Under the Red Sky

Book Ten

by Beth AKA Midge

ATF Universe

Previous Stories in this Series
The South Wind
The Mouths of Crocodiles
High and Dry
China Roses
Brothers in Arms
Wayward Son
Calling Elvis
A Raven in the Snow
My Noble Friend

Notes: You will want to read the others before attempting this story simply because it´s getting close to the end and quite a few things are going to come into play. This story was supposed to be really serious all the way through but my blood sugar level had other ideas. Plus I had just watched the episode ‘Humbug´ from the X files. Bear with me. Enjoy! Only one more story in the series left to go.

Special Thanks to Julie, Jen, and Antoinette, for all your help.

Size: Approx 151K

Chapter 1
Chris leaned back in his chair and sighed in relief. Judge Orin Travis had called and informed him that the Colorado Supreme Court had ruled in favor of keeping Chris Larabee and his ATF team as part of the law enforcement community. The Justices had all agreed that disbanding this unique group of men could have repercussions that no one was prepared for. So it was official. The State of Colorado now had one ATF team that could work along side the FBI, Police, and other investigative agencies to help control crime.

Now that everyone´s job was secure the team was back to business. Ezra had fully recovered from his ordeal, as had the rest of the men. It had taken quite a lot out of each of them to realize that they weren´t invincible. It took almost losing one of their own to prove it to them.

Jared Harrison was proving to be more difficult to investigate, that coupled with the fact that they had all been busy working on other assignments left little room to learn about the man behind the rumors surrounding Ezra. However, it was still at the top of Chris´ priority list and as soon as they had some time they would start back to work on it.

Vin knocked on the door frame of Chris´ office. “Hey, Cowboy,” he said, walking into the room and back toward the window. The city was calling it a night. Office lights from the surrounding buildings were slowly going out indicating to the curious observer that employees´ were going home.

“Everyone go home for the night?” Chris asked, leaning forward in his chair and resting his elbows on his desk.

“Hell no,” Vin gasped, “after hearin´ the good news about us stayin´ around for a while they all decided to go down to Inez´s and get some beers. They´re waitin´ for us.”

“Who´s buying the beer?” Chris asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

“Buck made a bet with Ez.” Vin laughed. “He bet that if he could get Inez to go out on a date with ‘im that Ez would have to buy all the drinks.” He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the wall. “Buck´s feelin´ real confident cuz Inez threw ‘im that kiss the other day. Anyway, Ez agreed. He even broadened the stakes. He bet that all Buck had to do was get one of the saloon´s employees´ workin´ to go out with ‘im.”

“What´s the catch?”

“Inez took off for two weeks to visit her folks in Texas. So she got her two cousins, Antonio and Alfredo, to watch the bar while she´s gone.” Vin laughed again. The idea of Buck having to ask one of the men out on a date so he wouldn´t have to buy the beer tickled the sharpshooter´s funny bone.

Chris laughed along with Vin. “When is Buck going to learn not to make a bet with Ezra?” He shook his head in disbelief.

“Don´t rightly care…as long as someone else is buyin´ my beer.” He slapped Chris on the shoulder and headed out of the room. He wanted to get down to the saloon.

Chapter 2

Judge Travis stepped off the elevator with determination in his stride. Grasped tightly in his arms was a brown box and by the look on his face he wasn´t happy with what was inside it. Vin quietly slipped into Chris´ office to let him know that the Judge was on his way. It was unusual for Travis to pay the team a visit unless he´d previously arranged it. This hadn´t been planned.

Travis stepped into the office ignoring Vin as he quietly slipped out. The sharpshooter shrugged his shoulders when the others looked at him in question.

Chris cleared his throat as the judge stood before him, almost trembling with anger. “Is there a problem?”

Travis dumped the contents of the box onto the desk. “Putting it mildly…yes Agent Larabee…there is a problem.”

Chris tried to keep his composure in check while he picked up one of the x-rated videos. He stood up and walked to his door then ordered his men to join him. He returned to his seat determined to maintain a serious poise.

Judge Travis rested comfortably in one of the chairs while the rest of the team entered the office and got themselves resting in various positions around the room. Travis was not a happy man and everyone knew it. Chris picked up another video and noticed it had been opened. He looked curiously at the judge.

“Evie was putting together a presentation on the destruction of today´s youth by means of such trash.” He eyed the videos.

“You might want to rewind next time,” Chris quietly replied, trying to maintain a business like facade.

“All right Judge!” Buck yelped, entering the office. He headed straight for the desk and started looking over the collection. “Hey, I´ve never seen this one.”

JD joined the ladies man at the desk. He picked up a video that had captured his attention. It obviously hadn´t been opened but the older couple on the cover surprised him. “Old and Still Loving it?” he looked questionably at Judge Travis.

“I didn´t watch it Agent Dunne,” Travis snapped, before he had a chance to reason with his sensibilities for justifying himself. He was a respectable member of the community. Not a team member who should be under the same scrutiny as the others.

“Yeah but…you´re old.”

“Old yes…dead no,” he snapped back.

“You ol´ dog you.” Buck grinned wickedly. He held up his right hand to give the judge a high five but received a deadly glare instead. He dropped his hand and looked sheepishly around the room.

“I want whomever…” Travis looked toward Ezra and Josiah who were sitting comfortably on the small sofa in the corner of the office, “ordered these to please cancel the order.”

“I´ll get it taken care of Judge,” Chris said, trying to ease the moment. He looked severely at his men.

“Evie and I would appreciate that.” Travis tipped his head to the men and left the office knowing that Chris would take care of the problem.

“So,” Chris leaned back in his seat, “who ordered the videos?” He looked hard at Ezra. He had a feeling that the undercover agent was behind this.

“Holy Shit!” Buck gasped, looking at the receipt he pulled from the box that the judge had deposited on the floor next to the desk. “This says I ordered these,” he sighed in disbelief. The ladies man grabbed the box and started throwing the videos in it. “Well, if I´m payin´ for ‘em then I´m by George gonna watch ‘em.”

Chris watched Buck leave with his box of videos while the others shook their heads. The team leader turned his attention toward Ezra. “Do you want to explain to me what just happened?”

Ezra cleared his throat and leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees. “I believe we just learned that Judge Orin Travis is a pervert in denial.”

JD and Vin snorted and failed to stop laughing even after Chris threw them a look of warning. Wisely, they both left the office in a hurry. A fear of retribution was driving them.

“Damn Ezra,” Nathan mumbled. “That´s the Judge you´re talkin´ about.”

“I´m only voicing my opinion Mr. Jackson, nothing more.”

Chris let his head fall forward and land with a thud on his desk. Flashbacks of coaching Adam´s t-ball team flooded his mind. One of the boys was an avid prankster, even at the tender age of four. He found it necessary to super glue the ball to the tee. Perhaps Standish had an illegitimate son?

“We best go Brother,” Josiah slapped Ezra on his shoulder, “before Brother Chris blows a gasket.”

Chapter 3

The day had come and gone in a hurry and Chris rested his feet on the windowsill of his home office while leaning back in his chair. The tumbler filled with whisky and ice rested idly on his desk, beads of sweat running down the side onto the leather cover. He watched the clouds through his window form into all different shapes, exchanging images of his present for people of his past. It´s amazing the kind of things one can think about with time alone. The pictures in the sky only reflected his train of thought. Memories of his wife and son seemed to be the focus of his intellection.

Chris sat the file he´d started reading on his desk, the same file he´d read a hundred times over, and ran his hand through his hair. In large bold print was the word ‘unsolved´ written in red on the first page. The car bomb that had killed Sara and Adam had been intended for him. He was convinced of it. He waved goodbye, wanting more than anything to with them to the zoo, but a case had kept him from venturing out. As soon as he closed the door to their house that fateful Sunday morning, he heard an explosion that rattled the glass in the windows and shook the bookcases, pictures, and dishes. In an instant they were gone.

He looked again at the photo on his desk. The last picture taken of his wife and son, the one item that helped him remember. There was no denying he missed them. He missed the way Adam would pull at his shirt wanting to play a game of catch before the sun went down, or the way he fed his vegetables to Wasted when he didn´t think his mother was looking. He missed the way Sara would hide her smile because she knew what Adam was doing. Chris also missed the way she´d sing in the shower when she didn´t think he could hear her. He opened the file again trying to answer questions he didn´t have answers for. The case was never far from his mind and he knew, like Ezra, that everyone had things in their past they needed answers to.

Vin, though he´d never admit it, wanted to know who his father was and when time allowed he researched the few leads his mother had left him before she died, which wasn´t much. A few photographs and some names. Buck was troubled by the death of his own mother. She´d died tragically of a Heroin overdose fifteen years ago. It wasn´t unknown that she´d had a past with drugs but prior to her death she´d been sober six years. Buck idolized his mother to the point of sainthood and in his eyes something had happened to cause her to fall back into the temptation of drug use. Josiah had demons of his own he was battling and the case from six weeks ago had caused him to revisit those demons. Nathan had come to terms with his pains and sorrows. Which extended from the tragic death of his mother to the devastating death of his father. Here, however, he´d found a home and like the rest of them and friends to share it with. JD had never questioned his mother about his father but like Vin he to wondered about the man. Did he know he had a son and did he even care? Maybe that´s what kept the young JD from looking into his mothers past the fear of finding out who his father is only to learn that he wouldn´t matter.

The team leader was thankful they had all made it this far. Ezra had been back at work full time for the past three weeks. The first week after the incident had been slow, he´d slept most of the time and for that Nathan was pleased. So was Chris. They had written up their reports and arrests had been made. It was also learned that Carl Dietrich, aka Ezra Standish, was supposed to be the donor for more than just the girl. His heart was intended for a patient in Miami Florida while his lungs were meant for a cancer patient in Alberta. How Dr. Wade found out that Ezra was an undercover agent still remained a mystery and Chris seriously doubted if they would ever find out. They were lucky, however, that he did find out he was a cop, because if they hadn´t of, Ezra wouldn´t be with them now.

The team was well-rested and looking foreword to working their next case. Having spent the majority of the past few weeks catching up on paperwork. Chris, however, had been spending more of his time looking over the file that contained photographs of a burned out car, the car his wife and son had been killed in. The case had never been closed. All the evidence gathered had led to dead ends. Now, on the third anniversary of their deaths Chris once again found himself reliving the event.

So much had happened since then. He´d spent the first few months looking for the bottom of the bottle. It had been Buck who´d pulled him out and helped him see the light. Sara would have wanted him to continue because that was the man she´d grown to love. It took a while for Chris to understand that but once he did nothing would keep him down. His men and this team were now the priority in his life.

Chris picked up the phone after the first ring. He´d been expecting the judge to give him a call regarding the team´s next assignment. They were all looking forward to a change of pace.


Nathan entered the offices with a grin that reached from one ear to the other. He was late, something that wasn´t normally affiliated with the medic. The others noticed the bounce in his step and the bright glow that seemed to follow him.

Buck slipped out of the kitchenette and smiled. “Hey, Nate,” he joked good heartedly, “you been watchin´ some of those new videos of mine.” He slapped the healer on his arm.

“No offense Buck, but I don´t need to watch videos like that to show me how to move a woman,” Nathan replied.

“Burn,” JD gasped. He licked his finger and touched his butt while making a sizzling sound. Buck in turned shoved him none to gracefully in the arm.

“What´s goin´ on Nate?” Vin asked, slipping out of the kitchenette stirring his cup of coffee.

Nathan smiled again barely able to contain himself. “Raine and I are goin´ to have a baby.”

Whoops and hollers could be heard around the room. Josiah and Ezra came out of the conference room in confusion while Chris exited his office wanting to know what all the commotion was about. Buck ran past Chris in search of some cigars. This was something to celebrate.

+ + + + + + +

Buck searched Chris´ desk looking for his cigar stash. He knew he had one. What he did find, however, was the file containing the information regarding Sara and Adam´s death. As his longest friend, Buck should have known that the three-year anniversary was yesterday. The ladies man shook his head at the thought. He should have been there for his friend. But the more he thought about it the more he began to realize this was the first time in three years that Chris hadn´t shown up to work exhibiting evidence of a hangover. Perhaps the team leader had found himself dealing with his family´s deaths rather than engrossing himself in the pain of it.

Buck grabbed the box of cigars and sighed. Never in a million years did he think that he was going to be an uncle. Uncle Buck, only he´d have to watch his diet so he didn´t end up looking like John Candy in the movie. In a matter of fact, Nathan´s child was going to have six uncles. And if by chance Raine had a girl, there would be six very protective uncles ready to do a background check on all her impending boyfriends. Buck grinned to himself as he exited the office. Maybe this would be the first child with many more to come.

+ + + + + + +

“So have you thought of a name?” JD asked enthusiastically. He took the cigar from Buck as he passed them out to everyone in the room.

“It´s a bit early yet to decide a name,” Nathan said with a smile. The idea of being a father was a challenge he was up for. While the others thought up names if the child was a boy Nathan quietly wished for a girl, a girl with Raine´s beauty and strength. No matter the out come the child would be well loved by everyone, and that´s all that mattered.

“Buck, I thought you were suppose to pass these out after the baby gets born?” JD asked, watching as Buck joyfully made his way around the room handing out cigars.

Josiah cleared his throat, “I must point out that my rile of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after, and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them.” Josiah smiled at the astonished faces that looked questionably at him. “Winston Churchill,” he replied with a chuckle.

“You got a quote in that head of yours for babies?” Vin asked.

Josiah thought a moment and smiled. “A loud noise at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other…Ronald Knox.”

“Yes, Mr. Jackson, dirty diapers will be a common occurrence in the Jackson household.” Ezra exposed a dimpled grin. “Congratulations.” He held out his hand for Nathan to shake and Nathan did so proudly.

Josiah gently squeezed his friend´s shoulder offering his support for the blessing he´d been able to share. Nathan in turn seemed to glow even more. He was proud and had every reason in the world to be.

“The baby´s due in late December. Raine and I have decided to wait and get married after she graduates.” Nathan answered the unasked questions. It was important to Raine that they wait until she graduated from college before she married and Nathan understood her hesitance. Raine was one of the most independent women he knew, that´s part of the reason he admired her so. And two years would pass by rather quickly. What would it matter anyway, in their eyes they were already married. Having been together for more than three years. They shared the same home, the same dreams, and the same goals; they shared everything, including their feelings for one another. What more was needed to create a family?

“Hey, that means I won´t be ‘the kid´ anymore.” JD smiled happily.

“Sorry JD but you´re always goin´ to be ‘the kid´,” Buck replied with grin.

“Shut up Buck.”

+ + + + + + +

Once everyone had a chance to congratulate Nathan on his blessed event Chris then ordered his men into the conference room. It was time to discuss the new case, or better described as their next assignment. He waited until his men were seated in their usual chairs around the long table before he started. This was not going to be fun. In many ways Chris was thankful for Nathan´s good news, because half of his team was going to be pissed about their next assignment while the other half was going to be thrilled.

Chris cleared his throat and looked around the room at the faces of his men. “Judge Travis called and informed me last night that we´re all heading up to Wyoming for a week´s worth training.” A collected sigh could be heard throughout the room. “With the increase of meth labs and gun violence both the ATF and the FBI are holding training camps around the country over the next eight months. Everybody is required to attend.” Chris stressed the last point not wanting to hear any further complaints.

“What about all that training we just had?” Buck went ahead and voiced his complaint.

“This is standardized training for all agents. It´ll include seminars on chemical reactions, strategic goals, biological warfare on American soil, and children with guns.” Chris raised his head and looked around the room.

“Will there be field training as well?” Josiah asked, resting comfortably in his chair.

“Yes,” Chris replied. He was rather surprised he didn´t hear more complaints. “We´ll drive up the day after tomorrow so get ready…”

“Drive?” Ezra questioned before Chris had a chance to finish. The Southerner had no desire to spend hours locked up in a vehicle with Vin´s eating habits, Buck´s fascination with Elvis, JD´s constant ‘air drumming´, and Josiah´s ability to compare fields of winter wheat to life´s reason of being.

“We´re limited on funds so the agency is restricting airline costs, we´re getting stuck with the suburban.” Chris smiled wickedly.

“Road trip,” Buck almost shouted. He was thrilled with the opportunity to play his new ‘Elvis sings Country´ CD.

“It´s a fourteen hour drive to Boysen Reservoir and then another hour to the training camp.” Chris heard a round of gasps and chuckles from his men. He noticed Ezra and Vin seemed to be the ones most reluctant to accept the new assignment. Nathan was still riding high and would be for quite some time. Josiah, as usual, accepted whatever was placed in front of him. Buck and JD were already conspiring on the collection of junk food to take with them. “We´re also required to get our yearly vaccinations…”

“Oh, come on,” Vin objected. For some reason each year he got a vaccination shot, flue shot, or whatever kind of shot they´d invent for government employees´ he´d get sick. He hated it.

“It´s not up to me Vin.” Chris watched as both Vin and Ezra shook their heads in disbelief. He understood their hesitation when it came to getting vaccinations, they both suffered from side effects of ones they´d been given years ago. “Tomorrow we´ll meet with the Agency doctor and Friday we´ll head up to Wyoming for some fun,” he said, with a knowing smile.

+ + + + + + +

Chris figured they would have to stay overnight in a town along the way. Driving for fourteen hours would be wearing on everyone´s nerves and he didn´t want to have to kill one of his own men when his temperament got in the way. He wanted to drive as far as they could the first day so he didn´t make prior arrangements for hotel rooms. He figured when they got tired enough they would find a town along the way and stop for the night.

One other ATF team would be there for the training seminar. SAC Peter Gebb, from Kansas City, and nine of his agents would be there. Two FBI teams, one from Phoenix Arizona, and the other from Las Vegas Nevada would also be attending. This would be interesting to say the least. Chris had failed to mention the psychologist that would be observing and holding his own discussion group with the agents. From Chris´ understanding the man intended to talk about trust, team relations, and team communications. The team leader sighed at the thought. He hoped this psychologist had a thick skin, because he was going to need it by the time his men got done with him.

Chapter 4

The doctor actually looked scared when Vin shot him a look of warning from across the room. Poor JD was the one who had to suffer the consequences when Dr. Dwayne Parker stuck the needle into the kids arm with shaky hands. JD yelped in protest when the thick brown fluid entered the muscle tissue.

“Hell JD, I´ve had bee stings that hurt worse than that,” Buck teased, while rolling down the sleeve to his shirt.

“I guess they would when they´re the size of elephants,” JD replied sarcastically. He quickly moved away from the doctor´s grasp after he placed a small circular band-aid over the needle prick.

“In comparison to you…they would be the size of elephants.” Buck´s grin was quickly wiped off his face when JD took off after him.

Chris shook his head and rolled his eyes in disbelief as he heard the garbage can from down the hall go rolling down the aisle. Josiah chuckled at the antics. In some way, those two were related the big man was convinced of it. Nathan rolled the sleeve to his shirt down and stood back ready to help Chris and Josiah hogtie Vin and Ezra down while the doctor gave them their shots. If the doctor didn´t turn tail and run before they had the chance.

Vin looked ready to bolt. If he were an animal caught in a trap he would have chewed his own leg off hours ago. He tried to maintain a calm facade but he was failing miserably. Ezra was a different story. He was too calm for Chris´s taste. Granted the man had the best poker face he´d ever seen but considering what he´d been through these past few weeks. It wasn´t lost on everyone that Ezra hated doctors, even before the incident with Dr. Wade.

“So might I presume there will be side effects?” Ezra asked, while remaining seated.

Dr. Parker cleared his throat while nervously preparing the next syringe. “Possible mild headache and a slight fever.”

“What do you mean ‘possible´?” Vin snapped pacing the back of the room.

“As explained in Webster´s Dictionary: that may or can be, exist, happen, be done, be used.” Ezra removed his jacket and proceeded to roll up the sleeve to his shirt. He ignored the looks of disbelief being directed towards him. Chris just shook his head with a grin. “I see words Mr. Larabee,” he explained.

“Well,” Josiah sighed, “that explains a lot.” He smiled and watched carefully as Ezra clenched his jaw in anticipation of the shot. Or perhaps it was the doctor´s touch he dreaded.

Vin watched as Ezra grabbed his jacket after receiving the injection and decided he could do this as well. He wasn´t scared, or so he tried to convince himself. At least nobody was asking him to bend over and cough. He hated doctors. People in white coats playing God, that´s all they were. “Make this quick,” Vin demanded.

The doctor looked nervously at the sharpshooter who was giving him a look that would terrify Geronimo. Dwayne Parker carefully swabbed a small portion of Vin´s deltoid muscle wishing all the while he were someplace else…anyplace else.

“So how long before these side effects happen?” Vin asked, clenching his fists.

“Twenty four to forty eight hours,” Dr. Parker quickly replied. He quickly moved back once the shot had been given and sighed in relief when both Agents Tanner and Standish left. “I think I need to change my shorts,” he said, watching the two figures leave.

Josiah chuckled and slapped Dr, Parker on the shoulder. “You won´t be the first.”

Dr. Parker nodded his head understanding the implication. He reached behind him and handed Chris a sheet of paper, “That´s just a list of what to watch for in case of side effects.”

“Thought you said it was just mild headaches and a slight fever?” Chris asked, looking at the list.

“It is, but it´s standard that I give this information to you in written form.” Dr. Parker confirmed and nodded his head when Chris, Nathan, and Josiah left the room. He was thankful that was over.

Chapter 5

Mid April seemed like the perfect time of year to be driving. The snow had long since parted and now it seemed when the sun came out people of all ages flocked to the sun like moths did to light. When the sun wasn´t shining then it was raining but nobody seemed to care because spring was well on its way.

Rather than having everyone meet at the Federal Building Chris agreed to pick everyone up in the Suburban borrowed from the agency. He wanted to get an early start. Ezra, however, had other ideas. JD and Vin had taken up residence in the back seat and true to form the sharpshooter had brought his bag of jerky and JD listened to his headphones while ‘air drumming´. Josiah and Nathan sat in the front seats because of their size. They didn´t have a problem with it. Josiah had offered to drive the first leg of the trip while Nathan took the second. Buck and Chris sat in the middle seat while Vin, the only one brave enough to knock on the Southerner´s door, went to retrieve him.

Much to everyone´s surprise Ezra was awake and ready to go, although he didn´t look happy about it. With a duffle bag thrown over his shoulder he mutedly followed Vin back to the vehicle. Ezra groaned when he saw the grocery bags full of Cheetoes, peanut M&M´s, Doritos, and Twinkies. Apparently Buck and JD had been the ones to get the ‘food for the road´. A cooler rested beneath the pile of duffle bags and Ezra hoped Josiah or Nathan had brought something eatable.

Vin crawled over the middle seat completely content on sitting in the back seat. Buck scooted over as Ezra slid in not bothering to buckle his seat belt. Nobody was going to push him on the subject. Buck looked over and smiled when Josiah started the engine and Elvis´s voice rang out over the speakers. Chris shook his head when Ezra covered his eyes with his hand and leaned back into the seat. This was going to be a long trip.

+ + + + + + +

They were only four hours from Boysen Reservoir when Chris decided he´d had enough. They needed to stop for the night and get something to eat and then get a good night´s sleep. Buck had brought every CD he had of Elvis and frankly the team leader didn´t think he was going to make it through one more song. JD had given up on listening to his music as well. As expected the bucar, or agency vehicle, had a broken speaker system and the controls seemed to be stuck on high volume. JD had, of course, tried to rewire the system but unfortunately someone else had tried the same tactic and left them short of wire. Vin had eaten three bags of Oberto beef jerky; he seemed to buy a new bag at every gas stop they stopped at. Ezra seriously took into consideration the purchase of Oberto stock. Surely there couldn´t be only one person alive like Vin Tanner who ate as much beef as that man did. Nathan and Josiah had switched driving several times. Nathan had thrown out name ideas for the baby, wondering what would sound better. He´d even purchased baby shoes at the gas station gift shops. This kid was going to have more shoes than Amelda Marcos. Josiah had read poetry while on occasion reading one aloud comparing it to the rain that forcefully hit the windshield, the snow still covering the distant mountains, and even the sun passing gently through the clouds. Ezra had spent much of the trip flipping his deck of cards through his fingers while Chris was content looking through syllabus of the training schedule ahead.

“Hooksville is the next town,” Nathan said, reading the sign on the side of the road. He didn´t mention, or he failed to see, in small print below the sign ‘Home of the Circus Folks´.

“Lets stop there and find a place to sleep for the night,” Chris suggested, lifting his head off the headrest. The sun had long since disappeared and the moon was reflecting off the clouds.

“I´ve got a joke!” JD almost shouted from the back seat. A round of moans could be heard from within the cabin. The kid ignored it. “What is the German word for constipation?” JD didn´t give Ezra the chance to answer, “FarFromPoopen.”

Chris tried to hold back the chuckle that escaped his lips. He was getting punchy. Buck elbowed him in the ribs with a chuckle of his own. “How far´s that town Nate?”

“About ten miles,” Nathan replied with a grin. They were all getting punchy.

Ezra, in a huff, leaned over the front seat to check the speedometer. “Just because the sign says 70 mph, doesn´t really mean you have to drive that speed Mr. Jackson. That added with the fact that we are in an agency vehicle means we could go faster…”

“Hey, I´ve got another joke,” JD almost yelled from the back seat.

“You could just end my misery now,” Ezra said, rolling his eyes and slipping back into his space on the seat.

JD cleared his throat. “One day on a busy street corner a huge man walks up to a police officer and say´s, ‘Thcuse me offither, can you tell me where thidee thid, and thacramento ith?´,” JD tried to keep from laughing while telling the joke, he exaggerated the sound of the sever lisp, “The police officer didn´t reply. The large man asks he question again, but still no reply. Finally the frustrated man walks away. An onlooker then walks up to the officer and asks, ‘Officer, why didn´t you tell that man where thirty-third and Sacramento is?´ The officer replies, ‘Thure and dit the thit ticked out of me!” JD laughed himself to tears. Even Vin and Buck and let out a loud roar.

“Hooksville!” Nathan almost yelled. The confines of the Suburban were getting to everyone.

“Lets eat first,” Buck suggested. He leaned forward looking out the windows.

The town was small. A four way stop was the only indication of a controlled intersection. There either wasn´t enough traffic moving through town to ensue the need of a stoplight or the town simply couldn´t afford one. Nathan´s guess was the later. Two gas stations were positioned across the street from one another, the only difference in them was that one had a mini mart while the other had a licensed mechanic on duty twenty-four hours a day. There were four bars in the small town, which seemed to be where everyone in this simple metropolis hung out; The Alibi Store, The Missing Link, The Motordrome, and finally The Pickled Punk.

“Why do I get the feelin´ we ain´t ‘n Kansas anymore,” Vin said, in a low tone from the back seat.

“Hey,” Buck snapped, “there´s a restaurant.” He pointed to the restaurant that looked to have been recently painted. Window blinds were pulled down but the soft light from within crept through the thin metal strips.

They were all ready for a break. It was 9:30 pm and they´d been in the Suburban for more than ten hours and nerves were starting to fray. Nathan pulled in and parked while everyone else rushed to get out. The smell of French fries cooking filled the air and in response everyone´s stomach started to grumble. Only a few cars were parked out front and the ‘e´ in the ‘Open´ sign was burned out. It was obviously a diner combined with a bowling ally.

JD swung the door to the restaurant open and entered with the rest of the team following close behind. Pictures of circus people and posters lined the walls. A few trapeze lines fell from the ceiling as well as extravagantly beaded costumes. The kid couldn´t get enough of the memorabilia. Buck followed close behind him, looking intently at the photos and posters.

“I´m happier than a pig in shit,” Buck said, stopping in his tracks when he saw the shapely form behind the counter. She was apparently talking to the…tattooed man…Buck paused and shook his head but managed to keep an eye on the woman´s shapely hips.

“She´s not goin´ to show you a seat,” Nathan joked, he indicated to the ‘seat yourself´ sign.

Josiah and Ezra quickly brushed passed the others and found a large corner table that would give them a look at the whole room. Something they always seemed to do when they went out together. Buck hesitantly followed never taking his eyes off the backside of waitress with the dark brown hair that reached her butt or the short pink uniform she was wearing. He received a push from Chris who was shaking his head. They all had vices; some were more obvious than others.

JD grabbed the menu that was stuck between the salt and peppershakers and the sugar jar. There weren´t any other patrons in the small diner but the sound of bowling balls could be heard striking pins from another room down the small narrow hall to the left of the kitchen.

When the waitress turned and headed for the table of new customers a horrible screech was heard coming from Buck. He leaned heavily into Chris who in turn let out a roar of laughter. The waitress, or bearded lady, walked to the table sashaying across the floor. Buck was beside himself.

JD and Vin could hardly contain themselves when they got a look at the woman. The bearded lady was just what Buck needed to get his mind back on the task at hand. Ezra shook his head. He had a feeling when he saw the paraphernalia and the tattooed man behind the cook counter that there was more to the voluptuous woman behind the counter. He should have made a bet. Nathan was finding it almost impossible to keep his composure. The look on Buck´s face was all he needed to start laughing, so he avoided looking at him. Josiah chuckled this was just what they needed to ease their tension.

“What can I get you boys?” Betty, as her nameplate indicated, asked. She was completely confident in her appearance and getting strange looks from new comers wasn´t uncommon for her, or anyone else who lived in this town.

“What are your specials?” Josiah quickly regained his composure and asked.

“Steak and potatoes,” she replied, while pulling her notepad out of the pocket on her short dress.

Chris cleared his throat, “We´ll take seven of those.”

“What would you like to drink?” She quickly and professionally wrote down what they ordered and then left the table.

“That went well,” Ezra said, with a smile and the others shook their heads.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah continued to shake his head as he reached the Suburban. If that was the restaurant what was the motel going to be like. Buck was still in shock, he was almost a zombie as Nathan and JD walked him to the vehicle.

Since the motel, Slims Motor Inn, was just across the street everybody but Nathan, who drove, and Buck, who was still in a state of humiliated shock, decided to walk. A quick unforgivable breeze caught them off guard and Vin pulled his old bomber jacket closer around his shoulders. Josiah laid his arm across JD´s right shoulder as they followed Chris and Ezra toward the manager´s office.

Nathan and Buck met them at the front door before they entered the manager´s office. Room keys hung behind the front desk on a small numbered board and an old fashioned ledger sat on the desk next to an antique pen and ink well. Black and white photographs decorated the far wall. All of them were of beautiful women in wedding dresses. Buck and JD leaned forward to get a better look at the pictures while Chris hit the small bell on the edge of the desk alarming the desk clerk that they were in need of some rooms.

“How many rooms do you need?” the scratchy voice came from nowhere unparticular.

JD and Buck turned quickly when the little person stepped out from behind the desk carrying a broom and dustpan built just for his size. “Chris?” Buck said, his voice uncertain and shocked. He looked back to all the photographs on the wall and back to the man who barely stood three and a half feet tall.

“We need some rooms for the night,” Chris said.

“I´ve got three rooms available,” the little man responded, he leaned his broom against the desk and stepped up behind the counter so that he was eye level with everyone in the room. He grabbed the ledger and opened it to the page where all the men would need to sign. “There´s a hundred dollar deposit for each room.”

“Seems a little…excessive,” Ezra commented.

“William, my name is William Paterson and I own this fine establishment…The excessive deposit as you so put it,” he raised his eyebrows, “is there for individuals such as yourselves who find it necessary to ‘rearrange´ rooms.”

“Listen, William, we just want to get a good night´s sleep,” Buck protested, looking from the owner of the motel to the images on the wall.

“You can write a check for the deposit.” William ignored Buck´s comment and handed the bill for the rooms to Chris who already had his checkbook out. He intended to get the deposit back.

“Rooms seven, eight, and nine are to your left when you leave the office.” William stepped down off the platform behind the counter and walked around the desk. He handed the keys up to Chris and looked back toward the wall of photos. “Those are my x- wives,” he said with a smile.

Buck looked at him in disbelief. There were eight photographs on the wall and all the women were…gorgeous…and tall. “You´re tellin´ me that all these women…” Buck pointed to the wall, “were married to you.”

“I believe you´re under the impression that my disability is my height.” William stood his ground and looked around the room to all the men. “I will have you know that I have a Doctorial degree in Business Administration and my IQ is larger than all of yours combined.”

“Nobody meant to imply that you are less intelligent because of your height.” Ezra spoke up. He elbowed Buck in the ribs trying to get him to quit looking at the pictures of the women and the man standing in front of them in disbelief.

“This coming from a group of individuals who look like they stepped out of a…GQ Magazine.” William squared his shoulders and stood his ground. “You assume that because of my height, therefore my mental capacity is also short in stature. You´ll be very interested to know that many women find my intelligence and height very appealing,” he said in a huff.

“Some men would as well,” Ezra replied in a menacing tone. He defiantly didn´t like to be out witted. He kept his face straight despite the snorts and chuckles that escaped his coworkers. He looked down toward William, who was standing in front of him obviously not happy with the comment.

“Do you want to take this outside…G boy?” William smiled wickedly. He was ready and willing to get his butt kicked by someone twice his size.

Chris grabbed Ezra´s shoulder before he could say anything and pulled him away from the stare down. “Lets go,” the team leader ordered his men, who followed him and Ezra out of the small office.

“What?” Ezra asked, pulling away from Chris. “You don´t think I could have kicked his little…ASS!” he turned and yelled back toward the office while the tall blonde continued to pull the Southerner towards the hotel rooms.

“That was classic,” Buck continued to roar with laughter as they headed for their rooms.

Nobody could tell if Ezra was just blowing off steam or if he was serious about fighting the little fellow but either way it was a welcomed relief. Vin and Buck shoved each other while JD ran toward the vehicle to start grabbing everyone´s bags. Josiah and Nathan chuckled while following close behind them.


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