By Beth ©
ATF (Ezra, Chris...and a little Buck)
Notes: This is another one of those stories I’ve been thinking about for quite sometime, so I decided to write it and get Chris and Ezra off my back (pushy bastards). Would love to know what you think!!
Special thanks to Yolande for her valuable eyes and time!!
Please send comments and suggestions to email@example.com
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows that the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
“Thirty-two diamonds, sixty-four carets,” he said, tossing them onto the black velvet pad. The jewels glistened and glittered like ice in a glass of brandy. Daryl Gardner smiled and ran his fingers gently over the tops, moving them just slightly, allowing them to recapture the sunlight. He picked one up and handed it to his supplier. “That should be proof enough of what I have to offer.”
Ezra Standish, aka, Levi Grant, looked at the gem: carefully documenting its size and shape...taking hold of its presence. “How many more can you get?” he asked bluntly, laying his palm out flat while looking at the perfectly cut stone.
Daryl smiled: “Keep that one,” he said, nodding toward the gem in Grant’s palm. “I’ll sell you these for the weapons I’ve requested. I’m sure your boss will be pleased with the quality, however,” he paused, looking toward his bright red Hummer, “I understand you’re able to accommodate me with...pretty much anything I request?”
Ezra looked him over, trying to get a better understanding of what was being discussed. The man’s voice was chilling enough, and that added with his wicked smile caused chills to run up Ezra’s spine. “I have my orders,” he said, maintaining his composure.
Daryl nodded. “I was told you were good.”
Ezra nodded and quickly pocketed the diamond. “What did you have in mind?”
Daryl smiled like a rock star on speed. He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a file. “I want him dead.” He tossed the file onto the hood of Grant’s automobile. He waited until his supplier looked through the newspaper clippings, the photographs, and the police file.
Ezra kept his face impassive as he looked at the images of Chris Larabee. “Who is he?”
“Fuckin’ fed,” Daryl replied. “Runs some hot-shot ATF team that’s takin’ boys like us down—I need to put a stop to it.”
“How much do you know about this team?” Ezra asked, needing more than what Gardner was offering.
Daryl shrugged and closed his briefcase, leaving the file with Grant. “Enough to know I want the leader put down.” He slapped Ezra on the shoulder. “Have to treat it like a snake—cut off its head—the body will wither up and die...That’s what I plan to do.” He straightened his jacket. “There’re ten diamonds for you if you do it...otherwise I’ll hire someone else. Want the job?”
Ezra grinned, exposing dimpled cheeks and bright green eyes. “For ten of these,” he reached into his pocket for the diamond and exposed it, “I’ll take out the whole team.”
Daryl smiled: “Good.” He looked around, and rubbed his jaw. “Bullet to the heart in public...and I want it in the papers and on the news that he’s dead. That doesn’t happen...you don’t get paid. Clear enough?”
“Crystal,” Ezra replied.
“You’ve got three days,” Daryl said, walking toward his Hummer. “I’ll contact you when it’s done.”
Ezra watched him slip into the monstrosity of a vehicle and slowly crept toward the main road entrance. He looked at the file in his hand and then ran his fingers through his hair. “Shit.”
Daryl Gardner shifted his automobile into gear and started toward the exit. “Sammy,” he said, turning just slightly in his seat. “Tag him,” his voice had lowered considerably, “I want to know where he eats, sleeps, shits, fucks...”
“Yes, sir,” Sammy Dupont replied, quickly grabbing his cell phone to make the necessary calls.
Daryl turned back in his seat and waved toward his potential supplier before taking a right on Elm Street.
Ezra knew he was being followed. Though his tail was sophisticated, the driver of the black Taurus continued to make small mistakes: turning too soon, keeping a standard 3 cars behind, never using his blinkers.
Not wanting to be uncovered as a federal officer, Ezra kept his cool. Taking the correct streets, and heading to his intended destination. He rolled his eyes, his newly intended destination. The strip-mall shopping center contained a used bookstore, Payless shoes, a Kmart, and a Salvation Army. It wasn’t the kind of place he normally shopped at, but at the moment he needed a change—something unexpected.
He pulled his vehicle to a stop in front of the run-down store and stepped out, tossing his calf-length coat into the backseat of his car. He looked up and noticed the black clouds gathering in the distance while pulling on the sleeves of his expensive blue suit and then headed for Salvation Army.
The place smelled of fabric softener and body odor. Clothing hung precariously on hangers; most looking old and neglected. Clothing off the dead. Ezra stepped toward the men’s department while trying to push the thought from his mind. He needed a change of clothes that didn’t match his usual attire—and these wouldn’t.
He looked up when a young mother chased after her son.
Ezra grabbed a pair of worn blue jeans and a green plaid work-shirt. He then picked up an old Army O.D. jacket on impulse, knowing he’d need to stay warm. He headed toward the registers, and looked out the window toward the black Taurus and shook his head. They waited for him like the proverbial snake in the grass...thinking they had him fooled.
The cashier folded the attire and placed it in a plastic bag. “Cash or credit?” she asked, obviously hating her job.
“Cash,” Ezra replied, pulling out his leather wallet.
The woman shook her head as she took the money. “You don’t seem like the type to shop here.” She slipped the change from her till and counted it back to him.
“Thank you,” Ezra replied.
“No, thank you,” she said, rolling her eyes and motioning for the next customer to step forward.
Ezra shook his head and grabbed the bag of clothing. He caught a look at the black car that had tailed him, and noticed two men...both large, wearing suits and baseball caps. It was clear who they were and whom they worked for. Daryl Gardner was new to the area, but he had a stench that reeked for miles. Ezra knew the man wanted to make a statement, let the ‘boys’ know there was a new boss in town...a new cartel with more money than God.
Who in the hell paid for weapons with diamonds?
Daryl Gardner wasn’t a rookie at this, and he knew the game...money meant serial numbers...money meant he could be tracked, followed like a wounded rabbit through the snow. No, this asshole knew the competition and this was his territorial war.
Ezra tossed his purchases into the trunk of his car and slipped inside...waiting, waiting for those bastards to do something stupid. They didn’t, they just waited. Ezra sighed and started his car and was once again headed down the road. He looked up and shook his head when his windshield was pummeled with raindrops, typical.
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died...
“And the weather report for tomorrow...?” JD paused, anticipating the answer from someone else in the room. “Come on you guys...answer the question.”
“It’s goin’ to rain, JD....it’ll rain all day, everyday, until we build a fuckin’ ark,” Buck replied, watching as the narrow streams of water painted his window pane.
“Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?”
“Damn it, JD,” Buck snapped, “Shut the hell up!”
“Pull the broomstick out of your ass, Buck, and mellow out!” JD recanted, doing another search on his computer.
Vin chuckled and filled his mouth with more jellybeans. He leaned back in his seat and kicked his feet up onto the corner of his desk. He kept his hand on his computer mouse, scrolling down every once in a while.
“What’s so funny?”
Vin shrugged. “I was readin’ a joke,” he answered flatly, but continued reading.
“What’s the joke?” JD pushed, always in need of new material.
“Don’t,” Buck warned.
Vin smiled and started. “It reminded me of Ezra is all.”
“Out with it, Tanner,” Nathan added, tossing his pencil onto his desk. He leaned back onto his seat and folded his fingers together behind his head.
Vin nodded and slowly began, “The trendy dresser fancied himself quite a lady-killer, and was delighted to find a note pinned inside a new shirt. It contained a girl’s name and address, and asked the recipient to send a photograph. How romantic, he thought to himself, very taken with the idea of this mysterious woman so eager to meet him, and promptly mailed off a note and a photograph. Heart aflutter, he opened her response. It read, “Thanks for writing. I was just curious to see what kind of guy would buy such a funny shirt.”
“Email it to his account,” JD chuckled.
“Anybody heard from Ezra?” Chris asked, successfully stopping the line of conversation. He slipped into his coat and closed his office door behind him.
“He contacted Marybeth from Dave’s team at the bank this mornin’ and let her know everything was fine. Dave said he’d keep her in position until next Wednesday then he’d have to reassign her—they’ve got a big case comin’ up.” Buck scratched his ear and then finished off his cola. “Somethin’ botherin’ you about this case he’s workin’?”
Chris shook his head, trying to ignore the twinge in his gut. “You find anything out about his contact, Daryl Gardner?”
“Second hand man to Steve Andrews—big arms dealer from across the border. There’s not a whole lot known about Gardner, except he likes clean, high powered type shit....” Vin supplied.
“So what’s he doin’ in the area if he’s Andrews’ right hand man?” Chris challenged, looking for answers.
Vin sat up and tossed his bag of jellybeans onto his desk. “Could be a location change? Andrews ain’t been heard from in over a year—rumor is he’s dead, but nobody can verify it.”
“Verify it,” Chris ordered, “I don’t want to leave Ezra hangin’ with his ass in the wind.”
“Been workin’ on it,” Vin replied.
“Between jokes?” Chris commented knowingly. He nodded when his men sat up straighter in their chairs. “Anyone called to see if Josiah needs anything?”
“I’ll take him some flu medicine on my way home,” Nathan said, grabbing a pile of files. “Says he’s feeling better, but he’s still tired. He’s confident that he’ll be back to work tomorrow though.”
Chris nodded. “When you go make sure you check him out really good, if you need me to come down and help you take him to the doctor just call me.”
“No offence, Chris, but it’ll take more than me and you to haul his sorry ass to the doctor.”
“Hell, it’s just the stomach flu,” Vin responded, finishing off his jellybeans.
“Not everyone has 10inchs of steel lining their stomachs, Vin,” Nathan replied, shutting down his computer.
Vin rolled his eyes and continued with his duties.
Chris looked at his watch and then glanced toward the window and shook his head when he realized it was still raining. “First thing in the mornin’ I want full reports on this asshole Ezra’s workin’ with...I don’t like the idea of keepin’ him in the dark while he’s undercover.”
“Should have more by morning,” JD said confidently, having already made arrangements to stay longer into the night.
Chris nodded and punched the down button next to the elevator. “I’ll see you boys in the morning.”
The drive out to the ranch was held in relative silence. Chris, after having heard the weather report for the next ten days as: high chance of showers and temperatures in the 40s and 50s, turned his radio off. Oh goodie, Chris thought, more mud to slop around in and damp clothing. At least he had a warm place to get to. He’d have to tip Danny an extra ten dollars this month for feeding the horses.
He turned off the engine of his truck and paused before slipping out into the rain. He hated it, but he knew the surrounding farmers were anticipating a good harvest, and they needed the moisture. He stepped through a mud puddle and splashed dirty water onto his pant legs and boots. It was times like these that he wished he’d listened to Sarah when she’d argued with him about putting up a garage. She’d always seemed to see things more clearly. A smile came to his face at the thought, and he paused in front of the door while searching for his key.
The house was inviting as he entered, warm and the smell of fresh coffee caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. He carefully slipped his Glock out of his belt holster. “Who’s here?” he called out, not having expected company. He grasped his weapon with both hands and peaked around the corner toward the kitchen.
“Your coffee was stale,” Ezra said, reaching for the carton of half &half.
“You could have gotten yourself shot,” Chris replied, putting his weapon away. “What in the hell are you doin’ here?” He looked his agent up and down, noticing the worn blue jeans, plaid shirt and the green O.D. jacket hanging over the back of a chair. “You in trouble?”
Ezra took a tentative sip of his coffee and shook his head before leaning back against the kitchen counter. “I hate the rain,” he sighed, looking out the window, changing the subject.
“Ezra?” Chris pushed.
Ezra nodded and then rubbed his forehead. He then stood up and reached for the file setting behind him. “Daryl Gardner wants you dead...he hired me to do it.”
Chris took the file and glanced through the pictures, reports, and newspaper clippings. “How’d he get this?”
Ezra shrugged and ran a hand through his damp hair. “Your official FBI file is in there,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest.
Chris shrugged. “The freedom of information act—anybody can get it if they asked.”
Ezra shook his head. “Not without an official seal...somebody snuck those files out.” He reached out and pointed toward the papers. “Those were copied, illegally I might add.”
“So finding out who did it narrows the field down to just about everybody.” Chris nodded and looked critically at his agent. “So what are you gut instincts?”
“I think he’s after the territory. It’s your name that’s on the street as the one to watch out for—he takes you out, he’s the new boss. Instant notoriety and every dealer in the state will be looking to do business with him.”
“But who is he—Daryl Gardner?” Chris sighed and leaned back against the refrigerator.
Ezra shrugged and ran his fingers through his hair. “I think he’s relatively new to the game, but he knows enough to keep his head above water. Everybody knows that with the right contacts you can ship weapons through Wyoming, Montana, and across the Canadian boarder without anyone taking a second look at you—I think he’s after that trail. He’s not using cash so he can’t be traced—”
“What’s he usin’?”
Ezra reached into his pocket and pulled the small Ziploc bag from his pants. “Diamonds,” he tossed it toward Chris who caught it. “Two point four carets—perfectly cut.”
Chris whistled. He tossed the baggie back. “Don’t lose that,” he suggested strongly.
Ezra nodded and slipped the bag back into his pant pocket.
“I’ll have JD and Buck run through the diamond companies and find out who’s shipping what and to where...find out if anyone’s missing some rocks.”
“Run it through customs as well,” Ezra added, “Could raise some eyebrows if an agent is letting a few things pass.” He shook his head at the thought.
“How are you supposed to take me down?”
Ezra cleared his throat. “Gunshot wound to the chest—he wants it on the news.”
“So it needs to happen in public,” Chris replied, scratching his chin, ideas already running through his mind.
“I meet Vin and Nathan in the mornings at a place called Deets. It’s a small donut shop on the edge of town—about two blocks south from the 3rd street mall...”
Ezra looked up and nodded, watching as Chris’ professional demeanor took over, and he listened at the team leader talked his way through his own execution.
“I’ll get Nathan to rig up a flack jacket so the shot will look real—we’ll get the press on it and have a few of the FBI boys show up for good measure.”
“If Gardner figures out this is a ruse…?”
“We won’t let it slip—but if you feel like your ass is on the line, get out—it’s not worth it.”
“No,” he paused, “I can handle it.”
“Where’re you stayin’?” Chris asked, needing to know just in case something went wrong, he could find Ezra.
“In Hope, at the Riverfront Inn.”
“Which room?” Chris continued to press on.
“Nine,” Ezra replied flatly.
“If it rains much more you’re goin’ to need to find a place closer to town—the bridge leading into Hope has a tendency to wash-out.”
Ezra nodded, but didn’t say anything. He stood up straight and reached for his jacket.
“You alright?” Chris asked, seeing the underline worry in Ezra’s actions.
“If you’re not comfortable with this...?”
“ It’s fine,” Ezra said, slipping into his jacket. “I’ll be at the bakery at five.” He started for the door.
“Be careful,” Chris said to the retreating form. He paused and ran a hand through his hair, hating the idea of leaving Ezra alone and without any backup—but he couldn’t prevent it. As an undercover agent Ezra took his chances, he had to—in order to bring in the criminals he did. Every once in a while...that came at a price.
Chapter 3And everybody knows that it’s now or never
Nathan took a sip of his coffee, trying to look composed and ready for the day—but he wasn’t. Chris sat to his right with his back to the wall, looking toward the door and the bakery counter. Damn it smelled good. The medic rubbed his face and shook his head when he watched Vin take a huge bite out of hisBismarck donut, expertly wiping the corner of his mouth free of the Bavarian cream.
“I’m biding my time for when you come down with the stomach flu, Vin...and I’m thinking you’ll be puking for the next 20 years of your life.” Nathan picked at his bagel.
“You’re just jealous,” Vin replied, shrugging his shoulders, trying to act casual, “takes a lot of work trying to keep this gut in shape.” He patted his six-pack abs and grinned.
“When we’re ninety and taking antacid for our main course at dinner—then we’ll talk about keeping your gut in shape.”
Chris chuckled, having remained silent through the majority of the conversation. “You’re both nuts,” was his simple explanation.
Vin nodded, he wasn’t about to disagree. He looked at his watch, noting the time of a quarter ‘til six.
“He’ll be here,” Chris said quietly.
Vin nodded and stood. “I need more coffee.” He turned and headed toward the counter.
The bell above the door chimed when a man walked in wearing a long black trench coat that reached mid-calf, a blue baseball cap, and sunglasses that hid his features. He looked good, except for the obvious concern that was hidden by his sunglasses. Everybody knew without having to ask, how traumatizing this was going to be.
Nothing was supposed to go wrong.
Everything was supposed to go as planned...
But things always took a strange and ugly turn...always...in one-way or another.
Ezra ordered a cup of coffee, glancing at Vin who’d retaken his seat at the table, and walked to the cash register. He reached behind his back as if going for his wallet, but he pulled a nine-millimeter weapon from his belt and turned suddenly. He fired at Chris, hitting him squarely in the chest. Ezra rushed out the back door, hearing the cries for help coming from patrons and the bakery staff. The screams continued despite the distance he created for himself as he rushed down the street in the rain.
Chris had fallen back against the wall and landed in a heap on the floor, his chair turned and lying on its side. Vin had gone after the suspect. Nathan applied pressure to the wound, while he yelled for someone to dial 911.
It couldn’t have looked more real. Blood seeped from a carefully placed bag on the flack jacket Chris wore. It had splattered over his chest, head, and neck and onto the wall he’d been sitting by. The counter girl was speaking franticly on the phone, trying to get the information across to get some help; while the baker grabbed towels and tried to offer his services.
Despite the ploy, the theatrics needed to make the scene look real, Nathan’s hands shook. His heart raced, and he could feel his heart pounding franticly inside his chest. Thank God it wasn’t real...thank God. He looked up in time to see Vin enter through the back door, breathing hard, and sweat running down his face and covering the collar of his shirt.
“I lost him,” he said, trying to catch his breath. “How is he?” Vin looked at Chris, wanting to smile and say, you should’ve become an actor, but he couldn’t...he wouldn’t.
Nathan shook his head.
Vin pulled his ATF badge from his pocket and held it up as two uniformed police officers entered the establishment.
The bigger of the two men radioed the situation in and stood off to the side as paramedics rushed to where the victim lay. Nathan nodded to the two familiar FBI agents that had helped the team out on several occasions. It was odd, seeing them in uniforms not normally affiliated with them. He stood back and watched as they professionally handled the ‘body’, and a chill went through him when the black body bag was zipped up.
“Don’t you have to wait for crime scene to get here?” one of the officers asked, pulling out his notebook and pencil. He’d been on the job long enough to know that some procedures were followed—others not.
“He’s a cop,” Nathan replied, “and he doesn’t need to be treated like shit.” It was best to get Chris out of the line of sight before too many questions were asked.
Both officers stood back in understanding as they watched one of their own get wheeled out to the awaiting ambulance.
“The shooter was a big guy—maybe 6 foot 3, maybe taller. He had dark hair, a blue baseball cap and sunglasses, and he wore a long dark blue duster type jacket,” Vin rushed, trying to falsify as much information as possible. “I chased him as far as Second Street, but lost him down one of the alleys.”
“Anything else?” The shorter officer said, documenting the information.
Vin shook his head and watched out the window as Nathan spoke briefly with the paramedics. “I have to go.” He reached into this wallet and pulled out one of his identification cards. “Call me at this number. If you need anything or find anything out—I want to know about it—anything,” he stressed, heading outside toward the ambulance.
They had to make it look good.
Ezra rubbed his hand over his face and tentatively turned on the car radio. He gripped the steering wheel and waited impatiently for the report. He couldn’t believe what he’d done...and he knew without a shadow of a doubt that the image of Chris being shoved against the wall with blood spattering his chest would be forever branded into his mind. Ezra’s hands still shook, and his palms continued to sweat, as though he were a rookie on his first day.
He knew Chris was alive, but the ploy had gone down as though it were real. The bullets were real, and they could have easily penetrated the Kevlar vest...it had been known to happen. That could have been Chris’ blood that had spattered? Chris could be dead—there was no way of knowing...
Self-doubt and panic hit Ezra like a ton of bricks and he had to step out of the car to collect himself. Emotions rushed his being with an unbelievable force, essentially knocking him flat. He stood in the rain with his head bowed, trying to convince himself that everything had gone well...trying to tell himself that everything was going to be all right.
Why was this so damn hard? Why did he feel as though his world had been slipped out from under him?
And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it’s moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows
Nathan unzipped the body bag and Chris sat up on the gurney and grimaced when he moved wrong. Though nothing was broken, his ribs would be sore for quite sometime. He looked up and into the faces of Vin and Nathan, questions lining his eyes. “Well?”
“Already on the news, channel two covered it and Josiah’s doin’ an interview in less than an hour,” Vin answered. “It looks good.”
“Anybody contact Ezra?” Chris asked.
“Can’t get a’hold of him,” Nathan said, “but Buck’s still workin’ on it.”
“If we don’t hear from him within the next six hours I want everybody out lookin’...I don’t like the idea of this Gardner knowing shit that we should—and don’t.”
“We need to keep you under wraps for a while,” Vin added, not wanting to take a chance on Ezra being found out.
“Already arranged for it,” Chris sighed, leaning against the wall of the hospital room. He looked around and noticed the empty steel tables and then looked questionably at his men.
“Had to make it look real,” Vin added with a smile.
Everybody looked toward the morgue doors and watched as Buck and JD entered.
JD tossed a pile of papers onto the gurney where Chris was seated. “Found out that a Milson and Sons’ diamond company from Africa is financing Gardner. They’ve been in the diamond business for 50 years and their mines are running dry, but they’re trying to buy out another company by the name of...” he sighed, and flipped through the papers, “...Wenels, a prominent diamond manufacturer and producer of some of the world’s largest gems—they’ve been fighting over 16,000 acres of unused land in the central region of Botswana—”
“Which is why they need weapons and ammunition,” Buck surmised. “We’re gettin’ ourselves involved in the middle of a damn diamond territorial war—and Gardner is the slimy bastard who’s makin’ all the money in the process.”
“You’re sure about this?” Chris asked, getting to his feet, wincing as he moved.
“Damn sure, Chris,” JD replied, looking as though his world was crashing down.
“Shit!” Chris snapped as he started pacing the floor. “We need to get word to Ezra and get him the hell out of this.” He shook his head, arguing with himself. “Why in the hell is Gardner comin’ so far inland...? Why not go through South America like the rest of the fuckin’ overseas gun runners?—Hell, they should be gettin’ their supplies from Germany or the East...why Colorado?”
“Money,” Nathan surmised, “Better guns.” He shrugged. “Could be some kind of a personal vendetta?”
“Nathan’s right,” Vin added, “Too many reason and not enough manpower to piece the puzzle together.”
“All that matters is that we get Ezra out of there before somethin’ goes wrong.” Buck ran his fingers through his hair.
“You haven’t been able to reach him?” Chris asked, stopping his pacing and looking critically at his agent.
Buck shook his head: “Been tryin’ all day.”
Chris looked at his watch, frustrated with the fake blood that had dried to the crystal-face; he wiped it franticly on his pant leg. “I need some clothes and some kind of a disguise—”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be out there until we find out if Ezra’s made contact with Gardner first—Ezra’s as good as dead if that SOB finds out you’re alive,” Buck argued.
“If this’s what I think it is,” Chris sighed, looking at the papers JD had brought it, “Ezra’s as good as dead anyway—this isn’t a territorial war for Gardner, this is a clean and sweep operation and he’s goin’ to take down anybody that stands in his way.”
“You think he’s movin’ through every state?” JD asked, wanting a clearer understanding of Chris’ reasoning.
Chris nodded: “Gardner moves from one large city to the next, promising payments—large sums of money, or in this case, diamonds. He then adds a little extra for an extra deed—takin’ me out, would cause Ezra to get side tracked while Gardner finds the weapon stash—”
“—but when Gardner learns there is no stash—”
“Ezra’s fucked,” Chris snapped. He looked at Buck, “Get him on his cell, pager—I don’t care, just get him.” He glanced at Nathan. “Find Josiah and let him know what’s going on, don’t let him do the interview until after I call the FBI and let them know what’s going down—we’ll let them handle it from here on out—our job is to find Standish.” He stopped halfway to the door. “I need some clothes!”
Ezra stood outside his car, soaking wet and waiting forGardner to show up. He just needed proof of the weapons violations then it was all uphill—or so he hoped. Daryl Gardner would then be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, arms trafficking, smuggling, and a butt load of other charges that Ezra didn’t want to think about at the moment.
He looked up and sighed when he spotted the bright red Hummer slowly drive into the abandoned parking lot and slow to a stop. Daryl Gardner stepped out with his briefcase in hand, followed by three large men...bodyguards.
“Mr. Grant,” Gardner called, smiling through the rain. “I heard the wonderful news on the radio this morning,” he motioned for his men to spread out, “Chris Larabee, killed by a gunman in a donut shop—how convenient.” He chuckled and slapped his briefcase onto the roof of Ezra’s car. “I wish I had been there to see it.” He stood with his feet spread and his left hand beneath his jacket.
Ezra nodded and watched the three bodyguards come closer to the vehicle and pause, as though waiting for instructions. “I did my job,” he said confidently, feeling as though every fiber of his being was yelling for him to run.
“Hell, you did more than just your job,” Gardner replied with a laugh. “You see,” he spoke loosely, as though he did this everyday, and nothing would faze him, “it’s my job to move from city to city and clean house, you cops call it a clean and sweep.” He smiled genuinely.
Ezra’s heart raced in anticipation and without being obvious, he looked for an escape.
“Yes, you’ll have to understand that I never intended to pay you for shit...I’m just a thief of sorts, and frankly, I thought you’d do just fine working for me—” He took a step back to allow one of his bodyguards time to attack Grant.
Ezra dodged the first blow, and managed to land one on his assailant’s chin, knocking him back. Somebody tackled him from behind and slammed him face-first onto the hood of the car. He fought. The heels of his shoes connecting with kneecaps and chins, but it only postponed the inevitable. His right arm was yanked back and shoved up between his shoulder blades. “Son-of-a-bitch,” he groaned when he felt the shoulder pop.
“—I thought you were clean,” Gardner continued, as though nothing was happening out of the ordinary. “Until midnight last night when ran I your supplier’s name through my handy-dandy database and discovered Andrew McDowel had died 20 years ago during a drug bust here in Denver—quite lame, frankly, using the name of a dead man, much less a real criminal...too bad you won’t be able to tell your friends to do better research at the cop-shop.” He pulled up the collar of his jacket to ward off the chill. “Levi Grant...?” he smiled, and shook his head, “...is—or was, a small time real estate lawyer who grew pot under his home in the suburbs—really, Mr. Whoever, you need better resources.”
Ezra tried to catch his breath as the weight of the bodyguard intensified. He felt a hand grab a handful of hair and continue to press the left side of his face into the car.
“The monstrosity holding you down is, Cooper Tyne—he used to be cop in Jersey, and then he gave it up for protecting Snoop Dog while he was on tour, at least he used to.” Daryl reached out and slapped his bodyguard on the shoulder. “But that was before he got fired for breaking a man’s arm for taking Coop’s parking place.” He leaned closer to Ezra. “You see—he protects what’s his.” Daryl stood straight and looked up at the black sky.
“You want me to take care of him, boss?” Cooper asked, applying more pressure to the twisted arms of his victim.
“In a minute,” Daryl replied. “You have to understand,” he directed his conversation toward Ezra, “I’m not angry with you as an individual, just the job you were supposed to have done—which in the long run would have taken me down—but I can’t let that happen. I’ve got too much money rapped up in my welfare and frankly, pushing a few cops—that’s what you are, aren’t you? A police officer, FBI agent—undercover or some shit like that...now, if you’d been smart you’d have hauled me in for conspiracy to commit murder, but then—your not smart, are you, boy?” Daryl smiled and grabbed his briefcase from atop the roof of the car.
Another bodyguard stepped forward and pulled a syringe from a plastic bag then plunged it into Ezra’s neck.
Ezra yelled and fought, only to find himself released and falling back onto the rocky ground. He clawed the dirt trying to get to his feet only to fall and lose his muscle control. His vision blurred, and his hearing faded. He couldn’t keep his balance as the world tipped, and he collapsed to his left, finding comfort on the muddied ground.
“Take him to his motel room and get creative,” Gardner said, turning toward his Hummer. “Don’t make it obvious...” he grinned, “...at least don’t shoot him.” He motioned for his main bodyguard to follow him. “Sammy.”
“Sir?” the man asked, walking in stride with his boss.
“We’re heading to Nebraska. I understand Omaha has quite a supply of dealers—backwater folks,” Gardner snickered, “—they do love their guns.” He tossed his briefcase into the backseat and slipped inside his vehicle.
Cooper Tyne smiled and looked heartedly at James Monroe. “You ready?” he asked, opening up the trunk of Ezra’s Bucar.
“Never been more so,” James snickered, slipping his arms under Ezra’s shoulders and groaning when he felt the sloppy movement of Ezra’s right shoulder. Despite that, Monroe started dragging him toward the trunk. “How’re you goin’ to do it?”
“Slow...like the shitty cop he is,” Cooper answered, grabbing Ezra’s feet and tossing him like garbage into the trunk.
James slammed the trunk shut and slipped into the passenger seat of the car. “Sounds like fun.”
Ezra was seemingly aware of being pulled by his right arm, and yet, not aware enough to protest at the pain it caused. He felt his jacket being removed forcefully, and then he fell back to the floor with a thump. He could hear voices, but he couldn’t place them. It sounded more like mutters and whispers. He squeezed his eyes shut and then tried to open them, only to find himself too weak to comply.
“Hand me that roll of duct tape,” Cooper said, squatting over his victim’s thighs. He roughly grabbed Ezra’s hands and slapped them together. “Tape his hands...don’t want him to try and get loose.”
James did as he was instructed.
“Now do his ankles,” Cooper added, standing and reaching for his handcuffs and bandanna. He roughly tossed Ezra onto his stomach and forced a gag into his mouth and then tied it securely behind his head. “Hurry, that drug’s starting to wear off.”
“What are we goin’ to do with him?” James asked, ripping the duct tape and slapping it into place, having already covered pant legs, socks, and shoes.
James grabbed Ezra’s left arm and pulled him into the bathroom where he unceremoniously tossed him into the bathtub. “We need to make it look clean...no leading to Daryl,” he said, while snapping a handcuff below the duct tape of the undercover agent’s right hand. James then slipped the other cuff through the support beam for handicap people and then applied the other cuff to Ezra’s left hand, immobilizing him.
“I don’t understand?” James said, standing in the doorway.
Cooper smiled. “You have a 50% chance of making it 50 feet in 50˚ water.” He reached for the window and opened it, allowing the cold moist temperature to enter the room.
“This ain’t goin’ to be cold enough,” James admitted, looking frustrated and unsure.
Cooper chuckled then turned on the shower, making sure the cold water was on, and not the hot. “We’ll come back tomorrow morning and take his body out to the watershed—nobody will be any the wiser.” He smiled, adjusting the water spray to his victims face and chest.
James smiled: “Let’s go eat then—I’m starvin’.”
Buck rushed into the room where Chris was working. “I can’t get through to him—I’ve tried every damn thing I know and some I don’t.” He tossed his cell phone onto the sofa. “Josiah’s got the press under control—keeping it a suspicious shooting and sayin’ that the original identification of the victim may be wrong—at least until family is notified.”
“Good,” Chris said getting to his feet. He grabbed his jacket and slipped it on. “Tell Josiah to stay on it, and have JD do a search of any large rental vehicles leaving the area—make sure he checks where they’re headed...I want any license plate heading to Montana,Wyoming, or Nebraska stopped and searched—”
“You can’t do that, Chris,” Buck argued.
“Watch me,” the team leader snapped. “Gardner’s on his way out of town—I can feel it. Have Vin and Nathan get down to the airport—when JD finds out if there’s a suspicious vehicle on the way to its destination...have them correlate that information with flight plans. Gardner won’t be drivin’.”
“—I want you—”
“—I’m goin’ with you!”
Chris stopped and looked at Buck, seeing that old friendship and realizing he needed to go. “Go tell the others, I’ll meet you in the truck.”
“Where do you think he’s at?”
“We’ll check his apartment first and then the motel he was stayin’ in,” Chris said, heading for the door.
“Riverfront Inn, in Hope—”
Buck shook his head. “We need to check there first, they’re startin’ to flood and if we wait much longer we won’t be able to get across the bridge.”
“Then let’s go.”
And everybody knows that you’re in trouble
Everybody knows that you’ve been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the Beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it’s coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows...
By the time Chris and Buck made it to the bridge, water was already starting to run over the top. Hope’s sheriff had put up warning signs, but Chris ignored them as he drove slowly across the bridge. He knew it wouldn’t take much for the water to push him downstream, and in all realities he shouldn’t have taken the chance, but he had to get to the Riverfront Inn.
Buck gripped the passenger door handle as the truck moved with the rushing water. “Gun it, Chris—otherwise we ain’t goin’ to make it.”
“And lose traction?” Chris snapped, peaking out through the driver’s side window to take a look at the water slowly rising over the bridge.
The rain pounded the ground and the swiftness of the river slammed violently into the rock-face to the right of the waterfront. Debris gathered and formed a damn at the bridge’s base, causing more water to rise and rush over the top. The pickup bounced upward and then down as Chris drove it up onto solid ground. He sighed in relief, but continued toward the small town of Hope.
“You think he’s there?” Buck tentatively asked, knowing they wouldn’t make it back to Denver until the weather cleared.
Chris clenched his jaw, allowing the muscles to flex and tighten. His knuckles had turned white and his grip on the steering wheel increased.
“He’s alright,” Buck said, trying to sound hopeful.
“You know Ezra—he’s got more lives than a damn ally cat.”
Chris took the main road into Hope, and noticed most of the businesses had closed up for the day as water rushed down the streets. Twigs, garbage, and leaves blocked the street drains, causing water to stand and gather in large puddles. A few citizens waved as the truck slowly went by, seemingly protected by brick and glass.
“There!” Buck yelled, pointing toward the sign that read ‘Riverfront Inn’. Unlike the name implied, it was a run-down motel with a parking lot full of water. The river was more than a mile away. A half-lit vacancy sign flashed in the office window. Two cars were parked out front; neither looking like the Bucar Ezra had borrowed from the agency to complete his undercover assignment.
Chris took a harsh left and his truck bounced after he drove over the sidewalk. He slammed on his brakes in front of room number nine and jumped out before Buck had a chance to unhook his seatbelt.
“EZRA!” Chris yelled, banging on the door. He tried the doorknob and found it locked. “EZRA! OPEN THE DAMN DOOR!”
“I’ll go get a key,” Buck turned to sprint toward the office.
“Fuck that,” Chris barked, slamming his shoulder into the door causing it to fling open with little effort.
Both men pulled their weapons out and entered slowly, carefully documenting what they saw and heard. The room was cold, and Buck reached out to turn the air conditioner off when the power suddenly went out.
“Bathroom,” Chris said quietly, positioning his weapon in the attack position. He reached out and tried the door, only to find it locked.
“I hear the shower,” Buck whispered, standing on the far side of the door, waiting for Chris’ cue to enter.
Chris nodded, closed his eyes while he took a deep breath. “Now,” he yelled, watching as Buck threw himself into the door, causing it to swing open and pounce off the wall.
“Shit,” Buck snapped.
Chris pushed Buck aside and rushed for his downed agent. Ezra rested in the fetal position against the back of the shower wall, his feet and legs tucked up beneath him, his arms cuffed and taped together.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” Chris snapped, turning the shower off. He knelt down beside the bathtub and reached for Ezra’s neck—checking for a pulse.
“Is he...?” Buck asked, unable to finish the question.
Chris sighed, unable to answer right away. Ezra’s pulse was weak, but there. “Give me the key to your cuffs,” he reached around and took the key from Buck. “He’s too damn cold,” Chris snapped trying to shove the key into the handcuff lock. When it didn’t fit, he tired the other cuff and swore. “Whoever did this sealed the locks.” He threw the key to the ground and turned to look at Buck. “Go find me a bolt cutter!”
Buck turned and sprinted from the room.
“Ezra,” Chris said, carefully reaching up to untie the gag, and then he proceeded to unwrap the duck tape from his undercover agent’s hands and legs. Soaking wet, Ezra’s clothing clung to him like tape on raw skin. A blue hue seemed to have immersed his skin. Chris grabbed the towels and started drying Ezra’s face and hair.... trying to offer some warmth.
Chris turned and looked around the room, knowing he couldn’t get Ezra changed into dry clothing until he got him unhooked from the handicap support rail. “Hang on, Ezra,” he said softly, pulling his cell phone from his jacket pocket he tried to dial 911 to get an ambulance, but his phone was dead. He stood suddenly and rushed into the bedroom, where he picked up the phone resting on the end table and found it dead as well. Without consideration, he pulled the blankets from the bed and hauled them into the bathroom where he shoved them all around his agent, trying to supply him some warmth. Once that was done, Chris reentered the bedroom and smashed one of the chairs, intending to use a chair leg to pry the support rail from the bathroom wall.
Chris needed to keep himself busy, anything to keep him from feeling the obvious. He gripped the chair leg in his fist and headed back into the bathroom, where he slipped it between the wall and the support bar. He pried, cranked, and pounded on the sliver beam, but he didn’t seem to make a dent. The screws in the ceramic tiles were bedded deep and would only be removed with the use of a drill—something Chris didn’t have at the moment. “Shit!” he yelled, tossing the chair leg across the room, breaking the mirror, sending shards of glass into the sink, over the counter, and onto the floor.
“Ezra!” Chris barked, kneeling beside the bathtub and gently gripped his agent’s chin, forcing his head up. “Don’t do this,” he whispered, feeling as though he were running out of time. Chris turned suddenly and yelled, “BUCK!!”
Ezra jumped, slamming his head back against the ceramic tiles. He gasped and fought valiantly to open his eyes, but failed and sank deeper into the blankets that had surrounded him.
Chris reached out and forced his hand behind Ezra’s head and neck and Chris clenched his jaw when he felt how cold his agent was. There was no way of telling how long he’d been in this condition, and hypothermia had done more than just set in…it had taken over. “Should have pulled you out when I had the chance,” he sighed, forcing Ezra’s head back.
“I’ve got it, Chris,” Buck said, moving toward Ezra to cut the cuffs from his hands with the bolt cutters. “Sorry it took so long—had a little trouble with the motel manager.”
“Cut the chain first, we’ll worry about the cuffs later,” Chris ordered.
Buck placed the jaws of the bolt cutter around the cuff chain and squeezed. It didn’t give-way right away, and he had to fight, gritting his teeth and better positioning himself with one foot inside the bathtub and the other at the base of the toilet. “This is tougher than it looks,” he gasped, squeezing again, this time successfully snapping the chain.
Ezra’s hands fell and he limply slumped back onto Chris.
“Let’s get him on the bed—get these wet clothes off him, and then we’ll figure something out,” Chris said, slipping his arms beneath Ezra’s and around his chest.
Buck grabbed the Southerner’s legs and lifted, slipping momentarily on the wet floor. “Did the mirror tell you, you ain’t the fairest in the land?” He looked at the broken shards on the floor and counter top.
“Somthin’ like that.”
It wasn’t easy, trying to care for a man who was near chilled to death, without the comforts of heat, light, or dry clothing. Chris and Buck laid Ezra out on the bed, removed his wet clothes, and covered him with the blankets that hadn’t been dampened earlier.
“My cell’s dead,” Buck said, pressing two fingers to Ezra’s neck—checking for himself that he was still alive. He looked terrible, lying so still—hinted in blue, and unable to respond. “Are we too late?”
“Mine too,” Chris replied; ignoring Buck’s question. He opened the drapes to allow what remained of daylight to enter the room. “We need to get him warm,” he sighed, his facial expression relaying his concern. “With the power out we can’t get warm water or heat—and because the river is flooding, I don’t want to risk drinkin’ any of the water out of the faucets.”
“I’ll go down to the sheriff’s office and get some supplies—they’ve got to have some things in stock—maybe there’s a doctor in town—”
Chris shook his head. “Take off your jacket,” he ordered urgently, moving toward the bed and franticly pulled at the blankets, removing them from Ezra’s still form.
Buck removed his jacket and reached to help Chris move Ezra into a sitting position and slip the short-coat around him. Chris took a seat at the headboard and pulled Ezra onto his chest.
“Looks like he took some hits,” Buck surmised, looking carefully at the bruising lacing Ezra’s side and back. “His shoulder’s out again.” He looked up and met Chris’ eyes.
“We’ll do what we can for him now—I just want to get him warm—get him to wake up.”
Buck nodded. “What do you make of this?” he asked, gently forcing the Southerner’s head onto Chris’ shoulder. The exposed puncture wound had bruised to the size of a quarter with a small black spot in the center.
Chris pressed his palm onto Ezra’s forehead. “Looks like they needed to subdue him,” he said quietly. “Go get some dry blankets from the manager and ask him if he’s got some dry clothes—” He reached around and carefully pulled the blankets up and around Ezra’s shoulders. “Damn it, Buck, go!” Chris wrapped his arms around the Southerner’s shoulders and rubbed his hands along his arms.
“I’ll hurry,” Buck said, leaving in a rush.
“Come on, Standish,” Chris ordered, “Hang on.” He watched as the sun slowly slipped behind the treetops, disappearing for another long night. It wouldn’t be easy, not knowing where anyone was—not knowing if Ezra’s heart had tried for too long and too hard to beat while it slowly succumbed to the cold. Chris knew… he knew what hypothermia could do…how it could cause the body’s blood to thicken, how the heart would quiver uselessly—stop pumping blood. He knew the extremes…and Ezra was in the middle of it without a lifeline…it was up to himself and Buck to pull him back from the brink.
Chris slipped his hand beneath the blankets and allowed his hand to rest on Ezra’s chest—feeling it rise and fall more rapidly than he’d like…but at least it was moving…a good sign.
The hotel room door swung open and Buck entered with an armload of blankets. One by one he unfolded them and threw them over the top of Ezra and Chris’ forms. “Manager’s two foot nothin’, so he didn’t have any clothes that would fit, but I’ll run down to the sheriff’s office and get some—I’ll pick up a few other supplies as well.” He paused and looked hard at Ezra. “How’s he doin’?”
“Still breathin’,” Chris replied, tucking the blankets around the Southerner’s shoulders.
“I’ll hurry,” Buck replied, removing himself from the room again. He let the door slam shut behind him and he jumped into Chris’ Ram truck.
Chris heard him leave, and he took a deep breath, wishing he’d done things right...wishing he’d pulled Ezra out when he had that gut feeling. Sarah had been good at that—following her gut instincts; she would have told him to do what was right, rather than what was expected. “Pull out of this, Ezra,” he whispered, his breath gently stroking the Southerner’s cheek. “Should have had Buck grab some candles,” he said, watching the sun finally disappear behind the trees.
With darkness upon them, it wouldn’t be long before they’d be stumbling around trying to get from point A to point B. Even the streetlights were out; a sign that the generators weren’t working. Hope was known for that...falling apart, as though they were 100 years behind the rest of the world. Chris kept his hand pressed to Ezra’s forehead, feeling a slight rise in temperature. The agent’s breathing, though shallow, was regular and thankfully not harsh—as though a case of pneumonia was oncoming.
“Got this feelin’,” Chris said, looking out the window, “that maybe you and I both were set up for this.” He rubbed his right hand along Ezra’s arm.
Ezra groaned, opened his mouth slightly and inhaled deeply for the first time in what seemed like years.
“You with me, Standish?” Chris asked, speaking louder. He pulled Ezra tighter toward him. “Come on, Ezra, talk to me.”
Ezra moved his head just slightly, but enough to let Chris know he was coming around. As though a cold front had moved into the room, the Southerner’s reaction was to shiver, slowly at first and then more persistent—near violently.
“Come on, Ezra,” Chris encouraged, “I know there’s more to you than this.” He vigorously ran his hands up and down the Southerner’s arms and over his chest.
Slowly, dark lashes separated and dull green eyes peaked between. He blinked lazily, his teeth chattering and his muscles moving at their own accord. “C...ol...d,” he muttered, trying to control his breathing that had increased in speed.
Chris smiled and pressed his forehead into the back of Ezra’s head in thanks. “I know,” he said softly, glancing toward the window, “Buck should be back any minute with some dry clothes.” He had to squint as the glare from his truck peered in through the window. “Here he comes now.”
The door was forced opened and slammed against the wall. “I got hot food, warm clothes, and more blankets than the stock room at Blankets USA.” He dumped the pile on the end of the bed and headed back out to the truck before noticing anything different.
“Leave it to Buck,” Chris muttered, maneuvering himself out from behind his agent.
Chris propped Ezra up onto the pillows and then quickly started going through the clothes. He held up a pair of sweat pants and looked at Buck as he entered the room. “These would swim on Josiah,” he said, stretching the waist to his shoulders and past.
“They have a drawstring,” Buck replied, closing the door and lighting a couple large candles. He looked at Ezra. “Let’s just get him changed and then we can bitch about the clothes.” He moved toward the bed and placed his hand on Ezra’s brow. “He seems warmer,” he said, trying not to notice the violent tremors.
“He was awake a little bit ago,” Chris replied, grabbing a heavy pair of socks and a thick sweatshirt. “Help me get him changed, Buck.”
“What about that arm?”
“I’ve got an ace bandage in my truck under the front seat. It’s in the first aid kit. We’ll tape his arm to his chest and get him to the hospital when we get a chance,” Chris replied, carefully helping the Southerner into a sitting position on the edge of the bed.
Buck was out the door and back again before Chris had a chance to remove the jacket.
Ezra winced and hissed when his shoulder was moved. He panicked, not realizing where he was or whom he was with. He shoved Chris back and fell off the bed, tangled in blankets and sheets. Faded images of Gardner flashed through his mind and a deep feeling of overwhelming fear turned his already chilled body to ice. His oxygen deprived mind tried desperately to reason, but he couldn’t…so he fought.
Like the Crocodile Hunter himself, Chris literally jumped on his charge, stopping him from hurting himself further. “EZRA! Calm down!”
Buck had laid himself over the undercover agent’s legs, stopping him from kicking out or perhaps connecting with the bed frame. “It’s all right,” he murmured continually, like he would a frightened child.
Ezra gasped, shivered, tried to pull accurate memories from his mind. He remembered being tackled, and he stiffened, as though it would happen again. “Don’t,” he pleaded between clenched teeth, “ don’t.”
“Nothin’s goin’ to happen, Ez,” Buck tried to soothe. “Nobody’s goin’ to hurt ya any.” He looked up and locked eyes with Chris. “Maybe it’s the drugs they gave him?”
Chris nodded and quickly shook his head, wishing they had some help. He didn’t want to release his hold until the Southerner stopped acting as though he’d break through his skin in order to escape. “I think he’ll be okay…if we can get him situated.” He shook his head. “I hope,” he whispered.
Buck nodded, feeling Ezra shake and jerk. “What do you think happened?” he asked, needing conversation, needing to hear the voice next to him—to avoid the voice of doubt in his head.
“I wish I knew,” Chris sighed, placing palm on Ezra’s forehead. “He’s warmin’ up.” He ran his hand over Ezra’s head, feeling damp hair and wishing the power would come back on. Chris moved slightly, knowing he was placing too much of his weight on the Southerner’s bad arm.
Ezra cried out, and moved to pull his legs up into his chest, passing out from the effort
“Shit,” Chris snapped, wincing when he realized what he’d done.
“What happened?” Buck asked.
“I think I accidentally forced that shoulder back in.” Chris loosened his grip, and gently moved to pull Ezra’s head and shoulders onto his lap.
“He’ll be alright, Chris,” Buck admitted, releasing his hold and resting back on his haunches. “He’ll be alright.”
Chris nodded, wrapping his left arm and placing his palm on Ezra’s forehead. “Help me get him dressed…then maybe we can get some water down him.”
Buck agreed and slowly stood. He looked down and noticed expressionless eyes following his every move. He couldn’t help but feel that they’d come too late…had brain damage occurred? Would Ezra ever really recover? It wasn’t easy, watching a friend seemingly deteriorate in front of him. Buck knew that with the lack of oxygen to the heart and lungs, it was only a matter of time before the brain was affected as well.
Buck grabbed the oversized sweats and carefully started to maneuver Ezra’s legs from the entanglement of the blankets. Chris held his position, trying to keep the Southerner still while watching Buck slip the sweats past hips and then slip narrow feet into heavy wool socks.
“Ready to get him back on the bed?” Buck asked.
Chris nodded. “Let’s do it slow.” He carefully slipped his arms under Ezra’s shoulders and lifted, just as Buck lifted knees. “Did anyone say how long it would be before we can leave?”
Buck winced in sympathy when the Southerner groaned. “Sheriff said it could take days. There’s only one doctor in town, and he’s trapped in Denver—and it seems they’re out of power as well. Guess they’re having trouble with the stop lights, 14 accidents reported over the radio.”
“Thought this thing was just supposed to blow over.”
“Think the others will have found Gardner?”
“I figure if Gardner’s still on the run he’ll get slowed down as this storm heads east...then maybe we’ll have a chance at him. I already notified the FBI so they’re on the hunt for him as well—it’s just a matter of time.” He needed to think about something else at the moment.
“Yeah, but it’d be nice if we could nail his sorry ass to the wall.” Buck shook his head as he helped make Ezra more comfortable on the bed, propped up by pillows and surrounded by blankets. “How about some food?” He watched as Ezra’s head lolled to his left. “At least he ain’t shiverin’ so bad.”
Chris nodded and closed the drapes, wanting some privacy. “First thing in the morning, I’ll find out when we can get back into Denver...then we’ll take Ezra to the hospital, get him checked out, and then get him home...if at all possible.”
“He’s fine,” Buck said, looking questionably at Chris.
“I’m worried about pneumonia—” he couldn’t say brain damage…as though the words themselves would make it real.
Buck tossed the bag of chips at Chris. “I’ll go get the propane mini stove and warm us up some soup and then we’ll listen to the ballgame on my radio—I even got extra batteries.” He needed to keep busy, and he headed back out to the truck.
Chris sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.
“Boston’s ahead by four,” Buck supplied, placing the battery operated radio on the dresser.
“Why do that to him?” Chris asked aloud, more to himself than Buck. The team leader looked at the bed, hoping that Standish was sleeping…gathering his strength, regaining his wits.
Buck shrugged and looked at the soup cans. “Revenge?”
“They wanted him dead, Buck…but why not put a bullet in him ?…why make him suffer?”
“You can track a gun,” Buck surmised… “ and if a man—”
“—an undercover officer got caught up in a flooding river—”
“Nobody would put two and two together,” Buck finished with a sigh. “They’ll be back.”
Chris stood. “Go get a key to another room…we’ll move Ezra there and snag us a couple of thugs.”
Buck smiled. “I like you’re style, Larabee.” He tossed the soup cans and once again left the room.
Chris stood behind the bathroom door, waiting for the brutes that had brutalized his agent…his friend. Buck had helped him clean the room, making it look as though nobody had been inside. The wonderful plainness of motel rooms; so easy to duplicate and maintain. With Buck in the room next door with Ezra, it was just a matter of waiting for the perpetrators.
Chris had left the shower off, and due to the power outage, it wouldn’t have made much difference. He’d pulled the shower curtain closed, wanting to leave things ambiguous…besides, the chances were they wouldn’t remember how they’d left Levi Grant.
“Man, I’m tellin’ ya…the best fixin’s around is Jack’s Place just south of the 285 exit comin’ out of Huston,” James continued to argue. “Hell, I say we go there, ain’t no power here or anyplace else close too here.” He watched as Cooper dug for the key to the motel room. “And to think we’ve got to stay in this shit-hole town ‘til the bridge is cleared. Least Sue let us crash at her place—she’s a fun little tart don’t you think?” He slapped Cooper on the shoulder as he opened the door.
“Shut the hell up, James…or I’ll throw you in that river right along with Grant.”
Chris clenched his jaw and waited patiently, knowing if he made a move too soon he may lose the opportunity to capture the men. He held his gun firmly in his grasp, ready to fire if needed, and ready to sprint to hell and back if he had to. He wanted this done…he wanted to go home, have a drink with his men, and watch Ezra fling his damn cards through his fingers like Vin ate his damn jellybeans—one right after the other.
He heard the door open and close…
“Better make this quick—‘fore someone takes notice of what we’re doin’,” James said, having not stopped talking since the day before at lunch.
Cooper looked around the room, making sure things hadn’t changed. He couldn’t hear the shower, but he hadn’t expected to, not without power. He reached for the bathroom door, but he froze in place when he felt the familiar end of a gun pressed to the back of his neck.
“One move,” Chris warned, speaking to Cooper, but looking at James, “I’ll kill you, and then your friend.”
Cop or not, Chris wanted justice and he’d get it.
Wisely, Cooper raised his hands in the air and rolled his eyes when he noticed James standing like a marble statue in the center of the hotel room floor.
“On your knees,” Chris ordered, carefully pulling out his cuffs. He looked up and watched Buck enter the room with his handcuffs already out. “We’ll take them down to the sheriff’s office and then haul them into Denver when the weather clears.”
Buck smiled and jerked James’ arms behind his back. “That hurt?” he asked sarcastically.
“We didn’t do nothin’ wrong,” James whined.
“We’ll let the courts decide that…the brutal murder of a Levi Grant may look poorly on an arraignment affidavit,” Buck replied, pulling the former bodyguard from the room. “Shitheads.”
Chris smiled and jerked Cooper to his feet. “I would suggest writing a statement of what and why this happened, before you lawyer up…” he sighed, pushing the big man out the door, “…it may mean the difference between life and death—literally.”
Buck shoved James onto the bed of the truck and waited for Chris to deposit Cooper in much of the same manner. The two criminals had their feet tied and secured to the hitching rail that rested just below the rear window.
Buck patted James’ head like he would a dog and then slammed the tailgate shut, successfully bumping Cooper. “Nice justification for the two of you,” he said, not bothering to apologize for the act.
“Could be seen as police brutality,” Cooper snapped, trying to roll onto his side to relieve the pain the cuffs were causing his hands.
Chris reached over the bed of his truck and grasped Cooper’s kneecap…pulling it as far and as hard as he could, causing the big man to cry out. He looked at the overpaid bodyguard with uncaring eyes. “Good luck proving it.” He let it go and tossed Buck the keys. “Get back here ASAP,” he paused and looked at the two men lying side by side, “…we’ve got cleanup to do.”
Buck nodded. “It’s goin’ to be a bumpy ride.”
“Run over a few sidewalks while you’re at it,” Chris replied, waiting in front of the motel until the truck was gone. He took a deep breath and collected his thoughts before entering the room where Ezra was sleeping.
When Chris opened the door, it seemed as though the entire world had come alive. The TV flickered, the alarm clock flashed with the wrong time, and the lights came back on, He glanced across the street and noticed the lights in the diner, though nobody was there, it looked as though it had never lost power, as the sign that read ‘EAT’ continued to slowly rotate.
Chris smiled and shut the door, noticing for the first time that Ezra had not only moved, but had disappeared underneath the blankets. He slept on his stomach with his head turned away from the window, as though the light of the morning had been too bright, and his left arm hung over the side of his bed—the only portion of his body that was exposed.
Chris nodded; a good sign. He reached for the courtesy coffee maker and grabbed a prepackaged bag of Folgers. Using the bottled water Buck had managed to acquire he started pouring. He reached for the phone, thankful to find it working; dialed the office knowing the boys would be concerned. He glanced around the corner toward the bed and noticed that Ezra hadn’t moved.
He spoke confidently and soundly, not wanting to cause more worry as he listened to Josiah express his concerns. It wasn’t easy, trying to let everybody know that they were alive and doing fine…he silently wished in many ways that ‘Star Trek’s’ transporters were available—how simple they would make things. Chris listened as Vin explained how he and JD had found Daryl Gardner trying to board a flight to Nebraska dressed as a woman, complete with hair and makeup. Vin’s only comment had been, “You should have seen us trying to frisk him—her”. Sixty-one diamonds were discovered on his person— Vin wouldn’t say where they’d been found…Chris took a guess. The guns, however, hadn’t been recovered, but the ATF and FBI were working together to find it. Gardner had given up his main bodyguard Sammy, and most figured the man had taken the moving van and run off with the guns—with that much money involved, it really wasn’t a surprise. Chris had expressed to Nathan the condition in which they found Ezra, and wanted to know about the long-term effects of hypothermia. Would there be brain damage? Heart failure? Pneumonia? Though Nathan tried to sound confident with his answers, there was an underlining concern in his voice. However, without a doctor to look the Southerner over, they’d have to play it by ear—and on some levels, that was for the best.
By the time Chris hung up the coffee was ready and it filled the room with the scents of home. He poured two cups, one for himself and the other in hopes that Ezra would wake and demand his drug of choice. The team leader entered the area where Ezra slept and rested the cups of coffee on the nightstand that separated the two beds. Tentatively, he reached beneath the blankets that covered the Southerner and touched his forehead. Chris smiled when Ezra stirred, pushing the intrusive hand away. “You awake?” he asked, praying for a smart-assed comment.
“No,” came the muffled reply, drowned out by blankets and a dry throat.
“Coffee’s done,” Chris said, seeing the Southerner raise an eyebrow without having to witness it.
Ezra slowly rolled onto his back and pushed the blankets away from his face. Every muscle in his body ached, as though he’d run the Boston Marathon and won. With shaky limbs he ran a hand over his face, trying to gather his wits, trying to understand what was happening.
“Buck and I found you in the next room,” Chris didn’t continue, not feeling the need to.
Ezra nodded, though not remembering exactly what had happened—his mind awash with blurred images, and ominous sounds. “Gardner?” he asked, a memory flashing.
“Detained and awaiting arraignment,” Chris replied, moving toward the bed when he noticed Ezra having trouble trying to sit up. “Nathan said you’re goin’ to be sore for awhile,” he shoved some pillows behind the Southerner’s back, “said you might be a little dizzy on your feet as well—so take things slow.” He moved back to bed and took a seat.
Ezra let his head fall back and he gathered his strength. He wanted to know what had happened, but he didn’t want to know—reminiscent of someone who wanted that million-dollar prize, but knowing they could lose it to their opponent…a fifty-fifty chance Ezra wasn’t ready to take at the moment.
“As soon as we can get across the bridge, we’ll head back…but that may be another day or so. Hope isn’t exactly the most up-to-date town around here.”
“So we’re stranded?” Ezra asked, carefully taking a sip of the hot coffee. The heat felt good going down his tender throat, and it warmed his gut with a vengeance. He had to pause, allow it to settle before he continued.
“For a while,” Chris answered, looking out the window, recognizing his truck. He waited and watched as the tall, lanky, Special Agent Bucklin Wilmington stepped out of the truck with an armload of prepared food. “Hope you’re hungry.”
Buck entered with his usual smile on his face. He looked at Chris in question upon seeing Ezra sitting up and drinking coffee.
Chris nodded, just enough to reassure that everything was going to be all right.
“I got hotcakes, sausage, toast, butter, eggs, creamer for the coffee—got to have creamer for the coffee, and news from the home-front.” He took a deep breath, setting the bags of food onto the table. “A record 73 car accidents in Denver after the power went out. The bridge into Hope will clear within the next 24 hours so we can get the hell out of here, and the sheriff said he’d take care of Bevus and Butthead until we get situated.” He started grabbing containers filled with food. “How’re you feelin’, Ezra?”
Ezra curled his lips, causing an awkward smile. “Better…apparently.” He couldn’t help but feel as though things had gotten bad…extraordinarily bad.
Buck nodded in confidence. “You call the others?” he asked, looking toward Chris.
Larabee nodded. “Everybody knows, and they’ll be ready for us when we get back.”
“Good,” Buck replied. “Let’s eat.”
Everybody Knows, was written by Leonard Cohen, co-written by Sharon Robinson, and preformed by Leonard Cohen. It can be found on the album, I’m Your Man—another great song by the way.