting a divorce?"
"Yes," Chris confirmed solemnly. "Do you hate her?" He went ahead and asked, feeling like he was asking questions that Josiah would be better suited for.
"It would be exceedingly easier if I did," Ezra admitted reluctantly under his breath.
Chris took what Ezra had to say and tried to understand how it would feel to be betrayed by the person you're suppose to be closest to. His gut wrenched at the thought of the idea. "So why did Montgomery take a baseball bat to you?" Chris decided to push, he didn't know when the Southerner would ever be this open again and he wanted to get all the information he could out of him.
Ezra ran his thumb over his bottom lip. "Mr. Montgomery, to say the least, was a violent drunk. He didn't drink all the time, but when he did it was best to stay out of his way." He told it like it was. "My mother and Mr. Montgomery were in the middle of an argument, I can't remember what the argument was about, but I do remember he threw a vodka bottle at her nearly striking her in the head " Ezra paused before continuing, " I had just gotten back from boarding school, walked into the study, and saw Montgomery pick up his baseball bat and start toward my mother. I of course, seeing this and threw my book bag at him. Well, he in turn takes a swing at me end of story." The undercover agent flexed his hand and rolled his wrist at the memory.
Chris noticed the hand movement and understood the implication. The baseball bat had connected with the Southerner's arm. "Did your mother leave him afterward?"
Ezra once again ran his thumb across his bottom lip and looked out toward the snow-covered field to his right. "My mother threw me in the back of her car and we started for Alabama. She dropped me off in a hospital three days later." He cleared his throat. "Seven years ago Mr. Montgomery was driving his daughter back from the University of Texas when they were hit by a drunk driver Leanne was killed on impact; Montgomery spent three weeks in the hospital and the inebriated driver walked away without a scratch." Ezra ran his hand through his hair. "He came to see me after he got sober, one of the steps in the twelve step program, I understand, is to make amends with those you've wronged in some way." He laughed and shook his head. "He wanted to make me the beneficiary to his will."
Chris looked over at the Southerner surprised. "You didn't want it?"
Ezra looked at Chris with his eyebrow raised. "I'm not that suicidal."
Chris nodded his head in understanding. If Maude was willing to have him kidnapped and held for ransom for $350,000, there was no telling how far she would go for an estate like David Montgomery's. "What happened when you were seven?" He went ahead and asked.
Ezra smiled and looked at Chris shaking his head all the while. He was done talking about his past and Chris knew it. The undercover agent's posture had changed and become more guarded despite the smile. Ezra looked back toward the trail and sighed. In spite of the cold air and fresh snow the ride had been therapeutic. Whether it was the steady even gate of his horse or the conversation with Chris it didn't matter. When Ezra glanced back to Chris he knew the blonde wanted to ask another question.
Chris cleared his throat trying to find the right words to ask the question he most needed an answer to. "How did Maude know about Jared Harrison?" He decided to ask in his normally forward manner.
"If my mother is anything, she's resourceful and she knows where to strike when the need arises." Ezra was blunt in the response with Chris. He told it like it was, not bothering to sugar coat the issue.
"So who is Harrison?"
Ezra shrugged his shoulders. "Former FBI Assistant Director Peter Stevens came across a file and asked me to investigate it." Running his fingers through his hair, he continued. "The file contained information regarding a man by the name of William Parker, a known distributor of illegal arms and narcotics. Harrison was his unknown supplier."
"Of weapons or drugs?" Chris furrowed his brow.
"Both," Ezra answered.
"Why isn't this information in the files?"
"While I was undercover I got close to Parker and his men maybe it was my naive ideas or my enthusiasm for the job but I investigated every name that came up. Harrison was one of them I couldn't find anything on him, never getting any closer than a name. I did end up meeting with one of Harrison's men, Peter Karns." Ezra shook his head at the memory. "I ended up turning the Parker investigation into the Harrison investigation, needless to say my superiors didn't take kindly to my interest."
"Is this the mess you stepped in?"
"I think its part of it," Ezra agreed. "While I was still working on the case, Assistant Director Stevens was quietly relieved of his command. Apparently he was sleeping with his sixteen year old babysitter and asked to resign before he could tarnish the FBI's reputation. As for myself I was asked to abandon my investigation or face charges of disobeying a direct order."
"Who ordered you to drop the case?"
"Anderson, who was Assistant Director Stevens replacement," Ezra quickly replied, brushing falling snow from the sleeve of his coat. "Two months later I'm under investigation for taking a payoff in return for destroying evidence concerning Harrison."
"I thought you said you didn't find any information?" Chris asked.
"There wasn't any. The evidence I was accused of destroying never existed, which in turn cast doubt on my innocence. Without any proof of evidence either obtained or destroyed, the FBI couldn't indict me and of course they didn't try and clear my name after the rumors started." Ezra coughed into his hand and pulled his coat up closer around his shoulders. "They investigated every aspect of my life trying to find something substantial enough to effect my termination. Only they couldn't find anything."
"Why didn't they just take you out? Why all the trouble to destroy your name?" Chris stopped his horse and watched as Ezra did the same.
Ezra smiled a crooked grin. "If I had suddenly ended up dead too many questions would have surrounded my death and that of the FBI's investigation surrounding it. In other words, it wasn't in their best interest to eliminate me at that particular time. By destroying my name and reputation, any evidence I find regarding Harrison or his contacts will be considered as tarnished and untrustworthy."
"Did Stevens know about the situation regarding Harrison?"
"To be honest, I don't think he did; otherwise, he would have reconsidered investigating the case regarding Harrison or Parker. I think Stevens was doing his job and because the man was having an affair with his babysitter he was easy to get rid of."
Chris nodded his head in understanding. He still had questions regarding Ezra's past concerning the Harrison case but he figured he wouldn't get anymore out of the Southerner today. Chris was surprised he'd gotten as much as he did. Ezra was not one to relay his past with anyone and even as much as the Southerner did say, it wasn't enough. There were still questions that needed answers.
Buck pulled his blue and white short bed GMC truck to a stop behind Vin's Jeep. He was surprised to see Ezra's Jag in the driveway. "Thought Ez would go out of town?" Buck said to JD as the kid looked questionably at him.
"Maybe he's workin' with his horse." JD jumped out of the truck and grabbed the box of files from the back of the vehicle.
"You're late," Josiah said, walking up to the truck to help JD with the boxes.
"Buck had to stop and flirt with the woman at the coffee shop." JD sighed when the ladies man threw him a look of warning. "What's Ez doin' here?"
"Don't rightly know Brother," Josiah replied, heading for the house. "Vin said Chris and Ezra's horses are gone, he figured they went for a ride up the trail a ways."
JD followed Josiah to the house while Buck stopped at the Southerner's car looking for any sign of why he'd come up to Chris's place on the weekend. It wasn't like Ezra to visit anyone willingly. Buck wiped the snow away from the passenger side window and peered in, finding nothing other than a pan of brownies covered in plastic wrap on the seat with a note attached. Buck smiled wickedly. Thankful that the car wasn't locked he reached in and grabbed the note thankful that it had already been opened. The note read, 'For that sweet smile, those soft lips, and that great ass'. Buck laughed out loud and grabbed the pan of brownies from the seat and headed for the house. He loved homemade brownies.
Wasted followed quietly behind Buck who wanted nothing more than to taste whatever was in the pan. He licked his lips in anticipation. Buck always gave him treats.
+ + + + + + +
Chris pulled his horse to a stop. The snow had started to come down harder and both horses had lost all interest in going any further. China had resorted to walking slowly behind the black bay keeping in close watch of his hindquarters. Ezra didn't care his mind was to busy thinking about everything that had been said. He hoped he hadn't said too much. He understood why Chris wanted answers. It was his job to make sure his team worked as a unit, watching each other's backs; he couldn't have the shady past of one of his men interfering with current cases. It made difficult situations harder to work with.
"We should head back." Chris turned his horse around and looked at Ezra. "The boys are comin' out." He watched as Ezra raised his eyebrows in speculation. "Ball game," Chris lied and kicked his horse encouraging him to move toward home.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra shook off the snow as he entered the barn. He was thankful Chris had the foresight to build the barn he had. Though it wasn't heated, it did keep the cold wind and snow out. Ezra brushed China down and gave her the sugar cubes she'd worked hard for. She ate them greedily and stood patiently while the Southerner brushed her down. She seemed to enjoy the rub down as much as she did the sugar cubes. Chris worked nearby brushing his own mount. The big black bay munched on the hay that stuck through the rack by his stall, content to just be out of the weather.
Ezra latched the stall door and gave China a pat on the head before following the team leader out of the barn. It had stopped snowing and the Southerner was relieved. He didn't want to get stuck on his way out.
Chris stopped and looked hard at a pile of brown fur that lay in the snow in front of his living room window. Wasted lay in a heap on the pile of snow Chris had shoved out of his walkway two days prior. "Wasted!" Chris called. His dog never stayed outside longer than necessary, he preferred to be in the house by the fireplace, and now he was in the middle of a snow pile content to be out in the cold. Chris knew Buck would only let the dog outside if he needed to relieve himself and even then he was right back at the door wanting in.
Ezra stopped in his tracks and looked at the same pile of fur that didn't respond to his master's call. Ezra and Chris both watched in amazement as the dog stood up on shaky legs, bark once, and fall back over. "What in the hell is goin' on?" Chris stepped up to the house and checked his dog that seemed to be content sleeping outside in the winter air. The tall blonde shrugged his shoulders and headed inside only to realize when he entered the foyer of his house that his dog was stoned. Much like the other members of his team.
"Brothers!" Josiah's baritone voice echoed throughout the house. The big man stepped out of the kitchen carrying a bag of Doritos.
"What in the hell is goin' on?" Chris looked around the living room at the various positions his men were in. Vin was seated on the sofa drinking, out of the carton, chocolate milk. A bag of beef jerky sat in his lap and a goofy grin adorned his face. Buck was seated in the brown leather lounger a phone book was in his left hand and the phone in his right. He smiled when Chris entered the house.
"Hey Chris," JD said stepping out of the bathroom. He smiled, "Do I have something on my teeth?" His front teeth were covered in a brown substance. JD looked around the room, looking at each member still wearing his smile. Vin's goofy grin turned into a violent laugh and chocolate milk poured out of his nose.
"Don't inhale," Nathan said lifting his head off the floor, which caused everyone to burst into laughter.
Ezra cast his eyes downward trying not to laugh. Chris caught the movement and turned his attention toward his undercover agent. "What did you do?"
Ezra's eyes widened. "Me?"
Ezra smiled again as he watched Buck look through the phone book and dial another number. "Well, uh " he paused unsure of how to answer, "don't eat the brownies." He bit his cheek trying to keep his face as normal as usual.
Chris shook his head. "This is revenge for what?" He looked again at his undercover agent. He knew Ezra had a knack for doling out revenge in a very timely oriented manner. He just wished he could remember what he or his team had done to deserve this settling of scores. Realizing he wasn't going to get an answer out of the man, Chris turned his attention back to his men. Josiah had opened the bag of Doritos and was enjoying their cheesy flavor, licking the flavor off the chip before eating it. Nathan was drinking a Coke out of a can while using a Twizzler as a straw. The medic seemed to be content watching the snow sparkle through the window. Vin had returned to eating his beef jerky while drinking the gallon of chocolate milk. "Buck who in the hell are you calling?" Chris looked at his longtime friend.
"I'm callin' Elvis," Buck nodded his head as if he were agreeing with himself. "He's out there and I'm gonna find 'im."
Chris ran his hand over his face and sighed. He looked back to his undercover agent and threw him his best glare.
Ezra cleared his throat. "I'll put twenty bucks that Buck locates Elvis."
Chris groaned and headed for the kitchen on a search and destroy mission. Locate and destroy remaining brownies. The team leader groaned louder when he found the empty pan of brownies on the counter. The pan had been licked clean, courtesy of Wasted, who was now living up to his name. Chris stepped out of the kitchen and noticed Ezra had yet to move out of the entryway. The team leader had to wonder who had taught the elusive undercover agent how to make marijuana brownies. More than likely, it had been someone in one of the many boarding schools he'd been in during his youth.
"Brother Ezra," Josiah spoke up taking a break from his Doritos eating. "I haven't had brownies like that in twenty years." The big man chuckled returning to licking off the cheesy flavor of his chips.
"So much for getting anything done today." Chris sighed, almost wishing they'd saved him some of those brownies. Almost. He returned to the kitchen and pulled two beers out of the refrigerator and headed to where Ezra was still standing. He handed one of the beers to the Southerner who took it, surprised by the action. "Where'd you get the "
"Alfalfa?" Ezra quickly stopped Chris from making the wrong impression.
"Yeah, the alfalfa." Chris rolled his eyes at Ezra's sarcasm.
"I called in a favor," Ezra replied with a smile.
Chris sighed; at least it wasn't the IRS. "Might as well make yourself comfortable." He smiled mischievously. "When the time comes I'm gonna need some help getting these sons-a-bitches home."
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Continues in: A Raven in the Snow