Notes: Just a little story I started long ago and I figured I’d finish it and get it posted. No deep thoughts here, just angst. Poor Ezra, he has no hope for survival.
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Ezra sat in the back of the black SUV. The weapons dealers seemed content, driving down the icy road. They spoke freely of their stock—and their illegal sales of firearms. Their casual appearance and laid-back personas defied their true intentions. The driver, Danny Romone, wasn’t much older than Ezra, but he lacked the finesse and professionalism the undercover agent prided himself on. Danny’s blonde hair and blue eyes added to his striking good looks, but the moment he opened his mouth all his appeal went out the window. Nick Parson sat next to Danny as he drove. Nick was a big man with even bigger aspirations. His uncontrolled black curry hair rested upon his head in an almost comical manner, but his steely eyes and strong jaw gave no indication of a sense of humor.
“I’ll expect payment in unmarked twenties,” Ken Franklin said, sitting beside Ezra in the back seat.
Ezra nodded: “I assume that all the weapons are clean?”
“Just washed,” Ken replied with a grin. His hardened features gave nothing of his sensitive relationship with his granddaughter. He’d murdered men who went against him, forced himself upon women, and he gave no indication of remorse… He would defend what was his until death—taking with him all that got in his way. “I’m scheduled to take Jasmine to her riding lesson later today,” he smiled as he spoke of his granddaughter, “she thinks she wants to be an Olympic Equestrian.”
Ezra smiled and nodded his head. “You don’t believe her?”
Franklin laughed: “I’m afraid I would have to kill anyone who would try and stop her.”
Ezra laughed, despite knowing he was serious. He reached out quickly with his right hand when the SUV shimmied slightly to the right.
Danny corrected the wheel and slowed his speed. “Black ice,” he said softly as they approached the bridge.
Ken nodded in understanding and looked through the darkened windows. As they started to cross the bridge he noticed a thin sheet of ice covering the water below. Danny swore aloud and turned the vehicle violently to the right when a school bus came at them at an angle. The windshield exploded on impact and the haunting sound of metal crunching filled everyone’s ears. Tires squealed and scrapped the side barriers of the bridge. The sudden impact of another vehicle hitting the back of the bus forced the front end of the SUV over the side of the bridge wall, teetering steadily on its center axis.
Danny lay to the right, his head bloodied and face destroyed by shattered glass. Nick continued to scream and yell as blood, saliva, and tears rushed down his face and into his eyes. Ken sat behind Danny, his seatbelt still in place, however his head was bloodied and he lay forward…motionless…dead. Blood dripped into long steady streams down by his feet, covering his shoes and the floor mats. Ezra rubbed his eyes, trying to gather his wits and feeling the lump on the right side of his head start to form. He could hear people screaming and he could feel the rocking motion of the vehicle as it teetered over the side of the bridge. His vision blurred as he looked out the window and watched as children were being pulled and rushed to land from the school bus.
Ezra grasped the handle to the door when he felt the vehicle move suddenly forward. He leaned back as far as he could, trying to compensate for the actions. Quickly he released his seatbelt and tried to focus his eyes out the window.
Nothing made sense.
Cars in awkward positions had surrounded the bus and SUV. People screamed out in pain and fear. Nick tried desperately to crawl out the window that had been shattered, but he was still attached to his seatbelt and couldn’t make any headway. A high-pitched squeal filled the air and the SUV shifted again, dangling even further over the side of the bridge, being held up by its rear tires.
Not wanting to be trapped and drowned, Ezra opened the door and jumped. The chill in the air hit his face and his coat flapped precariously around his head and arms as his body headed for the water below. He hit the icy surface with a violent splash, breaking the minutely thin ice around him. Thousands of needles hit his face, neck, and hands—and then rapidly reached his body. He struggled for air when he reached the surface, his only thought was escaping the freezing water. Moving one arm in front of the other he slowly made his way toward the riverbank. He stopped suddenly and looked up when he heard collected blood-curdling screams and he watched as the SUV finally slipped from the bridge’s edge and hit the water with a bone deafening crash.
The force of the waves pushed him to the water’s edge and slowly he crawled up, lying on the cold, freshly muddied ground. His body relayed the temperature he was feeling and immediately he started to shiver. He reached slowly into his pocket to retrieve his cell phone and then quickly tossed it when water poured form every opening. Using the ground and large boulders, he stood and headed toward the road.
Nobody had noticed him, they only watched the water’s surface as it bubbled and erupted as it absorbed the black vehicle into its abyss.
Ezra continued toward the road, water dripping from his clothing. His hair had already becoming stiff, small crystals already forming on the shoulders of his coat. Unsure of where he was heading, his mind only yearning to get warm, he walked along the edge of the road, searching for someone to help.
Chris jumped up and slammed his phone down, when he finished talking with Travis. Chris didn’t wait, and he headed for his office door yelling at his men to get suited up and ready to head out, telling them all he knew—which wasn’t much.
His pulse raced and his heart pounded franticly in his chest. With automated motions he’d slipped on his coat, adjusted his weapon, and insured his badge was in place around his neck as he headed out the door toward the Bucar he’d managed to acquire without asking.
JD, Buck and the others slipped inside, anticipating what would be asked of them.
“I’ll call Stevens—he’s the best search diver out there,” Buck said, speeding through the streets of Denver. He didn’t want to think that the Southerner was dead.
“Ezra got out,” Vin said with conviction.
“He was supposed to call when he left!” Chris snapped, slamming his palm onto the dashboard.
“Maybe he couldn’t,” Buck offered up, “He could’ave gotten into a situation where he couldn’t take the chance.”
“He can always take the chance—” Chris responded sharply, “—it’s better than this.”
“Sixteen car pile up,” Nathan said softly, “he could be there with the fire department.”
“He would have called,” Chris replied softly.
The house looked like one he’d seen before—but he couldn’t be sure. His mind wandered, taking paths he hadn’t thought about in a long time. He thought about his mother, his father—the sister he’d lost as a boy. Suddenly he stumbled and fell forward, scraping his hands on the gravel. A sharp stone ripped into his pants near his knee; he didn’t feel the long gash it created. Slowly, he stood up, trying desperately to keep his feet under him.
He wasn’t sure how far he’d walked, or for how long—and frankly he didn’t care. His skin felt as though it was slowly being frozen with the use of fire. Odd. He crossed his arms over his chest trying desperately to keep himself warm, but it did little to help.
Ezra thought of his mother…the way she used to be before Annalie’s death—before his father’s death. Maude had been free, unable to deny her true self to anyone. Ezra chuckled, remembering when she used to cook and enjoy it—when she sang at the piano with Anna. Ezra’s smile faded as he remembered her death—hit by a drunk driver when she was riding her bicycle home from school—killed on impact.
Ezra continued to walk—stumble, toward an unknown destination. His head was bowed and his hands hidden within his coat. His face remained solid, like granite, showing no emotion or fear. He couldn’t let his mother see his fear. He remembered how she’d locked herself in her bedroom after the funeral, refusing to leave—refusing to live. It should have been me, he thought to himself, he was the one following her—the one that made Annalie so mad she rode off without him.
He’d been the one to find her.
The back of her bicycle had been bent out of shape, the front wheel continued to spin freely in the untouched frame—the back crumpled beyond recognition. Annalie lay with her face down in the dirt—her legs twisted around her body—
Ezra stopped and bent over, feeling sick to his stomach. He reached out to touch the ground, but found he didn’t need it. Slowly he straightened out and continued down the path. He remembered how his lungs had burned, his throat had felt like hardened leather, and his legs had felt like rubber—he’d run home to find help.
All four miles.
He stopped at the door and waited, unsure of how to get anyone’s attention. Slowly, he reached up with icy hands and pushed the small button that glowed orange when the doorbell rang. He heard voices, but was unaware of where they were coming from.
A few giggles echoed around him and a sudden warm air hit his face when the door opened. A woman gasped, “Dear Lord Above.”
“Ann…Annalie…” Ezra fought through chattering teeth.
Chris and the others jumped from the vehicle as soon as it was stopped and they rushed for the rescue workers. Paramedics prepared the injured for transport while firefighters and tow trucks removed vehicles.
“What about a black SUV?” Chris asked, moving toward the officer in charge.
Officer Burrowitz pointed toward the bridge edge that had been all but demolished. He knew to be respectful. Though Chris was an intimidating individual, it was the badge around his neck that earned him respect.
“Our divers found three bodies,” Burrowitz said, looking at his clipboard.
“Bradly Macormick?” Chris asked, turning worried eyes toward the officer.
“No—nobody by that name.”
“Bradly Macormick is an undercover op—he’s an undercover agent for the ATF by the name of Ezra Standish—I need to know if anyone was taken away or is here by that name—Macormick.” He turned and headed toward the group of paramedics working on the injured.
“I’d do it in a hurry,” Vin said, looking at Burrowitz. “He ain’t one for waitin’.”
“We got a lot of people hurt and worse here—”
Vin stepped forward and looked toward the wreckage around him before returning his gaze to the officer. “How many of ‘em are cops?”
Burrowitz turned and quickly headed away without having to be asked again.
JD looked over the side of the bridge toward the officers in scuba gear as they searched the waters below. Three bodies were laying in body bags near the bank where more officers took information and assessed the damage. “You think he’s alright?” he asked softly, turning around to look at Buck.
“Yeah,” came the confident response. “You know Ezra—he’s got more lives than a cat and he’s tougher ‘an nails.”
“I hope so,” JD sighed, looking at the carnage around him.
“Ezra!” Evie Travis gasped, as he was pulled into the home. She dropped her playing cards onto the small table and jumped up, Nettie Wells soon followed. “You’re damn near froze,” she said, placing her hand on his cheek.
“You know this boy, Evie?” Mattie Jacobs said, helping Nettie pull the heavy icy coat from his back. She had to reach up for his shoulders, her height more accommodating for a child’s play area. She was strong for her size though, and she never let it bother her. She smiled warmly and grasped one of Ezra’s cold hands, wishing she could warm him with just her touch.
“He’s one of Orin’s boys,” Nettie replied.
Joanne Namath rushed to the kitchen to put on some hot water. “You sure know how to throw a bridge party, Mattie!”
Mattie ignored her. “I’ll go start a hot shower—maybe get him warmed up some.”
“Maybe we should call an ambulance,” Amanda asked, carefully maneuvering herself in her wheelchair toward the women that had surrounded the young man. The former dancer watched in bereft amusement. Her long graying hair had been done to perfection and her finely shaped body was now imprisoned by a wheelchair.
“Phones are down,” Mattie replied. “The company is installing a new line…won’t be up for 24 hours.”
Evie gently grabbed Ezra’s arm and started guiding him toward the bathroom.
“I’ve put some towels on the counter and turned the heat up,” Mattie moved to the kitchen, “I’ll get some soup going.”
“Haven’t had this much excitement since Danny came home with a bobcat kitten,” Joanne said with a smile. She grabbed a few blankets and threw them out onto the sofa. “How about a fire Mattie?!” Though younger than the rest of the ladies, she’d been around more—having been the first female police officer in her hometown, she knew the ropes, and she knew how to handle herself.
“Marvelous idea,” Mattie replied from the kitchen.
“Doesn’t anyone here have a cell phone?” Amanda asked, watching as everyone rushed around the home like headless chickens.
Nettie shook her head as she helped Evie move Ezra into the bathroom. Steam was already fogging the mirrors and hanging heavy in the air. Ezra’s teeth chatted almost violently, still to cold to realize what was happening around him. He watched in slow motion as Nettie removed his shoes and socks, his toes white with hints of blue. He jerked his head toward Evie who helped him slip out of his jacket and shirt. When she reached out for the front of his pants he grabbed her hands, stopping her from going any further.
Evie chuckled: “Good heavens…” she sighed, “…got ahead of myself for a moment.” She locked eyes with Nettie and smiled. Both women gently grasped an arm and shuffled Ezra to the shower.
“I’ll go see about some clothes,” Nettie said softly, leaving the room, shutting the door behind her.
Evie helped Ezra get seated while the water from the shower pelted his skin in warmth. She knelt on the floor next to the tub, making sure the water didn’t get too hot or too cold. “What happened?” she asked softly, wishing she could call her husband.
Ezra tucked his arms and hands close to his chest and hung his head forward, letting the water rain down on his shoulders and head. His skin turned bright pink in spots, and he still shook from the deep-set chill that rested in his bones. “…Don’t…don’t remember…” he admitted, ringing his hands together.
Evie nodded and soaked a washcloth in the warm water and placed it on the back of Ezra’s neck. She ran her fingers through his hair and immediately found the goose egg on the side of his head. She reached out and gently grasped his right hand, finding gravel imbedded in his skin, cuts, and scrapes along both palms. Without warning she fingered the hole in his pants and found a long gash below his kneecap.
The door to the bathroom opened and Nettie stepped inside with an armload of clothing. “Mattie said he could use some of her husband’s clothes. They’ll be a bit big on him, but warm.” She placed the heavy sweatshirt on the counter with the heavy socks and an older pair of jeans. “He’ll have to go commando until he gets home—”
“Commando…Nettie?” Evie turned and smiled at her friend.
“Raised three boys,” Nettie replied with a grin of her own. “He warmin’ up at all?” She sat on the edge of the bathtub and pressed her hands to Ezra’s back, shoulders, and neck.
Evie watched Ezra’s eyelids droop, as the heat finally started to set. “You feeling better?”
Ezra nodded and took a deep breath, moving his toes, making sure they weren’t frozen solid. “Sorry,” he said quietly, “didn’t mean to disrupt your bridge party.”
“Hell,” Nettie shook her head, “I was losin’ anyway.”
Ezra smiled and nodded, but he kept his head down, allowing the water to wash over his shoulders and back. “I should call Chris.”
“Can’t,” Nettie replied. “Phones are out.”
Ezra chuckled and wiped his face with his hand, how appropriate, he thought and then feeling the pain in his palms for the first time. He looked at the abrasions, cuts, and embedded gravel.
“I’ve got some lotion that will take care of that,” Evie said softly. She reached out and turned the water off after feeling the temperature start to cool. “Are you going to be able to change by yourself?” She placed a towel over his head and roughly started to dry his hair.
Ezra nodded: “Unquestionably.” He wasn’t about to be dressed by ladies.
Nettie chuckled and reached out and carefully draped a towel over his shoulders. “We’ll be outside if you need anything.” She helped Evie to her feet and both women exited the bathroom. “I always liked a man who was modest…”
“Highly underestimated…” Evie replied, shutting the door behind her. “…I tell you, when Orin and I were first married…”
Ezra grasped the towel edges and pulled it tightly around his shoulders. Despite the warmth of the room the air was too cold for him, much too cold. He looked at the pile of clothing on the counter, wishing it were closer. Slowly he stood up, using the walls to help him keep his balance. Everything seemed a bit…tilted. Without waiting he pulled the sweatshirt over his head and shoulders and relished in its warmth. Quickly he dropped his pants and boxers and then dried himself off before slipping into the oversized jeans. The waist hung low on his hips, but thankfully stayed up. He sat on the toilet seat and slipped on the warm socks, each of his toes thanking him as he did so. He sat there a moment, closing his eyes as he rested his face in his hands…trying to ward off the incessant chill.
Evie knocked on the door when Ezra didn’t appear after a few minutes. Slowly she turned the knob and entered, finding him standing with his arms crossed tightly over his chest. She smiled when she noted the towels had been hung, and his clothing had been folded, despite being soaking wet. She reached out and grasped his elbow and led him into the living room where a fire was blazing and coffee had been set out. He took a seat in a chair next to the fire and didn’t object when a heavy blanket was tossed over his shoulders.
“So what’s a smart lookin’ boy like yourself doin’ out swimmin’ in this weather?” Joanne asked, picking up her cup of coffee.
Ezra smiled tightly, trying to remember exactly what had happened. The warmth of the fire and blanket felt good and as a result his body just wanted to lay back and fall asleep. He never heard the doorbell ring.
Evie smiled when she opened the door and found a uniformed police officer staring her in the face.
“Ma’am,” he spoke politely. “I’ve just stopped by to—”
“Do you have a cell phone?” Evie interrupted.
“A cell phone…our lines are down and won’t be up until tomorrow and I need to call my husband…I’ve found his missing man.”
“Ma’am?” The officer took a step back.
“My husband is Justice Travis,” Evie replied with a smile. “Do you have a cell phone?”
The officer nodded and carefully reached into his pocket and retrieved the phone and handed it to Evie. She took it and quickly dialed her husband’s number and told him what she knew. When he hung up she handed the phone back.
The officer smiled and took his phone. “Was that ATF’s Travis?” he asked shyly.
“Yes,” Evie replied.
The officer nodded and bashfully shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve been wantin’ to get a job with them—heard real good things about that team he put together.”
Evie winked: “Keep at it,” she encouraged, “they may start another one someday.”
He nodded and slowly turned to head back to his patrol car. “Oh,” he gasped, not wanting to forget why he’d arrived. “There was a wreck—”
“Yeah,” Evie replied, “My husband told me.” She politely excused herself from his presence and closed the heavy wood door. “Orin’s calling the boys and they should be here shortly,” she said, taking a seat next to Ezra who had fallen asleep with his head against the back of the chair.
“He sure is a handsome devil,” Joanne said, dipping her toasted cookie in her coffee. She smiled when the other ladies looked at her. “Reminds me of a boy I dated before Harold.”
Nettie laughed and shook her head, having known the man she spoke of very well. “What did Harold have that handsome didn’t?” She looked at Ezra’s sleeping face, hoping he wasn’t listening.
Joanne sighed and shook her head: “We just knew when we met that we’d be married—destiny—I guess you could say.”
“Hogwash,” Amanda laughed. “Harold had shoulders that could carry the world and you always had a thing for shoulders.”
“I did not,” Joanna denied, despite having a smile on her face.
Evie shook her head and pulled the blankets further up over Ezra’s shoulders. “Orin had the sexiest lips I’d ever seen,” she sighed, leaning back in her chair, “he used to smile and I swear it was all I could do to keep from fainting.” She giggled.
“Evie Travis,” Mattie gasped, “I never would have guessed…his lips…really?”
“What else is there?” Evie chuckled.
Chris yelled, “What?” into his cell phone, after having spent the past hour looking for his missing agent. He wasn’t in the mood to hear about complaints from his superiors.
“It’s Orin,” came the soft-spoken reply. “Ezra’s alive—”
“He there?!” Chris’ brow furrowed and his face glowed red. Nobody dared get close to him, fearing he may explode.
“No,” Orin replied confidently, “he apparently walked to Mattie Jacobs place nearly frozen and unaware of how he got there. Evie and Nettie are there right now—bridge party,” he answered before the question could be asked, “he’s alright, should probably see a doctor just to be sure.”
Chris sighed: “Thank God.” He ran his fingers through his hair and nodded toward the others, letting them know everything was all right.
“Go get him,” Orin replied, “and watch yourselves, those ladies can be a handful when they want to be.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Chris slapped his cell closed and started moving toward their vehicle. “Let’s go.”
Evie placed the palm of her hand on Ezra’s forehead and smiled when she felt his warm temperature. He didn’t appear have a fever and he seemed to be sleeping peacefully. She listened to the ladies around her talking and chatting about their lives and children. So many memories wrapped into one room. “I’ll get it,” she said softly, getting to her feet when the doorbell rang.
“Maybe it’s another one,” Joanne asked with a wink.
“Perhaps it’s six,” Nettie chuckled, shaking her head realizing she’d lost another game of solitaire.
Evie smiled and opened the door and looked at six worried faces. “He’s fine,” she said softly, moving out of their way.
“What happened?” Chris asked, wanting more than what the judge had told him.
Evie closed the door and watched as Nathan quickly stuck a thermometer in Ezra’s ear, waking him. Ezra did his best to push him away but failed. “Showed up at the door, soaking wet and covered in ice. Nettie and I got him into a hot shower, got him changed, and he’s been there ever since.”
Chris smiled: “You did all that?”
“Couldn’t let him freeze now could I?” She gently touched his shoulder and headed into the kitchen. “Would you boys like some coffee?”
Chris marched forward and nodded politely to the ladies before he took a seat in front of the Southerner. “You alright?”
“He’s got a good sized goose egg on his head,” Nathan interrupted, “but other than that I think he’s okay—we should probably take him to the hospital just to get him checked out—”
“I’m fine,” Ezra objected.
“You could come down with pneumonia,” Nathan said, looking toward Chris.
Ezra rolled his eyes and leaned forward, resting his face in his hands. “How’d you find me?” he asked, looking up.
“Evie,” Chris replied, looking up when she set a tray filled with coffee cups on the end table.
“You never said anything about all these boys being so good looking,” Joanne smiled, never getting up from her seat.
“Ladies,” Buck said, shoving chocolate brownies into his mouth, “these are the best sweets I’ve ever had.” He rubbed his bottom lip free of the tasty treat with his thumb and sucked it off, grinning all the while. JD and Vin soon joined him at the table, piecing on all the treats.
“We have an opening,” Amanda smiled, pushing her wheelchair back a moment, looking at the young men eating all of her treats. “Frannie and Mardge were short partners…so they left before all the excitement.”
“Partners for what?” JD asked, before shoving a cookie into his mouth—whole cookie.
“Bridge, darlin’,” Nettie smiled, “or Oh Hell—depending on your mood.” Again she slapped her cards down in disgust.
Chris shook his head while watching his men devour the food at the table. Even Josiah was indulging—he couldn’t seem to keep his fingers out of the peanut butter cups. Nathan remained beside Ezra, searching for an impending cough, sneeze, or shiver—none of which anyone expected to find.
“I still think we should have him checked out,” Nathan voiced.
“I’m fine,” Ezra replied, gently touching the bump on his head.
“I’ll stay with him tonight,” Chris offered.
“Ah hell,” Ezra sighed, shaking his head, “I’m fine.”
“So’s Buck,” Chris offered, looking at his explosives expert detonate the plate of double fudge chocolate cookies. Chris sighed and shook his head: “Bad example.”
Ezra nodded tiredly in agreement.
“We should go,” Nathan said softly, looking hard at Chris, and then tilting his head toward the others.
Chris nodded and then quickly shook his head in disbelief.
“Stay for dinner,” Mattie suggested, looking hopeful.
“We can’t, Ma’am. We should get back to work.” Nathan stood up with his bright orange medical bag.
“Let’s stay,” Vin voiced, his stomach growling with anticipation. He looked toward the kitchen and watched as Mattie quickly had pots and pan out, which was soon followed by potatoes, carrots, cheese, and homemade bread. “Yeah,” he said again, “let’s stay.”
“We wouldn’t want to be a burden on all you fine ladies,” Josiah said softly, hinting with his voice that he wanted to stay and eat.
“Nonsense,” Joanne voiced, never moving from her place on the couch, “You won’t be a burden here.” She smiled and looked at all the fine looking men around her. “This is kind of refreshing—I get tired of looking at Harold watching ESPN.” She smiled and winked at Chris.
Ezra chucked and leaned back in his chair. He wasn’t going anywhere.
Nathan shook his head and looked at Standish. “You sure you’re feelin’ all right?” he asked softly.
Ezra smiled and nodded: “Right as rain, Mr. Jackson.”
“So what’s for dinner?” Buck asked, peaking into the kitchen.
Chris sighed and shook his head, never leaving his seat from the sofa.
“Don’t worry,” Joanne said with a smile. “We may look old, but we can still kick some ass when we need to.”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” Chris admitted with a grin.
Joanne smiled and took another sip from her cup. “You’re smart—I like smart men.”
“How about some bridge?” Amanda asked, rolling closer to the men sitting around Ezra.
“How about poker?” Ezra asked with a mischievous grin. He wasn’t that tired.
Joanne smiled: “Now that sounds like a plan!”